Daily Archives: November 2, 2007

Japan ends ‘war on terror’ mission due to domestic opposition

AFP | Nov 2, 2007

TOKYO (AFP) — Japan on Thursday ordered home ships engaged on a refuelling mission in the Indian Ocean, halting the close US ally’s main role in the “war on terror” due to domestic opposition.

Japan, which has been officially pacifist since the end of World War II, has supplied fuel to US and other forces operating in Afghanistan under legislation first passed after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

But the government failed to extend the mission as the main opposition party, which controls one house of parliament, has vowed that Japan should not take part in “American wars.”

Defence Minister Shigeru Ishiba issued orders at 3:00 pm (0600 GMT) for Japan’s two ships in the Indian Ocean — the destroyer Kirisame and the supply ship Tokiwa — to return to Japan.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, whose predecessor quit in September in part due to his failure to prolong the deployment, vowed to “do my utmost for the swift passage” of new legislation to resume the operation.

“Terrorism is a challenge against free and open societies. The war on terrorism affects our national interests,” Fukuda said in a statement.

“It is surely necessary for us to continue refuelling activities in order to fulfil our responsibilities in solidarity with the international community which is trying to eradicate terrorism,” he said.

But public opinion on the mission is sharply divided in Japan, whose military has not fired a shot in combat since the United States imposed a pacifist constitution after World War II.

The United States Thursday strongly urged Japan to reconsider its decision.

“We would like for those refuellings to continue and we will be talking to the Japanese,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said, adding that Fukuda would likely come to the United States in two weeks.

Coalition nations had tried for weeks with no success to persuade the opposition to change its mind.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer voiced “concern” about Japan’s move.

“Defeating terrorists is one of the highest security challenges the world faces. It is a global challenge and combating terrorism is a collective responsibility,” Downer said.

US ambassador Thomas Schieffer at one point warned that the opposition risked harming the two countries’ alliance, although Washington later softened its tone.

Criticism has been growing of military operations among nations taking part in the deadly campaign against remnants of Afghanistan’s extremist Taliban regime.

The German parliament last month extended the country’s troop deployment despite waning public support.

But Japan is in a unique political situation. The opposition in July won control of one house of parliament on a backlash over a raft of scandals under the government of then prime minister Shinzo Abe.

Main opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa — ironically a longtime proponent of an active military role for Japan — has vowed to fight Fukuda on his legislative priorities until he calls early general elections.

Fukuda and Ozawa are due to hold talks Friday after a meeting earlier this week failed to reach a breakthrough.

Fukuda’s “ability to manage the administration will come into question if he requests meetings twice and reaches no agreement,” said Naoto Kan, Ozawa’s deputy.

Ozawa’s Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has accused the government of politicising the dispute.

“The battleships are coming home and they want to put the blame on the DPJ. This is an Afghan trap to make the DPJ look evil,” said Kenji Yamaoka, the party’s parliamentary affairs chief.

The Indian Ocean mission at the time was groundbreaking for Japan, although it later went a step further and sent troops, since withdrawn, on a non-combat reconstruction mission to Iraq.

Eager to show it remains committed to the “war on terror,” Japan said it would look at stepping up aid to Afghanistan and possibly Pakistan, a frontline US ally in the war.

Japan, which has already pledged some 1.2 billion dollars to Afghanistan since the Taliban regime was ousted in 2001, will consider further funds for refugees or disarmament, chief government spokesman Nobutaka Machimura said.

Rumsfeld ‘kept up fear of terror attacks’

“Keep elevating the threat”

Telegraph | Oct 11, 2007

By Alex Spillius in Washington

Donald Rumsfeld, the former United States defence secretary, tried to maintain an atmosphere of fear in America as part of the Iraq war propaganda campaign, a series of leaked memos has shown.

One memo, written in April 2006, contained a list of instructions to Pentagon staff including “Keep elevating the threat” and “Talk about Somalia, the Philippines etc. Make the American people realise they are surrounded in the world by violent extremists”.

Another said “link Iraq to Iran. Iran is the concern of the American people, and if we fail in Iraq, it will advantage Iran”. He also urged staff to produce “bumper sticker statements” to rally the public around the war.

The memos, written between 2002 until shortly after his resignation in 2006, were leaked by undisclosed sources to the Washington Post. Rumsfeld was unpopular with many for his tough management style.

The newspaper reported that his emails were so numerous they were called “snowflakes”. He would send between 20 and 60 a day, often instructing his team to refute negative news stories in the media.

One note will please Vladimir Putin, the Russian president. It said: “We are getting run out of Central Asia by the Russians. They are doing a considerably better job at bullying those countries than the US is doing to counter their bullying.”

Rumsfeld also managed belatedly to embarrass Bush administration’s attempts to win hearts and minds in the Arab world. In one memo he said: “Too often Muslims are against physical labour” because oil wealth had detached them from “the reality of work”.

A White House spokesman yesterday repudiated the comment. “It’s not in line with the president’s views,” said spokesman Dana Perino.

Keith Urbahn, an aide to Mr Rumsfeld, told the Washington Post that the published memos were “selective” and “gross mischaracterisations” carefully picked from some 20,000 while he was defence secretary. There was no comment from Mr Rumsfeld.

Let’s celebrate the Apocalypse, says Vatican


Albrecht Dürer’s The Opening of the Sixth Seal is among the works on show at the Vatican

Telegraph | Oct 20, 2007

By Malcolm Moore

A new exhibition at the Vatican aims to confound the traditional fire and brimstone image of the Apocalypse with a “positive view” of the end of the world.

Apocalypse: The Final Revelation, in the Sistine Hall of the Vatican Museums, has grouped together 100 masterpieces that illustrate the Book of Revelation.

The final book of the Bible, usually attributed to St John the Evangelist, describes a series of mystical visions of the Apocalypse that came to him while he was in exile on the Greek island of Patmos.

In the ninth chapter, a swarm of locusts streams up from the abyss to torment mankind for five months.

“In those days, men shall seek death, and in no way shall find it,” wrote St John, adding: “The shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared for war…their faces were as men’s faces. And they had hair as the hair of women and their teeth were as teeth of lions…and they have tails like unto scorpions and stings”.

Later, there are horses breathing fire and sulphur and a great Serpent, or Satan, who empowers the Beast to rule over man.

Nevertheless, the Vatican said the Apocalypse should be seen as the arrival of God and the conquest of the forces of evil.

Alessio Geretti, the curator, said “Apocalypse is not a book of catastrophes, but rather a book of hope”.

Among the paintings, which have been taken from collections in Jerusalem, Berlin, Paris, New York and Manchester, are works by El Greco showing the Virgin Mary and by Guido Reni, showing St Michael slaying Satan.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, said: “These masterpieces will help visitors to reread the last book of the Holy Scripture. The Apocalypse is not the worrying announcement of a catastrophic end to humanity, but a great proclamation of the failure of the infernal evils and of the mystery of Christ.”

He added: “In Greek, apokalupsis means ‘revelation’. The prospect of a divine revelation, an Apocalypse of a living God, should be greeted.

“This vision of divine revelation reaches its climax in St John’s affirmation that ‘God is Love’. It was not by chance that Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical started: ‘God is love’.”

Many Russians liken pro-Putin party to Soviet-era Communist party


Canadian Press | Nov 1, 2007

MOSCOW – Russia’s parliamentary election campaign officially starts Saturday with an opinion poll suggesting many voters see the main pro-Kremlin party as a new version of the Soviet Communist party and want to give it tight control over the country.

The United Russia party, which controls the current parliament, is expected to consolidate its position in the Dec. 2 election, especially after President Vladimir Putin announced a month ago he will lead the party ticket.

Putin’s decision to lead United Russia’s ticket was seen as an indication he is considering using the party as a springboard to maintain power after he steps down as president next year.

Putin said he would not join United Russia, and leading the party’s ticket does not oblige him to take a seat in parliament. He is barred by the constitution from running for a third consecutive term in March.

The campaign for the 450 seats in the parliament’s lower house officially begins Saturday.

A survey by independent pollsters Levada Centre last week showed that more than one-third of Russians see United Russia as the new Soviet Communist party, and half want it to control all branches of power.

Some 48 per cent of those polled said they did not see the party as a new Soviet Communist party and 18 per cent had no answer. The poll was of 1,600 people and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

United Russia said Tuesday that it will not take part in televised debates with the 10 other parties, saying it would be more effective to talk to voters directly and spend more airtime on election advertising.

“United Russia is a collection of bureaucrats and others who want to be close to the government. They don’t have political convictions, therefore they cannot engage in a political debate,” Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a Soviet-era dissident who heads Moscow Helsinki Group, a human rights body, said on Ekho Moskvy radio.

The seats in the lower house, the State Duma, will be distributed on a proportional basis among parties that receive at least seven per cent of the vote. Only a few parties are expected to clear the threshold.

A draw was held Wednesday at the Central Election Commission to determine parties’ places on the ballot. United Russia drew No. 10, just ahead of the only liberal opposition party, Yabloko, said commission spokesman Rustem Nigmatulin.

The commission said the number of international observers will be limited to 300 to 400, compared with 1,100 for the last parliamentary election in 2003. An invitation for international election monitors was sent this week to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Nigmatulin said.

The OSCE had expected the invitation to be issued weeks ago, sparking concerns about the fairness of the election.

OSCE observers described the 2003 election as a step backward for democracy, saying the state had used the media and other levers to favour United Russia.

Russian officials have accused OSCE election observers of being biased against Russia.

In September, Russia submitted proposals to the OSCE that would restrict the activity of international election monitors. The OSCE’s election monitoring body is expected to decide on the proposals in November.

Russia Pours Billions in Oil Profits Into Nanotech Race


A sculpture of Russian physicist Igor Kurchatov occupies a place of honor in front of the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow. The sign atop the building reads, “Glory to Soviet science.”

Wired | Nov 1, 2007

By Alexander Zaitchik

MOSCOW — Back in the mid-1980s, a joke made the rounds that the Kremlin was preparing a major announcement: After a decade-long top-secret crash program, socialist science had succeeded in building the world’s largest microprocessor.

That was then. After sleeping through the high tech revolutions of the late 20th century, the Russian government is dumping billions into the burgeoning science of nanotechnology. The Kremlin last June announced the creation of Rosnanotekh, a state nanotechnology corporation slated for $5 billion in initial funding — an outlay that propels Russia past China in nanotech spending, and puts the country on a par with the United States in government-funded nano research.

“Nanotechnology will be the (foundation) for all industries in a science-driven economy,” said Mikhail Kovalchuk, director of Moscow’s Kurchatov Institute. “Nanotechnology will be the driving force of the Russian economy — if it can overcome the legacy of the recent past.”

Russia’s leap into nantotechnology is the sharp edge of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s push to make up for this country’s failure to develop high tech industries during the computing and biotech revolutions, and to compete globally in a field considered ripe for new discoveries.

Nanotechnology is the science of assembling devices out of individual atoms or molecules. It was first theorized by physicist Richard Feynman in 1959, and today is widely expected to produce major advances in everything from pollution control to cancer treatment.

It also represents a quiet admission that Siberian oil and gas, Russia’s financial wellspring, won’t last forever.

For Russia to succeed in nanotech, it must first overcome the yawning chasm between its deep intellectual resources and its economic infrastructure. Russian scientists have been quiet theoretical pioneers in nanotech since 1999, when the Russian Academy of Sciences began publishing the well-regarded Journal of Nano and Microsystem Technique. But Russia has no industry to put that research to use. When St. Petersburg hosted Russia’s first international nanotech conference last fall, the audience was noticeably bereft of Russian companies, but packed with note-scribbling headhunters from Western technology firms like Intel, Siemens and Bosch.

“We could compete in the world market, and we are interesting to foreigners in the field of new ideas,” said Sergei Kozyrev, director of the Center for Perspective Research in St. Petersburg, during the conference. “But when it comes to competition in the realm of production, to producing working samples, we find ourselves far behind other countries…. That has been our problem ever since Soviet times.”

There’s also the question of where all of Rosnanotekh’s billions will end up. Transparency International routinely rates Russia among the most corrupt countries in the world, and state enterprises are dominated by Kremlin insiders with little public accountability and oversight. Rosnanotekh will likely be no exception.

“There’s a lot of technical talent in Russia, but not all of the funds allocated to nanotech will be deployed effectively,” said Christine Peterson, a vice president at the Foresight Nanotech Institute, in an e-mail interview. “The lack of commercialization infrastructure will also be a serious handicap. Success will depend on convincing joint-venture partners from outside Russia that it is financially safe to participate.”

Rosnanotekh will be a state entity, but will be free to pursue private partnerships unburdened by direct Kremlin control. While the company will dispense the research funds, the actual work will be overseen by the Kurchatov Institute, the leafy Moscow research campus named after the father of the Soviet bomb and home to the luminaries of 20th-century Russian science. Officials at Kurchatov will oversee grants to 50 state institutes engaged in nanotech research.

At the center of Russia’s nanotech dreams is Kurchatov director Kovalchuk. The 62-year-old physicist from St. Petersburg is expansive to the point of dreaminess about the potential of nanotech. In a September lecture at a conference in Helsinki, Finland, Kovalchuk shared his vision of a postindustrial future defined by the “dematerialization of production” (write your own Marxism joke) and an energy grid fueled by nano-enabled solar and nuclear power. He envisions nothing less than a “nano revolution” that will solve the energy and environmental crises during his lifetime.

“Nanotechnology is key to de-energization in the next century,” Kovalchuk told Wired News. “Coupled with bionics, it has the potential to reduce drastically the amount of energy we consume, and the corresponding waste.”

An interest in cleaner energy is also a pet interest of metals oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, who sits on Rosnanotekh’s board. Prokhorov has pledged to channel part of his new $17 billion investment fund into developing hydrogen fuel cells using nanotech.

This talk of clean and renewable energy can sound strange in Moscow. Russia is a petro-state known for its lax attitude toward domestic and international pollution. It has by far the most wasteful pipeline and electricity-transmission infrastructure of any industrialized nation, and is being outspent in alternative energy research by its fellow petro-states in the Persian Gulf.

But oil and gas are increasingly seen in Russia as a means to an end — a bridge to a clean-energy future beyond oil and gas. Kovalchuk is even hopeful that nanotech will find the magic bullet to make all carbon-based fuels obsolete: fusion power. The key, he believes, lies in the nano-engineering of the Tokamak, a magnetic-confinement device considered the leading candidate to one day produce fusion energy. Its inventors? Two Kurchatov scientists named Igor Tamm and Andrei Sakharov.