Thursday, August 28, 2008

Special Report: South Ossetia Wants Independence; West condemns any recognition of its sovereignty; Georgia is defeated

By Gabriel Gatehouse
BBC News
Wednesday, August 27, 2008

As Russia announced it was recognising the Georgian breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, the BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse was in South Ossetia witnessing the jubilation and dismay of the conflicting sides.

A Russian armoured personnel carrier raced down the road to where Georgian policemen were manning their checkpoint at the village of Mosabruni, just inside South Ossetia.

Accompanied by a helicopter gunship, the Russian soldiers told the Georgian police they had three minutes to get out. One of those minutes, an officer said ominously, had already passed.

The lightly armed Georgian policemen had no option but to obey.

Just 700m up the road, at the entrance to the town of Akhalgori, the South Ossetian militia had their own checkpoint.

They were better equipped than the Georgian police.

Aside from the ubiquitous AK-47 assault rifle, used by both sides, the separatists had concrete barriers, fox-holes, and - crucially - Russian-made armoured personnel carriers.

But they were taking it easy.

As the Russians chased the Georgians out of South Ossetia, the local militia were enjoying their lunch of Russian army rations - corned beef, liver pate and hunks of bread washed down with beer and shots of the local vodka, called chacha.

As a Russian helicopter gunship roared overhead, the Ossetian soldiers drained their glasses and drank to peace.

Civilians welcome

Later, we went into town.

Until the latest fighting, Akhalgori had been under Georgian control. Now the South Ossetians are in charge, and many ethnic Georgians have left.

But in their place, Ossetians are coming back.

One woman showed us the flat she said she had to leave the last time these two sides fought a war in the early 1990s.

Now she wants to reclaim her property.

Both the South Ossetian militia, and the government of the breakaway territory, insist they only want Georgian armed forces to leave. Georgian civilians, they say, are welcome to stay.

But while men with guns patrol the streets, most prefer to stay away.

Those who can, stay with friends and family away from the conflict zone.

Those less fortunate have ended up in temporary receptions centres in and around the capital, Tbilisi.

New reality

In Akhalgori's main square, a South Ossetian militiaman, calling himself Elbrus, chuckled when he heard the news of Russia's recognition of his homeland.

"It's a holiday!", he said as he picked up his walkie-talkie to inform his fellow soldiers, digesting their lunch back at the checkpoint on the way into town.

On the Georgian side of the border though, there was dismay.

"This is impossible," one local villager said. "You can't divide the people who live in this area."

Most Georgians regard South Ossetia and Abkhazia as historically part of their country.

Recognition of independence by Russia is not the same as being legally independent, but, with Russian support, the South Ossetians are forcing the Georgians to adapt to a new reality on the ground.

As the policemen settled into a new checkpoint just south of the de-facto border, what remained of Tbilisi's grip on its breakaway territories appeared to be slowly slipping away.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Special Report: "We were bombed for three days and nights. If Russia had not helped, we would have disappeared," says Ossetian resident

By Sarah Rainsford
BBC News
Thursday, August 14, 2008

Barely a building in the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali escaped unscathed from the fighting that began last week, the BBC's Sarah Rainsford discovers.

Some, like the offices of the local administration, are smoke-blackened shells; in one residential area, a whole street has been reduced to rubble.

Everywhere, there are mountains of shattered glass. Those who didn't flee South Ossetia as refugees are now emerging from their basements to begin the clean-up.

There is no running water here now and no electricity.

One woman, Lusya, took me down into the basement of her apartment block to show me where she had hidden from the worst of the fighting. A small oil lamp threw the only light onto the dank, cramped cellar.

"We were here four days and nights. We couldn't sleep. Our whole building shook with the bombing," Lusya said. "I just sat here, with my 16-year-old son."

As soon as the fighting calmed down, Lusya sent her son across the border into Russia for safety.

She and her neighbours - and many Ossetians I met both in Tskhinvali and in the main refugee camp in Russia - are furious about what has happened to their city.

They are very clear who they blame: Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili, who sent troops to re-take control of this breakaway region. That effort has clearly backfired. The pro-Russian sentiment I experienced on my last visit four years ago has become far fiercer as a result of this conflict.

"They signed a ceasefire, but Saakashvili can start bombing us again any minute," Lusya said, referring to the OSCE/EU-brokered peace plan between Moscow and Tbilisi.

"Look how many people died here! We can never join Georgia after this. We'll cope on our own."

Russians remain

Moscow says that 1,600 civilians died in the fighting in Ossetia. In Tskhinvali, locals claimed bodies had lain in the streets for some time, and many are now buried in temporary graves in back yards. We saw no evidence to support - or dispute - the numbers.

"We were bombed for three days and nights. If Russia had not helped, we would have disappeared," Lusya's neighbour Elena said, visibly angry. "Only Russia takes us under its wing. We want to be with Russia."

On the next street, an armoured personnel carrier carrying Russian troops rolled past the mangled metal wreckage of two Georgian tanks. Other soldiers stopped to take trophy photographs.

We were escorted in South Ossetia by the Russian military, which now controls most of the territory here. Pointing out the tank wreckage, the deputy commander of Russian ground forces insisted that Georgia was the initial aggressor in this conflict - sending in tanks that targeted Russians and Ossetians.

"Half an hour before the tanks began firing, the Georgian peacekeepers disappeared from the base," said Igor Konashenkov. "They left their food uneaten and abandoned their kit. Then the shooting began."

Despite international calls for a withdrawal, there is no sign of Russia pulling its troops out of Ossetia. By Wednesday, they had received an order to cease fire, but not to leave.

Their presence is popular with many locals, who wave as soldiers drive past in the street.

Little left

On Wednesday, the military reported no serious breaches of the ceasefire, but a doctor at an emergency field hospital said 11 Russian soldiers had been wounded by Georgian snipers.

Heading out of Tskhinvali, we passed several houses in flames and many others that had already been burned out. At least two of the villages, including Kekhvi, were home to ethnic Georgians in Ossetia before this conflict, when, it appears, most of them fled. We met no Georgians at all on this trip.

"There were Georgian snipers in the villages and they were driven out," said the military spokesman we were travelling with. "Russian special forces will have used mortars and firebombs and the houses went up in flames. It's not revenge burnings."

But some suggest Ossetian militia are looting and burning in the Georgian villages.

We had no way to investigate that. Either way, there will soon be little left for the Georgians to return to.

This conflict has already destroyed any trust between Georgian and Ossetians. It now looks like any chance there was of reconciliation is burning along with the houses.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

U.S. Sends Guided Missile Destroyer to Georgia; Also sends second Navy ship for "humanitarian assistance"

Civil Georgia / Tbilisi

Two U.S. Navy ships, including a guided missile destroyer USS McFaul, and a U.S. Coast Guard cutter are getting underway to transport humanitarian assistance supplies to Georgia, U.S. European Command (EUCOM) said on August 21.

It said USS McFaul (DDG 74) departed from Souda Bay, Crete, on Wednesday and the cutter Dallas (WHEC 716) will depart later this week.

McFaul and Dallas are scheduled to transit into the Black Sea and arrive in Georgia within a week, according to the U.S. European Command.

The announcement comes after it was reported that Turkey gave its go-ahead to sail through its straits into the Black Sea.

“The ships will transport thousands of blankets, hygiene items, baby food and infant supplies to save lives and alleviate human suffering,” U.S. European Command said.

The Associated Press reported quoting unnamed U.S. official in Turkey that USS Mount Whitney would be among those three vessels expected to arrive in Georgia.

Anatoly Nogovitsin, deputy chief of the general staff of the Russian armed forces, said at a news conference in Moscow on August 21, that the Russia’s Black Sea fleet continued “providing security regime for maritime in the eastern part of the Black Sea.”

“There is no need to further reinforce it [the fleet],” he added.

Meanwhile, a team of U.S. European Command, led by Army Brig. Gen. John Miller, is already in Tbilisi “to assess the current humanitarian situation and make recommendations on continued humanitarian support to senior military leadership.”

“The EUCOM team will conduct a deliberate and focused assessment, encompassing variables such as transportation, infrastructure, manpower and many other life support considerations,” the U.S. European Command said.

And on August 21, the head of the U.S. European Command, Gen. John Craddock, who is also NATO's supreme allied commander for Europe, also arrived in Tbilisi.

Video: Fox News Censors Ossetian Survivors; 12-year-old & Aunt say Georgians burned their home, bombed Ossetians; Thanks Russia for Protecting Them

Fox News
Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Video: Presidential Candidate Obama to Continue Bush Doctrine; Would invade Pakistan

ABC News
BBC News
Al Jazeera
South Asia Newsline
CCTV News - China
Press News - Iran
Alalam News - Iran
August 1-3, 2007

NIST: Fires Caused WTC 7 Collapse on 9/11

National Institute of Standards and Technology

GAITHERSBURG, Md.—The fall of the 47-story World Trade Center building 7 (WTC 7) in New York City late in the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001, was primarily due to fires, the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced today following an extensive, three-year scientific and technical building and fire safety investigation. This was the first known instance of fire causing the total collapse of a tall building, the agency stated as it released for public comment its WTC investigation report and 13 recommendations for improving building and fire safety.

“Our study found that the fires in WTC 7, which were uncontrolled but otherwise similar to fires experienced in other tall buildings, caused an extraordinary event,” said NIST WTC Lead Investigator Shyam Sunder. “Heating of floor beams and girders caused a critical support column to fail, initiating a fire-induced progressive collapse that brought the building down.”

“Video and photographic evidence combined with detailed computer simulations show that neither explosives nor fuel oil fires played a role in the collapse of WTC 7,” Sunder said. The NIST investigation team also determined that other elements of the building’s construction—namely trusses, girders and cantilever overhangs that were used to transfer loads from the building superstructure to the columns of the electric substation (over which WTC 7 was constructed) and foundation below—did not play a significant role in the collapse.

According to the report, a key factor leading to the eventual collapse of WTC 7 was thermal expansion of long-span floor systems at temperatures “hundreds of degrees below those typically considered in current practice for fire resistance ratings." WTC 7 used a structural system design in widespread use.

Citing its one new recommendation (the other 12 are reiterated from the previously completed investigation of the World Trade Center towers, WTC 1 and 2), the NIST investigation team said that “while the partial or total collapse of a tall building due to fires is a rare event, we strongly urge building owners, operators and designers to evaluate buildings to ensure the adequate fire performance of the structural system. Of particular concern are the effects of thermal expansion in buildings with one or more of the following features: long-span floor systems, connections not designed for thermal effects, asymmetric floor framing and/or composite floor systems.” Engineers, the team said, should be able to design cost-effective fixes to address any areas of concern identified by such evaluations.

The investigators also reported that if the city water main had not been cut by the collapse of World Trade Center towers 1 and 2 (WTC 1 and WTC 2), operating sprinklers in WTC 7 would likely have prevented its collapse. “Nevertheless,” Sunder said, “we recommend that building standards and codes be strengthened beyond their current intent to achieve life safety by preventing structural collapse even during severe fires like this one, when sprinklers do not function, do not exist or are overwhelmed by fire.”

Sunder identified several existing, emerging or even anticipated capabilities that could have helped prevent WTC 7’s collapse. He cautioned that the degree to which these capabilities improve performance remains to be evaluated. Possible options for developing cost-effective fixes include:

  • More robust connections and framing systems to better resist effects of thermal expansion on the structural system.

  • Structural systems expressly designed to prevent progressive collapse, which is the spread of local damage from a single initiating event, from element to element, eventually resulting in the collapse of an entire structure or a disproportionately large part of it. Current model building codes do not require that buildings be designed to resist progressive collapse.

  • Better thermal insulation (i.e., reduced conductivity and/or increased thickness) to limit heating of structural steel and to minimize both thermal expansion and weakening effects. Insulation has been used to protect steel strength, but it could be used to maintain a lower temperature in the steel framing to limit thermal expansion.

  • Improved compartmentation in tenant areas to limit the spread of fires.

  • Thermally resistant window assemblies to limit breakage, reduce air supply and retard fire growth.

The 12 recommendations reiterated from the WTC towers investigation address several areas, including specific improvements to building standards, codes and practices; changes to, or the establishment of, evacuation and emergency response procedures; and research and other appropriate actions needed to help prevent future building failures.

Determining the probable collapse sequence for WTC 7, NIST found that the impact of debris from the collapse of WTC 1 ignited fires on at least 10 floors of WTC 7, and the fires burned out of control on six lower floors. The heat from these uncontrolled fires caused thermal expansion of the steel beams on the lower floors of the east side of WTC 7, damaging the floor framing on multiple floors. Eventually, a girder on Floor 13 lost its connection to a critical interior column that provided support for the long floor spans on the east side of the building. The displaced girder and other local fire-induced damage caused Floor 13 to collapse, beginning a cascade of floor failures down to the fifth floor. Many of these floors had already been at least partially weakened by the fires in the vicinity of the critical column. This collapse of floors left the critical column unsupported over nine stories.

“When this critical column buckled due to lack of floor supports, it was the first domino in the chain,” Sunder explained. “What followed in rapid succession was a progression of structural failures. Failure first occurred all the way to the roof line—involving all three interior columns on the most eastern side of the building. Then, progressing from east to west across WTC 7, all of the columns in the core of the building failed. Finally, the entire fa├žade collapsed.”

The investigation team considered the possibility of other factors playing a role in the collapse of WTC 7, including the possible use of explosives, fires fed by the fuel supply tanks in and under the building, and damage from the falling debris of WTC 1.

The team said that the smallest blast event capable of crippling the critical column would have produced a “sound level of 130 to 140 decibels at a distance of half a mile,” yet no noise this loud was reported by witnesses or recorded on videos.

As for fuel fires, the team found that they could not have been sustained long enough, could not have generated sufficient heat to fail a critical column, and/or would have produced “large amounts of visible smoke” from Floors 5 and 6, which was not observed.

Finally, the report notes that “while debris impact from the collapse of WTC 1 initiated fires in WTC 7, the resulting structural damage had little effect in causing the collapse of WTC 7.”

The investigation team found that the design of WTC 7 was generally consistent with the New York City building code in effect at the time. The estimated 4,000 occupants of WTC 7 on the morning of Sept. 11 were evacuated without any fatalities or serious injuries.

To reach the conclusions in its report, NIST complemented its in-house expertise with private-sector technical experts; accumulated an extensive collection of documents, photographs and videos related to the WTC events of 9/11; conducted first-person interviews of WTC 7 occupants and emergency responders; analyzed the evacuation and emergency response operations in and around WTC 7; and performed the most complex computer simulations ever conducted to model a building’s response behavior and determine its collapse sequence due to a combination of debris impact damage, fires and a progression of structural failures from local fire-induced damage to collapse initiation, and, ultimately, to global collapse.

Arsenic in Tap Water Linked to Gradual Sickness, Diabetes, Other Illnesses

By Andrew Stern
Tuesday, August 19, 2008

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Arsenic, a naturally occurring poison and carcinogen found in ground water, is strongly linked to adult-onset diabetes, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday.

Odorless, tasteless, colorless and easily soluble in water or wine, arsenic has long been a feared poison. A heavy dose is detectable in a corpse, but researchers say small amounts of arsenic may sicken people gradually.

Dr. Ana Navas-Acien and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore found a "relatively strong" association between commonly found levels of arsenic in urine and type 2 diabetes in a study of American adults.

"It seems there is may be no safe level of arsenic," Navas-Acien said in a telephone interview.

"Worldwide it's a huge problem," she said. "As water becomes a scarce resource, we need additional sources."

Arsenic raises the risk for cancers of the bladder, lung, kidney, skin and, possibly, the prostate, Navas-Acien said.

The 20 percent of nearly 800 study participants who had the most arsenic in their bodies, a tolerable 16.5 micrograms per liter of urine, had 3.6 times the risk of developing late-onset diabetes than those in the bottom 20 percent, who had 3 micrograms per liter.

Levels of arsenic were 26 percent higher in people with late-onset, or type 2, diabetes than those without the disease, the study found.

The U.S. government sets a limit for drinking water at 10 micrograms of arsenic per liter, which is exceeded in the water consumed by 13 million Americans who mostly live in rural areas that rely on wells to bring up ground water, the researchers wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Arsenic contaminates drinking water for millions of people in Bangladesh, parts of Central Europe, Chile, Argentina and the western United States, where ground water is the source of drinking water and the land has higher concentrations of arsenic.

The U.S. Geological Survey has published maps on its Web site showing levels of arsenic contamination of ground water across the United States.

Overall, 7.8 percent of Americans are believed to have diabetes, although some do not know it. At least 90 percent of cases are the type 2 variety, in which the body loses its ability to use insulin properly.

Navas-Acien said arsenic may play a significant role in diabetes incidence, but it is difficult to say how much.

Arsenic can accumulate in the body, and can ruin the body's ability to use insulin and perform the vital task of converting blood sugar into energy.

Normally, insulin fits into cells via molecular doorways called receptors, which in turn signal the cell to move glucose inside, but arsenic enters the cell and somehow blocks the activity.

Seafood is another source of arsenic, but the organic form found in shellfish and some fish has a carbon molecule attached and poses no risk to health, she said.

It is difficult to discern the difference between the harmful and benign forms of arsenic, though recent laboratory tests allow researchers to detect trace amounts that may pose risks to health, Navas-Acien said.

(Editing by Maggie Fox)

The Report Returns

By Caroline Martin
The Martin Report

The highly anticipated return of The Martin Report is coming soon to pick up the pieces of what remains of American political insanity. The economy, social security, health care, immigration, education, terrorism, war and conflict, corruption, and opinion & commentary to be covered. Stay tuned.