Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Argentine farm crisis ploughs on

Soya field in Argentina
90% of Argentina's soybean harvest is exported

Argentina could face more protests after talks to end a tax row broke down on Thursday.

Farm leaders met the government to try to end a three-month dispute over higher taxes on exports.

They are angry about new tariffs on soybeans, one of the country's biggest exports, being raised by up to 45%.

Producers claim they will be put out of business by the combination of higher taxes, transport costs and the rising cost of land.

Road blockades

In March, a three-week farmers strike over the soybean levy caused food shortages across the country. Farmers blocked roads, preventing trucks delivering produce to supermarkets in Buenos Aires and other major cities.

The protests also hit global supplies as Argentina is the world's third biggest soybean exporter.

Its annual harvest is estimated to be worth $24bn (£12bn), the bulk of which is exported. Last year, it earned $13bn from exports of the grain.

US soybean futures rose 1% on Friday because traders are worried the ongoing dispute will threaten supplies from one of the world's most important exporters.

The attitude is to put off an answer
Eduardo Buzzi
Argentine Agrarian Federation

Farm groups involved in Thursday's talks said the government refused to discuss their demand to suspend the new tax.

"The meeting was bad. The attitude is to put off an answer," said Eduardo Buzzi, head of the Argentine Agrarian Federation.

Cabinet chief Alberto Fernandez said: "We will work to find a solution."

Grain grief

The row has dragged on for three months and has been a major test for President Christine Kirchner and her government. The economy minister, Martin Lousteau, lost his job over the crisis.

Although Mrs Kirchner has announced rebates for small and medium-sized farmers, she has refused to budge on her policy of a sliding-scale tax on exports.

She said it would boost state revenues at a time when world commodity prices are high, secure domestic supplies and redistribute wealth among its citizens.

Farmers are planning a rally over agricultural policy in the city of Rosario on 25 May to coincide with the Revolution Day public holiday.

Original here

This Bud's For You--And I Don't Mean Beer


It's generally believed that the number one product from California's number one industry isn't legal. Agriculture remains the Golden State's biggest business, and some believe marijuana is worth $14 billion. No one really knows for sure.

The LEGAL medical marijuana business is estimated by advocates to be worth up to $2 billion. Legal, that is, in the state's eyes. It's still illegal under federal law.

Today I'm reporting on the business of selling pot legally, the costs and challenges that go with it. Twelve years after California was the first state to make medical marijuana legal, many clinics are still raided as criminal enterprises (and some are--even under state law), and many others remain paranoid, having come from an underground culture that has pervaded the industry for so long.

Then there are those pushing for openness, transparency, ethics, and standardized practices. In the face of almost no regulatory standards, they're developing their own, and making money doing so.

One company, Oaksterdam University (a combination of its hometown of Oakland and Amsterdam) is charging people $200 to take classes and be tested to achieve "certification" as a grower or clinic owner. There's a company that will even certify your marijuana as "green," grown to organic standards. The USDA, of course, can't do this.

But not everyone in California is on board. Some counties are reportedly suing the state so they don't have to issue identification cards to medical users.

Still, the state has seen a fivefold increase in clinics in the last few years. Some offer only a few choices, but Oaksterdam's Danielle Schumacher says other clinics offer up to a hundred different varieties watched over by a dozen "bud tenders." Teaching these bud tenders is part of Oaksterdam's goal. As Schumacher says, "somebody's gotta do something about this."

And why not make a perfectly legal living doing so?

Questions? Comments? Funny Stories? Email funnybusiness@cnbc.com

© 2008 CNBC, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Original here

Black gold rush: boom and bust and boom again in Pennsylvania

In the oilfields where John D Rockefeller drilled his way to a fortune, business is booming once more. Rupert Cornwell reports


A party of legislators, bankers, prospectors and journalists during a tour of the oil fields of Pennsylvania in 1865

"I feel like I'm taking care of a herd of cows," says Bill Huber as he gently nudges his pick-up truck along muddy, gouged-out tracks to check on his precious charges, scattered through the woods. "Every day there's something to be done. A problem with a drill pipe, a bearing to replace, or something wrong with a pumping jack."

Which is not surprising, given that some of the venerable contraptions in question first started to extract oil a century or more ago, and have now been pressed back into service, even though they yield just a few gallons a day. "You get one well going again, it may give you 10 to 15 barrels a day straight off. Then it tapers off. But even if it keeps going at just a third of a barrel a day, it's still pretty good."

Americans may wince at the ever-rising cost of petrol, a daily reminder of the grinding economic crisis that grips the country. But Bill Huber and the other "mom-and pop" producers in this part of the world aren't complaining, not when a 42-gallon barrel now sells for $135 (£68) or so, double what it fetched only a year ago, when every day seems to bring a new record price – and when the first commercially exploited oil field on the planet is enjoying a late-life renaissance.

These steep, wooded hills of north-western Pennsylvania are the cradle of the modern, trillion-dollar, global oil industry. Here, on the edge of the stream called Oil Creek, a well drilled by Edwin Drake first coughed up the black stuff on 27 August 1859. A couple of years later, the world's oldest continuously producing well – the McClintock No 1, housed a couple of miles north of Oil City in what looks like an ancient garden shed – went on stream, and a few years after that, the world's first commercial oil pipeline was laid. Here too the first oil boom-and-bust cycle happened. From the fledgling industry, fragmented and unorganised, John D Rockefeller ruthlessly forged the monopoly of Standard Oil and became the richest man of his era.

Then came a long, genteel decline of an ancient family fallen on hard times, long surpassed by brash upstarts in Texas, the Middle East and beyond. The last refinery in the area was pulled down a few years ago. But the past lives on, not only in the rickety wells hooked up by rusty brown pipes, snaking through the mud and dead leaves to storage tanks from which trucks pick up the crude for refining. There are the town names like Oil City and Oleopolis, thoroughfares called Petroleum Street, opulent late 19th century houses built by the world's first oil moguls, even in the title of Oil City's daily paper – you've guessed – The Derrick.

With his slow way of talking, and oil-splatched overalls – not to mention the kennels behind his modest house – Mr Huber, 67, is no Rockefeller. But he has his own small place in the venerable history of Pennsylvania's oil patch.

His great-great grandfather, a cooper by trade, came to the area in the mid-19th century and made some of the barrels used by the early local oil industry. Mr Huber's grandfather got into the production business proper at the start of the 20th century, drilling more than 50 wells. Now the third generation oilman has inherited the business, and even expanded it. Over the years he has bought up scores of other wells, mostly during the barren years when Pennsylvania's oil industry seemed doomed. In the late 1980s, the oil price sank to $10 a barrel, before recovering, only to plummet again amid the financial crises in Asia and Russia a decade later. "Many people round here said, 'we're done and that's it'. But me and three others stayed and bought up some of the wells, dirt cheap."

Even so, Mr Huber often needed the income from his kennels to balance his books. But now he has his petroleum herd, 230 low-volume "stripper" wells of which some 45 are in production, yielding "70 or 80 barrels a month, maybe 100 in a good one". Northwest Pennsylvania isn't Kuwait. But 100 barrels a month provides a decent income. Not that Mr Huber is living it up. He's put a new roof on his house in the woods, a few miles north-east of Oil City, and bought a new (or rather new-er) pick-up truck. Soon he may get round to doing up the kitchen. But that's it.

Elsewhere, however, the boom is unmistakeable. The big energy companies are back in Pennsylvania, seeking oil and, more importantly, gas. Already Pennsylvania has more stripper natural gas wells than any other state, and its proven gas reserves are half the US total. In the woods new wells are being drilled. Farmers who own the "OMG" (oil, mineral and gas) rights are leasing land to the companies for $2,500 an acre a year, compared with $25 a decade ago, and get production royalties on top of that.

In five years, production of the waxy, paraffin-rich crude from Pennsylvania's Appalachian basin field has shot up 50 per cent to 3.8 million barrels. But experts reckon that two-thirds of the oil that was there when Drake drilled his way into history is still in the ground. Once it wasn't worth bothering with, but no longer. Rock Well Petroleum, a Canadian company, has plans not only to drill scores of new wells, but to dig huge underground caverns to collect the oil and pump it to the surface.

There's just one problem, however: what to do with the brine that comes with the oil, especially from older wells. McClintock No 1, for instance, now delivers 300 barrels of brine for every barrel of oil, says Barbara Zolli, the director of the state oil museum in nearby Titusville, at the site of Drake's first well.

The museum is about to be given a massive facelift, to mark next year's 150th anniversary of Drake's find. A replica has been built at that spot, but the hole in the ground is the original. "This place has relevance for everyone's life. People come here from all over the world to see it, they want to know where the oil industry started," Ms Zolli says. "Even now, you look at that hole and you feel goose-bumps."

And now this Indian summer for the industry. "It's never been as good as this," says Mr Huber, who remembers the bad times when he had to call the buying companies to collect oil even when the tanks weren't full, to get money to pay his bills. "Maybe the present sky-high prices won't last, but from what I can see, what with the Middle East troubles and China's huge demand for oil, they'll never go back down too far. And they keep telling us there's only so much oil left." He has had some offers, but isn't selling. One reason is history, a sense of obligation to his forebears. A fourth generation Huber, Bill Jr, is set to take over the family business, and such father-to-son traditions are hard to break. And then, of course, there's the money. "You may have just 20 wells and get a third of a barrel a day from each of them," Mr Huber notes. "But as my dad used to say, 'It all mounts up.'"

But you can't miss the caution in his voice. Good times are not eternal. Drake might have launched a giant industry, but spent his later years in ill-health and poverty. And as this tiny corner of the petroleum universe proves, booms are invariably followed by busts. The day the Drake well came in, world production doubled. By 1861, oil had hit $20 ($600 in today's dollars) a barrel, before crashing to 10 cents, equivalent to $3 now.

And then there was the story of Pithole, an incredible tale even by the wild standards of the American frontier. Oil first gushed along Pithole Creek in January 1865. By October the settlement was producing a then gigantic 6,000 barrels a day, delivered to barges by a new-fangled, five-mile-long pipeline. From nothing grew a town of 15,000 people, with 54 hotels, oyster houses, and a theatre that put on Shakespeare, most notably a louche version of Macbeth.

But in three years Pithole was gone. The forest of wells were pumping oil from the same deposit, which ran dry just as other fields in Pennsylvania came on stream. In 1866, the town's land was valued at $2m. A dozen years later, the local authority bought the lot for $4.37 – a real estate collapse beside which today's sub-prime mortgage crisis pales. The biggest hotel in town, costing $40,000 ($1.2m today) to build, was sold for firewood for $16. Today, not a stone, not a shard, remains; only a grid of mown strips between the trees, denoting where Pithole's streets had briefly stood.

In the modern history of big oil, Pennsylvania merits little more than a similar footnote. But in its day it taught the world. In the 1880s, engineers from Oil City went to Baku in the southern Russian empire to develop the industry there, in the process undercutting their own business.

And a Russian connection persists. Out inspecting Mr Huber's wells one recent morning, we ran into John Cubbon. An oil engineer and scion of an established Pennsylvania oil and lumber company, he has crude (or "maybe kerosene") in his blood. He worked with Shell in Russia, married a Russian woman, and was now with BP on another Russian project. Waiting for the Russian government to give him a visa, he had come home to take a look at the mini-boom. Pitholes come and go. But, Cubbon noted, "there's never been an oil field that's been totally abandoned".

Original here

Canada FM regrets 'torture list'

Maxime Bernier (6 October 2007)
Mr Bernier said he regretted the embarrassment the manual caused
The Canadian foreign minister has apologised for including the US and Israel on a list of states where prisoners are at risk of torture.

Maxime Bernier said the list, which formed part of a manual on torture awareness given to diplomats, "wrongly includes some of our closest allies".

Mr Bernier insisted the manual was not a policy document and did not convey the official views of his government.

The listing was criticised by the US and Israel, who demanded it be changed.

"We find it to be offensive for us to be on the same list with countries like Iran and China. Quite frankly it's absurd," said the US ambassador to Canada, David Wilkins.

A spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Ottawa, Michael Mendel, said the Israeli Supreme Court was "on record as expressly prohibiting any type of torture".

"If Israel is included in the list in question, the ambassador of Israel would expect its removal," he added.

'Reviewed and rewritten'

In a statement on Saturday, Mr Bernier said he regretted the embarrassment caused by the public disclosure of the list and promised it would be changed to reflect the Canadian government's official position.

The manual is neither a policy document nor a statement of policy - it does not convey the government's views or positions
Maxime Bernier
Canadian foreign minister

"It contains a list that wrongly includes some of our closest allies. I have directed that the manual be reviewed and rewritten," he said.

"The manual is neither a policy document nor a statement of policy. As such, it does not convey the government's views or positions."

The manual lists US interrogation techniques such as forced nudity, isolation, sleep deprivation and the blindfolding of prisoners under its "definition of torture".

It also refers to the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, where a Canadian man, Omar Khadr, is being held. Critics say it ridicules Ottawa's claims that he is not being mistreated.

Member of US military in cell block of Guantanamo Bay prison camp
The manual refers to Guantanamo Bay where a Canadian is being held

Other countries on the watch list include Afghanistan, China, Iran, Israel, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Syria.

The document was mistakenly provided to the human rights group, Amnesty International, as part of a court case it is bringing against the Canadian government over the treatment of detainees in Afghanistan.

The torture awareness course was introduced after Ottawa was strongly criticised for its handling of the case of a Canadian who was deported from the US to Syria in 2002.

Syrian-born Maher Arar, who was accused of being an al-Qaeda member, has said he was tortured during the 10 months he was detained in a prison in Damascus. An inquiry exonerated him of any links to terrorist groups in 2006.

Original here

Do Illegal Aliens Have Rights? Not According To Farmer’s Branch.

Do illegal aliens have rights to basic services? Will local regulation herd them all into massive “sanctuary cities?

I am aware we all have basic human and constitutional rights regardless of our immigration status. To what extent however can local government alter those rights based on that status?

While not the first to try it, the Dallas suburb of Farmer’s Branch,Texas is the latest to test the Constitutionally perilous waters of limiting the right of those not in this country legally to rent housing and obtain other basic services. This is primarily a Hispanic issue in this part of the country but the ban would of course apply to any person in this country illegally.

The controversy started back in May of 2007 when Farmer’s Branch passed a law targeting illegal immigrants by barring them from renting apartments. Ordinance 2903 would require apartment management to obtain proof of citizenship or legal immigration status before entering into or renewing leases or rental agreements.

The only exception to the ban would be that mixed-status families could stay if they were already living in the apartment, the spouse or head of household is a citizen or here legally, and the household includes the head of household and spouse and their minor children or parents. You can read about more about the ban here.

The ordinance was modeled after an similar ordinance passed in Hazleton, Pa. which also made national headlines. It is important to note that in July 2007 a federal judge struck down Hazleton ordinance as unconstitutional . The city’s appeal is pending. You can read that story here.

While the Farmer’s Branch statute has not worked its way that far up the federal court ladder, a permanent injunction has been granted by Federal Judge Sam Lindsey blocking the enforcement of the ordinance pending a full trial. You can read that story here. The important connection between the two cases is that both judges focused on the same issue which was Federal Preemption and the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution. What does that tell you?

So there you have it. Battle lines formed. Swords drawn. Troops storming the field on both ends bent on destruction with those in this country illegally standing right in the middle wondering if they will survive the carnage. The question is actually very simple:

What rights if any, do those living in this country illegally have? If you ask the cit of Hazleton and Farmer’s Branch and other communities trying to pass similar laws, they have none, zilch ,nada except maybe basic human rights not to be killed tortured etc.

Once such an ordinance passes constitutional muster ,anyone who thinks it will stop there is delusional. After rentals, come education, after education comes medical care, etc etc. The goal is seems to be to make it so miserable for illegals to be in this country that they become of the mindset that there is a better quality of life where they are from and head on back home.

Is it even that complicated? Just get the hell out of our city! Flock to some sanctuary city! Just not here! That may be what many want.

After all, why should those here illegally reap the benefit of services that they are not paying the taxes that are designed to subsidize these services. I am no tax attorney but isn’t it a crime to intentionally not file a tax return to avoid paying taxes? While I do not necessarily agree, I certainly understand the mindset. I don’t like the idea of anyone getting a free ride off my tax payments regardless of whether they are here legally or unless they have been accounted for and and a legitimate determination made that they don’t have to pay.

Of course the counter-argument is that the vast majority illegals don’t file tax returns to avoid detection as illegals and not because they are trying to avoid paying taxes. You say tomato I say…….. Makes perfect sense to me… or does it?

Does it even matter?

It really does not matter.

Whether you agree or disagree with the basic premise, it simply is not a local or state issue. The Federal Government has already spoken on this issue and when the Federal Government speaks the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution listens and shouts back.

The Supremacy Clause is shouting that we already have the Immigration and Nationality Act in place speaking loud and clear for all. No arm chair legislation needed or wanted.

If municipalities like Farmer’s Branch want to arrest every illegal alien within their borders, call INS and have them deported I have no issue with that. Whether I agree or disagree that is within the framework of Federal Law. If that is simply not feasible, write your Congressman, cast your vote for someone with a constitutional fix. Don’t make up crap as you go along and pour perfume on it….. It is still going to stink.

Local municipalities like Farmer’s Branch and Hazleton have lawyers. They have very good lawyers. It is a safe assumption that these good lawyers knew all about the Supremacy Clause when they drafted these statutes It is also a safe bet that they are very familiar with federal court disdain for pre-text bullshit disguised as lofty motives…..

So what does a good lawyer do when faced such an obstacle? A good lawyer tries to find any and every perceived pinhole that will allow them to squeeze that statute right on through…… The pinholes these lawyers try to find is every little fact or situation that the Immigration Act does not mention. If it is not mentioned it must have been the intent to leave it to the states right?

“We are not regulating illegal immigration, we are protecting our tax base and the ability to provide basic services to our tax paying constituents”

“We are not engaging in housing discrimination since we ask for proof of citizenship from everyone.”

There you go! Problem solved! States Rights! 10th Amendment! Equal Protection as well! In other words…

Get the hell out and don’t touch the “Not Welcome” sign as you go!

What does that sound like to me? Take form and call it substance. Take a tomato and call it an orange. It is all hogwash.

It is not where you start, it is where you finish. At this finish you are still regulating illegal immigration regardless of your motives and definitions. You are venturing into an area that Congress has already decided only the Federal Government has the power to regulate.

So why do cities, local governments,etc waste time and money on such futile attempts? The answer is so simple that you don’t have to be smarter than a Fifth Grader to figure it out.

What does every elected official serving a first term want? They want a second term. Constituency trumps futility every time. These statutes have no chance. But hey, people get re-elected, lawyers get paid big bucks and maybe get to argue before the Supreme Court. People find a reason to protest and more people vote. In the end those affected the most, sit in the middle and suck on it. So what, they should not be here anyways right?

So what do you think? Should local government be allowed to regulate illegal immigration even to the extent of denying housing and other basic services? If the answer is yes, what is the legal authority to do so? What is the rational legal argument? I have yet to see one….

Original here

1-Child Policy Has Exceptions After China Quake

Chinese officials said Monday that the country's one-child policy exempts families with a child killed, severely injured or disabled in the country's devastating earthquake.

A mother of a student who died in a collapsed school in May 12 earthquake cries at the site in... Expand

Those families can obtain a certificate to have another child, the Chengdu Population and Family Planning Committee in the capital of hard-hit Sichuan province said.

With so many shattered families asking questions, the Chengdu committee is clarifying existing one-child policy guidelines, said a committee official surnamed Wang.

"There are just a lot of cases now, so we need to clarify our policies," said Wang, who declined to elaborate.

The May 12 quake was particularly painful to many Chinese because it killed so many only children.

The earthquake has left more than 65,000 people dead so far, with more than 23,000 missing. Officials have not been able to estimate the number of children killed.

Chinese couples who have more than one child are commonly punished by fines. The announcement says that if a child born illegally was killed in the quake, the parents will no longer have to pay fines for that child — but the previously paid fines won't be refunded.

If the couple's legally born child is killed and the couple is left with an illegally born child under the age of 18, that child can be registered as the legal child — an important move that gives the child previously denied rights including free nine years of compulsory education.

China's one-child policy was launched in the late 1970s to control China's exploding population and ensure better education and health care. The law includes certain exceptions for ethnic groups, rural families and families where both parents are only children.

The government says the policy has prevented an additional 400 million births, but critics say it has also led to forced abortions, sterilizations and a dangerously imbalanced sex ratio as local authorities pursue sometimes severe birth quotas set by Beijing and families abort girls out of a traditional preference for male heirs.

A mother holds the portrait of her son who died in a collapsed building in May 12 earthquake, at the... Expand

Though commonly called a one-child policy, the rules offer a welter of exceptions and loopholes, some of them put into practice because of widespread opposition to the limits.

For example, in large parts of rural China, most families are allowed a second-child, especially if the first was a girl. Local officials often have wide discretion on enforcement, a fact that has made the policy susceptible to corruption.

Original here

Is the Secret Service Investigating Liz Trotta and Fox News?

FOX News political pundit Liz Trotta jokingly suggested this weekend that someone should assassinate an American presidential candidate. She had first "mistakenly" referred to Obama as "Osama" while discussing theories that Hillary Clinton's recent comments about the RFK assassination was in fact a suggestion that someone "knock off Osama." When she was corrected and reminded that she meant "Obama," she then said, "Well, both if we could."

The United States Secret Service is charged with the protection of all presidential candidates and famously takes all threats seriously, so it's important to ask the question whether they will be investigating Liz Trotta's comment, FOX News' response to that comment, and any collateral threats that may have been generated by the comment.

Assassins throughout our history have repeatedly claimed to find their motivations in the media. John Hinckley claimed his attempted assassination of Reagan was because of his obsession with Jodie Foster, Mark David Chapman cited The Catcher in the Rye and the film Ordinary People as inspirations for his assassination of John Lennon, and Charles Manson claims his murders were a result of his twisted interpretation of The Beatles' "Helter Skelter."

While these so-called motivations are inexplicable to a healthy mind, it is foolish and naive not to accept as a terrifying fact that psychotics can and will be triggered by almost anything, which is why it's not only vulgar but completely reckless, irresponsible and bordering on criminal for those who comment on politics and political figures to say the kind of disgusting thing that Liz Trotta said. It's also, not incidentally, why the world pounced so quickly and decisively on Hillary Clinton's comments about the RFK assassination.

This from the Secret Service website: "The Secret Service is interested in legitimate information relating to threats, plans or attempts by individuals, groups or organizations to harm Secret Service protectees. However, the agency does not desire or solicit information pertaining to individuals or groups expressing legitimate criticism of, or political opposition to, the policies and decisions of the government or government officials."

The questions the Secret Service should be asking are: Were Liz Trotta and FOX News criminally negligent in using the public airwaves to suggest the assassination of a presidential candidate; Is the suggestion of political assassination an example of legitimate criticism; and, If the First Amendment doesn't allow one to yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater or "Bomb!" on an airplane, how could it allow a public "joke" about assassinating a political candidate?

And what is the question the rest of us should be asking? How about, what kind of world are we creating for ourselves and our children where we allow our political divisions to become so deep that the suggestion or even the joke about a political assassination is in any way acceptable?

Original here

Israel 'has 150 nuclear weapons'

Ex-US President Jimmy Carter (Image: Hay-on-Wye festival)
Mr Carter was speaking at the UK's Hay-on-Wye literature festival

Ex-US President Jimmy Carter has said Israel has at least 150 atomic weapons in its arsenal.

The Israelis have never confirmed they have nuclear weapons, but this has been widely assumed since a scientist leaked details in the 1980s.

Mr Carter made his comments on Israel's weapons at a press conference at the annual literary Hay Festival in Wales.

He also described Israeli treatment of Palestinians as "one of the greatest human rights crimes on earth".

Mr Carter gave the figure for the Israeli nuclear arsenal in response to a question on US policy on a possible nuclear-armed Iran, arguing that any country newly armed with atomic weapons faced overwhelming odds.

"The US has more than 12,000 nuclear weapons; the Soviet Union (sic) has about the same; Great Britain and France have several hundred, and Israel has 150 or more," he said.

Dimona nuclear plant, southern Israel (file pic: 8 Sept 2002), understood to be the source of plutonium for Israel's nuclear weapons
Israel's Dimona reactor is understood to provide plutonium for the country's nuclear weapons

"We have a phalanx of enormous capabilities, not only of weaponry but also of rockets to deliver every one of those missiles on a pinpoint accuracy target."

Most experts estimate that Israel has between 100 and 200 nuclear warheads, largely based on information leaked to the Sunday Times newspaper in the 1980s by Mordechai Vanunu, a former worker at the country's Dimona nuclear reactor.

The US, a key ally of Israel, has in general followed the country's policy of "nuclear ambiguity", neither confirming or denying the existence of its assumed arsenal.

However, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert included Israel among a list of nuclear states in comments in December 2006, a week after US Defence Secretary Robert Gates used a similar form of words during a Senate hearing.

Former Israeli military intelligence chief Aharon Zeevi-Farkash told Reuters news agency he considered Mr Carter's comments "irresponsible".

"The problem is that there are those who can use these statements when it comes to discussing the international effort to prevent Iran getting nuclear weapons," he said.


During the press briefing, Mr Carter expressed his support for Israel as a country, but criticised its domestic and foreign policy.

"One of the greatest human rights crimes on earth is the starvation and imprisonment of 1.6m Palestinians," he said.

The former US president cited statistics which he said showed the nutritional intake of some Palestinian children was below that of children in Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as saying the European position on Israel could be best described as "supine".

Mr Carter, awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, brokered the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty, the first between Israel and an Arab state.

In April he controversially held talks in the Syrian capital Damascus with Khaled Meshaal, leader of the militant Palestinian movement Hamas.

The former US president's Carter Center was unavailable for further comment.

Original here

Quake images show lake forming

Landslides caused by the Sichuan earthquake have blocked rivers and formed new, possibly unstable, lakes.

Satellite images taken by the Taiwan's National Space Organisation (NSPO) show one such lake forming in Beichuan County, one of the areas worst hit by the quake.

The top image was taken in 2006, showing the river in its normal state. The second and third images were taken after the quake.

Formosat image © 2008 Dr. Cheng-Chien Liu, National Cheng-Kung University and Dr. An-Ming Wu, National Space Organization, Taiwan.

Original here