news you should know about

newsmongering 07/22

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> So I woke up, made coffee, and got online today to discover that there’d been a massive explosion in Oslo (Norway, for those playing along at home), possibly from one or more car bomb(s) detonating outside major government offices and newspapers; one bystander compared it to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The windows in the prime minister’s office were shattered (everybody’s office windows were shattered, and it was a seventeen-story building). There are as-yet unconfirmed reports of a secondary explosion elsewhere in the city; I’m seeing reports of unspecified injuries and possibly deaths (here, too) (possibly two deaths?; this article also indicates that the attack was reprisal for Norway’s contribution to the efforts in Afghanistan, but I’m not seeing a source). No one appears to have claimed responsibility; Al Jazeera speculated that it may be retaliation for last week’s decision to charge a Kurdish group within the country with terrorism, but that’s since been edited out of the article. The BBC has a page of updates here (warning, video starts when page opens).

added 10:58: About a year ago (07/13/2010), The Atlantic ran an article called “Why Does al-Qaeda Have a Problem with Norway?” So that’s spookily prescient. It’s an excellent article and slots in very well with the speculation I’m seeing elsewhere (Afghanistan, the cartoon crisis, the Iraqi Kurdish Islamist Mulla Krekar). Go take a look.

Last Thursday, three men were arrested in Norway and Germany for allegedly plotting a terrorist attack involving peroxide explosives. Those arrested were all Muslim immigrants to Norway, originally from China, Iraq, and Uzbekistan. Authorities claim that the suspects had links to al-Qaeda in Pakistan, and that one of them visited Waziristan in 2008. If this is true, an al-Qaeda cell had set up shop in the suburbs of Oslo.

> Depending on who you read, either tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of Syrians have taken to the streets today around the country in solidarity with the city of Homs, which is currently occupied by security forces. Telecommunications and electricity have been cut in multiple cities. As per usual, Assad’s government is blaming the “unrest” on “‘terrorists and armed criminal gangs’ backed by a foreign conspiracy.”

> The medical community is pretty furious by the CIA’s use of a fake vaccination program in the hunt for bin Laden. The political community is starting to jump onboard, too.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are where liberalism goes to die. In the years since, it’s become increasingly clear that my traveling companion was at least partially right: when trying to explain a social or political event in Afghanistan or Pakistan, it’s entirely rational to assume that it stems from a plot by an intelligence agency, quite likely the CIA. The sickest confirmation of this point was the recent revelation that the CIA ran an operation to verify Osama bin Laden’s location by gathering DNA samples through a false-flag hepatitis B vaccination programme. As James Fallows notes, American officials are defending this operation, not denying it.

This is despicable and stupid.

All over the world, poor people resist vaccination campaigns in the belief that they are part of a plot by powerful authorities to take advantage of them. The CIA operation in Pakistan turns these fears from crazy conspiracy theories into accurate and rational beliefs. But what’s really tragic is that Pakistan happens to be at the epicenter of a crucial ongoing vaccination programme: the worldwide campaign to eliminate polio.


Some religious leaders and Taliban militants warn that vaccines are actually American-sponsored cocktails meant to sterilize or exterminate Muslims or that Islam forbids them. Newspapers occasionally print alarmist news reports — false, health officials here say — about children who become ill from vaccines.

In 2007, as the Taliban insurgency gained strength, health officials warned that extremist clerics’ scare-mongering was driving a dramatic increase in polio cases, particularly in the religiously conservative northwest. Forty cases were reported that year; in 2010, there were 144, according to the World Health Organization.

Government campaigns have since defused, but not fully dispelled, misinformation. Maulvi Faqir Mohammed, a top Pakistani Taliban commander whose illegal radio station streams from eastern Afghanistan into northwest Pakistan, recently told listeners that vaccines are made of “extracts from bones and fat of an animal prohibited by God — the pig,” according to the Associated Press.

“In the mountains, the religious people can use it to say, ‘See? We have been saying there is an agenda,’ ” Atiq ur-Rehman, director of a hospital in Peshawar, said of the CIA ruse.

> Foreign Policy has a roundup/discussion of Ghana’s “round up the gays” policy.

> The Somalian Islamist group al-Shabab, which has ties to Al Qaeda and pretty much runs the show in Somalia, has announced that UN reports of famine are “sheer propaganda.”

The two districts where a famine has been declared – Bakool and Lower Shabelle – are under al-Shabab control and aid agencies have been wary of resuming activities there amid fears for the safety of their staff.

Al-Shabab spokesman Ali Mohamud Rage earlier this month announced that aid agencies, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, would be allowed back into Somalia as long as they had “no hidden agenda”.

This had prompted the US to say it was lifting its ban on allowing its food relief into areas controlled by al-Shabab, which it calls a terrorist group.

However, Mr Rage told journalists in Mogadishu on Thursday night: “The agencies we banned are still banned. The agencies were involved in political activities.”

He admitted there was a drought but said reports of a famine were “utter nonsense, 100% baseless and sheer propaganda.

“There is drought in Somalia and shortage of rain but it is not as bad as they put it.”

You can see just how “not as bad” the situation is in this photo essay. Eritrea is having similar issues; the government does not accept foreign aid.

Ethiopian officials claim that almost half of Eritrea’s 5.3m inhabitants are in need of food assistance, though that is likely to be an exaggeration. The hungriest bits of the country are in the Danakil depression, where nothing grows and only small numbers of Afar nomads live. It is the harvest in the highlands that really matters; the Eritrean government insists that people there have enough food.

Farming in the highlands depends on water from small dams that local communities built for themselves as part of an official self-reliance campaign. Almost alone on the continent, Eritrea turns away foreign aid. That would be fine if President Isaias Afwerki were benign and competent.

added 11:07: And if you like a dose of scumbag with your famine, you can see Murdoch’s Times of London‘s political cartoon for Thursday, which is being widely described as the most offensive thing in the history of anything ever. Seriously, it’s bad; literally making the “there are starving children in Africa, why are we worried about x?” argument, where x = major ethics violations. I’m assuming you lot known enough about the News of the World scandal that I don’t have to deal with it (if not, please do not alert me, because I don’t want to deal with it).

> Canada has agreed to deport Lai Changxing, a Chinese national who fled to Canada in the 1990’s to escape charges of running a multibillion dollar smuggling operation. Canada outlaws capital punishment and does not extradite prisoners it believes could face execution. Mr. Lai and the Canadian officials appear to strongly disagree on precisely how irritated China still is by his activities before fleeing the country. Additionally, prime minister Stephen Harper has announced that an unspecified number of war criminals are lurking in his country. I hate it when that happens.

> Pentagon chief Leon Panetta is broadly expected to certify the repeal of DADT today, showing that “the U.S. military is prepared to accept openly gay and lesbian service members, and doing so will not harm military readiness.” The ban will officially cease sixty days after the certification. The military’s been allegedly preparing to institute the change in the seven months since the ban was overturned by Congress (anyone know anyone in the military who can speak about this? No idea what it entails).

> Apparently a “forklift mishap” destroyed a million dollars worth of shiraz in Australia. The wine retailed for $199US per bottle. Ouch.

Winemaker Sparky Marquis told reporters he was “gut-wrenched” that 462 cases of wine had been smashed while being loaded for export to the United States.

“When they opened up the container they said it was like a murder scene,” he said. “But it smelled phenomenal.”

> It’s hot here. Have some pictures of how it’s hot everywhere.


Thanks to Michael for catching the part where I said that China didn’t execute people. I believe I meant Canada. Whoopsies.


Written by whackanarwhal

July 22, 2011 at 10:44 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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