Daily Archives: January 3, 2009

Communists appoint their own priests to Nepalese temple amid protests

Riot police for Nepal temple row

The Supreme Court has barred the new priests from performing rituals

BBC | Jan 2, 2009

Maoist-appointed priests are escorted by armed riot police and Maoist cadres

Maoist-appointed priests are escorted by armed riot police and Maoist cadres

Riot police have been deployed at Nepal’s holiest Hindu temple to stop protesters angry at the government’s attempt to remove Indian priests.

Prayers at Pashupatinath temple have always been led by high caste Brahmin priests recruited from south India.

Earlier this week they were replaced by local priests – a move that ended centuries of tradition.

The move is seen as a reflection of wider changes in the past year with the former Maoist rebels coming to power.

The temple decision has led to demonstrations by Hindu groups.

“We want this decision scrapped immediately,” news agency AFP quoted one priest, Hariharman Bhandari, as saying. “The Maoists have appointed their own people.”

On Thursday, Nepal’s Supreme Court directed the temple authorities to clarify the controversy and not to let the newly appointed Nepali priests perform the rituals.

However, the new priests visited holy sites around the Pashupatinath complex escorted by riot police and Maoist volunteers.

Outside, protesters shouted “Down with Maoists” as the priests performed ceremonies.

King’s role

The temple complex sits on a sacred river on the edge of Kathmandu and rises up from the bank amid a mass of pagoda-style buildings.

For the past 250 years, the temple has recruited its priests from south Indian Brahmins.

Traditionally, the temple authorities would appoint its priests in conjunction with the king.

But the new government in Nepal is led by the Maoist party. And earlier this year, it abolished the monarchy.

This made the Maoist prime minister a patron of the temple.

Pramananda Shakya, the new head of the Pashupati Development Trust, said the reforms were necessary.

“We are trying to end the financial irregularities that take place inside the temple. That’s why some people are not happy with our decisions and are protesting,” he said.

Real ID mandate resisted in Virginia

Bills introduced declaring intention to oppose enforcement

ASSOCIATED PRESS | Jan 3, 2009

By Dena Potter

RICHMOND | Some legislators want Virginia to join the growing chorus of states that have defied the federal government by refusing to participate in a national identification program billed as a way to fight terrorism and identity theft.

Two pieces of legislation for consideration when lawmakers return to Richmond on Jan. 14 call for Virginia to ignore the federal mandate to come into compliance with the Real ID Act by the end of 2009.

Similar bills went nowhere last year, but supporters say the looming deadline gives the issue new urgency.

“Basically, this statute that I put in is one to let the feds know that, one, the way you’re going about this we have problems with, and two, if you intend to enforce this, we intend to challenge it,” said Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican and one of the sponsors.

Since the law’s enactment in 2005, at least 42 states have considered anti-Real ID legislation, and more than half have passed measures either forbidding their states from participating or urging Congress to amend or repeal the law.

At least five states have gone in the other direction, passing bills bringing their programs into compliance.

Critics say they expect other states to join Virginia this year to fight against Real ID.

The program was born out of the commission that looked into the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It recommended that the U.S. improve its system of issuing identification documents because the hijackers had numerous licenses and state IDs. Congress approved legislation requiring states to issue licenses and ID cards that meet certain security standards.

The new IDs will be required for federal purposes, such as boarding an airplane or entering a federal building. Other federal identification, including passports and military IDs, also will be accepted.

“The bottom line is that citizens of states who do not move forward with the Real ID mandate from Congress will see real consequences,” said Laura Keehner, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, which is in charge of the program.

States had until May 2008 to implement Real ID, but the department extended that until Dec. 31, 2009. If they need more time and have met certain benchmarks, states can request an extension until May 11, 2011.

“The fact that Congress passed this and could not figure out the prudential question of when the states could actually do this tells me that it wasn’t thoroughly vetted,” Mr. Marshall said.

The opposition has centered around cost and privacy concerns.

Homeland Security originally estimated it would cost states $14 billion to implement the program, but in January it loosened the restrictions and said the added flexibility would bring the cost to under $4 billion.

Homeland Security and other agencies have given out about $500 million in grants, but state officials say that’s not enough.

Critics also claim that Real ID diminishes privacy, and they object to a national ID that would have to be shown for everyday identification purposes.

“Certainly people should be identified by high standards when that’s called for, but it’s not called for when you’re going to buy beer,” said Jim Harper, director of information policy studies for the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

“If we’re going to have our identity recorded every time we buy beer or use a credit card or buy gas, that turns into one big surveillance system,” he said.

But Ms. Keehner said the identification cards will increase, not decrease privacy by preventing identity theft.

She said claims that the program creates a national database are incorrect. There is a hub where each state Department of Motor Vehicles will check to ensure that an individual has only one ID, but states will not have access to other states’ data.

Parents of China milk scandal victims arrested for holding a news conference

Parents of China milk scandal victims detained

Reuters | Jan 2, 2009

BEIJING (Reuters) – A group of parents whose children fell ill from drinking tainted Chinese milk have been detained by police apparently trying to block them from holding a news conference, one of the fathers said on Friday.

At least six children have died from kidney stones and more than 290,000 been made ill from the melamine-contaminated milk, battering already dented faith in China-made products and prompting massive recalls around the world.

Tian Wenhua, the 66-year-old former general manager of the now bankrupt Sanlu Group, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to charges of “producing and selling fake or substandard products.” She is expected to be sentenced to life imprisonment, the Beijing News said.

One of the fathers, whose 13-month-old son suffers from severe kidney stones, said some parents, including himself, were taken to a labor camp on the outskirts of Beijing.

“We are under house arrest now, and they did not give us any reasons why they kept us here,” the father told Reuters by phone.

Five parents had been detained, but the rest of the group held a news conference on Friday, calling attention to the plight of the children. A website created by anti-Sanlu protesters was blocked on Friday. It was not immediately clear why.

“The government said all the medical care is free, but when it comes to the local level, things change. I have already paid more than 50,000 yuan ($7,300) for the operation and cure,” said the father, a migrant worker from Sichuan province.

Melamine, an industrial compound used in plastic and fertilizer, was added to milk to cheat protein tests.

Some 22 dairy firms, led by Sanlu, have apologized and asked forgiveness for the contamination.

“We are deeply sorry for the harm caused to the children and society,” they said in a New Year text message to millions of phone subscribers. “We sincerely apologize for that and we beg your forgiveness.”

First-Ever Masonic Inaugural Ball to be Held for Obama

obama_masonic_inargural_ball_announcement

Tickets are now on sale for the first-ever Masonic Inaugural Ball held in Washington, D.C.

PRWEB | Jan 2, 2009

William R. Singleton Hope Lebanon Lodge #7 is hosting the first-ever Masonic Inaugural Ball in honor of President-elect, Barack Obama and Vice-President Elect Joseph Biden.

Tickets are limited, so you are encouraged to purchase yours quickly.

This first-ever event will be held at 8:00 p.m.:

Stars Bistro
2120 P Street, NW
Washington, DC

While other inauguration balls are costing $125-$500 or more per ticket, we’ve arranged for an evening with some amazing food, a great DJ, and brotherhood, all for $65 per ticket, we’ve also included an incentive to help pay the baby sitter, couples may go for just $120 a piece.

All proceeds from this event will be donated to the Masonic Foundation of the District of Columbia.

For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit:

http://singletonlodge.org/home/inaugural-masonic-ball/

Directions:

Traffic will be difficult to get through the District of Columbia. We are recommending that people take metro. Stars Bistro is conveniently located west of the Dupont Circle Metro Station (exit north.) There will be valet parking available for those choosing to drive.

Related

Coming to the Battlefield: Stone-Cold Robot Killers

terminator_swarm

Washington Post | Jan 4, 2009

By John Pike

Armed robotic aircraft soar in the skies above Pakistan, hurling death down on America’s enemies in the war on terrorism. Soon — years, not decades, from now — American armed robots will patrol on the ground as well, fundamentally transforming the face of battle. Conventional war, even genocide, may be abolished by a robotic American Peace.

The detachment with which the United States can inflict death upon our enemies is surely one reason why U.S. military involvement around the world has expanded over the past two decades. The excellence of American military technology makes it possible for U.S. forces to inflict vast damage upon the enemy while suffering comparatively modest harm in return.

War is about the sacrifice of blood and treasure, and the American style of war is to substitute treasure for blood. From the early days of the republic, when Eli Whitney is said to have used interchangeable parts to manufacture superior muskets, to the invention of Gatling guns and Kevlar armor, American ingenuity has been devoted to devising ever more efficient ways of killing the enemy and preventing the enemy from killing us.

One common factor in much of American military prowess is the surprisingly obscure fact of modern life known as Moore’s Law. Gordon Moore, a co-founder of Intel, noticed nearly half a century ago that computing power seemed to be doubling about every two years. Laptops, cellphones, the Internet — they’re simply commentaries on Moore’s Law.

The rapid emergence of the armed unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) that roam over Pakistan is a sequel to Moore’s Law. Onboard computers became far more powerful, so automatic pilots became far more competent. Signal processors became more sophisticated, facilitating collection and processing of more interesting intelligence. Global Positioning System receivers shrank and could be economically employed on small robotic aircraft. Precision-guided munitions could deliver lethal firepower. And so forth.

The U.S. Navy has arguably moved farthest toward substituting treasure for blood. A generation ago the Reagan administration brought World War II-era battleships out of mothballs to provide gunfire support to onshore operations. With a crew of more than 1,500, these ships were designed to be manned by the low-paid draftees of the 1940s, not the more amply rewarded volunteers of the 1980s. The Navy couldn’t afford them, and the ships were soon returned to mothballs. In their place, the Navy came up with the new DDG-1000 Zumwalt destroyer, an automated warship with a crew of only 150.

The Air Force is also moving down this path. Long skeptical of UAVs, it has begun to embrace them as the future of air power. Piloted aircraft face fundamental limits of crew fatigue. Heavy bombers flying from the island base of Diego Garcia to Afghanistan would spend more than a dozen hours flying to and from the target area, leaving little time for loitering over it. In contrast, large bomber-size UAVs can spend days over the target. At some point in the next decade, the Air Force will begin replacing cockpits with robotic pilots.

The Army has benefited far less than the Navy and the Air Force from the substitution of treasure for blood. In World War II, the Sherman tank had a crew of five. Sixty years later, the Abrams tank has a crew of four. In World War II, the M1 Garand rifle required one infantryman to pull the trigger, and today’s M16 requires the same — not exactly a testament to improved labor productivity.

But now the Army stands on the threshold of one of the greatest transformations in war-fighting history, on the short list with steel and gunpowder. The Future Combat Systems program is aimed at developing an array of new vehicles and systems — including armed robots. The robots of past science fiction were governed by Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws, which precluded bringing harm to humans. But the real robots of the future will be different. Within a decade, the Army will field armed robots with intellects that possess, as H.G. Wells put it, “minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic.”

Let us dwell on “unsympathetic.” These killers will be utterly without remorse or pity when confronting the enemy. That’s something new. In 1947, military historian S.L.A. Marshall published “Men Against Fire,” which documented the fundamental difference between real soldiers and movie soldiers: Most real soldiers will not shoot at the enemy. Most won’t even discharge their weapons, and most of the rest do no more than spray bullets in the enemy’s general direction. These findings remain controversial, but the hundreds of thousands of bullets expended in Iraq for every enemy combatant killed suggests that it’s not too far off the mark.

Only a few troops, perhaps 1 percent, will actually direct aimed fire at the enemy with the intent to kill. These troops are treasured, and set apart, and called snipers.

Armed robots will all be snipers. Stone-cold killers, every one of them. They will aim with inhuman precision and fire without human hesitation. They will not need bonuses to enlist or housing for their families or expensive training ranges or retirement payments. Commanders will order them onto battlefields that would mean certain death for humans, knowing that the worst to come is a trip to the shop for repairs. The writing of condolence letters would become a lost art.

No human army could withstand such an onslaught. Such an adversary would present the enemy with the simple choice of martyrdom or flight. So equipped, America’s military would be irresistible in battle.

This would not be a panacea. Thugs would still rob pedestrians, organized crime would persist and so too would terrorists and other small bands of men of violence. But the large-scale organized killing that has characterized six millenniums of human history could be ended by the fiat of the American Peace.

Genocide, and the failure of the outside word to intervene, could also become a thing of the past. The industrialized murder of the Holocaust could perhaps have been disrupted by Allied bombers, but subsequent genocides have been less institutionalized, and far less vulnerable to air power. Intervention would require infantry and a decision to accept casualties. Genocide prevention may be in the interest of our common humanity, but it has never been in the national interest. But with no body bags to explain to bewildered voters, America’s leaders may be less hesitant in the future about imposing an end to atrocities in places such as Darfur.

john@globalsecurity.org

John Pike is the director of the military information Web site GlobalSecurity.org.

Blair calls on Obama to “find an agenda” to unify the world

blair_obama

World changing: Tony Blair and Barack Obama together in Downing Street in 2005. Mr Blair says the new President could unite the world

Blair calls on Obama to use his presidency to unify the world… and says he’s still friends with President Bush

Daily Mail | Jan 2, 2009

By Joe Murphy

Tony Blair has called on Barack Obama to use his presidency to ‘unify’ the globe.

The former premier urged the president-elect, who takes office on 20 January, to show he was listening to international opinion as well as leading it.

‘What he can do – and I believe that he will – is find an agenda that is capable of unifying the world,’ said Mr Blair.

‘An agenda that is about America leading and America listening simultaneously. that’s the key.’

Mr Blair, now a peace envoy to the Middle East, said the swearing-in of the first black us president was a chance to transform international relations.

‘I’ve never known an election to create so much interest and transform people’s view of America again in a positive way,’ he told the New Yorker magazine, saying he stayed up to watch the results while in Barbados.

‘Young people out in the middle of nowhere in Palestine have said to me, “They wouldn’t really elect a black man to the presidency.”

‘I’ve said “Well, I think they would”, but they’ve been taught for so long that America is … what it actually isn’t. And that’s why this is an enormous moment. it thrills America’s friends and sort of confuses its enemies.’

Mr Blair told how he still admired George W Bush and regarded him as a friend: ‘Yeah, of course I keep in touch with him.

‘I’m not a fair-weather friend. I say this to people all the time, even liberal people who cannot believe I can possibly like George W Bush.’

He said President Bush deserved respect for leading the world against terrorism: ‘He had very difficult decisions to take after September 11th, and I think he took the right decisions, actually.

‘I’m afraid that if there was any collective mistake that was made, it was not understanding how deep the struggle is and how long it’s going to have to be fought.’

Meanwhile, in a lecture to Yale university students, Mr Blair risked infuriating Gordon Brown by saying the economic boom of Labour’s first decade was down to good fortune.

‘We had 10 years of record growth when i was PM. i have, unfortunately, come to the conclusion it was luck.’

The joke is bound to be quoted endlessly at ex-chancellor Mr Brown.

Fundraisers who helped Mr Obama amass a record £500million for his presidential bid have given almost £14 million for his inauguration.

The cash will pay for receptions, dinners, balls and giant TV screens showing the event. Tom Hanks, Samuel L. Jackson and Steven Spielberg are among the donors.