Daily Archives: December 23, 2008

Pope praises Galileo, celebrates the Solstice


Pope Benedict XVI, wearing his Saturn Hat, named after the ringed planet Saturn, smiles as he tours St. Peter’s square aboard his popemobile during the weekly open-air general audience at the Vatican Wednesday, June 25, 2008. AP Photo by PLINIO LEPRI

Galileo magnifico?

Register | Dec 22, 2008

By Joe Fay

The Pope tipped his hat to long-time Vatican bugbear Galileo this weekend as he helped kick off the 2009 International Year of Astronomy.

Pope Benedict also gave some comfort to pagans by acknowledging the connection between the date of Christmas and the Winter Solstice.

Pope Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, formally apologised for the Church’s hounding of Galileo for pointing out that the Earth – and therefore man – was not at the centre of the Universe, never mind the solar system. But the relationship between Benedict and the sciences in general and astronomy in particular, has been somewhat pricklier.

So, it might have seemed perverse that the pope this weekend decided to highlight Unesco’s International Year of Astronomy, which marks 400 years since Galileo first used the telescope. Still, the occasionally surprising Benedict – he wears Prada after all – rose to the occasion, paying tribute to Galileo and his ilk for promoting further understanding of the laws of nature.

Of course, in the Vatican’s world, it doesn’t stop there. Understanding the laws of nature therefore stimulates an appreciation of God’s work. This would normally be the point at which we kick off an unholy row by asking whether the pope is then saying the laws of nature were laid down by God, and are not independent of him, whether he exists or not.

But instead, we’re going to marvel at how Benedict, after veering into science, then seems to have swerved into Dan Brown territory. After pointing how Christmas uncannily coincides with the Winter solstice, he gave an account of how astronomy, and the solstice, underlie the very architecture of the Vatican.

According to AsiaNews.it, Benedict pointed out that “not everyone knows that St Peter’s Square is also a meridian: the obelisk, in fact, casts its shadow along a line that runs along the pavement toward the fountain under this window, and in these days the shadow is at its longest of the year.

“This reminds us of the function of astronomy in marking out the rhythm of prayer. The Angelus, for example, is recited in the morning, at noon, and in the evening, and with the meridian, which was used in ancient times to identify ‘true noon’, clocks were adjusted.”

Of course, this is what the Pope wants you to think. As any good conspiracy theorist knows, he is clearly trying to distract attention from the fact that the obelisk naturally points to the grave of Mary Magdalene, who is interred with the Templar’s gold, the Ark of the Covenant and the outline for Dan Brown’s next novel.


The symbol we call the “Star of David” is in fact an ancient symbol of the pagan star god Saturn.

Japan’s Communist Party grows during economic crisis

People’s Weekly World | Dec 16, 2008

Japanese Communist Party Chair (JCP) Shii Kazuo on December 14th appeared on TV Asahi’s “Sunday Project” program that aired live. In the interview, he answered questions as to why the JCP is attracting attention now and how the party recognizes serious issues of employment. Citing European governments’ measures to secure employment, he stressed responsibilities the government should fulfill and explained the JCP’s efforts to overcome “capitalism without rules.”

At the beginning of the segment TV announcers said, “Amid the worsening employment situation and working conditions under the recession, the Japanese Communist Party is seen to be very invigorated. Why is the JCP attracting young people’s attention? What are they expecting from the JCP? We will ask JCP Chair Shii Kazuo if the JCP has a prescription for improving the economy.”

Then Shii had a discussion with journalist Tawara Soichiro:

Tawara: Many young people are reading Capital. Why Capital now? We’ve also witnessed the Kanikosen (“The Factory Ship,” a novel by Kobayashi Takiji) attracting a wide readership. And the JCP is increasing its membership.

Terasaki Takashi (TV Asahi announcer): I hear that the JCP is reaching people on the Internet.

Tawara: Yes, on the Internet.

At the start of the interview, video footage from Shii’s speech at the December 4 rally for a drastic revision of the Workers Dispatch Law was shown with a narration: “The rapidly worsening employment situation and the raging storm of restructuring.” Participants in the video were seen shouting, “Stop the illegal corporate restructuring schemes! Major corporations must fulfill their social responsibility to secure jobs!”

Then it said, “The JCP is attracting attention amid the economic downturn. It has received more than 13,000 new members since September last year and been covered by magazines targeting automobile fans and business managers,” showing the December issue of “New Model Magazine X” and the December issue of “BOSS” magazine featuring Shii’s lecture at a business workshop. It also introduced the British newspaper Telegraph’s web article entitled, “Japan’s young turn to Communist Party as they decide capitalism has let them down.” The theme of Shii’s interview was “Why is it the JCP now?”

Tawara: We’ve seen a major increase in public interest in the JCP. In Germany, Marx’s Capital is a best-seller. In Japan, in addition to the big Kanikosen boom, increasing number of people are also reading Capital.

Shii: That’s right.

Tawara: The JCP has received 13,000 new members between September last year and November this year. The readership of Akahata has also increased by 18,000 in the last seven months.

Shii: Yes, we have long experienced a decline in the Akahata readership since the 1980s. However, the readership has finally begun to increase. So we can say we are turning around and gaining momentum.

Concerning the membership, we have made progress for 13 consecutive months with 13,000 people joining the party. I think this represents a major change taking place.

Tawara: Why are people interested so much in Marx and the JCP now?

Shii: One main reason is that our efforts to resolve the “working poor” problem have gained support for the JCP.

At the same time, many people are beginning to ask whether or not Japan should continue to accept capitalism without rules. We have no decent rules to defend the people’s living conditions regarding employment, social services, medium-and-small-sized firms, and many other fields. I believe that an increasing number of people have empathy for the JCP’s call for an end to “capitalism without rules.”

Sex slavery: Living the American nightmare

Shadowy multibillion-dollar industry far more widespread than expected

MSNBC | Dec 22, 2008

By Alex Johnson and Cesar Rodriguez

When FBI and immigration agents arrested a 28-year-old Guatemalan woman three months ago in Los Angeles, they announced that they had shut down one of the most elaborate sex trafficking rings in the country. It was also the family business.

The woman, Maribel Rodriguez Vasquez, was the sixth member of her family to be rounded up in the two-year multi-agency investigation. Vasquez, five of her relatives and three other Guatemalan nationals were charged with 50 counts, alleging that they lured at least a dozen young women — including five minors as young as 13 years old — to the United States with promises of good jobs, only to put them to work as prostitutes. All remain in custody as investigators attempt to unravel the complex case.

Vasquez — quickly dubbed the “L.A. Madam” — attracted attention because she had been featured on the fugitive-hunting television program “America’s Most Wanted.” But it was one of only a few such cases to be spotlighted by national media, contributing to the false impression that cases of immigrant sex trafficking are isolated incidents, law enforcement officials and advocates for immigrants say.

The reality is that human trafficking goes on in nearly every American city and town, said Lisette Arsuaga, director of development for the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, a human rights organization in Los Angeles.

“Human trafficking is well hidden,” Arsuaga said. “I consider it a huge problem.”

Her assessment is shared by authorities in Bexar County, Texas, where the Sheriff’s Office has formed a task force with Shared Hope International, an anti-slavery organization founded by former Rep. Linda Smith, D-Wash. Bexar County is considered a crossroads of the cross-border Mexican sex slave trade because two Interstate highways that crisscross the state intersect there, some 150 miles from the Mexican border.

“I could go to a truck stop in South Texas right now and get on a CB radio and ask for some sweet stuff, and someone’s going to come out and offer something to sell,” Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Burchell said.

A $9.5 billion-a-year industry

Federal officials agree that the trafficking of human beings as sex slaves is far more prevalent than is popularly understood. While saying it is difficult to pinpoint the scope of the industry, given its shadowy nature, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials estimated that it likely generates more than $9.5 billion a year.

Last year alone, the FBI opened more than 225 human trafficking investigations in the United States. Figures for 2008 are not yet available, but in a coordinated nationwide sweep in July, federal, state and local authorities made more than 640 arrests and rescued 47 children in just three days.

In congressional testimony this year, FBI Director Robert Mueller called sex trafficking “a significant and persistent problem in the U.S. and around the world.”

Most cases involve “international persons trafficked to the United States from other countries,” who are generally less aware of their rights, probably do not speak English and are frightened to go to the authorities, he said. “Victims are often lured with false promises of good jobs and better lives and are then forced to work in the sex industry.”

While an increasing number of young men and boys are being forced into the commercial sex industry, more than 80 percent of victims are women and girls, the State Department estimated this year. Of those, 70 percent are forced into prostitution, stripping, pornography or mail-order marriage.

That allegedly was the case with the L.A. Madam.

Prosecutors said in court documents that the Vasquez ring sold Guatemalan women and girls to one another like slaves for several years. Ring members also would try to keep them in line by taking them to witch doctors who threatened to put curses on them and their families if they ran away, the prosecution said.

In one incident, three of the defendants repeatedly kicked and hit one of the victims to punish her for trying to escape, the documents allege.

“These young women were enticed into coming to this country by promises of the American dream, only to arrive and discover that what awaited was a nightmare,” said Robert Schoch, an ICE special agent.

Full Story

Afghan parents selling their sons to survive


Channel 4 footage shows eight-year-old Qassem saying goodbye to his family  Photo: CHANNEL 4 NEWS

Afghan parents are selling their sons to wealthy women unable to have their own. The plight of many Afghans is now so desperate that selling a child is increasingly routine.

Telegraph | Dec 22, 2008

By Alex Thomson

The trade in children is spurred by the battered country’s economy and the failure of foreign aid to reach beyond the coffers of central government in the capital Kabul.

While girls are are rarely traded, boys can fetch substantial sums – at least in the eyes of the poor couples who give up a child simply to allow the rest of the family to survive.

A cameraman working for Channel 4 News, Mehran Bozorgnia, witnessed the sale of an eight-year-old boy, Qassem, to Sadiqa, a wealthy woman from Kabul, outside the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

As the meeting began, the boy’s father, Nek Mohammed, knew he only had a final few moments with his son. Sadiqa was business-like. “Kiss your father and mother goodbye now – it is time,” she said, before handing over $1,500 (£1,000). Mr Mohammed began to weep.

The translator accompanying the cameraman said: “Sadiqa, this is wrong!”

“Yes you’re right. It’s cruel, ” she replied, before claiming: “But I have two aims here. First, to give this boy a bright future and a good education. And second, to save their other children. The winter’s coming and I’ve given them money so the children don’t die of hunger.”

‘Kiss your father and mother goodbye now – it is time,’ he was told as his purchaser handed over $1,500 Photo: CHANNEL 4 NEWS

Mr Mohammed said: “I sold a piece of my heart to stop my four other children dying of hunger. I don’t have an elder son. I’m also sick.

“My kidney is failing. My body is in pain.”

For Mr Mohammed, selling a child was the only way to keep his other children alive.

The plight of many Afghans is now so desperate that selling a child is increasingly routine. But there is another threat to the welfare of the young – and their parents.

Afghanistan’s boom business is kidnapping. At least 180 documented abductions in the past seven months in Kabul alone. The going rate is around $50,000 (£34,000) to release the sons of the wealthy.

One kidnapper in Kabul who would speak openly about his trade said that he had no problem targeting the rich.

“We’re not dealing with poor people,” said the man, who claimed his name was Mateen Khan. “We are only going to kidnap people who have foreign money from all around the world and who have taken it for themselves.

“We are going to take their children. You see their six year olds sitting in the back seat of a Lexus – the latest models. People abroad couldn’t afford these cars. So we kidnap these type of children to get the money off their families – the money they’ve stolen.”

In a stable he showed off a teenage boy, who was blindfolded and bound and plainly terrified.

“We’ll sell him or take his eyes out and bring him to the eye hospital and call his relatives. Or we’ll sell him to the Taliban,” said Mateen Khan.

Although he said his gang has no formal ties to the Taliban, his admission that he does business with them appeared to confirm speculation surrounding the Islamist group’s involvement in the trade in children.

His threats were all made within earshot of the teenager, whose fate is unknown.

General George S. Patton was assassinated to silence his criticism of allied war leaders claims new book


“We’ve got a terrible situation with this great patriot, he’s out of control and we must save him from himself”. The OSS head General did not trust Patton

George S. Patton, America’s greatest combat general of the Second World War, was assassinated after the conflict with the connivance of US leaders, according to a new book.

Telegraph | Dec 22, 2008

The newly unearthed diaries of a colourful assassin for the wartime Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the CIA, reveal that American spy chiefs wanted Patton dead because he was threatening to expose allied collusion with the Russians that cost American lives.

The death of General Patton in December 1945, is one of the enduring mysteries of the war era. Although he had suffered serious injuries in a car crash in Manheim, he was thought to be recovering and was on the verge of flying home.

But after a decade-long investigation, military historian Robert Wilcox claims that OSS head General “Wild Bill” Donovan ordered a highly decorated marksman called Douglas Bazata to silence Patton, who gloried in the nickname “Old Blood and Guts”.

His book, “Target Patton”, contains interviews with Mr Bazata, who died in 1999, and extracts from his diaries, detailing how he staged the car crash by getting a troop truck to plough into Patton’s Cadillac and then shot the general with a low-velocity projectile, which broke his neck while his fellow passengers escaped without a scratch.

Mr Bazata also suggested that when Patton began to recover from his injuries, US officials turned a blind eye as agents of the NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB, poisoned the general.

Mr Wilcox told The Sunday Telegraph that when he spoke to Mr Bazata: “He was struggling with himself, all these killings he had done. He confessed to me that he had caused the accident, that he was ordered to do so by Wild Bill Donovan.

“Donovan told him: ‘We’ve got a terrible situation with this great patriot, he’s out of control and we must save him from himself and from ruining everything the allies have done.’ I believe Douglas Bazata. He’s a sterling guy.”

Mr Bazata led an extraordinary life. He was a member of the Jedburghs, the elite unit who parachuted into France to help organise the Resistance in the run up to D-Day in 1944. He earned four purple hearts, a Distinguished Service Cross and the French Croix de Guerre three times over for his efforts.

After the war he became a celebrated artist who enjoyed the patronage of Princess Grace of Monaco and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

He was friends with Salvador Dali, who painted a portrait of Bazata as Don Quixote.

He ended his career as an aide to President Ronald Reagan’s Navy Secretary John Lehman, a member of the 9/11 Commission and adviser to John McCain’s presidential campaign.

Mr Wilcox also tracked down and interviewed Stephen Skubik, an officer in the Counter-Intelligence Corps of the US Army, who said he learnt that Patton was on Stalin’s death list. Skubik repeatedly alerted Donovan, who simply had him sent back to the US.

“You have two strong witnesses here,” Mr Wilcox said. “The evidence is that the Russians finished the job.”

The scenario sounds far fetched but Mr Wilcox has assembled a compelling case that US officials had something to hide. At least five documents relating to the car accident have been removed from US archives.

The driver of the truck was whisked away to London before he could be questioned and no autopsy was performed on Patton’s body.

With the help of a Cadillac expert from Detroit, Mr Wilcox has proved that the car on display in the Patton museum at Fort Knox is not the one Patton was driving.

“That is a cover-up,” Mr Wilcox said.

George Patton, a dynamic controversialist who wore pearl handled revolvers on each hip and was the subject of an Oscar winning film starring George C. Scott, commanded the US 3rd Army, which cut a swathe through France after D-Day.

But his ambition to get to Berlin before Soviet forces was thwarted by supreme allied commander Dwight D. Eisenhower, who gave Patton’s petrol supplies to the more cautious British General Bernard Montgomery.

Patton, who distrusted the Russians, believed Eisenhower wrongly prevented him closing the so-called Falaise Gap in the autumn of 1944, allowing hundreds of thousands of German troops to escape to fight again,. This led to the deaths of thousands of Americans during their winter counter-offensive that became known as the Battle of the Bulge.

In order to placate Stalin, the 3rd Army was also ordered to a halt as it reached the German border and was prevented from seizing either Berlin or Prague, moves that could have prevented Soviet domination of Eastern Europe after the war.

Mr Wilcox told The Sunday Telegraph: “Patton was going to resign from the Army. He wanted to go to war with the Russians. The administration thought he was nuts.

“He also knew secrets of the war which would have ruined careers.

I don’t think Dwight Eisenhower would ever have been elected president if Patton had lived to say the things he wanted to say.” Mr Wilcox added: “I think there’s enough evidence here that if I were to go to a grand jury I could probably get an indictment, but perhaps not a conviction.”

Charles Province, President of the George S. Patton Historical Society, said he hopes the book will lead to definitive proof of the plot being uncovered. He said: “There were a lot of people who were pretty damn glad that Patton died. He was going to really open the door on a lot of things that they screwed up over there.”

UN, US criticize Nepal Maoist attack on journalists

UN, US slam attack on Nepal media house, journalists

Reuters | Dec 22, 2008

KATHMANDU, Dec 22 (Reuters) – The United Nations and the United States criticised on Monday a weekend attack by activists on a Nepali publishing house in which witnesses said journalists were beaten and the office ransacked.

About 50 activists, self-described supporters of Nepal’s ruling Maoist party, went to the office of Himalmedia, publishers of the weekly English-language Nepali Times and other magazines, and broke windowpanes before beating staff on Sunday.

The activists said they were angry at critical coverage.

“This is a direct attack on free press and democracy,” said Kunda Dixit, editor of the weekly.

Some staff received minor injuries, he said.

About 300 journalists and human rights activists marched through Kathmandu on Monday to protest against the attack.

Six people were injured when riot police used batons to break up the protest rally, said Jagat Nepal, a member of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists.

The Maoists abandoned a decade-long civil war two years ago and lead a coalition government after emerging as the biggest political party in an April election.

But they are being criticised by rival political parties for continuing violence and intimidation despite joining the political mainstream.

The United States and the Nepal office of the U.N. human rights agency condemned the attack and urged authorities to investigate the incident.

“There is no justification for the use of violence and intimidation by any party or organisation in an attempt to control the media or threaten freedom of the press in Nepal,” the U.S. embassy said in a statement.

The Maoist party, which has vowed to protect press freedom, said it would investigate. (Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Bappa Majumdar and Dean Yates)