July 11, 2007

News You Might Have Missed * Vol. 6, No. 28

Important but overlooked news from around the world.

QUOTED:

“We’re aging, and there’s little time left. We request the court mediate and seek a settlement through direct negotiations.”

— Excerpt from a letter sent by Japanese plaintiffs seeking an expedited settlement to an air pollution lawsuit that has dragged on for 11 years (see “Environment II: Pollution & Health,” below).

CONTENTS:

*Top Stories*
The two burials of Kamal Jalil Uthman
Schwarzenegger: on the wings of charity
Big boom in Baghdad home shares

*War & Terrorism*
Armenia & Azerbaijan: A war without end

*Environment I: Conservation*
It’s not easy being green

*Environment II: Pollution & Health*
Asia’s plague of cars


TOP STORIES

The Two Burials of Kamal Jalil Uthman

U.S. military officials took credit for killing a top al Qaeda leader — twice. After a recent announcement that Kamal Jalil Uthman, the leader of al Qaeda terrorists in Mosul and a “very dangerous terrorist,” was killed in a raid last month, a reporter from the Examiner noticed that the military had already taken credit for killing Uthman last year. Questioned by a reporter, a military spokesman admitted officials “probably could do a better job” on labeling previous killings.

A few hours later, a second spokesman called to say Iraqi officials had captured, not killed, Uthman last year and released him this spring for unknown reasons, after which he was killed by U.S. forces.

Schwarzenegger: On the Wings of Charity

Government watchdogs are concerned that a shadowy nonprofit that finances Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s lavish international trips may also allow special interests to donate big bucks to the governor in return for political favors — and all without any public accountability.

The Los Angeles Times reports that a 501c(3) charity, the California State Protocol Foundation, spent $1.3 million in 2006 alone to pay for the governor’s private jets and luxurious hotel suites when Schwarzenegger travels abroad, even though he is personally wealthy.

The group is closely connected with the California Chamber of Commerce, and pays all the bills the governor submits without itemization.

The foundation won’t reveal who its donors are, but a spokesman suggested the charity was actually sparing taxpayers from having to foot the governor’s travel bill.

Watchdogs say the public ought to pay for such official trips, since it would keep Schwarzenegger from spending so much money.

Big Boom in Baghdad Home Shares

Sunnis in the south of Baghdad, and Shias in the north, have been forced out of their homes as their neighborhoods came under control of militants of another sect.

Rather than flee the country, however, their solution has been to swap homes with a Sunni or Shia family in the same situation.

These home swaps are “booming,” according to a real estate agent who claims to have arranged 211 such deals so far.

The practice is not without its risks, however; sometimes the houses of uprooted families are “claimed” by the visiting family who, with help from local militants, decide it’s theirs to keep.

Sources:

“Iraqis set free terrorist, U.S. forces kill him”
The Examiner (CA), July 6, 2007

“Nonprofit subsidizes Schwarzenegger travel frills”
Los Angeles Times, July 5, 2007

“Iraq: Sunni, Shia families swap homes in bid to remain safe”
IRIN (U.N.), July 5, 2007


WAR & TERRORISM

Azerbaijan and Armenia: War Without End

The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan that killed 30,000 people and created one million refugees supposedly ended 13 years ago with a ceasefire in 1994 — but the countries are still at war over Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory in Azerbaijan controlled by ethnic Armenian forces.

Ordinary citizens are now caught in the middle. Azeri farmers living along the borders of the war zone dodge bullets as they attempt to sow vegetables and graze cattle; their irrigation water is blocked by Armenian forces and a lake that used to feed into six local villages has dried up.

Traveling across the war zone to visit the nearest town six kilometers away requires a special pass, American and European efforts to resolve the issue diplomatically have failed, and the president of Azerbaijan is threatening a new war if the Armenians do not give up the occupied territory.

The government of Azerbaijan also refuses to recognize the results of an upcoming presidential election in Nagorno- Karabakh because they do not consider it a separate state.

Sources:

“Azerbaijan ready to recover Nagorno-Karabakh by force – Aliyev”
RIA Novosti, July 5, 2007

“Azerbaijan: Farming in no-man’s land”
Caucasus Reporting Service, July 5, 2007

“Azerbaijan says upcoming election in Nagorno-Karabakh illegitimate”
Associated Press, July 5, 2007


ENVIRONMENT I: CONSERVATION

It’s Not Easy Being Green

If some aspects of “green” marketing and technology sometimes sound too good to be true, that’s because they are.

Kansas rushed E10, an ethanol/gasoline blend, into gas stations after its ozone levels violated the Clean Air Act. But officials are having second thoughts after learning about how much ethanol contributes to ozone and other smog-forming emissions, according to the Kansas City Star.

They are even looking for a way to cut back on sales of ethanol during peak ozone pollution days.

Critics of the practice of carbon offsets found fault with Al Gore’s Live Earth concerts, which were claimed to be “carbon neutral” due to investments in renewable energy.

But environmental groups say carbon offsetting creates an excuse to pollute rather than an attitude shift, and can lead to more destruction by causing native trees to be cut down just so they can be replaced.

Customers concerned about reducing their footprint on the Earth may be glad to see a new generation of food products in Europe that account for their own carbon production.

The products, such as a “carbon zero” wine produced in New Zealand, tell shoppers about how much carbon was used to grow, ferment, bottle and ship the wine — but they don’t include the effects of transporting the product to stores, or the carbon generated by the stores themselves.

Energy auditors say a more realistic measure would focus on fossil fuel energy, and call for a better-regulated, more transparent measurement system.

Even when it’s required of them, going green isn’t always possible for businesses — such as the dry cleaning industry in California.

San Francisco’s dry cleaners must begin using a non-toxic, silicone-based solvent and buy new, greener machines by 2010 or face closure — but most can’t afford to spend up to $100,000 to do it.

Sources:

“Going green: Environmental policies strain Chinese dry cleaners”
Sing Tao Daily, July 7, 2007

“Emission-lowering schemes could be bad for the planet”
Scotsman (U.K.), July 7, 2007

“Trading on being carbon neutral”
New Zealand Herald, July 7, 2007

“Missouri law requires ethanol, but that means more ozone”
Kansas City Star, July 6, 2007


ENVIRONMENT II: POLLUTION & HEALTH

Asia’s Plague of Cars

In spite of Asia’s renown for producing the most advanced, gas-efficient cars on the planet, the growing popularity of car travel in China, Japan, Vietnam and their neighbors has led to serious air pollution and heath effects.

Pollution kills 750,000 people in China every year, according to previously unreleased World Bank statistics, the Telegraph reports.

At least 500,000 of those mortalities are due to outdoor air pollution, a fact the Chinese government sought to keep secret, fearing “social instability” were it known.

Cars are a major culprit, and the situation has grown so dire that Xu Zongheng, mayor of Shenzhen, recently started asking its ten million residents not to buy any more cars.

In Japan, a group of 522 asthma sufferers won a settlement in a landmark suit against the government and seven carmakers.

It took 11 years to reach the settlement, in which Tokyo officials agreed to pay 6 billion yen in medical subsidies, while carmakers will be paying 1.2 billion yen in restitutions.

Vietnam, too, struggles with a cloud of pollution caused by a surge in motorcycles and scooters ownership. Citizens there now own 1.8 million of the vehicles, and experts say the air in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City is full of benzene and sulfur dioxide.

Part of the problem is that fuel importers buy low-grade diesel fuel not up to the lowest European standard, reports the International Herald Tribune.

Sources:

“Air pollution fast becoming an issue in booming Vietnam”
International Herald Tribune, July 6, 2007

“Shenzhen citizens urged to stop buying cars”
Financial Times, July 7, 2007

“Time drove asthma deal / Pollution victims had talks with court, govt to end 11-year dispute”
Yomiuri Shimbun (Japan), July 4, 2007

“Pollution kills 750,000 in China every year”
Telegraph (U.K.), July 4, 2007


Editors: Julia Scott, Josh Wilson

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