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International experts are warning global food prices will remain high over the next decade. A new report from the United Nations and Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development blames the rising cost of oil, the weakening dollar and increasing demand for biofuels such as ethanol. The report calls for a reevaluation of the drive to invest in biofuels, which are said to account for 33 percent of the rising food costs. Ethanol has raised food prices by diverting crops to produce fuel rather than food. Kemal Dervis of the UN Development Programme said the environmental gains of biofuel investment need to be evaluated in light of its effect on increasing hunger.
Kemal Dervis: "Well, you know, I think one important thing we are also discussing is that the fight against climate change and the fight against poverty should not be viewed as two separate things. They must be integrated into an overall strategy, and I think some of the problems we’ve seen with biofuels is that the strategy vis-a-vis climate went ahead without coordination and without being part of the overall strategy for development."
In South Korea, more than 10,000 people took to the streets of Seoul Thursday in the latest of daily protests against an agreement on importing US beef. The South Korean government’s decision to ease restrictions has sparked a national crisis.
Protester: "I came here because I got so angry after the minister announced the implementation. I’ve been participating in these rallies, but I think the government pushed it unilaterally without listening to our voices. I can’t
South Korea banned American beef five years ago after an outbreak of mad cow disease. But the ban was lifted earlier this month after US lawmakers threatened to withhold a pending trade deal unless South Korea accepted US beef.
Lawyers for the alleged conspirators behind the 9/11 attacks are accusing the Pentagon of rushing the case to court to time it with the 2008 presidential campaign. In a new court briefing, the defense team for the four prisoners on trial with alleged mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed cite a prosecution document proposing to set the trial date for September 15th. That would come just ten days after Senator John McCain is expected to be officially nominated as the Republican nominee.
Meanwhile, in Washington, thirty-four people with the group Witness Against Torture have been convicted for protesting the Guantanamo Bay prison outside the Supreme Court. The demonstration occurred on January 11th, the sixth anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo. As they did in January, several protesters dressed like Guantanamo prisoners in orange jumpsuits and black hoods during their trial. When speaking in court, they each gave their own name followed by the name and biography of a Guantanamo prisoner. The peace activist Frida Berrigan said, “We’re sad about the convictions, but we’re happy, moved and humbled to bring the stories, names and identification of the men in Guantanamo into a court of law.” The protesters face up to sixty days in jail.
In military news, army suicides continue to rise. On Thursday the Pentagon said 115 soldiers killed themselves last year, up from 102 in 2006. The army suicide rate is at its highest since the military began keeping records in 1980.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the US State Department has withdrawn all Fulbright scholarships to Palestinian students in Gaza, because the Israeli blockade prevents them from leaving. The seven students would have used the money to pursue degrees at US schools this fall. But US officials say the grants will be re-directed so as to not go to waste if the students can’t leave Gaza. An Israeli parliamentary committee has asked the government to reconsider its travel ban on Palestinian students. But even if the policy is changed, the students won’t be able to apply for Fulbrights until next year.
Meanwhile, an award-winning American mathematician has donated all of his prize money to promote Palestinian freedom of movement. David Mumford received the 2008 Wolf Foundation Prize in Mathematics earlier this week. Mumford says he’s giving the entire $100,000 to Birzeit University in the West Bank and to Gisha, an Israeli group that campaigns for Palestinian rights. Mumford said, “I decided to donate my share of the Wolf Prize to enable the academic community in occupied Palestine to survive and thrive. I am very grateful for the prize, but I believe that Palestinian students should have an opportunity to go elsewhere to acquire an education.”
And here in Southern California, civil rights groups are calling for congressional hearings into new reports Muslim groups in Los Angeles and San Diego are under federal surveillance. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported last week on the existence of FBI and Pentagon files documenting the surveillance of local mosques.