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Fri, 29 Sep 2023
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Puppet Masters


Bombs kill at least 50 along pilgrim route to Shiite holy city of Karbala

© Xinhua/Reuters Photo
Image from an August 3, 2010 bomb attack in Kut, Baghdad
A pair of car bombs blasted through security checkpoints ringing the Iraqi holy city of Karbala Thursday and killed at least 51 people, most of whom were Shiite pilgrims headed to observe yearly religious rituals.

It was the latest in a wave of attacks in recent days, as insurgents test Iraqi security forces ahead of the planned U.S. withdrawal at the end of the year.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the bombings bore the hallmark of al-Qaida and other Sunni-dominated extremist groups that frequently target Shiite pilgrimages in hopes of re-igniting sectarian violence that brought Iraq to the brink of civil war just a few years ago.

Authorities estimated as many as 183 people were wounded in the near-simultaneous blasts set off by suicide bombers driving cars packed with explosives.

Alarm Clock

US: Mark Ruffalo's Crusade Against Fracking: 'The World Is Leaving Us Behind'

Mark Ruffalo
© Joanna Zelman
On what many New Yorkers deemed a snow day, one overflowing gallery in the city was filled with artists and activists who decided to leave their warm apartments and hot chocolates behind in support of a cause worthy of traipsing through the snow. The event was "Fracking and Its Effects: A Panel Discussion," in support of Exit Art's "Fracking: Art and Activism Against the Drill," an exhibit open through February 5th.

The panel was hosted by Mark Ruffalo, an acclaimed actor/activist known among Huffington Post readers for his insightful pieces, famous among film watchers for his recent award-nominated performance in The Kids Are All Right, and now infamous among government officials as a man who won't stop talking about fracking.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a process that can be used to retrieve natural gas. It involves injecting chemicals, sand, and millions of gallons of water into shale rock. The shale is then shattered, releasing trapped gas. The problem is that when the gas comes to the surface, some water returns as well, and this water is often tainted with poisonous, carcinogenic chemicals.

The harmful effects of fracking are all too tangible, and Mark Ruffalo will be the first to tell you this. His friend's one-lane country road became a 30-foot highway for sonar pounding, and the quiet region of New York where Mark lives with his family may soon be destroyed by natural gas drilling.


Nudge, nudge, wink wink... How the Government wants to change the way we think

Pavlogs dog1
© Unknown

Shame, vanity, laziness and the desire to fit in are all to be used as tools of Government policy by ministers acting on the advice of a new psychology unit in Whitehall.

The first glimpse into the confidential work of the Cabinet Office's Behavioural Insight Team came on Tuesday when ministers suggested members of the public should be able to make small charitable donations when using cashpoints and their credit cards.

On Friday, the Cabinet Office again followed the unit's advice in proposing that learner drivers be opted in to an organ donation scheme when they apply for a licence, and also floated the idea of creating a lottery to encourage people to take tests to prove they have quit smoking.

These initiatives are examples of the application of mental techniques which, while seemingly paradoxical to the Coalition's goal of a smaller state, are likely to become a common feature of Government policy.


UK: Energy Firms Cash In on the Cold Snap: Profit Margins Rise 50% to Record Levels

© Josh Westrich/Corbis
Cash guzzling: The Energy Select Committee was told how the major firms were making a £65-a-year profit per customer
Energy firms pocketed record profits from every customer during the coldest December for a century, it has emerged.

Research shows their profit margins have increased by nearly 50 per cent in the last four months alone, to the highest level for more than five years, MPs heard yesterday.

The firms say customers' rising bills are simply a result of a 25 per cent rise in wholesale prices last year. But recent studies suggest the margin between what they pay for gas and the price they charge customers, has risen by more than 200 per cent since 2008.

Yesterday, the Energy Select Committee heard from energy regulator Ofgem how last September the major firms were making a £65-a-year profit per customer. Based on a typical annual bill of £1,200, that has already risen to £97 - and is likely to climb further.

Five of Britain's 'big six' energy firms increased their prices this winter - despite the long cold spell.


Former NSA Chief Called CIA 'Out of Control'

William Odom
© Getty Images
William Odom, former director of the National Security Agency, was known as an outspoken advocate for intelligence reform.

The CIA is "out of control" and often refuses to cooperate with other parts of the national security community, even undermining their efforts, said former National Security Agency head William Odom, according to a recently released record of a 9/11 Commission interview.

"The CIA currently doesn't work for anyone. It thinks it works for the president, but it doesn't and it's out of control," says a report summarizing remarks made by Odom, a retired three-star general who served as director of the NSA from 1985 to 1988.

Odom, who also served on the National Security Council staff during the Carter administration, was known as an outspoken advocate for intelligence reform. He died in 2008.

The 2003 interview, among others conducted by the 9/11 Commission, was posted on the website Cryptome, which is often compared to the secret-spilling WikiLeaks website. The report was not a leak, however, but one of many records relating to the 9/11 Commission that have been released and made available on the National Archives website.

Eye 1

Utah City May Use Blimp as Anti-Crime Spy in the Sky

A proposed unmanned floating airship surveillance system is being hailed by city officials in Ogden, Utah as one way to fight crime in its neighborhoods.

"We believe it will be a deterrent to crime when it is out and about and will help us solve crimes more quickly when they do occur," Ogden City Mayor Matthew Godfrey told Reuters.


The brutal truth about Tunisia

Tunisia  Zine el- Abidine Ben Ali
© The Associated Press
What's left of the face of ex-president Zine el- Abidine Ben Ali stares out from a torn poster in Tunis yesterday
Bloodshed, tears, but no democracy. Bloody turmoil won't necessarily presage the dawn of democracy

The end of the age of dictators in the Arab world? Certainly they are shaking in their boots across the Middle East, the well-heeled sheiks and emirs, and the kings, including one very old one in Saudi Arabia and a young one in Jordan, and presidents - another very old one in Egypt and a young one in Syria - because Tunisia wasn't meant to happen. Food price riots in Algeria, too, and demonstrations against price increases in Amman. Not to mention scores more dead in Tunisia, whose own despot sought refuge in Riyadh - exactly the same city to which a man called Idi Amin once fled.

If it can happen in the holiday destination Tunisia, it can happen anywhere, can't it? It was feted by the West for its "stability" when Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was in charge. The French and the Germans and the Brits, dare we mention this, always praised the dictator for being a "friend" of civilised Europe, keeping a firm hand on all those Islamists.

Tunisians won't forget this little history, even if we would like them to. The Arabs used to say that two-thirds of the entire Tunisian population - seven million out of 10 million, virtually the whole adult population - worked in one way or another for Mr Ben Ali's secret police. They must have been on the streets too, then, protesting at the man we loved until last week. But don't get too excited. Yes, Tunisian youths have used the internet to rally each other - in Algeria, too - and the demographic explosion of youth (born in the Eighties and Nineties with no jobs to go to after university) is on the streets. But the "unity" government is to be formed by Mohamed Ghannouchi, a satrap of Mr Ben Ali's for almost 20 years, a safe pair of hands who will have our interests - rather than his people's interests - at heart.

For I fear this is going to be the same old story. Yes, we would like a democracy in Tunisia - but not too much democracy. Remember how we wanted Algeria to have a democracy back in the early Nineties?


US: Physical fitness grade linked to body fat

© Chuck Berman, Chicago Tribune
Angela Gemini, mother of a fifth-grade boy, speaks Tuesday at a Hawthorne Elementary School meeting on the use of BMI data in determining physical fitness progress. Gemini said it isn't the school's place to be giving medical advice.
After parents protest, Elmhurst school says BMI data will no longer affect report card

Chicago, Illinois - Elmhurst students have long been checked on how long it takes to run a mile or whether they can do a pushup. But another physical fitness assessment tool has some parents fuming - one that aims at finding out whether their kids are too hefty.

A child's "body mass index," a computation of body fat based on height and weight, was one of six tests used at Hawthorne Elementary School to determine the physical fitness grade on a student's progress report.

But that practice ended abruptly Tuesday after about 25 parents met with school officials to express their displeasure with how the BMI data were being used. One mother broke into tears as she described how it affected her fourth-grade daughter.


Swiss banker linked to Wikileaks is found guilty

© Reuters
Rudolf Elmer was fined but escaped a prison sentence
A former Swiss banker who said he gave Wikileaks details of rich tax evaders has been found guilty of breaching Switzerland's strict bank secrecy laws.

A judge at Zurich's Regional Court did so even though the leaked documents referred to accounts in the Cayman Islands.

Judge Sebastian Aeppli fined Rudolf Elmer more than 6,000 Swiss francs ($6,250; £4,000).

But he rejected prosecution demands to give Elmer an eight-month prison sentence.


UK: Gordon Brown to Warn Against Global Youth Unemployment Epidemic

Gordon Brown
© David Moir/Reuters
Gordon Brown will tomorrow make a speech on behalf of the world's young and unemployed.
Former prime minister will call for Barack Obama to take the lead in helping the 81 million people under the age of 25

Gordon Brown will warn on Thursday that the world faces youth unemployment of "epidemic proportions", as he urges joint action by the G20 group of developed and developing nations to tackle rising joblessness.

During a speech in London, the former prime minister will call for Barack Obama to take the lead in boosting education, training and job opportunities for the 81 million people under the age of 25 who are currently without work.

"Unemployment is an international timebomb for both developed and developing worlds," Brown will say in the Ted Kennedy/John Harvard memorial lecture.