Surviving Critical Times Hard To Deal With

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Eye On The New Year

One Guy's 2005 Yearly Review
Whew, what a crazy year
Yearly Review
Posted on Saturday, December 31, 2005. By
Paul Ford.

The number of people killed by the Indian Ocean tsunami rose to 230,000. A study showed that 310,000 Europeans die from air pollution each year, and the U.N. predicted that 90 million Africans will have HIV by 2025. An international task force of scientists, politicians, and business leaders warned that the world has about 10 years before global warming becomes irreversible. The U.S. Congress officially ratified President George W. Bush's election victory after a two-hour debate over voting irregularities in Ohio. Terri Schiavo, Johnnie Cochran, Frank Perdue, Mitch Hedberg, Arthur Miller, Saul Bellow, and the pope died, as did the man who wrote the theme song to “Gidget.” An Australian tortoise named Harriet turned 175. General Motors was spending more for health care than for steel, and an increasing number of Americans were heating their homes with corn. El Salvadoran police arrested 21 people for operating a smuggling operation and seized 24 tons of contraband cheese. NASA announced that it wanted to return to the moon.

A study found that the worldwide percentage of land stricken by drought has doubled within the last 30 years. The Jordan River was filled with sewage, and the last of Gaza's Jewish settlers left their homes on armored buses. Terrorists in London set off bombs on three trains and a bus, killing 52 people; President Bush condemned attacks on innocent folks by those with evil in their hearts. A 13-year-old boy in Kalamazoo accidentally burned down the family meth lab. New Orleans flooded after levees broke in the wake of Hurricane Katrina; many evacuees were not allowed to take their pets with them. “Snowball!” cried a little boy after police took away his dog. “Snowball!” At least 42,000 people died in an earthquake in Pakistan. It was announced that Cookie Monster would cut back on cookies. Authorities in Malaysia arrested 58 people who worship a giant teapot. Poor people rioted in France.

In North Carolina Kenneth Boyd became the 1,000th prisoner executed since the United States reintroduced the death penalty in 1976. A 1,600-inmate faith-based prison opened in Crawfordville, Florida. Police began random bag checks of subway passengers in New York City. It was revealed that the CIA had set up a secret system of prisons, called “black sites,” around the world; it was also revealed that the National Security Agency was spying on Americans without first obtaining warrants. Journalist Judith Miller was released from jail and said she wanted to hug her dog. U.S. Congressman Tom DeLay was arrested; U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby was indicted. The Pentagon admitted to using white phosphorus during the 2004 attack on Fallujah, Iraq, and allocated $127 billion to build a robot army. The total number of American soldiers killed in the Iraq war rose to 2,174, while the total number of Iraqi civilians killed rose to 27,636. “We are all waiting for death,” said an Iraqi soldier, “like the moon waiting for sunset.” The U.S. Defense Department, in violation of the federal Privacy Act, was building a database of 30 million 16- to 25-year-olds. The Department of Homeland Security announced that it had wasted a great deal of money and needed much more. Starbucks came to Guantanamo Bay. Scientists began work on a complete, molecule-level computer simulation of the human brain. The project will take at least ten years.

Hip Hip Hooray More $$$$

States Take Lead in Push to Raise Minimum Wages By John M. Broder The New York Times Monday 02 January 2006

Despite Congressional refusal for almost a decade to raise the federal minimum wage, nearly half of the civilian labor force lives in states where the pay is higher than the rate set by the federal government. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have acted on their own to set minimum wages that exceed the $5.15 an hour rate set by the federal government, and this year lawmakers in dozens of the remaining states will debate raising the minimum wage. Some states that already have a higher minimum wage than the federal rate will be debating further increases and adjustments for inflation. The last time the federal minimum wage was raised was in 1997 - when it was increased from $4.75 an hour. Since then, efforts in Congress to increase the amount have been stymied largely by Republican lawmakers and business groups who argued that a higher minimum wage would drive away jobs. Thwarted by Congress, labor unions and community groups have increasingly focused their efforts at raising the minimum wage on the states, where the issue has received more attention than in Republican-dominated Washington, said Bill Samuel, the legislative director of the national A.F.L.-C.I.O. Opinion polls show wide public support for an increase in the federal minimum wage, which falls far short of the income needed to place a family at the federal poverty level. Even the chairman of Wal-Mart has endorsed an increase, saying that a worker earning the minimum wage cannot afford to shop at his stores. "The public is way ahead of Washington," Mr. Samuel said. "They see this as a matter of basic fairness, the underpinning of basic labor law in this country, a floor under wages so we're not competing with Bangladesh." The minimum wage has been the subject of fierce ideological debate since it was first established in 1938 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Business groups and conservative economists have argued that the minimum wage is an unwarranted government intrusion into the employer-employee relationship and a distortion of the marketplace for labor. An increase in the minimum wage, they say, drives up labor costs across the board and freezes unskilled and first-time workers out of the job market. Read more at

That's cold!

Stand-off cuts gas supplies to Europe

By FT correspondents Published: January 2 2006 08:22
European countries on Monday suffered large cuts to their gas supplies as a bitter stand-off between Russia and Ukraine over gas prices intensified.
Supplies of Russian gas to Italy fell by 25 per cent, according to Eni, the country’s biggest oil and gas supplier. Deliveries of Russian gas to France dropped up to 30 per cent, Gaz de France said. Many central and eastern European countries, which depend heavily on gas from Russia, reported even larger declines.European governments urged Russia and Ukraine to resolve their dispute over the price Moscow charges the former Soviet republic, which reached a head on January 1 when Russia cut the amount of gas flowing into the pipeline. The European Union is due to hold a crisis meeting in Brussels on Wednesday. Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned gas monopoly, on Monday promised to export more gas to Europe to make up for the shortfall caused, it claimed, by Ukraine illegally siphoning gas from the pipeline.
“With the aim of preventing a possible energy crisis, caused by Ukraine illegally taking gas, Gazprom has taken the decision to deliver additional gas into the gas transport system of Ukraine,” the company said.
Europe obtains a quarter of its gas from Russia, and around 90 per cent of its supply crosses Ukraine by pipeline. In spite of assurances from Russia that its dispute with its neighbour would not affect the region’s gas supplies, the pressure fell sharply on Monday in one of Europe’s principal import pipelines.
Concern grows in EU and US over gas disruption.
Gas flows through Slovakia’s long-distance pipeline - the main gateway for Russian gas to western Europe - had dropped 30 per cent on Monday, according to the economy ministry. Hungary, one of the most vulnerable countries in the region because it relies on Russian gas for almost 40 per cent of its total energy needs, saw supplies drop by half on Sunday night.
Poland said it was receiving about a third less gas through the pipeline, while Austria’s OMV, the oil and gas company, said its supplies of Russian gas had fallen by the same amount. The former Soviet republic of Moldova said it had not received any Russian gas for two days. Russia, which this month took over the rotating presidency of the Group of Eight industrialised nations, faced growing criticism from abroad for its hardball tactics. On Monday the International Energy Agency warned that Russia’s international reputation could be jeopardised by its actions.

“They have a great reputation as an energy supplier but this is now at risk with recent events,” said Noé van Hulst, director of policy analysis at the IEA, the consuming nations’ watchdog.The IEA and EU said the situation was “manageable” in the short term because many European nations had a lot of gas in storage. However, cuts to homes and businesses cannot be ruled out if supplies are not restored soon. Intensive gas users have been ordered to switch to oil in some countries. Russia and Ukraine traded bitter accusations on Monday, with the row showing no signs of being resolved. Russia accused Ukraine of stealing 100m cubic metres of gas worth $25m from the pipeline in the first 24 hours of the cut-off. Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yushchenko, denied the charge, saying there had “not been a single cubic metre of gas from Russia” for several days. Ukraine has said it will take only the amount it is entitled to for transporting the gas through its territory – about 15 per cent of the total flow. By Thomas Catan and Javier Blas in London, Hugh Williamson in Berlin and Gerrit Wiesmann in Frankfurt, Robert Anderson in Prague, Jan Cienski in Warsaw and Neil Buckley in Moscow.


Yikes, watch the fur fly on this one!
There is now a Investigative Status Report of the House Judiciary Committee Democratic Staff, please click on The Constitution in Crisis: The Downing Street Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution, and Coverups in the Iraq War. This report has been submitted to Congress for investigation.


Somebody say it ain't so...
Report: U.S. preparing NATO for possible strike on Iran
By Yossi Melman, Haaretz Correspondent

German media sources have recently reported that the Bush Administration is preparing its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies for a potential attack on nuclear sites in Iran.The "Der Spiegel" weekly emphasized that "Washington is now sending high level officials to prepare allies for a potential strike, as opposed to conducting talks that just hint at the possibility, which is what has been happening until now."The Berlin paper "Tagesspiegel" quoted NATO intelligence sources last week who said that "NATO members have received information that the United States is currently looking into all possibilities, including a military attack against the regime in Tehran." A German news agency quoted western intelligence sources, according to which CIA chief Porter Goss asked Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for logistical aid in event of an American strike against Iranian nuclear sites and military targets.According to the report, Goss, who visited Ankara on December 12, also asked Turkish intelligence for assistance ahead of a possible attack.In return, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government asked Turkey not to allow Israel or the U.S. to use its territory or air space to facilitate an attack, Iranian media recently reported. Experts belief these reports are being deliberately leaked to advance the Bush Administration's psychological warfare against Iran, ahead of talks between Iran and European Union representatives that are to take place in an attempt to halt Iran's uranium enrichment efforts. These talks will address Russia's suggestion that that the second and critical stage of uranium enrichment ? feeding gas into a centrifuge ? take place on Russian soil.Iran announced a few days ago that it is willing to consider the suggestion, after initially rejecting it. Sergei Kirienko, Russia's atomic energy minister and former prime minister, is expected to arrive in Tehran at the beginning of the coming year.


African Americans - Foreigners or Relatives?
By Ruby Ofori Washington29 December 2005
Ofori interview on Ghana mp3 Ofori interview on Ghana

The Ghanaian government is spearheading a campaign to attract people of African origin from around the world to go to Ghana to help rebuild the nation. The campaign will eventually include giving Ghanaian citizenship to African Americans. A major problem for the government is that many Ghanaians view African Americans as foreigners rather than as long-lost relatives and even refer to African Americans as “obruni” or “white people.” To counter these perceptions and make Ghana more welcoming, the government is running an education campaign for its citizens. Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey, Ghana’s minister of tourism, explained the nature of the campaign to English to Africa’s Ruby Ofori. “We’re using mass media to teach people about the Africans when they left here and … went to the Diaspora. And then in teaching them, we’re making them realize… the blood ties. Mr Obetsebi-Lamptey said they aim to teach Ghanaians to replace the taunt of “obruni” with a more welcoming word, “Anyemi,” meaning “brother” or “sister” in the Ga language. Mr Obetsebi Lamptey also said they plan to ease travel to Ghana for Africans in the Diaspora with new immigration rules. “We’re starting off initially with a visa-free arrangement by introducing the Diasporan stamp. Once you come in to Ghana as a Diasporan you can apply for the Diasporan stamp, which allows you visa-free entry at any time in the future.”

Save the Planet!

UN Millineum Ecosystem Assessment- World Health Organization (WHO)

Five years ago, recognizing the potential threat that environmental degradation posed for people around the world, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan called for the first-ever international scientific assessment of the health of the world’s ecosystems. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (which I will refer to as the “MA”) was established in response to that call after governments took decisions endorsing the process through four international conventions. The assessment was carried out over the last four years, and involved nearly 2000 experts from 95 countries. The secretariat of the assessment was coordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme. The MA was unique in looking not just at the environment but also at the consequences of ecosystem changes for human well-being. To do this, it focused on the role of ecosystems in providing a set of ecosystem services that benefit people. These include provisioning services such as food, freshwater, and timber, regulating services such as the role of ecosystems in regulating climate and disease, cultural services such as aesthetic, spiritual and recreational benefits, and supporting services on which the other three categories depend. While the MA was authorized through governments, it was governed by a multi-stakeholder board that included representatives of governments, UN Agencies, Business, NGOs, and Indigenous Peoples. In addition to the global assessment of ecosystems, the MA included a set of sub-global assessments, carried out at the scale of regions, nations, river basins, and even local communities. Three of these sub-global assessments – in Peru, Costa Rica, and Papua New Guinea -- were carried out largely or entirely by indigenous peoples. Let me briefly summarize some of the findings. The changes that we have made to the planet over the past 50 years have been unprecedented in their pace and scale.

More land was converted to cropland in the 30 years after 1950 for example than in the 150 years at the height of the agricultural revolution during the 1700s and 1800s. 20% of the world’s coral reefs were lost and 20% degraded in the last several decades. Flows of biologically available nitrogen doubled and flows of phosphorus tripled in the last forty years. These changes to cycles of nutrients degrade water quality and lead to the creation of vast “hypoxic” areas or dead zones in coastal regions. In the aggregate, these changes to ecosystems have provided significant benefits to people, since many of the changes were made to increase the supply of food and water needed by the growing population. But these gains have been achieved at growing costs that, unless addressed, will substantially diminish the benefits that future generations obtain from ecosystems.

There are three major costs involved:
First, of the 24 ecosystem services assessed, 15, or 60%, are being degraded. The list of degraded services includes fisheries, freshwater, water purification, flood control, air quality regulation, regional and local climate regulation, pest regulation, and loss of spiritual, religious, and aesthetic values. Second, ecosystem degradation is resulting in an increased risk of abrupt changes that hold serious threats for people. Examples include increased risks of:

Disease emergence
Fisheries collapse
Creation of hypoxic “dead zones”
Regional climate change

Third, the degradation of these services is exacerbating poverty for some groups of people. More than 70% of the 1.1 billion poor people surviving on less than $1 per day live in rural areas, where they are directly dependent on ecosystem services and most vulnerable to their degradation. Read more below at


St. Peter Deciding What to do With George

While walking down the street one day, George "Dubya" Bush is shot by a disgruntled NRA member.His soul arrives in heaven and he is met by St. Peter at the Pearly gates. "Welcome to Heaven," says St. Peter. "Before you settle in, it seems there is a problem: We seldom see a Republican around these parts, so we're not sure what to do with you." "No problem, just let me in; I'm a believer." says Dubya. "I'd like to just let you in, but I have orders from the Man Himself: He says you have to spend one day in Hell and one day in Heaven. Then you must choose where you'll live for eternity." "But, I've already made up my mind; I want to be in Heaven." "I'm sorry, but we have our rules." And with that, St. Peter escorts him to an elevator and he goes down, down, down, all the way to Hell. The doors open and he finds himself in the middle of a lush golf course; the sun is shining in a cloudless sky, the temperature a perfect 72 degrees. In the distance is a beautiful clubhouse. Standing in front of it his dad and thousands of other Republicans who had helped him out over the years. Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Jerry Falwell the whole of the "Right" was there everyone laughing happy casually but expensively dressed. They run to greet him, hug him, and reminisce about the good times they had getting rich at expense of the "suckers and peasants". They play a friendly game of golf and then dine on lobster and caviar. The Devil himself comes up to Bush with a frosty drink, "Have a Margarita and relax, Dubya!" "Uh, I can't drink no more, I took a pledge," says Junior, dejectedly. This is Hell, son: you can drink and eat all you want and not worry, and it just gets better from there!"Dubya takes the drink and finds himself liking the Devil, whom he thinks is a really very friendly guy who tells funny jokes and pulls hilarious nasty pranks kind of like a Yale Skull and Bones brother with real horns. They are having such a great time that, before he realizes it, it's time to go. Everyone gives him a big hug and waves as Bush steps on the elevator and heads upward. When the elevator door reopens, he is in Heaven again and St. Peter is waiting for him. "Now it's time to visit Heaven," the old man says, opening the gate. So for 24 hours Bush is made to hang out with a bunch of honest, good-natured people who enjoy each other's company, talk about things other than money, and treat each other decently. Not a nasty prank or frat boy joke among them; no fancy country clubs and, while the food tastes great; it's not caviar or lobster. And these people are all poor, he doesn't see anybody he knows, and he isn't even treated like someone special! Worst of all, to Dubya, Jesus turns out to be some kind of Jewish hippie with his endless 'peace' and 'do unto others' jive. "Whoa," he says uncomfortably to himself, "Pat Robertson never prepared me for this!" The day done, St. Peter returns and says, "Well, then, you've spent a day in Hell and a day in Heaven. Now choose where you want to live for eternity."With the 'Jeopardy' theme playing softly in the background, Dubya reflects for a minute, then answers: "Well, I would never have thought I'd say this -- I mean, Heaven has been delightful and all -- but I really think I belong in Hell with my friends." So Saint Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down, all the way to Hell. The doors of the elevator open and he is in the middle of a barren scorched earth covered with garbage and toxic industrial waste kind of like Houston. He is horrified to see all of his friends, dressed in rags and chained together, picking up the trash and putting it in black bags. They are groaning and moaning in pain, faces and hands black with grime. The Devil comes over to Dubya and puts an arm around his shoulder. "I don't understand," stammers a shocked Dubya, "Yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and a clubhouse and we ate lobster and caviar drank booze. We screwed around and had a great time. Now there's just a wasteland full of garbage and everybody looks miserable!" The Devil looks at him, smiles slyly, and purrs, "Yesterday we were campaigning; today you voted for us."


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