RBTH presents a selection of views from leading Russian media on the latest developments surrounding the July 17 Boeing 777 catastrophe in Ukraine’s Donetsk Region, in which Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was apparently shot down near the town of Shakhtarsk in an area controlled by pro-autonomy militias.


The Kommersant daily points out that the Malaysia Airlines disaster has not stopped the fighting between government troops and pro-autonomy militias in the east of Ukraine: A ceasefire is in place only in a small area at and in the vicinity of the crash site. A complete ceasefire covering the whole of the east of the country could not be agreed, the paper writes. Experts polled by Kommersant say that the military operation by Ukrainian troops is “not proceeding as successfully as commanders’ reports would indicate.” The main difficulties, according to the paper, have arisen along the southern section of the front, “where Kiev hopes to achieve the final victory.”


As a result of actions by the pro-autonomy militias, the Ukrainian force that tried to cut the self-proclaimed republics off from the border with Russia has itself been surrounded, Kommersant continues. The surrounded troops could be saved by a ceasefire along all sections of the front, which the militia commanders also realize. “That is probably why they have so far rejected all appeals for a lasting and comprehensive ceasefire voiced by the Ukrainian side and international mediators,” the paper concludes. Nezavisimaya Gazeta “The world is on the brink of the largest political crisis of recent decades,” reads an editorial in the centrist Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily. The paper describes the downing of the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet as “a prelude to the start of a new cold war.”


The paper points out that the facts available so far indicate that there are Buk surface-to-air missile systems in the conflict zone on both sides of the Ukrainian-Russian border. However, these systems are capable of hitting air targets only within a range of 50 km. “Since the downed Boeing fell on Ukrainian territory 50 km from the Ukrainian-Russian border, one can rule out that it was hit from Russian territory,” the paper says. It goes on to add that Kiev does not deny that Ukrainian Buk systems have been deployed on the Ukrainian-Russian border: The Ukrainian air defense systems were probably intended to counter possible aerial reconnaissance from the Russian side. Therefore the Malaysian Boeing may have been mistaken for a Russian Air Force aircraft, writes Nezavisimaya Gazeta. In addition, the paper continues, it is unlikely that pro-autonomy militants could have operated a Buk system as it requires specialist training and experience.


Most of the experts polled by NG conclude that the airliner was downed by mistake. “It is likely that this attack was not agreed with the senior leadership, who are now being caused immense stress by the possibility that the truth may be established. Support for those who murder civilians leaves no political chances for a reputation on an international scale,” the paper concludes. Expert  The Expert magazine gives a detailed account of the search operation at the crash site. It also points out that the UN Security Council is expected to vote in the near future on a draft resolution condemning the destruction of the Boeing 777.


The draft resolution, Expert continues, does not only call for “a comprehensive, thorough and independent international investigation in compliance with civil aviation standards” but also lists requirements for the pro-autonomy militias, urging them “to refrain from any actions that could jeopardize the crash site”. For their part, the magazine adds, the militiamen of the Donetsk People’s Republic have for three days now been guarding the crash scene and ensuring the safety of the OSCE observers working at the site. Vzglyad Experts polled by the Vzglyad newspaper claim that “senior figures in Ukraine and the West are using pseudo-facts surrounding the Malaysian Boeing crash.” The investigation into the downing of the Malaysian airliner is not yet over, the paper continues, but the alleged intercepted phone calls between pro-autonomy militiamen that have been posted on the internet have given the leadership of Ukraine and other countries cause to blame what happened on the militias and Russia.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes that “the White House, demanding an inquiry into the tragedy, is criticizing Moscow, which, in its view, has continuously aggravated the conflict in southeast Ukraine, supported the separatists, training and arming them.” According to the newspaper, the general opinion in the U.S. is that the missile was fired either by the militias or by Russian soldiers. The newspaper notes that America is not blaming Kiev, and that Ukraine has announced that in the entire conflict it has not fired any missiles capable of hitting a plane at a 33,000-foot altitude. says that the most likely explanation for the airplane crash in eastern Ukraine was the BUK anti-aircraft missile, which is the most powerful means of anti-aircraft defense, one that Ukraine inherited from the USSR and that has recently come into the militia’s possession. The newspaper analyzes the weapon’s technical characteristics in depth: The BUK anti-aircraft missile is one of Russian arms exporter Rosoboronexport’s most popular products. says that the missiles are sold in all CIS countries that used them in Soviet times.



Today the missiles are also used in countries such as Syria and Afghanistan. According to the publication, the missile system’s technical specifics allow it to hit a target at an altitude of up to 82,000 feet. Moreover, the system is mobile: It can be packed up in five minutes. “Qualified specialists are required to take aim with this system. In their hands the BUK can hit a target even at a distance of 40 kilometers [130,000 feet],” says While the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk has been saying that it lacks the weapons needed to shoot down a plane at such a high altitude, officials from the neighboring “People’s Republic” of Lugansk proposed another theory: the Malaysian Boeing 777 was shot down by the Ukrainian SU-25 jet, which was later shot down by the militias. However, the maximum altitude of the SU-25 is 16,500 feet, which makes this an unlikely version of events, says Vzglyad Vzglyad newspaper emphasizes that the “airplane fell precisely in the area of the most intense fighting between the Donetsk militias and the Ukrainian Army.

The Ukrainian government blames the militias for the anti-aircraft tragedy. However, arguments blaming the Ukrainian soldiers are more convincing, says the publication. Vzglyad notes that the Ukrainian press has already blamed the Donbass militias for the crash, saying that recently they have shot down two Ukrainian Air Force transportation planes. Moreover, the newspaper says that the BUK is a semiautomatic system, and human participation is minimal. “Therefore the militias could have easily mastered the technology, since they have people who worked with this system while serving in the Soviet and then the Ukrainian army,” Vzglyad suggests.




Malaysia Airlines plane crashes in Donetsk Region If it is so, then it is no longer the militias fighting the Ukrainian Air Force with anti-aircraft missiles that are the cause of the event, but rather “the western governments, who are encouraging Kiev to ‘establish order’ in eastern Ukraine, the newspaper believes. Military expert and editor-in-chief of National Defense magazine Igor Korotchenko suggests that “due to the personnel’s low qualification and miscalculations, the operator either accidentally or unintentionally launched the missile that shot down the Boeing.” Furthermore, Vzglyad’s expert says that earlier there was information of the militias having captured several BUK anti-aircraft missile launchers, yet officially the Ukrainian government announced that they were faulty and therefore had been intentionally removed from combat by the Ukrainian soldiers.

Source: Russia Beyond the Headlines –


DHAKA, Bangladesh—Rescue workers Friday pulled a female garment worker from the rubble of Rana Plaza after more than 16 days buried alive—among the longest periods anyone has survived such an ordeal.

The eight-story building, which housed five garment factories, collapsed April 24, killing more than 1,000 people, one of the worst-ever factory accidents.


Agence France-Presse/Getty ImagesBangladeshi rescuers retrieve garment worker Reshma Begum from the rubble of a collapsed building on May 10.

Long after hope of finding anyone alive had faded, army rescuers said they had broken through the mass of concrete and steel to a woman in her 20s.

She had fallen from the third floor into a Muslim prayer room into an air pocket in the basement, and remained alive by forcing a broken pipe up through a crack in the debris for ventilation, rescuers said.

Reshma Begum, who identified herself as a seamstress who worked on the third floor of Rana Plaza, had been banging the pipe against concrete to attract attention, after bulldozers had removed loose rubble that had been covering the area.

“I heard the sound and rushed towards the spot,” Abdur Razzaq, an army sergeant who was involved in the rescue, said in an interview. “I knelt down and heard a faint voice. ‘Sir, please help me,’ she cried.”

The rescue was broadcast live on national television. As she was lifted from the rubble, crowds that had gathered broke into cheers of “God is great!” Rescue workers wiped away tears.


“It’s a miraculous event,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said after visiting Ms. Begum in the hospital and congratulating the rescue teams.

Ms. Begum told rescuers she was unhurt and had survived by scavenging for food and bottled water in the backpacks of dead colleagues. She had been buried for 16 days and about seven hours during one of the hottest times of the year in Bangladesh, with temperatures reaching 95 degrees (35 degrees Celsius) and 80% humidity.

Her hair and face were covered in dirt as she carried out, wearing a purple and pink salwar-kameeze, and her scalp was showing where she had apparently lost big clumps of hair.

Doctors who attended her at a nearby military hospital said she was suffering from dehydration but otherwise appeared to have no major injuries.

At the hospital, a woman who identified herself as Ayesha Begum said Reshma was her sister.

“We’ve been waiting outside the building for two weeks,” said Ayesha Begum, flanked by another woman who identified herself as Reshma’s aunt. “We’d given up hope. God has brought her back for the sake of her little son.”

Reshma Begum came from the northern district of Dinajpur, according to Ayesha Begum. She said her sister had come to Dhaka four years ago to work in a garment factory so as to become more independent.

Reshma recently had separated from her husband and was bringing up her 5-year-old son, working as a seamstress in the New Wave Bottoms factory in Rana Plaza, she said.

The crowds around the disaster site had thinned in recent days, but on Friday evening, families clutching photos of missing loved ones were once again thronging the area hoping to see their relatives brought out alive.

“God is merciful,” said Afsar Ali, who said he was looking for his daughter. “We still have hope.”

There has been controversy in Bangladesh over the pace of the rescue operations. Right after the disaster, the Bangladesh government turned down an offer of help from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, a spokesman for the office said.

In the first few days, volunteers were heavily involved, some using their bare hands. People held up handwritten signs asking for donations of oxygen cylinders, drills and water bottles.

Some relatives of those missing, angered by the lack of heavy-lifting equipment, clashed with police at the site.

Later, the army, which now is coordinating efforts, moved in with bulldozers and other heavy machinery. They have defended the pace of the rescue efforts, saying they were careful not to go too quickly and kill possible survivors.

Maj. Gen. Hasan Suhrawardy, who is leading the army’s salvage operation, said the pace would now slow again, since Ms. Begum’s survival had raised hopes, however slight, that other survivors could be in the wreckage.

Bulldozers stopped plowing the debris for a few hours after Ms. Begum was discovered, before starting operations again gingerly under flashlights.

Briefing reporters at the building collapse site, Gen. Suhrawardy said: “Reshma is totally OK. She worked hard to keep herself alive. That is a very strong woman.”

The last known survivor before Friday was killed on April 28 by a fire set off inadvertently by rescuers who were trying to cut through to free her.

The tragedy has shocked Bangladesh and the world, putting pressure on the government and foreign brands to improve safety conditions in the country’s 5,000 factories.

Bangladesh is one of the world’s largest producers of garments, supplying major U.S. and European retailers. The industry produces some of the world’s cheapest clothes, paying workers monthly wage rates as low as $40, a quarter those of China’s.

The government this week has begun an inspection of the country’s factories. On Wednesday, the government forced 18 factories to shut while they carried out safety improvements, including three owned by the country’s largest exporter of garments.

There have been few instances of people surviving longer than 10 days after disasters like earthquakes, according to academic studies. In 2010, after the Haiti earthquake, a teenage girl was rescued 15 days after the disaster.

The United Nations, which coordinates disaster relief, normally calls of search and rescue operations after a week or so and shifts its focus to tending to survivors.

In the past 10 days, focus has shifted to recovering hundreds of bodies that lay under rubble. The death toll has jumped by about 100 each day since Saturday, as salvage workers found huge numbers of bodies on the ground floor and basement.

On Friday, the toll rose to 1,050 people.


By SYED ZAIN AL-MAHMOOD (May 10, 2013)

—Joe Lauria in New York contributed to this article. 

The Pentagon halted the use of mortar shells pending an investigation after a shell exploded during training in Nevada, killing eight Marines and injuring seven.


HAWTHORNE, Nevada — A mortar shell explosion killed eight U.S. Marines and injured seven more during mountain warfare training in the Nevada desert, prompting the Defense Department to halt the use of the weapons worldwide until an investigation can determine their safety, officials said Tuesday.

The explosion occurred Monday night at the Hawthorne Army Depot, a facility used by troops heading overseas. The rescue of the wounded Marines was complicated by the remoteness of the site, which is favored because the harsh geography simulates conditions in Afghanistan.

The mortar round exploded in its firing tube during the exercise, said Brigadier General Jim Lukeman at a news conference in North Carolina, where the Marines are based. He said investigators are trying to determine the cause of the malfunction.

The Pentagon expanded a temporary ban to prohibit the military from firing any 60mm mortar rounds until the results of the investigation. The Pentagon earlier had suspended use of all high-explosive and illumination mortar rounds that were in the same manufacturing lots as ones fired in Nevada

8 Marines killed in Nevada…

8 Marines killed in Nevada training exercise

It was not immediately clear whether more than a single round exploded, a Marine Corps official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official wasn’t authorized to speak about an ongoing investigation.

The Marine Corps said early Tuesday that seven Marines were killed. Eight men under the age of 30 were taken to Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno. One of them died, four were in serious condition, two were in fair condition and another was discharged, said spokesman Mark Earnest.

John Stroud, national junior vice commander in chief for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, began a memorial event in Hawthorne on Tuesday night by saying “one of the critical has passed,” bringing the death toll to eight. Mourners then laid eight floral arrangements at a park where a flag flew at half-staff within sight of the Hawthorne depot’s boundary.

Stroud said he spoke with Marine officers from Camp Lejune who gave him the news before the ceremony. Messages left for a spokesman for the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force were not immediately returned.

The force did issue a statement Tuesday evening saying an additional Marine has been reported as injured.

The identities of those killed won’t be released until 24 hours after their families are notified.

“We send our prayers and condolences to the families of Marines involved in this tragic incident,” said the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force commander, Maj. Gen. Raymond C. Fox. “We mourn their loss, and it is with heavy hearts we remember their courage and sacrifice.”

The 60mm mortar traditionally requires three to four Marines to operate, but it’s common during training for others to observe nearby. The firing tube a shell some 14 inches (355 millimeters) in length.

The mortar has changed little since World War II and remains one of the simplest weapons to operate, which is why it is found at the lowest level of infantry units, said Joseph Trevithick, a mortar expert with Global

Still, a number of things could go wrong, including a fuse malfunctioning, a problem with the barrel’s assembly or a round prematurely detonating inside the tube, Trevithick said.

The Marine Corps official said an explosion at the point of firing in a training exercise could kill or maim anyone inside or nearby the protective mortar pit and could concussively detonate any mortars stored nearby in a phenomenon known as “sympathetic detonation.”

The official said a worldwide moratorium after such an accident is not unusual and would persist until the investigation determines that the weapon did not malfunction in ways that would hurt other Marines or that mortars manufactured at the same time as the one involved in the accident were safe.

The moratorium could last for weeks or months.

The Hawthorne Army Depot stores and disposes of ammunition. It has held an important place in American military history since WWII, when it became the staging area for ammunition, bombs and rockets for the war.

Retired Nevada state archivist Guy Rocha said he was unaware of any other catastrophic event at the depot over the years it served as a munitions repository.

Associated Press writers Pauline Jelinek, Michelle Rindels and Ken Ritter contributed to this report.

 The search for what caused a massive, deadly explosion that rocked an Indianapolis neighborhood turned to natural gas Monday, with officials checking gas lines and a homeowner saying a problem furnace could be to blame.

The National Transportation Safety Board sent investigators to check gas main and other lines serving the neighborhood where two people were killed and seven injured in the weekend blast. Local gas supplier Citizens Energy said it also was checking gas lines and a meter at the home that exploded.

But officials cautioned that it was too soon to rule out other causes, saying only that they do not believe a meth lab was to blame for the explosion that obliterated two homes and severely damaged dozens of others.

“It’s too early to speculate that this might have been caused by a gas leak,” Citizens Energy spokeswoman Sarah Holsapple said at an afternoon news briefing.

The owner of one of the homes that was destroyed said there was a problem with the furnace in the last few weeks.

John Shirley, 50, of Noblesville told The Associated Press that he received a text message within the last week and a half from his daughter, who complained that the furnace in the home where she lived with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend had broken. The malfunction had forced them to stay in a hotel, the girl said.

When Shirley asked if the furnace had been fixed, his daughter said yes. He said he wasn’t aware of any additional problems until he heard from his daughter again Sunday morning.

“I get a text from my daughter saying ‘Dad, our home is gone.’ Then I called my ex-wife and she said what happened,” he said.

His ex-wife, Monserrate Shirley, declined to comment Monday.

Scott Davis, president and principal engineer of GexCon US, an explosion investigation firm, questioned whether a furnace could cause the type of damage seen in the neighborhood. Furnaces have multiple safety triggers that prevent them from releasing that much natural gas.

“For a furnace to allow that much gas through, you’d have to defeat many of the safety features,” he said.

Investigators said it could be some time before they determine a cause for the blast that sparked a massive fire, blew out windows, collapsed ceilings and shook homes up to three miles away.

“It’s a methodical investigation. You have to move one step at a time,” said Gary Coons, the city’s homeland security director.

Public Safety Director Troy Riggs said investigators will treat the area as a crime scene until they rule out foul play.

The blast forced about 200 people out of their homes in the once-tidy neighborhood of one- and two-story single-family houses. Some have been allowed to reoccupy their homes, and others have been escorted in to retrieve valuables and other belongings. Adam Collins, the city’s deputy code enforcement director, said 29 remained uninhabitable Monday.

Mark Karnes, whose house is four doors down from the blast site and suffered severe structural damage, hoped to retrieve clothes and look for his cat. But he also questioned the wisdom of going back inside the house given the extent of the damage.

“Because the walls bowed out and separated from the ceiling, I don’t think it’s safe,” he said.

The blast flattened the house Shirley co-owns with his ex-wife and one next door that belonged to second-grade teacher Jennifer Longworth and her husband, John. Indianapolis police said Monday the bodies of the pair were found in the basement of their home, which was leveled in the blast.

A candlelight vigil was held Sunday night at the school where Jennifer Longworth teaches. Her husband’s employer, consumer electronics company Indy Audio Labs, issued a statement Monday saying it was “saddened by the loss.”

Greenwood Community Schools Superintendent David Edds said Jennifer Longworth had taught at Southwest Elementary School for 12 years. Her husband had worked at Indy Audio Labs for 10 years and was director of product development and technology, according to the company.

John Shirley said Jennifer Longworth was quiet but funny and her husband was a huge Indianapolis Colts fan who maintained a garden of beautiful wildflowers along the side of the house.

“They were just very sweet people,” he said.

Indiana real estate records show Shirley’s house had been for sale for a year until it was taken off the market in March.

By CHARLES WILSON and TOM LoBIANCO | Associated Press – Nov.12

Associated Press researchers Lynn Dombek and Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.

It has often been said throughout time that a picture is worth a thousand words. Any picture may be worth a thousand words, but only a few rare photos tell more than a thousand words. They tell a powerful story, a story poignant enough to change the world and galvanize each of us. Over and over again…

Warning: Be prepared for images of violence and death (in one  case, the photograph of a dead child) if you scroll down.

10. Kosovo Refugees (Carol Guzy)


Carol Guzy, the first woman to receive a Pulitzer Prize for spot news photography, received her most recent Pulitzer in 2000 for her touching photographs of Kosovo refugees.

The above picture portrays Agim Shala, a two-year-old boy, who is passed through a fence made with barbed wire to his family. Thousands of Kosovo refugees were reunited and camped in Kukes, Albania.

9. War Underfoot (Carolyn Cole)


Los Angeles Times photographer Carolyn Cole took this terrifying photo during her assignment in Liberia. It shows the devastating effects of the Liberian Civil War.

Bullet casings cover entirely a street in Monrovia. The Liberian capital was the worst affected region, because it was the scene of heavy fighting between government soldiers and rebel forces.

8. Thailand Massacre (Neil Ulevich)


Neal Ulevich won the 1977 Pulitzer Prize for a “series of photographs of disorder and brutality in the streets of Bangkok, Thailand”  (

The Thammasat University Massacre took place on October 6, 1976. It was a very violent attack on students who were demonstrating against Field Marshall Thanom Kittikachorn.

F. M. T. Kittikachorn was a dictator who was planning to come back to Thailand. The return of the military dictator from exile provoked very violent protests. Protestors and students were beaten, mutilated, shot, hung and burnt to death.

7. After the Storm (Patrick Farrell)


Miami Herald photographer Patrick Farrell captured the harrowing images of the victims of Haiti in 2008. Farrell documented the Haitian tragedy with impressive black-and-white stills. The subject of “After the Storm” is a boy who is trying to save a stroller after the tropical storm Hanna struck Haiti.

More photos of Patrick Farrell: A People in Despair: Haiti’s year without mercy

6. The Power of One (Oded Balilty)


In 2006, Israeli authorities ordered the evacuation of illegal outposts, such as Amona. Oded Balilty, an Israeli photographer for the Associated Press, was present when the evacuation degenerated into violent and unprecedented clashes between settlers and police officers. The picture shows a brave woman rebelling against authorities.

Like many pictures on this list, “The Power of One” has been another subject of major controversy. Ynet Nili is the 16-year-old Jewish settler from the above picture. According to Ynet, “a picture like this one is a mark of disgrace for the state of Israel and is nothing to be proud of. The picture looks like it represents a work of art, but that isn’t what went on there. What happened in Amona was totally different.” Nili claims the police beat her up very harshly. “You see me in the photograph, one against many, but that is only an illusion – behind the many stands one man – (Prime Minister Ehud) Olmert, but behind me stand the Lord and the people of Israel.”

5. World Trade Center 9/11 (Steve Ludlum)


The power of Steve Ludlum’s photos are astounding, and the written description only tends to dilute the impact. The consequences of the second aircraft crashing into New York’s WTC were devastating: fireballs erupted and smoke billowed from the skyscrapers anticipating the towers’ collapse and monstrous dust clouds.

4. After the Tsunami (Arko Datta)

One of the most representative and striking photos of the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami was taken by Reuters photographer Arko Datta  in Tamil Nadu. He won the World Press Photo competition of 2004. Kathy Ryan, jury member and picture editor of  The New York Times Magazine, characterized Datta’s image as a “graphic, historical and starkly emotional picture.”

“After the Tsunami” illustrates an Indian woman lying on the sand with her arms outstretched, mourning a dead family member. Her relative was killed by one of the deadliest natural disasters that we have ever seen: the Indian Ocean tsunami.

3. Bhopal Gas Tragedy 1984 (Pablo Bartholomew)


Pablo Bartholomew is an acclaimed Indian photojournalist who captured the Bhopal Gas Tragedy into his lens. Twenty-six years have passed since India’s worst industrial catastrophe injured 558,125 people and killed as many as 15,000. Because safety standards and maintenance procedures had been ignored at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, a leak of methyl isocyanate  gas and other chemicals triggered a  massive environmental and human disaster. Photographer Pablo Bartholomew rushed to document the catastrophe. He came across a man who was burying a child. This scene was photographed by both Pablo Bartholomew and Raghu Rai, another renowned Indian photojournalist. “This expression was so moving and so powerful to tell the whole story of the tragedy”, said Raghu Rai.

2. Operation Lion Heart (Deanne Fitzmaurice)


Pulitzer Prize award winning photojournalist Deanne Fitzmaurice won the highly respected award in 2005 for the photographic essay “Operation Lion Heart.”

“Operation Lion Heart” is the story of a 9-year-old Iraqi boy who was severely injured by an explosion during one of the most violent conflicts of modern history – the Iraq War. The boy was brought to a hospital in Oakland, CA where he had to undergo dozens of life-and-death surgeries. His courage and unwillingness to die gave him the nickname: Saleh Khalaf, “Lion Heart”.

Deanne Fitzmaurice’s shocking photographs ran in the San Francisco Chronicle in a five-part series written by Meredith May.

1. Tragedy of Omayra Sanchez (Frank Fourier)

Frank Fournier captured the tragic image of Omayra Sanchez trapped in mud and collapsed buildings. The eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano in Colombia 1985 triggered a massive mudslide. It devastated towns and killed 25,000 people.

After 3 days of struggling, Omayra died due to hypothermia and gangrene. Her tragic death accentuated the failure of officials to respond quickly and save the victims of Colombia’s worst ever natural disaster. Frank Fournier took this photo shortly before Omayra died. Her agonizing death was followed live on TV by hundreds of millions of people around the world and started a major controversy. May her soul rest in peace…


* Source:

TOKYO — With the abrupt death of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, the fate of his isolated, nuclear-armed regime has dropped into the hands of his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, who is such an unknown that the world did not even know for sure what he looked like until last year.
But the biggest enigma may be whether the younger Mr. Kim will be able to hold onto power in this last bastion of hard-line Communism, much less prevent its impoverished economy from collapsing.

 For now, the reclusive regime is acting true to form, offering few clues as to what, if any, changes the death of the dictator could bring. It does, however, appear to be offering the first glimmers of an answer to one question that has long dogged North Korea watchers: whether the powerful military and other parts of the nation’s small, privileged ruling elite would go along with the Kim family’s ambitions to extend its dynastic rule to a third generation.

Within hours of the announcement on Monday of his father’s death, North Korea’s ruling Workers Party released a statement calling on the nation to unite “under the leadership of our comrade Kim Jong-un.”

The younger Mr. Kim was also named head of the committee that will oversee his father’s funeral on Dec. 28 — a move that some analysts interpreted as evidence that the transfer of power to the son was proceeding smoothly, at least in the first days. Analysts said they expect the funeral to be an elaborate public display, not only of reverence for the deceased leader, but also of national unity behind the new one.


“The first test of the new leadership will be its handling of the death itself,” said John Delury, a professor of international studies at Yonsei University in Seoul.
Some analysts said Kim Jong-il had used the three years after his first brush with mortality, a stroke in 2008, to successfully build up support for this untested son, who is believed to be in his late 20s. They also said North Korea’s ruling class might also recognize that, at least for now, they have no choice but to accept the succession: the elder Mr. Kim’s two older sons are seen as lazy playboys, while any move to reject the Kim family could undo the legitimacy of the entire regime.

“Kim Jong-il used the years after his stroke to build a consensus among the elite that his son would be the face of North Korea after he was gone,” said Kim Yeon-su, a professor of North Korean studies at the National Defense University in Seoul. He added that this was an easy face to sell: with plump cheeks, short-cropped hair and a hard gaze, Kim Jong-un looks strikingly similar to his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, the regime’s founder, who is still revered as a god.
But what happens after the funeral remains anyone’s guess.

The only precedent is the last transition in the current ruling dynasty, when Kim Jong-il took over after the 1994 death of his father, Kim Il-sung. In that case, the son observed a three-year period of traditional mourning before formally taking over control of the nation, a move that reflects the regime’s odd mixing of the trappings of ancient Confucian monarchy with a 20th-century Stalinist cult of personality.

With the death of Kim Jong-il, most analysts expect the younger Mr. Kim to observe a similar period of mourning, which he will probably use to quickly consolidate his power. While his father had a decade to build support between being named as heir and actually taking power, Kim Jong-un was publicly presented as successor just last year, though analysts say he may have been named within the ruling party in January 2009.

He made his first public appearance on last year’s Sept. 9 anniversary of the founding of North Korea, observing a military parade with his father.
Masao Okonogi, a specialist on North Korea at Keio University in Tokyo, said that during the new leader’s first few years, North Korea would most likely shy away from confrontation with the United States and its allies, like South Korea. This is what Kim Jong-il did after he replaced his father, said Mr. Okonogi. He seemed to hold out an olive branch by observing a 1994 deal negotiated by his father to freeze construction of two reactors suspected of use in the North’s covert atomic weapons program. The North eventually suspended the deal in 2003, three years before testing its first nuclear weapon.
“Look for Kim Jong-un to make some offer, like to restart the Six-Party talks,” Mr. Okonogi said, referring to stalled multilateral negotiations on dismantling the North’s nuclear weapons. “He’ll need to reduce tensions with the United States in order to buy time.”

Given Kim Jong-un’s relatively weak domestic position, Mr. Okonogi and other analysts said some kind of group rule could emerge. Much speculation has centered on whether Kim Jong-il’s apparent second-in-command, his brother-in-law, Jang Song-taek, could emerge as a regent. However, analysts said there were no signs of that on Monday in the propaganda that followed Kim Jong-il’s death.

Beyond that, analysts said there are signs that Kim Jong-un has already begun building up an independent if still limited power base, particularly within the military. Last year, the younger Mr. Kim was proclaimed a four-star general by his father, who also named him vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, the country’s most powerful body. Mr. Kim also appeared to burnish his credentials with the military by overseeing the suspected attack last year on a South Korean warship and the artillery bombardment of a border island.

Mr. Kim of the National Defense University said that Mr. Kim has also been cultivating his own connections in the North Korean military, including Lt. Gen. Kim Yong-chol, 65, a well-known hard-liner of defense issues and head of military intelligence, who appears to serve as a mentor to the young leader. Some analysts said there are also signs that the new leader has already begun purging senior military staff with a younger generation of officers in their 30s and 40s.
“This new generation will be beholden to Kim Jong-un for its power,” said Chang Yong-seok, senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University.

But this could also leave Mr. Kim beholden to the military, which may cast doubt on one of the biggest long-term questions about the new North Korean leadership: whether it will be able to bring some sort of change to the decrepit regime and its failing state-run economy.
Still, Mr. Chang and other analysts said a change of generation might bring a re-evaluation of the North’s isolation. They say that growing numbers of North Korean officials are visiting neighboring China to see the success of its three-decade embrace of market economics under an authoritarian regime. Recent visitors to North Korea say there are already signs of a growing commercial links with China, including a new class of wealthy traders and a budding influx of Chinese-made consumer goods.

“The new leadership knows it will have to prove its mettle in the first few years,” said Mr. Delury, who visited Pyongyang in September. “Economic reform will be the single biggest challenge it faces.”

 By MARTIN FACKLER , December 19, 2011




Diane Ackerman is the author of “One Hundred Names for Love” and “The Zookeeper’s Wife.”                                 

GOLDILOCKS is alive in the constellation Vela. Her real name is HD 85512b, which may not roll off the tongue, but it’s sheer poetry to the ears of sky watchers like me, who long for signs of an Earth-like planet that might harbor life.

This newly discovered planet orbits its sun in what’s called the “Goldilocks,” or habitable zone, at the right distance for liquid water to sparkle on the surface and life to bloom in the shallows. Life as we know it, anyway, with wings and dreams, if the planet has a rocky surface — and isn’t too hot or too cold — as well as a tent of clouds for shade.

That’s a lot of ifs, which is why other candidates have been scarce. This is our best hope, though she’s 36 light-years away, beyond the reach of our spacecrafts or clear view of present telescopes, but well within the imagination. Her temperatures may range from 85 to 120 degrees, which conjures up images of equatorial Africa, or much of the hot, muggy United States this past July.

The past month has been a marvel in the planetary world. In addition to HD 85512b, astronomers spotted a planet that may be fashioned entirely of diamond, a brilliant diadem set in the black velvet of space. For all we know, it has baguette moons in tow. And a few weeks later, planet hunters confirmed the discovery of Kepler-16b, a planet that circles two suns in the constellation Cygnus.

In the “Star Wars” saga, Luke Skywalker hailed from such a world, Tatooine, where he paused from work on his uncle’s moisture farm to enjoy a smoldery suns-set. Until now a stable planet orbiting twin suns was science fiction, strictly hints and hunches. Wouldn’t the quarreling gravity of two suns shear the planet apart, swallow it whole, or hurtle it off into space? Apparently not. Such solar systems, with winking suns that eclipse one another every few weeks, may be common throughout the universe. That’s the best thing about discovery, how it widens the mind’s eye, refines the scope of our inquiries.

However, we won’t be glimpsing these worlds anytime soon, I’m afraid. If we want to explore in fine detail, we’ll need better eyes in the sky and faster robotic spaceships. I’m for both. Despite all the problems that beset us, we’re on the threshold of a new era of exploration and discovery. Scientists are asking thrilling questions, like: what existed before the universe? How did we get from the Big Bang to the whole shebang? Can we design spaceships that fly faster than the speed of light? Do other planetarians haunt the wilderness of space, or are we alone? I hope we’ll continue sending scouts around our solar system, and use the planets as stepping stones to the stars.

This is not a new goal, but one of humanity’s oldest yearnings. Every society has been tantalized by the great loom of the sky with its flowing quilt of stars. The Egyptian pyramids may have been arranged like the belt stars of Orion, pointing to Sirius, so that the pharaoh’s soul would be launched into the heavens where he’d shimmer as a star. To the San people in the Kalahari, the Milky Way is the “backbone of night.”

In the 20th century, we sent robot emissaries to explore the solar system and voyage deep into space. With the cupped ears of radio telescopes, we began listening for voices from other worlds. We rode fierce winds to the Moon and looked back in wonder, amazed to see Earth whole. Viewed from space, Earth had no visible fences, military zones or national borders. But it did have the thinnest rind — an atmosphere embracing the sky, weather systems and all of human history. That image from an Apollo mission changed everything.

We’re explorers by design, right down to our cells, and we thrive on quests. Stars flare like distant campfires overhead, and we wonder if they’re home to other worlds like our own. Or made of diamond. I’m hoping NASA will continue to find the boosters it needs, because our compass points to the stars.

* October 1, 2011, By DIANE ACKERMAN

Feeling her Toyota Mark X station wagon lurch forward at a busy intersection, Masako Sakai slammed on the brakes. But the pedal “had gone limp,” she said. Downshifting didn’t seem to work either.

“I tried everything I could think of,” Mrs. Sakai, 64, said, as she recently recalled the accident that happened six months ago.
Her car surged forward nearly 3,000 feet before slamming into a Mercedes Benz and a taxi, injuring drivers in both those vehicles and breaking Mrs. Sakai’s collarbone.
As shaken as she was by the accident, Mrs. Sakai says she was even more surprised by what happened after. She says that Toyota — from her dealer to headquarters — has not responded to her inquiries, and Japanese authorities have been indifferent to her concerns as a consumer.

Mrs. Sakai says the Tokyo Metropolitan Police urged her to sign a statement saying that she pressed the accelerator by mistake — something she strongly denies. She says the police told her she could have her damaged car back to get it repaired if she made that admission. She declined.
The police say it was a misunderstanding and that they kept her car to carry out their investigation.
But veterans of Japan’s moribund consumer rights movement say that Mrs. Sakai, like many Japanese, is the victim of a Japanese establishment that values Japanese business over Japanese consumers, and the lack of consumer protections here.

“In Japan, there is a phrase: if something smells, put a lid on it,” said Shunkichi Takayama, a Tokyo-based lawyer who has handled complaints related to Toyota vehicles.

Toyota has recalled eight million cars outside Japan because of unexpected acceleration and other problems, but has insisted that there are no systemic problems with its cars sold in Japan. The company recalled the Prius for a brake problem earlier this year.

Critics say many companies benefit from Japan’s weak consumer protections. (The country has only one full-time automobile recall investigator, supported by 15 others on limited contracts.)

In a case in the food industry, a meat processor called Meat Hope collapsed in 2008 after revelations that it had mixed pork, mutton and chicken bits into products falsely labeled as pure ground beef, all under the noses of food inspectors.

A 2006 police inquiry into gas water heaters made by the manufacturer Paloma found that a defect had resulted in the deaths of 21 people over 10 years from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Paloma initially insisted that users had tampered with the heaters’ safety device; the company ultimately admitted that the heaters were at fault — and that executives had been aware of a potential problem for more than a decade. Executives are now being charged with professional negligence, and a court verdict is due in May.
When it comes to cars, the rapid growth of the auto industry here and of car ownership in the 1960s and ’70s was accompanied by a spate of fatal accidents. A consumer movement soon emerged among owners of these defective vehicles.

The most active was the Japan Automobile Consumers Union, led by Fumio Matsuda, a former Nissan engineer often referred to as the Ralph Nader of Japan. But the automakers fought back with a campaign discrediting the activists as dangerous agitators. Mr. Matsuda and his lawyer were soon arrested and charged with blackmail. They fought the charges to Japan’s highest court, but lost.

Now, few people are willing to take on the country’s manufacturers at the risk of arrest, Mr. Matsuda said in a recent interview. “The state sided with the automakers, not the consumers,” he said.

It has become difficult for drivers to access even the most elementary data or details on incidents of auto defects, says Hiroko Isomura, an executive at the National Association of Consumer Specialists and a former adviser to the government on auto recalls. “Unfortunately, the Automobile Consumers Union was shut down,” she said. “No groups like that exist any more.”

For the government to order a recall, it must prove that automobiles do not meet national safety standards, which is difficult to do without the automakers’ cooperation. Most recalls are done on a voluntary basis without government supervision.
An examination of transport ministry records by The New York Times found that at least 99 incidents of unintended acceleration or surge in engine rotation had been reported in Toyotas since 2001, of which 31 resulted in some form of collision.

Critics like Mr. Takayama charge that the number of reports of sudden acceleration in Japan would be bigger if not for the way many automakers in Japan, helped by reticent regulators, have kept such cases out of official statistics, and out of the public eye.
In 2008, about 6,600 accidents and 30 deaths were blamed on drivers of all kinds of vehicles mistakenly pushing the accelerator instead of the brakes, according to the Tokyo-based Institute for Traffic Accident Research and Data Analysis.
But Mr. Takayama has long argued that number includes cases of sudden acceleration. “It has become the norm here to blame the driver in almost any circumstance,” he said.
“Regulators have long accepted the automakers’ assertions at face value,” said Yukiko Seko, a retired lawmaker of the Japan Communist Party who pursued the issue in Parliament in 2002.

The police strongly deny pressuring drivers to accept the blame in any automobile accident. “All investigations into auto accidents are conducted in a fair and transparent way,” the Tokyo Metropolitan Police said in response to an inquiry by The Times.
Figuring out who is really to blame can be hard because of Japan’s lack of investigators.
Japan’s leniency has also meant that automakers here have routinely ignored even some of the safety standards for cars sold in the United States. Until the early 1990s, Japanese cars sold domestically lacked the reinforcing bars in car walls required of all vehicles sold in the United States. Critics say skimping on safety was one way automakers generated profits in Japan to finance their export drive abroad.

A handful of industry critics like Mr. Takayama and Ms. Seko have, over the years, voiced concern over cases of sudden acceleration in Toyota and other cars in Japan. Under scrutiny especially after the introduction of automatic transmission cars in the late 1980s, Toyota recalled five models because a broken solder was found in its electronics system, which could cause unintended acceleration.

In 1988 the government ordered a nationwide study and tests, and urged automakers to introduce a fail-safe system to make sure the brakes always overrode the accelerator. This month, more than 20 years later, Toyota promised to install a brake override system in all its new models.
Meanwhile, Toyota maintains a large share on the Japanese market, with about 30 percent. The Prius gas-electric hybrid remained the top-selling car in Japan in February despite the automaker’s global recalls, figures released Thursday showed.

But Japan’s pro-industry postwar order may be changing.
In 2009, in one of the last administrative moves by the outgoing government, a new consumer affairs agency was set up to better police defective products, unsafe foods and mislabeling.

The new government’s transport minister, Seiji Maehara, has been outspoken against Toyota.
He said last week that he would push to revamp the country’s oversight of the auto industry, including adding more safety investigators. The government has also said it was examining 38 complaints of sudden acceleration in Toyotas reported from 2007 through 2009, as well as 96 cases in cars produced by other automakers.

Toyota continues to deny there are problems with unintended acceleration in Japan.
“Yes, there have been incidents of unintended acceleration in Japan,” Shinichi Sasaki, Toyota’s quality chief, said at a news conference last week. “But we believe we have checked each incident and determined that there was no problem with the car,” he said.
Mrs. Sakai said she has called and visited her Toyota dealer, as well as Toyota Motor itself, but has not received a response.

A Toyota spokeswoman, Mieko Iwasaki, confirmed that the automaker had been contacted about complaints of a crash caused by sudden acceleration in September. She said, however, that she could not divulge details of how the company handled each case.
“We are investigating the accident alongside the police, and are cooperating fully with investigations,” she said. “Anything we find, we will tell the police.”
Makiko Inoue and Yasuko Kamiizumi contributed from Tokyo.


For children and innocent people who are suffering from this natural disaster in Haiti, I think all of us, we can help them, we must do so out of solidarity and love our neighbor (Brother). Further details will be in the coming weeks, but today we must help them quickly.
Here I share some Internet addresses (below)
So long.

Carlos Tiger without time (CTsT)

American Red Cross

World Vision


Doctors Without Borders

Although seismic predictions work on geologic timescales and can miss big quakes by decades, one expert said last week that a temblor in Port-au-Prince was of greater concern than a San Andreas slip

The devastating magnitude 7.0 quake that ripped through Haiti Tuesday, reportedly killing thousands, did not catch everyone by surprise.

In an interview last week for an unrelated story, Robert Yeats, a professor emeritus in geoscience at Oregon State University in Corvallis and co-author of a June 1989 article for Scientific American “Hidden Earthquakes,” said that an imminent big west coast earthquake concerned him far less than a “big one” that might occur in Haiti, due to the large fault near the capital city of Port-au-Prince—and the poverty-driven low level of earthquake-preparedness there.

“If they have an earthquake on this fault that runs through Port-au-Prince,” the death toll would be tremendous, he said January 6.

The fault, called the Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden Fault, runs some 16 kilometers from Port-au-Prince and is at the intersection of the North American and Caribbean tectonic plates, which are slowly sliding past one another. This movement creates a strike-slip fault, the same kind as the San Andreas Fault in California, where the North American and Pacific plates are sliding in different directions. And like the San Andreas, the Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden Fault has been building up pressure.

“The fault has been more or less locked for 200 years,” British Geological Survey seismologist Roger Musson explained to TIME. In this area, where the Caribbean plate is moving east against the North American Plate, plate movement is about seven millimeters per year, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said.

In fact, Michael Blanpied, an associate coordinator for the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program, explained in a podcast recorded hours after the quake, the two plates are “shearing the island, crushing it, grinding it.” So although such a large earthquake has not shaken Haiti since the 18th century, “this is quite an earthquake-prone region,” Blanpied said. And it is not the biggest quake to hit the Island of Hispaniola (which Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic) in recent history. A magnitude 8.0 earthquake rocked the Dominican Republic in 1946, the Associated Press noted.

Yeats was not the only one to raise concern about a large earthquake in Haiti. Geologic groups have been monitoring the area for decades, and a University of Texas team has been keeping a close eye on the Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden Fault. Two years ago at the 2008 Caribbean Geological Conference, the Austin-based group asserted that there was enough stress built up to cause a magnitude 7.2 earthquake, Nature News reported (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group).

One reason the Tuesday quake, which subjected some three million people to “severe shaking,” was so damaging is that it occurred at a relatively shallow depth, the fault having ruptured about 10 kilometers below the surface, Blanpied noted. It also occurred below relatively loose ground, Carrieann Bedwell, a USGS geophysicist, told LiveScience. “A mountainous and rocky setting is more characteristic of not as much ground shaking, opposed to abundant sediments…where there’s a potential for higher ground shaking,” he said. “Haiti would be a more sediment type, more severe ground-shaking geologic setting.”

Although the earthquake has leveled countless buildings in the capital city of more than two million people—and triggered landslides throughout the heavily deforested region—it did not spur a tsunami as was initially feared for at sizeable Caribbean quake, and authorities canceled a tsunami watch two hours after the earthquake itself.

But magnitude and shake dynamics are not what really concerned Yeats and other seismologists. “It’s really not the size of the earthquake that’s the big concern,” he noted last week, “it’s its relationship to big cities.” And an earthquake in this area was particularly worrisome, not just because of the tension-filled fault, but because “the infrastructure there is just terrible,” said Yeats, who is also a senior consultant for geological hazards company, Earth Consultants International, and has studied earthquake preparedness around the world. In a book called Active Faults of the World that he is currently writing for Cambridge University Press, he estimated several months ago that “the poor state of construction in both [Haiti and the Dominican Republic], but especially Haiti, indicates that when the next large earthquakes strikes either [Port-au-Prince or Santo Domingo], it will be a catastrophe, in part because of the lack of a social-services network.”

The Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden Fault is one of dozens around the world that run through populous, but often poorly prepared, areas. Last week, Yeats also called the city of Tehran “a time bomb that is waiting to go off.” The North Tehran Fault could unleash an earthquake similarly massive to the one anticipated to strike southern California in the coming decades. But in the Iranian capital, he says, despite advanced regional technology, many of the buildings are not shake-proof.

Other worrisome locales, he notes, are Lima, Peru, and Karachi, Pakistan, as well as and much of Turkey, where many areas are either unsafely built due to corruption or poverty.

Whether last weekend’s 6.5 magnitude temblor off the coast of Northern California’s Humboldt County and the Haiti earthquake two days later are linked is yet to be determined. Seismologists now widely recognize that a large earthquake in one place can trigger another vulnerable fault thousands of miles away. Yeats calls it the “pulling the buttons off your shirt” idea—by releasing tension on one stressed point, the force shifts and can rupture another “locked” point. “You pull one button off,” he said, “and the next one is ready to go.” A paper published last October in Nature reported the large 2004 seismic events near the Indonesian island Sumatra that spurred the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami had an impact on the San Andreas fault in California.

In the meantime, seismologists will be watching Haiti closely, Blanpied noted in the USGS podcast, and they expect to see aftershocks for days to come. The largest aftershocks so far have already rumbled in at magnitude 5.9, and more could strike at any time.

And Yeats is not convinced that this latest quake at Haiti is the most severe one the Caribbean is likely to see in the near future. “It’s not the big one,” he said in a January 13 follow-up interview. He added he is now worried that a larger one could hit other cities in the region, such as Santa Domingo in the Dominican Republic or Kingston, Jamaica. The Caribbean Plate, he noted, is “just sort of sitting there while the North American and South American plates move” west (due to sea floor spreading in the Atlantic). But the next big earthquake could be years or decades from now, he said. “We’re good at placing these forecasts and probabilistic terms on a geological time scale, but we’re not good at putting it at scales that matter to you and me.” And even probability forecasts can turn out to be wrong. The southern San Andreas was pegged as likely to produce a major earthquake before this one was, he noted.


* By Katherine Harmon, News – January 13, 2010

The six souls claimed by the New Year’s Day fire at Oscar and Michelle Smith Wilson’s Brookland home were part of an extended family, bound by blood, love, struggle and hope. Yesterday, for a few hours, that family grew into the thousands who came to pay their respects.


They filled Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church on Rhode Island Avenue NE to say goodbye to the Wilsons’ youngest son, Oscar Wilson III, 11; to his 10-year-old cousin, Joseph Wilson Jr; to Kaniya Gantt, 4, and her parents, Tawana Gantt, 22, and Keith Nelson, 23; and to Charles Smith, Michelle Wilson’s father, who was 72.
A single tragic death can send ripples of grief deep into a community. Six at once forms a wave that can devastate.
“Do I have any believers in the room? Do I have any believers in the room?” asked Bishop Alfred A. Owens, shortly after funeral directors gently closed the six white coffins lined up under the pulpit for a viewing that lasted almost three hours.
“This is still the day the Lord has made,” Owens said.
A full-throated wail rang from near the front row. Church ushers dressed in white walked the aisles with fans and tissue boxes.
As family, friends, clergy and dignitaries spoke, it was a chance for the more than 2,000 in attendance to remember the dead, both as a group and as individuals with their own hopes, dreams and challenges.

Charles Smith, a retired auto mechanic, was a generous man who liked to travel. He struggled with dementia in his final years, but daughter Michelle refused to place him in a nursing home, wanting him instead to stay with his grandchildren and other loved ones.


Keith Nelson was the life of the party who dressed up as the Joker at Halloween and dreamed of a music career. Born in the depths of the District’s crack wars in the mid-1980s, he easily could have been one of its victims.
“He could have chosen the devilish path, but he decided to choose the path of God,” said his uncle, Michael Brooks. “It wasn’t easy in D.C. to walk the right road.”
He was devoted to his partner, Tawana Gantt, the daughter of one of Oscar Wilson’s best friends. “Wani Wan” to those who knew her best, she’d begun a promising career in District government as an aide to D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5).
“I used to call her my little chocolate chip with a smile,” Thomas said.
Their daughter, Kaniya, brought her mother’s infectious smile to Noyes Elementary School. “Just give us the strength to get through this,” said her godmother, Erica Davis.
Joseph Wilson Jr., the adopted son of Oscar and Michelle, loved to wrestle and talk trash. He’d also discovered girls by age 11, and family members joked that they could smell his cologne from a mile away. Oscar Wilson III, Oscar and Michelle’s son, loved to dominate the video game controller and stand in the kitchen while his mother was cooking and sneak food when she wasn’t looking.
It was a family that held together when falling apart would have been understandable. The Wilsons’ 17-year-old daughter, Taleshia Ford, was killed in 2007 by a stray bullet from a gun brought to a Northwest nightclub by another patron. It happened during a scuffle with a bouncer.
Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) told mourners that many people would have cut themselves off from the community after such a loss. Instead, the Wilsons fought for passage of a District law that required tightened security in clubs that serve alcohol and admit anyone younger than 21.
“They didn’t withdraw,” Graham said. “They stayed with the issue at the council. They came to hearing after hearing, and hearing after hearing.” The Taleshia Ford Memorial Amendment Act of 2007 passed under Graham’s sponsorship.

The funeral had the trappings of a state affair. Traffic up and down Rhode Island Avenue slowed to a crawl for a mile in each direction from the church. A D.C. police honor guard was on hand. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who attended the viewing, ordered flags on District government buildings flown at half-staff. D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), who attended the funeral, dedicated his monthly youth hearing yesterday afternoon to Tawana Gantt.
At 2 p.m., after a two-hour service, the coffins were transported to Fort Lincoln Cemetery in Brentwood. More than 150 vehicles followed the hearses in the chilly, overcast afternoon.

* By Bill Turque ;Washington Post Staff Writer,Sunday, January 11, 2009

Manhattan prosecutors are expected to announce manslaughter charges on Monday against the rigger who was overseeing the raising of a tower crane on the East Side last year when it collapsed, killing seven, according to people briefed on the case.

The rigger, William Rapetti, has also been charged with criminally negligent homicide, reckless endangerment and second-degree assault in the spectacular disaster, in which the 22-story crane plunged across East 51st Street, piercing one building and tearing terraces off another, the people said. The accident, on March 15, played out across a two-block swath of the Turtle Bay neighborhood, leaving two dozen people injured and the streets strewn with rubble.


The charges — including seven counts each of second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide — are contained in an indictment that is expected to be unsealed on Monday, the people said. Mr. Rapetti’s company, Rapetti Rigging Services, will also be charged, the people said. All spoke on the condition of anonymity because the charges remained sealed.

Mr. Rapetti, 48, of Massapequa Park, N.Y., was set to surrender on Monday morning, said his lawyer, Arthur L. Aidala, who noted that five of the seven people who died were friends of his client’s, men working with him on the crane that day.

Mr. Aidala said he was confident that Mr. Rapetti, an expert in the operation and rigging of tower cranes, would be cleared. “He did nothing wrong, and operated at that site in a way that is beyond reproach,” Mr. Aidala said.

The indictment, the result of an investigation by the office of the Manhattan district attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau, represents the first criminal charges stemming directly from a spate of fatal accidents involving tower cranes last year.

Alicia Maxey Greene, a spokeswoman for Mr. Morgenthau’s office, declined to comment on the case.

The March 15 collapse, and a second fatal collapse two months later, led to the resignation of the city’s building commissioner and the arrests of its chief crane inspector, one of his subordinates and a crane company owner on corruption charges unrelated to the collapses — cases that resulted from the scrutiny following the accident.

The second collapse, on East 91st Street on May 31, remains under investigation by the Rackets Bureau in Mr. Morgenthau’s office, the same group of prosecutors that is handling the case against Mr. Rapetti and that brought the corruption cases, one law enforcement official has said.

The two accidents, coupled with a series of disclosures about missteps by city agencies and others in the fatal fire at the former Deutsche Bank building in 2007, exposed the deeply flawed operations of the Buildings Department. In particular, the crane collapses focused attention on the department’s troubled Cranes and Derricks Division, where a handful of inspectors, some lacking in experience, were overwhelmed by the workload brought on by the city’s building boom.

The charges against Mr. Rapetti stem from what one person briefed on the case said were “reckless and negligent rigging practices,” which caused the failure of four nylon slings that were being used to hoist a huge square steel crane component to the top of the crane. The component, called a collar, was being moved to raise the crane higher to continue construction, a process known as jumping the crane.

Mr. Rapetti also failed to follow the crane manufacturer’s specification that the collar be supported by eight slings, the person briefed on the case said.

One sling had “substantial pre-existing damage, including cuts and severe dislocation” that would have been readily apparent to Mr. Rapetti had he inspected it before use, as the building code and federal regulations require, the person said.

When the slings ripped and the collar broke free at the 18th floor, it plunged down the side of the crane, smashing into a second collar and shearing it from the building before landing on top of a third collar near the crane’s base, destabilizing the tower. The weight of the crane’s cab then pulled the tower down.

In September, federal regulators accused Rapetti Rigging Services of failing to inspect the slings, remove a defective sling from service, protect the slings and comply with the crane manufacturer’s specifications when raising or lowering the crane.

Those citations, by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, carried penalties totaling $220,000 and included three willful violations, the most severe issued by the agency.

Mr. Rapetti had been cooperating with OSHA’s investigation, said his lawyer, Mr. Aidala, who added that Mr. Rapetti came from a family of crane operators and had worked on the machines since he was a youth.

He noted that Mr. Rapetti worked at ground zero operating a giant crane from the day after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack until late that year, a job he won because of his skill and experience.

By WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM, January 5, 2009, NYT.

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