Beloved Thai King Marks 60th Anniversary

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Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej celebrates the 60th anniversary of his rule. (Photo: Courtesy Royal Thai Government)

Few world leaders are as loved and respected as the 78-year-old Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej who celebrated his 60th year on the throne. One million Thais wearing yellow in honor of the king flooded Bangkok to see the monarch, who is largely a figurehead but definitely the defining symbol of the country. To mark the diamond jubilee, Thai fishermen pledged not to catch the endangered the giant Mekong catfish anymore. It sounds like North Korea except it wasn’t stage-managed and no one was hanged. Imagine this much love for Tony Blair, George Bush or Queen Elizabeth!

The party that began Friday continues this week in Bangkok where King Bhumibol receives royal visitors from 25 countries. The king is also giving out exquisite party favors to those who make it.

BBC’s slide show is evidence of Thais’ genuine adoration. The king ascended to the throne at age 18 when his brother died. Since then he has seen 17 military coups, 20 prime ministers and 15 constitutions. He rarely intervenes in the day-to-day political scuffles. He has, however, jumped into the fray when politicians get nasty and can’t seem to find a way out of an impasse.

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Giant catfish (Pangasianodon gigas) caught in the Mekong River in Thailand. (Photo: Courtesy WWF)

Even in his old age, King Bhumibol tours the country’s poorest areas and initiates projects to cut poverty. The king is also a good friend of the environment. In his honor, the fishermen along the Mekong River have pledged to stop catching the giant catfish. The 294-kilogram (646 pounds) catfish caught in the same river last year was the largest freshwater fish ever recorded. These gigantic catfish have been the basis for a few Sci-Fi films.

Learn more about Thailand.

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Playboy vs. JI’s Abu Bakar Bashir

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Under attack from hard-line Islamic groups, Playboy Indonesia shows more skin in its second edition, but its advertising pages were bare in protest. The same religious groups, who did little to help recent quake victims, could become the target of a government crackdown in a country where resurgent fundamentalism has been destabilizing. But there is proof that these religious hard-liners are reading the sexy magazine. And President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is siding with Playboy.

After Muslim protestors burned the first edition and attacked its advertisers, Playboy picked up and moved to Bali. Balinese are more “open,” the editor in chief says. In the latest edition, several blank pages where ads should appear read: “We dedicate this empty page to our loyal clients who were threatened for putting their ad in this magazine.”

The hard-line Muslim protestors are opening the magazine to glance at the advertisers. They probably do glance at the sultry women (none of them are naked) between the ad pages. They are hard to miss.

The move to Bali, a predominantly Hindu island, gives the editorial staff some added security, but it skipped last month’s edition.

The rancor over Playboy highlights a deeper issue in Indonesia — the growing popularity and strength of radical Islam. It was largely ignored during Indonesia’s transition to democracy until the 2002 Bali bombings. The president, who was security minister under his predecessor Megawati Sukarnopoutri, has decided to crack down on these group. To obtain legal powers to shut down radical movements, he will introduce a legislation to revise a 1985 law that gave Indonesians the freedom to organize.

Among the groups under government scrutiny are the Islam Defenders Front [FPI], which led the protest against Playboy, the Betawi Brotherhood Forum [FBR] and Hizbut Tahrir, The Jakarta Post said.

The pending release of cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, who was held indirectly responsible for the Bali bombings, could set the stage for a showdown between radical Islam and the government.

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Party at Saddam’s! B.Y.O.Bikinis! Tuesdays!

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Female U.S. embassy staffers in bikinis were partying it up by the pool, karaoke singers were rocking and Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root was serving up roast beef, pasta and crab dishes all at the Iraq Republican Palace, Soma reports from Baghdad. Saddam Hussein probably wouldn’t mind the scantily clad women running through his palace, although he might cringe at hearing American rock music. Soma, a newly minted newspaper out of Suleimanieh, had a few more insights to share, including the identity of the embassy guards.

Soma launched recently as a bi-weekly “digest” of news from the Kurdish enclave and some from the rest of Iraq. Funded by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani‘s wife, Hiro Ibrahim Ahmad, the paper enjoys high-level access. In its latest issue, Soma revealed what really goes on at the Iraq Republican Palace inside the heavily fortified Green Zone.

According to correspondent Iason Athanadiasis who crashed the party:

  • Some guards at the embassy were Peruvian, not American.
  • The Halliburton subsidiary treats the embassy employees well.
  • U.S. Foreign Service Officers starting out their career are eager to get the plush three-month assignment for career advancement.
  • There is also poolside volleyball!
  • Tuesdays are karaoke and bikini days at the temporary U.S. embassy.

While the party is raging, U.S. troops are still taking bullets and getting injured. The State Department-hosted pool party seems insensitive to the coalition soldiers who are helping them enjoy Halliburton food and embassy staffers in bikinis inside the comfort of the Green Zone.

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Psyop: Barry Manilow vs. Car ‘Hoons’

Barry Manilow’s music is being enlisted as the weapon of choice in a psychological warfare against Australian youths who are revving the engines of their souped-up cars and playing ground-thumping music at a neighborhood parking lot. Officials are hoping the crooner’s tunes are just as repulsive to them as Bing Crosby’s “My Heart Is Taking Lessons” was to mall-going teenagers. General Noriega and the Vatican might appreciate the effects of music from loudspeakers.
The City of Rockdale, just south of Sydney, will install loudspeakers at Hasham parking lot and pump Barry Manilow songs and some classical music to drive out the car “hoons” (hooligans). The city made the decision after owners of the Cyprus Hellene Club complained to the city council, claiming these “hoons” are deterring customers who are too afraid to park there.

In 1999, the Warrawong Shopping Center in Wallongong, further south of Sydney, said it
successfully used the 1938 Bing Crosby song to keep teenagers at bay. The mall also used pink fluorescent lights, believing that the color makes pimples stand out more.

One of the more famous use of music in psychological operations was during the 1989 U.S. Operation Just Cause to remove and arrest General Manuel Noriega from Panama. When the quirky general was holed up at the Apostolic Nunciature (of The Holy See), the U.S. military blasted rock music through loudspeakers for days. A Vatican complaint ended that tactic around Christmas. And the general surrendered a few days later. The music also helped shield the U.S.-Vatican talks from the media at the embassy gate.

Back in Rockdale, Barry Manilow may be able to chase these “hoons” from that specific parking lot. But the city councilors, who may have hung out only at adult-approved spots in their youths, should think twice before they make the policy permanent. The “hoons” could as easily move to a new part of town as they can hang out at the parking lot.

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Sail to Canary Islands or Die Trying

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Spain’s latest headache is the increasingly popular human smuggling route that starts in West Africa and ends in the Canary Islands.

The international fishing industry has all but wiped out the livelihood of local fishermen in Senegal, forcing them to risk death and smuggle migrants 1,350 kilometers (845 miles) to the Canary Islands in Spain. The country’s liberal policy toward refugees and worsening economy in West Africa are making Spain a prime destination for illegal immigrants. Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who has dispatched the military to intercept them, is asking the European Union for help.

This year alone, more than 8,000 migrants have reached the Canaries, Antonio Mazzitelli of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime told the International Herald Tribune. In Senegal, the migrants pay a smuggler about US$800 and then risk their lives aboard the colorful fishing boats known as pirogues for a shot at life in Europe.

If they make it, the boat is destroyed along with any remaining identification papers in order to take advantage of weaknesses in Spanish immigration rules. Illegal migrants are repatriated within 40 days. If their country of origin cannot be identified, they are flown to the mainland where they are released in big cities.

In the past 24 hours, 796 migrants arrived in the Canaries, the largest number for a single day, Spanish news agency EFE reported. The largest number of new arrivals was 647 immigrants on May 18. But the number reflects only those who were intercepted by the military.

Spanish daily El Pais said Austria, Britain, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, and Portugal have agreed to dispatch the military alongside Spain to patrol the waters off Senegal and its neighbors. Desperate to stop the flow of illegal immigrants, Spain is dispatching more than a dozen representatives to West Africa to sign a migration agreement, which would include some form of economic aid to these countries.

For decades, Spain has been one of African immigrants’ favorite destinations. Spain’s efforts to keep migrants away from Ceuta and Melilla have been unsuccessful, writes Wayne Cornelius in an op-ed in The Los Angeles Times. The tiny coastal territories in North Africa are surrounded by Morocco and the Mediterranean Sea. Others would cobble up €3,000 (US$3,860) for a seat on a flimsy boat to the Canary Islands.

Thousands are believed to die each year in similar illegal crossings around the world. And sometimes the only thing that lives is a ghost ship like the one that showed up in Barbados.

The ship sailed from West Africa in January with more than 50 migrants destined for the Canaries. The “ghost ship” was found four months later with only 11 desiccated bodies.

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Sex, Lies and Terrorist Attacks

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Exotic dancer “Samantha” tells the San Francisco Chronicle about her encounter with a 9/11 hijacker.

Terrorists, as well as would-be terrorists, have been caught relaxing with hardcore porn. Not a pastime for a pious Muslim. When the F.B.I. arrested a 19-year-old and a 21-year-old and searched their homes, what fell out of a suitcase was a pirated copy of a hard-core porn flick. Several of the September 11 hijackers were also seen “engaged in some decidedly un-Islamic sampling of prohibited pleasures” before the attacks.

Why?

When the F.B.I. raided the homes of Eshanul Islam Sadequee, 19, and Syed Haris Ahmed, 21, in Georgia earlier this year, they found two CDs. One was encrypted and the F.B.I. could not crack. The other was a bootleg porn film, The Toronto Star reported. The F.B.I. did not say Between trips to Toronto and elsewhere, the two allegedly plotted to disable the Pentagon’s Global Positioning System [GPS].

Marwan Al-Shehi, 23 and one of the September 11 hijackers, was not a good tipper and looked “cheap,” exotic dancer who goes by “Samantha” told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2001. The women at the Olympic Garden Topless Cabaret remembered another man, Mohammed Atta, as well.

When the German law enforcement officials combed the hard drive of Mounir el-Motassadeq, who was arrested in Hamburg for allegedly helping the hijackers, they found a ton of Internet pornography.

Muslim countries are generally tough on women. Lebanon and Turkey, for example, are exceptions. In conservative Qatar, where women are to be completely covered, the sex trade is thriving, a report by the official National Human Rights Committee [NHRC] shows.

That would indicate the men would get their fix from abducted foreign women, while forcing their women at home to cover themselves. Sex trade, obviously, would not thrive without demand.

It is unclear why the purportedly pious hijackers espousing extremist views would so blatantly turn to un-Islamic behavior. Perhaps they took a break from religion as well as from their sanity.

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Gasoline: 12 Cents a Gallon in Venezuela

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Source: El Universal newspaper and Ministerio de Energía y Petróleo [MENPET]

The Europeans are used to it. The Germans are paying US$6.37 a gallon (€1.31/L), and the Belgians $6.76 a gallon (€1.39/L). The Norwegians shell out $7.45 a gallon (€1.53/L), an incredibly high price considering their country produces and exports petroleum. But Venezuelans pay only US$0.12 per gallon thanks to a huge government subsidy.

In Caracas, filling up the 19-gallon tank of a 1976 Chevy Nova will set you back $2.30. Yet a litre of milk costs 1,500 Bolivars, or US$2.65 per gallon. Bottled water is just as expensive, at 1,200 Bolivars, or $2.12 per gallon.

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Chikungunya Infection and Pregnancy

The time of greatest risk of chikungunya virus transmission from a mother to a fetus appears to be during birth, if the mother acquired the disease days before delivery and carries the virus, according to the Perinatal Network of Réunion. This network of physicians and researchers on the French island of Le Réunion has published a wealth of data on chikungunya infection during pregnancy since the epidemic began in March 2005. Preliminary data showed that such a contamination is “rarely serious” and more than 90 percent of the infected newborns recovered quickly without sequelae.

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Health authorities in Le Réunion, off East Africa, have been urging women who are nine-month pregnant and show symptoms of chikungunya infection to be be hospitalized.

The time of greatest risk of chikungunya virus transmission from a mother to a fetus appears to be during birth, if the mother acquired the disease days before delivery and carries the virus, according to the Perinatal Network of Réunion. This network of physicians and researchers on the French island of Le Réunion has published a wealth of data on chikungunya infection during pregnancy since the epidemic began in March 2005. Preliminary data showed that such a contamination is “rarely serious” and more than 90 percent of the infected newborns recovered quickly without sequelae.
According to a pamphlet edited by Dr. Marc Gabriele and Dr. Alby Jean Dominique of the Perinatal Network, they have seen cases of mother-to-fetus infection which occurred between 3 and 4.5 months into pregnancy. Before and after that period in pregnancy, they have not seen any infection. However, there is a 48 percent risk of infection at birth if the virus is still present in the mother’s blood.

The incubation period of the chikungunya virus is about 2 to 4 days, according to the Regional Department of Health and Social Affairs of Le Réunion. Immunoglobulin M [IgM], an antibody, generally appears between 4 and 7 days after the onset of clinical signs. IgM, however, does not pass through the placental barrier. The body starts producing Immunoglobulin G [IgG] around Day 15 and does pass it through the placenta and confer immunity to the fetus.

The Health and Social Affair Department mentions in its literature for physicians that such an infection may be “at the origin of miscarriages,” but that they have not seen any increases in cases of birth defects associated with the illness. Fever, in general, can trigger uterine contractions, miscarriages or fetal deaths, the bulletin reminds physicians.

When the babies were infected during birth, signs of infection appeared around Day 4, the Perinatal Network’s pamphlet says. More than 90 percent of the infected newborns recovered rapidly without any subsequent problems.

These observations were made during the ongoing epidemic that began in March 2005. The information by the Le Réunion and French health authority was gathered from 3,007 births between June 1, 2005, and February 28, 2006. Researchers have noted that there is little cause for panic, but they also urged follow-up studies and interviews to rule out long-term complications, if any.

Since the epidemic started in March 2005, 258,000 people have been infected, an estimate by the regional health authority shows. As of May 14, 219 death certificates mentioned chikungunya. There were 1,400 new cases in the second week of May. The French Health Ministry has also recorded 376 laboratory-confirmed cases of imported chikungunya in mainland.

The epidemic has spread to the Seychelles, Mauritius, Madagascar, and the Comoros. Four Indian states have reported 150,000 suspected cases in the past three months. An epidemic is feared in Malaysia where 200 cases have been reported just north of Kuala Lumpur.

A vaccine is still not publicly available.

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Turkey On Brink of Political Upheaval

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The murder of high-ranking judge, who upheld the controversial ban on headscarves, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his party’s radical rhetoric that incited the incident places Turkey on the brink of another political upheaval. If political and grassroots pressure fails to unseat the misguided prime minister, the military, which sees itself as the guardian of the country’s secular nature, could be forced to intervene again.

Alpaslan Aslan, 29, burst into the chambers of the Council of State, Turkey’s highest administrative court, on Wednesday and gunned down five judges. Judge Mustafa Yücel Özbilgin died after several hours in surgery. The rest survived. Before opening fire, Mr. Aslan reportedly blamed the justices for their February ruling that upheld the ban on headscarf, a religious attire, from universities and other public buildings.

On Thursday, an estimated 25,000 protestors gathered at the Council of State building in Ankara, chanting secularist slogans and calling on Mr. Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi [AKP]) to resign.

The Turkish Daily News [TDN], the government-backed English daily, said some protestors were chanting “Down with Shariah” and “Mullahs, go to Iran,” while waving the national flag. Sumru Cortoğlu, chief justice of the Council of State, accused Mr. Erdoğan’s administration for the murder, saying “careless remarks by government officials” resulted in the shooting rampage.

Mr. Erdoğan’s quest for an Islamist country appeared during his days as mayor of İstanbul and a leading member of the Islamist Welfare Party (Refah Partisi), which was led by Necmettin Erbakan and banned in 1997 for undermining the secular nature of the country. He and others then set up another Islamist group and called it the Virtue Party (Fazilet Partisi), which was banned in 1999. He became Turkish prime minister in March 2003.

Mr. Edroğan was conspicuously absent from Judge Özbilgin’s funeral yesterday, while high-ranking military leaders were very visible at the funeral and other government ceremonies, The New Anatolian, and independent daily, reported.

“I condemn once more this heinous attack which targets the secular republic. Anyone who has caused the attack should reassess his attitude and behavior,” President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, former chief justice of the Constitutional Court that banned Mr. Erdoğan’s Islamist parties, was quoted by the Anatolian as saying.

Mr. Erdoğan’s policies and public statements have energized the religious ultra-nationalists who have attacked young girls for wearing short skirts. While Turkey is overwhelmingly Muslim, its dress code and trends are European. Turkey’s secularism has been enshrined by Kemal Mustafa Atatürk, who founded the modern Republic, in the constitution. And the military has never shied away from guaranteeing a secular republic by force, if necessary.

Columnist Mete Belovacikli warns Mr. Erdoğan and his party to heed former President Süleyman Demirel’s caution that the military may not sit idly to watch the A.K.P. radicalize or diminish the country’s secularist nature.

Meanwhile, former Turkish Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit was in a coma after suffering a massive stroke. He was the leader of the Democratic Left Party and oversaw the capture of Kurdistan Workers’ Party [PKK] leader Abdullah Ocalan. In 1974 he ordered Turkish troops to northern Cyprus after Greek Cypriots launched a coup to unit with Greece. Mr. Ecevit was born in 1925 in what was then Constantinople.

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Leftist Leaders Drop Dead in Philippines

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The Philippine military is using psychological warfare to stoke paranoia inside the New People’s Army [NPA] by claiming that army agents have infiltrated the communist rebel group. Whether true or not today, the U.S., led by the late Colonel James Nicholas Rowe, did infiltrate the N.P.A. in the 1980s. The military blames N.P.A. purges for most of the 123 deaths of leftist leaders and sympathizers. But a National Police task force is taking a more diplomatic approach by saying that the military and paramilitary groups as well as the communist rebels themselves may have had a part in the killings.

All of these groups are suspected of involvement in the killings though they have not been formally linked to any of the murders, Deputy Director General Avelino Ignacio Razon Jr., of the Philippine National Police, who is leading a task force investigating the spate of killings, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Army generals on Monday blamed the killings on an N.P.A. purge, citing examples of a similar event during the 1980s. The Philippine Army has in the past blamed the deaths of some prominent journalists on the communist rebels amid evidence that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s administration was increasingly cracking down on dissident journalists. The communist rebels this morning blamed military death squads for the death of 93 People First faction leaders in the past five years.

The N.P.A. was formed in 1969, a year after the Communist Party of the Philippines broke away from the Philippine Communist Party, better known as PKP-1930, to fulfill its stated goal of overthrowing the government through sustained guerrilla warfare. China allegedly supplied them in their early days, but evidence of any recent support is scarce. Since Mrs. Macapagal took office in 2001 through the controversial protest known as Edsa II, the ranks of the communist rebels is estimated to have swelled to more than 10,000.

These and other communist factions have sophisticated networks in rural as well as urban Philippines. The N.P.A. targets Philippine security forces, state and local officials, journalists and local businesses and funds itself largely through donations and “revolutionary taxes.” The C.P.P. and the N.P.A. are on the U.S. State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. The breakaway Revolutionary Proletariat Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade [RPA-ABB] runs the deadly urban hit squads known as “sparrow units” that have targeted government officials and military officers.

The ouster of U.S. forces from the Philippines is another goal of these factions, who in the past have been infiltrated by government agents working with the U.S. military and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

U.S. Army Colonel James Nicholas Rowe, who set up the infiltration program for the Defense Intelligence Agency [DIA] and the C.I.A., was assassinated by suspected N.P.A. assailants on April 21, 1989. Col. Rowe was famous for escaping a Viet Cong prison after five years in captivity. He designed the original search, evasion, resistance and escape [Sere] courses and was reactivated as chief of the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group in Luzon to infiltrate the N.P.A. Circumstances leading to his death — whether the U.S. intelligence agencies allegedly downplayed threats to his life — are still being debated.

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Local Police Spying on Americans

Unmonitored, these untrained local police intelligence units could turn into the infamous Red Squads that suppressed dissent and protests before the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act limited the power of local police.

Local and state police are forming intelligence units and spying on ordinary Americans with little understanding of or concern for privacy laws. Their mixed results, U.S. News & World Report says, include targeting “save the whale” groups, labor leaders and anti-war protestors. Untrained, overzealous local police “intelligence” agents have harassed library patrons surfing the Web and infiltrated anti-war groups and animal rights groups. At the same time, the Justice Department and states are setting up “fusion centers” to pool databases of multiple jurisdictions apparently with few privacy safeguards.

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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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U.N. Chastises Thai Male Dominance

In a report issued just days before national elections, the United Nations has urged Thailand to raise the number of women in politics and civil service, chastising the country’s “cultural and traditional prejudices of a male-dominated society.” Thailand will fail to meet its own ambitious goal to double the proportion of women in government. The report blames unflinching attitudes of men for the lack of progress. Gender equality is third on the list of U.N. Millennium Development Goals. In some places, however, married women are just now being allowed to own land, female fetuses are aborted and women do not get maternity leave.
Thai women make up only 10 percent of the outgoing parliament, placing the country 113th out of 185 countries. Only Cambodia, Malaysia and Japan rank below Thailand in East and Southeast Asia, the report said. Dr. Juree Vichit-Vadakarn, the report’s lead author, was quoted as saying that a major shift in attitude among men are needed for gender equality in politics. Other than urging the country to set a timeline for recruiting more women, the report was short on how to effect that change.

[The report will likely receive little attention despite an article about it in the Bangkok Post especially during an unprecedented mobilization to oust deeply entrenched Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.]

  • In the Philippines, married women are finally allowed to apply for land ownership given that she is estranged from her husband, he is incapacitated or he is in prison.
  • In India, female infanticide, the selective abortion of female fetuses, accounted for about 10 million missing female fetuses in the past two decades. An Indian physician has been sentenced to two years in prison for violating a 1994 law that bans disclosing the sex of a fetus. The law aimed at stopping the widespread selective abortion of girls is largely ignored.
  • Egypt still shows little respect toward women especially when it comes to the judiciary. There is only one woman, Judge Tehany al-Gebaly, in the executive judiciary.
  • Taiwanese companies still get away with refusing to provide maternity leave which is illegal under the 2002 Gender Equality in Employment Law. A majority of companies have also refused to offer menstrual leave, miscarriage leave or paternity leave.
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Got Insurgency? Buy a U.S.-Made Brigade!

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It’s not a proposition for anyone. But if you are a country suffering from insurgency, call Blackwater USA for help. The rising star in the private military industry wants to sell its services at a fraction of the cost of operating NATO or U.N. peacekeepers. Blackwater officials have hinted at this type of future operations by insisting that a private army would not only be cheaper, but also provide real security instead of simply watching massacres in the next village. Private armies may very well be efficient and cost effective, but the dangers of using them are easy to spot.

Blackwater Vice Chairman J. Cofer Black told Special Operations Forces Exhibition [Sofex] in Jordan that his company could send a private army for counter-insurgency missions to any country on short notice, according to Middle East Newsline. Ambassador Black joined Blackwater in February 2005 after a distinguished but dangerous C.I.A. career, which included capturing “Carlos the Jackal.”

Blackwater USA would dispatch a brigade to any low-intensity conflict zones for security operations. While Amb. Cofer did not cite any figures, the contracting cost would be a fraction of what either the U.N. or NATO might spend on such work.

In January 2005, Chris Taylor, Blackwater’s vice president for strategic review, argued at George Washington University Law School that there is an “emergent and compelling need” for efficient, professional soldiers in today’s counterterrorism environment. Peacekeeping operations also fall under the capacity of professional soldiers. Mr. Taylor said:

Send 10,000 UN troops to Darfur? A colossal waste of money. You do not create security and peace by throwing more mediocre, uncommitted people into the fray.

A 2,000-strong contract army could perform security duties and eventually turn over the operation to the United Nations for post-conflict management, he said, stressing that is what non-governmental groups do best. He cited an example of African Union [AU] troops in the Darfur region of Sudan, saying they were powerless to stop the horrific violence being committed just 300 yards (meters) away.

Mr. Taylor’s speech reminds multinational forces of deadly failures in former Yugoslavia, Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, the post-Mobutu mayhem in the Congo, Somalia and Darfur. Such security forces have been so bound by bureaucracy and public image that they often provide little security even in large numbers. Can highly trained professional soldiers perform better than a poorly paid ragtag army? Probably.

But these private armies remain largely unaccountable. In 2003, Blackwater started posting classified ads in El Mercurio, a Chilean daily published in Santiago. Blackwater’s local recruiter had suspicious backgrounds, and many applicants were in former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s commando units.

While Blackwater USA does not appear to be in the coup d’etat business, Executive Outcomes [EO] was involved in the very African business of rebel warfare and coups. Like South Africa’s infamous “32 Buffalo Battalion,” highly trained commandos have been out of job worldwide when peace broke out. Blackwater, like others, seem to be in a recruiting war without conscience.

Blackwater USA is not alone. A more famous private army is that of DynCorp International. Despite its checkered past and negative publicity in recent years, DynCorp survived nearly 60 years as a key U.S. defense contractor. It has provided military training in countries where the U.S. did not want to go. It even gets paid to guard Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president.

As for Blackwater, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been highly profitable. The company wants to build a 6,000-foot airstrip, a 2,550-foot airstrip, a 5,000-square-foot building and a 20,000-square-foot hangar in North Carolina. Last month, the company moved into a brand new, 66,600-square-foot headquarter in North Carolina.

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U.S. Military Returns to Lebanon, Quietly

A quarter-century after the U.S. military’s failed Lebanese Army Modernization Program, and the humiliating withdrawal in 1984, the Pentagon is quietly laying the groundwork for re-establishing close ties with the Lebanese military. The United States now has an opportunity to rebuild Lebanon’s weak military and intelligence apparatus and help contain Syria, which is now under late President Hafez al-Assad’s “less gifted son Bashar,” and subdue radical elements in the south.

The U.S. military dispatched about a dozen officers to Beirut in November and December to review the country’s armed forces, its mostly U.S.-made hardware and come up with suggestions for reform, the Chicago Tribune reported from Cairo. The Lebanese request for military assessment was made through the U.S. embassy in Beirut. Britain, France, Egypt and Jordan are also involved in the apparent efforts to modernize the Lebanese Armed Forces. Brigadier General Mark T. Kimmitt, deputy director of plans and policy at U.S. Central Command [CENTCOM], confirmed the review but declined to comment further.

Much of the military hardware in Lebanon came from the United States in the 1980s under President Reagan’s Lebanese Army Modernization Program that included reorganization, training, tanks, armored personnel carriers and other equipment. That program eventually crumbled after more than 300 U.S. soldiers and diplomats were killed in multiple bombings in 1983 Beirut.

The Tribune, citing unnamed sources, said three U.S. teams surveyed the aviation, naval and army equipment, reviewed personnel and found them inadequate. British military officers also visited Lebanon to discuss strategic policy, while French experts went there to survey police and security forces.

The U.S. State Department has asked for US$40 million in FY 2007 to spend on scholarships and educational institutions in Lebanon. Also for Lebanon, State has asked for US$5 million in grants for U.S. military hardware and services and another US$1 million for training military personnel.

Syria has historical claim to Lebanon as well as strategic and economic interests in the country. Lebanon was part of the Syria Province, administered from Damascus, during the Ottoman rule from 1516 to 1918 and was part of an independent Syrian republic for two years. Under the League of Nations Mandate in 1920, the French came in and carved out Lebanon.

While Syria has always exerted influence in Lebanon, it was Lebanese President Suleiman Franjieh, a Maronite Christian as required by the 1943 National Pact, who invited the Syrian army in 1976 to help deal with the civil war. A combination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination, a weak Syrian head of state (Bashar al-Assad) and mounting international pressure led to the departure of Syrian troops from Lebanon on April 27, 2005.

Nearly 30 years of Syrian dominance left the Lebanese Armed Forces weak although the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center believes the “army remains a source of continuity and stability.” The overbearing Syrian mukhabarat co-opted pro-Damascus agents, many of whom have fled the country, and terrorized dissenters.

Now, Lebanon is without an effective intelligence apparatus — a void the U.S., Britain and France can help fill. The U.S. has been moving aggressively to support currently anti-Syrian politicians, including Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has purposely been snubbing the pro-Damascus president, General Emile Lahoud, and instead meeting with Prime Minister Siniora. In an interview with Future Television, a pro-Lebanon network in Beirut, President Bush, too, encouraged the Lebanese to be “courageous” and demand a democratic society.

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Chicken Thighs Out; MP3 Players In

To compile a representative a consumer price index, Britain’s Office for National Statistics [ONS] added MP3 players, flat-screen television, music downloads, digital camcorders, and a bottle of lager at nightclubs to its “shopping basket” of more than 650 consumer goods and services.

Some changes, like the replacement of sparkling wine with imported champagne, simply represent evolving palate. The addition of cold and flu drink powder and liquid foundation for makeup represents products where consumer spending has become significant but had not been on the list.

The Office has finally realized that people do drink significant amounts in nightclubs. They used to survey prices of lager at only restaurants, pubs and wine bars. Nightclubs have been added to the list of survey locations.

This is bad news for the music industry already shaken by piracy and plummeting sales of grossly overpriced CDs. CD players have been replaced with MP3 players “to represent the personal audio market,” O.N.S. said in its report on the changes. While music CDs and cassettes have not been completely dropped from the list, the addition of online music downloads “to represent an emerging market not covered by existing items” foreshadows the slow death of the corporate music industry.

O.N.S. announcement on 2006 changes to the “shopping basket.”

Full O.N.S. report on the 2006 changes (PDF).

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Most Wanted: Bird Flu Suspects

The U.S. government has launched massive surveillance efforts using not just spy satellites but also state and federal scientists to begin culling and testing key suspects for the potentially deadly avian flu virus.

Federal scientists have conducted a study to analyze dozens of migratory birds and picked out a handful that would be useful to test the moment they cross into the United States, according to ABC News. The sampling will begin in April in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, in Cold Bay, Alaska.

In recent weeks, scientists have expressed concern that bird flu may be arriving from the north rather than the south, like the Bahamas.

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