Daily Archives: February 1, 2011

Hundreds Protest Against Putin’s “Rule of Thieves”

Police officers detain an opposition activist during a banned anti-Kremlin protest in St. Petersburg, Russia, Monday, Jan. 31, 2011. Opposition groups have been calling rallies on the 31st day of each month to honor the 31st article of the Russian Constitution, which guarantees the right of assembly. Most of the rallies have been banned or dispersed by police as unsanctioned. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

Hundreds of Russians protest against Putin

AP | Jan 31, 2011

MOSCOW (AP) — About 500 people demonstrated in a central Moscow square on Monday to demand the ouster of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his “rule of thieves.”

The rally took place peacefully, but police detained a separate group of 20 opposition activists nearby. About 60 protesters also were detained in St. Petersburg, one of a number of other cities where demonstrations were held.

Prominent opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was arrested and jailed for 15 days following a similar demonstration a month ago, kept up his assault on Russia’s longtime leader as he addressed the protesters on Moscow’s Triumph Square.

He compared Putin to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek, who is facing mass unrest after 30 years in power.

“Please, someone tell me how our leadership differs from his,” Nemtsov shouted to the crowd from the back of a truck. “Russia has to get rid of Putin.”

Nemtsov has accused Putin of allowing corruption to pervade the corridors of power and of building up considerable personal wealth during his 11 years in power at the expense of ordinary Russians. He also has denounced Putin’s reversal of the democratic achievements of the 1990s.

Russia’s beleaguered opposition holds demonstrations on the last day of every month with 31 days to call attention to the 31st Article of Russia’s Constitution, which guarantees freedom of assembly.

The city authorized Monday’s rally, but it also authorized the rally Dec. 31, during which 68 people were arrested, including Nemtsov. He was arrested after the rally while walking across the square to his car.

Nemtsov’s arrest drew Western condemnation and mobilized his supporters, who held daily pickets outside the jail where he was being held.

Hundreds of police surrounded the square Monday, but they allowed the demonstrators to disperse after the hourlong rally ended with cries of “Down with the rule of thieves.”

Police did, however, detain another opposition leader, Eduard Limonov, and his supporters as they walked away from the square. City police spokesman Gennady Bogachev said they were attempting to organize their own rally.

Limonov, who was arrested ahead of last month’s rally shortly after leaving his home and sentenced to 15 days in jail, has refused to join other opposition leaders at the sanctioned demonstrations.

In St. Petersburg, the opposition did not have permission to protest. Police spokesman Vyacheslav Stepchenko said officers detained 60 people when they broke up the rally.

Judge: Obama’s Health Overhaul Unconstitutional

US judge says Obama’s entire health plan unconstitutional; case destined for Supreme Court

Associated Press | Jan 31, 2011


PENSACOLA, Fla. – A federal judge in Florida ruled Monday that President Barack Obama’s entire health care overhaul law is unconstitutional, placing even noncontroversial provisions under a cloud in a broad challenge that seems certain to be resolved only by the Supreme Court.

Faced with a major legal setback, the White House called the ruling by U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson — in a challenge to the law by 26 of the nation’s 50 states — “a plain case of judicial overreaching.” That echoed language the judge had used to describe the law as an example of Congress overstepping its authority.

The Florida judge’s ruling produced an even split in federal court decisions so far on the health care law, mirroring enduring divisions among the public. Two judges had previously upheld the law, both Democratic appointees. A Republican appointee in Virginia had ruled against it.

The Justice Department quickly announced it would appeal, and administration officials declared that for now the federal government and the states would proceed without interruption to carry out the law. It seemed evident that only the U.S. Supreme Court could deliver a final verdict on Obama’s historic expansion of health insurance coverage.

On Capitol Hill, Republican opponents of the law pledged to redouble pressure for a repeal vote in the Democratic-controlled Senate following House action last month. Nearly all of the states that brought suit in in Vinson’s court have GOP attorneys general or governors.

Vinson ruled against the overhaul on grounds that Congress exceeded its authority by requiring nearly all Americans to carry health insurance, an idea dating back to Republican proposals from the 1990s but now almost universally rejected by conservatives.

His ruling followed the same general reasoning as one last year from the federal judge in Virginia. But where the first judge’s ruling would strike down the insurance requirement and leave the rest of the law in place, Vinson took it much farther, invalidating provisions that range from Medicare discounts for seniors with high prescription costs to a change that allows adult children up to age 26 to remain on their parents’ coverage.

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Mubarak ‘no dictator’ says Joe Biden, ignoring facts

WikiLeaked cables tell of endemic torture – but help explain US support for the regime

thefirstpost.co.uk | Jan 29, 2011

By Nigel Horne

Is US Vice President Joe Biden reading the same embassy cables the rest of us are? Thanks to WikiLeaks, the world now knows what the US Ambassador in Egypt was thinking about the regime of President Hosni Mubarak before this week’s protests, even if Biden appears to be out of the loop.

On the PBS show Newshour this week, Biden, who was invited by President Obama to be his Veep above all for his knowledge of world affairs, said of Mubarak: “I would not refer to him as a dictator.”

What criteria is Biden using? As pro-democracy commentators have been swift to remind the Vice President, Mubarak has been in power for 30 years, is grooming his son Gamal to replace him on his death, throws bloggers and protesters in jail, and turns a blind eye when his opponents are tortured by the security forces.

None of which has been a secret, especially to Biden, who has had access to a slew of cables from Cairo since he and Obama took over at the White House in January 2009.

Here – courtesy of WikiLeaks – is one in which US Ambassador Margaret Scobey addresses the endemic use of torture by Egyptian police:

“The police use brutal methods mostly against common criminals to extract confessions, but also against demonstrators, certain political prisoners and unfortunate bystanders. One human rights lawyer told us there is evidence of torture in Egypt dating back to the time of the pharoahs. NGO contacts estimate there are literally hundreds of torture incidents every day in Cairo police stations alone.”

Under Mubarak’s presidency, the cable went on, there had been “no serious effort to transform the police from an instrument of regime power into a public service institution”.

The embassy had been told how middle-class Egyptians did not report thefts from their apartment blocks because they knew the police would likely torture “all of the doormen”.

The cable cited one source who said the police simply beat up human rights lawyers who go into police stations to defend their clients. Women detainees risked sexual abuse.

So why Biden’s apparently pussy-footing line on Mubarak?

The US relationship with Egypt is delicately poised. Egypt was the first Arab nation to recognise Israel and continues to act as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians; Cairo has backed the US on sanctions against Iran; and, like the ousted President Ben Ali of Tunisia, Mubarak has acted as a bulwark against Islamist fundamentalism, which in Egypt’s case means keeping the opposition Muslim Brotherhood in check.

Another cable from Ambassador Scobey, dated March 31, 2009, two months after Obama’s inauguration, explained how, in reward for its support of US foreign interests, Egypt receives an annual $1.3bn grant from the US to enable the Mubarak regime to purchase US military hardware.

Ambassador Scobey’s report makes it clear that Mubarak sees the annual payment as “untouchable compensation” for making and maintaining peace with Israel.

She goes on: “The tangible benefits to our mil-mil [military-military] relationship are clear: Egypt remains at peace with Israel, and the US military enjoys priority access to the Suez Canal and Egyptian airspace.”

Ambassador Scobey’s cable also helps explain why Joe Biden, even in the midst of the pro-democracy protests on the streets of Cairo, would continue to support Mubarak.

Scobey concludes her March 31 cable: “We continue to promote democratic reform in Egypt, including the expansion of political freedom and pluralism, and respect for human rights.

“Egyptian democracy and human rights efforts, however, are being stymied, and the GoE [Government of Egypt] remains skeptical of our role in democracy promotion, complaining that any efforts to open up will result in empowering the Muslim Brotherhood, which currently holds 86 seats in Egypt’s 454-seat parliament.”

Needless to say, the idea of the Muslim Brotherhood running Egypt is as unpalatable to Biden and Obama as it is to Mubarak.

WikiLeaks: Mubarak lets Egyptians suffer to avoid ‘chaos’

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, left, greets Obama at the presidential palace in Cairo. Obama chose Egypt as the setting for his much-heralded address to the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims, which sought to heal the divide between Islam and the United States. Khaled Desouki-AFP/Getty Images

Cable highlights government’s use of ‘heavy-handed tactics against individuals and groups’

msnbc.com | Jan 31, 2011

CAIRO — U.S. diplomats repeatedly raised concerns with Egyptian officials about jailed dissidents and bloggers and followed reports of torture by police, according to cables released by WikiLeaks Friday.

A May 2009 cable also noted the Egyptian government’s use of “heavy-handed tactics against individuals and groups” after riots over bread prices broke out in 2008, in the first major public disorder for 31 years, The New York Times reported.

The cable, signed by Ambassador Margaret Scobey, said the response had been prompted by the growing strength of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood.

It described Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as a “tried and true realist” and a survivor, someone who preferred to “let a few individuals suffer than risk chaos for society as a whole,” according to the Times.

“During his 28-year rule, he survived at least three assassination attempts, maintained peace with Israel, weathered two wars in Iraq and post-2003 regional instability, intermittent economic downturns, and a manageable but chronic internal terrorist threat,” the cable said.

Egypt is one of the most important U.S. allies in the Arab world but as the Mideast country sees the biggest anti-government protests in years, inspired by the popular revolt in Tunisia, the public support of the U.S. has become less assured.

In an interview broadcast live on YouTube on Thursday, Obama said that Mubarak has been “an ally of ours on a lot of critical issues.”

But Obama added: “I’ve always said to him that making sure that they’re moving forward on reform, political reform and economic reform, is absolutely critical to the long-term well-being of Egypt.”

WikiLeaks also published a U.S. diplomatic cable about a meeting between Senator John Kerry and Qatar Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who is referred to as HBJ.

The “confidential” cable, dated February 2010 and sent by Ambassador Joseph E. LeBaron, discussed Egypt’s role in Mideast peace process.

Al-Thani is said to have claimed Egypt had a vested interest in dragging out the talks for as long as possible as their role as a broker was its “only business interest with the U.S.”

It also discussed Mubarak’s domestic situation, saying he was “thinking about how his son can take his place and how to stave off the growing strength of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

“The Egyptian ‘people blame America’ now for their plight. The shift in mood on the ground is ‘mostly because of Mubarak and his close ties’ to the United States,” the cable summarized al-Thani as saying.

The cable said Al-Thani told Kerry that Qatar was worried about “Egypt and its people, who are increasingly impatient.”

“Mubarak, continued HBJ, says (Qatar-based) Al Jazeera is the source of Egypt’s problems. This is an excuse. HBJ had told Mubarak ‘we would stop Al Jazeera for a year’ if he agreed in that span of time to deliver a lasting settlement for the Palestinians. Mubarak said nothing in response, according to HBJ,” the cable added.

Africa’s worst dictator becomes African Union leader

afrol News | Jan 31, 2011

By Rainer Chr. Hennig

AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping (l) and Equatoguinean President Teodoro Obiang Nguema (r) Oficina Prensa Guinea Ecuatorial/afrol News

Equatorial Guinea’s Dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema has been elected to take over the post of chairman of the African Union (AU). “This is the darkest day in the AU’s history,” afrol News editors comment.

President Obiang, taking power in Equatorial Guinea from his uncle in 1978 in a coup, has the dubious honour of competing for the title as Africa’s worst dictator, only comparable to the Presidents of Eritrea and The Gambia.

The election of Mr Obiang as the next chairman of the African Union (AU) – taking over from Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika – comes as an unprecedented wave of popular democracy demands is shaking up authoritarian rule at the northern flank of the AU – for now in Tunisia and Egypt.

There was a fear among many African leaders gathered at the Addis Ababa summit that the same wave of rebellion may hit their countries. When the Egyptian protesters succeed, there will be attempts of revolution also in sub-Saharan Africa.

And how did these leaders react to the popular demand of democracy and human rights? They elected Teodoro Obiang Nguema to lead them through these upcoming times of unrest. This can only be described as the darkest day in the AU’s history.

Who is President Obiang?

He has ruled Equatorial Guinea as his private estate since 1978. A US Senate investigation revealed that he has channelled vast amounts of money from the impoverished country to private foreign accounts. Estimates of his wealth start at US$ 700 million, on foreign accounts alone.

His family members hold all major positions in the country, especially in the army and within ministries and companies managing natural resources as oil and timber, but also all national media. The President’s son “Teodor�n”, known as a playboy, has also acquired enormous wealth, including a US$ 35 million estate in California.

Opposition is not allowed in Equatorial Guinea, at least not in practical terms. Opponents end up in exile or in prison. Only one true opposition party – the CPDS – has been allowed to exist, although its leader is regularly jailed and elections are rigged to favour President Obiang.

Opposition views do not reach the people as the entire independent press is illegalised and even foreign media are blocked from the country. Secret police pick up those still daring to utter oppositional views. Torture is the norm at Equatorial Guinea’s feared prisons.

Until 2001, there was a special UN Rapporteur following the dire human rights situation in Equatorial Guinea and presenting one shocking report after the other. But at that time President Obiang had started to cash in significant oil revenues, spending much of it to improve his international standing. After a surprise UN vote, the special Rapporteur’s mandate was withdrawn.

Now making use of expensive US marketing and reputation agencies, President Obiang is now trying to sell in an image of himself as a respected elder African statesman. The US spin-doctors regularly overflow the internet with news of social and democratic progress in Equatorial Guinea.

He has had some victories. Together with Gabon, Equatorial Guinea will organise the 2012 CAN African football championship. Last year, the parliament of the Central African block CEEAC was opened in Malabo, the Equatoguinean capital.

But not everybody could be bought for Mr Obiang’s oil money, it was established last year. The Equatoguinean Dictator wanted to donate some of “his” funds to UNESCO to establish the “Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research.” The UN culture agency – also representing the world press – had originally agreed to accept the prize, but massive international pressure, including from Africa, forced UNESCO to drop it.

This is the man that now is to represent Africa at a global level. The man to voice the NEPAD initiative (which now should be termed officially dead) in the international community. The man that will be the chief of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The man that shall head the AU’s fight against corruption.

The African Union yesterday completely lost its credibility.

Africans choose dictator Obiang to head African Union

Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, President of Equatorial Guinea, speaks during the United Nations General Assembly in 2009 at UN headquarters in New York.

CP | Jan 31, 2011

By Michelle Faul

JOHANNESBURG — African leaders have chosen Equatorial Guinea’s coup plotter and dictator of 31 years to serve as their ceremonial leader this year, a move critics said Monday could undermine the African Union’s attempt to confront other leaders who cling to power.

Human rights groups accuse President Teodoro Obiang of violating the very rights that the AU is sworn to uphold. They say he has made himself, his family and some cronies fabulously wealthy while the majority of people in the oil-rich Central African nation struggle in deep poverty.

Obiang claimed to have won 95 per cent of the vote after Equatorial Guinea’s elections in 2009, making him an unlikely critic of Ivory Coast’s incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to cede power two months after the international community said he lost the vote.

“Neither the African Union nor Africans deserve a leader whose regime is notorious for abuses, corruption and a total disregard for the welfare of its people,” Alioune Tine, president of the Dakar, Senegal-based African Assembly for the Defence of Human Rights, said by phone from the summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Traditionally, the chairmanship is given to the leader of the country hosting the next summit, but an exception was made in 2005 when it was the turn of Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir and African leaders bowed to outside pressures in the uproar over killings in Darfur. They passed over al-Bashir and instead kept Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo for a second year.

There was also dismay when the Africans appointed Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi as chairman in 2009. Gadhafi has ruled Libya since seizing power in a coup in 1969 and was seen as a poor example at a time when Africa’s democratic gains were being reversed, a trend that continues today.

This week’s summit, which started Sunday and ends Monday, was dominated by the crisis in Ivory Coast. How African leaders deal with it is important in a year when more than a dozen African countries are to hold elections. Many polls, such as one planned for later this year in Zimbabwe, are likely to be violently contested.

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled since 1980, despite 2008 elections that were violent and widely condemned as fraudulent, took part in a meeting to decide “a democratic solution” to the Ivory Coast stalemate.

Some question whether leaders at the two-day summit are seeing the writing blazed on the wall by Tunisian protesters whose popular revolt ousted 23-year dictator Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali. His was a notable absence from the summit, as was that of embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Gadhafi.

Sudan’s president was in attendance even though students in his nation on Sunday began protests inspired by the success of Tunisia’s uprising.

Such protests are unlikely in Equatorial Guinea, where human rights groups say any sign of dissent is met with arrests and incarceration in a prison notorious for torture and starvation. Last year, four alleged coup plotters were executed just an hour after they were condemned.

Since oil was discovered in Equatorial Guinea some 20 years ago, the country’s per capita income has grown larger than that of some European countries, making it the richest nation in sub-Saharan Africa.

Yet life for the average citizen has become harsher: according to U.N. figures the number of infants dying has increased while only 30 per cent of children complete primary school. Only a third of the population has running water and electricity and 60 per cent live on less than a dollar a day.

New York-based Human Rights Watch condemned Obiang’s appointment and added, “Even if the AU elects Obiang as its chair, members should not allow him to stall the AU’s efforts and progress in tackling African human rights crises,” notably in Ivory Coast.

At a summit with the theme of unity, the Ivory Coast crisis only served to mark fundamental differences between African leaders. West Africans led by economic giant Nigeria stuck to their guns in supporting opposition leader Alassane Ouattara, whom the United Nations and European Union also have recognized as the winner of November elections.

But South Africa has been suggesting a re-count of votes, supporting the position of the intransigent incumbent, Gbagbo. South Africa’s stand is supported by Uganda, Angola and Equatorial Guinea — those last three all led by men accused of hanging onto power through questionable elections.

Gbagbo also has suggested a power-sharing deal to resolve the Ivorian stalemate — much like the unity governments that emerged in Zimbabwe and Kenya after violence-plagued elections, with mixed success.

South Africa’s weekly Mail and Guardian newspaper warned that a power-sharing deal for Ivory Coast “would solidify the trend begun in Kenya and Zimbabwe of rewarding those who refuse to accept electoral outcomes and who use violence to maintain their grip on power.”

The AU, meanwhile, appointed a panel including six presidents to resolve the deadlock in a month.

The Ivorian crisis is the first to see the African Union uphold elections that unseat an incumbent.

Political scientist Adekeye Adebajo, head of the Center for Conflict Resolution at South Africa’s University of Cape Town, says the African Union has done well in recent years in dealing with unconstitutional regime changes, foiling attempts to set up military regimes in Ivory Coast, Togo and the Comoros.

“But when it comes to dealing with civilians, civilian coups d’etat, they tend to be at a loss,” he said. “I think it’s very hard for them African Union to be a promoter of democracy as long as a lot of its members themselves have flawed democratic processes.”


Organic Panic: Obama Green Lights Monsanto’s Mutant Alfalfa

Monsanto  to dominate the market and increase profits

USDA Deregulation of Genetically Modified Hay Threatens Organic Foods, Critics Say

ABC | Jan 31, 2011


WASHINGTON – The nation’s organic farmers are sounding the alarm after an Obama administration decision they say could destroy their supply chains and drastically limit the choices and availability of some popular consumer foods.

The Department of Agriculture decided last week to allow the widespread, unregulated use of genetically modified alfalfa, commonly known as hay, which is the primary feed for dairy cows and beef cattle across the country.

Opponents argue that the mutant crops, engineered to survive being sprayed with insecticide, could escape from their fields and eventually cross-pollinate with and contaminate neighboring organic crops. That could mean less organic feed for the organic cows that produce a range of organic products.

“Consumers don’t eat [genetically modified] alfalfa, of course,” said Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” which examines the U.S. farming and food industry. “But it’s the main feed for dairy cows. And organic milk, one of the most successful and popular organic foods, could be compromised if the organic cows eat non-organic feed.”

Some environmental experts are also concerned that broader planting of herbicide-resistant crops, which are then doused with powerful chemicals, could expedite the spread of “superweeds,” which are herbicide-resistant pests that force farmers to potentially use more toxic substances to root them out.

“This is a bad solution to a nonexistent problem,” said Pollan, who noted more than 90 percent of alfalfa crops are grown without a herbicide.

Many organic farming advocates speculate that the new Roundup-ready alfalfa is an attempt by the crop’s commercial producers — Monsanto and Forage Genetics International — to dominate the market and increase profits.

But Monsanto, the nation’s leading producer of genetically modified seeds and popular herbicide Roundup, said Roundup-ready alfalfa has been welcomed by many farmers because it yields “healthier, faster-growing stands [plantings] and hay with fewer weeds in every bale.”

The special seeds were first widely planted in 2005 on more than 250,000 acres before a court order in 2007 halted further planting until the USDA could review complaints by organic farming groups.

“Roundup-ready alfalfa is not expected to become more invasive in natural environments or have any different effect on critical habitat than traditional alfalfa,” the USDA said in a statement explaining its decision. “In addition, the nutritional profiles of RR alfalfa and traditional alfalfa are not different (within normal cultivar variations); therefore animal nutrition is not expected to be different.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the agency has formed two advisory committees to evaluate the rollout of genetically modified alfalfa and ensure growers have access to non-modified seed if they want it.

“I see real progress here,” New York University professor and food expert Marion Nestle wrote in the Atlantic earlier this month of the government’s willingness to weigh regulation of alfalfa. “At least — and at last — USDA recognizes the threat of GM [genetically modified] agriculture to organic production.”

But many critics were shocked that the agency didn’t accommodate any of their concerns, including a possible rule requiring that altered crops not to be planted alongside organic ones.

“USDA has become a rogue agency in its regulation of biotech crops and its decision to appease the few companies who seek to benefit from this technology comes despite increasing evidence that GE [genetically engineered] alfalfa will threaten the rights of farmers and consumers, as well as damage the environment,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for the Center for Food Safety.

He said the group plans to sue.

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Egypt Shuts Down the Web, What Would It Take to Switch Off Internet in U.S.?

How Did Egypt Kill the Internet?

Egypt Shuts Down the Web, What Would It Take to Switch Off Internet in U.S.?

Internet ‘Kill Switch’ Proposed in the U.S.

ABC | Jan 28, 2011


No Google. No Facebook. No Twitter. No Skype. Since about 5:20 a.m. ET Thursday, virtually all of Egypt has been living in a Web-less world.

In an effort to silence protesters, the Egyptian government took the unprecedented step of shutting down nearly all Internet and mobile phone access, effectively turning off the Web for most of the country.

Vodafone, second largest telecommunications carrier in Egypt, released a statement today saying all telecom companies were ordered by the Egyptian government to shut off service earlier today.

While countries like China and Iran have previously cut off access to specific websites in their countries, computer network experts say those approaches were modest compared to Egypt’s drastic decision to essentially unplug itself from the worldwide Web.

“The Egyptian government’s actions…have essentially wiped their country from the global map,” wrote Jim Cowie, chief technology officer and co-founder of Internet monitoring firm Renesys, on his company’s blog.

Although Egypt has narrowed Internet traffic down to a trickle, it appears that one Internet provider, Noor Group, is still up and running, possibly allowing some Egyptians very limited access to some social media tools and Web services.

Internet monitoring companies don’t know why the company is still routing Web traffic, but note that the Egyptian Stock Exchange is still live at a Noor Web address. A few other Internet providers also appear to support minimal Web traffic.

But Egypt has successfully managed to turn off the Web across most of the country,

Egyptian banks, websites, schools, government offices, Internet cafes, homes or businesses that relied one of four major Egyptian Internet service providers are now disconnected from the world, he said, adding that four major mobile phone companies and their customers are also without wireless service.

Internet ‘Kill Switch’ Proposed in the U.S.

Cowie said that it would be implausible to imagine that happening in the U.S.

“You just ask yourself, how many phone calls would I have to make to turn it off?” he said.

In a country like Egypt, where just a handful of large companies control the Internet, it could take potentially less than 10, maybe as few as four, phone calls to get the job down.

But in the U.S. — the birthplace of the Internet — it could take possibly thousands of phone calls to grind Web traffic to a halt, Cowie said, because the U.S. government doesn’t wield as much control over the country’s thousands of Internet players as the Egyptian government does.

“We’re the oldest Internet market and, because the U.S. Internet has evolved over the years, it’s extremely complex,” he said. “There are thousands of organizations all participating in carrying Internet traffic around the country and in and out of the country. The number of phone calls you’d have to make would be very large.”

Last summer, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) introduced a bill that proposes what many have called an Internet “kill switch” for the U.S. The bill, which is expected to be reintroduced this year, requires Web companies and Internet providers to comply with the U.S. government and gives the president the authority to shut down the Web in a national cyber emergency.

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U.S. town demolished over lead contamination

A sign on the youth soccer field in Picher, Oklahoma April 18, 2006. For 23 years now, the 1,500-plus residents of this historic mining community in northeast Oklahoma have known they were in trouble, trapped by growing evidence that waste from mining operations the area once thrived on was poisoning the air, the water and the land. To match feature Life Oklahoma. REUTERS/Carey Gillam

Reuters | Jan 28, 2011

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters Life!) – Most of its residents left, the school closed, the city government was disbanded and starting this week nearly every commercial building in Picher, Oklahoma, will be demolished.

But the owner of the last-remaining open business in Picher, which has been vacated over the years because of lead contamination, is not ready to go.

“It’s not time for me to leave yet,” said Gary Linderman, owner of Old Miner’s Pharmacy in what is left of central Picher, located in the northeast corner of the state.

“I have an obligation to people. We are all creatures of habit and closing might throw them off.”

In addition to providing prescriptions, the pharmacy is the only place left in town to buy snack food, beverages, over-the-counter medicine and other necessities.

Linderman declined a buyout from the federal government, which declared Picher a hazardous waste site in 1981 and has bought out about 900 homeowners and businesses. Crews demolished a funeral home, restaurant, thrift shop, apartment building and other structures this week, with more to come.

Besides lead contamination, Picher has suffered in recent years from sinkholes from old mines that threaten to swallow the community. Three years ago, a tornado destroyed about 150 homes, chasing more people away.

Picher’s population has shrunk from 1,640 in 2000 to only a handful of residents today. The school district and city government dissolved in 2009 and the post office closed.

The town had more than 14,000 residents in the 1920s.

Because of historic significance, a church, mining museum, auction house and a building where mining equipment was sold will remain standing, though they are abandoned. Linderman’s building will be surrounded by vacant lots in what used to be downtown, but he doesn’t seem to mind.

“I’m a farm boy,” he said. “I’m used to the wide open spaces.”

China’s CNOOC buys one-third stake in Colorado, Wyoming energy project

China’s CNOOC Ltd has agreed to pay $570 million for one-third of US firm Chesapeake Energy’s shale oil and gas project

AFP | Jan 31, 2011

BEIJING — China’s CNOOC Ltd said Monday it has agreed to pay $570 million for one-third of US firm Chesapeake Energy’s shale oil and gas drilling project in the American states of Colorado and Wyoming.

The investment in the 800,000-acre (323,749-hectare) project in two basins is the second deal between the firms since October and signals greater efforts by both energy-guzzling countries to develop the hard-to-reach resources.

CNOOC’s wholly owned subsidiary CNOOC International would buy the 33.3 percent stake, the Chinese company said on its website. In addition, it will fund two-thirds of the drilling costs up to $697 million.

“It is a great pleasure to establish further cooperation with Chesapeake in shale oil and gas development,” said CNOOC chairman Fu Chengyu.

“The project highlights the joint interests of energy companies in both US and China to accelerate the development of shale oil and gas, increase energy supply and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Chesapeake announced in October it had reached a deal with CNOOC to sell about a third of its interest in the Eagle Ford Shale project in South Texas for $1.08 billion.

Chief executive of the Oklahoma-based company, Aubrey McClendon, said the latest deal would “provide the capital necessary to accelerate drilling” in the project in northeast Colorado and southeast Wyoming and create thousands of jobs.

Shale gas comes from deep reserves that were thought inaccessible until the advent of new drilling methods. But costs still are usually above conventional gas, and some environmentalists worry about pollution in drinking water.

Chinese companies are investing in resources from Australia to Africa to Latin America as Beijing tries to secure access to raw materials needed to fuel the fast-growing economy.