Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #3360 on: Mar 17th, 2011, 3:23pm »
description with video:
Uploaded by ifrc on Mar 17, 2011
Since the earthquake, the Red Cross Red Crescent has provided medical treatment to As Japan continues to grapple with a rapidly evolving humanitarian crisis following Friday's massive earthquake and tsunami - as well as the developing nuclear situation - the Japanese Red Cross Society is offering medical and psychosocial care for increasing numbers of survivors and evacuees.
Search and rescue workers are now discovering increasing numbers of bodies in areas that have previously been hard to reach because of ongoing tsunami alerts. And the number of missing is adding to the fear that the death toll could reach 10,000 or more.
"I have never seen anything as bad as this before. It defies belief," said Tadateru Konoé, President of the Japanese Red Cross Society and the IFRC, who has just returned from a visit to Iwate prefecture in north-eastern Japan, one of the worst-hit areas.
There are now more than 430,000 people housed in some 2,500 evacuation centres, mostly in schools and other public buildings. In addition, Red Cross medical teams are reporting many cases of people arriving at hospitals suffering from hypothermia and at risk of pneumonia. Many people are suffering the effects of having swallowed contaminated water during the tsunami....
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #3361 on: Mar 17th, 2011, 5:36pm »
New York Times
March 17, 2011 Arab Uprisings Cast Harsh Light on U.S. Intelligence Ties By MARK MAZZETTI and SCOTT SHANE
WASHINGTON — There once was no American institution more hostile to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s pariah government than the Central Intelligence Agency, which had lost its deputy Beirut station chief when Libyan intelligence operatives blew up Pan Am Flight 103 above Scotland in 1988.
But with the Sept. 11 attacks came a new group of enemies. In recent years, the C.I.A. has been closely tethered to Colonel Qaddafi’s intelligence service as it hunts for information about operatives of Al Qaeda in North Africa.
Now, the uprising against the Libyan leader, along with the revolts that drove out the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt and threaten other rulers, have cast a harsh light on the cozy relationships between America’s intelligence agencies and autocratic, often brutal Arab governments. The C.I.A. faces questions about whether such ties blinded it to undercurrents of dissent and may now damage America’s standing with emerging democratic governments.
Top American officials say that the C.I.A.’s close ties to Libya brought important benefits: the dismantling of Colonel Qaddafi’s nascent nuclear weapons program, and a partnership to track terrorist cells in the country.
But Dennis C. Blair, the former top American intelligence official, said that while spy services in places like Libya and Egypt were cooperating with the United States against Al Qaeda, they were “aggressively and sometimes brutally suppressing dissent in their own countries.”
“Not only did these intelligence relationships interfere with our ability to understand opposition forces, but in the eyes of the citizens of those countries they often identified the United States with the tools of oppression,” said Mr. Blair, who served until last May as President Obama’s director of national intelligence. He added that the recent uprisings offer an opportunity to “align our intelligence relationships with our national values.”
The seeming collision of American interests was evident in 2009, when the State Department’s human rights report on Libya was a gruesome inventory of disappearances and torture. Months earlier, however, a diplomatic cable, obtained by the antisecrecy group WikiLeaks, called the Qaddafi government a “strong partner in the war against terrorism” and declared the relationship with Libya’s spy service “excellent.”
A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment about the agency’s ties to foreign intelligence services. But Michael Scheuer, who spent two decades at the C.I.A. in counterterrorism operations, said it was absurd to believe that such work could be done without the help of unpalatable allies.
“Foreign policy and intelligence doesn’t have anything to do with values,” Mr. Scheuer said. “It has to do with material interests and security. We would be blind in most of the world if we only dealt with Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.”
Some former C.I.A. operatives believe that Libya’s help in counterterrorism has been overstated. Vincent Cannistraro, a former head of the C.I.A.’s Libya branch, said Colonel Qaddafi often tried to paint his political enemies as terrorists, and that the C.I.A. became “sucked in” to working with a ruthless government because the spy agency was desperate for information about potential militants.
“I understand that to get intelligence about bad people, you can’t just deal with nuns and Boy Scouts,” said Mr. Cannistraro. “But in the case of Qaddafi, you’re talking about dealing with a murderer.”
One cautionary tale on American dealings with both Egypt and Libya is that of a Libyan Qaeda trainer known as Ibn al-Shaikh al-Libi, caught in Pakistan late in 2001 and delivered to Egypt. He claimed to know of ties between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein — but recanted after the invasion of Iraq, claiming he had been tortured by his Egyptian captors. Returned to Libya by the Egyptians, he was reported by the Libyan state press in 2009 to have hanged himself in prison. Specialists on Libya say that more likely he was killed by the authorities.
In other countries in the region, the United States may have had a clearer view of internal politics than it did in Libya. But American intelligence officials nonetheless may be in an uncomfortable position in a country like Bahrain, where a diplomatic cable in December 2009 reported that the head of the Bahrain National Security Agency, Sheik Khalifa bin Abdallah al-Khalifa, “unabashedly positions his relationship with the U.S. intelligence community above all others, insisting that his key lieutenants communicate openly with their U.S. liaison partners and actively seek new avenues for cooperation.”
In the current crisis, those close intelligence relations may offer a channel for candid communications. But this week, the same Bahraini intelligence and security officials who have worked so closely with their American counterparts have again used force to crush pro-democracy demonstrations, acting on orders from the country’s monarchy and with the backing of Saudi Arabia.
In Libya, the United States withdrew its ambassador in 1972, three years after Colonel Qaddafi and other young officers seized power, and shut its embassy in Tripoli in 1979 after a mob set fire to the building.
Libyan and American spies had virtually no contact for two decades, until the C.I.A. in 1999 began a series of clandestine meetings with Libyan intelligence operatives in Europe to gather information about Islamic terror networks working in North Africa.
In his 2007 autobiography, the former director of central intelligence, George J. Tenet, said that the awkward meetings with Moussa Koussa, the Libyan intelligence chief, were “illustrative of the surreal world in which we had to operate” as C.I.A. operatives had to exchange pleasantries with the man they believed responsible for the Pan Am 103 bombing, among other terrorist plots.
But Mr. Tenet cited the easing of tensions with Libya as one of the major successes of his tenure, as it led to cooperation between the two spy services against Al Qaeda and the end of Libya’s banned weapons programs.
Paul R. Pillar, the National Intelligence Council’s top Middle East analyst from 2000 to 2005 and a member of the American team that negotiated with the Libyans over their nuclear program, said counterterrorism was one of the “most durable forms of intelligence cooperation.”
“There’s simply no substitute for working with people who are in the line of fire of some of these terrorist groups and have all kinds of advantages in language and culture and local knowledge,” he said.
Yet the C.I.A.’s counterterrorism relationship with Libyan intelligence hardly gave American officials insight into the Qaddafi government or its internal tensions and opponents, said a Middle East expert who has consulted with the agency.
“I think the C.I.A. has found it extraordinarily difficult to get intelligence on Libya,” said the consultant, who would speak only on condition of anonymity because of his dealings with the agency.
Developing independent contacts in Libyan society was virtually impossible, he said, in part because American personnel who left the embassy were routinely accompanied by multiple Libyan security vehicles. As Libyan officials explained it, the convoys were for the Americans’ own protection.
Nick Fielding and Ian Cobain guardian.co.uk, Thursday 17 March 2011 13.19 GMT
The US military is developing software that will let it secretly manipulate social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda.
A Californian corporation has been awarded a contract with United States Central Command (Centcom), which oversees US armed operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, to develop what is described as an "online persona management service" that will allow one US serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities based all over the world.
The project has been likened by web experts to China's attempts to control and restrict free speech on the internet. Critics are likely to complain that it will allow the US military to create a false consensus in online conversations, crowd out unwelcome opinions and smother commentaries or reports that do not correspond with its own objectives.
The discovery that the US military is developing false online personalities – known to users of social media as "sock puppets" – could also encourage other governments, private companies and non-government organisations to do the same.
The Centcom contract stipulates that each fake online persona must have a convincing background, history and supporting details, and that up to 50 US-based controllers should be able to operate false identities from their workstations "without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries".
Centcom spokesman Commander Bill Speaks said: "The technology supports classified blogging activities on foreign-language websites to enable Centcom to counter violent extremist and enemy propaganda outside the US."
He said none of the interventions would be in English, as it would be unlawful to "address US audiences" with such technology, and any English-language use of social media by Centcom was always clearly attributed. The languages in which the interventions are conducted include Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Pashto.
Once developed, the software could allow US service personnel, working around the clock in one location, to respond to emerging online conversations with any number of co-ordinated Facebook messages, blogposts, tweets, retweets, chatroom posts and other interventions. Details of the contract suggest this location would be MacDill air force base near Tampa, Florida, home of US Special Operations Command.
Centcom's contract requires for each controller the provision of one "virtual private server" located in the United States and others appearing to be outside the US to give the impression the fake personas are real people located in different parts of the world.
It also calls for "traffic mixing", blending the persona controllers' internet usage with the usage of people outside Centcom in a manner that must offer "excellent cover and powerful deniability".
The multiple persona contract is thought to have been awarded as part of a programme called Operation Earnest Voice (OEV), which was first developed in Iraq as a psychological warfare weapon against the online presence of al-Qaida supporters and others ranged against coalition forces. Since then, OEV is reported to have expanded into a $200m programme and is thought to have been used against jihadists across Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Middle East.
OEV is seen by senior US commanders as a vital counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation programme. In evidence to the US Senate's armed services committee last year, General David Petraeus, then commander of Centcom, described the operation as an effort to "counter extremist ideology and propaganda and to ensure that credible voices in the region are heard". He said the US military's objective was to be "first with the truth".
This month Petraeus's successor, General James Mattis, told the same committee that OEV "supports all activities associated with degrading the enemy narrative, including web engagement and web-based product distribution capabilities".
Centcom confirmed that the $2.76m contract was awarded to Ntrepid, a newly formed corporation registered in Los Angeles. It would not disclose whether the multiple persona project is already in operation or discuss any related contracts.
Nobody was available for comment at Ntrepid.
In his evidence to the Senate committee, Gen Mattis said: "OEV seeks to disrupt recruitment and training of suicide bombers; deny safe havens for our adversaries; and counter extremist ideology and propaganda." He added that Centcom was working with "our coalition partners" to develop new techniques and tactics the US could use "to counter the adversary in the cyber domain".
According to a report by the inspector general of the US defence department in Iraq, OEV was managed by the multinational forces rather than Centcom.
Asked whether any UK military personnel had been involved in OEV, Britain's Ministry of Defence said it could find "no evidence". The MoD refused to say whether it had been involved in the development of persona management programmes, saying: "We don't comment on cyber capability."
OEV was discussed last year at a gathering of electronic warfare specialists in Washington DC, where a senior Centcom officer told delegates that its purpose was to "communicate critical messages and to counter the propaganda of our adversaries".
Persona management by the US military would face legal challenges if it were turned against citizens of the US, where a number of people engaged in sock puppetry have faced prosecution.
Last year a New York lawyer who impersonated a scholar was sentenced to jail after being convicted of "criminal impersonation" and identity theft.
It is unclear whether a persona management programme would contravene UK law. Legal experts say it could fall foul of the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981, which states that "a person is guilty of forgery if he makes a false instrument, with the intention that he or another shall use it to induce somebody to accept it as genuine, and by reason of so accepting it to do or not to do some act to his own or any other person's prejudice". However, this would apply only if a website or social network could be shown to have suffered "prejudice" as a result.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #3363 on: Mar 18th, 2011, 08:53am »
New York Times
March 18, 2011 Frantic Repairs Go On at Plant as Japan Raises Severity of Crisis By HIROKO TABUCHI and KEITH BRADSHER
Japanese engineers battled on Friday to cool spent fuel rods and restore electric power to pumps at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station as new challenges seemed to accumulate by the hour, with steam billowing from one reactor and damage at another apparently making it difficult to lower temperatures.
As the crisis seemed to deepen, Japan’s nuclear safety agency raised the assessment of its severity to 5 from 4 on a 7-level international scale. Level 4 is for incidents with local consequences while level 5 denotes broader consequences. It was not immediately clear why the action had been taken. The partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979 was rated 5, and the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 was rated 7.
In a further sign of spreading alarm that uranium in the plant could begin to melt, Japan planned to import about 150 tons of boron from South Korea and France to mix with water to be sprayed onto damaged reactors, French and South Korean officials said Friday. Boron absorbs neutrons during a nuclear reaction and can be used in an effort to stop a meltdown if the zirconium cladding on uranium fuel rods is compromised.
Tokyo Electric Power Company, which operates the plant, said earlier this week that there was a possibility of “recriticality,” in which fission would resume if fuel rods melted and the uranium pellets slumped into a jumble together on the floor of a storage pool or reactor core. Spraying pure water on the uranium under these conditions can actually accelerate fission, said Robert Albrecht, a longtime nuclear engineer.
In the past two days, Japanese officials have focused their efforts on cooling spent fuel rods in a storage pool in Reactor No. 3, but steam, probably carrying radioactive particles, was also seen on Friday rising from Reactor No. 2., which was hit by an explosion on Tuesday.
Additionally, a senior Western nuclear industry executive said that there also appeared to be damage to the floor or sides of the spent fuel pool at Reactor No. 4, and that this was making it extremely hard to refill the pool with water. The problem was first reported by The Los Angeles Times.
Engineers had said on Thursday that a rip in the stainless steel lining of the pool at Reactor No. 4 and the concrete base underneath it was possible as a result of earthquake damage. The steel gates at either end of the storage pool are also vulnerable to damage during an earthquake and could leak water if they no longer close tightly.
The senior executive, who asked not to be identified because his comments could damage business relationships, said Friday that a leak had not been located but that engineers had concluded that it must exist because water sprayed on the storage pool has been disappearing much more quickly than would be consistent with evaporation.
Technicians at the plant focused Friday on fixing electrical connections at Reactor No. 2 and spraying more water on Reactor No. 3 while studying the problem at Reactor No. 4.
“They have to figure out what to do, and certainly you can’t have No. 2 going haywire or No. 3 going haywire at the same time you’re trying to figure out what to do with No. 4,” said the executive, who said he had learned of the problem from industry contacts in Japan.
One concern at No. 4 has been a fire that was burning at its storage pool earlier in the week; American officials are not convinced the fire has gone out. American officials have also worried that the spent-fuel pool at that reactor has run dry, exposing the rods.
The new setbacks emerged as the first readings from American data-collection flights over the plant in northeastern Japan showed that the worst contamination had not spread beyond the 19-mile range of highest concern established by Japanese authorities.
But another day of frantic efforts on Thursday to cool nuclear fuel in the troubled reactors and in the plant’s spent-fuel pools resulted in little or no progress, according to United States government officials. The crisis at the plant seemed increasingly to have produced divergent narratives in Washington and Tokyo, with Japanese officials emphasizing the efforts they were making to tame the damaged plant and American officials highlighting the challenges.
On Friday, water cannons sprayed the stricken Reactor No. 3, live video on the public broadcaster NHK suggested. The footage showed a stream of water aimed at the damaged reactor building, which was rocked by an explosion on Monday, and occasional clouds of steam rising into the air. The Defense Ministry said soldiers of the Japan Self-Defense Force were manning seven trucks that were approaching the No. 3 building one after the other, staying near the reactor for only a short period to minimize soldiers’ exposure to radiation.
With a first phase of the operation completed, “the water is likely to have reached the target,” said Shigeru Iwasaki, the chief of staff of Japan’s Air Self Defense Force. The water cannons were reported to have returned to the plant later in the day. Perhaps because of the difficulties experienced on Thursday trying to accurately drop water from helicopters, the military announced on Friday that it was halting those efforts for at least a day. But the limited flow of information about what is happening continued to provoke international concerns.
After a meeting with Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Friday, Yukiya Amano, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he would dispatch a team “within days” to monitor radiation near the damaged plant.
At the meeting, Mr. Amano, who had just arrived from the agency’s headquarters in Vienna, said Mr. Kan agreed on the necessity to disclose as much information as possible on the unfolding nuclear crisis in Fukushima. “What’s important is coordination with international society and better transparency,” Mr. Amano told reporters before the meeting.
The data from American flights was collected by the Aerial Measuring System, among the most sophisticated devices rushed to Japan by the Obama administration in an effort to help contain a nuclear crisis that a top American nuclear official said Thursday could go on for weeks.
Strapped onto a plane and a helicopter that the United States flew over the site, with Japanese permission, the equipment took measurements that showed harmful radiation in the immediate vicinity of the plant — a much heavier dose than the trace levels of radioactive particles that make up the atmospheric plume covering a much wider area.
While the findings were reassuring in the short term, the United States declined to back away from its warning to Americans there to stay at least 50 miles from the plant, setting up a far larger perimeter than the Japanese government had established. American officials did not release specific radiation readings.
American officials said their biggest worry was that a frenetic series of efforts by the Japanese military to get water into four of the plant’s six reactors — showed few signs of working.
“This is something that will likely take some time to work through, possibly weeks, as eventually you remove the majority of the heat from the reactors and then the spent fuel pool,” said Gregory Jaczko, the chairman of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, briefing reporters at the White House.
After a day in which American and Japanese officials gave radically different assessments of the danger from the nuclear plant, the two governments tried on Thursday to join forces.
Experts met in Tokyo to compare notes. The United States, with Japanese permission, began to put the intelligence-collection aircraft over the site, in hopes of gaining a view for Washington as well as its allies in Tokyo that did not rely on the announcements of officials from Tokyo Electric, which operates Fukushima Daiichi.
American officials say they suspect that the company has consistently underestimated the risk and moved too slowly to contain the damage.
Aircraft normally used to monitor North Korea’s nuclear weapons activities — a Global Hawk drone and U-2 spy planes — were flying missions over the reactor, trying to help the Japanese government map out its response to last week’s 9.0-magnitude earthquake, the tsunami that followed and now the nuclear disaster.
American officials, meanwhile, remained fixated on the temperature readings inside Reactor No. 2 and two others that had been operating until the earthquake shut them down, as well as at the plant’s spent fuel pools, looking for any signs that their high levels of heat were going down. If the fuel rods are uncovered and exposed to air, they heat up and can burst into flame, spewing radioactive elements. So far the officials saw no signs of dropping temperatures. And the Web site of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog, made it clear that there were no readings at all from some critical areas. Part of the American effort, by satellites and aircraft, is to identify the hot spots, something the Japanese have not been able to do in some cases.
Critical to that effort are the “pods” flown into Japan by the Air Force in the past day. Made for quick assessments of radiation emergencies, the Aerial Measuring System is an instrument system that fits on a helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft to sample air and survey the land below.
Getting the Japanese to accept the American detection equipment was a delicate diplomatic maneuver, which some Japanese officials originally resisted.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #3364 on: Mar 18th, 2011, 08:56am »
New York Times
March 17, 2011 Group of 7 to Intervene to Stabilize Yen’s Value By BINYAMIN APPELBAUM
WASHINGTON — The United States and other major industrial nations will join Japan in a highly unusual effort to stabilize the value of the yen by intervening in currency markets, the Group of 7 nations announced Thursday night.
Markets responded immediately by driving down the value of the yen against the dollar, reversing almost a week of sharp increases. The Nikkei 225, the leading index of the Japanese stock market, also surged on the news.
The rising value of the yen threatened to undermine demand for Japanese exports at the same time that a series of disasters has damaged the domestic economy.
Japanese officials said earlier on Thursday that they could respond unilaterally and wanted only the approval of other nations, but they requested and received additional help during a conference call with finance ministers and central bankers on Thursday night.
In a statement expressing “solidarity with the Japanese people,” the Group of 7 nations said they would conduct a “concerted intervention in exchange markets” on Friday.
“As we have long stated, excess volatility and disorderly movements in exchange rates have adverse implications for economic and financial stability,” the group said in a joint statement.
It is the first time since 2000 that the Group of 7 nations has made a coordinated intervention into the currency markets, then to stabilize the euro. During the 1990s, the yen and the dollar were also the targets of similar coordinated interventions.
The governments of Japan, the United States, Britain and Canada, and the European Central Bank, will seek to reduce and stabilize the value of the yen by selling their own reserves of the Japanese currency for other currencies as necessary.
Stabilizing exchange rates is intended to curb speculation, which the Japanese government described as a main driver of recent market activity. Weakening the yen will also allow consumers in other countries to buy Japanese goods at lower prices.
“I think there’s a very good argument that it’s in everyone’s interest to stabilize the Japanese financial system, and part of that effort is to stabilize the yen,” said Jens Nordvig, an analyst with Nomura Securities. “Normally it only happens when the currency is completely misaligned, and that condition is not in place here, but I think the extraordinary circumstances have made them go ahead and do it nonetheless.”
The intervention is billed as a one-day event, but Mr. Nordvig said it may serve as a blessing from the other countries for additional unilateral action by Japan.
Investors might have been expected to sell yen as Japan struggles to deal with the impact of an earthquake, a tsunami and a nuclear crisis.
Instead they had flocked to the currency, briefly driving its value relative to the dollar to the highest level on record Thursday, before it receded to close at about 79 yen to the dollar.
In overnight trading, the yen weakened by 3 percent, to 81.3 to the dollar.
Some analysts said the buying was driven by speculation that Japanese insurance companies and other investors would sell foreign assets to cover the cost of rebuilding after the earthquake.
Japanese officials sought to dispel that theory, noting that past disasters such as a 1995 earthquake did not create such an effect.
Japanese investors who have taken advantage of low interest rates to borrow yen cheaply and invest in higher yielding foreign currencies may have responded to the disaster by pulling money out of the markets.
The rise may have been amplified by investors forced to cover bets that the yen would remain weak, analysts said.
The jump in price might not cause concern in normal times, as the yen has remained within a fairly normal range of its historic value.
But the upward movement and accompanying volatility are hitting Japan at a time when it needs fewer problems.
“As Japan faces a period of adversity, it is extremely significant for the G-7 to jointly work toward stability in markets,” the Japanese finance minister, Yoshihiko Noda, told reporters in Tokyo Friday.
The value of the yen has been on the upswing since 2007, a reflection of the relative strength of the Japanese economy as financial crises hit the United States and Europe.
One dollar now buys 34 percent fewer yen than it did four years ago.
The Bank of Japan intervened briefly in September, buying dollars to drive down the value of the yen and drawing a rebuke from European officials for acting alone.
“Unilateral actions are not an appropriate way to deal with global imbalances,” Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg’s prime minister and president of the Euro Group, an organization of European finance ministers, said at the time.
Thursday’s meeting, organized by the French finance minister Christine Lagarde, who holds the rotating chair of the Group of 7, hewed closely to that advice.
It also followed a recent pattern of responses by authorities in the United States and other countries that are calibrated to overwhelm emerging financial problems.
The call, held before markets opened Friday in Tokyo, included officials from Canada, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom.
The United States was represented by the Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, and the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke. Mr. Geithner briefed President Obama on the decision, officials said.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #3365 on: Mar 18th, 2011, 09:01am »
Wired Danger Room
Libya May Give The F-22 Its First Wartime Test By Spencer Ackerman March 18, 2011 | 8:45 am Categories: Air Force
photo: US Air Force
The Air Force’s most beloved fighter jet missed out on the last ten years’ worth of warfare. Now that the United Nations has approved a no-fly zone in Libya, the service is indicating the F-22 Raptor will get its first taste of combat.
Speaking at a Senate budget hearing yesterday, Gen. Norton Schwartz, the Air Force’s chief of staff, said that the first phase of a campaign against Moammar Gadhafi’s aircraft would attack Libyan radar sites. That’s just as airmen with no-fly experience predicted to Danger Room. Taking down the radar sites, which direct Libyan air defenses, will require the use of radar-evading stealth jets. Enter the F-22 Raptor, Norton said, according to The Hill’s John Bennett.
Last week, retired Maj. Gen. Irv Halter, who once ran the U.S. no-fly zone over northern Iraq, told Danger Room he doubted the “high-end” Raptors would be necessary for a Libya campaign, largely due to the unsophistication of Libyan air defenses. “I wouldn’t deploy F-22s unless there was a political reason,” Halter said. “They’d be absolutely great at it, but their stealth capability isn’t really part of the issue. This airspace you’re gonna be able to get into easily.”
The use of the F-22s might speak to a U.S. desire not to chance a shootdown. Early polling shows that 65 percent of Americans don’t want to get involved militarily in Libya. And the U.N. resolution authorizing force against Gadhafi is silent on the endstate of an international mission. Bringing in the Raptors is like killing ants with a sledgehammer, in the immortal words of Jay-Z — the better to take momentum away from Gadhafi ASAP.
It would also have the effect of proving the value of a sophisticated jet in a complex campaign, something the Air Force certainly wouldn’t mind. Difficulties in envisioning likely uses for the F-22 led Defense Secretary Robert Gates to cap its procurement in 2009. And Gates nudged the Air Force earlier this month to think beyond high-end aerial combat when visualizing the future of airpower.
Even so, if it’s deployed, F-22 will hardly be the only air asset the U.S. contributes to the no-fly zone. Schwartz said F-16s will also attack radar sites; Rivet Joint surveillance airplanes will join in; and jammers aboard the EC-130H Compass Call will block Libyan communications. But sending in the F-22 will be a sign that the U.S. doesn’t to take many chances in Libya — and it’ll let the Air Force demonstrate why it’s so hot on the jet in the first place.
Update, 8:59 a.m.: Or not! Libya’s foreign minister just declared an “immediate ceasefire” and “end to all military operations.” That might just freeze a siege around rebel capitol Benghazi and dare western powers to get involved even further; or it might indicate that Gadhafi is freaked out about getting bombed. Ball’s in your court, NATO.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #3366 on: Mar 18th, 2011, 09:06am »
Movie review: 'Paul'
The whimsical and gentle buddy comedy comes as a relief. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost star as fanboys who go on the run to protect a weed-toking alien (voiced by Seth Rogen).
By Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times Film Critic March 18, 2011
Don't let "Paul's" R-rating fool you. In the latest comedy from those funny Brits of "Hot Fuzz" and "Shaun of the Dead," the wise guys have gone more off-center than off-color with this whimsical and surprisingly gentle road trip adventure about two friends, an obsession and an alien named Paul.
After the sharp bite and harsh light of most American-style guy-based funny films today, "Paul" comes as such sweet relief. If not for a lot of F-bombs and other naughty words, this would be a family film, a sort of fractured "E.T.," with Seth Rogen never more likeable than as the bald-headed extraterrestrial who just wants to phone home (he should consider this kind of disappearing act, a la Mike Myers and Shrek, more often).
The film was written by and costars the "Hot Fuzz" cops and "Shaun" zombie hunters Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, perfecting their affable pair personas as friends on the run to protect this alien intruder. Like the earlier two films, which Pegg wrote with Edgar Wright (who directed "Fuzz" and "Shaun"), "Paul" is an ode to films past. In this case, the target for all the sight gags and slight puns is sci-fi movies great and small, but mostly Spielberg-ian starting with Paul himself, a gray-green, shorter version of those ethereal beings of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" but with "E.T." hands.
The movie is a good fit for director Greg Mottola, with a filmmaking vocabulary in which "sentimental" is not a dirty word (see the lovely '80s nostalgia of "Adventureland"). Here he has created an easy marriage between the British hysteria (proper and restrained, don't you know) of road-trippers Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost) and the laid-back mellow yellow of Paul's weed-toking, flip-flop wearing CGI wonder (thanks to effects wizards at Double Negative for creating the most excellent illusion that Paul is always and actually, really, truly there).
As all tall tales of fanboys should, the story begins in San Diego at that annual gathering of sci-fi movie freaks, Comic-Con. Graeme and Clive are in the crush of all the convention crazies yet still managing to look nerdy and out of place even in a crowd that favors Darth Vader-wear. The "we're all aliens" and "it's hard for a lot of us to fit in" themes are well established long before Graeme and Clive set out in their RV after the convention closes. Their quest is to visit all of the major close-encounter hot spots around the country. By the time they hit Area 51 and come face to face with Paul, we understand their outsiderness, their completely adorable geekdom, and most of us will feel their pain.
The trip picks up speed once Paul is on-board. He's been hanging out (well, imprisoned) at a secret military facility for 60-some years, where Zelig-like, he's been advising world leaders and moviemakers (all of this made funnier by the lack of irony). But now the security chief wants to see what might be learned by poking around inside that big head of his.
Much of the real action comes as Paul goes on the run, with Clive and Graeme recruited as his reluctant accomplices, and a tag-team of special agents on their tail. Overall, the casting is spot on and the cameos are clever. Among the central ensemble are comic regulars Jason Bateman as Agent Zoil (full-name Lorenzo Zoil, a play on "Lorenzo's Oil" that will either bring a smile or a groan), with Kristen Wiig in a nice turn as a hyper-religious possible love interest for Graeme.
There is no real attempt at serious depth here and Mottola, with cinematographer Lawrence Sher, keeping things light and breezy. Sher has emerged as a sort of a comic specialist with an indie-feel starting with such films as "Garden State" and "Kissing Jessica Stein," and moving on to bigger stages with "The Hangover" and "I Love You, Man," among others. Along with the rest of the production team, they've given everything in the film a sort of rumpled, empty potato-chip bag look.
As a running riff on all the sci-fi movie conventions, a lot of scenes will feel familiar because they are, just put through the Pegg-Frost juicer. And that is the central key — without the guys, the result just wouldn't be nearly as appealing. Somehow, they have created characters who are both smart and buffoonish in such an embraceable way, and a friendship that feels so true (they are real life longtime friends as well as creative collaborators) that good times are to be had spending time with them. If the film's not quite out of this world, it's close enough.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #3367 on: Mar 18th, 2011, 09:09am »
West Mobilizes For Libya Air Strikes Agence France-Presse Published: 18 Mar 2011 07:15
BRUSSELS, Belgium - A coalition of Western nations mobilized Friday to launch quick air strikes against Libya after the United Nations approved military action to prevent Moammar Gadhafi from crushing insurgents.
The United States, Britain and France were expected to scramble fighter jets against Gadhafi's forces after they secured the UN Security Council's blessing.
The strikes will come "rapidly ... within a few hours," French government spokesman Francois Baroin said after the UN Security Council approved "all necessary measures" to impose a no-fly zone on Libya.
The goal of the operation would be to "protect the Libyan people and to allow them to go all the way in their drive for freedom, which means bringing down the Gadhafi regime," Baroin told RTL radio.
The three military powers could be joined by Canada, which according to Canadian media planned to deploy six CF-18 fighter jets.
Norway said it would take part in the operation and Denmark awaited parliamentary approval before joining the action with F-16 warplanes. Poland offered logistical support but no role in a military strike force.
NATO was holding a meeting to decide what, if any, role it may take.
The West could be joined by Arab nations in the endeavor after the Arab League pressed for the international community to impose a no-fly zone against Gadhafi's forces.
Qatar's foreign ministry said the Gulf state would "contribute in the efforts aiming at stopping bloodshed and protecting civilians in Libya" and urged quick action to impose the no-fly zone, the state news agency said.
The UN's approval of the measures sparked celebrations in the rebel bastion of Benghazi in eastern Libya where the opposition had urged the international community to act quickly.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the UN measures were needed to "avoid greater bloodshed" and stop Gadhafi from attacking his own people.
"This places a responsibility on the members of the UN and that is a responsibility to which the United Kingdom will now respond," Hague said.
Britain's Royal Air Force is expected to send Tornado attack aircraft equipped with precise weapons from their bases in Marham, east England, and Lossiemouth in Scotland.
NATO convened a meeting to debate whether the 28-nation military alliance would take part of the international effort.
"For any NATO operation, there needs to be a demonstrable need for the alliance to act, firm regional support and a clear legal basis," said NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu.
"Under those three conditions, NATO stands ready to act as part of the broad international effort," she said.
NATO allies have been divided about intervening in Libya, with Germany and Turkey voicing opposition to a military intervention.
Germany was among five nations, alongside China and Russia, that abstained from voting for the UN resolution, which passed 10-0 late Thursday.
Warning of "considerable risks and dangers," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle insisted no German troops would participate in military intervention.
"We remain eminently skeptical on the option of military intervention ... anticipated in this resolution. We see in it considerable risks and dangers. That is why we could not approve this part of the text," a statement said.
Russia also ruled out taking part in the operation.
The UN Security Council also agreed to protect civilian areas and impose a ceasefire on Gadhafi's military, but ruled out sending ground troops.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #3368 on: Mar 18th, 2011, 09:13am »
U.S. to Cut 200 Senior Civilian Defense Jobs By Nicole Blake Johnson Published: 18 Mar 2011 08:53
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has outlined plans for slashing more than 200 senior civilian executive positions across the department.
Affected positions include 176 civilian senior executive positions - 97 members of the Senior Executive Service, 21 senior level and scientific professionals, five Defense intelligence senior executives and 53 Defense intelligence senior level positions - and 33 highly qualified experts, according to Gates' March 14 memo to department leaders.
Army, Navy and Air Force combined will lose 54 SES positions. The plan cuts 10 Army SES jobs, 28 at Navy and 16 at Air Force.
Gates instructed Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Clifford Stanley to eliminate the positions in the next two years, possibly through the use of a reduction in force, voluntary early retirements, or a buyout.
"Every effort will be made to retain key talent in the Department and minimize impact to personnel and the mission," he said in the memo.
The secretary called for stricter policies on the hiring and accounting of retired senior officers to advise the military. Once called senior mentors, these advisers will now be highly qualified experts (HQEs), which are a special category of temporary employees who possess unique expertise and occupy senior positions. Gates said the department must lower drastically the maximum number of HQEs it allows itself to employ, from 2,500 down to 350 or less.
"I think that's a pretty substantial cut," Carol Bonosaro, president of Senior Executives Association, which represents the government's top managers, said of the civilian cuts. "Maybe I would have expected about 100 at most."
Bonosaro is concerned the cuts could disproportionately affect career senior executive positions as opposed to noncareer positions. "When I see that they've got the second-lowest ratio of career execs to employees, it does make you think there has got to be an impact on the ones who are left," she said. "With all of the challenges now in government and all of the initiatives and dealing with scarce resources, it's hard to imagine there won't be more executives taking on more responsibilities."
Gates first announced plans to reduce DoD's work force in August.
DoD's efficiency overhaul - based on recommendations from study groups - includes:
Eliminating by March 31 all nonessential and internal reports commissioned before 2006.
Consolidating all Pentagon information technology support and resources to DoD's Washington Headquarters Services by Sept. 30 and reducing centralized IT staff by 40 percent the following year and another 40 percent by 2015. All IT resources will be restructured into a single organization.
Centralizing management of all DoD civilian service executives within the Director of Administration and Management by April 7.
Reducing the number of support services contracts, saving more than $6 billion across the Future Years Defense Program.
Eliminating human resources automation enhancements and other "low-priority" functions. The Pentagon estimates this will save $28.3 million in fiscal 2012.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #3370 on: Mar 18th, 2011, 5:14pm »
Wired Danger Room
Obama’s Libya Goals AWOL By Spencer Ackerman March 18, 2011 | 5:29 pm Categories: Rogue States
President Obama’s speech on the impending war in Libya Friday afternoon was eloquent, passionate and stirring. So much so that it was almost easy to overlook the one thing the speech lacked: an endgame.
A statement of purpose? Sure: “protecting innocent civilians within Libya, and holding the Gadhafi regime accountable.” An articulation of the costs of inaction? Check: “Many thousands could die. A humanitarian crisis would ensue.” A demarcation of lines the U.S. won’t cross? Indeed: “The United States is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya.”
But you can read the speech over and over and still not know when the no-fly zone authorized by the United Nations can be lifted. Obama insisted that he has a “well-defined goal” — “the protection of civilians in Libya.”
At what point is that goal met? When Gadhafi’s forces pull back from Misrata and cease attacks on Benghazi, the rebel capital of Libya? When he enforces his declaratory ceasefire? Or when Gadhafi actually leaves power?
That latter goal is the declaratory policy of the United States. But it’s nowhere to be found in Obama’s conditions laying the groundwork for U.S. participation in a military campaign against Gadhafi. Yet just hours before Obama spoke, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that beyond seeking an end to the violence in Libya, “a final result of any negotiations would have to be the decision by Colonel Gadhafi to leave.”
Gadhafi’s forces, according to al-Jazeera, are racing to the rebel-held areas in the east, evidently hoping they can deal the rebels another blow before NATO can commence a bombing effort. If Gadhafi makes another push, he’ll face a decided western military action. That’s the easy part.
What happens if Gadhafi decides to sue for peace by ratcheting down his violence and figuring that the international community will trade his continued rule for quiet? What happens if the rebels decide to move westward in a push for Tripoli, to knock Gadhafi off? What happens, in other words, in the event of a stalemate with reduced levels of violence?
Blake Hounshell of Foreign Policy thinks Gadhafi has a clear strategy: “Befuddle NATO while outflanking the rebels and creating facts on the ground.” Defiance from an adversary is the surest way to yield an enormous initial military commitment. And if there’s a lesson from the Iraq war — which, you might notice, isn’t over yet — it’s that large initial commitments for unclear goals are enormously difficult to dial back.
One thing Obama did say that was clear enough: the military is to “coordinate our planning.” Of course, that’s what NATO’s defense ministers’ meeting last week was supposed to have yielded. There wasn’t any press briefing Friday at the Pentagon, even though a third simultaneous war is about to commence. That’s a pretty strong indication that the military doesn’t know what the goal is, either.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #3371 on: Mar 18th, 2011, 8:50pm »
New York Times
March 18, 2011 In Japan’s Danger Zone, the Stranded Await the Merciful By MARTIN FACKLER
YAMAGATA, Japan — Some are stuck in their homes, fearful of radiation, heeding government warnings to stay indoors, cut off without electricity or phone service. Others want to leave but have no gasoline. Still more, those whose homes were ruined, wait helplessly for evacuation at crowded shelters. All face dwindling supplies of heating fuel, food and water.
A week after an earthquake and tsunami devastated their communities and set off the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl, the plight of the thousands still stranded in areas near the stricken reactors — many too old or infirm to move — has underscored what residents say is a striking lack of help from the national government to assist with the evacuation of danger zones or the ferrying of supplies to those it has urged to stay inside.
“Those who can leave have already left,” Nanae Takeshima, 40, a resident of Minamisoma, a city of 70,000 about 16 miles from the nuclear plant that lies within the area covered by the advisory to stay indoors, said by phone from her home. “Those here are the ones who cannot escape.”
Instead, the task has fallen to some local governments and even private companies and organizations that have made limited but heroic efforts to help those left behind, adding to the burden of coastal communities already overwhelmed by tens of thousands of people left homeless and the search for bodies, which the nuclear evacuations have now made impossible.
Residents reached by telephone said the order by the government to evacuate a 12-mile radius around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, as well as the request for those who live 12 to 18 miles away to stay indoors, has turned communities like Minamisoma into virtual ghost towns, populated mostly by the unwilling and the unlucky.
One is Masahiro Sakashita, who had prepared for the worst from the very beginning, but knew he could not leave. The director of the Fukujuen elderly care center, just 15 miles from one reactor, he sent his younger employees home as Japan’s battle to prevent nuclear catastrophe started, telling them to flee.
He and 19 other senior staff members stayed behind to keep caring for the center’s 100 or so mostly bedridden residents, the oldest of whom is 102. He said they were cut off from the outside world, with electricity and delivery of food and other supplies disrupted. “I figured that at most we had enough food and water to last five, maybe six days,” said Mr. Sakashita, who spoke by phone from Minamisoma. “We were going to stay with them to the end.”
The end came Friday, when a similar care center in distant Yokohama, near Tokyo, volunteered to take in Fukujuen’s residents after seeing their plight reported on television and sent six buses to rescue them.
Minamisoma has been using buses to begin evacuating the tsunami survivors and other residents to areas farther away from the nuclear plant. Other cities have helped by sending buses, as have some local companies.
One is the Shima Company, an auto-scrapping business in Minamisoma, which hired buses to take more than 170 of its employees and their families to the city of Yamagata, 55 miles away, the company’s vice president, Kazuki Shima, said on Twitter.
With the help of other cities and the Fukushima prefectural government, Minamisoma has also moved all the tsunami survivors in 8 of its 29 shelters to other areas. At Haramachi No. 1 Elementary School, buses came Thursday to take about 300 survivors and other nearby residents to Gunma Prefecture, outside Tokyo.
The principal, Atsuo Takano, who runs the school’s shelter, said that the school had begun to fill again with new refugees, those driven from their homes because they ran out of food and fuel. While he has sent his own family to an inland city for safety, he said he would keep working until the last person in the school’s shelter was safely evacuated.
“Of course I’m worried, but I am responsible for this school,” he said. “They told us that nuclear power was 100 percent safe, but we see now that nothing can ever be 100 percent safe.”
Many of those left behind are elderly people whose houses survived the earthquake, but who feel abandoned as other residents flee the nuclear crisis. They say city officials and the police are nowhere to be seen, while stores and offices are closed and streets are empty.
Hatsuko Arakawa, 78, said that despite the fact that her city, Iwaki, was outside the area covered by the government order to stay indoors, delivery trucks refused to enter. As a result, she said, she felt marooned in her home, with no more propane for her heater and dwindling supplies of rice and water. She endures the winter cold by spending the entire day wrapped in a futon.
“Unlike those in the refugee centers, I have no contact with the outside,” she said. “My supplies are reaching their limits.”
Misao Saito, 59, said he stayed in Soma, a small port city 27 miles north of the nuclear plant, because of his parents, who are too old and infirm to flee. He said his 80-year-old father had a bad leg, while his mother, 85, suffered from mild dementia. They now live together in an elementary school that was turned into a shelter after the tsunami damaged their home.
Mr. Saito, a fisherman, said he had no way to make a living because the waves destroyed Souma’s fishing harbor.
“It’s scary, but when it comes to the nuclear accident, I have no choice but to die here,” he said. “I think this is the government’s fault. The prime minister should have had a better grip on what was happening at that nuclear plant.”
Some of those who remained said they did so by choice. One, who asked that she be only partly identified as Misako W., seemed proudly defiant in her desire to remain in Minamisoma with her husband, a banker. She was also angry about her community’s fate. “Minamisoma is defunct,” she said.
She asked that her full name not be used because she feared discrimination in the future because of the nuclear crisis, just as survivors of the 1945 atomic bombings were ostracized out of a misplaced fear that they could spread radiation sickness.
“Many here have lost their homes, and now they have to fight the fear of the nuclear plant,” she said. “An earthquake, tsunami and now nuclear fears — there is no other place in the world as unfortunate as here.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #3372 on: Mar 19th, 2011, 10:25am »
New York Times
France Sends Military Flights Over Libya
Patrick Baz/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images News organizations reporting from Benghazi said that a fighter jet was shot down on the outskirts of the city. It was not immediately clear whether the plane belonged to attacking Qaddafi forces or the rebels, or how it had been shot down.
March 19, 2011 By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK and ELISABETH BUMILLER
TRIPOLI, Libya — French military jets have flown reconnaissance missions over Libya, the first sign of the largest military intervention in the Arab world since the invasion of Iraq. President Nicolas Sarkozy said the jets had begin enforcing the no-fly zone over the eastern city of Benghazi, under heavy bombardment by forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. Mr. Sarkozy spoke from Paris, where leaders from the United States, Europe and Arab countries met in Paris on Saturday to assemble the intervention.
Before Mr. Sarkozy’s statement, Colonel Qaddafi warned President Obama and European leaders not to enforce a no-flight zone over Libya even as he defied their demands for a ceasefire.
His comments came one day after Mr. Obama ordered Colonel Qaddafi to carry out an immediate cease-fire, withdraw his forces from rebel-held cities and stop all attacks on Libyan civilians or face military action from the United States and its allies in Europe and the Arab world.
The tone of the letters — one addressed to Mr. Obama and a second to President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations — suggested that Colonel Qaddafi was leaving himself little room to back down.
“Libya is not yours. Libya is for all Libyans,” Colonel Qaddafi wrote in a letter addressed to Mr. Obama and a second to President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations. One of his government spokesman read the letters to the news media:
“This is injustice, it is clear aggression, and it is uncalculated risk for its consequences on the Mediterranean and Europe.
You will regret it if you take a step toward intervening in our internal affairs.”
Colonel Qaddafi addressed President Obama as “our son,” in a letter that combined pleas with a jarring familiarity. “I have said to you before that even if Libya and the United States enter into war, God forbid, you will always remain my son and I have all the love for you as a son, and I do not want your image to change with me,” he wrote. “We are confronting Al Qaea in the Islamic Maghred, nothing more. What would you do if you found them controlling American cities with the power of weapons? Tell me how would you behave so that I could follow your example?”
In Paris, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with France, Britain and members of the Arab League to consider the on further action.
On Friday, President Obama made one of the most forceful statements of his presidency. “Let me be clear, these terms are not negotiable,” he said from the East Room of the White House.
Libya had pledged a cease-fire hours before. But reports on Saturday from rebel-held territory indicated that Colonel Qaddafi’s troops were attacking in the east.
In a telephone interview from Benghazi on Saturday morning, a rebel fighter who gave his name as Monsour said there was heavy fighting in the west of the city. He said he had seen 12 tanks from the Qaddafi forces moving through the city. Qaddafi snipers were atop the Foreign Ministry building, not far from the courthouse that is the de facto rebel headquarters, and there was fighting along Gamel Abdul Nasser street nearby as well. The government spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, denied in Tripoli that pro-Qaddafi units were attacking in Benghazi and said that only the rebels had an incentive to break the cease-fire.
Earlier, the BBC also reported that tanks were in the city on Saturday morning. After the report, the BBC Web site was inaccessible in Tripoli, suggesting that it may have been blocked.
News organizations reporting from Benghazi said that a fighter jet was shot down on the outskirts of the city and several Western Web sites published a dramatic photo of the warplane plunging to the ground in flames after the pilot appeared to have ejected. It was not immediately clear whether the plane belonged to attacking Qaddafi forces or the rebels, or how it had been shot down.
The head of the rebel National Libyan Council appealed to the international community on Saturday to act swiftly to protect civilians from government forces which he said were attacking Benghazi, Reuters reported. “Now there is a bombardment by artillery and rockets on all districts of Benghazi,” Reuters said, quoting Mustafa Abdel Jalil in an appearance on Al Jazeera television. “Today in Benghazi there will be a catastrophe if the international community does not implement the resolutions of the U.N. Security
The Qaddafi government appeared earlier Saturday to be laying the groundwork for a potential strike in the name of self-defense.
Khalid Kaim, the deputy foreign minister, said government intelligence showed tanks, artillery and weapons from Benghazi attacking a town in the east. Government forces, he said, were holding back to observe the cease-fire.
On Friday afternoon, people fleeing nearby Ajdabiya said government troops were shelling and conducting assaults. The western city of Misurata was under siege, its electricity and water cut by the government, and doctors reported that at least 25 people were killed, including 16 unarmed civilians. In Tripoli, the repression of peaceful protests continued, and gunfire was heard late in the evening.
In the neighborhood of Tajoura, a center of opposition where residents say several people have been shot and many have been arrested after protests in recent weeks, one resident said there was an attempt to organize a demonstration after midday prayers on Friday to celebrate the decision to declare a cease-fire. But when they left the mosque, they were met by soldiers firing into the air, this resident said. They tried again at evening prayers but soldiers blocked the entrance to the mosque, dispersed them from the central square, and put up checkpoints that blocked any care or pedestrian movement.
“There is a complete shutdown,” the resident said in a telephone interview, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. “Many people in the neighborhood who spoke out against the regime have been arrested. Those not been arrested are avoiding it by moving around, staying with relatives in other neighborhoods.”
Mr. Obama spoke 18 hours after the passage of a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing military action against Colonel Qaddafi, and as violence raged across the Middle East. In Yemen, security forces and government supporters shot and killed at least 45 protesters. In Bahrain, the government tore down the monument adopted by the country’s rebel movement, the pearl in the middle of Pearl Square in Manama. In Syria, a police state where protest is rare, large demonstrations broke out in four cities.
In contrast to the military intervention in Libya, the administration has restricted itself in those countries to statements condemning the violence and urging restraint.
Mr. Obama used tough language that was at times reminiscent of President George W. Bush before the war in Iraq.
“If Qaddafi does not comply with the resolution, the international community will impose consequences, and the resolution will be enforced through military action,” Mr. Obama said, laying out a policy decision made after several weeks in which the administration sent conflicting signals about its willingness to use force to aid the rebels at a time of upheaval throughout the Arab world.
But unlike Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama cast the United States in a supporting, almost reluctant role, reflecting the clear desire of the Pentagon, which has been strongly resistant to another American war in the Middle East. He said that Britain, France and Arab nations would take the lead, and that United States ground forces would not enter Libya.
The White House and the Pentagon offered no other details on what the precise role of the United States military would be in any strikes against Colonel Qaddafi’s forces, but an administration official said late Friday that the United States might take the lead in an attempt to destroy Libya’s air defenses at the beginning of operations.
“We may do the shaping on the front end,” the administration official said. The official was referring to the ability of American forces, greater than that of the allies, to strike targets precisely from long distances, whether by missiles launched from submarines, surface warships or attack jets.
The official said that the goal was to limit American military involvement to the initial stages of any action, and that it was the administration’s expectation that the allies could control the skies over Libya once Colonel Qaddafi’s air defenses are destroyed.
Mr. Obama’s remarks at the White House capped a day of diplomacy mixed with military threats in Washington, London and Paris, where the allies forged a united front against Colonel Qaddafi. Britain, France and then the United States responded with almost identically worded skepticism after Moussa Koussa, the Libyan foreign minister, announced a cease-fire, his hands shaking, and European officials indicated that they were prepared to move quickly if a decision was made to take military action.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #3373 on: Mar 19th, 2011, 10:30am »
New York Times DealBook
March 18, 2011, 9:31 pm Many Banks Are Clinging to Billions in Bailout Money By BEN PROTESS and ERIC DASH
Even as the nation’s biggest banks stepped further out of the government’s shadow on Friday, hundreds of financial institutions were still clutching to billions of taxpayers’ dollars.
Nearly 600 institutions, ranging from large regional powerhouses to small community banks, are holding on to more than $30 billion — about 13 percent of the $245 billion handed out to banks at the height of the financial crisis.
Some of the money will be paid back quickly. Two of the largest remaining bailout recipients, SunTrust and KeyCorp, swiftly announced plans to return their bailout funds, after getting a clean bill of health from the Federal Reserve on Friday.
But others will be slower to part with their federal money. A number of institutions like Synovus Financial and Regions Financial are struggling to return to profitability. Relatively healthy banks like M&T Bank and MB Financial are holding on to their emergency cash, while using the money to acquire other banks, make more loans and buy investments for their portfolios.
The rest of the bailout cash is scattered among community banks across the country. Many small lenders remain dependent on the low-cost capital. Dozens more like Security Business Bank of San Diego are simply swapping their federal rescue money for potentially cheaper financing from the same source: the government.
The situation underscores how difficult it is for the government to extricate itself from the financial system and the broader economy.
At the height of the financial crisis, the government opened its coffers, injecting much needed capital into the banking industry through the highly contentious Troubled Asset Relief Program. Wall Street titans, eager to shed the stigma and restrictions on executive compensation, quickly repaid the TARP money. A few smaller institutions did the same this month, putting the bank bailout program within a few dollars of breaking even.
The Treasury Department now estimates that it will turn a $12 billion profit on the bank bailout, mainly from its investment in Citigroup. “This program helped to support the nation’s small, medium and large banks during an unprecedented financial crisis,” said David Miller, the Treasury’s chief investment officer. “Since then, the markets have begun to stabilize, and we now estimate that taxpayers will see a healthy return on their investment.”
But the government’s ultimate gain will depend on the 600 or so banks that are sitting on taxpayer dollars.
Some banks desperately need the money. More than 140 banks have missed their recent dividend payments to the government, according to an analysis by Linus Wilson, professor of finance at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. The financial institutions — including Bank of Blue Valley in Overland Park, Kan., and Anchor Bank in Madison, Wis. — risk defaulting on their federal debt, said Professor Wilson. The group collectively owes the government about $4 billion.
Mark A. Fortino, Blue Valley’s chief financial officer, said his bank has enough capital to catch up on its dividend payments. The bank, however, may hold on to its original bailout funds for up to three years, Mr. Fortino said.
“Frankly, a 5 percent dividend is very attractive financing,” Mr. Fortino said. “It’s given us the cushion to be an active lender.”
Anchor Bank did not returns calls asking for comment.
Other banks like Synovus Financial are current on their payments, but bleeding money. The lender based in Columbus, Ga., which owes the United States nearly $1 billion, recently posted its 10th consecutive quarterly loss. It also faces civil lawsuits stemming from soured investments in luxury resorts.
“The repayment of TARP is not their greatest concern at this point,” said Brett Scheiner, an analyst with FBR Capital Markets. “The main thing they care about is reducing their troubled loan balances.”
Synovus did not return calls seeking comment.
For banks in similarly weak positions, the only way to get off the government dole may be to find a deep-pocketed buyer. In December, Marshall & Isley, which owes the government $1.7 billion, agreed to a takeover by the BMO Financial Group of Canada. BMO plans to pay off the TARP cash before the deal closes.
The Whitney Holding Corporation, the oldest bank in New Orleans, agreed in December to merge with the profitable and healthy Hancock Holding Corporation. Hancock expects to repay Whitney’s $300 million in bailout funds, too.
“TARP is a driver of mergers,” said Christopher McGratty, an analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. “The solution is: Why not sell and let them pay it off for me?”
Dozens of other small banks are looking to the government to help them repay their bailout funds because many are finding it difficult to raise money in the capital markets
Under a new program designed to spur small business lending, community banks can exchange their rescue money for a potentially cheaper capital. So far, nearly 300 small banks have applied for $5 billion through the program, with about half planning to repay their bailout. Institutions that take advantage of the program can cut their government borrowing costs from 5 percent to as low as 1 percent, if they meet certain lending targets. Paul Rodeno, chief executive of Security Business Bank of San Diego, calls the program a “breath of fresh air” since he will immediately lower his interest payments — and use fresh money to pay back the bank’s $5.8 million bailout.
Even so, it’s hard to shake the “son of TARP” or “TARP Jr.” moniker that some Republicans initially gave the program. After all, banks are simply trading one form of federal aid for another.
While bigger banks have better access to capital, some are reluctant to repay the government, even though they are in decent financial shape. “There are definitely banks healthy enough to repay,” said Jim Sinegal, an analyst at research firm Morningstar. “Some of the more high-quality banks should be ready and willing to repay. It’s clearly a management decision at this point.”
Some banks worry that issuing new stock would hurt existing investors. The banks would prefer to delay offerings for months, in the hopes their stock prices will be higher. “They see tomorrow as a better day,” said Mr. Scheiner of FBR.
Meanwhile, banks are using the emergency funds to finance long-term operations. In November, M&T, which owes taxpayers $750 million, bought another bailout recipient Wilmington Trust, for $351 million. At the time, M&T said it was aiming to repay TARP funds “at some point in the near future.” The bank turned a $736 million profit last year.
Citizens Republic Bancorp in Flint, Mich., which has $300 million in bailout capital, used the money to make more loans and buy mortgage-backed securities, according to government records.
But politicians and federal officials want healthy banks to follow the lead of SunTrust and KeyCorp, rather than worrying about the stock price or other issues.
“It’s a better deal for the shareholders, not the taxpayer,” said Representative Patrick T. McHenry of North Carolina, the Republican chairman of the House oversight committee’s bailout panel. “Any institution that’s financially stable should pay back taxpayers as soon as possible.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #3374 on: Mar 19th, 2011, 10:34am »
Sumo wrestler aims to become heaviest ever to run a marathon
A 29-stone sumo wrestler will this weekend become the heaviest person ever to run a marathon.
Kelly Gneiting is aiming to finish the marathon in less than nine hours Photo: GETTY
By Jon Swaine, New York 6:25PM GMT 18 Mar 2011
Kelly Gneiting, a hospital statistician and sumo wrestler from Arizona, will secure the official world record if he completes the Los Angeles marathon in California on Sunday.
Mr Gneiting, 40, said he wanted to run the 26-mile race as an inspiration to "people who are overweight, have low self-esteem and think they can't achieve things".
"I have high self-esteem and believe I can do anything," he told the Daily Telegraph. "I'm big, but I feel like I have a talent for this." Mr Gneiting, who is originally from Idaho, is 6ft tall and has a 5ft waist. He is a three-time American sumo champion and has represented the US at the world championships.
He said that his size made running uncomfortable. "It's hard on my feet, my thighs and under my armpits," he said. He plans to wear slick black Lycra leggings to prevent friction.
Mr Gneiting took up wrestling as a young man of average size, but began to gain weight. "Food is a bit of a weakness," he said.
After exceeding the 265-pound limit for regular wrestlers, he started sumo.
He completed the LA marathon in 2008 but was not in contact with the Guinness World Record authorities. They stipulate that he must be filmed for the entire race and weighed before and after.
The current record for the heaviest marathon runner is just under 20 stone.
Mr Gneiting, who last time took 11 hours, 45 minutes, is aiming to finish in less than nine hours.
"I'm going to run as fast as I can," he said. "So I can show all my critics".