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 veryhotthread  Author  Topic: Stuff & Nonsense  (Read 47668 times)
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« Reply #2325 on: Dec 24th, 2010, 07:34am »

New York Times

December 23, 2010
U.S. Approved Business With Blacklisted Nations
By JO BECKER

Despite sanctions and trade embargoes, over the past decade the United States government has allowed American companies to do billions of dollars in business with Iran and other countries blacklisted as state sponsors of terrorism, an examination by The New York Times has found.

At the behest of a host of companies — from Kraft Food and Pepsi to some of the nation’s largest banks — a little-known office of the Treasury Department has granted nearly 10,000 licenses for deals involving countries that have been cast into economic purgatory, beyond the reach of American business.

Most of the licenses were approved under a decade-old law mandating that agricultural and medical humanitarian aid be exempted from sanctions. But the law, pushed by the farm lobby and other industry groups, was written so broadly that allowable humanitarian aid has included cigarettes, Wrigley’s gum, Louisiana hot sauce, weight-loss remedies, body-building supplements and sports rehabilitation equipment sold to the institute that trains Iran’s Olympic athletes.

Hundreds of other licenses were approved because they passed a litmus test: They were deemed to serve American foreign policy goals. And many clearly do, among them deals to provide famine relief in North Korea or to improve Internet connections — and nurture democracy — in Iran. But the examination also found cases in which the foreign-policy benefits were considerably less clear.

In one instance, an American company was permitted to bid on a pipeline job that would have helped Iran sell natural gas to Europe, even though the United States opposes such projects. Several other American businesses were permitted to deal with foreign companies believed to be involved in terrorism or weapons proliferation. In one such case, involving equipment bought by a medical waste disposal plant in Hawaii, the government was preparing to deny the license until an influential politician intervened.

In an interview, the Obama administration’s point man on sanctions, Stuart A. Levey, said that focusing on the exceptions “misses the forest for the trees.” Indeed, the exceptions represent only a small counterweight to the overall force of America’s trade sanctions, which are among the toughest in the world. Now they are particularly focused on Iran, where on top of a broad embargo that prohibits most trade, the United States and its allies this year adopted a new round of sanctions that have effectively shut Iran off from much of the international financial system.

“No one can doubt that we are serious about this,” Mr. Levey said.

But as the administration tries to press Iran even harder to abandon its nuclear program — officials this week announced several new sanctions measures — some diplomats and foreign affairs experts worry that by allowing the sale of even small-ticket items with no military application, the United States muddies its moral and diplomatic authority.

“It’s not a bad thing to grant exceptions if it represents a conscious policy decision to give countries an incentive,” said Stuart Eizenstat, who oversaw sanctions policy for the Clinton administration when the humanitarian-aid law was passed. “But when you create loopholes like this that you can drive a Mack truck through, you are giving countries something for nothing, and they just laugh in their teeth. I think there have been abuses.”

What’s more, in countries like Iran where elements of the government have assumed control over large portions of the economy, it is increasingly difficult to separate exceptions that help the people from those that enrich the state. Indeed, records show that the United States has approved the sale of luxury food items to chain stores owned by blacklisted banks, despite requirements that potential purchasers be scrutinized for just such connections.

Enforcement of America’s sanctions rests with Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which can make exceptions with guidance from the State Department. The Treasury office resisted disclosing information about the licenses, but after The Times filed a federal Freedom of Information lawsuit, the government agreed to turn over a list of companies granted exceptions and, in a little more than 100 cases, underlying files explaining the nature and details of the deals. The process took three years, and the government heavily redacted many documents, saying they contained trade secrets and personal information. Still, the files offer a snapshot — albeit a piecemeal one — of a system that at times appears out of sync with its own licensing policies and America’s goals abroad.

In some cases, licensing rules failed to keep pace with changing diplomatic circumstances. For instance, American companies were able to import cheap blouses and raw material for steel from North Korea because restrictions loosened when that government promised to renounce its nuclear weapons program and were not recalibrated after the agreement fell apart.

Mr. Levey, a Treasury under secretary who held the same job in the Bush administration, pointed out that the United States did far less business with Iran than did China or Europe; in the first quarter of this year, 0.02 percent of American exports went to Iran. And while it is “a fair policy question” to ask whether Congress’s definition of humanitarian aid is overly broad, he said, the exception has helped the United States argue that it opposes Iran’s government, not its people. That, in turn, has helped build international support for the tightly focused financial sanctions.

Beyond that, he and the licensing office’s director, Adam Szubin, said the agency’s other, case-by-case, determinations often reflected a desire to balance sanctions policy against the realities of the business world, where companies may unwittingly find themselves in transactions involving blacklisted entities.

“I haven’t seen any licenses that I thought we should have done differently,” Mr. Szubin said.

Behind a 2000 Law

For all the speechifying about humanitarian aid that attended its passage, the 2000 law allowing agricultural and medical exceptions to sanctions was ultimately the product of economic stress and political pressure. American farmers, facing sharp declines in commodity prices and exports, hoped to offset their losses with sales to blacklisted countries.

The law defined allowable agricultural exports as any product on a list maintained by the Agriculture Department, which went beyond traditional humanitarian aid like seed and grain and included products like beer, soda, utility poles and more loosely defined categories of “food commodities” and “food additives.”

Even before the law’s final passage, companies and their lobbyists inundated the licensing office with claims that their products fit the bill.

Take, for instance, chewing gum, sold in a number of blacklisted countries by Mars Inc., which owns Wrigley’s. “We debated that one for a month. Was it food? Did it have nutritional value? We concluded it did,” Hal Eren, a former senior sanctions adviser at the licensing office, recalled before pausing and conceding, “We were probably rolled on that issue by outside forces.”

While Cuba was the primary focus of the initial legislative push, Iran, with its relative wealth and large population, was also a promising prospect. American exports, virtually nonexistent before the law’s passage, have totaled more than $1.7 billion since.

In response to questions for this article, companies argued that they were operating in full accordance with American law.

Henry Lapidos, export manager for the American Pop Corn Company, acknowledged that calling the Jolly Time popcorn he sold in Sudan and Iran a humanitarian good was “pushing the envelope,” though he did give it a try. “It depends on how you look at it — popcorn has fibers, which are helpful to the digestive system,” he explained, before switching to a different tack. “What’s the harm?” he asked, adding that he didn’t think Iranian soldiers “would be taking microwavable popcorn” to war.

Even the sale of benign goods can benefit bad actors, though, which is why the licensing office and State Department are required to check the purchasers of humanitarian aid products for links to terrorism. But that does not always happen.

In its application to sell salt substitutes, marinades, food colorings and cake sprinkles in Iran, McCormick & Co. listed a number of chain stores that planned to buy its products. A quick check of the Web site of one store, Refah, revealed that its major investors were banks on an American blacklist. The government of Tehran owns Shahrvand, another store listed in the license. A third chain store, Ghods, draws many top officials from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which the United States considers a terrorist organization.

The licensing office’s director, Mr. Szubin, said that given his limited resources, they were better spent on stopping weapons technology from reaching Iran. Even if the connections in the McCormick case had come to light, he said, he still might have had to approve the license: the law requires him to do so unless he can prove that the investors engaged in terrorist activities own more than half of a company.

“Are we checking end users? Yes,” he said. “But are we doing corporate due diligence on every Iranian importer? No.”

A McCormick spokesman, Jim Lynn, said, “We were not aware of the information you shared with us and are looking into it.”

Political Influence

Beyond the humanitarian umbrella, the agency has wide discretion to make case-by-case exceptions.

more after the jump
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/24/world/24sanctions.html?_r=1&hp

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« Reply #2326 on: Dec 24th, 2010, 07:37am »

LA Times

2 injured in bomb blasts at Swiss, Chilean embassies in Rome

No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but police suspect anarchist movements. One victim is in danger of losing one, if not both, hands.

By Janet Stobart, Los Angeles Times
December 24, 2010
Reporting from London


Two parcel bombs exploded in the Swiss and Chilean embassies in Rome on Thursday, wounding two men in attacks that bore similarities to a wave of diplomatic letter bombs in Greece last month.

An anarchist organization claimed responsibility for at least one of the blasts, the Italian news agency ANSA reported. The group, calling itself the Informal Anarchist Federation, left a note in a box found near one of the victims that said, "Long live anarchy."

The explosions came during a period of heightened nervousness throughout Europe over the possibility that Islamic terrorists might try to stage a major attack over the Christmas holiday.

But Italian news reports say police inquiries are veering toward anarchist movements that have launched similar attacks around Europe recently, particularly in Greece and Italy, where public austerity plans have sparked anti-government protests, some of them violent.

One anarchist group targeted the Swiss Embassy in Rome two months ago. An explosive device found in the street outside the mission's wall Oct. 5 contained a message demanding the release of three convicted militant environmental activists being held in Swiss jails.

ANSA quoted Interior Minister Roberto Maroni as saying that police were following an "anarchic" trail "because there are precedents." Last month, suspected anarchists sent letter bombs to a number of embassies in Athens.

"Greece, Spain and Italy have anarchic insurgent groups that are tightly interconnected," Maroni said. "The fact that these package bombs have arrived at two embassies lead us to think that this is the right track."

Other embassies in Rome were placed on alert after the explosions. Suspicious packages were examined at the Ukrainian, Slovenian and Estonian embassies, but those turned out to be false alarms.

The first blast Thursday morning wounded a Swiss Embassy employee who opened the small package and is now in danger of losing one, if not both, hands. Hours later, the second blast, at the Chilean Embassy, injured employee Cesar Mella, 50.

Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini called the attacks "a deplorable act of violence" and ordered a warning be put out to all embassies as well as Italian diplomatic missions abroad.

The Roman daily newspaper Il Messaggero reported that Greek police have been called in by their Italian counterparts to help with the investigation.

In the Athens incidents last month, a letter bomb addressed to the Mexican Embassy exploded at the offices of a private courier company, lightly injuring an employee. Other parcel bombs bound for the embassies of Bulgaria, Chile, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia and Switzerland were intercepted, as was one addressed to French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

But a letter bomb slipped past security at Athens International Airport and arrived at German Chancellor Angela Merkel's office in Berlin. Another addressed to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi caught fire at the airport in the city of Bologna.

Greek police arrested two suspected anarchists in connection with the bombs.

Thursday's attacks in Rome showed "technical affinities" with the Athens letter bombs, commentator Antonio Ferrari said on the website of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. He warned of a "very high risk" of further bombs.

Il Messaggero noted that there also had been minor attacks recently against targets in northern Italy by a group claiming to be close to a Chilean anarchist group.

Italy has a long tradition of anti-government extremism in times of political and economic crisis. The 1970s political turmoil in Europe during the Cold War included the growth of both left-wing militants and neo-fascist groups. The diehard ultra-leftist Red Brigades carried out kidnappings and the assassination of onetime Christian Democrat Prime Minister Aldo Moro.

The latest attacks jangled European nerves already frayed by warnings of possible terrorist attacks during the holiday season.

A suicide bomber killed himself and injured two others two weeks ago in a crowded shopping district in Stockholm, the Swedish capital.

This week, British authorities arrested 12 suspected Islamic militants who they feared were plotting a large-scale attack, possibly on high-profile targets in London.


Stobart is a Times staff writer. Times staff writer Henry Chu contributed to this report.

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-italy-blasts-20101224,0,5652310.story

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« Reply #2327 on: Dec 24th, 2010, 07:44am »

Telegraph

Battle over pardon for Billy the Kid

As showdowns go, it's probably not the greatest the Wild West has ever seen.


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William Bonney, also known as Billy the Kid, circa 1880


By Nick Allen in Los Angeles and Philip Sherwell in New York
6:37PM GMT
23 Dec 2010

But a battle has broken out over plans to grant a posthumous pardon to Billy the Kid.

The descendants of Wild West Sheriff Pat Garrett, the lawman who shot the Kid, have launched a protest over the move calling the outlaw a "thief, terroriser and cop killer."

Bill Richardson, the Governor of New Mexico, has said he will decide before leaving office on Dec 31 whether to give the controversial pardon to one of America's most infamous outlaws.

The Kid was shot dead by Garrett on July 14, 1881 and the story of the two men's lives has provided the plot for numerous Hollywood films.

Mr Richardson is considering whether Lew Wallace, the state's governor at the time, reneged on a promise of an amnesty for the Kid's crimes in return for him testifying as a witness in a murder case.

The current governor has set up a website asking for the public's view and it has been inundated, with sentiment running slightly in the Kid's favour.

A New Mexico lawyer, Randi McGinn, has submitted an official petition seeking the pardon after reviewing historical documents.

She told The Daily Telegraph: "What I found is that, as ever, history is written by the victors. The other side has had 130 years to make Billy the Kid out as the bad guy. A promise is a promise and should be enforced."

But Garrett's grandson JP Garrett, who still lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, said: "I don't believe a thief, a liar, a terroriser of the ordinary people and a multiple cop killer should ever be granted a pardon, period.

"The Kid was a notorious outlaw and murderer. He was on a rampage for a while. I believe Lew Wallace did what he planned all long, get Billy to testify and then hang him. By granting the Kid a pardon are you excusing the murders he committed?"

Wallace's great-grandson, William Wallace of Westport, Connecticut, said pardoning the Kid now "would declare Lew Wallace to have been a dishonourable liar."

Wallace was an important historical and literary figure. He was a Union general in the Civil War. Then, while serving as governor in 1880, he published the bestselling novel "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ" which was later made into the Hollywood film starring Charlton Heston.

The case for pardoning the Kid centres on letters the outlaw wrote to Wallace in the aftermath of the so-called Lincoln County War, a deadly five-month feud in 1878.

The Kid was a ranch hand involved with one of the factions and wrote to the governor saying he had witnessed a high profile murder.

Signing his letter "William H Bonney" he offered to become an informant and testify in court if charges stemming from his own involvement in the Lincoln County War were dropped.

A fake arrest of the Kid was then staged and he went on to give evidence, upholding his side of the bargain.

Two years later he found himself in jail in Santa Fe having been arrested by Garrett, the Sheriff of Lincoln County. He was due to stand trial for the murder of another Sheriff, William Brady, in the Lincoln County War.

The Kid wrote to Wallace to remind him of their deal but no reply came and he was sentenced to hang.

On April 28, 1881 he killed two guards and broke out of jail, reputedly singing as he escaped on a horse, before Garrett found him and killed him.

The Kid, who was born Henry McCarty but better known as William H Bonney, was aged about 22 when he died and had reputedly killed 21 men, although some scholars believe it was as few as four.

Mr Richardson is keeping everyone guessing right to the end. He said: "I don't know where I'll end up. I might not pardon him. But then I might."

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/8222868/Battle-over-pardon-for-Billy-the-Kid.html

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« Reply #2328 on: Dec 24th, 2010, 07:52am »

Wired Danger Room

Shadow Wars Get Big Bucks in Last-Minute Defense Bill
By Spencer Ackerman
December 22, 2010 | 5:49 pm
Categories: Paper Pushers, Beltway Bandits, Politicians


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Photo: U.S. Special Operations Command


Fighting (or pretending to fight) al-Qaeda on behalf of the U.S.? Congress is your private Santa.

Defying Beltway expectations, both chambers of Congress approved a $724.6 billion defense bill for the current fiscal year. Congress was feeling generous, and the money lavished on the United States’ proxies shows it.

The big winner is Pakistan. The $400 million Pakistan Counterinsurgency Fund, which provides helicopters, night-vision equipment and training to the Pakistan’s Army and Frontier Corps, gets another re-up. There’s also $1.6 billion to reimburse Pakistan (and some other nations, but really Pakistan) for “cooperating in contingency operations in Afghanistan,” which must come as a surprise to U.S., Afghan and Pakistani troops.

This cash appears to be yet another U.S. down payment for the Pakistanis to invade North Waziristan, something they’re currently pledging to do the week after never.

Don’t forget Yemen, the New Pakistan. Yemen’s counterterrorism force in the Ministry of Interior alone will get $75 million “in equipment, supplies and training.” Last year, the entire U.S. aid package to Yemen’s military was $155 million; it goes to show what an offer to look the other way while U.S. cruise missiles fly can buy a regime.

U.S. Special Operations Command, the principle on-the-ground liaison to these nations’ counterterrorism forces, wins out as well. Not only does the command get the full $9.8 billion it asked for, but Congress raised the special forces’ line item from $40 million to $45 million “to provide support to foreign forces, groups, and individuals assisting in ongoing operations.” That’s going to come into play in Yemen, where new teams of CIA operatives and elite troops from the Joint Special Operations Command are expanding the U.S.’ reach against al-Qaeda’s local affiliate.

And all that’s just in the open budget. The so-called “black budget” — that is, the intelligence budget, which included $27 billion in military intelligence last year — undoubtedly has even more for the shadow wars.

As this collection of conflicts mutates far beyond what began in Afghanistan a decade ago, a different provision in the new budget is especially noteworthy: The Defense Science Board must “conduct a review and evaluation of DOD’s strategy to counter violent extremism.” With all the cash being thrown around in these clandestine battles, you’d hope that was a strategy that was already in place.

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/12/shadow-wars-get-big-bucks-in-last-minute-defense-bill/

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« Reply #2329 on: Dec 24th, 2010, 08:02am »

Geek Tyrant

Total Recall reboot starts filming in late March 2011
24 December 2010
by Brian S


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Len Wiseman and company will start filming the Total Recall reboot in late March, whether you want it or not. I wonder if Johnny Cab will return! Here's a little piece from The Hollywood Reporter;

"Len Wiseman will direct Total Recall based on a script by Kurt Wimmer, with Neal H. Moritz producing through his Original Film banner. The project, based on the Philip K. Dick story, portrays a man haunted by a recurring dream of rocketing to Mars. Total Recall is just the big budget Hollywood shoot that Ontario has been looking to draw to the city. Pinewood Toronto Studios has recently hosted movie shoots like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, The Thing, and Dream House. But it’s the vfx-heavy studio projects like Total Recall that Ontario has been looking to draw away from Vancouver and Los Angeles, which have been in the hi-tech soundstage business for far longer than Toronto."

http://geektyrant.com/news/2010/12/24/the-total-recall-reboot-starts-filming-in-late-march.html


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« Reply #2330 on: Dec 24th, 2010, 1:54pm »

Santa!


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Current location:
Sur, Oman

Santa's next stop is:
Victoria, Seychelles
01:52


NORAD Santa Tracker:

http://www.noradsanta.org/en/index.html


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« Reply #2331 on: Dec 24th, 2010, 6:45pm »

Santa!!!


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Current location:
Lajes do Pico, Azores

Santa's next stop is:
Tarrafal, Cape Verde

NORAD Santa Tracker:
http://www.noradsanta.org/en/index.html


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« Reply #2332 on: Dec 24th, 2010, 7:54pm »

Aussie Santa

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« Reply #2333 on: Dec 24th, 2010, 8:56pm »



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Lt. Paul C. Charvet
USN 21 MAR 67 NVN

r.i.p.
We remember


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« Reply #2334 on: Dec 25th, 2010, 08:20am »

New York Times

December 25, 2010
China Raises Rates, Citing Inflation Fears
By REUTERS
Filed at 6:59 a.m. ET

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's central bank raised interest rates on Saturday for the second time in just over two months as it stepped up its battle to rein in stubbornly high inflation.

The People's Bank of China said it will raise the benchmark lending rate by 25 basis points to 5.81 percent and lift the benchmark deposit rate by 25 basis points to 2.75 percent.

The central bank said in a statement on its website (www.pbc.gov.cn) that the latest rate rise would take effect on Sunday.

The move came after Beijing said earlier in December it was switching to a "prudent" monetary policy, from its earlier "moderately loose" stance.

Analysts said the change of wording, along with a recent pledge by top leaders to make inflation fighting a top priority for 2011, could pave the way for more interest rate increases and lending controls.

"This rate hike demonstrates Chinese authorities' determination to keep inflation under control up front, or front-loaded tightening," said Qing Wang, chief China economist at Morgan Stanley in Hong Kong.

"Compared to rate hikes in the beginning of next year, a rate hike before year-end will have a more tightening impact, as the interest rates on the medium- and long-term loans and deposits are reset at the beginning of each year according to the base rates."

The central bank said on Friday it will deploy a range of policy tools to head off inflationary pressures and asset bubbles.

To tame price pressures, China raised interest rates on Oct 19 for the first time in nearly three years. The consensus of analysts polled by Reuters this month was for three rate rises of 25 basis points each by the end of next year.

Along with playing a key role in the fight against inflation, policy tightening also signals the government's confidence that the world's second-largest economy is on solid ground, even as the U.S. and European recoveries remain fragile.

While almost all investors and analysts thought more policy tightening was coming, there was uncertainty about whether the central bank would raise rates before the end of the year.

The central bank opted to raise banks' reserve requirements on Nov 19 ahead of data which showed inflation hit a 28-month high of 5.1 percent.

"We expected a rate hike by the end of the year, though Christmas Day is something of a surprise -- a rate hike is not normally on the wish-list for Santa Claus, but in China's case this is a prudent move," said Brian Jackson, economist with Royal Bank of Canada in Hong Kong.

"We think it is increasingly clear that using quantitative measures, such as reserve ratios, to rein in liquidity and credit has not been enough, and that adjusting the price of credit -- that is, interest rates -- is needed to get price pressures under control."

Chinese stock markets have shed nearly 10 percent since mid-November on concerns the government would ratchet up its monetary policy tightening in face of rising inflation.

China has also officially increased banks' required reserve requirements six times this year and restricted lending by them.

In addition, Beijing has taken a slew of steps to cool the property sector, trying to ward off a potential asset bubble.

(Additional reporting by Niu Shuping, and Jason Subler in Shanghai, Writing by Kevin Yao; Editing by Koh Gui Qing, Benjamin Kang Lim and Mike Nesbit)


http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2010/12/25/business/global/business-us-china-economy-rates.html?_r=1&hp

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« Reply #2335 on: Dec 25th, 2010, 08:23am »

Telegraph

Suicide bomber in burka kills 40 queuing for food aid in Pakistan

A suicide bomber dressed in a burka killed at least 41 people queuing for emergency food rations on Saturday in Pakistan's terrorist-riddled tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

By Rob Crilly
9:40AM GMT
25 Dec 2010

The attacker was thought to be female – which would make it the first time a suicide attack has been carried out by a woman in Pakistan.

Witnesses said she was stopped at a security checkpoint as United Nations officials distributed aid in Khar, the main town of Bajaur, which the Pakistani army this year claimed to have cleared of Taliban and al-Qaeda fighter.

She hurled a hand grenade before detonating an explosive-laden vest as she was being searched.

More than 1000 people – mostly displaced by fighting elsewhere in the tribal areas – had gathered to wait for food.

"At least 41 people are dead and more than 60 wounded in the suicide bombing," said Sohail Khan, a senior tribal administration official.

Pakistan's military launched operations in Bajaur in August 2008 and have repeatedly claimed to have eliminated the Islamist militant threat.

The country's northwest tribal belt is a stronghold of Islamist groups, including home-grown Jihadi cells as well as extremists who fled Afghanistan after the US-led invasion toppled the hardline Taliban regime at the end of 2001.

American military commanders in Afghanistan have repeatedly expressed frustration that Pakistan has not done more to rid its rugged frontier of al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked groups, such as the Haqqani Network which is able to launch attacks on international forces from their havens across the border.

Police and local administration officials confirmed the attack in Khar was carried out by a woman, according to their initial examination of the bomber's remains.

The local administration imposed an indefinite curfew in Khar, while security forces patrolled streets and launched a search operation in the area, officials said.

About 4000 people have died in suicide and bomb attacks across Pakistan since 2007, when security forces raided an extremist mosque in Islamabad, turning terrorist networks against a regime that had previously offered tacit – or at times overt – support to Jihadi groups.

However, Pakistan vehemently denies accusations that it is not doing enough to eradicate the Taliban in the northwest, saying more than 2400 troops have been killed in fighting Islamist militants from 2002 until April this year.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/pakistan/8224760/Suicide-bomber-in-burka-kills-40-queuing-for-food-aid-in-Pakistan.html

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« Reply #2336 on: Dec 25th, 2010, 08:27am »

Wired

China Matches U.S. Space Launches for First Time
By David Axe
December 23, 2010 | 11:01 am
Categories: China


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Outwardly, it looked like just another big space launch — and those happen about once a week, from spaceports all around the world. But Friday’s blast-off of a rocket, carrying a Chinese GPS-style navigation satellite, from the Xi Chang Satellite Launch Center was different. It set a record for successful Chinese launches in one year: 15.

The launch represented another important milestone. For the first time since the chilliest days of the Cold War, another country has matched the United States in sheer number of rocket launches.

To some observers, the rapid acceleration of the Chinese space program is perfectly reasonable, even expected. With nearly 20 percent of the world’s population and the planet’s second-biggest economy by some measures, it stands to reason that China would join other advanced, spacefaring nations — and on a grander scale.

But more cautious (or alarmist, depending on your point of view) China-watchers question Beijing’s motives, and warn of potentially dire consequences if China comes to dominate the heavens.

In an interview with Danger Room, space expert Brian Weeden from the Secure World Foundation took a measured view: Sure, China’s catching up fast, but the world’s most powerful Communist country still has a long way to go before it can go toe-to-toe with the United States in space.

Weeden’s argument boils down to an appreciation of quality versus quantity. “On a pure technology basis, I would put them [China] behind the established spacefaring states such as the United States, Russia, Europe, Canada and Japan. This is largely due to China’s deficiencies in advanced technology in general and not limited to just space. However, on a space-capability basis, I would put them ahead of everyone but the United States and Russia, and just behind those two leaders.”

In other words, China makes up for the generally lower-quality of its spacecraft by building more of them — and a greater variety.
For instance, Beijing can’t match the high quality of Canada’s RADARSAT-2 radar-imaging satellite. “However, Canada does not have an indigenous human spaceflight program or indigenous space launch capability,” Weeden pointed out, and China does. Beijing is “in the process of building constellations of on-orbit satellite to provide a wide variety of capabilities, which will likely surpass Russia (whose satellite constellations are in decline) and end up second only to the U.S.”

But even with China matching U.S. launch rates, that near-parity could take decades — or never happen at all, considering the huge demographic pressures Beijing faces. China’s 15 launches in 2010 boosted Beijing’s space arsenal to around 67 satellites, both military- and civilian-owned. Russia still has 99, but with its unreliable rockets and rickety finances is struggling to maintain that number.

The United States, by contrast, owns 441 satellites that we know about, including unique spacecraft such as the Advanced Orion radio snoop (at a reported span of 300 feet, the biggest sat in the world) plus the soon-to-be-retired space shuttle and the shuttle’s smaller robotic replacement, the Air Force’s X-37B.

In many ways, China’s ascent in space reflects the country’s rapid military modernization on the ground, in the air and at sea — and raises some of the same concerns. After decades of dormancy, China is finally awakening to its full potential. That means big technical and professional leaps, fast. But Beijing started so far behind other world powers, that even big leaps can leave it a distant runner-up.

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/12/china-matches-u-s-space-launches-for-first-time/

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« Reply #2337 on: Dec 25th, 2010, 08:34am »

LA Times

Holiday decorations with a somber theme

A Rancho Cucamonga couple cover their house with twinkling lights and show photos of military personnel as a tribute to their son, who was killed in Iraq.

By Corina Knoll, Los Angeles Times
December 25, 2010


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Kim and Rick Creed look at the Christmas display in front of their home in Rancho Cucamonga.
(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times / December 23, 2010)



These lights flicker for a fallen son.

Altogether they number nearly 30,000 — tiny bulbs of red, green, white and blue that flash in sync with a melody from two speakers. Stretched around a home, a garage and the lawn ornaments in between, they make this Rancho Cucamonga residence sparkle from two streets away.

But the heart of the display is a more understated affair. Up in the small second-floor bedroom window, a projector shows hundreds of photos of military personnel. Among the young faces is Cpl. Matthew Wallace Creed, a 23-year-old with smiling brown eyes who was killed four years ago by a sniper in Baghdad.

His parents own the house, and this spectacle of color and light shines for him.

Matt joined the Army in 2003 in search of the kind of training that could help him get a job with the local police department. Rick and Kim Creed, both of whom had joined the Navy as teens, were uneasy about their eldest son's choice as the nation headed into war.

But at Matt's boot camp graduation, they saw a man transformed. Once a kid who cut class and barely graduated, he was suddenly a respectful, confident soldier who encouraged his younger brother James to hit the books.

"Oh my goodness, he grew up so much," Rick said. "He held himself differently. The smart aleck was still there, but the tomfoolery was gone."

Matt was stationed in South Korea before heading to Ft. Hood, a military post in Texas. In 2005, he and his girlfriend Ashley married at a church in Covina. He deployed to Iraq that December.

The next October, Kim received a call from Matt while sitting in her car outside a grocery store. He had just signed his release papers and would be home in 45 days. Kim felt uneasy. Stories of soldiers killed shortly before discharge were common.

As the call was about to end, Matt said he was heading into a dangerous situation he couldn't discuss. "Don't worry, the angels are watching over you," Kim told him. She hung up, but sat frozen in her car.

She learned later that her son died hours after that conversation.

The winter of Matt's death echoed with grief. Kim had nightmares of Matt as a child lying in a coffin begging to not be buried alive. Rick wept at random moments, set off by a song, a memory. They barely acknowledged the holidays.

It wasn't until two years after Matt's death that Rick saw an outlet for their ache. After attending a performance by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, he perused their website and saw instructions on how to synchronize holiday lights with songs. Rick visited a house with animated lights that also happened to have a military theme. He fought back tears. "I could do that for Matt," he thought.

Over the next year, he bought controllers, cords and computer software and learned the painstaking craft of setting lights in motion to music, each song taking about eight hours to program. As he threw himself into the task, the city started posting hundreds of portraits of locals serving in the military on banners around town. The Creeds photographed the banners and worked them into their slide show.

The project passed the time and replaced the dread that had come to accompany the holidays, when their son's absence cut deeply. Before his death, the couple had looked forward to decorating for Christmas and won several contests for their displays.

The Creeds designed the layout of the lights, winding them along the eaves of the house, around a train set and props of Santa Claus and eight reindeer. They incorporated the Christmas tree that was once beside Matt's grave in a tiny pot but had grown to 8 feet tall after being replanted in the frontyard.

Kim, who had prescription sleeping pills to get her through the night, found that focusing on the light show offered more relief than the vacant feeling of medication. Rick had found a hobby.

"I don't know if it helps or not, but it definitely doesn't hurt," he said. "The one thing I figured out is you have this energy — whether it's being angry or being very sad, there's an energy and you have to do something with it."

Their son would have liked to see them doing something productive. He also would have loved the attention, they joked.

They unveiled the display last year during the first weekend in December. Passersby who tuned to the right station could hear the music inside their cars. The addition of a voiceover artist made it sound like a radio show.

Slowly, word caught on and cars began to pause outside the tan house at 11426 Tioga Peak Court. People left notes or knocked, wanting to offer thanks. Some had relatives in the military. Others didn't notice the slide show, too caught up in the dancing lights. The Creeds would sneak peeks at older spectators, watching their faces turn childlike. Sometimes they went outside to offer hot cocoa or cider to visitors.

"It's almost a little overwhelming in some ways because it's nothing that we expected," Kim said.

This year, they doubled the lights, added a 20-foot electric tree and better speakers. The neighbors had one request: Crank up the volume. Some even asked that their own homes be included. The Creeds play the show every night from 5 to 10 and have heard no complaints.

Rick, who works for an air-conditioning company, says the show has become an obsession and they plan to continue every holiday season. Next year, they may add tributes to local firefighters and police officers, but the project will always be in honor of a child lost to war.

"I consider my job at this point in life to make sure that Matt's out there all the time, and to honor and respect the veterans who are out there still today," he said.

On a drizzly night in December, Rick stands across the street from his house under an umbrella, quietly watching the flashes of red, green, blue and white. He and Kim never tire of the repetitive songs or the steady stream of motorists that track down their home, even in the dreariest of weather.

Tonight, the sky is nearly black, a backdrop that contrasts with every twinkle. At times like these, a mother and father's salute to a departed son is even more apparent.

Matt lives on in lights.

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-1225-christmas-salute-20101223,0,2980117.story

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« Reply #2338 on: Dec 25th, 2010, 08:48am »

LA Times

India ratchets up security in Mumbai

Forces set up checkpoints and conduct searches in a hunt for four suspects believed to have entered from Pakistan to carry out an attack in the financial hub, the site of a terrorist siege in 2008.

By Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times
December 25, 2010
Reporting from New Delhi

Mumbai was on high alert Saturday as police set up checkpoints and conducted extensive searches for four men they believe have entered the financial hub to carry out a terrorist attack.

The sprawling metropolis was the site of a massive attack in November 2008 that saw the city under siege for three days as well-coordinated terrorists fanned out to transit centers, hospitals, luxury hotels and a Jewish center, killing about 170 people.

"Mumbai" has become a watchword for this style of suicide attack, which underscored the vulnerabilities of sprawling cities in the face of trained and highly motivated terrorists in real-time communication with distant handlers. Since then, police in Mumbai and across the world take even apparently minor threats seriously.

Indian authorities said they had received credible information that at least four men belonging to the banned Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba were planning an attack during the holiday season. India has blamed the organization — as well as its neighbor, Pakistan, for harboring this group — for the 2008 attack.

"Concern remains that there will be similar incidents," said Vikram Sood, a terrorism analyst formerly with the Research Analysis Wing, which is India's equivalent of the CIA. "There are fears that LET is roaming around."

Mumbai police set up checkpoints Friday along major roads, added patrols at high-visibility public places and released digital photographs of the four suspects.

Streets were also closed near the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, the iconic, sprawling complex that saw the greatest loss of life in the 2008 siege, and the landmark Gateway of India arch, both dating to British colonial days.

"The city's on edge," said C. Raja Mohan, a security analyst and columnist with the Indian Express newspaper. "And the year-end is always sensitive … amid fears attackers will use the holiday to gain more attention."

Hilloo Mehta, a textile importer who lives across from the Taj and watched the disaster unfold there two years ago, said such threats were increasingly a fact of life.

"We live in such uncertain times," she said. "It's very worrisome. That said, in India, people also take life as it comes. There's not much you can do about it."

In addition to its position as a financial hub, the city also encompasses India's social and economic extremes: It is home to the country's larger-than-life Bollywood film industry; the world's most expensive private residence, estimated at $1 billion; and Asia's biggest slums.

The top elected official in the state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, told reporters that authorities had received information on the threat from central intelligence agencies. "The state police and intelligence agencies are on alert, and all security arrangements are in place ahead of the festive season," Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan told local reporters.

Also cited as a possible target was Ahmadabad, a commercial hub in western India and among the fastest-growing cities in the country. Other areas, including the resort area of Goa, raised their threat awareness as well.

In Mumbai, the National Security Guard, Coast Guard, navy and a rapid reserve unit known as Force One were all put on alert. Authorities scrutinized guests in hotels and boarding houses, and officials asked the public, community watch groups and hoteliers to report anything unusual.

The response follows sharp criticism during the 2008 attack that government security agencies were sluggish and encountered lengthy delays — at one point security teams had to travel by bus because no alternate transport could be found — in getting SWAT-style units in place. There were also difficulties keeping police plans a secret and maintaining a proper security perimeter.

"Many reforms have been done," analyst Mohan said. "They now have a multi-agency center and a quicker response, with India determined to prevent another attack from happening."

Although many intelligence warnings may turn out to be false, no nation can afford to ignore them because of the huge risk of something happening. "It's a problem worldwide," Mohan said.

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-india-mumbai-20101225,0,6985992.story

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« Reply #2339 on: Dec 25th, 2010, 12:20pm »

My Mom LOVES the sock monkey hat!
She's actually going to wear it! Hooray!



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