Archive | April, 2006

U.S. Amb. Recalled Amid Prostitution Ring Probe

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There are few coincidences at Foggy Bottom. The sudden departure of Reno L. Harnish III, U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan, from Baku today is no different. Local and regional media are rife with speculations over the human smuggling ring that trafficked young Azeri women to be sex slaves in Florida. The F.B.I. suspects an inside job. Replacing the tarnished Mr. Harnish is Anne Elizabeth Derse, a career foreign service officer who has held the rank of minister-counselor. And neither President Bush nor the State Department mentioned the dirty business, for which there is a high demand in the Sunshine State.

According to Trud, a famed Moscow daily, the local mob was meeting the demands in Florida for “scorching brunettes” by trafficking young Azeri girls to be sex slaves. These girls were reportedly receiving valid U.S. visas through the embassy in Baku. A former translator for Amb. Harnish was under investigation for helping the girls obtain visas with forged documents, UPI said. That translator,
Zarifa Dzhabieva (also Jabiyeva), has since been found dead. She was stabbed between 30 and 50 times by unidentified assailants, who ransacked her apartment but did not take any valuables, local news reports said.

Amb. Harnish has kept mum on the matter since the scandal broke last month, letting instead his press secretary to do the talking. He has been a low-profile diplomat for much of his career. Baku was his first assignment as ambassador.

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Photo of young Anne E. Derse when she was freshman at Macalester College. (Edited from the full page of the 1972-73 yearbook.)

Ms. Derse (AFP photo) was most recently the director for biodefense policy at the Homeland Security Council in the White House. She was also minister-counselor for economic affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq and minister-counselor for economic affairs at the U.S. Mission to the European Union [EU]. She received her bachelor’s degree from Macalester College and her master’s degree from the Johns Hopkins University.

President Bush announced his plans to elevate Ms. Derse to her new post on April 13, just weeks after the scandal broke in Azerbaijan.

Mr. Bush, too, said absolutely nothing about trafficking sex slaves. The United States — along with Canada, Europe and Australia — is principally a destination for many trafficked persons. The State Department estimates that 18,000 to 20,000 people arrive in the U.S. mostly for sexual exploitation. Due to the nature of the business, no accurate estimates are available.

Azeri journalist Anar Orujov, part of the Caucasus Media Investigation Center, revealed that an Azeri girl as a sex slave may bring in US$7,000 to US$100,000 annually. Globally human trafficking generates as much as US$10 billion a year.

  • The U.N. Office of Drug and Crimes [UNODC] released its latest “Trafficking in Persons: Global Patterns” this month.
  • The U.S. State Department’s “Trafficking in Persons Report 2005” rates countries with a tier system.
  • U.S. H.H.S. campaign asks Americans for help in saving victims and identifying traffickers.
  • Humantrafficking.org, a State-sponsored NGO, provides updates and overviews of the dirty trade.
  • Call the national hotline (1-888-3737-888) if you suspect human trafficking in the U.S.
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Malaria: Get Your ACT Together

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A cure for malaria is about to become very cheap, thanks to a Berkeley professor and his team of researchers. But 10 years is not going to be any time soon when someone, most likely a child, dies of malaria infection every 30 seconds. The World Health Organization [WHO] and its Roll Back Malaria partnership set April 25 as the “Africa Malaria Day” to raise funds for Artemisinin-based Combination Therapy [ACT] that is more expensive than older anti-malarials, such as chloroquine, sulfadoxine—pyrimethamine [SP] and amodiaquine. But some African countries are still refusing to use ACT due to its cost.

  • Malaria infects 300 million to 500 million people every year.
  • At least one million and as many as 2.7 million, most of children in Sub-Saharan Africa, die from it each year.
  • Plasmodium falciparum is the deadliest of four parasites that cause malaria.
  • Most anti-malarials have been derived from ancient medicinal plants, such as sweet wormwood (4th Century China) and cinchona tree (17th Century South America).
  • The estimated financial burden on Africa from malaria is about US$12 billion annually.
  • Donations may be made to the U.N. Foundation’s Malaria Fund.

Kenya will phase out the sulfur-based malaria drugs in favor of ACT, but the program will likely stall when the government runs out of cash, The East African Standard reports.

Artemisinin-based drugs rely on the natural growth of sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua), which takes nine months to grow (mostly in China) and a few more months to process.

WHO officials believe the availability of artemisinin-based drugs has offered an unprecedented
opportunity to eliminate malaria-related deaths. The availability of generic drugs made in China and India may help drive the cost down, but synthetic drugs would be key to producing a large supply fast and cheaply.

Poor management and inappropriate use of anti-malarial drugs in the past century have led to drug resistance among malaria parasites. The combination therapy uses one artemisinin-based drug and an older drug to delay the development of resistance.

At University of California, Berkeley, Professor Jay Keasling and his team engineered one yeast species (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) to produce artemisinic acid, which is one step away from producing artemisinin. His work, which was published in journal Nature, was done with help from the Institute for OneWorld Health, Amyris Biotechnologies and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which gave them a US$43 million grant to make it happen.

  • For malaria genome and more scientific information about the disease, see Nature.
  • The C.D.C. has quick malaria facts.
  • South African researchers claim they have developed a new anti-malarial based on a secret plant.
  • Coartem®, by Novartis, is the leading artemisinin-based anti-malarial.
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Google’s Long View?

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Information is power — and something the Chinese government fears. In the hands of disenchanted masses, information can undermine the legitimacy of the C.P.C. or destabilize the country. (Some 87,000 protests over corruption and poverty shook China in 2005.) To survive, the government jails dissidents and uses the Great Firewall of China. Google agreed to that censorship and rebranded itself as Gu-Ger, ‘Valley Song’ or ‘Harvest Song,’ with one eye on a freer future. China’s painfully long march to a free society must be homegrown. And Google can help.

In 1993, Professor Seymour Martin Lipset reiterated his belief that an effective economy, as well as supportive elements, is necessary for a lasting democracy. In his 1993 presidential address, which was published in the American Sociological Review (1994, Vol. 59), he wrote:

Democracy requires a supportive culture, the acceptance by the citizenry and political elites of principles underlying freedom of speech, media, assembly, religion, of the rights of opposition parties, of the rule of law, of human rights and the like. Such norms do not evolve overnight.

Google can only help the Chinese develop such a culture — not impose it like the U.S. did to Japan and Germany after World War II.

“Expanding access to information to anyone who wants it will make our world a better, more informed and freer place,” Elliot Schrage, Google’s vice president for global communications and public affairs, told the House committees in February.

Since China’s Internet gateways had inconsistent ways of blocking international content, Google.com was loading slowly and sometimes not at all. To get around this, Google decided to create local servers, set up Google.cn and submit to “self-censorship requirements” for ISP’s in China.

But there are caveats for the Chinese government. Every time Google.cn self-censors politically sensitive search results, Google will tell users that some results have been removed. At the same time, Google is not eliminating the uncensored, Chinese-language version of Google.com, which China’s firewall will continue to censor.

Even in an “imperfect” place like China, Mr. Schrage said, the Internet is changing China for the better, and a study by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences [CASS], in Beijing, shows the Chinese agree.

  • 63% of Chinese believe they can learn more about politics online
  • 54% think the Internet gives them more opportunities to criticize the government
  • 45% believe the Internet allows them to express their political views
  • Only 7.6% believe Internet content should be censored.

The Academy concluded that “as the Internet becomes more popular in China, the impact on politics will be stronger.”

Chinese students, for example, are using the Internet not just for politics but also to study and apply for U.S. colleges and obtain U.S. visa. They will sure see a lot of anti-Beijing diatribe in the U.S. than they do in their home country.

Public criticism over Google’s entry into China has been skewed at best. In China, Google, for now, will become just another search engine like its popular local counterpart Baidu. While much of the criticism directed at Google is valid, singling it out as the rallying cry for all the ills in China is wrong. Doing so gives the public the impression that Google is solely responsible for perpetuating China’s censorship or that it could exert enough pressure to change Beijing’s policy overnight. If we are that incensed about China’s human rights record, then we should pressure all U.S. businesses from curtailing or withdrawing their investment.

In his scathing criticism of Google, Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page correctly points out:

Microsoft cooperates in censoring or deleting blogs that offend the Chinese government’s sensibilities. Cisco provides the hardware that gives China the best Internet-blocking and user-tracking technology on the planet, human-rights experts say.

And there is more news:

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Is Saudi Arabia Building a Nuclear Bomb?

Saudi Arabia is developing nuclear weapons with the help of Pakistani scientists who have entered the kingdom disguised as pilgrims, German magazine Cicero reports. These scientists were tracked by Western intelligence between 2003 and 2005, during which some of them disappeared from their hotels. This follows earlier claims that Saudi Arabia has a self-destruct button wired to dirty bombs to blow up all oil facilities.
The House of Saud may be feeling vulnerable since the departure of most U.S. troops and is reportedly turning to nuclear deterrence for protection. Why shouldn’t it have one? Iran wants it badly. Pakistan and India have it. So does Israel (unofficially anyway).

Between October 2004 and January 2005, Pakistani nuclear scientists, who flew in as pilgrims, disappeared from their hotel rooms for almost three weeks, Cicero cites unnamed Western intelligence sources as saying. Saudi nuclear scientists have worked in Pakistan since the 1990s. U.S. military analyst John Pike told the magazine that about half the Pakistani nukes have Saudi bar codes because the kingdom bankrolled Islamabad’s nuclear program. Both the Pakistani and Saudi governments denied Cicero’s claims.

While the magazine appeared to treat the existence of Al-Sulayil underground city and missile base as new information, that has been public information for some time. The massive missile base at Al-Sulayil is believed to house dozens of Chinese rockets capable to carrying nuclear payload, according to Yediot Ahronot.

In 2005, author Gerald Posner claimed in his book “Secrets of the Kingdom: The Inside Story of the Saudi-U.S. Connection” (View in Amazon) that the country has wired all of its oil facilities with Semtex explosives and radioactive materials. That was done to ensure that no one would invade the kingdom or try to bring down the House of Saudi, he claimed.

The information came from conversations intercepted by the National Security Agency [NSA] and was documented in a report titled “Petro SE,” short for petroleum scorched earth, Mr. Posner wrote. He also noted that U.S. intelligence believes the Saudis financed much of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program.

Cicero, a relatively new magazine, got in trouble with the German government last year after citing classified documents in an article revealing that Iran has been shielding the Who’s Who of international terrorists. Then-Interior Minister Otto Schilly ordered the raid on Cicero’s editorial office in Berlin and on the home of reporter Bruno Schirra.

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