Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Who’s Blowing Up Iran?

Another week, another explosion at or near an Iranian military installation (or is it a nuclear research facility?). As usual, the regime doesn’t know what to say. The mullahcracy is so intensely divided that different “spokesmen” from different ministries/news outlets/cults/mafias put out different versions. There was an explosion, or at least “the sound of an explosion.” This goes out on the wires. Then, no, there was no explosion, it was just the sound of our fierce military training. Then again, yes, there was something, but not to worry, just go home and shut up. And so it goes in the Islamic Republic of Iran, as our president so loves to call his intended international partners.

I’ve been reporting for many months about the ongoing sabotage of pipelines, refineries, military sites, Revolutionary Guards’ aircraft and trains, and groups of regime thugs. and have received the usual cold shoulder from publications “of record,” which is to say silent sneers. But the tempo of attacks, most notably the monster blast a week ago that vaporized General Moghaddam and his foreign visitors (at least some of whom had taken the shuttle from Pyongyang to be with him on what they wrongly expected would be a happy day) led the Washington Post’s man in Tehran, Thomas Erdbrink, to note the phenomenon in a useful story entitled “Mysterious Explosions Pose Dilemma for Iranian leaders.” He gives us a pretty good rundown of the explosions, and, living as he does in Tehran, gives ample space to regime “explanations” such as bad welding, western sanctions, and so forth. Given the number of foreign journalists who have come to a bad end in Iran, you’d do the same.

Safe in London, on the other hand, Roger Cohen of the New York Times has no doubt about what’s happening: his guy Obama is waging a secret war against the mullahs. “It would take tremendous naïveté,” he lectures the great unwashed, “to believe these events are not the result of a covert American-Israeli drive to sabotage Iran’s efforts to develop a military nuclear capacity. An intense, well-funded cyberwar against Tehran is ongoing.”

So color me tremendously naive. I would really love to believe Roger Cohen; the very idea that Obama, at long last, has ordered a response to the Iranian war against the west (totally unmentioned, needless to say), is delightful. But I don’t believe it, and Cohen doesn’t give us any evidence for it, aside from intoning, as the mullahs themselves are so wont to do, that it’s the infidels and the Zionists.

Yes, there’s a cyberwar, but Revolutionary Guards generals don’t get vaporized by Stuxnet. And Cohen’s judgment is so swayed by his fandom for Obama that it verges on the worst of the early Chris Matthews. Try this, for example:

Foreign policy has been Obama’s strongest suit. He deserves great credit for killing Osama bin Laden, acting for the liberation of Libya, getting behind the Arab quest for freedom, winding down the war in Iraq, dealing repeated blows to Al Qaeda and restoring America’s battered image.

I suppose some copy editor took out “ordering the” before “killing” and the “of” right after it, but sure, full marks for seeing it through. As for the Libyan, Egyptian, Tunisian and Iraqi decisions, the jury’s out, and seems to be leaning against Cohen’s client nowadays. The blows to Al Qaeda–by which he is referring to drone attacks and the like–are fine, albeit the really vicious body blow was the defeat of AQ and their sponsors in Iraq. If you think our national image has been “restored” under this president as a result of his great foreign policy, more power to you. Ring up Roger in London, maybe he’ll give you tea.

Since I’m pretty much the only guy in town who forecast the war against the mullahs, and it’s now so obvious that even MSM reporters and columnists can mention it without blushing, I’m sticking to my story. I don’t think the ongoing assault against the regime is coming from outside Iran. I think it comes from the Iranian opposition within the country. And I think it shows that the opposition is a great deal stronger than the experts have opined.

If you were Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, what would you be saying to that unhealthy face in the mirror? You’d say, “they come and go at will; they obviously have the full cooperation of traitors at very high levels of the regime, even inside the Guards. They not only knew Moghaddam was going to be there, but exactly where and when. Now Isfahan, another heavily guarded base. That doesn’t look like Zionists and infidels, whose pathetic collaborators we round up easily over and over again; it looks like people who are trusted and supported by the traitors in my own house.”

When a regime cracks, even very high officials start to do favors for the opposition, hoping to avoid the worst if the regime comes down. Khamenei knows that the head of the shah’s secret intelligence service went on to hold the same position under the fanatical Ayatollah Khomeini. Recent events will have convinced the supreme leader that his own security may be as compromised as the shah’s was.

Add to this the dreams common to regular users of opium (Khamenei is one of them) and you’ve got a very explosive situation.

Faster, Please

I'm not buying a word of this. It has to be O trying to get as much done as possible before losing Iraq...

New Study Shows U.S. Government Fails to Oversee Treatment of Foster Children With Mind-Altering Drugs

The GAO's report, based on a two-year-long investigation, looked at five states -- Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oregon and Texas. Thousands of foster children were being prescribed psychiatric medications at doses higher than the maximum levels approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in these five states alone. And hundreds of foster children received five or more psychiatric drugs at the same time despite absolutely no evidence supporting the simultaneous use or safety of this number of psychiatric drugs taken together.

GAO Key Findings

Overall, the GAO looked at nearly 100,000 foster children in the five states and found that nearly one-third of foster children were prescribed at least one psychiatric drug.

The GAO found foster children were prescribed psychotropic drugs at rates up to nearly five times higher than non-foster children, with foster children in Texas being the most likely to receive the medications compared to foster children in the other four states.

Watch the year-long investigation tonight on "World News with Diane Sawyer" at 6:30 p.m. ET

Although the actual percentages of children who received five or more psychiatric drugs at the same time were low in the five states included in the GAO report, the chances of a foster child compared to a non-foster child being given five or more psychiatric drugs at the same time were alarming.

In Texas, foster children were 53 times more likely to be prescribed five or more psychiatric medications at the same time than non-foster children. In Massachusetts, they were 19 times more likely. In Michigan, the number was 15 times. It was 13 times in Oregon. And in Florida, foster children were nearly four times as likely to be given five or more psychotropic medications at the same time compared to non-foster children.

Initially part of GAO's investigation, Maryland was later excluded from GAO's analysis "due to the unreliability of their foster care data" according to the report, a problem ABC News learned many states face.

Foster children were also more than nine times more likely than non-foster children to be prescribed drugs for which there was no FDA-recommended dose for their age.

For the most vulnerable foster children, those less than 1 year old, foster children were nearly twice as likely to be prescribed a psychiatric drug compared to non-foster children.

When Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., lead requestor of the GAO report, first learned of the report's findings, he said, "I was almost despondent to believe that the kids under the age of one, babies under the age of one were receiving this kind of medication."

ABC News has reviewed dozens of medical studies published in recent years that echo GAO's findings -- research showing foster children receive psychiatric medications up to 13 times more often than kids in the general population. In some parts of the country, as many as half of foster kids are on one or more psychiatric medications. This, compared to just 4 percent of kids in the general population.

Dr. George Fouras, a child psychiatrist and co-chairman of the Adoption and Foster Care Committee of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), said, "There is an incredible push to use medications to solve these problems as if it is a magic wand."

The stories include kids like 11-year-old Ke'onte from Texas, whose journey was documented by ABC News over the past year and who will be testifying before Congress on Thursday about the overuse of psychiatric medications in foster children.

Neglected and often left home alone with his 1-year old sister, Ke'onte became a ward of the state at the tender age of four. Ke'onte was placed with a relative who, he said, beat him with belts, switches, and extension cords -- which not only left him with the physical scars on his body he showed ABC News, but, understandably, with anger and despair. Simply too much for the relative, the state of Texas bounced Ke'onte between six foster homes and hospitals over just four years.

Along the way, Ke'onte's trauma was treated with an onslaught of psychotropic drugs -- powerful mind-altering medicines like the mood-stabilizer Depakote, the stimulant Vyvanse, the antidepressant Lexapro, clonidine for ADHD and the antipsychotic Seroquel.

"I was put on bipolar meds. I am not bipolar at all," Ke'onte told ABC News' Diane Sawyer.

Ke'onte was on at least 12 psychiatric medications while in foster care, up to four of them at the same time. "I was on a whole lot of medicines that I should have not been on," Ke'onte told ABC News.

READ: A Resource Guide for Children in Foster Care

But Ke'onte is lucky -- a member of a select group of foster kids, about one in 10, who leave state custody to enjoy the security and stability of being adopted by a loving family, according to the latest data from the Administration for Children and Families.

And his new family, Carol and Scott Cook, were on a mission to get Ke'onte off drugs; he is now in therapy, beginning to heal. Additionally, his doctor now says Ke'onte doesn't have ADHD and he's not bipolar.

Meds Aren't Always the Answer

While almost all experts acknowledge children in foster care have more emotional and behavioral issues, experts ABC News spoke to do not believe this alone justifies the magnitude of the overuse of psychiatric medications in this vulnerable population.

"The general consensus is that when you're treating young children, you always try behavioral intervention before you go to medication," said Dr. Charles Zeanah, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Tulane University.

Experts are also beginning to question the accuracy of diagnoses such as bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses in children, especially in foster children who may not always have access to comprehensive mental health services.

Stephen Crystal, director of the Center for Education and Research on Mental Health Therapeutics at Rutgers University, said while foster kids may be three times as likely to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, "the validity of these diagnoses is uncertain, and the fact of being in foster care may itself increase the likelihood of psychiatric conditions being diagnosed."

While the National Institute of Mental Health reports schizophrenia affects just 1 percent of the population and bipolar disorder less than 3 percent of the population, antipsychotics have become one of the top-selling classes of medications in the United States, with 2010 prescription sales of $16.2 billion, according to IMS Health.

Concerned about numerous reports of waste and the abuse of psychiatric medications in foster children, Republican and Democratic United States senators, led by Sen. Carper, requested an independent GAO investigation on the growing problem nearly two years ago.

In the five states included in this week's GAO report, more than $375 million was spent on psychiatric drugs in 2008, $200 million of which was spent in Texas alone.

Medicaid spends at least $6 billion a year, nearly 30 percent of its entire drug budget, on psychiatric drugs, more than double what was spent in 1999, according to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services.

GAO Holds HHS Accountable

The GAO report is an indictment on HHS's oversight of the nation's foster care children and asks that "HHS consider endorsing guidance for states on best practices for overseeing psychotropic prescriptions for foster children."

Several factors may be contributing to the increasing number of psychotropic prescriptions for foster children: greater exposure to trauma before entering the foster care system, frequent changes in foster placements and lax oversight policies on the part of states.

"You know, there are a lot of people you need to talk to, to find out as much as you can about what the child's behavior is like in a variety of different situations before you make a determination that you're going to use something like a very powerful medication to treat them," Zeanah said.

The GAO found that Texas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oregon, and Florida each "falls short of providing comprehensive oversight as defined by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry" with regards to prescribing and overseeing the use of psychotropic drugs.

Currently, HHS simply provides "informational resources for states to consider for their programs" when it comes to psychotropic drugs provided to children in state custody according to the GAO.

States are not obligated to follow consent and oversight best principle guidelines set by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry for medicating foster children.

However, many states are also not following oversight provisions required by law, according to the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act passed in September 2011 and the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008.

In addition to providing guidance, HHS also has the authority to withhold federal funds from states that do not comply with strengthened oversight measures.

Sen. Carper said Congress has a responsibility, too -- "to try to get to the bottom of this, and armed with that information, to make sure that behavior is changed, that's going to be beneficial to children."

HHS Sends Letter to States the Day Before Thanksgiving

HHS was given an early look at the GAO report and issued a letter to states the day before Thanksgiving regarding the effective use of psychotropic medications among children in foster care.

"Too many states, I'm afraid, just don't know what best practices are," Carper said. But states have been asking for help for years.

One state official told researchers at Tufts, "[We] need guidelines to determine whether medications are needed and, if so, for how long."

HHS said it will "offer expanded opportunities to states and territories to strengthen their systems of prescribing and monitoring psychotropic medication use among children in foster care."

Dr. Christopher Bellonci, a child psychiatrist and author of a 2010 Tufts study that showed nearly 50 percent of states either didn't have, or were still in the process of developing, policies regarding foster care psychotropic drug use, thinks HHS guidance for states on best practices, while good, are not enough.

Bellonci told ABC News the states should have to report pharmacy claims of actual psychotropic drugs given to foster children.

"We need to be able to benchmark states around one another, then at least it is all public record," Bellonci said.

Antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, antipsychotics, and mood stabilizers are some of the so-called psychotropic drugs -- psychiatric medicines that alter chemical levels in the brain, which impacts mood and behavior. Of the psychotropics, antipsychotics, like Ke'onte's Seroquel and others like Abilify, Risperdal, Zyprexa, Geodon, Invega, Latuda, Fanapt, Clozaril, Saphris and Solian, are among the most powerful.

Of all the psychiatric medications, antipsychotics are, by far, the most prescribed, especially for foster children. Foster children are given antipsychotics at a rate nine times higher than children not in foster care, according to a 2010 16-state analysis by Rutgers University of nearly 300,000 foster children.

While doctors aren't exactly sure how or even why antipsychotics work, most experts believe antipsychotics block specific receptors in the brain, which are thought to be overactive in patients with symptoms of psychoses, such as hallucinations and delusions.

Antipsychotics were initially designed for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Only Seroquel, Abilify, Risperdal, and Zyprexa have very limited FDA-approval for use in children.

However, antipsychotics are being widely prescribed off-label, meaning for conditions the FDA has not approved them for, for things like agitation, anxiety, acting out, irritability, behavior issues and even as sleeping aids.

Dr. Jeffrey Thompson, chief medical officer for Medicaid in the state of Washington, said, "Nobody gets up in the morning to overdose kids. It just happens that it's a momentum in the system. Kids get aggressively diagnosed and sometimes we look for the easy solution, which is a pill over psychotherapy or better parenting."

Critics charge that, because of their sedating properties, antipsychotics are actually being used in foster care treatment facilities as chemical restraints.

Dr. Fouras is particularly concerned about the use of these drugs as chemical restraints.

"We are trying to put a nice shiny term that sounds [as if] 'oh, we're just restraining the kid,' [when] really what you are doing is just knocking them out to make them less of a problem for you," Fouras said.

This widespread and frequently unchecked use of antipsychotics is concerning considering the serious side effects of these medications. Antipsychotics change a person's metabolism, frequently cause significant weight gain and can increase the risk of diabetes.

In addition to tremors, muscle spasms and restlessness, antipsychotics can cause tardive dyskinesia, a permanent and irreversible condition where a person has involuntary movements of the tongue, lip, mouth, and arms and legs.

While less common with newer antipsychotics, each year 5 percent of people on antipsychotics will develop tardive dyskinesia, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Many experts are also concerned about the prolonged use of antipsychotics in children, given there are absolutely no long-term safety studies for their use in children.

Fouras said, "Some of these medications have only been out for 10 to 15 years, so that is not enough time to know what is going to happen over the long term."


Government health care at work

Report: Mysterious blast in Iran's Isfahan damaged key nuclear site

A mysterious blast which reportedly rocked Isfahan in western Iran on Monday damaged a key nuclear facility in the city, the Times of London reported on Wednesday.

On Monday, Haaretz sited Iranian media as reporting that an explosion was heard near Isfahan, home to a uranium conversion plant operational since 2004.

According to reports by the semi-official Fars news agency, frightened residents called the fire department after the blast, forcing the city authorities to admit there had been an explosion. Residents reported that their windows shook from the explosion's force.

At first, Iranian officials denied the reports, with the governor of Isfahan later alleging that the blast was caused by an accident that had occurred during a nearby military drill.

However, a report in the Times on Wednesday alleged that the blast had not been a military accident, and that the city's nuclear facility was damaged.

The report quotes Israeli intelligence officials who based their conclusion on updated satellite images showing smoke billowing from the direction of the conversion plant.

According to the Israeli sources, there was "no doubt" that the blast had damaged the nuclear facility, and that the explosion was not an "accident."

"This caused damage to the facilities in Isfahan, particularly to the elements we believe were involved in storage of raw materials," one source told the Sunday Times.

It must be noted that the Times report was not confirmed by any other source.

The Isfahan plant went into operation in 2004, taking uranium from mines and producing uranium fluoride gas, which then feeds the centrifuges that enrich the uranium.

Since 2004, thousands of kilograms of uranium flouride gas were stockpiled at Isfahan and subsequently sent to the enrichment plant in Natanz.

Commenting on the report of an explosion in Isfahan, U.S. State Department Spokesman Mark Toner said Monday, "We don't have any information at this time other than what we've seen in the press as well. But certainly we're looking into it."

"As you know, we're somewhat limited in our ability to glean information on the ground there, but we're certainly looking into it," Toner added.

Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan said in a television interview on Tuesday that if Israel attacks Iran, it will be dragged into a regional war.

According to Dagan, Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas will respond with massive rocket attacks on Israel. In that scenario, Syria may join in the fray, Dagan said on the television program “Uvda”.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Turkey considers Iraq as alternative trade route

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) - Turkey is considering using Iraq as a transit route for trade with the Middle East "if the situation with Syria worsens," the country's transport minister said Tuesday.

Binali Yildirim told the state-run Anadolu Agency that Turkey would increase the number of border gates with Iraq in such an event.

Turkey and Syria share a 520-miles (850-kilometer) border and Syria is currently a main transit route for Middle East trade.

A week ago, Syrian soldiers opened fire on at least two buses carrying Turkish citizens, wounding two of them and forcing Turkey to renew a travel warning to the country.

Syria's bloody crackdown on protesters has strained relations with Turkey, which has been outspoken in its criticism of President Bashar Assad. They deteriorated further following a spate of attacks on Turkey's diplomatic missions.

Turkey has backed a series of Arab League sanctions on Syria and is expected to announce its own sanctions soon. It is already enforcing an arms embargo on Syria.

Yildirim said Ankara was working on measures that would not harm the Syrian people.

"Restrictions to be applied on Syria will never cause harm to the people of Syria," Yildirim was quoted as saying.

Yildirim also told Anadolu plans were under way for the use of so-called Ro-Ro - roll on-roll off - ships between Turkey and Egypt, although he added the route was not an alternative to transport through Syria.


Picture of a 9 years old boy who blown up a Shia mosque in Iraq

(Ahlul Bayt News Agency) - According to an Iraqi security forces, police arrested a Wahhabi woman in Sunni dominated region of Diali who has sent her 9 years old boy to suicide in a Shiite mosque.

The arrested terrorist woman, S.Alabidi, confessed that in year 2006, she and her husband have wrapped their boy, Kadhim, with explosive belt to blow up Shiite mosque in Diali province.

In the attack 9 Shia martyred and 8 others injured.

Allahu Akbar

Report: France Training Free Syrian Army Rebels in Turkey, Lebanon

French military forces are training armed Syrian rebels in Turkey and Lebanon to fight the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, a Turkish newspaper has reported.

According to Milliyet, as cited by The Islamic Republic News Agency, IRNA, the French forces are training the so-called Free Syrian Army to wage war against Syria's military.

The report said the French, British, and Turkish authorities “have reached an agreement to send arms into Syria.”

The three countries have also informed the U.S. about the training and arming the Syrian opposition, it said.

The rebel army has stepped up attacks on regime targets in recent weeks in a bid to topple Assad’s government which has waged a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters since mid-March.

The Free Syrian Army claims to have some 20,000 deserters in its ranks. The group's chief, Riad al-Assaad, is based in Turkey.

The report came after the media also revealed that the British and French intelligence agencies have tasked their agents with contacting Syrian dissidents based in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli to help fuel the unrest in Syria.

Reports also said that French agents have been sent to northern Lebanon and Turkey to build the first contingents of the Free Syrian Army out of the deserters who have fled Syria.


Senate defies Obama veto threat in terrorist custody vote

Defying a veto threat from President Obama, the Senate voted Tuesday to preserve language that would give the U.S. military a crack at al Qaeda operatives captured in the U.S., even if they are American citizens.

Led by Sen. Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, senators voted 61-37 to preserve the language that gives the military custody of al Qaeda suspects, rather than turning them over to law enforcement officials.

“We are at war with al Qaeda and people determined to be part of al Qaeda should be treated as people who are at war with us,” Mr. Levin said.

He and Arizona Sen. John McCain, the ranking Republican on his committee, had struck a deal earlier this month on giving the military priority custody, while allowing the administration to waive that and give civilian authorities priority if it deems the waiver in the interests of national security.

The White House and its Senate allies objected and tried to block the changes, instead calling for the issue to be studied further.

They argued giving the military priority could complicate investigations into terrorist suspects in the U.S., and said it opens the door to indefinite military detention of U.S. citizens.

“We’re ignoring the advice and the input of the director of the FBI, the director of our intelligence community, the attorney general of the United States,” said Sen. Mark Udall, Colorado Democrat, who led the effort to block the compromise.

The White House earlier had threatened to veto the bill over the provisions, saying they amounted to an effort to micromanage the war on terror.

“Any bill that challenges or constrains the president’s critical authorities to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists and protect the nation would prompt the president’s senior advisers to recommend a veto,” the White House said in a statement.

But 16 Democrats, one independent and 44 Republicans joined together to defy Mr. Obama’s threat. Two Republicans — Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mark Steven Kirk of Illinois — voted to strip out the detainee language.

The fight was part of a broader debate over the annual defense policy bill, which is considered one of the few must-pass pieces of legislation Congress considers each year.

The House has already passed its version with strict detainee language, so the Senate vote makes it likely whatever final bill reaches the president’s desk will contain the provision.


I wonder if they will have a sale on new camp shoes

Monday, November 28, 2011

Egyptians wait in long lines to elect a parliament

CAIRO (AP) - They waited in long lines for hours to vote, despite a new wave of unrest, fears about a sharply divided society and uncertainty over the nation's future.

For the millions of Egyptians who cast ballots Monday, the first parliamentary elections since they ousted Hosni Mubarak were a turning point in history - if for no other reason than they were finally getting a chance to be heard after decades of rigged voting.

The outcome will indicate whether one of America's most important Middle East allies will remain secular or move down a more Islamic path, as have other countries swept up in the Arab Spring.

"I have hope this time," said Amal Fathy, a 50-year-old government employee who wears the Islamic veil, as she patiently waited to vote. "I may not live long enough to see change, but my grandchildren will."

Since the uprising that forced out Mubarak nearly 10 months ago, Egyptians had looked forward to this day as a celebration of freedom after years of stifling dictatorship. Instead, there has been deep disappointment with the military rulers who replaced the old regime and a new wave of protests and clashes that began 10 days before the vote.

Adding to the disarray, the multiple stage election process, which will stretch over months, is extremely complicated. Some of the key political players complained they did not have enough time or the right conditions to organize for the vote.

If there was little jubilation, there was hope - and even defiance - with many determined to either push the military from power or vote against the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups who are expected to dominate the balloting.

"This was simply overwhelming. My heart was beating so fast," Sanaa el-Hawary, a 38-year-old mother of one said after she cast her vote in Cairo. "This is my life, it's my baby's life. It's my country and this is the only hope we have now."

Female voters appeared to outnumber the men by far, shattering widespread notions in a society whose women are mostly dismissed or taken lightly.

Women waiting for five hours at one polling center chanted: "We will not give up, we will not give up."

In Cairo's crowded Shoubra district, 34-year-old Toka Youssef explained why she was voting for the first time in her life.

"Before, there were no real elections. It was all theater. Now I'm optimistic in the future. These are the first steps toward democracy," she said. "It's a bit confused and chaotic because we've never seen this many people vote. No one cared this much before."

Ever since an 18-day uprising toppled Mubarak's regime and brought the military to power, Egypt has gone through violence, splits in society, a worsening economy and a surge in street crime. Still, people were eager to cast a free vote, even though much is unclear about what will happen next, whatever the outcome.

Many liberals, leftists, Christians and pious Muslims who oppose mixing religion and politics went to the polls to try to reduce the scope of the Muslim Brotherhood's electoral gains.

Also weighing heavily on voters' minds was whether this election will set Egypt on a path of democracy under the rule of the military. Protests this month have demanded that the generals step down immediately because of fears they are trying to cling to power and not bring real reform.

The parliament that emerges may have little relevance because the military is sharply limiting its powers, and it may only serve for several months. However, the vote will give Egyptians and the world an accurate reading of the strength of the political forces at work in the Arab world's most populous nation.

A reliable political map of the nation would also have an impact beyond Egypt's borders, serving as a guide to whether the close U.S. ally will continue to be the main source of moderation in the region and assume the mantle of a key advocate of Middle East peace.

The election is the fruit of the Arab Spring revolts that have swept the region in the past year, toppling several authoritarian regimes. In Tunisia and Morocco, Islamic parties have come out winners in recent balloting, but if the much larger Egypt does the same, it could have an even greater impact.

Some voters brought their children along, saying they wanted them to learn how to exercise their rights in what promises to be the fairest and cleanest election in Egypt in living memory.

The biggest complaint Monday was the long wait, with polling stations opening late or running out of ballots. There also was campaigning outside polling centers in violation of the law.

"If you have waited for 30 years, can't you wait now for another hour?" an army officer yelled at hundreds of restless women at one Cairo polling station.

Supporters of the Freedom and Justice party, the Brotherhood's political arm, were seen with laptop computers helping voters with information on where they should cast their ballots but writing the information on large cards with the party logo on one side and the name and photos of its candidates on the other. Party supporters also appeared to be allowed to maintain security at some places or help the elderly vote.

"I never voted because I was never sure it was for real. This time, I hope it is, but I am not positive," said Shahira Ahmed, 45, waiting with her husband and daughter with about 500 other people.

Even before polls opened at 8 a.m., Cairo voters stood in lines stretching several hundred yards, suggesting a respectable turnout. Under heavy security from police and soldiers, the segregated lines of men and women snaked around blocks and prompted authorities to extend voting by two hours.

For decades, few Egyptians bothered to vote because nearly every election was rigged, whether by bribery, ballot-box stuffing or police intimidation. Turnout was often in the single digits.

"I am voting for freedom. We lived in slavery. Now we want justice in freedom," said 50-year-old Iris Nawar at a polling station in Maadi, a Cairo suburb. "We are afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood. But we lived for 30 years under Mubarak, we will live with them, too."

In a heavy rain in Alexandria, a line of women displayed Egypt's religious spectrum - Christians, Muslims with heads bared, others in conservative headscarves, still others wearing the black robes that left only the eyes exposed. Nearby, one soldier shouted through a megaphone: "Choose freely. Choose whomever you want to vote for."

In Tahrir Square on Monday, a crowd of about 2,000 kept the round-the-clock protest going. Clashes during the demonstrations left more than 40 dead.

Standing outside the tent where he has camped since Friday, protester Ibrahim Hassan, 22, said it was wrong to have elections before the military gives up power and when members of Mubarak's ruling party can still run.

"So they'll elect a parliament, but they won't give it any power or let it write the constitution," he said. "So what's the point?"

A Facebook page that played a crucial role in mobilizing the anti-Mubarak uprising indicated how the election has thrown Tahrir's die-hard revolutionaries into confusion. It said everyone should vote but must wear black while doing so in mourning for those killed in last week's protests.

"We will go to the elections because it is the first step on the path of taking power back from the military, who we believe should go quickly back to their barracks," according to the page.

The Brotherhood entered the campaign with a powerful network around the country and years of experience in political activism, even though it was banned under Mubarak. Also running are candidates for the even more conservative Salafi movement, which advocates a hard-line Saudi Arabian-style interpretation of Islam.

While the Brotherhood shows a willingness at times to play politics and compromise in its ideology, many Salafis insist that democracy take a back seat to Islamic law.

In contrast, the secular and liberal youth groups who engineered the uprising failed to capitalize on their triumph to contest the election effectively. They largely had to create new parties from scratch, most of which were not widely known and were plagued by divisions.

"The Muslim Brotherhood are the people who have stood by us when times were difficult," said Ragya el-Said, a 47-year-old lawyer in Alexandria, a stronghold for the group. "We have a lot of confidence in them."

But the Brotherhood faces opposition. Even some who favor more religion in public life are suspicious of its motives, and the large Christian minority - about 10 percent of the population of around 85 million - fear rising Islamism.

"I'm a Muslim but won't vote for any Islamist party because their views are too narrow," said Eman el-Khoury, 53, looking disapprovingly at Brotherhood activists handing out campaign leaflets near an Alexandria polling station in violation of the law. "How can we change this country when at an opportunity for change we make the same dirty mistakes?"

For many of those who did not want to vote for the Brotherhood or other Islamists, the alternative was not clear.

"I don't know any of the parties or who I'm voting for," said Teresa Sobhi, a Christian voter in the southern city of Assiut. "I'll vote for the first names I see, I guess."

The election will be held over multiple stages, with different provinces taking turns to vote with each round. Voting for 498-seat People's Assembly, parliament's lower chamber, will last until January, then elections for the 390-member upper house will drag on until March.

Each round lasts two days. Some voters said they feared vote-rigging because the ballot boxes would be left at polling stations overnight. Monday and Tuesday's vote takes place in nine provinces whose residents account for 24 million of Egypt's estimated 85 million people.

The ballots are a confusing mix of party lists that will gain seats according to proportions of votes and individual candidates who will have to enter runoffs after each round if no one gets 50 percent in the first round.

Mixed in are candidates labeled as "farmer" or "worker" who must gain a certain number of seats, a holdover from the Mubarak regime, which manipulated the process to elect his cronies.

A parliament dominated by Islamists but without any significant powers could potentially provide the spark for an open conflict with the generals. On the other hand, a clean and fair vote would give legitimacy to the election and credibility to the military at a time when the Tahrir Square protesters are trying to convince everyone that the generals are not serious about reform.

A high turnout among the estimated 50 million voters could water down the showing of the Brotherhood, since its core of supporters are the most likely to vote, hurting the standing of the Tahrir activists. A low turnout would undermine the credibility of the election and boost some of the prestige the Tahrir activists.


Ohio Shale Drilling Spurs Job Hopes in Rust Belt

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (AP) — A rare sight in hard-luck Youngstown, a new industrial plant, has generated hope that a surge in oil and natural gas drilling across a multistate region might jump-start a revival in Rust Belt manufacturing.

The $650 million V&M Star mill, located along a desolate stretch that once was a showcase for American industry, is to open by year's end and produce seamless steel pipes for tapping shale formations.

It will mean 350 new jobs in Youngstown, a northeast Ohio city that is struggling with 11 percent unemployment.

V&M Star's parent company Vallourec, based in Boulogne-Billancourt, France, hopes increased interest in shale formations will produce a ready-made market.

Vast stores of natural gas in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations have set off a rush to grab leases and secure permits to drill. Industry estimates show the Marcellus boom could offer robust job numbers for 50 years.

Similar hopes are alive in Lorain, Ohio, where U.S. Steel will add 100 jobs with a $100 million upgrade of a plant that makes seamless pipe for the construction, oil-gas exploration and production industries. Erin DiPietro, a company spokeswoman in Pittsburgh, said the expansion will make the Lorain operation more competitive and help it tap into expanding shale developments.

The mayors of both Ohio cities see a chance to revive manufacturing through shale drilling.

"For every manufacturing job there are between five and seven ancillary jobs created within the community that support those manufacturing jobs," said Lorain Mayor Tony Krasienko. His city has a 10.6 percent unemployment rate.

Companies are trying to spin off more work from shale development, and every bit will be a plus, according to Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone. "I just know this: the money they will spend will help the economy," he said.

Those benefiting from shale development include American Railcar Industries of St. Charles, Mo., with an order backlog that is the largest since 2008. The company, with operations across the U.S, was helped by demand for freight cars used in the shale industry.

One of the biggest manufacturing projects on the shale developing horizon is the plan for a multibillion-dollar Shell Oil Co. petrochemical refinery. Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia are competing for the plant, which would convert natural gas liquids to other chemicals that go into everything from plastics to tires to antifreeze.

"What they're talking about at this stage is, you're looking at the next gold rush," said Martin Abraham, science-engineering dean at Youngstown State University.

One study backed by the oil and gas industry predicted developing oil and gas reserves could create or support more than 200,000 jobs in the next four years just in Ohio, where Hess Corp. recently made a series of mineral-rights purchases worth $750 million.

But the project is not without controversy.

Susan Helper, a Case Western Reserve University professor who studies manufacturing issues, said such job projections are suspect, in part because the estimate of natural gas reserves may be inflated.

She said the industry and politicians have a self-interest in rosy projections. "It's a way of saying to environmentalists and others that say slow down, 'Gee, you're preventing all this potential great job growth here'," she said.

V&M Star, with production locations in Youngstown, Houston and Muskogee, Okla., will ramp up production over the next year, creating seamless pipe to bring gas or oil to the surface.

"Not only do we have an experienced workforce but ... our market is in our backyard," said Joel Mastervich, the company's president and chief operating officer.

Rick Mazza, 52, who has experienced the industrial decline firsthand, likes the initial boost that V&M Star has generated for his commercial-residential heating and cooling business. He's hired two more workers in the past year.

"It's going to be a good spillover for us, especially with this depression or recession, whatever we're in now," said Mazza, who was laid off repeatedly in the 1980s at the General Motors Corp. plant in nearby Lordstown.

The Youngstown-Warren region has lost more than 28,000 jobs in the past 10 years, two-thirds of them in manufacturing. The Youngstown population has declined to about 67,000, less than half of what it was some 40 years ago, and the city is aggressively bulldozing dilapidated houses to reconfigure itself as a smaller city.

The city has a center that nurtures small-business development and has worked to upgrade the neighborhood around Youngstown State University, an important job source with more than 2,000 employees.

Despite the efforts, there was renewed evidence of the city's decline in a Nov. 3 Brookings Institution report that said Youngstown has the nation's highest concentration of poverty among the 100 biggest metro areas.

Boosters in the region cite additional evidence of an improving manufacturing climate, including a mechanical engineering firm that expanded from Michigan to Youngstown and the hot-selling Chevrolet Cruze built in Lordstown.

In August, the U.S. Geological Survey said the Marcellus Shale region from New York to Ohio contains some 84 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered, recoverable natural gas, far more than thought nearly a decade ago. Some geologists have put the figure even higher, but those estimates are controversial .

The Utica formation covers much of eastern Ohio and crosses through New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Permits allowing hydraulic fracturing in Ohio's portion of the Marcellus and the deeper Utica Shale have risen from one in 2006, to four in 2009, to at least 32 this year, state records show. Pennsylvania has nearly 3,500 Marcellus wells sunk, most since 2008, and more than 500 permits have been issued this year in West Virginia.

Environmentalists are critical of the process, which utilizes chemical-laced water and sand to blast deep into the ground and free the shale gas. Critics fear the process itself or the drilling liquid, which can contain carcinogens, could contaminate water supplies, either below ground, by spills, or in disposed wastewater.

Mark Brownstein, an attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund, said it's up to regulators and drillers to make sure shale industry jobs are created while protecting the environment.

At a family-owned tavern in Youngstown managed by Larry Maffitt, the talk is focused on a brighter jobs future.

Steel workers coming off shifts around the clock had the place packed three deep years ago, but there were just 10 people on a recent day.

With the new plant across the road, the community's morale "is all positive," said Maffitt, 59. "Every day we've got something to look forward to."


Hizbullah, Regional Forces Preparing for Escalation over Syria

Hizbullah, Israel, Iran, and Turkey are all gearing up for an escalation in the developments in the region over the crisis in Syria, a diplomat told the Kuwaiti al-Seyassah daily in remarks published on Sunday.

He said Hizbullah is preparing for the confrontation by removing its rockets from its hideouts, noting that last week’s Siddiqin explosion took place when the party hastily set up the rockets.

In addition, he said that the Turkish army has prepared three brigades to take part in the logistical implementation of possible Arab League sanctions on Syria.

He stated that France’s suggestion to set up humanitarian corridors in Syria mat be a precursor to Turkish intervention that may pave way to NATO’s interference.

Israel has also deployed regiments along its border with Lebanon and the Golan Heights, revealed the diplomat.

He spoke of European intelligence reports in Damascus and Beirut on Wednesday that said 150 Iranian experts, who are part of the Revolutionary Guard, had arrived at a Syrian military airport south of the capital as a precursor to sending them to Hizbullah in Lebanon.

The diplomat interpreted the development as a sign that Tehran and Hizbullah are awaiting “dramatic” developments by Turkey and Israel against Syria, Hizbullah, and the Lebanese army and state in order to take the necessary retaliation.

He predicted that the Syrian regime and Hizbullah are nearing their end, as is Iran’s role in the region.

This will consequently lead to the toppling of Prime Minister Najib Miqati’s government, which will fail to fund the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, he remarked.

An explosion rocked the southern town of Siddiqin last week.

Media reports said that it took place at a Hizbullah arms depot.

The party denied the allegations, while the Lebanese army said that the explosion may have been caused by a mine or cluster bomb left over from Israeli assaults against Lebanon.


Russian Navy backs Syria, delivers weapons and S-300 air defense system

LONDON — Russia is said to have sent warships to deliver an
advanced air defense system to Syria.

Arab diplomatic sources said the Russian Navy arrived in the Syrian
port of Tartous in late November and brought weapons and supplies to the regime of President Bashar Assad.

“We see this as a demonstration of Russian support for Assad, but more important it is a signal that Moscow will never leave the area, even if Assad goes,” a diplomat said.

The London-based Al Quds Al Arabi daily reported that the Russian Navy vessels transported the S-300PMU1 air defense system to Syria. The newspaper said the S-300, ordered by Assad but whose delivery was delayed because of U.S. pressure, arrived with dozens of Russian military advisers.

In a report on Nov. 24, Al Quds said the S-300, designed to track up to 100 targets simultaneously, was meant to help Assad repel any attack on Syria amid the revolt against his regime. More than 3,700 people are said to have been killed in the revolt, which began in March and is supported by Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

China and Russia have blocked United Nations Security Council
resolutions to stop the killing in Syria. Al Quds asserted that the Russian
military has been installing advanced radar systems around all key Syrian
military and industrial sites to prevent air strikes.

In September 2010, the Kremlin canceled a nearly $1 billion S-300
project with Iran. At the time, Moscow said the S-300 would violate Security
Council sanctions on the Teheran regime, meant to hamper its uranium
enrichment program.

Israeli sources reported that Israel received PAC-3 interceptors from
the United States. They said a shipment of Patriot missiles arrived in the
Ashdod port earlier this month.

World Tribune

The Russians are hiding something in Syria?

Guantánamo: the most expensive prison on earth

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- Guards get combat pay, just like troops in Afghanistan, without the risk of being blown up. Some commanders get to bring their families to this war-on-terror deployment. And each captive gets $38.45 worth of food a day.

The Pentagon detention center that started out in January 2002 as a collection of crude open-air cells guarded by Marines in a muddy tent city is today arguably the most expensive prison on earth, costing taxpayers $800,000 annually for each of the 171 captives by Obama administration reckoning.

That’s more than 30 times the cost of keeping a captive on U.S. soil.

It’s still funded as an open-ended battlefield necessity, although the last prisoner arrived in March 2008. But it functions more like a gated community in an American suburb than a forward-operating base in one of Afghanistan’s violent provinces.

Congress, charged now with cutting $1.5 trillion from the budget by Christmas, provided $139 million to operate the center last year, and has made every effort to keep it open — even as a former deputy commander of the detention center calls it “expensive” and “inefficient.”

“It’s a slow-motion Berlin Airlift — that’s been going on for 10 years,” says retired Army Brig. Gen. Greg Zanetti, a West Point graduate who in 2008 was deputy commander at the detention center.

Both its location and temporary nature drive up costs, says Zanetti. While there, he wrote a secret study that compared the operation to Alcatraz, noting that Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy had closed it in 1963 because it was too expensive.

At Guantánamo, everything comes in by barge or aircraft “from paper clips to bulldozers,” Zanetti says, as well as the revolving guard force. Also, more recently, a massage chair for stressed-out prison camp staff.

Zanetti, now a Seattle-based money manager, was a financial advisor in civilian life before his New Mexico National Guard unit’s call-up to Guantánamo. He has never disputed that America needed the detention center after 9/11 but argues that today it deserves a cost-benefit analysis.

“What complicates the overall command further is you have the lawyers, interrogators and guards all operating under separate budgets and command structures,” he said. “It’s like combining the corporate cultures and budgets of Goldman, Apple and Coke. Business schools would have a field day dissecting the structure of Guantánamo.”

An examination of the expenses shows that now, with no strategy for meeting President Barack Obama’s Jan. 22, 2009 closure order, the military is preparing for the prison’s next decade. Spending is not just aimed at upgrades for the captive population, most in medium security confinement, but also for the revolving staff of 1,850 troops, linguists, intelligence analysts, federal agents and contract laborers.

Commanders are contracting for a new round of capital improvements, including $2 million worth of new computer equipment to grow storage space under a fast-track, noncompetitive contract with Dell recently posted on a government website. And that doesn’t include the un-networked laptops the prison provides captives taking a life skills class that includes a resume writing lesson, in case anyone gets to go home.

Meantime, the guard force commander is getting a new 3,000-3,500 square foot headquarters at the prison camps for what is predicted to cost less than $750,000, below the amount that needs Congress’ sign-off.

The military is also spending up to $750,000 to replace the aging, rusting prison camp hospital with a new “infirmary hub” and so-called “expeditionary medical shelters” around the prison camps. Equipping the new hospital will cost more so the Navy Medical Logistics Command has put out a bid for everything from microscopes to resuscitators. Price? Unknown.

Millions go to an intelligence operation whose early Guantánamo interrogations may have fed tips to the U.S. manhunt that tracked Osama bin Laden to his hideout in Pakistan this year. It continues to interrogate some of the captives and maintains risk assessments on each one.

A guard with four years in the Navy, with the rank of petty officer 3rd class, gets $2,985.84 a month, including the same hazardous duty pay as they’d pull in Kabul. A Navy commander with 15 years but no kids gets $7,840 a month, including hazardous duty pay.

But Guantánamo’s a place where today an Army colonel can talk about “the battle rhythm” of the camps, have his family on the base and his kids in the base’s school system, which currently has 247 kids.

Prison staff have their own gym, housing and newsletter, dining rooms and first-run movie theater at “Camp America,” adjacent to the camps. They have their own chapel, mental health services and mini-mart that was recently peddling a $99.99 SCUBA “bodyglove” and tacky souvenirs such as Cuba Libre-Gitmo fridge magnets and a full aisle of protein supplements.

Guards and other staff also cross over to the larger Navy base for the programs of any sailor or contractor pulling permanent duty on the base — a golf course and deep-sea diving, beach parties and fishing trips.

They can hit the Irish pub, which was built after the al-Qaida airlifts began, take classes over the Internet, which were established once the prison was opened, and can grab McDonald’s drive-through on their way to work.

And that’s just for the guards.

Both captives and captors also have their own kitchen, health services, transportation and security services all fueled by a steady supply line.

In their cellblocks, cooperative captives get satellite television with sports, news and religious programming as well as Arabic soap operas. Pentagon contract workers maintain a 24,000-title book, video and magazine library and are building yet another soccer field for cooperative captives. Unless they’re hunger strikers fed Ensure through tubes tethered through their nose into the stomach, each detainee is offered up to 4,500 calories a day — including lamb certified as halal, Islam’s version of kosher.

“We are running a five-star resort and not a detention facility for terrorists,” says Florida Republican Rep. Allen West, the fiscal conservative and former Army lieutenant colonel who toured the facility in March. “For example, why do they need 24 cable TV channels?”

Soldiers and sailors consistently gripe that the Internet is slow inside their private quarters, which mostly range from trailer parks to townhouses.

But, unlike in Afghanistan, some prison camp staff officers have brought their families, gotten suburban-style housing and put the kids in the Navy base school. Sailors said it is better than ship duty. Sure it’s surrounded by water. But you get private quarters, scuba diving and can check in on weekends at guest housing complete with big-screen TVs and backyard patio with barbecue grill.

“This is great. You get the opportunity to serve your country and nobody’s shooting at us. Plus, there’s no mortars coming in,” said Army Staff Sgt. Fred Plimpton, 55, who was a New York state trooper who was dispatched to Ground Zero on 9/11 and later deployed to Baghdad.

And, it’s close enough to home that members of the New York Army National Guard infantry unit now patrolling the prison camps’ perimeter can race home if there’s an emergency.

“Peter’s wife just had a baby and we got him right home,” Plimpton said in September. “Moffit’s wife went into labor and we got him out of here right away. It’s good to see the guys get out of here when a baby’s born.”

Only in an operation bursting with personnel and charter aircraft can that even happen.

At Southern Command, Army Col. Scott Malcom notes that because the Pentagon is holding its prisoners “on a military base in a foreign country” it needs more security measures than on U.S. soil. He also cautions “against making a straight comparison between military detention operations and civilian correctional facilities.”

For example, for federal prison guards, being a correctional officer is a career, a commuter job. They sleep at home, carry their own meals, entertain themselves on their days off. Prison staff come and go on mostly nine- to 12-month rotations, aboard special charter flights, are put up in special housing, help themselves to all-you-can-eat rations from the same dining hall that feeds the captives up to 4,500 calories a day.

But that’s exactly what the Obama administration did this summer in a letter to Congress. The Defense Department “spends approximately $150 million per year on detention operations at Guantánamo, currently at a rate of more than $800,000 per detainee,” Attorney General Eric Holder and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other Cabinet members wrote Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and others.

“Meanwhile, our federal prisons spend a little over $25,000 per year, per prisoner, and federal courts and prosecutors routinely handle numerous terrorist case a year well within their operating budgets.”

The Herald then sought to do a line-by-line analysis of the expenses, with which the secretive prison camp command refused to participate. It instructed The Miami Herald to file a Freedom of Information Act request, which Southcom refused to expedite in consideration of the ongoing budget debate.

Instead, The Herald was able to create a snapshot of the costs.

The Pentagon confirmed that U.S. troops working at the prison camps get the same “hostile fire” and “imminent danger” pay as their battlefield counterparts in Afghanistan.

In September, a massage chair was the centerpiece of an office for a special Navy mental health counseling unit — set up to minister to stressed out prison camp staff, such as guards. It was such a success that the unit ordered up another and two biorhythm machines to assist in counseling sessions.

It’s two months later, the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery still hasn’t been able to figure out how much it spent on purchasing and delivering even the first massage chair.

The camps spokeswoman, Navy Cmdr. Tamsen Reese, said by email Oct. 27 that the prison “executed $2.4M in FY11 for detainee rations.” Feeding the 1,850 prison staff who eat from the same kitchen is not included, she said.

That’s $38.45 a captive a day for food delivered to each prisoner.

It’s more than five times as much as the average American spends on food a day and nearly 17 times as much as the State of Florida spends to feed its prisoners.

At Guantánamo, the military imports all its food by both cargo airplane and barge from Jacksonville.

A Florida Department of Corrections spokeswoman, Jo Elly Rackleff, notes that the state grows some of the food.

Miami Herald

No wonder O never closed it.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Guns Better Investment Than Gold?

At least someone is making money in these difficult times. Arms dealers in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley are making out like, well, bandits as unrest in Syria sends black market gun prices through the roof says this story in Lebanon’s Daily Star. Rocket grenade launchers appear to be the hottest investment grade item, with prices more than sextupling from $400 to $2500 in recent months. Kalashnikovs and M16s are also up sharply, with 75 percent appreciation on the Russian guns and 100 percent on the US model.

Perhaps more investments in Lebanese arms dealer funds could rescue US state and municipal pension funds; those are the kind of returns states like New York, Illinois, California and Rhode Island need to avoid massive service and benefit cuts in the years ahead.

But what this news really means, of course, is that more and more people in Syria and Lebanon are preparing for all out civil war. Religious and ethnic divides half forgotten during the long decades when the dictatorship was secure are now beginning to revive as the Assad clan looks weak.

This is the pattern I saw at work in Yugoslavia and the Caucasus twenty years ago as ethnic groups geared up to butcher their neighbors and drive them from their homes; I will never forget the night a Georgian poet asked me how much guns cost on the Istanbul black market; he was arming himself against what he called the “Abkhazian menace.”

I made a note to myself at that time: when poets buy guns, tourist season is over. They are buying them now in Damascus; something wicked this way comes.

The American Intreset

Good advice all around

In unprecedented step, Arab League sanctions Syria

BEIRUT (AP) - In an unprecedented move against a fellow Arab nation, the Arab League on Sunday approved economic sanctions on Syria to pressure Damascus to end its deadly suppression of an 8-month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad.

But even as world leaders abandon Assad, the regime has refused to ease a military assault on dissent that already has killed more than 3,500 people. On Sunday, Damascus slammed the sanctions as a betrayal of Arab solidarity and insisted a foreign conspiracy was behind the revolt, all but assuring more bloodshed will follow.

The sanctions are among the clearest signs yet of the isolation Syria is suffering because of the crackdown. Damascus has long boasted of being a powerhouse of Arab nationalism, but Assad has been abandoned by some of his closest allies and now his Arab neighbors. The growing movement against his regime could transform some of the most enduring alliances in the Middle East and beyond.

At a news conference in Cairo, Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim said 19 of the League's 22 member nations approved a series of tough punishments that include cutting off transactions with the Syrian central bank, halting Arab government funding for projects in Syria and freezing government assets. Those sanctions are to take effect immediately.

Other steps, including halting flights and imposing travel bans on some, as-yet unnamed Syrian officials, will come later after a committee reviews them.

"The Syrian people are being killed but we don't want this. Every Syrian official should not accept killing even one person," bin Jassim said. "Power is worth nothing while you stand as an enemy to your people."

He added that the League aims to "to avoid any suffering for the Syrian people."

Iraq and Lebanon - important trading partners for Syria - abstained from the vote, which came after Damascus missed an Arab League deadline to agree to allow hundreds of observers into the country as part of a peace deal Syria agreed to early this month to end the crisis.

Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby said the bloc will reconsider the sanctions if Syria carries out the Arab-brokered plan, which includes pulling tanks from the streets and ending violence against civilians.

The regime, however, has shown no signs of easing its crackdown, and activist groups said more than 30 people were killed Sunday. The death toll was impossible to confirm. Syria has banned most foreign journalists and prevented independent reporting inside the country.

The Local Coordinating Committees, a coalition of Syrian activist groups, praised the sanctions but called for a mechanism to ensure compliance.

"The sanctions leave open the opportunity for the regime to commit fraud and strip the sanctions of any substance, thereby prolonging the suffering of the Syrian people at the hands of an oppressive and brutal regime," the group said.

The Arab League move is the latest in a growing wave of international pressure pushing Damascus to end its crackdown. The European Union and the United States already have imposed sanctions, the League has suspended Syria's membership and world leaders increasingly are calling on Assad to go. But as the crisis drags on, the violence appears to be spiraling out of control as attacks by army defectors increase and some protesters take up arms to protect themselves.

Syria has seen the bloodiest crackdown against the Arab Spring's eruption of protests, and has descended into a deadly grind. Though internationally isolated, Assad appears to have a firm grip on power with the loyalty of most of the armed forces, which in the past months have moved from city to city to put down uprisings. In each place, however, protests have resumed.

The escalating bloodshed has raised fears of civil war - a worst-case scenario in a country that is a geographical and political keystone in the heart of the Middle East.

Syria borders five countries with whom it shares religious and ethnic minorities and, in Israel's case, a fragile truce. Its web of allegiances extends to Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah movement and Iran's Shiite theocracy. Chaos in Syria could send unsettling ripples across the region.

For now, Assad still has a strong bulwark to prevent his meeting the same fate as the leaders of Egypt, Tunisia or Libya anytime soon. His key advantages are the support of Russia and China, fear among many Syrians about a future without Assad, and the near-certainty that foreign militaries will stay away.

But the unrest is eviscerating the economy, threatening the business community and prosperous merchant classes that are key to propping up the regime. An influential bloc, the business leaders have long traded political freedoms for economic privileges.

The opposition has tried to rally these largely silent, but hugely important, sectors of society. But Assad's opponents have failed so far to galvanize support in Damascus and Aleppo - the two economic centers in Syria.

Sunday's sanctions, however, could chip away at their resolve.

Since the revolt began, the regime has blamed the bloodshed on terrorists acting out a foreign conspiracy to divide and undermine Syria. The bloodshed has laid bare Syria's long-simmering sectarian tensions, with disturbing reports of Iraq-style sectarian killings.

Syria is an overwhelmingly Sunni country of 22 million, but Assad and the ruling elite belong to the minority Alawite sect. Assad, and his father before him, stacked key military posts with Alawites to meld the fates of the army and the regime - a tactic aimed at compelling the army to fight to the death to protect the Assad family dynasty.

Until recently, most of the bloodshed was caused by security forces firing on mainly peaceful protests. Lately, there have been growing reports of army defectors and armed civilians fighting Assad's forces - a development that some say plays into the regime's hands by giving government troops a pretext to crack down with overwhelming force.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Iran threatens to hit Turkey if US, Israel attack

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iran will target NATO's missile defense installations in Turkey if the U.S. or Israel attacks the Islamic Republic, a senior commander of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard said Saturday.

Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the Guards' aerospace division, said the warning is part of a new defense strategy to counter what he described as an increase in threats from the U.S. and Israel.

Tensions have been rising between Iran and the West since the release of a report earlier this month by the International Atomic Energy Agency that said for the first time that Tehran was suspected of conducting secret experiments whose sole purpose was the development of nuclear arms.

The U.S. and its Western allies suspect Iran of trying to produce atomic weapons, and Israel, which views Tehran as an existential threat, has warned of a possible strike on Iran's nuclear program. Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes.

"Should we be threatened, we will target NATO's missile defense shield in Turkey and then hit the next targets," the semiofficial Mehr news agency quoted Hajizadeh as saying.

Tehran says NATO's early warning radar station in Turkey is meant to protect Israel against Iranian missile attacks if a war breaks out with the Jewish state. Ankara agreed to host the radar in September as part of NATO's missile defense system aimed at countering ballistic missile threats from neighboring Iran.

A military installation in the Turkish town of Kurecik, some 435 miles (700 kilometers) west of the Iranian border, has been designated as the radar site, according to Turkish government officials.

Hajizadeh said the United States also plans to install similar stations in Arab states, which has spurred Iran to alter its military defense strategy.

"Based on orders from the exalted commander in chief, we will respond to threats with threats," he was quoted as saying.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters, is also commander in chief of Iran's armed forces.

Another senior Guard commander, Yadollah Javani, threatened that Tehran will target Israel's nuclear facilities should the Jewish state attack Iran.

"If Israel fires a missile at our nuclear facilities or vital installations, it should know that Israel's nuclear centers will be the target of our missiles," the semiofficial ISNA news agency quoted him as saying.

Also Saturday, the chief of Iran's elite Quds Force said he doesn't fear assassination and is ready for "martyrdom."

The comments by Quds Force commander Brig. Gen. Ghassem Soleimani were published in several Iranian newspapers. The Quds Force is the special foreign operations unit of the country's powerful Revolutionary Guard, and Soleimani is a key figure in Iran's military establishment but rarely speaks in public.

Tensions have increased in recent weeks between Iran and the U.S., with several American neoconservatives urging the Obama administration to use covert action against Iran and kill some of its top officials, including Soleimani.

The force has been accused by the Americans of involvement in an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington. Two men, including an alleged member of Iran's Quds Force, have been charged in New York federal court in the case.

Iran has dismissed the American claims as a "foolish plot", saying U.S. officials have offered no proof.


Pakistan stops NATO supplies after raid kills up to 28

(Reuters) - NATO helicopters and fighter jets attacked two military outposts in northwest Pakistan on Saturday, killing as many as 28 troops and plunging U.S.-Pakistan relations, already deeply frayed, further into crisis.
Pakistan retaliated by shutting down vital NATO supply routes into Afghanistan, used for sending in just under a third of the alliance's supplies.

The attack is the worst single incident of its kind since Pakistan uneasily allied itself with Washington in the days immediately following the September 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. targets.

Relations between the United States and Pakistan, its ally in the war on militancy, have been strained following the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by U.S. special forces in a raid on the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad in May, which Pakistan called a flagrant violation of sovereignty.

A spokesman for NATO-led troops in Afghanistan confirmed that NATO aircraft had been called in to support troops in the area and had probably killed some Pakistani soldiers.

"Close air support was called in, in the development of the tactical situation, and it is what highly likely caused the Pakistan casualties," said General Carsten Jacobson, spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

He added that he could not confirm the number of casualties, but ISAF is investigating the "tragic development."

"We are aware that Pakistani soldiers perished. We don't know the size, the magnitude," he said.

The Pakistani government and military brimmed with fury.

"This is an attack on Pakistan's sovereignty," said Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. "We will not let any harm come to Pakistan's sovereignty and solidarity."

The Foreign Office said it would take up the matter "in the strongest terms" with NATO and the United States.

The powerful Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, said in a statement issued by the Pakistani military that "all necessary steps be under taken for an effective response to this irresponsible act.

"A strong protest has been launched with NATO/ISAF in which it has been demanded that strong and urgent action be taken against those responsible for this aggression."

Two military officials said that up to 28 troops had been killed and 11 wounded in the attack on the outposts, about 2.5 km (1.5 miles) from the Afghan border. The Pakistani military said 24 troops were killed and 13 wounded.


It remains unclear what exactly happened, but the attack took place around 2 a.m. (2100 GMT) in the Baizai area of Mohmand, where Pakistani troops are fighting Taliban militants.

"Pakistani troops effectively responded immediately in self-defense to NATO/ISAF's aggression with all available weapons," the Pakistani military statement said.

The commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, General John R. Allen, said he had offered his condolences to the family of any Pakistani soldiers who "may have been killed or injured."

The U.S. embassy in Islamabad also offered condolences.

About 40 Pakistani army troops were stationed at the outposts, military sources said. Two officers were reported among the dead.

"The latest attack by NATO forces on our post will have serious repercussions as they without any reasons attacked on our post and killed soldiers asleep," said a senior Pakistani military officer, requesting anonymity.

Reflecting the confusion of war in an ill-defined border area, an Afghan border police official, Edrees Momand, said joint Afghan-NATO troops near the outpost on Saturday morning had detained several militants.

"I am not aware of the casualties on the other side of the border but those we have detained aren't Afghan Taliban," he said, implying they may have been Pakistani or other foreign national Taliban operating in Afghanistan.

The Afghanistan-Pakistan border is often poorly marked, and Afghan and Pakistani maps have differences of several kilometers in some places, military officials have said.

However Pakistani military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas said that NATO had been given maps of the area, with Pakistani military posts marked out.

"When the other side is saying there is a doubt about this, there is no doubt about it. These posts have been marked and handed over to the other side for marking on their maps and are clearly inside Pakistani territory."

The incident occurred a day after Allen met Kayani to discuss border control and enhanced cooperation.

"After the recent meetings between Pakistan and ISAF/NATO forces to build confidence and trust, these kind of attacks should not have taken place," a senior military source told Reuters.


NATO supply trucks and fuel tankers bound for Afghanistan were stopped at Jamrud town in the Khyber tribal region near the city of Peshawar hours after the raid, officials said.

"We have halted the supplies and some 40 tankers and trucks have been returned from the check post in Jamrud," Mutahir Zeb, a senior government official, told Reuters.

Another official said the supplies had been stopped for security reasons.

"There is possibility of attacks on NATO supplies passing through the volatile Khyber tribal region, therefore we sent them back toward Peshawar to remain safe," he said.

The border crossing at Chaman in Baluchistan was also closed, Frontier Corps officials said.

Pakistan is a vital land route for nearly half of NATO supplies shipped overland to its troops in Afghanistan, a NATO spokesman said. Land shipments only account for about two thirds of the alliance's cargo shipments into Afghanistan.

A similar incident on Sept 30, 2010, which killed two Pakistani troops, led to the closure of one of NATO's supply routes through Pakistan for 10 days.

NATO apologized for that incident, which it said happened when NATO gunships mistook warning shots by the Pakistani forces for a militant attack.

U.S.-Pakistan relations were already reeling from a tumultuous year that saw the bin Laden raid, the jailing of a CIA contractor, and U.S. accusations that Pakistan backed a militant attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

The United States has long suspected Pakistan of continuing to secretly support Taliban militant groups to secure influence in Afghanistan after most NATO troops leave in 2014. Saturday's incident will give Pakistan the argument that NATO is now attacking it directly.

"I think we should go to the United Nations Security Council against this," said retired Brigadier Mahmood Shah, former chief of security in the tribal areas. "So far, Pakistan is being blamed for all that is happening in Afghanistan, and Pakistan's point of view has not been shown in the international media."

Other analysts, including Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, said Pakistan would protest and close the supply lines for some time, but that ultimately "things will get back to normal."

Paul Beaver, a British security analyst, said relations were so bad that this incident might have no noticeable impact.

"I'm not sure U.S.-Pakistan relations could sink much lower than they are now," he said.


Study: Humans were catching tuna 42K years ago

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Humans were expert deep-sea fishermen as far back as 42,000 years ago, hauling in tuna, sharks and barracudas, new research suggests.

Fish appeared in the human diet about 1.9 million years ago. Early catchers waded into freshwater lakes and streams without the need for boats or complex tools. It wasn't until later that humans decided to ply the ocean in search of fish.

The latest evidence comes from an excavation on the southeast Asian island of East Timor where remains of tuna and other deep-water fish were uncovered inside a cave. Using dating techniques, a team led by archaeologist Sue O'Connor of Australian National University determined the age to be 42,000 years old - making it the earliest evidence for ocean fishing.

The findings were reported in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

Since catching tuna and marine fish requires tools and advance planning, this meant people must have developed the mental and technological know-how to exploit the sea.

"It increases our insight into the developing abilities of early modern people," Eric Delson, an anthropologist at Lehman College of the City University of New York who had no role in the research, said in an email.

Early anglers probably fashioned boats by tying logs together and used nets and sharpened pieces of wood or shells as hooks, said Kathlyn Stewart, a research scientist at the Canadian Museum of Nature, who was not part of the study.

"These people were smart," she said. They knew "there were fish out there."

It's unclear how far the early mariners ventured. Once the bounty was caught, they likely ate it raw or went back to camp to cook it, Stewart said.

Along with the fish remains, researchers also unearthed fragments of fish hooks made out of bone from the same East Timor site including one that dated to between 16,000 and 23,000 years ago.

"The hooks were definitely used for ocean fishing but we can't be sure which species," O'Connor said in an email.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Iraqi president says country still needs Americans

BAGHDAD (AP) - Iraq's president says his country faces huge shortcomings defending its airspace and seas, and that Iraqi military commanders want American military training help.

In an interview with Iraqi state TV broadcast Friday, Jalal Talabani said he's read numerous reports by senior Iraqi army officers who all said the nation needs some sort of U.S. presence.

The U.S. and Iraq failed to agree on whether to keep American troops in Iraq into next year, and the U.S. military will pull out all its troops from the country by January.

Iraqi officials balked at giving the American forces the legal protections that Washington wanted.

Talabani is a Kurd from northern Iraq. The Kurds were the only political group in Iraq openly supporting a further American military presence in Iraq.


Blogger: Israel drone explodes at Hezbollah base

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- An American blogger reported Wednesday that Israel's military intelligence managed to outfox Hezbollah by deliberately crash-landing a booby-trapped drone which later exploded in an arms depot operated by the Shiite movement.

Richard Silverstein, quoting "an authoritative Israeli source with considerable military experience," says Hezbollah discovered a downed drone and, thinking they had caught Israel in a failed reconnaissance effort, took the drone to an arms depot in south Lebanon.

"When it discovered the downed craft, its operatives must’ve crowed that they’d finally discovered the key to success," Silverstein wrote of Hezbollah, who he says has been increasingly interested in jamming an Israeli drone and were likely to have celebrated the crash initially, when it was reported Saturday.

"This bit of hubris is how (Israeli military intelligence agency) Aman drew Hezbollah into its net," he says. "Its soldiers dutifully collected the imagined intelligence trophy and brought it to a large weapons depot it controlled in the area. Once inside the arms cache, Aman detonated the drone causing a massive explosion."

Hezbollah denies the explosion targeted an arms deport, Lebanese media reported Wednesday. "What has been circulating in the media regarding the explosion in Sidiqqin and that it is related to storage center for Hezbollah is utterly false,” the party said in the statement carried by the Beirut-based Daily Star.

The same newspaper, quoting a security source, said the explosion shook a Hezbollah stronghold in the Tyre region of south Lebanon. Hezbollah, it said, soon placed a "heavy security blanket" over the area.

The report said four Israeli warplanes were spotted flying over Siddiqin in the morning while patrols by the UN Interim Force in Lebanon were active in the area. It said a UNIFIL helicopter was also spotted. Silverstein, whose US-based blog Tikkun Olam frequently reports on Israeli intelligence matters and censored material, saw the explosion as a low-level hit on Iranian arms, which are key to Hezbollah's military edge.

The blast comes amid similarly unexplained explosions killing nuclear scientists in Tehran and, just weeks earlier, an Iranian arms depot thought to contain missiles capable of reaching Israel. But one reason Hezbollah might hesitate to speak of its incident, Silverstein told Ma'an, is because the location of its alleged arms depot was south of the Litani river, in direct violation of a UN ceasefire resolution.

Ma'an News

47 Syrians Dead, Including 29 Civilians, as Homs Clashes Rage

Eighteen members of Syria's security forces and two deserters were killed in clashes on Thursday in the flashpoint province of Homs, where at least 29 civilians also died, activists said.

"Eleven soldiers and members of the security forces were killed in skirmishes" with deserters in the town of Huleh, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The rights group said security forces killed at least 12 civilians around the province in central Syria, including three in the Bayyada area of the city of Homs, while the Local Coordination Committees, a key activist group, said 29 civilians were killed Thursday in Homs.

The city of Rastan, also in Homs, was blasted with heavy machinegun fire after clashes between soldiers and deserters, two of whom were killed and 13 wounded, according to the Britain-based rights group.

Meanwhile, seven military pilots were killed when gunmen attacked their bus in the center of the country, opposition sources told Agence France Presse.

The attack, carried out by "armed Bedouins", took place near the city of Palmyra, said an opposition member based in Homs, and was claimed by the rebel Free Syrian Army.

In a statement the FSA said "a brigade carried out the attack on a bus transporting pilots on the road between Palmyra and Homs, killing seven officers and the driver."

The FSA, whose leadership is based in neighboring Turkey, has claimed several attacks in recent weeks against the Syrian military and pro-regime militias.

According to FSA chief Riyadh al-Asaad, the rebel force now has 20,000 men in its ranks, which it says are swelling each day.

On Tuesday, six children and five mutinous soldiers were among 34 people killed across Syria, the Syrian Observatory said.

The United Nations says the conflict in Syria has claimed more than 3,500 lives, mostly civilians, since it broke out in mid-March.


Egypt new PM claims more powers than predecessor

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's military rulers picked a prime minister from ousted leader Hosni Mubarak's era to head the next government in a move quickly rejected by tens of thousands of protesters, while the United States ratcheted up pressure on the generals to quickly transfer power to a civilian leadership.

More than 100,000 people packed into Cairo's central Tahrir Square for their biggest demonstration since the current showdown began, with activists accusing the generals of trying to extend the old guard and demanding they step down immediately after failing to stabilize the country, salvage the economy or bring democracy following Mubarak's ouster.

Tensions have risen ahead of parliamentary elections, set to begin on Monday. The election is to be staggered over multiple stages that end in March, and the military said Friday it would extend the voting period to two days for each round in an apparent effort to boost turnout due to the current unrest. The first stage covers nine provinces that include Cairo and the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria.

Kamal el-Ganzouri, 78, served as prime minister between 1996 and 1999 and was deputy prime minister and planning minister before that. He also was a provincial governor under the late President Anwar Sadat.

In a televised statement, he said the military has given him greater powers than his predecessor and he wouldn't have accepted the job if he believed military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi had any intention of staying in power.

"The powers given to me exceed any similar mandates," he said, looking uncomfortable, grasping for words and repeatedly pausing as he spoke. "I will take full authority so I'm able to serve my country."

He also said he won't be able to form a government before parliamentary elections start on Monday.

The Obama administration, meanwhile, appeared to bring its position on the crisis in Egypt closer to the protesters' demands, urging the generals to fully empower the next interim civilian government.

"We believe that Egypt's transition to democracy must continue, with elections proceeding expeditiously, and all necessary measures taken to ensure security and prevent intimidation," The White House said in a statement. "Most importantly, we believe that the full transfer of power to a civilian government must take place in a just and inclusive manner that responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people, as soon as possible."

The stance is significant because the Egyptian military has over the past 30 years forged close relations with successive U.S. administrations, receiving $1.3 billion annually in aid.

El-Ganzouri's appointment was announced by state TV following a meeting late Thursday between him and Tantawi. Tantawi was Mubarak's defense minister of 20 years and served in el-Ganzouri's earlier government.

It was the latest in a series of efforts by the military to appease protesters without meeting their main demand of stepping down immediately.

The generals also apologized Thursday for the killing of nearly 40 protesters in five days of deadly clashes, mostly centered on side streets near the square. This was the longest spate of uninterrupted violence since the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak on Feb. 11. The streets were relatively calm on Friday as a truce negotiated Thursday in Cairo continued to hold.

But the choice of el-Ganzouri only deepened the anger of the protesters, already seething over the military's perceived reluctance to dismantle the legacy of Mubarak's 29-year rule.

"Illegitimate, illegitimate!" the crowds in the downtown square chanted on hearing the news.

"Not only was he prime minister under Mubarak, but also part of the old regime for a total of 18 years," said protester Mohammed el-Fayoumi, 29. "Why did we have a revolution then?"

El-Ganzouri replaces Essam Sharaf, who resigned this week after nearly nine months in office amid deadly clashes between police and protesters calling for the military to immediately step down. Sharaf was criticized for being weak and beholden to the generals.

The military has said parliamentary elections, the first since Mubarak's ouster, will be held on schedule despite the unrest in Cairo and a string of other cities to the north and south of the capital. Voting starts Monday and concludes in March, meaning that el-Ganzouri could be prime minister only until a new government is formed following the seating of a new legislature.

"El-Ganzouri is a new Sharaf. He's old regime," said Nayer Mustafa, 62. "The revolution was hijacked once. We won't let it happen again."

Friday's protest in Tahrir was dubbed by organizers as "The Last Chance Million-Man Protest." Swelling crowds chanted, "leave, leave" and "the people want to bring down the field marshal", in reference to Tantawi, who took over the reins of power from Mubarak.

Pro-reform leader and Nobel peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei was mobbed by hundreds of supporters as he arrived in the square and took part in Friday prayers, leaving shortly afterward.

"He is here to support the revolutionaries," said protester Ahmed Awad, 35. "He came to see for himself the tragedy caused by the military."

The demonstrators have vowed not to leave the sprawling plaza until the generals step down in favor of a civilian presidential council. Their show of resolve resembles that of the rallies which forced Mubarak to give up power.

Fireworks lit the sky in the evening and a large banner strung over a side street called Mohammed Mahmoud, where most of the fighting occurred, declaring the street would now be called the "Eyes of the Revolution" street, in honor of the hundreds of protesters who suffered eye injuries as a result of tear gas used by police.

About 5,000 supporters of the military staged their own demonstration several miles (kilometers) north of Tahrir in the district of Abbassiyah, not far from the Defense Ministry.

Thousands of pro-democracy protesters also took to the streets in other cities, including at least 10,000 in Alexandria and smaller crowds in Luxor and Assiut in southern Egypt.

The military has rejected calls to immediately step down, saying its claim to power is supported by the warm welcome given to troops who took over the streets from the discredited police early in the anti-Mubarak uprising as well as an overwhelming endorsement for constitutional amendments they proposed in a March referendum.

Tantawi has offered another referendum on whether his military council should step down immediately.

Such a vote, activists say, would divide the nation and likely open the door for a deal between the military and political groups, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt's largest and best organized group, the Brotherhood is notorious for its opportunism and thirst for power. It was empowered after the fall of Mubarak, regaining legitimacy after spending nearly 60 years as an outlawed group.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Medvedev: Russia may target US missile shield

MOSCOW (AP) - Russia threatened on Wednesday to deploy missiles to target the U.S. missile shield in Europe if Washington fails to assuage Moscow's concerns about its plans, a harsh warning that reflected deep cracks in U.S.-Russian ties despite President Barack Obama's efforts to "reset" relations with the Kremlin.

President Dmitry Medvedev said he still hopes for a deal with the U.S. on missile defense, but he strongly accused Washington and its NATO allies of ignoring Russia's worries. He said Russia will have to take military countermeasures if the U.S. continues to build the shield without legal guarantees that it will not be aimed against Russia.

The U.S. has repeatedly assured Russia that its proposed missile defense system wouldn't be directed against Russia's nuclear forces, and it did that again Wednesday.

"I do think it's worth reiterating that the European missile defense system that we've been working very hard on with our allies and with Russia over the last few years is not aimed at Russia," said Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman. "It is ... designed to help deter and defeat the ballistic missile threat to Europe and to our allies from Iran."

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said the United States will continue to seek Moscow's cooperation, but it must realize "that the missile defense systems planned for deployment in Europe do not and cannot threaten Russia's strategic deterrent."

But Medvedev said Moscow will not be satisfied by simple declarations and wants a binding agreement. He said, "When we propose to put in on paper in the form of precise and clear legal obligations, we hear a strong refusal."

Medvedev warned that Russia will station missiles in its westernmost Kaliningrad region and other areas, if the U.S. continues its plans without offering firm and specific pledges that the shield isn't directed at its nuclear forces. He didn't say whether the missiles would carry conventional or nuclear warheads.

In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he was "very disappointed" with Russia's threat to deploy missiles near alliance nations, adding that "would be reminiscent of the past and ... inconsistent with the strategic relations NATO and Russia have agreed they seek."

"Cooperation, not confrontation, is the way ahead," Rasmussen said in a statement.

The U.S. missile defense dispute has long tarnished ties between Moscow and Washington. The Obama administration has repeatedly said the shield is needed to fend off a potential threat from Iran, but Russia fears that it could erode the deterrent potential of its nuclear forces.

"If our partners tackle the issue of taking our legitimate security interests into account in an honest and responsible way, I'm sure we will be able to come to an agreement," Medvedev said. "But if they propose that we 'cooperate,' or, to say it honestly, work against our own interests, we won't be able to reach common ground."

Moscow has agreed to consider a proposal NATO made last fall to cooperate on the missile shield, but the talks have been deadlocked over how the system should be operated. Russia has insisted that it should be run jointly, which NATO has rejected.

Medvedev also warned that Moscow may opt out of the New START arms control deal with the United States and halt other arms control talks, if the U.S. proceeds with the missile shield without meeting Russia's demand. The Americans had hoped that the START treaty would stimulate progress in further ambitious arms control efforts, but such talks have stalled because of tension over the missile plan.

While the New START doesn't prevent the U.S. from building new missile defense systems, Russia has said it could withdraw from the treaty if it feels threatened by such a system in future.

Medvedev reaffirmed that warning Wednesday, saying that Russia may opt out of the treaty because of an "inalienable link between strategic offensive and defensive weapons."

The New START has been a key achievement of Obama's policy of improving relations with Moscow, which had suffered badly under the George W. Bush administration.

"It's impossible to do a reset using old software, it's necessary to develop a new one," Medvedev's envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said at a news conference.

The U.S. plan calls for placing land- and sea-based radars and interceptors in European locations, including Romania and Poland, over the next decade and upgrading them over time.

Medvedev said that Russia will carefully watch the development of the U.S. shield and take countermeasures if Washington continues to ignore Russia's concerns. He warned that Moscow would deploy short-range Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad, a Baltic Sea region bordering Poland, and place weapons in other areas in Russia's west and south to target U.S. missile defense sites. Medvedev said Russia would put a new early warning radar in Kaliningrad.

He said that as part of its response Russia would also equip its intercontinental nuclear missiles with systems that would allow them to penetrate prospective missile defenses and would develop ways to knock down the missile shield's control and information facilities.

Igor Korotchenko, a Moscow-based military expert, was quoted by the state RIA Novosti news agency as saying that the latter would mean targeting missile defense radars and command structures with missiles and bombers. "That will make the entire system useless," he said.

Medvedev and other Russian leaders have made similar threats in the past, and the latest statement appears to be aimed at the domestic audience ahead of Dec. 4 parliamentary elections.

Medvedev, who is set to step down to allow Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to reclaim the presidency in March's election, leads the ruling United Russia party list in the parliamentary vote. A stern warning to the U.S. and NATO issued by Medvedev seems to be directed at rallying nationalist votes in the polls.

Rogozin, Russia's NATO envoy, said the Kremlin won't follow the example of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and take unwritten promises from the West.

"The current political leadership can't act like Gorbachev, and it wants written obligations secured by ratification documents," Rogozin said.

Medvedev's statement was intended to encourage the U.S. and NATO to take Russia seriously at the missile defense talks, Rogozin said. He added that the Russian negotiators were annoyed by the U.S. "openly lying" about its missile defense plans.

"We won't allow them to treat us like fools," he said. "Nuclear deterrent forces aren't a joke."