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Swiss find signs of illegal US surveillance

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© Agence France-Presse/File
The US flag flies above the Capitol building in Washington. Switzerland has found signs that the US embassy in Geneva has been conducting illegal surveillance on Swiss territory, the justice ministry told AFP, confirming local press reports.
Geneva - Bern has found signs that the US embassy in Geneva has been conducting illegal surveillance on Swiss territory, the justice ministry told AFP Sunday, confirming local press reports.

The Swiss government had in 2007 rejected requests made by the US missions in Bern and Geneva to protect their buildings through a surveillance programme "due to a lack of legal basis and bilateral accords on this domain," the ministry said in a statement.

However, it emerged late last year that US embassies in Norway and Denmark had been conducting similar programmes.

Following the disclosures in Scandinavia, "Swiss authorities have found, during last autumn, indications showing that such a programme is ongoing at the US mission in Geneva."

Family

Fallujah: City of No Children

child,fallujah
© Unknown
Child in mourning after American 'liberation' of Fallujah
The horror of the effects of depleted uranium deserve to be heard in Scotland, argues Bill Wilson

It was recently reported that doctors had advised women in Fallujah not to give birth. There are many medical reasons for infertility which might shatter the dreams of a young woman. It is not difficult to imagine how heartbreaking it must be for a woman who is advised that she can never bear children. But for the young women of an entire city - tens of thousands of them - to be advised not to give birth, how can one imagine such collective pain? But perhaps it does not matter - one life is a tragedy, a million a statistic? Certainly this episode attracted limited press attention. Media Lens highlighted an interesting contrast with the attention directed at the lady who chucked a cat into a bin - one cat confined for a few hours was a tragedy.

This year the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health published a study, "Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005 - 2009" by Chris Busby, Malak Hamdan and Entesar Ariabi. The report concludes "results confirm the reported increases in cancer and infant mortality which are alarmingly high. The remarkable reduction in the sex ratio in the cohort born one year after the fighting in [Falluja] 2004 identifies that year as the time of the environmental contamination." It was this increase in the incidence of child cancer and deformities which resulted in women being advised not to give birth. Fallujah is not the only city witnessing skyrocketing rates of child cancer. "The rapidly soaring child cancer rate in the southern Iraqi province of Basra has prompted the officials in the country to open the country's first specialist cancer hospital for children in the province's capital. [...] Since 1993, Basra province has witnessed a sharp rise in the incidence of childhood cancer. 'Leukemia (a type of blood cancer) among children under 15 has increased by about four times,' said Dr. Janan Hasan of the hospital inaugurated on Thursday in the southern port city of Basra."

In response to such reports, I lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament highlighting the issue. This was of limited interest to my fellow parliamentarians (fewer than 20 supported it), and of no interest to the Scottish media, but it did attract the attention of a number of dedicated individuals campaigning on the issues raised by the Iraq war, including the issue very relevant to the increase in childhood cancers and birth deformities: depleted uranium (DU). I have subsequently come to appreciate their bravery and determination in the face of what would seem to be attack, denial and disinformation by a ruthless, dishonest and uncaring establishment. The Non-Aligned Movement in the UN believes at least 400,000 kg of DU shells have been fired. Precisely how many and even where is uncertain. Whether we will ever know is also uncertain. The United Nations First Committee recently voted, by an overwhelming margin, for state users of depleted uranium weapons to release data on where the weapons have been used to governments of the states affected by their use. However, four nations opposed the motion: the UK, the USA, Israel and France. Three of these nations have used DU weapons; France produces them. The resolution then went forward to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) for a second vote. The result was identical. However, as such votes are non-binding, it is likely that the four nations opposed to the resolution will simply ignore it.

Bizarro Earth

Parents fume over Black's 'birth control' quip about overcrowding

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CATHIE CLOWN: New Chancellor Cathie Black's off-color attempts at humor only angered parents at a meeting with school officials.
Now that's Black humor.

Less than two weeks into her new gig, Schools Chancellor Cathie Black has riled parents and public officials by jokingly suggesting that "birth control" was the solution to school overcrowding.

The off-color quip came in response to concerns by public-school dad Eric Greenleaf, who said at a meeting of parents and officials at state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's downtown office that there will be "huge shortages" of classroom space in lower Manhattan in coming years.

"Could we just have some birth control for a while?" Black cracked. "It could really help us all out a lot."

The public-service novice, who has spent her entire career in media and publishing, also dropped jaws at the meeting by likening her task of satisfying space-crunch concerns in every neighborhood to making "many Sophie's Choices" -- a reference to the book in which a mother in the Auschwitz death camp is forced to decide which of her two children will live.


Attention

20 Shocking New Economic Records That Were Set In 2010

urban decay
© n/a
2010 was quite a year, wasn't it? 2010 will be remembered for a lot of things, but for those living in the United States, one of the main things that last year will be remembered for is economic decline. The number of foreclosure filings set a new record, the number of home repossessions set a new record, the number of bankruptcies went up again, the number of Americans that became so discouraged that they simply quit looking for work reached a new all-time high and the number of Americans on food stamps kept setting a brand new record every single month. Meanwhile, U.S. government debt reached record highs, state government debt reached record highs and local government debt reached record highs. What a mess! In fact, even many of the "good" economic records that were set during 2010 were indications of underlying economic weakness. For example, the price of gold set an all-time record during 2010, but one of the primary reasons for the increase in the price of gold was that the U.S. dollar was rapidly losing value. Most Americans had been hoping that 2010 would be the beginning of better times, but unfortunately economic conditions just kept getting worse.

So will things improve in 2011? That would be nice, but at this point there are not a whole lot of reasons to be optimistic about the economy. The truth is that we are trapped in a period of long-term economic decline and we are now paying the price for decades of horrible decisions.

Amazingly, many of our politicians and many in the mainstream media have declared that "the recession is over" and that the U.S. economy is steadily improving now.

Well, if anyone tries to tell you that the economy got better in 2010, just show them the statistics below. That should shut them up for a while.

The following are 20 new economic records that were set during 2010....

Calculator

In Corrupt Global Food System, Farmland Is the New Gold

African woman & child
© UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran
More than 100 billion dollars has been invested in buying farmland since 2008, mainly in Africa by foreign companies and state entities.
Famine-hollowed farmers watch trucks loaded with grain grown on their ancestral lands heading for the nearest port, destined to fill richer bellies in foreign lands. This scene has become all too common since the 2008 food crisis.

Food prices are even higher now in many countries, sparking another cycle of hunger riots in the Middle East and South Asia last weekend. While bad weather gets the blame for rising prices, the instant price hikes of recent times are largely due to market speculation in a corrupt global food system.

The 2008 food crisis awoke much of the world's investment community to the profitable reality that hungry people will do almost anything, even sell their own children, in order to eat. And with the global financial crisis, food and farmland became the "new gold" for some of the biggest investors, experts agree.

In 2010, wheat futures rose 47 percent, U.S. corn was up more than 50 percent, and soybeans rose 34 percent.

On Wednesday, U.S.-based Cargill, the world's largest agricultural commodities trader, announced a tripling of profits. The firm generated 1.49 billion dollars in three months between September and November 2010.

Meanwhile, U.S. Treasury Bills pay a return of less than one percent.

Phoenix

At least 50 prisoners killed in Tunisian prison inferno

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© Unknown
Smoke billows from market on January 15, 2011 near Tunis.
Reports say scores of inmates have been killed in an inferno at a jail in eastern Tunisia as violence continues in the North African country.

Medical sources say at least 50 prisoners have been killed in the fire at the prison in the resort town of Monastir, 160 kilometers south of the capital Tunis.

"The whole prison is on fire, the furniture, mattresses, everything," Reuters quoted one witness as saying.

In the wake of the unexpected ouster of former Tunisian President Zine El Abidin Ben Ali, a new wave of mayhem and disorder has swept across the capital Tunis.

The blaze started when an inmate set fire to a mattress in a dormitory in an attempt to escape.

Bomb

Blast kills 4, injures 5 in Dagestan

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© Unknown
Russian security forces in Dagestan
The explosion of a car parked near a cafe in Russia's troubled southern republic of Dagestan has claimed the lives of four people, the country's Investigation Committee says.

Five other people were severely injured during the blast that hit the cafe in the city of Khasavyurt on Friday at 7.30 p.m. local time (18.30 GMT).

"According to preliminary data, two people working in the cafe and two customers were killed; five were taken to hospital in critical condition," the Russian RIA Novosti quoted the committee as saying in a statement.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the blast yet.

Sporadic attacks and militant clashes are common in Russia's North Caucasus republics, especially Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia.

Rocket

Russian Duma ratifies new START treaty

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© Unknown
Russia's State Duma
Russia's lower house of parliament has voted in favor of ratifying the new START treaty with the United States, albeit with conditions.

The State Duma set its terms for approving the Russian-American Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) on the second reading on Friday, the state-run Ittar-Tass news agency reported.

According to the head of the State Duma foreign relations committee Konstantin Kosachev, the conditions include circumstances that would push Russia to withdraw from the new START treaty as well as the possibility of further Moscow-Washington talks on similar treaties.

The draft law was adopted by a 349-57 vote with two abstentions.

The Russian lower house of parliament had, on December 24, 2010, voted 350-58 against the new START treaty, which was signed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and US President Barack Obama last April.

Earlier on Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was "absolutely" opposed to US Senate additions to the treaty, which denies the link between missile defense and strategic arms.

"We are absolutely not in agreement with this. This is an arbitrary interpretation of the principles of international law," he told the State Duma.

Cards

US: Forget Cellphones; Casinos Say Poker Is Answer to State's Budget Woes

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© unknown
California voters may have decided that marijuana was not the answer to the state's budget woes but what about gambling?

A group of California casinos say they could raise about $1 billion over the next decade if the state legalized Internet poker.

The problem is California is facing a $25 billion shortfall right now. But with Gov. Jerry Brown cutting costs wherever he can -- see his $20 million cell phone savings earlier this week -- $100 million a year could go a long way.

Star of David

How Terrorists took control of Israel

God chosen terrorists were the Irgun which was a political predecessor to Israel's right-wing Herut (or "Freedom") party, which led to today's Likud party. Benjamin Netanyahu is the present leader. Likud has led or been part of most Israeli governments since 1977.