Daily Archives: March 3, 2012

Ice, ice, baby: Arctic sea ice on the rebound

The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy and the Russian-flag bearing tanker Renda sit off the coast of Nome, Alaska after reaching the frozen Alaskan port with emergency fuel supplies in this Jan. 14 photo. The mission is the first mid-winter marine delivery to western Alaska and comes as oil and gas development  increase commercial traffic along trade routes in the Arctic. Charly Hengen / U.S. Coast Guard via Reuters

Newsnet5.com | Mar 2, 2012

Good news from the Arctic. Sea ice extent (area covered by ice) is at a seven-year high. It’s nearly back to within one standard deviation of the 30 year normal at 14.25 million square kilometers.

This year’s ice extent is the highest since 2006 at this point in the year.

Temperatures in the arctic remain well below freezing and should remain there through March. So, more ice should be added in the next few weeks. We are nearing the peak of sea ice in the Northern Hemisphere. Once April roles around, warmer temperatures will move north from the equator. That’s when ice extent will begin its yearly decline toward mid-summer.

I bet you didn’t expect to hear that, especially after the record melt a few years ago. Back in 2007, sea ice extent dropped to its lowest point in the satellite history. Since then, arctic ice extent has increased.

A lot has been made of disappearing Arctic sea ice and the prospects of ice-free summers due to global warming. But, let’s put that into perspective. The problem with much of this debate is the fact that accurate ice measurements go back only a few decades. Satellite measurements date back only to 1979 for Arctic sea ice, so accurate data is barely 30 years old. So, what was the state of Arctic sea ice before then? We just don’t know.

We have anecdotal evidence that shows the arctic with much less ice than we see today. Back in November 1922, The Monthly Weather Review reported on unusually warm temperatures and rapid ice melt in the arctic.

“So little ice has never been seen before.” In fact, scientific exploration that took place in August 1922, sailed in open water all the way to 81° 29 minutes North in ice free waters. This was the “farthest north ever reached with modern oceanographic apparatus.”

Another famous photo comes from the cold war days. The submarine, USS Skate, actually surfaced at the North Pole in ice free water back in the summer of 1958. There is no open water at the North Pole now, nor has there been in the modern satellite record. One crew member, James Hester, aboard the USS Skate remembers said, “the Skate found open water both in the summer and following winter. We surfaced near the North Pole in the winter through thin ice less than 2 feet thick.” And there are more examples.

If we listen to some scientists, the situation is getting worse. Back in 1947, Dr. Hans Ahlmann, a Swedish physicist, predicted the catastrophic loss of sea ice within a few years. In 1969, The New York Times predicted the Arctic would be ice-free by 1970. In 2008, Dr. Olav Orheim, head of the Norwegian International Polar Year Secretariat, said the Arctic would be ice-free by that same summer. Other prediction suggested the demise of North Pole ice by 2010, 2011, and now 2013 and 2015, and so on. There is still ice covering the arctic; a large amount of ice.

The latest bad news from the arctic comes from NASA. This week they announced that older, thicker, multi-year ice is in decline.

“The average thickness of the Arctic sea ice cover is declining because it is rapidly losing its thick component, the multi-year ice. At the same time, the surface temperature in the Arctic is going up, which results in a shorter ice-forming season.” That has been true since satellite records began, a mere 32 years ago. But, the latest measurements show that multi-year sea ice has increased since 2007. That’s more good news.

There are also many explanations for the recent fluctuations in ice thickness and extent. Back in 2010, Dr. Fredrik Ljungqvist used temperature reconstructions for the last 2000 years and discovered alternating warm and cold periods affecting the northern latitudes that were several hundred years long. Suggestions by NASA in 2007, in Smedsrud Et Al 2011 and recently in research by Wang, Song, and Curry suggest that wind patterns are a big factor in the Arctic puzzle. There’s also direct evidence that soot from the industrialization of Asia is collecting in the Arctic and could be a factor in albedo changes in the Arctic which contribute to ice loss. Ocean current circulations have also been shown to break up thicker ice and shift it into warmer ocean areas.

So, the bottom line is Arctic sea ice is effected by a variety of naturally occurring factors that cycle over years or decades. Without accurate measurements from a much longer time frame, it is impossible to tell whether ice loss over the last few decades is out of the ordinary. It is also impossible to accurately extrapolate the gain or loss of sea ice out several decades into the future. Arctic sea ice extent and thickness will likely ebb and flow with changes in these significant occurrences.

Canadian Coast Guard needs new advanced icebreaker to cut through up to 8 foot thick sea ice

Capable of accommodating 100 personnel, with space for 25 additional people, the new ship will be able to break through 2.5 metres [8 feet] of ice at three knots.

Finland to design advanced icebreaker for Canada

ianslive.in | Mar 2, 2012

Helsinki: Aker Arctic Technology of Finland will be joining a team led by STX Canada Marine, to design the Canadian Coast Guard’s future flagship, the CCGS John G. Diefenbaker.

Working with STX Canada Marine, Aker Arctic will be responsible for assessing ice loads, developing the hull form and structure of the ship, the conceptual design of the propulsion system, and providing the winterization principles to be used.The John G. Diefenbaker, named after a former prime minister, will be able to operate autonomously for 270 days in the Arctic, over a larger area and in more difficult conditions than any of Canada’s current icebreakers.

Capable of accommodating 100 personnel, with space for 25 additional people, the new ship will be able to break through 2.5 metres [8 feet] of ice at three knots, according to a statement of Good News, a Finland based news portal.

Helsinki based Aker Arctic Technology has practically designed well over half the world’s icebreakers, numerous Arctic and Antarctic research vessels, and a large number of cargo vessels and offshore structures designed to operate in some of the world’s harshest climates.

The design work based on a concept produced by the Canadian Coast Guard is expected to take 18 to 24 months to complete, and the vessel will be built by Vancouver Shipyards Co. Ltd.

The delivery of the John G. Diefenbaker will coincide with the decommissioning of the current CCG flagship, the CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent, in 2017.

New App Lets You Snitch on People for Homeland Security

Photo: Flickr/Miss_hg

Wired | Mar 2, 2012

By Spencer Ackerman

In less time than it takes to play a turn in Words With Friends, smartphone users can report a “suspicious person” to the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security.

The domestic counterterrorism agency’s West Virginia branch, in association with the West Virginia governor’s office, unveiled a new mobile app called the Suspicious Activity Reporting Application this week. “With the assistance of our citizens, important information can quickly get into the hands of our law enforcement community allowing them to provide better protection,” Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said in a statement. The app is available in the Apple App Store and the Android Market.

I downloaded it onto my phone. The interface is simple. After informing you that you should dial 911 for an actual emergency and asking if you want to submit your geolocation information, the app is fundamentally a camera function. You can annotate the image you capture with date and location (if you didn’t enable the auto-geolocation function); additional details like a “Subject’s” name, gender, eye color, “hair style” and more; and vehicle information if applicable. And you can submit your own information, allowing the authorities to contact you, or choose to submit it anonymously.

Once you click the green “Submit Report” bar, the picture you’ve snapped and the information you’ve recorded goes to the West Virginia Intelligence Fusion Center, a partnership between state law enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security. “The longer you wait the less accurate eyewitness information becomes and evidence fades,” the fusion center’s director, Thom Kirk, said in the statement.


This isn’t the first time that law enforcement has branched out into mobile applications. Kentucky’s state homeland security division launched “Eyes and Ears on Kentucky” for the iPhone last year. Its interface is different, but its functionality is the same.

On its face, there’s nothing about the app that protects either the civil liberties of citizens or the busy schedules of West Virginia homeland security operatives. You don’t have to affirm that you have evidence of a crime, or even a suspected crime, to send information to the Fusion Center. Nor is it clear how long the Fusion Center can keep information on U.S. citizens or persons sent to it through the app. (More broadly, the guidelines for the nationwide network of homeland security Fusion Centers don’t spell out so-called “minimization” procedures for any of the information they collect.)

In other words, there’s nothing in the app to stop you from snapping a picture of your annoying neighbor and sending it to the attention of federal and state counterterrorism agents in West Virginia, who can keep information on your neighbor’s face, body and perhaps his vehicle for an unspecified period of time.

It’s also unclear why West Virginia thinks its citizens need app-based suspicious activity reporting. A February study from the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University found that not a single plot or alleged plot involving Muslim-American terrorism occurred in the state in 2011. (.PDF) A Washington Post investigative project in 2010 found that West Virginia was one of only 15 states that has no terrorism convictions in state or federal courts since 9/11 and ranked 36th in states receiving federal homeland-security cash in 2009.

“We’re currently looking at our other services to see what else makes sense to move to the mobile platform,” the state’s homeland security director, Jimmy Gianato, said in the statement. It might not be long before the Department of Homeland Security — which has been exploring new spy tools derived from the military — follows suit on a national level.

Poor Indians used as human guinea pigs by US drug companies

View from a hidden camera shows volunteers for a clinical drug trial in a waiting room of one of the companies that conducts the studies.

Drug trial outsourcing to foreign countries is rapidly becoming an attractive alternative for U.S. pharmaceutical companies looking to save millions of dollars, avoid regulatory scrutiny and tap into a seemingly endless supply of drug study participants. 

‘People keep falling sick’: How poor Indians are recruited for clinical drug trials

NBC News | Mar 2, 2012

By Tim Sandler

Few people in the slums of Ahmedabad, India, know more about the supply of human guinea pigs for clinical drug trials than Rajesh Nadia.

When Indian firms working for pharmaceutical companies need test subjects, they often turn to Nadia, who has carved a small niche for himself as a recruiter in the international drug-testing industry.

“Companies call me or send me text messages,” he told “Dateline NBC” correspondent Chris Hansen.

Self-confident and well-groomed with gelled hair and tight-fitting designer jeans, Nadia said he is paid about $12 for every recruit he brings to the three Indian research labs with whom he works. In a region of western Indian where the average worker earns 50 cents a day, that’s good money.

“I don’t feel guilty,” Nadia said. “I believe conducting these studies is a humanitarian effort. So many people benefit from (the) advancement of medicine.”

Drug trial outsourcing to foreign countries is rapidly becoming an attractive alternative for U.S. pharmaceutical companies looking to save millions of dollars, avoid regulatory scrutiny and tap into a seemingly endless supply of drug study participants.

But a year-long Dateline investigation into one of the preferred destinations for overseas drug trials, India, raises questions about lax regulatory oversight in these studies, the integrity of some of the companies contracted to run them and the reliability of the data they produce.

Whether the studies are for birth control, diabetes, migraines or high blood pressure, money often draws volunteers into Indian drug trials. And Nadia said that many of his desperately poor recruits are so eager to enroll that they disregard potential risks.

“They don’t regard the smaller side effects,” Nadia explained. “Sometimes, people feel weak or get body ache. They don’t care about these little things because they need the money.”

Dr. Chandra Gulhati, editor of the “Monthly Index of Medical Specialties,” an Indian medical journal, points out that luring test subjects with money violates India’s Drugs and Cosmetics Act.  The act allows some payment, but not enough to sway free will.

“It should never be so much that it works as an inducement,” Gulhati said.

In practice, however, the pay is often just that. Subjects can make up to $400, depending on the length of the study — far outstripping traditional earnings.

The financial incentives can lead to study volunteers enrolling in more than one study at a time.  That not only puts their lives in danger, but it also can skew the accuracy of test results that drug companies and regulators rely on to judge a drug’s safety.

Asked if he was aware of volunteers taking part in more than one study at a time or ignoring “wash-out” rules designed to allow their bodies to be clean of test drugs, Nadia didn’t hesitate. “It happens. Lots of people do that.”

“Sometimes the subjects have to log into the system through thumbprint readers and sometimes they get caught,” he said.  “But if (the companies) need the subjects desperately, they will ignore these things.”

‘People keep falling sick’

Parsottam Parmar is a social worker in Ahmedabad’s slums who advocates for higher wages and ongoing health care for drug-study participants. He is alarmed by what he is witnessing.

“People keep falling sick,” he said. “There are many instances where there are swellings in the limbs, loss of eyesight. Several deaths have occurred … It becomes a question of human rights — a big one at that.”

The Indian government reports that across the country more than 1,500 people have died in clinical trials since 2008, many participating in studies for Western pharmaceutical companies. Because official documentation of the deaths is frequently incomplete or non-existent, it is unclear how many people died from the same illnesses that initially qualified them for certain drug studies.

Gulhati, the editor of the Indian medical journal, said official inquiries into drug-trial deaths are rare.

“Unlike the Western countries where there is an audit of each death during [a] clinical trial, we don’t have a system like that at all,” he said. “So that is the biggest problem.”

The lack of oversight by Indian government officials, Gulhati added, has created a culture of impunity for drug research companies and the doctors who work for them.

He offered a recent example. In 2010, an Indian government investigation confirmed 10 deaths at drug trials sponsored by Western drug companies, including Pfizer and Astra Zeneca, at the Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre. The facility was built to treat survivors of the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster.

Gas survivor patients and their families said some of the doctors who enrolled them never informed the patients that they were in drug studies nor did they pay them the requisite compensation. The hospital was paid more than $200,000 to conduct the studies, according to government records.

Gas survivor advocates also claimed that at least one of the 13 studies conducted between 2004 and 2008 appeared to be illegal in India at the time.

The Indian government later cited repeated violations of guidelines and regulations during the trials conducted between 2004 and 2008, but no penalties were issued to the hospital, doctors or the study sponsor.

In a warning letter to one company, India’s Drugs Controller General Dr. Surinder Singh wrote, “…you are hereby warned to be careful while conducting clinical trials to ensure that such deficiencies/discrepancies are not repeated in the future.”

The companies sponsoring the studies said that international standards and Indian laws were followed, though Astra Zeneca acknowledged errors in receiving proper consent from some patients. It said the problem was “promptly corrected.”

FDA faces ‘handicaps’ overseeing foreign trials

Although data from overseas studies is used help win FDA approval for drugs, the agency told Dateline in a statement that it faces “a number of handicaps in its inspections of foreign clinical sites, which are not technically under FDA jurisdiction under international law.”

In India, for example, the FDA said its inspectors are not legally permitted access to confidential records held by contract research firms that often do testing for Western pharmaceutical companies. It’s a law that would severely hamper any investigation into a patient’s death.

Satinath Sarangi, director of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, told Dateline that the incentive for drug companies to conduct research in India is obvious.

“You can do it cheaply, do it with no regulation, and even if there are violations, get away with it,” he said.

Following reports of unauthorized drug studies on children and mentally disabled patients, India’s health minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, told reporters last month that some companies running drug trials in India are not following regulations.

“Sometimes the companies don’t go by the laid-down procedures and it causes great harm to persons and individuals on which this test is carried out,” he said.

Even when deaths during drug trials raise questions, drug companies can eliminate those questions at little expense.

Last year, Azad, the Indian health minister, confirmed that 10 foreign drug companies paid an average of about $4,800 to relatives of 22 people who died during or after participating in drug trials in 2010. The amount is a small fraction of compensation paid for similar deaths in other countries, Gulhati said.

In the meantime, reports of illnesses and deaths linked to drug trials are doing little to deter a steady stream of willing volunteers. And Nadia sees no risk to his franchise.

“There is more supply than demand,” he said. “There’s nothing to feel bad (about). The subjects need the money, so they go. It’s as simple as that.”

Rare snowfall blankets Israel

The Dome of the Rock on the compound known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, is seen during a snow storm from Mount of Olives in Jerusalem March 2, 2012. Snow fell in Jerusalem on Friday morning. Local media reported this was the first time in four years that snow had fell in Jerusalem causing schools to close for the day. (AMIR COHEN – REUTERS)

washingtonpost.com | Mar 2, 2012

By Daniela Deane

Big snowflakes fell in Jerusalem on Friday morning, blanketing the holy city in white — for at least a few hours — for the first time in four years.

The snow then turned to rain, sleet, and hail for the fourth straight day. And more cold and stormy weather is predicted for the Holy Land this weekend.

Temperatures in Jerusalem, perched up in the Judean hills, are expected to drop to freezing — unusual in this sunny, southern Mediterranean climate. Winds have exceeded 65 miles an hour in some parts of the country over the past few days. Flights arriving at Ben-Gurion airport were delayed Thursday; trees were uprooted in the coastal city of Tel Aviv; flooding was expected in the south of the country.

You’d think the world was coming to an end or something.


This has been some of the worst winter Israel has had in its history (I know that‘s only 64 years, but still). More rain fell on Israel in January than any January on record — 29 out of 31 days. And February wasn’t a lot better. And this is March?

That’s just not normal here. Israel is a place known for its sunshine — 300 days a year, the brochures tell you — not this persistent, insistent rain, sleet, wind and storms.

Which brings me back to that end of the world thing.

There’s seems to be a few people out there who believe the end of the world is actually coming in 2012, although there‘s discussion on exactly when that might be this year. Those same people say that weather is going to play a big role in it all.

Hail and snow feature high on the type of weather that apocalyptic believers say is likely to come with any end of our age. Floods and storms ravaging the land also play big roles in the eschatology.

As does Israel.

None of this makes me feel that great if I think about it on a stormy weekend holed up at home here in the Holy Land.

I console myself with the fact that when it’s not raining here, the sun comes out with a vengeance. And the sky is a bright postcard blue.

Which is good. Makes people feel better about things here, studies have shown.

“Can you imagine how depressing this place would be without this amazing weather,?“ said an American Jewish woman I met soon after I arrived on a glorious warm day in late fall.

“The only thing you can’t complain about here is the weather,“ said a Palestinian bookshop owner from Arab East Jerusalem on that same day.

They were talking about the Palestinian-Israeli problem though. I’m just talking about the weather.

The Chinese Communist Party’s Capitalist Elite

businessweek.com | Mar 1, 2012

By Michael Forsythe

Here’s yet another metric in which China has blown past the U.S.: The richest 70 members of China’s legislature added more to their wealth last year than the combined net worth of all 535 members of the U.S. Congress, the president, his cabinet, and the entire Supreme Court. These wealthy Chinese are members of the National People’s Congress, the nation’s lawmaking body that opens its annual session on March 5.

The collective net worth of these 70 lawmakers rose to 565.8 billion yuan ($89.8 billion) in 2011, a gain of $11.5 billion from 2010, according to figures from the Hurun Report, a Shanghai publisher of luxury magazines that ranks the country’s wealthy. That compares to the $7.5 billion net worth of all 660 top officials in the three branches of the U.S. government, data from Washington’s Center for Responsive Politics show.

In China per capita annual income in 2010 was $2,425, less than in Belarus and a fraction of the $37,527 in the U.S. The disparity between rich and poor in China underscores one of the biggest challenges China’s leadership faces—a rise in social unrest fueled by illegal land grabs and corruption. “It is extraordinary to see this degree of a marriage of wealth and politics,” says Kenneth Lieberthal, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at Washington’s Brookings Institution. “It certainly lends vivid texture to the widespread complaints in China about an extreme inequality of wealth.”

Members of the National People’s Congress, often derided as a rubber-stamp parliament, are among China’s most powerful politicians and executives, wielding power in their home provinces and shaping national tax policy. Zong Qinghou, chairman of beverage-maker Hangzhou Wahaha Group and China’s second-richest person, with a family fortune of 68 billion yuan, is a member. So is Wu Yajun, chairwoman of Beijing-based Longfor Properties. She has family wealth of 42 billion yuan and is the richest woman in China, according to the Hurun Report, which uses publicly available information such as corporate filings to compile its annual rich list.

The third-richest person in the NPC, auto-parts magnate Lu Guanqiu, traveled with Vice President Xi Jinping—the presumed successor to President Hu Jintao—to the U.S. during his official visit in February. Zong, Wu, and Lu declined to comment for this story.

Chinese private executives such as Zong and Lu have built their fortunes on the back of economic growth that has averaged 10.1 percent in the last 30 years. (The U.S. economy expanded by an average annual rate of 2.7 percent in the same period.) Many of the NPC’s richest members are executives in real estate, a sector where property ownership disputes have prompted demonstrations and contributed to the rising wealth gap between city dwellers and farmers. A land claim by a property developer in Wukan, a fishing town in southern China’s Guangdong province, sparked protests in December that resulted in the expulsion of its Communist Party leaders.

Rupert Hoogewerf, chairman and chief researcher for the Hurun Report, estimates that for every billionaire the company discovers for its list there is another one it misses. “The prevalence of billionaires in the NPC shows the cozy relationship between the wealthy and the Communist Party,” says Bruce Jacobs, a professor of Asian languages and studies at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. “In all levels of the system there seem to be local officials in cahoots with entrepreneurs, enriching themselves.”

The bottom line: China’s richest 70 lawmakers saw their collective net worth jump to nearly $90 billion in 2011. China’s 2010 per capita income: $2,425.

Communist Kremlin hopeful looks to a new generation

Zyuganov has fed off of the largest protests Putin has faced in his 12-year rule, seeking support from young voters who do not remember the Soviet Union or his past failures and simply refuse to vote for Putin’s third term in office.

Reuters | Mar 2, 2012

By Thomas Grove

NOVOMOSKOVSK, Russia – A flashy campaign advertisement sets the scene after Russia’s presidential election: Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov steps out of a black Mercedes in front of the Kremlin, the seat of power since Soviet times.

After three failed attempts to win the presidency, the perennial loser of Russian politics is trying to convince the country once again to vote him into the top office in Sunday’s election.

Addressing the frustration of many Russians who feel powerless to end Vladimir Putin’s dominance, a voiceover in the advertisement asks: “No choice?”

“There is always a choice,” it says, flashing to footage of the stern-faced Communist leader.

Zyuganov has fed off of the largest protests Putin has faced in his 12-year rule, seeking support from young voters who do not remember the Soviet Union or his past failures and simply refuse to vote for Putin’s third term in office.

He says he is injecting new life into the ranks of a party which until recently has evoked images of poor pensioners nostalgic for the days of Soviet glory, waving red flags and clutching portraits of Stalin.

“We have the youngest, strongest and most dynamic team in the whole country,” Zyuganov told a packed hall at a university in the small western city of Novomoskovsk, on St. Tatiana’s Day, celebrated as student’s day in Russia.

“And the youth stand behind us,” said the 67-year-old former physics and mathematics teacher.

Zyuganov, who climbed the rungs of power as an apparatchik in the Soviet Union’s Communist Party, is forecast by pollsters to come a distant second to Putin, who hopes to avoid a runoff by winning more than 50 percent of the vote.

He has to fight off his image as a pushover, a willing cog in Putin’s political system who is satisfied with second place as long as he and his party retain a swathe of seats in parliament, where the Communists are the second-largest faction.

Zyuganov denies it. He says he was first cheated out of an election win in 1996, when an ailing President Boris Yeltsin staged a stunning comeback and beat him in a runoff after a campaign marred by corruption allegations.

The other three candidates challenging Putin face similar suspicions.

“Zyuganov himself wouldn’t know what to do if he woke up on March 5 and found out that the country had made him Russia’s new president,” said one of his young advocates, also a lawmaker.

In a country that preserves Bolshevik Revolution leader Vladimir Lenin’s body on show in a tomb outside the Kremlin but still struggles with the legacy of 70 years of Communist rule, the inroads Zyuganov has made with young people represent a sea change for a party that had seemed destined to die out with a generation.


Shivering in a light snow on a Sunday afternoon, Dmitry Usoltsev, 20, stood on Moscow’s Garden Ring road with thousands of others protesting against Putin and his decision to return to the Kremlin.

Born the year after the Soviet Union collapsed, he said neither of his parents ever voted for the Communists, but for him, Zyuganov and his platform is the only way to reform.

“I want a system that isn’t afraid of reforms and can carry them out. Putin can’t do this because he’s afraid,” said Usoltsev, wearing a white ribbon – a symbol of the protests.

“In the current political climate, I’m voting for Zyuganov, because he actually has realistic and concrete measures that can reform the court system, the military, the education system,”

the law student said.

The biggest opposition protests in Putin’s Russia were sparked after a December election gave Putin’s United Russia party a parliamentary majority despite widespread allegations of electoral fraud.

Putin became prime minister in 2008 after eight years as president. Sunday’s election is expected to see him return to the country’s most powerful position.

Zyuganov says his party was cheated out of an election victory in the December 4 poll and he has aligned himself cautiously with the protesters. He has avoided participating in the protests themselves, but has joined their calls for a rerun of the December vote.

Sergei Udaltsov, a scrappy street protester who leads the Left Front opposition group, has publicly supported him.

The barrel-chested, bass-voiced Communist leader also inked a deal with one of the chief protest leaders, anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, to take responsibility for thousands of citizens who have signed up to monitor the presidential election for fraud.

Not everyone, however, accepts the politician who has a bust of Lenin in his office and has published books on the achievements of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s brutal reign.


In Novomoskovsk, a city of 130,000 some 200 km (120 miles) south of Moscow, Zyuganov mixed a message of rejuvenation with rhetoric heavy on references to Soviet glory.

During the Soviet era, the city throve on chemical manufacturing and industrial farming.

With employment dropping and young people leaving for bigger cities to seek jobs, Novomoskovsk is a prime target for Zyuganov’s efforts to win over part of Putin’s provincial electorate.

Addressing students, he promised to nationalize Russia’s oil and gas companies, reform the education system and spread more equally the vast wealth that many Russians believe to be concentrated among Putin’s circle of friends.

The message holds an attraction for some who have never experienced the Soviet Union but have heard of the security it once provided.

“If Zyuganov wins he would increase production at factories, he will provide jobs. People wouldn’t move to Moscow to find work if there were worthwhile jobs here,” said Sergei Vasilkov, 21, a student at the institute.

“Our city is standing empty. There’s no work. The young people are going to Moscow, and the only people who are left are pensioners and alcoholics, everyone else is gone.”

China defends putting up portraits of Mao in Tibetan temples

Women tend a garden under the gaze of Chinese Communist leaders. FROM LEFT: Hu Jintao, Jiang Zemin, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Reuters/Stringer Shanghai

“Peaceful liberation of Tibet”

deccanherald.com | Mar 2 ,2012

Beijing – Accused of adopting “rough and oppressive” religious policies in Tibet, China today refuted the criticism and underlined that there was nothing wrong in its attempts put up the portraits of Mao Zedong and other Chinese leaders in Tibetan temples.

Addressing questions on the Tibet issue, a top Chinese official refuted criticism that recurring suicides by Buddhist monks in Tibet was due to China’s “rough and oppressive” religious policies in the Himalayan region.

Commenting on the attempts by the ruling Communist party cadres to install portraits of Mao Zedong and other Chinese leaders in temples in Tibet, Zhao Qizheng, spokesman for the annual session of National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) said there nothing to be “accused” about it.

“The portrait you mentioned is a picture which commemorates the 60th anniversary of peaceful liberation of Tibet. In this picture the four leaders, (Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao) that you mentioned are portrayed”, he said.

“Therefore I do not think it is anything to be accused of. Rather the steps taken by TAR officials was welcomed by the local communities”, Zhao said at a nationally televised press conference on the eve of the annual session of the CPPCC, which is a advisory body comprising of over 2,000 nominated members.

The CPPCC formally begins its meetings tomorrow.

Seen as an attempt by the Chinese officials to gradually open up to the national and international media, Zhao entertained the question on Tibet, which in the recent months dominated the headlines all over the world with the periodic suicides of Buddhist monks demanding the return of their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

So far 22 monks and nuns have attempted self immolations.

Zhao denied that the situation had turned serious in Tibet due to the oppressive religious policy followed by the local officials to maintain social order in the Himalayan region.

Declining to answer directly to a question whether China would ask to the Dalai Lama to make an appeal to stop the suicides, as he was on record that he would not encourage the self immolations, Zhao said the Tibetan spiritual leader actually applauded the suicide attempts.

“According to what I have heard, he publicly applauded the courage of these people who set fire to themselves,” he said.

Tibet is expected to figure in the deliberation of China’s top legislatures, the National Peoples Congress, (NPC) and CPPCC.

Reports from Tibet said besides strengthening government controls on monasteries, Chinese officials also tightened monitoring of internet and mobile services in Tibet and a number of Tibetan prefectures.

The Government has also said it would put down any separatist activities.

Veteran victims of secret drug experiments abandoned by the government

Vets feel abandoned after secret drug experiments

CNN | Mar 1, 2012

By David S. Martin

(CNN) — The moment 18-year-old Army Pvt. Tim Josephs arrived at Edgewood Arsenal in 1968, he knew there was something different about the place.

“It just did not look like a military base, more like a hospital,” recalled Josephs, a Pittsburgh native. Josephs had volunteered for a two-month assignment at Edgewood, in Maryland, lured by three-day weekends closer to home.

“It was like a plum assignment,” Josephs said. “The idea was they would test new Army field jackets, clothing, weapons and things of that nature, but no mention of drugs or chemicals.”

But when he went to fill out paperwork the morning after his arrival, the base personnel were wearing white lab coats, and Josephs said he had second thoughts. An officer took him aside.

“He said, ‘You volunteered for this. You’re going to do it. If you don’t, you’re going to jail. You’re going to Vietnam either way — before or after,'” Josephs said recently.

From 1955 to 1975, military researchers at Edgewood were using not only animals but human subjects to test a witches’ brew of drugs and chemicals. They ranged from potentially lethal nerve gases like VX and sarin to incapacitating agents like BZ.

Read the secret (now unclassified) Army document revealing BZ tests on soldiers (PDF)

The military also tested tear gas, barbiturates, tranquilizers, narcotics and hallucinogens like LSD.

In 1968, Tim Josephs was told he would be testing gas masks, boots and other clothing, he said.
In 1968, Tim Josephs was told he would be testing gas masks, boots and other clothing, he said.

Read the confidential (now unclassified) Army document uncovering LSD tests on volunteers (PDF)

This top secret Cold War research program initially looked for ways to defend against a chemical or biological attack by the Soviet Union, thought to be far ahead of the United States in “psycho-chemical” warfare. But the research expanded into offensive chemical weapons, including one that could, according to one Army film obtained by CNN, deliver a “veritable chemical ambush” against an enemy.

“This incapacitating agent would be dispersed by standard munitions, and the agent would enter the building through all nonprotected openings,” the film’s narrator boasts.

President Nixon ended research into offensive chemical weapons in 1969, and the military no longer uses human subjects in research on chemical agents, said a spokesman for Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, as the facility is known now.

Tests began for Josephs almost as soon as he arrived at Edgewood for a two-month assignment on January 1, 1968.

“Sometimes it was an injection. Other times it was a pill,” Josephs told CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Josephs said he didn’t know what drugs he was getting. “A lot of chemicals were referred to as agent one or agent two.”

Some weeks, he would undergo one test; other weeks, more, Josephs said. And when he questioned the staff about whether he was in any danger, they reassured him: “There is nothing here that could ever harm you.”

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“They want to use young men as guinea pigs and throw them away,” said Josephs, now 63.
But Josephs, 63, believes the chemical agents he received during his two-month stint at Edgewood did harm him, triggering health problems that continue to plague him four decades later. Even when he talks about Edgewood, he said, “I get a tightness in my chest.”

Parkinson’s symptoms

Days before his Edgewood duty ended, in February 1968, Josephs was hospitalized for days with Parkinson’s-like tremors, symptoms he said have followed him on and off throughout his adult life.

From Edgewood, Josephs said he went to an Army installation in Georgia, where he experienced tremors so severe, he had to be admitted to the base hospital and given muscle relaxers. The Army then sent Josephs to Air Force bases in Thailand, in support of the war effort in Vietnam. He was told never to talk about his experiences at Edgewood and to forget about everything he ever did, said or heard at the Maryland base.

Josephs left he service when his three-year tour ended, and he began a career as a real estate agent. He married Michelle, a nurse, in 1977, but the couple decided not to have children, fearing his chemical exposure might somehow affect them.

In his mid-50s, Josephs was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurological condition that forced him to retire early. Medications cost $2,000 a month, which he was paying for out of pocket.

Josephs applied for veterans benefits based on chemical exposure at Edgewood. Last year, the Department of Veterans Affairs granted him partial benefits for his Parkinson’s for Agent Orange exposure during his time in Thailand, giving Josephs 40% disability. The letter granting him benefits made no mention of Edgewood.

Josephs says he now takes two dozen pills daily. His symptoms vary from day to day. Sometimes, he has trouble swallowing. Other times, he experiences numbness in his joints or or tremors. He says he tires easily.

He blames his time at Edgewood for all this, and he has joined a lawsuit on behalf of Edgewood veterans seeking medical benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Read the lawsuit complaint document (PDF)

… They gave him such high doses that he … in the vernacular, he flipped out.
Gordon Erspamer, lead attorney in suit against VA

Gordon Erspamer, lead attorney in the suit, has reviewed the partial Edgewood medical records that Josephs was able to obtain with the help of his wife. Erspamer said Josephs probably received an injection of sarin or another nerve gas, because the records show that he received the drug P2S on February 1, 1968, to treat “organophosphate poisoning.”

During experiments that began on February 19, 1968, Josephs experienced Parkinson’s-like tremors after receiving Prolixin, an antipsychotic medication, Erspamer said, prompting the Edgewood medical staff to give the young soldier Congentin and Artane, two drugs used to treat Parkinson’s symptoms.

Erspamer said he sees a connection between Josephs’ Parkinson’s disease and the drugs he received at Edgewood.

“Those substances affect the same region of the brain,” Erspamer said. “Tim clearly had adverse health effects because they gave him such high doses that he ranged from overdose with one substance to the antidote, back and forth, and he actually had to get … a very powerful antipsychotic drug because, in the vernacular, he flipped out.”

In addition to medical benefits, the lawsuit is asking that the Defense Department and Department of Veteran Affairs find all Edgewood veterans and provide them with details of the chemicals they received and their possible health effects.

Army guinea pigs: Before and after Army guinea pigs: Before and after
Erspamer said the government has reached very few of the 7,000 or so Edgewood veterans, and the VA has turned down almost all Edgewood-related health claims. Court documents show that the Veterans Benefits Administration rejected 84 of 86 health claims related to chemical or biological exposure.

“The whole thing stinks, and if the American people knew about it, they would not tolerate it. This kind of behavior toward our veterans would not be allowed to happen,” Erspamer said.

Josephs has not received any health benefits related to his time as a human test subject at Edgewood.

“They’re hoping we die off, so you apply [for benefits], you get turned down,” Josephs said. “And it just goes on for years and years, and they just want to wear us down. They want to use young men as guinea pigs and throw them away.”

The Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs declined face-to-face interviews with CNN, citing pending litigation. In a statement, the Defense Department said that it “has made it a priority to identify all service members exposed to chemical and biological substances … and the VA has contacted and offered free medical evaluations to thousands of veterans.”

[The VA] has made it a priority to identify all service members exposed to chemical and biological substances.
Department of Defense statement

Josephs received his letter from the VA in 2008, four decades after he arrived at the Maryland base.

“In order to best serve veterans and their families, VA continues to study the possibility of long-term health effects associated with in-service exposure to chemical and biological weapons,” the letter promised.

At the Army’s request, The Institute of Medicine, an independent nonprofit organization that is the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, produced a three-volume report in the 1980s on the long-term health of Edgewood veterans. The IOM decided in the end there wasn’t enough information to reach “definitive conclusions.”

Josephs enlisted in the military fresh out of high school — at the height of the Vietnam War.

“I really felt a duty to my country to go and serve,” he said. “Things were different back then. You believed in your government. And you just wouldn’t think they would give you something that would harm you intentionally.”

Dutch mobile euthanasia death units to make house calls at no charge

Dutch euthanasia organisation Life-End will be offering its home services free of charge to Dutch citizens. Photograph: Etienne Ansotte/EPA

New scheme called ‘Life End’ will respond to sick people whose own doctors have refused to help them end their lives at home

guardian.co.uk | Mar 1, 2012

by Kate Connolly in Berlin

A controversial system of mobile euthanasia units that will travel around the country to respond to the wishes of sick people who wish to end their lives has been launched in the Netherlands.

The scheme, which started on Thursday , will send teams of specially trained doctors and nurses to the homes of people whose own doctors have refused to carry out patients’ requests to end their lives.

The launch of the so-called Levenseinde, or “Life End”, house-call units – whose services are being offered to Dutch citizens free of charge – coincides with the opening of a clinic of the same name in The Hague, which will take patients with incurable illnesses as well as others who do not want to die at home.

The scheme is an initiative by the Dutch Association for a Voluntary End to Life (NVVE), a 130,000-member euthanasia organisation that is the biggest of its kind in the world.

“From Thursday, the Life End clinic will have mobile teams where people who believe they are eligible for euthanasia can register,” Walburg de Jong, a NVVE spokesman, said.

“If they do comply, the teams will be able to carry out the euthanasia at patients’ homes should their regular doctors be unable or refuse to help them,” he added.

The Netherlands was the first country to legalise euthanasia in 2002 and its legislation on the right to die is considered to be the most liberal in the world.

But doctors cannot be forced to comply with the wishes of patients who request the right to die and many do refuse, which was what prompted NVVE to develop a system to fill the gap.

Sick people or their relatives can submit their applications via telephone or email and if the patient’s request fulfils a number of strict criteria, the team is then dispatched.

Legal guidelines state that the person must be incurably sick, be suffering unbearable pain and have expressed the wish to die voluntarily, clearly and on several occasions.

According to De Jong, the team will make contact with the doctor who has refused to help the patient to die and ask what his or her reasons were.

More often than not, he said, the motivations are religious or ethical, adding that sometimes doctors were simply not well enough informed about the law.

If the team is satisfied that the patient’s motives are genuine, they will contact another doctor with whom they will start the euthanasia process.

“They will first give the patient an injection, which will put them into a deep sleep, then a second injection follows, which will stop their breathing and heart beat,” De Jong said.

Every year 2,300 to 3,100 mercy killings are carried out in the Netherlands, although opponents of the practice claim the figure is much higher because many cases are not registered. The Royal Dutch Medical Association (KNMG) supports euthanasia in principle if there is no alternative, but has distanced itself from the NVVE initiative, arguing that giving it the name Life End will foster the idea that it is for those who it said are simply “weary of life” rather than those who are sick.

It has also questioned whether Life End doctors will have the chance to forge the necessary relationship with a patient to be able to ascertain whether or not his or her life should be ended.

But Jan Kuyper, of the Life End Clinic Foundation, said: “We’re not trying to push any boundaries here.” He said it was quite possible that the mobile teams would not end up carrying out a mercy killing, either due to medical questions about the case or if doubt is cast on the patient’s motives.

Little is known about the Life End teams. But one of the team leaders is believed to be a 67-year-old retired doctor who carried out 20 mercy killings during his medical career.

The teams would be limited to one house visit a week to minimise the psychological burden on them.

In neighbouring Germany, where mercy killings are strictly illegal, euthanasia opponents were particularly vocal in expressing their outrage at the developments. “This is an inhumane proposal,” said the German Hospice Foundation, while the group Life Rights for Everyone called it a “warped understanding of [the meaning of] autonomy”.