Saturday, January 31, 2009

George Obama in jail

George Obama, the half brother of U.S. President Barack Obama, has been arrested by Kenyan police on a charge of possession of marijuana, police said Saturday.
Inspector Augustine Mutembei, the officer in charge, said Obama was arrested on charges of possession of cannabis, known in Kenya as Bhang, and resisting arrest. He is scheduled to appear in court Monday, Mutembei said.
He is being held at Huruma police post in the capital of Nairobi.
Correspondent David McKenzie talked with George Obama at the jail where he is being held. Speaking from behind bars, Obama denied the allegations.
"They took me from my home," he said, "I don't know why they are charging me."
George Obama and the president barely know each other, though they have met before. George Obama was one of the president's few close relatives who did not go to the inauguration in Washington last week.
In his memoir, "Dreams from My Father," Barack Obama describes meeting George as a "painful affair." Barack Obama's trip to Kenya meant meeting family he had never known.
McKenzie tracked down George Obama in August 2008 and found him at a small house in Huruma, a Nairobi slum, where he lives with his mother's extended family. His birth certificate shows he is Barack Obama's half brother.
The two men share the same Kenyan father. In the memoir, Barack Obama struggles to reconcile with his father after he left him and his mother when he was just a child.
Barack Obama Sr. died in a car accident when George was just 6 months old. Like his half brother, George hardly knew his father.
George was his father's last child and had not been aware of his famous half brother until he rose to prominence in the Democratic primaries last year.
Unlike his grandmother in Kogela, in western Kenya, George Obama had received little attention from the media until reports about him surfaced in August 2008.
The reports sprung from an Italian Vanity Fair article saying George Obama lived in a shack and was "earning less than a dollar a day." Those reports left George Obama angry.
"I was brought up well. I live well even now," he said. "The magazines, they have exaggerated everything.
"I think I kind of like it here. There are some challenges, but maybe it is just like where you come from, there are the same challenges," Obama said.
Obama, who is in his mid-20s, said at the time that he was learning to become a mechanic and was active in youth groups in Huruma. He said he tried to help the community as much as he can.


I guess it's a family business

Michael Phelps blows dope and career?

THIS is the astonishing picture which could destroy the career of the greatest competitor in Olympic history.

In our exclusive photo Michael Phelps, who won a record EIGHT gold medals for swimming at the Beijing games last summer, draws from a bong.

The glass pipes are generally used to smoke cannabis.

And after sporting chiefs announced laws which mean four-year bans for drug-taking, Phelps' dreams of adding to his overall 14 gold medal tally at the 2012 games in London could already be OVER.

Those dreams seemed the last thing on his mind when he puffed from the bong during two days of partying with students last November, a quiet time in the swimming calendar when athletes would not expect to get tested for drugs.

One party-goer who witnessed the star's behaviour told the News of the World: "He was out of control from the moment he got there.

"If he continues to party like that I'd be amazed if he ever won any more medals again."

Phelps' aides went into a panic over our story and offered us a raft of extraordinary incentives not to run the bong picture.

It was on November 6, weeks after his Beijing triumph, that 23-year-old Phelps surprised students at the University Of South Carolina in Columbia by showing up unannounced at a house party.

He was visiting Jordan Matthews, a girl he was secretly seeing who was a student there.

Our source revealed: "Michael came to visit Jordan but ended up just getting wasted every night.

"He arrived with a group of girls hanging all over him. Jaws hit the floor when he walked in. You don't get many celebrities in Columbia, so when Phelps comes to your party it's a very big deal.


Presidents, and Gold medallist!

Produce The Note “How-To”


Your goal is to make certain the institution suing you is, in fact, the owner of the note (see steps to follow below). There is only one original note for your mortgage that has your signature on it. This is the document that proves you owe the debt.

During the lending boom, most mortgages were flipped and sold to another lender or servicer or sliced up and sold to investors as securitized packages on Wall Street. In the rush to turn these over as fast as possible to make the most money, many of the new lenders did not get the proper paperwork to show they own the note and mortgage. This is the key to the produce the note strategy. Now, many lenders are moving to foreclose on homeowners, resulting in part from problems they created, and don’t have the proper paperwork to prove they have a right to foreclose.


If you don’t challenge your lender, the court will simply allow the foreclosure to proceed. It’s important to hold lenders accountable for their carelessness. This is the biggest asset in your life. It’s just a piece of paper to them, and one they likely either lost or destroyed.

When you get a copy of the foreclosure suit, many lenders now automatically include a count to re-establish the note. It often reads like this: “…the Mortgage note has either been lost or destroyed and the Plaintiff is unable to state the manner in which this occurred.” In other words, they are admitting they don’t have the note that proves they have a right to foreclose.

If the lender is allowed to proceed without that proof, there is a possibility another institution, which may have bought your note along the way, will also try to collect the same debt from you again.

A Tennessee borrower recently had precisely that happen to her. Her lender, Ameriquest, foreclosed on her in July of 2007. About three months later, another bank sent her a default notice for the mortgage on the house she just lost. She called to find out what was going on. After being transferred from place to place and left on hold for lengthy periods of time, no one could explain what happened. They said they would get back to her, but never did. Now, she faces the risk of having her credit continually damaged for a debt she no longer owes.


This process is not intended to help you get your house for free. The primary goal is to delay the foreclosure and put pressure on the lender to negotiate. Despite all the hype about lenders wanting to help homeowners avoid foreclosure, most borrowers know that’s not the reality.

Too many homeowners have experienced lender resistance to their efforts to work out a payment structure to keep them in their homes. Many lenders bear responsibility for these defaults, because they put borrowers into unfair loans using deceptive, hard-sell practices and then made the problem worse with predatory servicing.

Most homeowners just want these lenders to give them reasonable terms on their mortgages, many of which were predatory to begin with. With the help of judges who see through these predatory practices, lenders will feel the pressure to work with borrowers to keep them in their homes. Don’t forget lenders made incredible amounts of money by using irresponsible practices to issue and service these loans. That greed led to the foreclosure crisis we’re in today. Allowing lenders to continue foreclosing on home after home, destroying our neighborhoods and our economy hurts us all. So, make it hard for your lender to take your home. Make ‘em produce the note!

Consumer Warning

h/t Rantburg

Livni to Cypriot FM: Confiscate weapons from Iranian ship

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni spoke to her Cypriot counterpart Markos Kyprianou by phone and requested that he act toward confiscating weapons aboard the ship that were allegedly on their way from Iran to Syria.

Livni emphasized that the passage of the weapons is in contravention of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1747 that prohibits trade in weapons with Iran because of its ongoing nuclear program.

The saga of a ship suspected of carrying arms from Iran to Gaza grew more complicated Saturday as Cypriot authorities searched the ship, then backed away from previous assertions that it was violating United Nations resolutions.

Authorities will now conduct a second search, the Cypriot foreign minister said.

Suspicions that the Cypriot-flagged container ship Monchegorsk was ferrying arms from Iran to the militant Palestinian organization Hamas had been raised by the United States. The U.S. military stopped the vessel in the Red Sea last week but could not legally detain it or seize its cargo.

The ship continued on to Port Said, Egypt, then headed for Cyprus, where it arrived Thursday. It remains anchored off the island nation's southern port of Limassol under tight marine police security.

Kyprianou said Saturday that a first inspection of the Monchegorsk was complete. He said authorities were still trying to determine whether the ship's cargo contravened United Nations resolutions.

On Friday, Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias had said without qualification that the ship had violated U.N. resolutions.

The foreign minister refused Saturday to divulge any details about the ship's cargo.

"This is a very serious matter concerning the Cyprus Republic's responsibilities as a member of the United Nations and the European Union, but also its relations with the international community," Kyprianou told state radio.

He urged patience for a few days, saying disclosure of information would
hinder the government's handling of the issue.

A European diplomatic source said Thursday that the Cypriot authorities had detained what he called an Iranian arms ship en route to Syria.

The move apparently came after Israel and the United States requested that Cyprus stop the ship, based on suspicion that the boat was carrying a large amount of weaponry, including artillery rounds and rockets that Israel believes are destined for either Hezbollah or Hamas.

The vessel left the Persian Gulf a few weeks ago and reached about 60 miles from Cyprus on Wednesday.

Israel launched a 22-day offensive late last month on Hamas-controlled Gaza to try to end rocket fire on Israeli civilians and halt arms smuggling that has enabled Hamas to threaten southern Israel.


The Yellow

"In Marine Corps officer schools “The Yellow” is the school solution for tactical problems normally handed out in the form of an operation order or an annex to an operation order on yellow paper. Having written at great length about the problems we see with both the military and reconstruction efforts I’d now like to take a shot at proposing a solution which has merit. We are currently failing, and failing miserably, at bringing a secure environment to the people of Afghanistan which is the first and most important step in any counterinsurgency conflict. There are two reasons for our current performance; the first is that the government of Afghanistan is so dysfunctional and corrupt that it is more a problem than a solution. The second factor is our insistence of operating from large forward operating bases (FOB’s) and commuting to the fight instead of living amongst the people to whom we are supposed to be delivering security."
Free Range International

Live Blog: Iraq’s Provincial Elections

I walked more than three miles and four polling centers to vote today. I have lived in the same neighborhood for more than 30 years, but my name was not on the list.

With the sound of hovering American helicopters filling the unusual silence on the streets I walked to the polling center nearest my house to vote. First I had to be searched and take off my wristwatch, my box of cigarettes and my mobile telephone because an American patrol was watching the main checkpoint of the polling center.

I checked my name but I could not find it. An employee told me: “You may find it at another center.” So I started walking. But the guards wouldn’t let me go straight there because of the security cordons around polling centers. My route was like a sneaky puzzle. The streets were clear of vehicles and children exploited the occasion to amuse themselves by playing football or marbles in the streets, without any notion of the importance of this day.

While I was walking to the second polling center I met a friend of mine who smiled when he saw me, hoping that I would help him find his polling center. The worse moment came when I reached the second polling center about half a mile from the first. After again going through the long procedures of search and inspection the employee of the Independent High Electoral Commission told me in an offhand manner: “Do not bother yourself, go home and sleep. Your name is not here.”

I tried to find one of the IHEC staff to help me but it seems none of them have any basic details about the elections.

I carried on, going to a third polling center about 1.5 miles from the second. I found people wearing their best clothes, and you could see how glad and relaxed they were.

But I got the same answer at the third station: “Your name is not found.” I really felt depressed, because it seemed that it was not an organized process. As a result the Prime Minister gave the order to lift the curfew so that people could move to polling centers more easily.

I continued my trip, wondering about the solution and honestly I was cursing the IHEC while I was walking. Then I got help from a friend, who did an internet search for me to find out the details of my ration distributor. I was lucky.

The other bad experience came when I was finally able to vote at the fourth station, and I stood behind the screen. Then I discovered that I do not know any of those candidates who listed themselves under famous names like “the current Prime Minister”, and former prime ministers such as Ayad Allawi and Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

I had not heard of any of them, and I think other people were experiencing the same thing. I looked through the list of candidates but it became even more of a blur.

At the end I found the name of a candidate whom I know to be moderate. But I do not know if my terrible trip was worth it: whether it will bring a positive change to this country or we will witness unseen hands interfering to bring destruction again upon our country.

For my wife it is all academic. We could not find her name on the list.

Mohammed Hussein is an Iraqi employee of The New York Times in Baghdad.

Baghdad Bureau

As a test to the reader(s), what's wrong with this story?

Then click the link and read the rest of this post.

Kirkuk: The Province That Couldn’t Vote

There is a reason that Kirkuk did not vote today. Kurds insist that it is Kurdish, the Turkmens say it is Turkmen and the Arabs have their own claim.

Because of its huge oil resources and long history of tension the people of Kirkuk, who are from diverse national and religious backgrounds, feel fear and great anticipation for the future of a city that is being fought over not by its political leaders, but by central, provincial and Iraqi political powers.

These powers have raised the slogan of an Iraqi future and a united land, while lifting the electoral injustice in areas such as Mosul, Tikrit and Diyala that did not get proper representation in the previous
elections. These places border Kirkuk to the north, south and east, and along it are the disputed lands which the Kurds want to join to their own region.

The Arabs and Turkmens want to hold local elections in Kirkuk, where the Kurds got 26 seats in previous elections, Arabs six and Turkmens nine. The Arabs and Turkmen also want to impose conditions on people who came to Kirkuk after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

The Kurds consider these people to be refugees driven out by the previous regime, while the Arabs and Turkmens insist that they are Kurds who come from other areas outside the borders of Kirkuk. The arrival of so many Kurds could affect the outcome of a referendum or agreement on the city’s future, which has been long delayed because of the political, sectarian and ethnic divisions.

The people of Kirkuk watched on television the electoral and public campaigns in the rest of the country, but went out onto their own empty streets with no campaign ads, except for posters put out by the
American forces of four young men and children, smiling and hugging each other and dressed in the clothes of the province’s different groups.

What worries the people of Kirkuk, especially the Arabs and the Turkmens, is the presence of a strong and active secret police force that works in favour of the two Kurdish parties, which is the Asaish.
The Kurds consider it a force that has provided security, and fought terror.

The worrying thing for the Kurds today, something that endangers them and might worsen the tension, is the appointment by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of an army commander from the Shiite Arab town of Hilla in central Iraq. He is now working to spread his forces along the eastern, northern, western and southern borders of Kirkuk. This includes the green line of 2003, where there are Kurdish Peshmerga units.

The Kurds accuse this commander of working to bring Shiite Arabs to Kirkuk. The commander says that he came to impose the law and protect Iraq’s oil, especially against terrorists who have moved into the northern part of Kirkuk and who have blown up oil lines several times.

The Kurds are worried by these units and this led them to gather along the border of Kirkuk. The Kurds are trying to get the Arabs to unite with them to fight the government in Baghdad, and are calling to establish a Kurdish-Arabic coalition in Kirkuk against the Iranian and Turkish currents which support Mr. Maliki’s government.

The Arabs lost many votes in the previous elections because Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia controlled their areas, and prevented them from voting. Arabs understood later that Al Qaeda’s political agenda was to weaken them and the Turkmens. The lucky ones were the Kurds who were more organized and united.

After these elections there are going to be changes that will cause more stress, and some will work hard to reignite Arab-Kurdish tensions. Kirkuk will be the first place to witness that.

There are more than 38 neighborhoods in Kirkuk where Al Qaeda violence has led all the different religions and ethnic groups to live each in their own areas, with a majority of Kurds in the north, Turkmens in the center and Arabs in the south. Kirkuk also lacks services and projects that were promised by the Americans.

The Kurds’ biggest fear in Kirkuk came after the government’s success in fighting Al Qaeda in Arab areas, which restored the security for Arabs and improved their balance against the Kurds.

The Kurdish street, which includes many extremists and nationalists, feels that they have failed to add Kirkuk to the northern Kurdish region, and failed to bring independence to it.

The reality in Kirkuk today is fear of the future.

Baghdad Bureau

Dog (deprived)

"We sat outside, the Boss and Roommate and I, discussing the latest Bright Idea from Higher.

It was, I declared, the absolute Stupidest Damn Thing I Ever Have Heard. In fact, I further elaborated, it sounded like the end product of a branding meeting conducted by rhesus monkeys. No, I corrected myself, since I am under the impression that rhesus monkeys are kinda bright and capable of learning simple tasks, this latest Bright Idea sounded like something that was dreamed up by carp. Or tree stumps. I folded my arms and glared.

You are, the Boss pointed out, one angry lady.

I shook my head. No, sir, I explained, that's just not so. I could deal with stupidity and the silliness and the fact that my feet kinda smell funny 'cause I wear boots all the time, but they made me leave my dog at home.

And it's true. What a morale boost one of my dogs would be. Better, I daresay, than even beer. Either dog would work just fine here.

Sparky would have his pluses, what with being small and a good sleeping companion and being the Scourge of Mice."
Bad Dog's and Such

ISRAEL: Elections, and the prophecy of pot

So, sitting on the grave, Kopatch talks to the dead leader:

"You know, there are around a million Israelis who smoke this stuff. You know how much this costs me?! Loads. And do you know who grows and produces this? Hamas and Hezbollah. Yes, David. As defense minister, it is important that you know this. They're making piles of money off of us. They take the money and buy kassams to fire at us. A pity, no? Why shouldn't it be legal? You see, if it'll be legal, we could grow it here on these arid Negev hills, make the wilderness flower. We will keep the money in Israel and use it for good causes, David, like raising the teachers' salaries. ... The question is, though, what will Hamas and Hezbollah do with all the hashish they'll be left with? The answer is simple: They'll smoke it. They'll smoke it, David, and be calm. Because a good Arab is a calm Arab. And this," concludes Kopatch with a puff, "is my security concept."
Babylon & Beyond

Hey it's the one thing the last three Presidents do have in common. Tell your children, they can grow up to be President too.

IRAQ: Voices from Iraq's provincial elections

It could be weeks before the outcome of Iraq's first provincial elections since 2005 are known, but as voting was held today, those taking part -- either as voters or election workers -- were eager to have their voices heard. Here are some of them:

Ali Alwan, a government employee at a polling station in Fallouja: "I walked four kilometers (2.5 miles) to get here. It's a bit far, but I feel good. I will vote for the honest people who will serve this oppressed city."

Ahmed Farhan, auto parts dealer in Fallouja: "I came to vote for Ali Zigam, who is from Tawafiq (Sunni Arab political bloc). This person is an honest one ... a real Iraqi. He didn't come with those who came in with American tanks to rule Iraq. I walked a long time to give my vote. It's worth the effort."

Talba Getan, a homemaker from Baghdad's Sadr City: "At first, me and my sons decided not to vote, but when Muqtada Sadr [the anti-U.S. Shiite cleric] asked us to vote for the Ahrar bloc, we decided to vote for it. I have chosen a female candidate to vote for from that bloc.... To be frank, I don't have great hopes that the people we voted for today will bring change. The people we elected before also did nothing for us."

Ahmed Makhi Badr, an election worker in Najaf: "I volunteered to do this for freedom, and to serve democracy," Badr said as sleepy-eyed election volunteers waited for voters to show up shortly after polls opened at 7 a.m.

Ajil Abid Hummadi, a lawyer in Samawah: "I believe strongly in the political process and that these elections will improve many aspects of our life. I chose the slate of the Communist Party. Its candidates are qualified and good people. Many candidates asked me to vote for them in a friendly way, but at the end, it is my choice."

Qasim Mohammed, a voter in the southern city of Basra, voted for Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party: "He helped strengthen security in this city. He is thinking about the welfare of Iraq. This election, I expect, will change the city with better public services, security, economy."

Aqeel Mohammed Farhan, an election worker in Fallouja: "Voters started arriving at 7 a.m. There is a good number, which indicates people are more aware of the importance of voting. When voters came, some of them did not pay attention to the campaign ads, which also indicates they have already decided whom to vote for. Security-wise, the situation is very calm."

Zuhair Hassam Mohammed, a voter in Basra, who voted for Maliki's Dawa Party: "I expect this man will change life in Iraq in general and Basra in particular, and improve public services and put an end to suffering. In the current council, the religious leaders are too controlling."

Akran Khaled, former military officer in Tikrit: "I voted for the Iyad Allawi (Iraqiya) slate. It's a secular slate and does not discriminate among Iraqis. We reject the return of sectarian figures who may escalate sectarian tensions and violence again, so our best hope is the Iraqiya slate."

Usama Ahmed Samih, government ministry employee, in west Baghdad: "I elected the slate in which there are secular people. With all due respect to the religious parties, they created sectarianism in this country, and this is not in our interests."

Kifayah Hassan, a homemaker in Sadr City: "I am here early. I came to vote for the people of Iraq, for their sake. I voted for our prime minister, Nouri Maliki, because he will make our future brighter."

Zaibab Kareem Gharrawi, a doctor in the southern city of Amarah: "I elected the Allawi (Iraqiya) slate. I respect this man. He was prime minister during a very difficult time. He is secular."

Lafta Fayadh, a retiree in Amarah: "We hope this election will change our life and improve it. I elected the Maliki (Dawa Party) slate because this man created good security in the city after taking control from militiamen."

Jaafar Moussa, merchant, east Baghdad: "I am a Shiite Kurd. I elected Adham Hussein Mahmud because he is my tribal sheik and also I know him personally as a good man. I expect that electing him is for the interest of the tribe and me personally."

Babylon & Beyond

Democracy in the Heart of the Middle East

"Iraqis have gone to the polls today and we're starting to get some responses from the Iraqi bloggers. Sami (Skies) writes (Return of the Violet Fingers):

In the voting room I saw very beautiful women. They were all smiling. They were very very kind as if from heaven. I voted. They said: "Thank you". I said: "thank you" with a smile and went walking. I saw many families walking happy. The father's and mother's index fingers are colored by that ink. I saw him coming. We greeted each other with kisses like Iraqis usually do. I went back with him waiting while he voted. He didn't ask me for whom I voted. Nor I did ask him. We are Iraqis with different views and this is our way to show respect to each other. We went back walking slowly and talking about memories of how our quarter was so beautiful before hoping that it will regain its charm while we were proud of our violet fingers.

Salam Pax, using Twitter, has given us updates throughout the day. Here is a selection from earlier today:"
IBC ~ Jeffrey

Praise Obama!

His bad cop act seems to have worked wonders

Elections show 'substantial' progress in Iraq: Britain

LONDON (AFP) — The relatively peaceful Iraqi provincial elections on Saturday show the substantial progress the country has made towards achieving stability, a British minister said.

Bill Rammell, a junior Foreign Office minister, told AFP that the low level of violence reported from the election showed Britain could withdraw its troops later this year safe in the knowledge that Iraq can stand on its own two feet.

"Overall, these elections are providing further evidence of the real demonstrable progress that Iraq is making," he said.

"These elections are a major step towards political reconciliation as those groups that boycotted the last provincial elections have now turned against violence and in turn are participating."

Rammell said Britain's decision to pull out its remaining 4,100 troops from Iraq in July was "based on the assessment that Iraq itself, its government and its security forces are increasingly capable of running their own country."

He added: "I am never going to be complacent... but I do think that if you look at where Iraq is today compared to a year ago, and certainly compared to five years ago, it is very substantial progress."

During his election campaign, US President Barack Obama called for a 16-month timetable for the withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraq, although he said this week he faced "difficult decisions" on Iraq and Afghanistan.

Amid tight security for Iraq's first ballot since 2005, six policemen and a civilian were injured in a bombing in the mainly Shiite Turkmen town of Tuz Khurmatu north of Baghdad.

And in Tikrit, the hometown of executed dictator Saddam Hussein, four flash bombs exploded near polling centres, without causing injuries.


A Calmer Iraq Takes Another Try at the Ballot

BAGHDAD — Four years ago, Iraq had its purple finger moment, when voters proudly displayed their ink-stained index fingers as proof that they had participated in the nation’s first free elections in decades.

On Saturday Iraqis were going to the polls again, to choose provincial representatives in what many here believe will be a fairer and more widely contested election. The results are expected to mirror more closely the relative numbers and strengths of Iraq’s many ethnic and sectarian groups.

Four years ago, balloting took place in nearly all-consuming violence. It was further tainted by a Sunni Arab boycott, which limited the number of voters and office seekers alike.

This time around, the ballot is crowded — 14,428 candidates are competing for 440 seats — and the vote comes during Iraq’s most peaceful period since the American invasion in 2003.

Instead of purple fingers, the indelible image for this year’s election may well be the tens of thousands of candidates’ posters glued to the nation’s blast walls. (In 2005, it was too dangerous for most candidates to reveal their faces.) The 12-foot-tall walls, built to contain damage by explosives, have now become the primary campaign forum for Iraq’s raw, young democracy.

In all, more than 14 million voters are eligible to take part in the elections for local councils in 14 of Iraq’s 18 provinces. The balloting for the provincial councils, which are roughly the equivalent of state legislatures, is expected to convey trends for December’s national elections for Parliament.

On the eve of the vote, Iraq was at once fascinated by, and weary of, its democratic experiment. Polls show that three-quarters of people plan to cast ballots, but vote-buying appears to be widespread, rivals regularly tear one another’s posters from walls, and women have received death threats for running. At least five candidates have been killed, and there have been many assassination attempts.

Among the many questions is whether the religious parties that now hold sway in Iraq will continue to dominate politics, despite widespread displeasure with what voters say are those parties’ ineptitude and corruption.

Significant realignments of power are expected in several provinces west and north of Baghdad, which have majority-Sunni populations, but where most Sunnis boycotted the 2005 vote.

In heavily Shiite southern Iraq, a majority of seats are expected to be divided between the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which is the most influential religious Shiite party, and a coalition headed by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s Dawa Party, which has taken a secular approach in campaigning.

The Sadrists, a third Shiite group, retain significant influence in southern Iraq and in Baghdad but are not competing as a political entity during the election.

Iraqi and American military officials fear that some of the expected power shifts could cause renewed sectarian and ethnic clashes, so a curfew began Friday evening. Airports and borders were closed, and thousands of troops were guarding polling stations.

While four years ago there was almost no public campaigning for fear of assassination, this time candidates have gone door to door, given speeches and — contrary to Iraq’s election law — doled out cash, cars, watches, food and blankets, among other items, to win votes.


Friday, January 30, 2009

Killing of Iraqi candidates highlights dangers

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) - The former Iraqi army officer decided to run in provincial elections to improve Mosul, his violent hometown. Instead, the Sunni father of four was gunned down days before the vote, the latest example of the dangers facing candidates campaigning openly for the first time since the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime.

Hazim Salim al-Zaidi, 51, was among three Sunni candidates killed two days ahead of Saturday's elections. U.S. officials hope the balloting will give the Sunnis a fairer share of power and thus undermine the appeal of the insurgency.

More than 14,000 candidates are running for 400 seats on provincial councils nationwide.

With a new law allowing Iraqis to vote for individual candidates rather than political parties, hopefuls have blanketed towns and cities with posters featuring their pictures and snappy slogans.

Such a vigorous effort to draw attention to themselves would have been unheard of in the last vote in 2005.

It also raised concern early in the campaign that some candidates in high-risk areas would be vulnerable to attack.

Despite those fears, election officials said only four certified candidates had been killed in the run-up to the election - al-Zaidi, the two others Thursday and a fourth - a Shiite - south of Baghdad on Jan. 16.

Al-Zaidi, a first-time candidate with the secular National Unity List, was shot as he walked without bodyguards near his home in western Mosul, group spokesman Ali Abdul-Kadir said.

Two gunmen approached him, opened fire, then fled in an awaiting car.

"He joined our list to serve Mosul and then Iraq," the spokesman said. "He was saying that current local officials didn't do anything for the city, and he was excited to make big changes in the city."

Residents of Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, complain that the previous council, dominated by the Kurds, failed to provide basic services and improve life.

Al-Zaidi, who earned money from renting two buildings, wasn't waging a flashy campaign. He focused on his own neighborhood and avoided rallies in the city. But he did agree to appear on TV for his party. Earlier this week, he traveled to Baghdad to film a commercial.

Party officials and family members had to rush to bury al-Zaidi on Thursday to avoid a curfew that was imposed in Mosul on Friday to prevent further violence.

One of the other Sunnis was killed Thursday in a drive-by shooting in western Baghdad. The other was abducted along with his brother and cousin in the Diyala province town of Mandali near the Iranian border. Their bullet-riddled bodies were found later in the day.

The senior U.N. envoy in Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, called the killings "a terrible crime designed to attempt to disrupt the democratic process on the eve of the elections."

"The Iraqi people have overwhelmingly shown their determination for conducting this election fairly and freely, undeterred by isolated intimidating tactics," he said in a statement.

Supporters of the new law allowing names of candidates on the ballot said the benefits were worth the risk.

Iraqi political analyst Sahab Awad said the loss of a few candidates was a small price to pay to give people a chance to avoid the mistakes of the last elections when "corrupt and inefficient people were put in power."

"Losing four or five candidates out of more than 14,000 candidates is a low number in a place like Iraq," Awad said.


Collaborators all!

Major political forces in Iraqi elections

A look at the main political blocs in Saturday's provincial elections in Iraq.


Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council - The largest Shiite political group in Iraq and senior partner in the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The Supreme Council, headed by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, has close ties to Iran but also has developed links with Washington. The group could challenge al-Maliki for control of the government in national elections later this year. It favors greater autonomy in the Shiite heartland in southern Iraq, which is its power base.


Dawa Party - The main Dawa faction is led by al-Maliki. The party was founded in the 1950s and suffered widespread persecution under Saddam Hussein, with many members forced to flee the country. Dawa's popularity has improved after it backed U.S.-led offensives that helped reduce militia violence and uproot insurgents from areas around Baghdad.


Iraqi Islamic Party - The biggest Sunni political group and a coalition partner in al-Maliki's government. The group's leader, Tareq al-Hashemi, is one of Iraq's two vice presidents. The party gained prominence as one of the few active Sunni political factions in 2005 provincial elections that were widely boycotted by most Sunni parties and voters.


Awakening Councils - The Sunni tribes that rose up - with American encouragement and aid - against al-Qaida in Iraq and other insurgents beginning in 2006 in the western Anbar province. Their revolt is considered one of the turning points of the war. The tribal leaders now seek to move into politics.


Al-Sadr Movement - A Shiite political-militia network led by cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The group's influence has waned after losing clashes with U.S. and Iraqi forces last year, but al-Sadr still holds sway in Shiite political affairs. He is in Iran to pursue religious studies and avoid possible arrest.


Gaza victims describe human shield use

Members of a Gaza family whose farm was turned into a "fortress" by Hamas fighters have reported that they were helpless to stop Hamas from using them as human shields.

They told the official Palestinian Authority daily newspaper that for years Hamas had used their property and homes as military installations from which the group would launch rockets into Israel, dig tunnels and store arms. According to the victims, those who tried to object were shot in the legs by Hamas operatives.

Palestinian Media Watch quoted the official Palestinian Authority daily, Al-Hayat al-Jadida as reporting on January 27, "The Abd Rabbo family kept quiet while Hamas fighters turned their farm in the Gaza strip into a fortress. Right now they are waiting for the aid promised by the [Hamas] movement after Israel bombed the farm and turned it into ruins."

According to the report, the hill on which the Abd Rabbo family lives overlooks Sderot, making it an ideal military position for Hamas fighters.

The Abd Rabbo family members emphasized to the paper that they were not Hamas activists and that they were still loyal to the Fatah movement, but that they had been unable to prevent the armed squads from entering their neighborhood at night.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

First black Iraqi runs in elections

BASRA, Iraq (AP) - He calls himself the "Iraqi Obama" and hopes to channel President Barack Obama's good luck by becoming the first black Iraqi to win an election.<

Salah al-Rekhayis lives in a town southwest of Basra called Zubayr, and with the help of his campaign manager-sister and brother, has pasted campaign posters urging citizens to vote for him in Saturday's provincial elections.

He walks in the unkempt streets of his town, bending down to greet children with a big smile and a warm glow about him, feeling confident of the great ambition to win one of the 35 seats up for grabs in Basra.

Al-Rekhayis is one of an estimated two million Iraqis who have African roots - and one of only 800 in his town. According to al-Rekhayis, his people have never been allowed to run in any Iraqi elections, or to hold important executive positions of power in either political or corporate areas of the country. Until now.

"Obama is the reason I decided to run. We both have African roots," said al-Rekhayis. "We never had the same opportunities as other Iraqis before, but Obama gave me the push to run after he took the leadership of the most powerful country in the world."

Al-Rekhayis, a municipal employee, said he didn't have the money to run a full-fledged campaign. His home - a run-down three-roomed space with very little furniture and a photo of Barack and Michelle Obama on the living room wall - was turned into a makeshift campaign office.

He said they were so impressed with Obama's campaign and victory that he created a small party called the Movement of Free Iraqis and ran under its banner. He said they have already created a list of potential black candidates to run in the next Iraqi elections.

"When we found out that Obama is black from TV, we started to follow his news carefully," al-Rekhayis said. "We had a party and celebrated when he won the elections."


Three political candidates slain in Iraq

BAGHDAD (AP) - Gunmen apparently targeting political candidates staged attacks around Iraq on Thursday, leaving at least three people dead as Iraqi forces began imposing a full-scale security clampdown in advance of voting for provincial council seats.

The level of violence around Iraq is significantly lower than in past years, but Saturday's election is seen as an important test of Iraqi self-reliance and competence as the U.S. military turns over more authorities to local forces.

Blanket security measures were scheduled to take effect beginning Friday, including closing Iraq's international borders, ordering traffic bans across Baghdad and major cities and halting air traffic. Hundreds of women, including teachers and civic workers, have been recruited to help search women voters after a rise in female suicide bombers last year.

In Baghdad, a Sunni candidate, Omer Farooq al-Ani, was killed in a drive-by shooting as he stepped from his home in the western Amiriya neighborhood, said a police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.

Al-Ani, a member of his neighborhood council, was running for the provincial seat under the biggest Sunni political group, the Islamic Iraq Party.

Northeast of Baghdad, another Sunni candidate was killed in a shooting ambush as he walked from a rally in Mandli in Diyala Province. The candidate, Abbas Farhan, was killed along with two others.

In the northern city of Mosul, gunmen fired from a passing car and killed a candidate and former army officer, Hazim Salim, a member of the Unity List, a group of independent Sunni politicians.

The two attacks were reported by police in Diyala and Mosul, also speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to give the information.

The U.S. military is taking a sideline role in direct security for the elections, but plan to send heavy troop deployments into the streets during the voting.

A military spokesman, Maj. Gen. David Perkins, said there is always the risk of attacks by groups "who see the progress of democracy as a threat to them" - a reference to insurgent groups such as al-Qaida in Iraq that have been weakened but are still active.

"They want an Iraq that is divided according to sectarian lines, an Iraq that is ruled by fear, they want an Iraq that does not know the rule of law, so these are the groups that do not want democracy to move forward," he told a news conference.

In another possible flashpoint before the vote, Iraqi security forces detained three candidates loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr following a political rally in Baghdad.

Al-Sadr controls the powerful Mahdi Army militia and is desperate to maintain a strong political hand despite pressures from Iraq's government.

"Detaining the candidates is a serious precedent," said a parliament member in the Sadrist bloc, Baha al-Araji.

More than 14,400 candidates are competing for 440 seats in 14 of the country's 18 provinces.


"The collaborators should be punished by death" Well known Iraqi peace activist, said.

Stem cells 'reset' immune system in MS patients: study

Stem cells transplanted into early-phase multiple sclerosis patients stabilised, and in some cases reversed, the debilitating neurological disorder, according to a study published Friday.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that impairs movement and coordination, while causing muscle weakness, cognitive impairment, slurred speech and vision problems.

Certain drugs can retard or roll back symptoms during in the initial phase of the disease's spread.

But in the decade or more after onset, MS is characterised by gradual but irreversible neurological impairment. There is no known cure.

In clinical trials, a team of scientists led by Richard Burt of Northwestern University in Chicago essentially rebuilt the immune system of 21 adults -- 11 women and 10 men -- who had failed to respond to standard drug treatments.

First they removed defective white blood cells that, rather than protecting the body, attacks the fatty sheath, called myelin, that protects the nervous system.

The immune systems were then replenished with so-called haemopoeitic stem cells -- extracted from the patient's bone marrow -- capable of giving rise to any form of mature blood cell.

The technique is not new. But this was the first time it had been applied to young and relatively health individuals in the early, so-called "relapsing-remitting" phase of the disease. Participants had had MS for roughly five years.

After an average follow-up period of three years, 17 of the 21 patients improved by at least one point on a standard disability scale, and none had a final score lower than before the stem cell transplant.

The procedure "not only seems to prevent neurological progression, but also appears to reverse neurological disability," concluded the study, published in the British medical journal The Lancet.

Cognitive functions and quality of life were improved, and the treatment had a low level of toxicity compared to other drug therapies.

Five of the patients did relapse, but achieved remission after receiving other immunosuppressive therapy, the study noted.

Further trials are needed using control groups to determine how effective the new approach may be, noted Gianluigi Mancardi of the University of Genoa in Italy.

But "the results imply that this is a valuable alternative to the transplant conditioning therapies used so far," he wrote in a commentary, also in The Lancet.

MS affects millions of people worldwide, including almost 100,000 in Britain and 400,000 in the United States.

"I have an Army"

And so it would seem, Rush.

"...for today, Hela has relinquished a soul...
...and she demands on in exchange. may try to take my soul death goddess
but I will make you fight for it.

Exclusive: CIA Station Chief in Algeria Accused of Rapes

The CIA's station chief at its sensitive post in Algeria is under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department for allegedly raping at least two Muslim women who claim he laced their drinks with a knock-out drug, U.S. law enforcement sources tell ABC News.

The suspect in the case is identified as Andrew Warren in an affidavit for a search warrant filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. by an investigator for the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service.

Click here to read the affidavit.

Officials say the 41-year old Warren, a convert to Islam, was ordered home by the U.S. Ambassador, David Pearce, in October after the women came forward with their rape allegations in September.

According to the affidavit, the two women "reported the allegations in this affidavit independently of each other."

The affidavit says the first victim says she was raped by Warren in Sept. 2007 after being invited to a party at Warren's residence by U.S. embassy employees.

She told a State Department investigator that after Warren prepared a mixed drink of cola and whiskey, she felt a "violent onset of nausea" and Warren said she should spend the night at his home.

When she woke up the next morning, according to the affidavit, "she was lying on a bed, completely nude, with no memory of how she had been undressed." She said she realized "she recently had engaged in sexual intercourse, though she had no memory of having intercourse."

According to the affidavit, a second alleged victim told a similar story, saying Warren met her at the U.S. embassy and invited her for a "tour of his home" where she said he prepared an apple martini for her "out of her sight."

The second victim said she suddenly felt faint and went to the bathroom where "V2 [victim 2] could see and hear, but she could not move," the affidavit says.

She told investigators Warren "was attempting to remove V2's her pants." The affidavit states, "Warren continued to undress V2, and told her she would feel better after a bath."

Alleged Rape Victims Tell Their Stories to Investigators
The alleged victim said she remembers being in Warren's bed and asking him to stop, but that "Warren made a statement to the effect of 'nobody stays in my expensive sheets with clothes on.'" She told investigators "as she slipped in and out of consciousness she had conscious images of Warren penetrating her vagina repeatedly with his penis."

The second victim told investigators she sent Warren a text message accusing him of abusing her and he replied, "I am sorry," the affidavit says.

According to the affidavit, when Warren was interviewed by Diplomatic Security investigators, he claimed he had "engaged in consensual sexual intercourse" and admitted there were photographs of the two women on his personal laptop. He would not consent to a search or seizure of the computer, leading investigators to seek the warrant.

According to the affidavit, a search of Warren's residence in Algiers turned up Valium and Xanax and a handbook on the investigation of sexual assaults.

The affidavit says toxicologists at the FBI laboratory say Xanax and Valium are among the drugs "commonly used to facilitate sexual assault."

"Drugs commonly referred to as date rape drugs are difficult to detect because the body rapidly metabolizes them," said former FBI agent Brad Garrett, an ABC News consultant. "Many times women are not aware they were even assaulted until the next day," he said.

The CIA refused to acknowledge the investigation or provide the name of the Algiers station chief, but the CIA Director of Public Affairs, Mark Mansfield, said, "I can assure you that the Agency would take seriously, and follow up on, any allegations of impropriety."

State Departmentt Acting Spokesman Robert Wood issued a statement saying, "The U.S. takes very seriously any accusations of misconduct involving any U.S. personnel abroad. The individual is question has returned to Washington and the U.S. Government is looking into the matter."

U.S. officials were bracing for public reaction in the Muslim world, following the report of the allegation.

"It has the potential to be quite explosive if it's not handled well by the United States government," said Isobel Coleman, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who specializes in women's issues in the Middle East.

"This isn't the type of thing that's going to be easily pushed under the carpet," she said.

U.S. Officials Say They Found Video Tapes
Both women have reportedly since given sworn statements to federal prosecutors sent from Washington to prepare a possible criminal case against the CIA officer.

Following the initial complaints, U.S. officials say they did obtain a warrant from a federal judge in Washington, D.C. in October to search the station chief's CIA-provided residence in Algiers and turned up the videos that appear to have been secretly recorded and show, they say, Warren engaged in sexual acts.

Officials say one of the alleged victims is seen on tape, in a "semi-conscious state."

The time-stamped date on other tapes led prosecutors to broaden the investigation to Egypt because the date matched a time when Warren was in Cairo, officials said.

As the station chief in Algiers, Warren played an important role in working with the Algerian intelligence services to combat an active al Qaeda wing responsible for a wave of bombings in Algeria.

In the most serious incident, 48 people were killed in a bombing in Aug. 2008 in Algiers, blamed on the al Qaeda group.

The Algerian ambassador to the United Nations, Mourad Benmehid, said his government had not been notified by the U.S. of the rape allegations or the criminal investigation.

Repeated messages left for the Warren with his parents and his sister were not returned.

No charges have been filed, but officials said a grand jury was likely to consider an indictment on sexual assault charges as early as next month.

"This will be seen as the typical ugly American," said former CIA officer Bob Baer, reacting to the ABC News report. "My question is how the CIA would not have picked up on this in their own regular reviews of CIA officers overseas," Baer said.

"From a national security standpoint," said Baer, the alleged rapes would be "not only wrong but could open him up to potential blackmail and that's something the CIA should have picked up on," said Baer. "This is indicative of personnel problems of all sorts that run through the agency," he said.

"Rape is ugly in any context," said Coleman, who praised the bravery of the alleged Algerian victims in going to authorities. "Rape is viewed as very shameful to women, and I think this is an opportunity for the U.S. to show how seriously it takes the issue of rape," she said.


Keywords: "a convert to Islam"

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Putin calls financial crisis a 'perfect storm'

DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called the world financial crisis a "perfect storm" whose destructive powers were multiplied worldwide, and urged economic rivals to work together to find an exit route.

The sometimes combative Putin struck a sober tone in the keynote address at the World Economic Forum on Wednesday, where he was indirectly critical of the U.S.

"The pride is gone," said Putin, referring to Wall Street hubris. His own country has fallen hard over the past year, seeing its currency plunge and once massively rich magnates lose billions.

Putin said economists and politicians should always be ready for such a crisis, saying it was as inevitable as the Russian winter.

The crisis differs from the Great Depression of the late 1920s and the early 1930s because it "has affected everyone at this time of globalization," he said. "Regardless of their political or economic system, all nations have found themselves in the same boat."

He refrained from directly blaming the United States for the crisis - but pointed out that just a year ago at Davos, American delegates emphasized the U.S. economy's fundamental stability.

"Today, investment banks - the pride of Wall Street - have virtually ceased to exist," a fact that he said spoke louder than any public tongue-lashing.

Putin, often criticized for exerting state control over Russia's key industries, did not recommend a greater role for governments in response to the crisis - in fact, he said too much government involvement can be "dangerous."

"Excessive intervention in economic activity and blind faith in the state's omnipotence is another possible mistake," he said.

He stressed the need for better regulation of financial markets, but admitted that Russia's regulators failed to protect his country from crisis.

"We must assess the root causes of the situation, without hostility," he said, calling for "coordinated and professional efforts" among governments and industries worldwide to emerge from the crisis.

His measured comments on the economy stood in contrast to his tough tone on geopolitics. He compared Georgia's military effort to keep two breakaway provinces last year to the terrorists who attacked Mumbai, India a few months later. The Russian war with Georgia over the provinces strained Moscow's relations with Washington.

Putin also had a slight for neighboring Ukraine, insisting on the need for "fair" energy prices. A dispute over Ukrainian debt for Russian gas prompted a supply crisis that cut off much of Europe from gas during a winter cold snap earlier this month.


Quick, isn't he.

Early voting begins in Iraqi provincial elections

BAGHDAD (AP) - Soldiers, hospital patients and even prisoners filled ballot boxes Wednesday in special early voting for provincial elections that will be a test for Iraqi forces trying to prevent violence and could set up future political showdowns for Iraq's leadership.

A smooth election could encourage supporters of a fast-paced withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by next year, but any major irregularities or bloodshed in Saturday's main voting could raise worries about the readiness of Iraq's institutions.

There were reports of only sporadic attacks during the early voting - called so police and military units could cast ballots before being deployed for the full-scale vote.

It also included prisons and many hospitals, including a maternity ward in the southern city of Najaf where 21-year-old Salwa Majid filled out a ballot with one hand and cradled her hours-old son with the other.

"It's my duty to vote for a better Iraq," she said, showing off her index finger tinted with purple ink - used in Iraq to identify voters.

In the northern oil hub of Kirkuk, hundreds of soldiers in camouflage uniforms streamed into an elementary school to stuff their paper ballots into clear plastic bins.

"We have come here to vote as a kind of defiance to the terrorists," said Sgt. Abdul-Jabar Khalf.

Later in Kirkuk province, gunmen killed two police officers guarding a school used as an early election center, said police and medical officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information.

In prisons across Iraq, inmates in orange jumpsuits filed in one by one to vote.

Faraj al-Haidari, the head of the election commission, said voting was open to any detainee awaiting trial - even those accused of insurgent attacks or links to al-Qaida in Iraq - but those sentenced to more than five years in prison were not eligible. The rules also covered thousands of Iraqis still held in U.S. military custody, he said.

More than 14,400 candidates - about 3,900 of them women - are competing for 440 seats on ruling councils in 14 of the country's 18 provinces. The central authorities in Baghdad still control the nation's overall policies, but the councils have wide authorities such as cutting commercial deals and setting spending priorities.

"We want a country that unites us, not one that tears us apart," Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said in a campaign stop for political allies in southern Iraq. "Any gap in Iraq's unity will open the gates of hell for us all."

Although the election does not directly threaten al-Maliki, a U.S. ally, the results could put serious strains on his Shiite-led government.

In the Shiite south - Iraq's political center after the fall of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime - the biggest political party is hoping to increase its clout at the expense of al-Maliki's backers.

A strong election showing by the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council could be used as a stringboard to battle al-Maliki's bloc for leadership later this year.

The Iraqi Council, which maintains ties with both Iran and the United States, hopes to build a self-rule Shiite region modeled on the Kurdish autonomy in the north. Al-Maliki and his Washington allies strongly oppose such a move, fearing it would further fragment Iraq and open the door for greater Iranian influence.

The election official al-Haidari said initial reports indicated participation in the early vote was highest in the south, where the turnout on Saturday's full election will be closely watched since it falls just before an annual Shiite pilgrimage that could keep voters away.

Sunni groups also are jockeying with long-term goals in mind.

The most powerful political newcomers are the Sunni tribes that used their private militias to rise up against al-Qaida in Iraq and other insurgents in a critical turning point of the war. The sheiks now hope to parlay their fame into provincial election seats - which could undercut rival Sunnis who have worked out accommodations with al-Maliki.

Despite a sharp drop in overall violence in Iraq, security forces are taking full precautions. Measures include a vehicle ban during the vote and double-ring cordons around polling stations.

On Wednesday, police frisked fellow officers outside voting places.

U.S. forces are taking only a support role, but have supplied additional material and other aid. The U.S. military said it delivered 200 concrete barrier and 30-foot watchtower this week to a ballot holding center and voting site in northwest Baghdad.

Not all Iraq is taking part in the elections.

It is scheduled for later in the three Kurdish-ruled provinces. In Kirkuk province, the main voting was postponed indefinitely because its various ethnic groups could not agree on a power-sharing formula. But the special voting took place Wednesday in Kirkuk for security forces.


From the mail bag

TODAY: Senators Demand Defense Secretary Meet with Mother of Soldier Electrocuted Due to Contractor Negligence

Senator Byron Dorgan and Senator Bob Casey held a press conference today to request a meeting with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the mother of a U.S. soldier who was recently informed by an Army investigator that her son’s death by electrocution at his base in Baghdad was re-classified by the Army from “accidental” to “negligent homicide” by contractor KBR and two of its supervisors.

A link to the letter:

A link to the AP story:

A link to the Reuters story:

A link to the press release:

Video of the press conference will be available at:
You have to ask yourself, who are these people that just discovered cam to cam internet sex....and...What rock do they live under...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Russian envoy rules out troops for Afghanistan

BRUSSELS, Jan. 27 (Xinhua) -- Russian envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, on Tuesday ruled out troops for Afghanistan, saying it would be a silly thing to send in Russian troops again after occupation of the country during the Cold War.
"We are not talking about such a long-term perspective as for Russian public opinion. We've been to Afghanistan and we didn't like it. So to go back is a silly thing," Rogozin told reporters.

He said Russia is not going to take part in projects, which might even indirectly involve Russia military action on ground in Afghanistan, he said.

Russian help to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) will only be civilian cargo through Russia soil to ISAF in Afghanistan. "That's the bottom line for Russia now."

Rogozin indicated caution of any Russian military involvement, citing a Russian proverb: if you put you finger in his mouth, he will cut your arm up to the elbow.

On transit routes to Afghanistan through Russia, Rogozin said his country is ready to immediately launch negotiations on arrangements. But the problem is that the NATO international secretariat needs to finalize agreements with other neighboring countries through which the transit routes also need to go along.

Rogozin also asked new U.S. President Barack Obama to rethink plans for a strategic missile defense shield in Eastern Europe, which Russia believes is detrimental to its own national security.

He said the missile defense system is costly and ineffective. "Securing oneself with those missile defense sites in Eastern Europe is as if you want to warm up in a cold Brussels night by burning suitcases full of 100-U.S. dollar bills." Its efficiency in providing Europe and the United States equals to zero, he added.

To test the system's efficiency, one needs a Hollywood film scenario of a massive nuclear attack, which is impossible in real life, he said.

Rogozin welcomed Obama's intention to withdraw troops from Iraq and fight the real threats: terrorism in the region around Afghanistan.

Rogozin said Russia is ready to restore relations with NATO, damaged by the military conflict in August 2008. He confirmed that NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer will meet Russia Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov on Feb. 6 on the sidelines of the Munich security policy conference, the highest level political contact between the two sides following the August 2008 Georgia conflict.

NATO suspended high-level political contacts with Russia, including regular meetings of ambassadors, following the August conflict. As a sign of thawing ties, Rogozin met ambassadors from NATO allies on Monday, the first of its kind in five months.

Rogozin said he was optimistic about future relations with NATO." It is easy to break a pot but difficult to put the pieces together. But we will do that," he said.

There was initiative on the NATO side and good will on the Russian side, he added.


How about Mosul, ever been there?

Layoffs Spread to More Sectors of the Economy

Furloughs, wage reductions, hiring freezes and shorter hours simply did not do enough. A year into this recession, companies across the board are resorting to mass job cuts.

Home Depot, Caterpillar, Sprint Nextel and at least eight other companies announced on Monday they would cut more than 75,000 jobs in the United States and around the world — a gloomy start to the workweek for employees anxious about holding their own as the economy sinks. Caterpillar, the maker of heavy equipment, is slashing its payrolls by 16 percent. Texas Instruments said late in the day that it would eliminate 3,400 jobs, or 12 percent of its work force.

Jobs began disappearing in home building and mortgage operations early in the recession, then across finance and banking more generally. Now the ax is falling across large swaths of manufacturing, retailing and information technology, taking out workers from New York to Seattle. Just last week, Microsoft announced its first significant job cuts ever.

Because companies like Microsoft have invested in their workers’ skills and knowledge, they usually delay major work force reductions as long as they can. But with orders for new products and services drying up and financing tight, employers are looking to shrink their costs drastically and are slashing their payrolls, anticipating a protracted decline for business in 2009.

Monday’s parade of negative news comes after months of announcements from other prominent companies like Citigroup, General Electric, Nokia and Harley-Davidson. As part of its acquisition of Wyeth, Pfizer said it would cut the combined workforce by 19,500 employees.

On Wednesday, the tally of mass layoffs for December will be released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Already, the bureau says the United States economy has shed 2.55 million jobs since the recession began, pushing the unemployment rate up to 7.2 percent last month.

The latest round of job cuts — and the additional rounds likely to come as these move through the economy — mean more pain ahead for states as unemployment insurance claims rise and deplete state budgets.

Congress has proposed setting aside $43 billion to assist the states and to provide for new and current recipients of unemployment checks. That money is intended to increase the weekly benefit amounts; to extend how long people can collect payments; to cover more types of workers, like part-timers; and to help states distribute benefits more quickly.

It is based largely on an estimate that the unemployment rate will rise to 8 to 9 percent this year even with a stimulus package, according to the proposal summary from the House Appropriations Committee. But if unemployment soars into double digits, as some economists expect, the financing may not be enough.

“The economy is deteriorating at a faster clip than even the most dreary forecasts had expected,” said Joseph Brusuelas, an economist who, bucking the current job market trend, will soon start a new job at Moody’s “At the current trend, $43 billion will not be sufficient should we breach 9 percent unemployment and maybe reach into the double digits.”

President Obama cited the layoff announcements in remarks Monday urging Congress to approve an $825 billion economic stimulus package of tax cuts, emergency benefits and public spending projects. “These are not just numbers on a page,” he said. “As with the millions of jobs lost in 2008, these are working men and women whose families have been disrupted and whose dreams have been put on hold.”

Charles DiGisco, of Randolph, N.J., is one casualty of the downturn. He said he had been looking for work since Sept. 18, when he lost his job as a vice president for sales and marketing at Master Cutlery, a knife maker. He frequently hears a familiar refrain from would-be employers: “We would hire you, but we’re not hiring anybody.”

His family’s monthly expenses are four times what Mr. DiGisco collects from unemployment, and he said his family was selling two of its three cars and might dispose of some stocks or dip into retirement funds to keep paying the mortgage.

“It takes me 20 years to save it, and it takes me five months to go through it,” Mr. DiGisco said.

While stimulus spending on public works may take some time to get going, some companies could bring back displaced workers quickly if the government initiative generated new orders.

Caterpillar, for example, had announced buyouts, wage freezes and work stoppages around the holidays because of “a dramatic decline in orders,” said Jim Dugan, a spokesman for the company, based in Peoria, Ill.

On Monday, the company said that a total of 15,000 permanent and temporary jobs, out of about 125,000, would have been eliminated by the end of this week, and that it would trim 5,000 more by the end of the first quarter. Should orders for earthmovers and other heavy equipment improve, which some expect as countries around the world start building bridges, highways and other public works to help create jobs, Caterpillar can recall some workers quickly.

Many companies, though, may not rush to increase staffs even if business begins to pick up. Andrew Stettner, deputy director of the National Employment Law Project, said downturns often motivate companies to restructure business models permanently, meaning jobs they cut now are unlikely to be replaced.

“Structural change is put into overdrive because of the recession,” he said, “so who knows for sure how a company like Microsoft will fare?”

Sprint Nextel, which announced Monday that it was eliminating 8,000 jobs, or roughly 14 percent of its work force, is similarly facing some tough restructuring decisions as it continues to hemorrhage subscribers.

After a dismal holiday shopping season, retailers are letting employees go in droves. More than 66,600 retailing jobs were lost in December, the worst period since the late 1930s.

Home Depot, the home improvement retailer, said Monday it would cut 7,000 jobs, or 2 percent of its workers. Some 5,000 cuts will come through store closings, largely of its upscale Expo chain; the rest will come from corporate support, many at its Atlanta headquarters.

Carol B. Tomé, Home Depot’s chief financial officer, said the company had explored ways to save Expo, but “as we kept looking at alternatives, the business kept getting softer and softer.”

For most of last year, relatively healthy demand for exports gave global companies like Caterpillar a cushion. But with downturns deepening across Europe and Asia, and the dollar strengthening, global demand for costlier American goods has faltered.

“There really isn’t any hiding place for companies anymore,” said Nigel Gault, chief United States economist at IHS Global Insight. “The recent numbers coming in from the rest of the world are disastrous.”


Detroit Calls Emissions Proposals Too Strict

DETROIT — Automakers said Monday that they were working toward President Obama’s goal of reducing fuel consumption, but rapid imposition of stricter emissions standards could force them to drastically cut production of larger, more profitable vehicles, adding to their financial duress.

Mr. Obama ordered the government on Monday to reconsider whether California and other states could regulate vehicle emissions to help control greenhouse gas emissions, a reversal of a position taken by the Bush administration.

The announcement came as General Motors and Chrysler are borrowing billions of dollars from the government to avoid bankruptcy, and as Toyotaprepares to report its first operating loss in 70 years. Shortly after the president spoke, General Motors said it would cut 2,000 jobs at plants in Michigan and Ohio because of slow sales.

The California regulations, if enacted today, “would basically kill the industry,” said David E. Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research, an independent research organization in Ann Arbor, Mich. “It would have a devastating effect on everybody, and not just the domestics.”

But Mr. Cole said he thought major modifications to the proposed standards were likely and that action was still “a long ways off,” giving the carmakers more time to overcome their financial problems and develop the technologies needed to sell a full lineup of compliant vehicles.

Right now, carmakers say they would be able to sell only their smallest, most fuel-efficient cars — models like the Toyota Prius, a hybrid whose sales have fallen sharply since gas prices began dropping last fall — because once-popular vehicles like pickup trucks made by Ford and G.M. are not efficient enough.

“I want clean air and clean water just like the next guy,” said Erich Merkle, an independent automotive analyst in Grand Rapids, Mich. “But in the real world, there would be consumer outrage with the fact that they’re limited to maybe two vehicles and there’s nothing there that would meet their family’s needs.”

Environmental advocates who have long challenged the automakers’ opposition to the proposed California standards say such regulations will help the companies produce vehicles that consumers want.

Failing to invest in reducing emissions and increasing efficiency will only prolong Detroit’s problems, said David Doniger, climate policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“I think this is the pathway to their survival,” Mr. Doniger said. “If carmakers are going to survive in a world of volatile oil prices and global warming, they have to be making more efficient vehicles. When the economy comes back and people start buying cars again, they’re going to expect that gas prices are going to go up, and they’re not going to want the gas hogs that they used to want. Consumers’ tastes have changed in terms of what’s cool.”

One concern automakers have with states regulating tailpipe emissions is that keeping up with a hodgepodge of standards would be difficult. They expressed support Monday for the ideal of cutting emissions but want their engineers to be concerned with meeting just one set of requirements nationally.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents 11 carmakers, said it favored “a nationwide program that bridges state and federal concerns and moves all stakeholders forward, and we are ready to work with the administration on developing a national approach,” in a statement from the group’s chief executive, Dave McCurdy.

G.M., the only Detroit automaker to issue its own response Monday, said it was “working aggressively on the products and the advance technologies that match the nation’s and consumers’ priorities to save energy and reduce emissions.” But the company also emphasized the need for “a comprehensive policy discussion that takes into account the development pace of new technologies, alternative fuels and market and economic factors.”

Automakers are operating in the worst market since the early 1980s. New vehicle sales fell nearly 19 percent in 2008 and are universally expected to be even lower in 2009.

Representative John D. Dingell, Democrat of Michigan, who has long been one of the Detroit automakers’ strongest allies in Washington, praised the president’s attitude toward global warmingand expressed hope that the administration would act only after studying the effect that “setting a patchwork of different emission standards” would have.

“President Obama and I both share the goal of energy independence and a cleaner environment for our children and grandchildren,” Mr. Dingell said in a statement. “We have a unique opportunity in history to address the issue of global climate change and we must take bold and balanced action.”

Mr. Cole, the Center for Automotive research chairman, said he believed Congress would ensure Detroit would be able to live with any new standards.


On this decision I'm backing the President. Long overdue.

Praise Obama

RI prosecutors: No charges over detainee death

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Rhode Island prosecutors said Monday they would not bring any criminal charges in the cancer-related death of an immigration detainee at a detention facility where federal officials acknowledged the man was mistreated.

Attorney General Patrick Lynch said the state police investigation had focused primarily on whether Hiu Lui "Jason" Ng had been denied access to medical care before his death in August of late-stage liver cancer. He said Ng received medical attention, but troubling questions remain about the quality of care.

"The fact that no criminal charges will be filed should not be misinterpreted as an endorsement of the treatment that Mr. Ng received," Lynch said in a statement.

"As well as the physical pain he suffered, the erosion of the dignity to which he was entitled and the anxiety no doubt felt by his family are extremely troubling to me," he added.

Ng, 34, a Chinese immigrant and computer engineer detained for allegedly overstaying his visa, died at a hospital within weeks of arriving at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls. He was not diagnosed with cancer until shortly before his death.

A report issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement earlier this month concluded that Ng was mistreated at the privately run detention center, including being dragged by guards down the hall even though he had a doctor's note authorizing the use of a wheelchair.

The report also said guards once accused Ng of refusing medication when he couldn't walk to the door of his cell to receive it.

The agency pulled all 153 of its immigration detainees out of the facility last month as part of its investigation into Ng's death. It also terminated its contract with the center, which has punished seven workers - including firing some - who it said had broken the facility's policies and procedures.

The state police investigation began in September at the attorney general's request. The probe looked into whether any state laws had been broken and into whether Ng was denied access medical treatment before his death. But it did not evaluate the quality of the care, prosecutors said.

Wyatt said in a statement that it was gratified by the prosecutors' decision and was committed to caring for its detainees.


Insurgents seize seat of Somalia's parliament

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) - A hardline Islamic group seized the seat of the Somali parliament and said Tuesday that it will establish sharia law in the city.

Al-Shabab, which is on Washington's list of terror groups, took over Baidoa late Monday, a day after Ethiopian troops who had been propping up the government ended their unpopular, two-year presence. Al-Shabab, which means "The Youth," has been gaining ground as Somalia's Western-backed government crumbles.

"We will establish an Islamic administration for the town, and appeal residents to remain calm," al-Shabab spokesman Sheik Muktar Robow said.

The takeover came as Somalia's parliament meets this week in neighboring Djibouti to elect a new president. It appears unlikely the lawmakers will be able to return to Baidoa, 155 miles (250 kilometers) southwest of the capital.

There was a brief firefight between the Islamists and government-allied militias, who soon fled, witnesses said.

A nurse at the city's main hospital, Ahmed Yarow, said two people were wounded during the clashes.

The arid, impoverished Horn of Africa nation has not had a functioning government since 1991, when clan-based warlords overthrew a socialist dictator. Pirates operate off its lawless coastline and analysts fear the failed state is a harbor for international terrorists.

The African Union has fewer than 3,000 troops in Somalia, even though 8,000 were authorized.

African Union commission chairman Jean Ping said Tuesday the capture of Baidoa was not unexpected.

"It's not with three battalions that we can cover all of Somalia," he said at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.


NATO: 3,000 US troops deploy near Afghan capital

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Thousands of U.S. troops originally destined for Iraq have deployed south of Afghanistan's capital in the first illustration of a new military focus on the increasingly difficult fight in the South Asian nation, NATO said Tuesday.

Nearly 3,000 American soldiers with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, New York, moved into the provinces of Logar and Wardak to the south of Kabul, the military alliance said. They will serve as part of the 55,000-strong NATO force in the country.

The latest deployment indicates the shifting focus in military operations from Iraq to Afghanistan, where the U.S. and its allies are trying to turn the tide of Taliban gains and prop up the government of embattled President Hamid Karzai.

President Barack Obama is expected to double the size of American troops in Afghanistan this year, as the country becomes one of his foreign policy priorities.

There are some 70,000 foreign soldiers, including 33,000 U.S. troops, in Afghanistan, the highest number since the Taliban were ousted from power in the 2001 U.S. invasion. The majority of the American troops, including the new brigade, fight under NATO command, which is headed by a U.S. four star general. The rest are part of 13,000-strong U.S. coalition.

Last year was the deadliest for foreign troops since the invasion, with 286 killed, up from 222 the previous year. NATO said two of its troops were killed Tuesday in the south.

The new brigade was originally slated to deploy to Iraq but was officially rerouted to Afghanistan in September, NATO said in a statement. It is not included in Obama's plan to send up to 30,000 more troops to the country.

Both provinces where the troops are deploying have become areas of near-daily insurgent activity and little government presence beyond provincial capitals and main roads, creating a sense of encirclement around the capital.

Vice President Joe Biden said Sunday that the world hasn't done enough to provide economic, political and military resources to Afghanistan and that the U.S. and its allies lack a coherent strategy. The result is a country backsliding into Taliban control, Biden said.

The focus of the brigade for the next year will be to help improve security in Wardak and Logar and help bring stronger government and better infrastructure to the local population, NATO said.

"Our first steps are to get forces out into these more populated areas and begin to interact with the people," Col. David B. Haight, the unit commander, said in the statement.

"Knowing the human terrain is as important as knowing the mountainous terrain surrounding our forward operating bases." Haight said.

Underscoring daily violence that afflicts the country, NATO said two of its troops were killed in southern Afghanistan, which is the center of the Taliban-led insurgency.

The military alliance did not provide the troops' nationalities or any other details on the circumstances surrounding their deaths.

In the same region, five Taliban fighters were killed in an overnight gunbattle with Afghan and international forces, said provincial police chief Assadullah Sherzad. There were no casualties among Afghan and foreign troops.

Southern Afghanistan is the center of the Taliban-led insurgency, which has spread over the last three years in many areas of the country. As part of their resurgence, militants have increasingly relied on roadside bombs in their campaign against Afghan and foreign forces.

A roadside bomb struck a police patrol and wounded two officers on Tuesday in southern Kandahar province. The bomb went off in the center of Kandahar city, the provincial capital, said provincial Police Chief Matiullah Khan Qateh.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan's Interior Ministry said three civilians were killed late Monday in eastern Nangarhar province when their minivan was hit by a remote-controlled bomb blast.


Deadly roadside bombing threatens Gaza truce

JERUSALEM (AP) - Palestinian militants detonated a bomb next to an Israeli army patrol along the border with Gaza on Tuesday, killing one soldier and wounding three in the first serious clash since a cease-fire went into effect more than a week ago.

Israeli soldiers briefly crossed the border in search of the attackers, and Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, called an urgent meeting of Israel's top defense officers, saying Israel "cannot accept" the attack.

"We will respond, but there is no point in elaborating," Barak said in comments released by his office.

The explosion jolted the calm that has largely prevailed since Israel ended a devastating three-week offensive on Jan. 17. Since withdrawing its troops, Israel has threatened to retaliate hard for any violations of the truce.

The flare-up came as Gazans struggle to resume normal life after the fighting, and as international donors discuss how best to help the territory rebuild. Gaza's Hamas leader said Tuesday the group - which is boycotted as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union - would not try to claim any of the reconstruction funds, an announcement that appeared aimed at clearing the way for money to start flowing.

The announcement from Ismail Haniyeh, who remains in hiding because of fears he could be assassinated by Israel, appeared directed at donors who concerned their funds could end up in Hamas' hands.

"Our aim now is to ease the suffering of our people and to remove the aftermath of the aggression in Gaza," the statement said. "Therefore we emphasize that we are not concerned to receive the money for rebuilding Gaza and we are not seeking that."

After Tuesday's bomb blast, heavy gunfire was heard along the border in central Gaza and Israeli helicopters hovered in the air firing machine gun bursts, Palestinian witnesses said. An Israeli jet set off a loud sonic boom over Gaza City not long afterward, possibly as a warning.

The Israeli military said the bomb targeted an Israeli patrol near the border community of Kissufim. It was not clear if it was planted after the cease-fire, or whether it was an older device. There was no claim of responsibility.

Not long after the bombing, a 27-year-old Gaza farmer was killed by Israeli gunfire along the border several miles (kilometers) away, according to Dr. Moaiya Hassanain of Gaza's Health Ministry. Two other Palestinians were wounded. The military had no immediate comment, and it was unclear if the two incidents were related.

Israel closed its crossings into Gaza to humanitarian aid traffic after briefly opening them Tuesday morning. Gaza border official Raed Fattouh said Israeli officials informed him the closure was due to the attack.

Israel and Gaza militants have been holding their fire since Israel ended its offensive, which was aimed at halting rocket fire from the territory. Israel announced a unilateral cease-fire on Jan. 17, and that was followed by a similar announcement from Gaza militants.

In the days immediately following the cease-fire there was shelling by Israeli gunboats and some gunfire along the border - including the killing of two men Palestinian officials identified as farmers - but there were no serious clashes until Tuesday.

Although there was no claim of responsibility, Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas leader, said Israel was to blame for continuing to fire into Gaza. Al-Masri said his group had not agreed to a full cease-fire but only to a "lull" in fighting.

"The Zionists are responsible for any aggression," he said.

Egypt is currently trying to negotiate a longer-term arrangement to allow quiet in the coastal territory of 1.4 million people, which has been ruled by the Islamic militants of Hamas since June 2007. Local experts believe the fighting caused some $2 billion in damage.

Israel wants an end to Hamas rocket attacks and guarantees that Hamas will be prevented from smuggling weapons into Gaza from Egypt. Hamas has demanded that Israel and Egypt reopen Gaza's border crossings, which have been largely closed since Hamas took power. The crossings are Gaza's economic lifeline.

The Israeli offensive killed 1,285 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians, according to records kept by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. Thirteen Israelis, including three civilians, were also killed during the fighting.


Senior Iraqi official escapes roadside bomb attack

BAGHDAD (AP) - A senior Iraqi customs official escaped a roadside bomb attack on Tuesday, officials said, the latest in a spate of assassination attempts before provincial elections.

The blast struck the convoy carrying police Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Attiyah, the director-general of Iraq's customs agency, as he was on his way to work in central Baghdad, officials said.

Al-Attiyah was not harmed, but three of his guards were wounded, according to police and hospital officials.

A car bomb also exploded near an Iraqi army patrol in the northern city of Mosul, killing one soldier and wounding two others, police said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to talk to the media.

Nobody claimed responsibility for the attacks, but they occurred as tensions are high before Saturday's provincial elections.

The vote is expected to redistribute power among Iraq's fractured ethnic and religious groups, and the U.S. military has warned it expects insurgents to try to disrupt it.

Meanwhile, a Sunni insurgent group claimed responsibility for downing two U.S. helicopters that crashed Monday, killing four U.S. troops, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, an organization that monitors extremist Web sites.

In an Internet statement that could not be independently verified, the Army of the Men of al-Nakshabandia Order said it used rockets to shoot down two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters and promised to release a video of the attack.

The U.S. military denied the claim, saying the two helicopters that went down were OH-58 Kiowa Warriors and "there were no reports of enemy action or contact prior to accident."

Maj. Derrick Cheng, a spokesman for U.S. forces in northern Iraq, said an investigation was under way to identify the actual cause.

The insurgent group, which billed itself as a nationalist group, is part of an umbrella organization founded by ex-Saddam Hussein deputy Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri called the Supreme Council for Jihad and Liberation.

It said the attack occurred in the Hawija area in Tamim province, which includes the disputed oil-rich city of Kirkuk. The insurgents also claimed "more than 20 enemy members" died, according to SITE, although the U.S. military reported four dead in the crash.

The crash was the deadliest single loss of life for U.S. forces in Iraq in more than four months amid an overall decline in violence.