Monday, January 30, 2012

Navy wants commando ‘mothership’ in Middle East

The Pentagon is rushing to send a large floating base for commando teams to the Middle East as tensions rise with Iran, al-Qaeda in Yemen and Somali pirates, among other threats.

In response to requests from U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, the Navy is converting an aging warship it had planned to decommission into a makeshift staging base for the commandos. Unofficially dubbed a “mothership,” the floating base could accommodate smaller high-speed boats and helicopters commonly used by Navy SEALs, procurement documents show.

Special Operations forces are a key part of the Obama administration’s strategy to make the military leaner and more agile as the Pentagon confronts at least $487 billion in spending cuts over the next decade. Read More

Philippines may allow greater U.S. military presence in reaction to China’s rise

Two decades after evicting U.S. forces from their biggest base in the Pacific, the Philippines is in talks with the Obama administration about expanding the American military presence in the island nation, the latest in a series of strategic moves aimed at China.

Although negotiations are in the early stages, officials from both governments said they are favorably inclined toward a deal. They are scheduled to intensify the discussions Thursday and Friday in Washington before higher-level meetings in March. If an arrangement is reached, it would follow other recent agreements to base thousands of U.S. Marines in northern Australia and to station Navy warships in Singapore.

Among the options under consideration are operating Navy ships from the Philippines, deploying troops on a rotational basis and staging more frequent joint exercises. Under each scenario, U.S. forces would effectively be guests at existing foreign bases. Read More

Austria’s 2 faces: As some mourn Auschwitz victims, others gather for right-wing ball

VIENNA — Austrians gathered in memory of the 2 million Jews murdered in Adolf Hitler’s Auschwitz camp condemned plans to hold a ball of extreme rightists later in the day Friday, saying the event’s timing transformed it into a macabre dance on Holocaust victims’ graves.

Ball organizers insisted the fact that their event coincided this year with the 67th anniversary of the death camp’s liberation was coincidental and denied suggestions that those attending were extremists.

But opponents vehemently criticized both the day chosen to hold the WKR ball and the political views of those attending it, suggesting it regularly attracts elements from the neo-Nazi fringe. The ball is to be held in Vienna’s ornate Hofburg palace, less than a minute’s walk away from the memorial event. Read More

Alaska Aerial Hunting Plan Under Fire

India abandons US dollar to purchase Iranian oil

Pentagon drones flying domestic; declaring war on your privacy?

China cadmium spill threatens drinking water for millions

BEIJING (Reuters) - A cancer-causing cadmium discharge from a mining company has polluted a long stretch of two rivers in southern China, and officials warned some 3.7 million people of Liuzhou in the Guangxi region to avoid drinking water from the river, state media reported on Friday.

Pollution of waterways by toxic run-offs from factories and farms is a pressing issue in China, prompting authorities to call for policy tightening, though the problem shows no sign of going away.

Officials opened sluices at four upstream hydrological stations on the Longjiang River, a tributary to the Liujiang that runs through Liuzhou, hoping to dilute the pollutants after the toxic metal cadmium was first detected nearly two weeks ago in Hechi, Xinhua state news agency said.

Many fish died despite efforts by local fire officials to dissolve the cadmium by pouring hundreds of tonnes of neutralizers into the river, and authorities reported panic buying of bottled water by local residents.

Xinhua said officials blamed the Guangxi Jinhe Mining Co. for the January 15 spill, but it was not clear how long the company had been discharging the chemical into the river or how much had had been released.

As of Friday, elevated levels of cadmium were being detected in Liuzhou, more than 130 km downstream from the plant, according to the report. Read More

Danin: How to help Syria without intervening militarily



The Arab League’s decision on Sunday to renew its monitors’ mandate consigns Syria to further bloodshed and the pan-Arab body back to its longstanding position of irrelevance. Arab League representatives argue that they’ve ratcheted up the pressure by calling on President Bashar al-Assad to surrender power to a deputy, form a national unity government, and hold multi-party elections. But who can take this call seriously?


Damascus agreed last November to the Arab League’s original plan to pull back its heavy weapons from Syria’s cities, halt attacks on protesters, open talks with the opposition, and allow human rights workers and journalists into Syria. The Syrian regime did little other than let in a fraction of the Arab League monitoring team into the country and restrict their movements. In the one month that those Arab League monitors were in Syria, Assad’s savagery only increased along with the daily rate of Syrians killed. Read More

Can Europe’s oil boycott really sink Iran?

The European Union threatened Iran on Monday with cutting off petroleum imports into the 27 EU member states, and announced sanctions on Iranian banks and some port and other companies.

Iran sells 18 percent of its petroleum to Europe, and Greece, Italy and Spain are particularly dependent on it. Europe also sells Iran nearly $12 billion a year in goods, which likely will cease, since there will be no way for Iran to pay for these goods. Some in Europe worry that the muscular anti-Iran policy of the UK, France and Germany in northern Europe will worsen the economic crisis of southern Mediterranean countries such as Greece.

Others think that Iran’s nuclear enrichment program is still primitive and that allegations that Iran is seeking a nuclear warhead are hype.

About 60% of Iran’s petroleum now goes to Asian countries, especially China, India, South Korea and Japan. China and India have no announced plans to reduce purchases of Iranian crude, and South Korea says it will seek an exemption from the US so as to continue to import. Japan says it plans only very slowly to reduce imports from Iran. Iran and India have just reached an agreement whereby some trade with Iran will be in rupees, to sidestep US sanctions. Indian firms are considering whether to fill the $8 billion gap in exports to Iran left by the Western sanctions (many do not want to be cut off from also exporting to the US, as they would be if third party sanctions were applied to them). Read More

Kim Jong-un’s dangerous brother

North Korea’s leadership succession from Kim Jong-il to Kim Jong-un has gone according to script. The Korean Workers’ Party and the Korean People’s Army are supporting Kim Jong-un as North Korea’s new leader and North Korea’s propaganda machine hasn’t missed a beat in announcing new titles, manufacturing accomplishments, and portraying Kim Jong-un as a Great Successor worthy of the name.

But despite these efforts, there are two notable missing pieces: Kim Jong-un’s brothers Kim Jong-nam and Kim Jong-chol. The failure of these brothers to publicly appear at the funeral clarifies that they are excluded from power, but their apparently differing fates raise important questions about Kim Jong-un’s power and the sustainability of his leadership.

Kim Jong-chol, in his thirties, is Kim Jong-il’s second son (the first son of Kim Jong-il’s second wife, Ko Yong-hee, who is also the mother of Kim Jong-un). Although Kim Jong-chol is Kim Jong-un’s elder brother, he’s rumored to have been dismissed by his father as a potential successor for being too effeminate. Kim Jong-chol’s absence is disturbing because it raises questions about how far Kim Jong-un might go to squelch even perceived contenders for power. North Korean purges have historically been ruthless, but family members have usually been exiled rather than executed. Kim Jong-il’s half-brother Kim Pyong-il was assigned to decades of diplomatic service abroad in Europe rather than eliminated. Kim Jong-chol’s fate may hold telling clues to the character of leadership under Kim Jong-un. Read More

Is China eating America's lunch in Latin America?

Long accustomed to its role as the dominant player in the Americas, the United States is now seeing that position eroded by the increasing footprint of China in the Americas.

Since then-President Jiang Zemin’s 13-day trip to Latin America in April 2001 and the subsequent visits of President Hu Jintao in 2004 and 2011, Chinese engagement with the region has exploded. Today, China is the top trade partner of Brazil and Chile and Peru, and the second trade partner of Argentina.

By the end of 2010, Chinese enterprises had invested almost $44 billion in the region, almost a quarter of which was invested in 2010 alone. That is a marked change from 2003, the year before Hu’s first visit, when China invested just $1 billion in all of Latin America.

This is consistent with broader Chinese strategy. As part of the dash for economic growth that the Chinese Communist Party believes will help to maintain its legitimacy, Beijing is on a global quest from Southeast Asia, to Africa, to Latin America and beyond to lock in the natural resources that are fueling growth. Read More

Can animals be slaves?

The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the condition of slavery. But it does not refer to a "person" or any particular class of victims.

So, can animals be slaves?

In a precedent-setting case, PETA, three marine-mammal experts and two former orca (killer whale) trainers are suing SeaWorld on behalf of five orcas who were taken from their home by force, locked up, put to work and never allowed to leave - the very definition of slavery.

Corky, Kasatka and Ulises went from exploring the vast seas with their families to a sterile tank barely larger than their own bodies at SeaWorld San Diego. Tilikum and Katina float listlessly between performances at SeaWorld Orlando. Now all five orcas will get their day in court.

The case - the first-ever seeking to apply the 13th Amendment to nonhuman animals – represents a growing trend among a new generation of legal advocates who recognize that society moved away from the outdated notion that animals are unfeeling things a long time ago. It is time for our laws to follow suit.

The lawsuit calls for the five orcas to be released to a more appropriate environment, such as a coastal sanctuary. Protected sea pens would allow these orcas greater freedom of movement; the opportunity to see, sense and communicate with their wild cousins and other ocean animals; and the ability to feel the tides and waves and engage in behavior that is natural to their species.

Orcas in the wild lead rich, complex lives. They are intelligent animals that work cooperatively, form multifaceted relationships, communicate using distinct dialects and swim up to 100 miles every day.

We know that these marine mammals have sophisticated social structures. We also know that being jammed into an oversized fish bowl causes them to lose their minds. They destroy their teeth chewing on steel divider bars; they alternate between aggression and depression; they attack each other and sometimes they decide that they can't take one more minute and lash out against their captors - with tragic results.

These intelligent animals are held against their will. Slavery does not depend on the species of the slave any more than it depends on the race, gender or religion of the slave. The case will be heard in a U.S. federal court in February. Read More

Is Europe bringing out the bazooka yet?

Davos, Switzerland (CNN) – “Bazooka” is competing for word of the year so far. As in, Europe needs to bring out its big bazooka to deal with the debt crisis in which it has been embroiled for nearly two years now.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon, head of the G20 group of countries, brandished the word with gusto at the World Economic Forum in Davos, declaring “we need to take out the bazooka immediately before the powder gets wet.”

Calderon compared the European situation to the economic crisis in Mexico in 1995. That crisis – referred to as “the first financial crisis of the twenty-first century” – exploded after a boom time and the influx of capital. The country was then bailed by the International Monetary Fund, and another country’s money – in this case the U.S. So far, so familiar.

Calderon pointed to the return of confidence that followed the international aid package, noting the same needed to occur in Europe. “The problem is not the money, the problem is the confidence,” he said. Read More

The 10 Most Air-Polluted Cities in the U.S.

The World Health Organization has ranked cities around the world on their amount of particulate pollution in the air. Here's the dirtiest of the dirty in the U.S.

10. Pittsburgh/San Diego

During its industrial heyday, Pittsburgh was an environmental catastrophe, a steel-mill city where the soot was visible on residents' windowsills. Over the years, Pittsburgh has gone from a city of steel workers to one of middle managers — though, thankfully, the Steelers haven't gone away — and the air has improved. But pollution is still a major problem — an estimated 47,000 children in the greater Pittsburgh area suffer from asthma.

Meanwhile, most Americans probably think of San Diego as a Southern California paradise. But heavy traffic on its highways — as well as localized pollution from the city's busy port — can turn the air brown, especially during rush hour. San Diego averages nearly 30 days of unhealthy ozone levels each year — though like Pittsburgh, its air has improved in recent years. Read More

Canada; What happened to winter?

Here’s one thing you probably know: Most Canadians are going without the sustained cold and blustering snow by which we define our winters, if not the nation.

But here’s another thing you probably don’t: The culprit is a mercurial weather pattern called the Arctic oscillation.

In Toronto, just 11 days have remained below freezing since the fall, compared with an average of 28 during the same period. The number of freezing days in Halifax has fallen by half, and even the Prairies, which recently experienced a sudden, week-long cold snap, are returning to warmer-than-average temperatures this week.

“It’s been a bit of a whipsaw from last winter to this winter,” NASA researcher Bill Patzert said. “You can definitely blame the Arctic oscillation for that.” Read More

Baby Elephant Dies, Herd Grieves Loss Of Calf

Lola, a three-month-old elephant calf at the Hellabrunn Zoo in Munich, Germany, died the morning she was supposed to receive life-saving heart surgery.

Lola's body was brought back to the Hellabrunn herd on Saturday afternoon, so that her mother, Panang (22), could say her goodbyes to her in peace. Afterwards the herd gently nuzzled the lifeless body with their trunks and took their leave of her. Read More

Car technology: Have we taken it too far?

I’ve had a Mercedes flash a small coffee cup light at me to tell me I might want to pull over for break; I’ve had a Volvo set off warnings that someone was creeping into my blind spot on my right; I’ve had a Porsche let me know if anyone got within striking distance of any part of that beauty. It was like surround sound for a car – surround sensor.

There is much new technology that will enable me to spy on my kids when I'm not in the car with them. I can now back up 10 metres of RV with a rear-view camera as if I’m threading a needle. I can pop a button and let a computer parallel park for me as if I’m in a video game.

All great stuff, right? Sort of.

Remember when driving used to be a skill? Remember when you drove the car, the car didn’t drive you? I’m all for advancements that increase safety, but I’m dubious of those that replace skill. Read More

Russian expat invasion of Cyprus also has sinister overtones

Many Russians have made their home on the holiday island, but the Putin regime seems to be reaching deep into the tiny nation.

A mysterious Russian cargo ship limped into the Cypriot port of Limassol, this month, forced to seek shelter from a violent storm.

Hidden on board the MS Chariot were four containers packed with 60 tonnes of ammunition for AK-47s and for rocket launchers. The shipment had come from Moscow's state arms company, Rosoboronexport; its shadowy purchaser was none other than the Syrian government.

Cyprus, an EU member since 2004, was supposed to seize the cargo. The weapons flagrantly breached the EU's strict embargo on military supplies to the Syrian regime, which since last year has been violently engaged in shooting and killing its own citizens and anti-regime protesters.

Instead, Cypriot officials allowed the ship to leave after receiving vague assurances it would alter its route. The captain refuelled, left and then set a brisk course for the Syrian port of Tartus, where he delivered his dubious cargo. Read More

4.8 Magnitude Earthquake KEPULAUAN TALAUD, INDONESIA - 31st Jan 2012

A magnitude 4.8 earthquake has struck Kepulauan Talaud, Indonesia at a depth of 52.8 km (32.8 miles), the quake hit at 03:40:30 UTC Tuesday 31st January 2012
The epicenter was 309 km (192 miles) Southeast of General Santos, Mindanao, Philippines
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No Reports of Damage or Injuries at this time

3.2 Magnitude Earthquake VIRGINIA - 30th Jan 2012

A magnitude 3.2 earthquake has struck Virginia at a depth of just 3 km (1.8 miles), the quake hit at 23:39:47 UTC Monday 30th January 2012
The epicenter was 9 km (5 miles) South of Louisa, Virginia
No Reports of Damage or Injuries at this time

4.8 Magnitude Earthquake SOUTH OF THE FIJI ISLANDS - 30th Jan 2012

A magnitude 4.8 earthquake has struck South of the Fiji Islands at a depth of 483.2 km (300.3 miles), the quake hit at 19:56:07 UTC Monday 30th January 2012
The epicenter was 503 km (312 miles) SSW of Ndoi Island, Fiji
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No Reports of Damage or Injuries at this time

4.6 Magnitude Earthquake NEAR THE NORTH COAST OF PAPUA, INDONESIA - 30th Jan 2012

A magnitude 4.6 earthquake has struck near the North Coast of Papua, Indonesia at a depth of 38.2 km (23.7 miles), the quake hit at 19:38:22 UTC Monday 30th January 2012
The epicenter was 328 km (203 miles) NNE of Enarotali, Papua, Indonesia
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No Reports of Damage or Injuries at this time