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The Cat Magic Show

(category: Current-Events, Word count: 1873)
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The gushing and fawning by Boston columnists over how quickly Governor Mitt Romney mastered the nuts and bolts of Big Dig information is frightening. I think his new found leadership is a diversion. In a slick show of "control" over the Central Artery Tunnel fiasco, Mitt commands respect with a flick of his magic pointer. The media swoon. It looks like a Boston rendition of Chicago; Bechtel as Roxie Hart kept safe and comfy in the lap of master puppeteer Mitt Romney, playing Billy Flynn. Nice guy, cute guy, downright lovable when he is home pretending he cares, great song and dance man, but there is more going on here than screwing in anchor bolts. Much harder questions need to be asked and investigated by the local media and by independent safety engineers to assure that no more 3-ton ceiling slabs land on commuters or travelers. But, as with any good magic show, Mitt has all eyes trained on the anchor bolts while he tries to convince the public jury that the real fault lies with Matt Amarillo and that Bechtel should be free to just walk out the door.

Just when we thought it was going to be safe to go back in the Central Artery Tunnels in Boston, the Governor let us know that more anchor bolts were faulty in several lanes of I-90 and perhaps in more tunnels. One of the problems with listening to Governor Romney, Turnpike Chair Matt Amarillo or most CA/T predecessors is that they are lawyers and businessmen, not engineers. So take a minute during Mitt's Magic Show to visit the CA/T with my tunnel vision because something does not smell right. Even though the laser light is dazzling and the hard hat adds such charm. I'm not ready to clear the deck of the Super Scoop barge for a decisive victory photo-op.

First, take a really close look at the failed epoxy holding the anchor bolts that suspend the 3-ton concrete ceiling panels. Here are some of the easy to follow instructions for construction workers regarding epoxy-

"Prior to application, all areas must be free of contamination such as waxes, oils, loose concrete, dirt, curing compounds, etc. Acid etching, followed by proper neutralization and rinsing, is usually acceptable if the concrete is in excellent condition, not contaminated." (emphasis mine).

Drum Roll-Mitt shines a laser light into the dark tunnel and we hear the "ooows" and "ahhhs" over the new, shiny anchor bolts, and a slight of hand trick begins. Will the rabbit now stay in the hole or pop out of the hard hat?

Wake up. Remove your gaze from the anchor bolts and focus on the other end of the suspension rods within the ceiling panels themselves. We see a concrete ceiling with newly tightened anchor bolts on the top and steel cable rods embedded in 3-ton concrete slabs suspended beneath on the other end of the cable. No steel beams exist in the I-90 connector to create the desirable steel-bolted-to-steel infrastructure. So any suspended cable will only behave as well as the concrete on either end allows it to behave. If I put an anchor bolt in a wad of silly putty and hang a rod embedded in 5 lbs. of modeling clay from it...well it's hanging there with a limited lifespan, I don't care how new the anchor bolt might be.

Anchor bolts will mean very little if this construction mess in downtown Boston is the result of mixing contaminated dirt and fill into the composition of the concrete ceiling, walls or floor. Here is how the trick might have been done:

(1) While most eyes follow the light and focus on anchor bolts, our current investigation shows that there is a global demand for recycled construction products. This demand has increased substantially during the past two decades. The Big Dig produced over 4,000 miles and over 11 million cubic feet of dirt in the early digging stages. Most of this dirt and debris was processed for contamination and recycled into the Big Dig as clay landfill capping material, project backfill and as aggregate (mix) for the tons and tons of concrete needed for the project. The miles of extra dirt came from the demolition at the airport, the dredging of the harbor floor by the Super Scoop for the Ted Williams Tunnel, the digging of the coffer dam, excavation of miles underneath downtown Boston for the Tip O'Neil Tunnel, digging out tunnel entrances, etc.

In Big Dig II: Down Under, co-producer Arnie Reisman and I investigated this dirt and decided to follow the good news. The uncontaminated clay portions of this fill were going to be used to cap Spectacle Island and hundreds of Massachusetts landfills, an appropriate reuse of heavier clay materials. We were assured that there was a dirt-testing lab and that all of the contaminated soil was being properly distributed and reviewed by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). We were handed stacks of literature, interagency agreements regarding contaminated materials and many, many press releases about the massive volume of dirt being tested and processed. Occasionally there was other good news on the disposition of the dirt. There were mountains of dirt and any disposition was cause for celebration. After all, any unused dirt was going to cost the project and the managers big money for disposal.

(2) Digging back through my Big Dig materials I unearthed a 1992 Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Environmental Protection and the Massachusetts Highway Department about the "contaminated materials" in the soil. This addressed the process for oversight and inspections of the dirt for specific chemicals contaminating the soil that are harmful to humans and wildlife. Of course, those employees at the state DEP who were "overseeing" the process with the Big Dig were salaried by the Massachusetts Highway Department and the Central Artery Tunnel Project. We won't even begin to examine that closet. Why? Because right now we are trying to figure out the rabbit in the hat for Mitt's Magic Show about the anchor bolts.

(3) During construction, there seemed to be an ongoing safety process regarding the concrete. Footage in Big Dig IV: Still Working contained a segment on the concrete testing process that was overseen by the Joint Venture of Bechtel and the Massachusetts Highway Department. This footage will soon be available at our web site, where we will also uncover what we consider to be the design change that is causing continuous leaks in the I-93 tunnel.

This past winter, a small Big Dig contractor was accused and indicted for allegedly mixing too much old concrete in with new concrete to create a substandard mix that may be contributing to some leaks in the I-93 tunnel underneath Boston. This was a red flag that something may be NOT O.K. with at least some of the concrete but no one really noticed.

(4) By looking carefully at the Memorandum of Agreement it is obvious that the chemical contaminants in the DEP agreement are not the same chemical contaminants that can be harmful to the strength of the concrete or to the tendency of certain chemical contaminants to corrode embedded steel. When certain chemicals are present in the sand and soil used as the "aggregate" or the mixing soil that is added to cement to make concrete they can weaken or affect other properties of the concrete. These effects may happen over time and consequently may not be detected using temperature and slump tests on the not-yet-hardened concrete. The Joint Venture (the state and Bechtel) was required to sample portions of the concrete in all Big Dig contracts for strength. If the aggregate used to make this same concrete contained chemical contaminants that do not affect concrete strength, but can corrode steel fittings rapidly how would we know? Well, obviously we check the standards, right? That way we always mix in aggregate that does not contaminate the concrete in ways that can be disastrous.

When I looked for national standards on chemical contaminants and concrete mix, I found only an early attempt in Australia (1994-1996) to develop such construction standards for recycled material used in concrete construction. Many more Internet references attested to a lack of the type of precise testing over time that could lead to such standards. Perhaps the CA/T was following a set of engineering standards of which I am not aware. Of greatest concern is for the public to be informed about which chemical contaminates can affect the strength and durability of the concrete and which were present in what percentages in the recycled fill used throughout the CA/T tunnels. It is particularly important that an independent evaluation team makes a thorough investigation of the chemical properties of the recycled aggregate soil used throughout the project. This could help to identify areas that can be expected to have premature corrosion of steel rods embedded in concrete or that cause the concrete to expand or crumble or leak.

So 12 years of Republican controlled reassurances that the harmful soil was being disposed of properly failed to explain to us that the tests were only for the chemicals and soil properties directly dangerous to humans, for example, piles of dirt that contained mercury. The tests and press releases from the CA/T in 1991-1995 did not describe the concentrations of chemical contaminants in fill that could cause premature collapse of the tunnel ceiling or walls from faulty concrete. We have those listed on our web site at our web site, . We would appreciate hearing from any students, engineers or chemical engineers who can provide clarification on this matter. We will post your information and we will post any established standards for contaminates used in concrete aggregates along with any standards used by the CA/T in disposition of the dirt back into the Artery construction.

While we will continue to investigate this potential concrete catastrophe and review the documents and tapes at our disposal, someone with far greater resources, like the mainstream media needs to examine the CA/T deals made with contractors. How much of the previously used dirt and debris from demolition, dredged or excavated material were each of these contractors required to reuse in their concrete? Was it tested for the road salts and other contaminants that may not be immediately harmful to people and therefore ruled usable by the DEP? Were those contaminates in sufficient quantity to pose problems as a concrete aggregate? Does the effort to get rid of over 4,000 miles of soil through recycling and to save money or make money from disposal of the fill now threaten our lives when we drive through 3.8 million cubic feet of weakened or corrosive concrete? Our future could depend upon understanding the nature of these man-made caverns before the Big Dig becomes the Big Tomb. Remember, look beyond Mitt's Magic Show to see how this rabbit was stuffed into the hole in the first place.

Next we look at the design change that may be the primary cause of I-93 tunnel leaks.This one change might have set in motion an on-going set of problems with downtown leaks in Boston's Central Artery/Tunnel.

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The Rising Risk Of A Terrorist Attack Could It Happen Today

(category: Current-Events, Word count: 476)
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You've read about it, you've seen it: terrorist attacks on trains, in nightclubs and the worst terrorist attack in U.S history on September 11th in New York City. But will the next terrorist attack strike even closer to home - your own hospital's emergency room. Dr. Paulo J. Reyes, a First Responder in California, ER Doctor, and author of the fiction thriller, Sledgehammer fears there exists a clear and present danger today and has written a book on the possibilities of a biochemical attack with smallpox. It clearly outlines how unprepared our nation is and what could happen if we don't prepare now.

Dr. Reyes contends that our government continually acknowledges that it's not a matter of "if" we are attacked again, but "when." He supports voluntary smallpox vaccinations, which the military and President Bush himself have already received, but feels more needs to be more done to educate the nation of the risks involved in order to be adequately prepared for a biochemical attack. Reyes states, "As is evidenced with Hurricane Katrina and the reports that are now publicly known, the government needs to step up its disaster recovery efforts especially for First Responders and Emergency Personnel."

Also of equal importance is the fact that First Responders and medical doctors can be ill equipped to handle such an attack. A study listed in Archives of Internal Medicine showed 631 doctors, mostly medical residents, were given a test prior to completing an online training course. On the pretest, half the doctors misdiagnosed botulism; 84 percent misdiagnosed plague and a case of routine chickenpox was misdiagnosed as smallpox by 42 percent of the doctors. "We've got a dangerous gap here and we need a much clearer strategic game plan," said Shelley Hearne, executive director of Trust for America's Health, which tracks how well states are prepared for bioterrorism or a pandemic.

Reyes' book, Sledgehammer, although a fictional account of a small pox outbreak in a Los Angeles emergency room, is based on extensive research by Reyes and his experience and terrorist training as a First Responder. In Sledgehammer the hospital staff of a Los Angeles emergency room face the daunting challenge of preventing the contagious disease from quickly spreading and affecting their patients and colleagues alike. What adds further drama is the discovery that this particular form of smallpox is an aggressive type - sledgehammer smallpox or a malignant smallpox, which although it starts as non-typical rash, it quickly turns into a life-threatening situation. The terrorist's threats also expand to several sports arenas, airports and shopping malls. The 5 star review book begs to ask the question, what if? What if this happened today, are we ready? After reading this medical thriller, you'll want to do everything you can to ensure we are.

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Vojvodina The Hungarian Kosovo

(category: Current-Events, Word count: 1343)
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In October 2005, Parliamentary Assembly of Europe members tabled a draft resolution castigating the human rights situation in the province of Vojvodina. As EU accession looms larger for Serbia and Montenegro, such resolutions are bound to proliferate. Vojvodina is widely regarded as a test case and the touchstone of Serbia's post-Milosevic reforms.

Milosevic is still a hate figure in Vojvodina. Until he abolished it in 1989, the northern region, bordering on Hungary, enjoyed an autonomy granted by Tito's successive constitutions. Vojislav Kostunica, the current prime minister of erstwhile rump Yugoslavia and a one time winner of the first round of elections for the presidency of Serbia has replaced the deposed autocrat as chief villain. His opponent, the reform-minded Miroljub Labus, won convincingly only in Vojvodina and southwestern Serbia in the self-same elections.

Exactly four years ago, the provincial assembly of Vojvodina sacked the region's deputy prime minister, a Kostunica crony, and upgraded the status of Novi Sad to "capital city". The assembly's speaker stormed into the building of Novi Sad's TV and radio to protest a Belgrade appointment.

Serb radicals demanded full self-government, the large Hungarian minority - one eighth of Vojvodina's two million strong populace - petitioned for self-rule in locales with a Magyar majority, moderates urged Belgrade to start negotiating soon. Hungary, under the previous prime minister, Viktor Orban, agitated aggressively on behalf of its ethnic kin. It looked as though Vojvodina is about to join the ranks of independence-prone Kosovo and Montenegro. Many Vojvodina Serbs still regard it as central European, having been part of the Habsburg empire until 1918.

Vojvodina's denizens - pro-Western, highly educated, intellectuals, members of the free professions, and globe-trotting businessmen - were horrified by the barbarity of Yugoslavia's tortured demise. They now act as the self-appointed conscience of Serbia and Montenegro.

In June 2002, Nenad Canak, the head of the provincial parliament, demanded the prosecution of journalists who contributed to "warmongering" during Milosevic's reign. As reported by Radio B92, the organizers in Novi Sad in August 2002 of "Blood and Honey", an exhibition of photo-journalist's Ron Haviv's work in the Balkan in the 1990's, wrote in a letter addressed to Kostunica, among others:

"Why do you keep silent regarding nationalistic and chauvinistic behavior? Why is this problem being ignored? This is obviously not an isolated incident, but an organized, planned and financed action. Does this mean that you are turning a blind eye to the truth? The [truth] is simple - wars happened and crimes were committed in them, crimes that we will have to face, sooner or later."

Even their dismay at NATO's surgical demolition during the 1999 Kosovo campaign of their three economically-critical bridges over the Danube and their only oil refinery did not turn them into anti-Western xenophobes.

Finally, in January-February 2001 and again in January-February 2002, the Serbian parliament restored some of the territory's previous powers and privileges - over its finances, agriculture, health care, justice, education, tourism, sports, the media, and social services. Mile Icakov, a triumphant parliamentarian, from the late Djindjic's DOS umbrella grouping of reformist parties, quoted by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, uttered this veiled admonition:

"That's something we had and that's something that belonged to us and nobody has to grant it to us, but to return back what was taken away against the law and against the constitution... Everyone in Serbia has already agreed on the largest-possible autonomy for Kosovo. Nothing will change if they do the same for Vojvodina. It would be fair to give Vojvodina the [same rights]. It's not fair that the bad kid gets everything he asks for and the good kid gets nothing."

Yet, the omission to tackle Vojvodina's grievances - or even to consult it - in the March 14, 2002 EU-sponsored Agreement on Restructuring Relations between Serbia and Montenegro irritated the disgruntled province. Vojvodina is not only Yugoslavia's bread basket, it also harbors its nascent oil industry, and many of its blue-chips.

As a result, it is a net contributor to the federal budget and subsidizes the other parts of the rump Yugoslavia. It produces two firth of Serbia and Montenegro's dwindling GDP and attracts two thirds of its foreign direct investment - with only one fifth of its population.

In January 2002, the French multinational Lafarge bought a majority stake in the Beocin cement factory near Novi Sad. It paid $51 million of which Vojvodina is likely to see very little. Five loss making sugar factories were next in line. Serbia's privatization minister pledged to plough back one quarter of all future privatization receipts into the local economy.

Then Serbian Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management, Dragan Veselinov, offered to subsidize sugar beet, soybean, and sunflower crops and to buy 280,000 tons of wheat in 2003. But these belated pre-election bribes did not soothe jangled nerves.

During the 1990's Vojvodina was reluctantly flooded with Serb refugees from Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo. The "invasion" altered its character. The erstwhile bastion of tolerant Austro-Hungarian culture has been Balkanized and rendered discernibly more nationalistic, corruption-ridden, and fractious. Neo-fascist, anti-Semitic, revisionist, racist, pro-Greater Serbia, and skinhead organizations proliferate.

The two pillars of the movement for self-governance are, therefore, nostalgia and money. It is a belated reaction to the convulsive and blood-spattered disintegration of the federation. But it is also a rejection of Vojvodina's exploitation by the other provinces.

Like Scotland and Flanders, northern Italy and Quebec, and the Shiite and Kurd regions of Iraq, Vojvodina would like to retain a larger share of its resources for local consumption and investment. In a "Europe of regions" and a world of disintegrating nation-states, this was to be expected. In August 2002, the Committee for International Cooperation and Relations with Euroregions of the Vojvodina parliament voted to join the Assembly of European Regions (AER).

Vojvodina still faces the outcomes of a decade of Western economic sanctions and NATO military action. Sanctions-busting smuggling operations during Milosevic's rule criminalized some parts of the economy. Novi Sad's water, natural gas, the railway to Budapest, river cargo transport, and telecommunications infrastructure were rendered idle by the decimation of its bridges.

The reconstruction of the first, largest bridge, "Sloboda" (or Liberty) was completed in 2004 and cost 34 million euro in EU funds, according to "Balkan Times". Two temporary crossovers cater to the needs of Novi Sad's population - but they are poor substitutes. Rail links to the rest of Europe, for instance, have yet to be restored. The expensive and intricate clearing of the Danube of unexploded ordnance has been completed only recently.

Vojvodina strives to become a regional commercial hub. HINA, the Croat news agency, reports that the Serb province and the neighboring Vukovar-Srijem county in Croatia have agreed to rebuild bridges, in both the literal and the figurative senses. Vojvodina vowed to help Vukovar secure the return of art expropriated by the Serbs during the internecine war, demine its environs, and find the whereabouts of missing Croat soldiers and civilians.

Vojvodina's parties are members of the ruling, Western-orientated, formerly Djindjic-led, coalition in Belgrade. The Vojvodina Reformists, who backed Kostunica in the recent bout of elections, once have teamed with a DOS breakaway faction to form a new, left of center, political force. Vojvodina plays a crucial role in Serb politics.

Even the leader of the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians, Jozsef Kasza, admitted to the Yugoslav daily "Dnevnik", that the status of the Hungarian minority is improving "step by step", though "Hungarians are still not adequately represented in the judiciary, prosecutions, in leading positions in the economy."

He elaborated: "During the Milosevic era they wouldn't let us have our schools, media, they banned the official use of the language. The situation has now improved, the Law on national communities has been passed which needs to continue its implementation more and more."

In an inversion of the traditional roles, the Beta news agency reported that Vojvodina's then secretary for culture and education, Zoltan Bunjik, announced a series of assistance programs targeted at the Serb minority in Hungary, including a Serb history and culture curriculum.

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Immigration In America Not Everyone Is Dying To Get Here

(category: Current-Events, Word count: 1213)
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Not everyone in America views people from Mexico and Pan America as our little brown brothers to the south. With a deep culture and a rich heritage older than our own these people have much to be proud of. Economically and politically they are suffering behind the eight ball of progress but as in any country life goes on there.

This writer has family in Mexico and because of that I have had the good fortune of spending a lot of time in Old Mexico. The details are too much for this article but I will at the very least relate one single impression I had the first time I spent real time in the neighborhoods of Acapulco.

My first impressions as I viewed the small houses and open air markets were probably similar to every other American before me. I thought of only how poor these people are and how hard life must be for them. In a short time I changed my opinion. I watched as families clung close to each other and neighborhoods would band together closely to protect each other. There were simple peddlers carrying fish and cold gelatins around and children playing together with laughter. They worked hard and ate together at the same table. Respect was given to the elderly and heads of households whether male or female. Fiestas and much celebration were attended by large crowds and participation was hearty and genuine. Dancing, conversation and great food was enjoyed and a neighborhood seemed more like a family than a mere community of citizens. Who could find fault with this and why should we care if they don't have a lot of money? Apparently it could not keep them from enjoying something we in America may have long since had a while but lost.

I was graced with my time in Mexico long before I had the pleasure of seeing the acclaimed movie, El Norte. This Pan American production was released in 1983 and will soon re-debut thru the DVD medium for those who may have missed it. Only three or four movies I have seen in my lifetime would I consider as "an experience" and not just a movie, El Norte is one of them.

El Norte (The North) is a grand drama produced by Gregory Nava in Pan America. It is considered the hands down best movie ever produced in Central America. It is also considered the best movie to "put faces" on the otherwise invisible people who pick our crops, clean our houses and care for our children. The immigrants of South and Central America and those of Mexico are not only depicted accurately in this film but they could learn from it as well. It is my opinion that if all would be immigrants were able to see this film before they dashed off to America that many of them would lay down the idea of getting here altogether.

The film is fictional but has a reality to it that cannot be contended. It is similar to the experiences of countless Latinos who enter this country illegally and legally. Its impact did not go unnoticed by the National Film Registry where it was selected by the Library of Congress in 1995. It was also nominated for an Oscar and won several other prestigious awards along its glowing path.

The plot of El Norte is based on the travels of a young brother and sister team who endeavor to overcome every obstacle set before them to immigrate (illegally) to the United States. The two siblings come from a Central American village of Mayan Indians. Their life there was simple and they were poor but all they ever loved was also there. They want to come to America and try along with others of their kind to overcome the idea of being no more than "brazos fuertes" (strong arms) that make up the grunt workforce for rich Americans.

Driven by the dream of a place were opportunity abounds and equality reigns they cross hundreds of miles of open desserts and long dreary roads in Mexico. They are robbed, raped tricked, swindled and lied to but pass on undaunted still reaching for their dreams. With nothing left to lose they make the final crossing into the land into America by crawling on hands and knees for miles through a sewer duct from Mexico to San Diego. They are bitten by rats, exhausted and near to death when they emerge to the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The contacts and the promises that they expected to be there for them have dissolved and they battle to find some means of survival. In time they both find housing and meager employment as domestics but the battle has just begun. The heart wrenching struggle they encounter is not just about making money but it is about making impossible adjustments to a culture not only foreign to them but completely undesirable.

They are pulled by druggers to touch and taste and demeaned by employers that work them hard for pittances. They see Americans in a great a race to gain everything but who seem to appreciate nothing. Add to this that one of the siblings' contracts a disease from the rat bites they incurred while crossing into San Diego and eventually dies.

Before the bitter end the film depicts what would be the mental dreams, visions and remembrances of their native village and their Mayan cultural upbringing. It is impossible not to feel the longing to return to their simpler and more meaningful life. Now it is harder to return than it was to make the first journey...fade to black.

As an American who loves his country this film stood as an indictment against our shallowness and preoccupation with everything that is ersatz and meaningless. I could never argue with the great principles this nation was founded upon but this movie only served to remind me that we are a long way from the founding principles today.

Although the present issue of immigration in this country cannot be ignored this film reminds us that there is an untold side to the issue. If the hearts of all the immigrants could be searched and weighed I'm sure we would find that a great deal of their contents would be disappointment, disillusionment and sorrow.

The lesson here is that it is not just our borders that need to be protected in a reasonable and rational manner but it is our hearts as well. Would be immigrants may want to consider that economic advantage is not all there is to life. Americans may want to remember that there was a time when that was not all there was to our lives.

Far be it for a man of God not to appendage a good didactic endeavor without making an allusion to the scriptures. This is the one that comes to mind. "And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth." Luke 12:15

Rev Bresciani is the author of two books and hundreds of articles. Visit his website at

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Russia S Idled Spies

(category: Current-Events, Word count: 1033)
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On November 11, 2002, Sweden expelled two Russian diplomats for spying on radar and missile guidance technologies for the JAS 39 British-Swedish Gripen fighter jet developed by Telefon AB LM Ericsson, the telecommunications multinational. The Russians threatened to reciprocate. Five current and former employees of the corporate giant are being investigated. Ironically, the first foreign buyer of the aircraft may well be Poland, a former Soviet satellite state and a current European Union candidate.

Sweden arrested in February 2001 a worker of the Swiss-Swedish engineering group, ABB, on suspicion of spying for Russia. The man was released after two days for lack of evidence and reinstated. But the weighty Swedish daily, Dagens Nyheter, speculated that the recent Russian indiscretion was in deliberate retaliation for Swedish espionage in Russia. Sweden is rumored to have been in the market for Russian air radar designs and the JAS radar system is said by some observers to uncannily resemble its eastern counterparts.

The same day, a Russian military intelligence (GRU) colonel, Aleksander Sipachev, was sentenced in Moscow to eight years in prison and stripped of his rank. According to Russian news agencies, he was convicted of attempting to sell secret documents to the CIA. Russian secret service personnel, idled by the withering of Russia's global presence, resort to private business or are re-deployed by the state to spy on industrial and economic secrets in order to aid budding Russian multinationals.

According to the FBI and the National White-collar Crime Center, Russian former secret agents have teamed with computer hackers to break into corporate networks to steal vital information about product development and marketing strategies. Microsoft has admitted to such a compromising intrusion.

In a December 1999 interview to Segodnya, a Russia paper, Eyer Winkler, a former high-ranking staffer with the National Security Agency (NSA) confirmed that "corruption in the Russian Government, the Foreign Intelligence Service, and the Main Intelligence Department allows Russian organized criminal groups to use these departments in their own interests. Criminals receive the major part of information collected by the Russian special services by means of breaking into American computer networks."

When the KGB was dismantled and replaced by a host of new acronyms, Russian industrial espionage was still in diapers. as a result, it is a bureaucratic no-man's land roamed by agents of the GRU, the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), and smaller outfits, such as the Federal Agency on Government Communications and Information (FAPSI).

According to Stratfor, the strategic forecasting consultancy, "the SVR and GRU both handle manned intelligence on U.S. territory, with the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) doing counterintelligence in America. Also, both the SVR and GRU have internal counterintelligence units created for finding foreign intelligence moles." This, to some extent, is the division of labor in Europe as well.

Germany's Federal Prosecutor has consistently warned against $5 billion worth of secrets pilfered annually from German industrial firms by foreign intelligence services, especially from east Europe and Russia. The Counterintelligence News and Developments newsletter pegs the damage at $13 billion in 1996 alone:

"Modus operandi included placing agents in international organizations, setting up joint-ventures with German companies, and setting up bogus companies. The (Federal Prosecutor's) report also warned business leaders to be particularly wary of former diplomats or people who used to work for foreign secret services because they often had the language skills and knowledge of Germany that made them excellent agents."

Russian spy rings now operate from Canada to Japan. Many of the spies have been dormant for decades and recalled to service following the implosion of the USSR. According to Asian media, Russians have become increasingly active in the Far East, mainly in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and mainland China.

Russia is worried about losing its edge in avionics, electronics, information technology and some emerging defense industries such as laser shields, positronics, unmanned vehicles, wearable computing, and real time triple C (communication, command and control) computerized battlefield management. The main targets are, surprisingly, Israel and France. According to media reports, the substantive clients of Russia's defense industry - such as India - insist on hollowing out Russian craft and installing Israeli and west European systems instead.

Russia's paranoid state of mind extends to its interior. Uralinformbureau reported earlier in 2002 that the Yamal-Nenets autonomous okrug (district) restricted access to foreigners citing concerns about industrial espionage and potential sabotage of oil and gas companies. The Kremlin maintains an ever-expanding list of regions and territories with limited - or outright - forbidden - access to foreigners.

The FSB, the KGB's main successor, is busy arresting spies all over the vast country. To select a random events of the dozens reported every year - and many are not - the Russian daily Kommersant recounted in February 2002 how when the Trunov works at the Novolipetsk metallurgical combine concluded an agreement with a Chinese company to supply it with slabs, its chief negotiator was nabbed as a spy working for "circles in China". His crime? He was in possession of certain documents which contained "intellectual property" of the crumbling and antiquated mill pertaining to a slab quality enhancement process.

Foreigners are also being arrested, though rarely. An American businessman, Edmund Pope, was detained in April 2000 for attempting to purchase the blueprints of an advanced torpedo from a Russian scientist. There have been a few other isolated apprehensions, mainly for "proper", military, espionage. But Russians bear the brunt of the campaign against foreign economic intelligence gathering. reported in December 2001 that, speaking on the occasion of Security Services Day, Putin - himself a KGB alumnus - warned veterans that the most crucial task facing the services today is "protecting the country's economy against industrial espionage".

This is nothing new. According to History of Espionage Web site, long before they established diplomatic relations with the USA in 1933, the Soviets had Amtorg Trading Company. Ostensibly its purpose was to encourage joint ventures between Russian and American firms. Really it was a hub of industrial undercover activities. Dozens of Soviet intelligence officers supervised, at its peak during the Depression, 800 American communists. The Soviet Union's European operations in Berlin (Handelsvertretung) and in London (Arcos, Ltd.) were even more successful.

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Time To Get Out Of Dodge Relocate Ahead Of The Collapse

(category: Current-Events, Word count: 1056)
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Peak Oil? Economic Collapse? Maybe the universe is trying to tell you something. Maybe it's Relocation, Relocation, Relocation.

With many people predicting a serious economic depression, and others equally-or also-concerned about the approaching depletion of oil production ("Peak Oil" - For full information, see Dry Dipstick at, you might consider moving to a quieter, more sustainable, less oil-dependent location.

Of course you might be fine living exactly where you are now. It's certainly easier to stay where you are than to move. No one can predict, certainly not with certainty, where the best places might be to deal with the future. Many observers think that large cities are definitely not the best location. Others suggest that any town dependent on water and food that comes from a large distance may not be ideal. They suggest a small town with adequate water and nearby farms. When it comes down to it, no one really has the foggiest idea, so you're on your own.

If you wish, you can run off into the hills, create a mountain fortress, and be a dyed-in-the-wool, nobody-come-near-me loner. Others believe that if a true survivalist is someone who wants to survive, the best way to do that in the 21st century is in a community. (If you're really into survivalism, we suggest you check out

The choice is yours. If you still have the time, we can suggest resources for finding a place to live both in the United States and in countries around the world.

Inside the United States

If you currently live in the United States, you might want to consider simply moving to another state rather than going abroad. Things generally get much cheaper when you move away from the coasts, and the quality of life can be very good. Plus, they speak English there (more or less) and you can usually get all the stuff you're probably used to. (Assuming stuff is still available.)

There are a number of excellent web sites to help you in your search for a place to move to.'s ( city profiles provide information on hundreds of cities. The profiles include cost of living, taxes, home costs, insurance costs and quality of life factors such as population, crime, weather and education. can also help you find real estate and arrange for moving logistics. You can even compare the profiles of two cities of your choice.

BestPlaces ( lets you compare two cities from a list of over 3,000 places in the U.S. You'll see a comparison of nearly 100 categories. BestPlaces offers neighborhood profiles for every zip code in the U.S., in-depth profiles on over 85,000 schools, a cost of living calculator that compares cities and determines what salary you'd need at a new location to maintain the same standard of living as you have now. Plus you'll find crime rates for over 2,500 U.S. cities, most and least stressful cities, and climate profiles for 2,000 cities worldwide.

You can even take a "Find Your Best Place" quiz to determine your own recommended best places to live. BestPlaces also publishes the book "Cities Ranked and Rated", with detailed information on over 400 metropolitan areas in the U.S. and Canada. You might also find the Most Livable Communities website helpful (

Our favorite resource is FindYourSpot ( It offers a fun quiz (it'll take you less than 10 minutes) with great questions, and it produces a list of two dozen cities that fit your quiz answers. Results for each city include an attractive downloadable four-page report with an insightful overview of the character of the area and information on climate, arts and culture, recreation, education, housing and cost of living, crime and safety, health care, and earning a living. You'll also find links to currently available jobs and housing, roommate services, recommended city-specific books, and travel deals if you'd like to personally visit the city.

Outside the U.S.

Wondering where the best country is to move to? We suggest that there is actually more than one "best country" for you. You find them by:

1) visiting every possible country and seeing which ones you like best, or

2) researching every possible country, zeroing in on those you feel most attracted to, and then visiting those countries. We suggest that the best way to begin is to use the Web, particularly the sites we list below.

Bottom line? Visit a country and spend some time there before making the actual move. Most experienced expatriates suggest living at least six months in your host country before permanently moving there. And remember, you're not going to live in an entire country, just in one specific place in a country. You don't have to love the entire country to be able to find that one special place just for you. You're looking for a region, a city, a town, even a neighborhood where you can find the qualities you want in a new home.

Here are some websites that should help in your quest for a new country.

Boomers Abroad (

A website devoted to giving you the best and most comprehensive information available on the Web about beautiful (and affordable) warm coastal countries, how to get there and how to live there. Whether you're looking to be a retiree, a working expatriate, or simply a visitor, Boomers Abroad is your place on the Web for Costa Rica, Cuba, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, and Uruguay.

Expat Communities (

A directory of more than 110 countries with sizeable English-speaking (and usually international as well) expatriate communities. English-language websites, organizations, online forums, meetups, local newspapers, and books of interest to current and potential expatriates. These websites will give you, or link you to, all the information you'll need to decide if a particular country might suit your needs and deserves future exploration.

Expat Stuff (

Wherever you end up living as an expat, you'll need stuff. And information. And services. This website is an excellent directory with a focus on the endless variety of information, services and tools you'll need to enjoy life and create your own income while living abroad. You'll also find information on such things as communication, health insurance, obtaining a passport, links to country information, and general expatriate blogs and websites.

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The Costs Of Coalition Building

(category: Current-Events, Word count: 1879)
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Foreign aid, foreign trade and foreign direct investment (FDI) have become weapons of mass persuasion, deployed in the building of both the pro-war, pro-American coalition of the willing and the French-led counter "coalition of the squealing".

By now it is clear that the United States will have to bear the bulk of the direct costs of the actual fighting, optimistically pegged at c. $200 billion. The previous skirmish in Iraq in 1991 consumed $80 billion in 2002 terms - nine tenths of which were shelled out by grateful allies, such as Saudi Arabia and Japan.

Even so, the USA had to forgive $7 billion of Egyptian debt. According to the General Accounting Office, another $3 billion were parceled at the time among Turkey, Israel and other collaborators, partly in the form of donations of surplus materiel and partly in subsidized military sales.

This time around, old and newfound friends - such as Jordan, an erstwhile staunch supporter of Saddam Hussein - are likely to carve up c. $10 billion between them, says the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Jordan alone has demanded $1 billion.

According to the Knight Ridder Newspapers, in February 2003, an Israeli delegation has requested an extra $4-5 billion in military aid over the next 2-3 years plus $8 billion in loan guarantees. Israel, the largest American foreign and military aid recipient, is already collecting c. $3 billion annually. It is followed by Egypt with $1.3 billion a year - another rumored beneficiary of $1 billion in American largesse.

Turkey stands to receive c. $6 billion for making itself available (however reluctantly, belatedly, and fitfully) as staging grounds for the forces attacking Iraq. Another $20 billion in loan guarantees and $1 billion in Saudi and Kuwaiti oil have been mooted.

In the thick of the tough bargaining, with Turkey demurring and refusing to grant the USA access to its territory, the International Monetary Fund - thought by many to be the long arm of US foreign policy - suddenly halted the disbursement of money under a two years old standby arrangement with the impoverished country.

It implausibly claimed to have just unearthed breaches of the agreement by the Turkish authorities. This systemic non-compliance was being meticulously chronicled - and scrupulously ignored by the IMF - for well over a year now by both indigenous and foreign media alike.

Days after a common statement in support of the American stance, the IMF clinched a standby arrangement with Macedonia, the first in two turbulent years. On the same day, Bulgaria received glowing - and counterfactual - reviews from yet another IMF mission, clearing the way for the release of a tranche of $36 million out of a loan of $330 million. Bulgaria has also received $130 million in direct US aid between 2001-3, mainly through the Support for East European Democracy (SEED) program.

But the IMF is only one tool in the administration's shed. President Bush has increased America's foreign aid by an unprecedented 50 percent between 2003-6 to $15 billion. A similar amount was made available between 2003-8 to tackle AIDS, mainly in Africa.

Half this increase was ploughed into a Millennium Challenge Account. It will benefit countries committed to democracy, free trade, good governance, purging corruption and nurturing the private sector. By 2005, the Account contained close to $5 billion and is being replenished annually to maintain this level.

This expensive charm offensive was intended to lure and neutralize the natural constituencies of the pacifistic camp: non government organizations, activists, development experts, developing countries and international organizations.

As the war drew nearer, the E10 - the elected members of the Security Council - also cashed in their chips.

The United States has softened its position on trade tariffs in its negotiations of a free trade agreement with Chile. Immigration regulations were relaxed to allow in more Mexican seasonal workers. Chile received $2 million in military aid and Mexico $44 million in development finance.

US companies cooperated with Angola on the development of offshore oilfields in the politically contentious exclave of Cabinda. Guinea and Cameroon absorbed dollops of development aid. Currently, Angola receives c. $19 million in development assistance.

Cameroon already benefits from military training and surplus US arms under the Excess Defense Articles (EDA) program as well as enjoying trade benefits in the framework of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act. Guinea gets c. $26 million in economic aid annually plus $3 million in military grants and trade concessions.

The United States has also pledged to cause Iraq to pay its outstanding debts, mainly to countries in Central and East Europe, notably to Russia and Bulgaria. Iraq owes the Russian Federation alone close to $9 billion. Some of the Russian contracts with the Iraqi oil industry, thought to be worth dozens of billions of dollars, may even be honored by the victors, promised the Bush administration. It reneged on both promises. Debt relief reduced Iraq's debt by 90% and all Saddam Hussein era contracts were vitiated.

Thus, the outlays on warfare are likely be dwarfed by the price tag of the avaricious constituents of president Bush's ramshackle coalition. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman aptly christened this mass bribery, "The Martial Plan". Quoting "some observers", he wrote:

"The administration has turned the regular foreign aid budget into a tool of war diplomacy. Small countries that currently have seats on the U.N. Security Council have suddenly received favorable treatment for aid requests, in an obvious attempt to influence their votes. Cynics say that the 'coalition of the willing' President Bush spoke of turns out to be a 'coalition of the bought off' instead'."

But this is nothing new. When Yemen cast its vote against a November 1990 United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force to evict Iraq from Kuwait - the United states scratched $700 million in aid to the renegade country over the following decade.

Nor is the United States famous for keeping its antebellum promises.

Turkey complains that the USA has still to honor its aid commitments made prior to the first Gulf War. Hence its insistence on written guarantees, signed by the president himself. Similarly, vigorous pledges to the contrary aside, the Bush administration has allocated a pittance to the reconstruction of Afghanistan in its budgets - and only after it is prompted to by an astounded Congress.

Macedonia hasn't been paid in full for NATO's presence on its soil during the Kosovo conflict in 1999. Though it enjoyed $1 billion in forgiven debt and some cash, Pakistan is still waiting for quotas on its textiles to be eased, based on an agreement it reached with the Bush administration prior to the campaign to oust the Taliban.

Congress is a convenient scapegoat. Asked whether Turkey could rely on a further dose of American undertakings, Richard Boucher, a State Department spokesman, responded truthfully: "I think everybody is familiar with our congressional process."

Yet, the USA, despite all its shortcomings, is the only game in town. The European Union cannot be thought of as an alternative benefactor.

Even when it promotes the rare coherent foreign policy regarding the Middle East, the European Union is no match to America's pecuniary determination and well-honed pragmatism. In 2002, EU spending within the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership amounted to a meager $700 million.

The EU signed association agreements with some countries in the region and in North Africa. The "Barcelona Process", launched in 1995, is supposed to culminate by 2010 in a free trade zone incorporating the European Union, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, Syria and Turkey. Libya has an observer status and Cyprus and Malta have joined the EU in the meantime.

According to the International Trade Monitor, published by the Theodore Goddard law firm, the Agadir Agreement, the first intra-Mediterranean free trade compact, was concluded In March 2003 between Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. It is a clear achievement of the EU.

The European Union signed a Cooperation Agreement with Yemen and, in 1989, with the Gulf Cooperation Council, comprising Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Oman. A more comprehensive free trade agreement covering goods, services, government procurement and intellectual property rights is in the works. The GCC has recently established a customs union as well.

Despite the acrimony over Iran's not-so-civilian nuclear program, the EU may soon ink a similar set of treaties with Iran with which the EU has a balanced trade position - c. $7 billion of imports versus a little less in exports.

The EU's annual imports from Iraq - at c. $4 billion - are more than 50 percent higher than they were prior to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. It purchases more than one quarter of Iraq's exports. The EU exports to Iraq close to $2 billion worth of goods, far less than it did in the 1980s, but still a considerable value and one fifth of the country's imports. EU aid to Iraq since 1991 exceeds $300 million.

But Europe's emphasis on trade and regional integration as foreign policy instruments in the Mediterranean is largely impracticable. America's cash is far more effective. Charlene Barshefsky, the former United States trade representative from 1997 to 2001, explained why in an opinion piece in the New York Times:

"The Middle East … has more trade barriers than any other part of the world. Muslim countries in the region trade less with one another than do African countries, and much less than do Asian, Latin American or European countries. This reflects both high trade barriers … and the deep isolation Iran, Iraq and Libya have brought on themselves through violence and support for terrorist groups … 8 of (the region's) 11 largest economies remain outside the WTO."

Moreover, in typical EU fashion, the Europeans benefit from their relationships in the region disproportionately.

Bilateral EU-GCC trade, for instance, amounts to a respectable $50 billion annually - but European investment in the region declined precipitously from $3 billion in 1999 to half that in 2000. The GCC, on its part, has been consistently investing $4-5 billion annually in the EU economies.

It also runs an annual trade deficit of c. $9 billion with the EU. Destitute Yemen alone imports $600 million from the EU and exports a meager $100 million to it. The imbalance is partly attributable to European non-tariff trade barriers such as sanitary regulations and to EU-wide export subsidies.

Nor does European development aid compensate for the EU's egregious trade protectionism. Since 1978, the EU has ploughed only $210 million into Yemen's economy, for instance. A third of this amount was in the form of food support. The EU is providing only one fifth of the total donor assistance to the country.

In the meantime, the USA is busy signing trade agreements with all and sundry, subverting what little leverage the EU could have possessed. In the footsteps of a free trade agreement with Israel, America has concluded one with Jordan in 2000. The kingdom's exports to the United States responded by soaring from $16 million in 1998 to c. $400 million in 2002. Washington negotiated a similar deal with Morocco. It is usurping the EU's role on its own turf. Who can blame French president Jacques Chirac for blowing his lid?

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New Orleans My Home Katrina My Nightmare

(category: Current-Events, Word count: 943)
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Whether Katrina is seen as a disaster, a scourge or a purge it is hard to believe that it can dislodge the deep culture and uniqueness that makes up this city known as New Orleans. From its long history in the hands of the Spanish the French and then the Americans it has formed a character that cannot be compared to any city in the entire nation.

Every thing is different in New Orleans. This is the City of Lagniappe (something extra), romantic paddle boats, the French Quarter, muffelattas and Mardi Gras. Even the street names speak of New Orleans unusual character. Names like Tchoupitoulas, Melpomene, Chef Menteur, and Terpsichore.

The dialects and colloquialisms spring from Creole, French, African, Irish and many other tongues too numerous to mention. Perhaps most noticeable of all is the common Brooklynese spoken by most New Orleanians as a result of Brooklyn middle school teachers being imported to New Orleans over a hundred years ago to help educate New Orleans children.

Nothing in New Orleans is like any other city in our nation but that also includes its susceptibility to the ravages of Gulf storms and hurricanes. Parts of the city are only three feet below sea level and others are up to twenty feet below sea level. Ducks may love water but this city was a sitting duck for more water than it could ever handle. I knew that like everyone else living there but I thought preparations and contingencies had been properly made.

As the water begins to recede and people are evacuated and the dead are counted another storm has begun. The storm of criticism now rages throughout the nation. FEMA, the President, the National Guard are all coming under intense scrutiny for their performance or the lack of it.

For those of us down here we didn't mind seeing Jesse Jackson cut short by our news commentators as he flew into tirade about President Bush's slow or inadequate responses. We stand behind Mayor Nagin even though it is reported that he vented a great deal of anger towards both Governor Blanco and President Bush.

We don't blame Sheriff Jack Stephens of St. Bernard Parish for wailing at the FEMA rep who showed up days after his deputies had worked alone and under the worst of conditions and exclaimed he was there to make an assessment. We felt like crying when we saw Governor Blanco holding back her tears as she described the situation in the first hours after Katrina danced its dance of death.

We are listening to our local leaders and our President not to the nay Sayers and critics who comment from afar and above sea level, seeking to further the interests of their party or their own profile. Contrary to what is being said we both hear and see that the help is flowing in and the effort is quite real. Even as I write this article I have stepped outside at the beckoning of my wife to see convoys of military vehicles, electric utilities, tree utilities, passenger busses and police all streaming toward the city of New Orleans down Highway 190 in Baton Rouge. If I had a flag I might have chosen to go out and wave it as I cheered them on.

Critics at this point are like salt on the wound. Hey, its America so they have the right to say whatever they want, but discretion might be calling for a little better timing. Hold off until the dust has settled, or in this case at least until the water recedes.

Between this paragraph and the last my wife and me went to a little church in a small town near Baton Rouge called Erwinville. The Sharon church, a tiny little congregation nestled between fields of sugar cane and soy beans were praying for victims of Katrina when we walked in. With only a small number of people they had already raised over twelve hundred dollars to help feed people staying in a local civic center housing Katrina refugees. They had bought uniforms for children of the victims and helped to enroll them in school classes. Additionally they were bringing supplies and funds to the red cross in New Orleans. These are Louisianans helping Louisianans and that alone made going to church an inspiration.

I have made my own situation known in more detail on my website. But just in case you think this is the opinion of just another outsider looking in, then I should tell you this. Our church, our house and the houses of almost all our friends and relatives are under ten feet of water as I write this article. We escaped the wrath of Katrina by a hair and were able to bring out an older gentleman who surely would have perished if we had not.

I will not criticize anyone who has made an effort to help us down here from the President to the kind soul who put a dollar in an offering plate set for the relief for Katrina's victims. Some of the people and agencies who responded to this crisis may have been a bit slow, confused by poor communications and caught off guard by the shear enormity of the disaster but from their first intentions to their long journey to the deepest part of the deep south they have shown themselves to be good neighbors. On behalf of thousands of us beleaguered at this hour in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama I offer not criticism but thanks.

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Drug Trade Accounts For Forty Percent Of The Afghan Economy

(category: Current-Events, Word count: 558)
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The voice on the radio suddenly forced its way into my conscious awareness. Absolutely staggering, I felt it deep in my gut with no uncertainty.

Forty Percent of the Afghan economy is from illegal drug production and trafficking. More disturbing is the fact that the United States has nothing that can replace the drug trade for Afghan entrepreneurs.

As I contemplated these hard hitting statements, I found myself imagining how different our world could be if we just stuck to some basic tenants of common decency.

Yet, what does this say about our world, where such an obscene industry can thrive? It's not just the growers and traffickers that are contributing to the problems, but the users of the end product. Those users ultimately feed the entire industry's cash flow.

Considering the Afghan drug problems alongside illicit drug trade around the world, there has to be an incredible amount of drug users to support the global market for drugs. Why? Is it really about the high, or is it about escaping the sober realities and pain of human life? It seems that we never hear anyone talking about this aspect. Life is often painful. Whether you are poor or rich, there are all kinds of problems and challenges that we human beings face.

How appealing a drug addiction and the escape it provides must be to the user. In some ways, it may even be understandable.

Facing life and its challenges head on is NOT for the timid. But, we are all faced with life nonetheless and there is no escaping that for the rational and sober minded person. Sure there are moments of pleasure that provide temporary relief but how long do those moments last? How long before the next problem rears up to block our path arrives?

For some, the moments of pleasure and happiness last longer and not so long for others. That may be related to a whole host of factors including socio-economic ones.

So what can we do? Not much as it turns out, for a simple reason. It is a fact of our very existence that free will exists. Each person makes his own choices. More laws won't change what people do when they think that they can't be seen.

Perhaps a greater degree of personal happiness and contentment would prove to be more attractive than the lure of drug use. As you may have heard, "history tends to repeat itself". And why is that? Maybe the human condition doesn't really change that much, only the scenery and technology change, while the basic conditions of human life stay about the same throughout the ages.

If that is true, and similar conditions existed in the past, how were they dealt with back then? One of the western world's most revered philosophers was Socrates.

Socrates talked about virtue. He discussed things like Truth, Beauty and Goodness with his students. Today, Master Li Hongzhi expounds on Truthfulness, Compassion and Endurance. Perhaps contemplation of these things can bring greater contentment and personal happiness? With happiness and contentment, there may no longer be as strong a catalyst for feeding a drug addiction.

One thing is fairly certain. Due to the existence of free will, only each individual can choose for himself the path he wishes to tread.

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