Sunday, April 16, 2006

Political news of the week, take 9a - non-Iran news

[See also: political news of the week takes 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1.]

U.S. Study Paints Somber Portrait of Iraqi Discord:
An internal staff report by the United States Embassy and the military command in Baghdad provides a sobering province-by-province snapshot of Iraq's political, economic and security situation, rating the overall stability of 6 of the 18 provinces "serious" and one "critical." The report is a counterpoint to some recent upbeat public statements by top American politicians and military officials.

The report, 10 pages of briefing points titled "Provincial Stability Assessment," underscores the shift in the nature of the Iraq war three years after the toppling of Saddam Hussein. Warnings of sectarian and ethnic frictions are raised in many regions, even in those provinces generally described as nonviolent by American officials.

There are alerts about the growing power of Iranian-backed religious Shiite parties, several of which the United States helped put into power, and rival militias in the south. The authors also point to the Arab-Kurdish fault line in the north as a major concern, with the two ethnicities vying for power in Mosul, where violence is rampant, and Kirkuk, whose oil fields are critical for jump-starting economic growth in Iraq.

The patterns of discord mapped by the report confirm that ethnic and religious schisms have become entrenched across much of the country, even as monthly American fatalities have fallen. Those indications, taken with recent reports of mass migrations from mixed Sunni-Shiite areas, show that Iraq is undergoing a de facto partitioning along ethnic and sectarian lines, with clashes — sometimes political, sometimes violent — taking place in those mixed areas where different groups meet.
The full government report is worth reading.

In Attics and Rubble, More Bodies and Questions - A New York Times article about the continuing recovery efforts in New Orleans.
The bodies of storm victims are still being discovered in New Orleans — in March alone there were nine, along with one skull. Skeletonized or half-eaten by animals, with leathery, hardened skin or missing limbs, the bodies are lodged in piles of rubble, dangling from rafters or lying face down, arms outstretched on parlor floors. Many of them, like Ms. Blanchard, were overlooked in initial searches.


In the weeks after Hurricane Katrina, there were grotesque images of bodies left in plain sight. Officials in Louisiana recovered more than 1,200 bodies, but the process, hamstrung by money shortages and red tape, never really ended.


In October and November, the special operations team of the New Orleans Fire Department searched the Lower Ninth Ward for remains until they ran out of overtime money.

Half a dozen officials of the Federal Emergency Management Agency rebuffed requests to pay the bill, said Chief Steve Glynn, the team commander. When reporters inquired, FEMA officials said the required paperwork had not been filed.

During that period, if someone called to ask that a specific location be checked for a body, Chief Glynn said, there was no one to send. The Blanchards were not the only family left to find a loved one on their own.
$13,700 an Hour - An opinion piece in The Nation citing data about the relative wages of various workers:
Last Sunday, the New York Times reported that--for the first time--a full-time worker earning minimum wage cannot afford a one-bedroom apartment anywhere in America at market rates.


[A] full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $10,500 annually, while [Representative Sherrod Brown said that] "last year the CEO of Wal-Mart earned $3,500 an hour. The CEO of Halliburton earned about $8,300 an hour. And the CEO of ExxonMobil earned about $13,700 an hour."
How Piracy Opens Doors for Windows:
Microsoft Corp. estimates it lost about $14 billion last year to software piracy — and those may prove to be the most lucrative sales never made.

Although the world's largest software maker spends millions of dollars annually to combat illegal copying and distribution of its products, critics allege — and Microsoft acknowledges — that piracy sometimes helps the company establish itself in emerging markets and fend off threats from free open-source programs.


Of course, Microsoft executives prefer that people buy, but theft can build market share more quickly, as company co-founder and Chairman Bill Gates acknowledged in an unguarded moment in 1998.

"Although about 3 million computers get sold every year in China, people don't pay for the software. Someday they will, though," Gates told an audience at the University of Washington. "And as long as they're going to steal it, we want them to steal ours. They'll get sort of addicted, and then we'll somehow figure out how to collect sometime in the next decade."
AOL won't deliver emails that criticize AOL:
Opponents of AOL's proposed email tax -- which will charge $0.025 to "guarantee delivery" of email to AOL customers -- are being censored by AOL, which is blocking emails containing the URL, an activist site for people who want to petition AOL to reconsider its actions.
Update: AOL stopped blocking e-mails linking to the site shortly after the EFF did a press release on the topic.

Gov. Backs Greenhouse Gas Strategy: An LA Times article about California Governor Schwarzenegger announcing his backing for a plan to reduce greenhouse gasses.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will announce today his support for a strategy to combat global warming that has drawn criticism from Republicans and business leaders, aides said Monday.

The market-based approach would include controversial "cap-and-trade" requirements mandating greenhouse gas producers who exceed certain tonnages of harmful emissions to buy credits from other companies that have lowered emissions.
Stem Cell Institute Awards 1st Grants:
After 16 months of litigation-induced delay and uncertainty, California's $3-billion voter-approved stem cell institute has cut its first checks to research institutions across the state, officials announced Monday.


California voters approved the publicly funded institute in November 2004 as a response to federal restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, dedicating $3 billion to the nascent science over the course of a decade.

But litigation by taxpayer groups and religious organizations opposed to the use of discarded embryos in some of the research has paralyzed the issuance of state bonds meant to fund the venture.

Instead, the state for the first time in its history last week issued so-called bond anticipation notes, purchased by six philanthropic entities to help the institute fulfill its mission while litigation is pending.

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