White House strikes back on Death Star petition

Updated 12 January 2013
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White House strikes back on Death Star petition

WASHINGTON: The Obama administration dashed the hopes of Star Wars geeks across the galaxy by rejecting an official petition calling for the US government to build a Death Star, the fictional planet-destroying space station featured in the Star Wars movies. “The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn’t on the horizon,” said Paul Shawcross, head of the White House budget office’s science and space branch.
“The Administration does not support blowing up planets,” Shawcross wrote in a response to the 34,435 people who signed the petition on the White House website. The White House accepts petitions and responds to the most popular ones. Most of the petitions on the website address weighty policy issues.
But in recent weeks, national attention has been drawn to quirky petitions, such as one that supports the minting of a trillion-dollar platinum coin to avoid a debt default if Congress fails to raise the US debt limit next month. “The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $ 850,000,000,000,000,000. We’re working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it,” Shawcross said.


Rickshaw pullers fade from India’s streets

Updated 27 April 2018
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Rickshaw pullers fade from India’s streets

KOLKATA: Mohammad Maqbool Ansari puffs and sweats as he pulls his rickshaw through Kolkata’s teeming streets, a veteran of a gruelling trade long outlawed in most parts of the world and slowly fading from India too.
Kolkata is one of the last places on earth where pulled rickshaws still feature in daily life, but Ansari is among a dying breed still eking a living from this back-breaking labor.
The 62-year-old has been pulling rickshaws for nearly four decades, hauling cargo and passengers by hand in drenching monsoon rains and stifling heat that envelops India’s heaving eastern metropolis.
Their numbers are declining as pulled rickshaws are relegated to history, usurped by tuk tuks, Kolkata’s signature yellow taxis and modern conveniences like Uber.
Ansari cannot imagine life for Kolkata’s thousands of rickshaw-wallahs if the job ceased to exist.
“If we don’t do it, how will we survive? We can’t read or write. We can’t do any other work. Once you start, that’s it. This is our life,” he tells AFP.
Sweating profusely on a searing hot day, his singlet soaked and face dripping, Ansari skilfully weaves his rickshaw through crowded markets and bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Wearing simple shoes and a chequered sarong, the only real giveaway of his age is his long beard, snow white and frizzy, and a face weathered from a lifetime plying this disappearing trade.
Twenty minutes later, he stops, wiping his face on a rag. The passenger offers him a glass of water — a rare blessing — and hands a note over.
“When it’s hot, for a trip that costs 50 rupees ($0.75) I’ll ask for an extra 10 rupees. Some will give, some don’t,” he said.
“But I’m happy with being a rickshaw puller. I’m able to feed myself and my family.”