Afghanistan Moves Toward State Controlled Media

Before the fall of the Taliban in 2001, all media in Afghanistan was under state control. Now, as the fighting with the Taliban resumes, efforts are under way in the Afghan parliament to reign in the media once again.

Artic Ice Melting Faster Than Predicted

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that by 2050, the arctic ocean would be free of ice during the summer. It now appears that the arctic is on course to be ice free much sooner according to a study released Tuesday.

Bush Steps Up Darfur Pressure

Amidst the wall-to-wall coverage of the Virginia Tech "massacre", president Bush put the Sudanese government on notice that if the United Nation's efforts to bring peace to the Darfur region didn't bring results soon, the United States would impose further sanctions on the Sudan government.

Bush is seeking the cooperation of the Sudanese government to allow U.N. Troops, including 3,000 attach helicopters, into the Darfur region to fight the militias responsible for the ethnic cleansing of non-arabs. He warned that failure to cooperate could lead to action by the U.N. Security Council.

China Plans Online Gaming Curfew Of Sorts

Fearing that children are spending too much time playing online games, the Chinese government has given software vendors in China three months to place curbs on gaming by underage players.

For games that allow players to accumulate points, the games would be required to stop giving players points after three hours of play in a given day.

This policy assumes, of course, that these kids play only one game online.

This does remind me a bit of the policies built into World of Warcraft that encourage players to take a break from the game. In WOW, players who rest get a 100% to experience accumulation proportionate to the time spent not playing. I suspect that Blizzard Entertainment, makers of World of Warcraft, are more concerned about server load than the health of their players, but the policy does achieve the same goal.

One has to wonder if such 'nanny state' kind of policies where the state substitutes its judgment for the judgment of the parents are a good idea. Libertarians would argue that such regulation is unnecessary and would point at Blizzard's initiative as a sign that the market can handle the problem on its own.

600,000 Deaths In Iraq May Be Right After All

In October 2006, a survey conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health determined that the civilian death toll in Iraq since the invasion in 2003 was somewhere north of the 600,000 mark.

The survey was ridiculed from the right and flew in the face of White House estimates closer to 30,000. Even the timing of releasing the survey results one month before the mid-term elections was used to mark the survey as clearly partisan.

Well, recently obtained British government documents reveal that Roy Anderson, chief science advisor to the British Ministry of Defence "described the methods used in the study as 'robust' and 'close to best practice'".

Anderson was not alone in this conclusion. "Another official said it was 'a tried and tested way of measuring mortality in conflict zones'."

Cabinda Separatists Fight On In Angola

While the world has paid attention to the Civil War between government forces and UNITA for the greater part of three decades, the separatist movement in Cabinda has raged on.

Angola's economy is dependent on oil exports, more than 50% of which comes from the Cabinda province. Much of the oil production in Cabinda is run by ChevronTexaco and has been since Chevron financed the invasion of the independent province by the Angolan army in 1975.

Understanding The Insurgency In Algeria

During the 1990s, a political party, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), began to make serious inroads into the political dominance of the National Liberation Front. After the FIS made serious gains in the first round of a December 1991 election, the Algerian military stepped in and suspended the elections.

What motivated the army were fears by the secular community of an extremist led government. The eventual crackdown on the FIS by government forces has led to a decade and a half of unrest. Elections did eventually resume with the FIS excluded.

In recent years, insurgents loyal to the FIS and extremist causes have diminished their attacks. In 2003, they were ready to lay down their arms in the face of government offered amnesty; but, instead they have joined forces with al Qaeda operatives. While Algerians do not face day-to-day warfare, insurgents do occasionally make attacks where government influence is thin (e.g., rural villages.) There are also the occasional car bombs.

Conflicts in Africa

Why is Africa being ignored on the world stage? The level of conflict and unrest is staggering, yet little attention is being paid to the crisis.

If this scale of destruction and fighting was in Europe, then people would be calling it World War III with the entire world rushing to report, provide aid, mediate and otherwise try to diffuse the situation.

Over the next few weeks, I will endeavor to dig into each conflict and explore its causes and possible solutions. For now, here's a complete list of the countries in Africa with the ones experiencing marked unrest and outright war in bold.

Guinea Under Martial Law, Troops Firing On Civilians

Since our last report on Guinea, their president has declared martial law and sent troops out with orders to end the unrest and violence.

A report today comes complete with video of troops opening fire on protesters. Guinea has been surrounded by war for the past few years, and it is feared that rebel fighters from those conflicts have been steadily crossing into Guinea and may be partially responsible for the unrest.

The American State Department has encouraged Americans to forgo travel to Guinea and has pulled non-essential staff from their consulate there.

Toward 100 Miles Per Gallon

Can you make, and sell, a car that goes one hundred miles on a gallon of gas? That's a question we should expect to hear soon from the X-Prize Foundation (the people responsible for the civilian space race.)

They are expected to announce a $25 million prize for creating a car that can go 100 MPG and, here's the kicker, selling a to-be-determined number of units.

One of the most promising recent developments that stands a real chance of competing for this prize is the concept of a Hydraulic Hybrid. We've heard of "hybrid" cars before and many people have fears regarding the safety and expense of batteries, but these hybrids don't use batteries.

Battery hybrids have electric motors that run off batteries that are charged by braking, a supplemental internal combustion (IC) engine (i.e., gas engine), and sometimes an overnight charge (i.e, a "pluggable" hybrid.)

Hydraulic Hybrids have a hydraulic motor (basically a system of pumps that use pressurized fluid for power). An IC engine powers the pumps to maintain vehicle speed, but most of the power used in acceleration comes for stored hydraulic energy captured during breaking.

France Outlaws Videos Of Violence Recorded By Ordinary Citizens

On the 16th anniversary of the Rodney King incident in Los Angeles, the French Constitutional Council ruled that a new law banning the video recording of violence by ordinary citizens was constitutional. The law does not prevent the press from making such recordings.

The intent behind the law was to reign-in delinquents who commit acts of violence while a friend records them for later amusement value, but civil liberties groups argue that the law was written deliberately vaguely so as to ensnare citizens unrelated to the attacker as well. They believe the intent is to keep videos of police abuse from being made.

Attack On Iran Could Come In Spring

As has previously been discussed on, the Bush Administration has put the U.S. military on a collision course with Iran. What is new is estimates of how soon the attack could come. Quoting the Gaurdian:

The present military build-up in the Gulf would allow the US to mount an attack by the spring.

The Administration claims the build up of naval and air forces, including the deployment of a second carrier group, is meant to contain Iran and force its hand diplomatically.

I have suggested here, in the recent past, that the build up is more about shielding other interests in the gulf from repercussions of an Israeli strike on Tehran's nuclear facilities.

The Guardian does, however, make a compelling case for war plans citing the administration's unhealthy affinity for the neo-conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, which is responsible for such memorable administration blunders as the "Axis of Evil" phrase and the current troop surge. They are desperate to see air strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities and have been working from both within and without the administration since 1992 to see regime change in Iran.

What Is Bush Planning For Iran?

If we look at the Bush Administration's Middle East activity as part of one big puzzle, rather than discreet incidents, we start to see a plan that almost makes sense. Consider these tidbits gathered over the past couple of months:

  • The United Nations Security Council, in December, passes a resolution requiring Iran cease its nuclear activities within 60 days. The deadline is due to pass in February
  • President Bush replaces his top commanders in the region, placing an Admiral in change of the U.S. Central Command.
  • The Pentagon orders a second carrier group into the Gulf region, a commitment of a massive number of additional forces.
  • President Bush orders a "surge" of troops in Iraq, particularly around Baghdad, against what seems to be all political common sense.
  • Israel begins to make more noises about strikes on Iranian nuclear targets, perhaps using tactical nukes themselves.

If all of these details are part of one comprehensive scenario, I have some thoughts as to what it is.

Israel Planning To Attack Iran?

During Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to Israel, the focus of the domestic press was away from the Palestinian issue and was instead focused on Iran. When asked if the U.S. Would support an attack on Iran by Israel, she said:

I still think there is room for diplomacy, but even talk of such action shows how serious it would be for Iran to continue its actions unabated

Clearly a diplomatic non-answer to a tough question. Typically, however, such non-answers can be considered an answer in the affirmative.

In December, the U.N. Security Council approved resolution 1737 which gives Iran two-months to suspend its nuclear activities. Those two months will be up in February. There is little chance that Iran will be found to be in compliance.

There is a rising concern that Israel and perhaps the U.S. will use the expired deadline as a precursor to escalate tensions with Iran and perhaps as a justification for attack.

Bush Provokes Viet Nam Flashbacks For Senate Foreign Relations Committee

During the height of the Viet Nam War, the Nixon administration began secret cross-border raids into Cambodia to stem the flow of supplies into South Viet Nam. The administration denied to Congress that it was conducting such raids.

On Wednesday night, president Bush called Iraq's neighbors, Syria and Iran, onto the carpet over the flow of supplies and munitions into Iraq saying:

We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We'll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq

Senator Joseph Biden, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, during a hearing with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, put the president on notice regarding cross-border incursions:

I believe the present authorization granted the president to use force in Iraq does not cover that, and he does need congressional authority to do that. I just want to set that marker.

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