Friday, September 28, 2012

Nazi Buddhist Statues and Horrible Prisons (Link Round-Up 9/28/12)

Latin American prisons are awful
The software of the prison system is as defective as its hardware. Budgets for running jails tend to be meagre. In Honduras 97% of the prison budget goes on warders’ salaries and prisoners’ food, leaving very little to keep the prisons in sanitary and safe conditions. Even so, the government spends just 13 lempiras ($0.66) per inmate per day on food, and guards are often poorly paid. In many Latin American countries, prisons are staffed by police officers who do not regard this as a good career move and who are not professionally trained for the task, according to Andrew Coyle of the International Centre for Prison Studies at Essex University in Britain.

There are a couple of other reasons for overcrowding. Torpid justice systems mean that many prisoners are on remand, yet to be convicted of any crime. Prison reformers in Venezuela say around 70% of inmates have yet to be sentenced; many wait years even for a hearing, and must pay gang bosses for the privilege of going to court. Sentenced prisoners, on the other hand, have been known to bribe their way to freedom. Around half of the inmates in both Brazil and Honduras have not been sentenced. Remand prisoners can languish for years, mixing with hardened gang members. The result is that jails are “schools of crime”, says Migdonia Ayestas of the Observatory of Violence, a Honduran NGO.
Tibetan Buddhist statue found by Nazis is made from meteorite metal
Given the extreme hardness of the meteorite — “basically an inappropriate material for producing sculptures” the paper notes — the artist or artists who created it may have known their material was special, the researchers say. Buchner suggests that it could have been produced by the 11th century Bon Ben [Corrected 27/9] culture, but the exact origin and age of the statue — as opposed to the meteorite it is made from — is still unknown. It is thought to have been brought to Germany by a Nazi-backed expedition to Tibet in 1938–39. The swastika symbol on the piece — a version of which was adopted by the Nazi party — may have encouraged the 1938 expedition to take it back with them.

“While the first debris was officially discovered in 1913 by gold prospectors, we believe that this individual meteorite fragment was collected many centuries before,” said Buchner in a statement. “The Iron Man statue is the only known illustration of a human figure to be carved into a meteorite.”
Iranian news reports Onion article as truth
The English-language website of the Fars news agency appears to have been duped by a spoof story by "The Onion", which claimed that a recent poll had found an "overwhelming majority of rural white Americans" would rather vote for Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than President Obama.

The story only appeared on the English site of Fars - which, like all other Iranian news organizations, is controlled strictly by the Islamic cleric-led government. By Friday afternoon, the story was apparently pulled down and attempts to access it generated an error message.

It is possible that, due to the tight controls on the internet and news organizations in Iran (and the fact that the story has not yet appeared on the native Farsi language site) that most Iranians will never see the ill-conceived story by Fars.
Most young Americans are too fat for army duty
High-calorie, low-nutrient junk food is to blame for one in four young adults weighing too much to join the US armed services, according to the report released Tuesday by the advocacy group Mission: Readiness.

Tacked onto that is the $1 billion the US Department of Defense spends each year on medical care related to obesity issues for active duty members, their dependents and veterans, CNN reported.

Group members say our weight more than a national health issue. It's a national security issue.
19 of 20 Obama Administration cabinet agencies ignore FOIA
Under Obama, federal agencies also have stepped up the use of exemptions to block the release of information.

During the first year of the administration, cabinet agencies employed exemptions 466,402 times, a 50 percent jump from the last year of the presidency of George W. Bush. While exemption citations have since been reduced by 21 percent from that high, they still are above the level seen during the Bush administration, according to Justice Department data.
China bankrolls Chavez re-election bid with oil loans
Since 2007, the China Development Bank has lent Venezuela $42.5 billion collateralized by revenue from the world’s largest oil reserves, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from announcements of deals by the Chavez government. That’s around 23 percent of all overseas loans by the state-run lender and more than the $29 billion the U.S. spent rebuilding Iraq between 2003 and 2006. At least $12 billion was promised in the past 15 months, when stagnant oil output and the highest borrowing costs among major emerging markets would’ve made raising capital more expensive.

The loans are fueling a surge in spending as Chavez hands out homes to the poor, stocks “socialist” supermarkets with appliances and builds a cross-country railroad -- all aimed at winning votes next month in his toughest election battle ever.


As with Chinese projects in Africa and elsewhere, tensions have surfaced between Venezuelan workers and their foreign managers. At three construction sites in different states visited by Bloomberg News over five days in August, dozens of workers described being forced by Chinese managers to work long hours, with little concern for their safety, and being harassed by police for airing complaints.
Russia joins the "Asia-Pacific Geopolitical Pivot" club
As I indicated at the outset, these are the sorts of moves that would, at another time or place, have triggered alarm bells in Washington. The fact that they didn’t, but rather seemed to evoke implied consent from Hillary Clinton, suggests to me that a deeper geopolitical game is under way: that Russia’s emergence as a Pacific power is seen by US strategists as a potential asset—as a wild card that can someday be played against China if the opportunity arises.

It is true that Putin spoke effusively of “Hu Jintao, our great friend” and discussed closer Sino-Russian economic cooperation. But nothing he said suggested that such ties extended to strategic cooperation or precluded closer ties with the West. Indeed, he went out of his way to highlight Russia’s improved relations with Japan, using the summit to announce a $7 billion deal between state-controlled Gazprom and a consortium of Japanese companies to build a plant in Vladivostok for liquefying natural gas for shipment to Japan.

I am not suggesting that US leaders believe that Russia will ever become an American ally in Washington’s drive to contain China—the Russians would never agree to such a ploy, knowing they would always be at a disadvantage in any arrangement that left the United States in a dominant position on the geopolitical chessboard. However, Russia’s emergence as a major Pacific player may complicate China’s strategic environment, as it can never be certain how Moscow would behave in any given situation—an uncertainty that can play to Washington’s advantage, if it can maximize Russia’s interest in playing the wild card role. The more China has to worry about its northern flank, this line of reasoning might go, the less attention it can direct to developments on its southern flank, where the United States is seeking to achieve new geopolitical gains. This, at any rate, is one interpretation of the peculiar developments at the 2012 APEC summit in Vladivostok.

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