Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6885 on: Jun 22nd, 2012, 09:14am »
Twenty dead in Taliban siege of Afghan hotel; NATO blames Haqqanis
By Mirwais Harooni and Samar Zwak Fri Jun 22, 2012 9:07am EDT
KABUL (Reuters) - Elite Afghan police backed by NATO forces ended a 12-hour siege on Friday at a popular lakeside hotel outside Kabul, leaving at least 20 dead after Taliban gunmen stormed the lakeside building, bursting into a party and seizing dozens of hostages.
The night-time assault on the hotel with rocket-propelled grenades, suicide vests and machine guns again proved how potent the Islamist insurgency remains after a decade of war.
The commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan said the attack bore the signature of the Taliban-linked Haqqani group that he said continued to operate from Pakistan, a charge that could further escalate tensions with Islamabad.
General John Allen's comments come days after U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Washington was at the limits of its patience with Pakistan over the existence of militant networks including the Haqqanis.
Pakistan says it is doing everything it can to fight militants on its side of the border and accuses Afghanistan of trying to shift the blame for its failure to combat the insurgency.
At the hotel, terrified guests jumped into the lake in the darkness to escape the carnage, Afghan officials and residents said. Up to 300 people had been inside the hotel when the attack began.
Afghan interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said 12 to 15 civilians, two hotel guards and a policeman were killed in the gunbattle at the Spozhmai hotel, overlooking Qargha Lake. Five attackers were also killed.
The attack, quickly claimed by the Afghan Taliban, again showed the ability of insurgents to stage high-profile raids even as NATO nations prepare to withdraw most of their combat troops by the end of 2014 and leave Afghans to lead the fight.
"Afghan National Security Forces and coalition military sources acknowledge that this attack bears the signature of the Haqqani network, which continues to target and kill innocent Afghans and blatantly violate Afghan sovereignty from the safety of Pakistan," General Allen said in a statement.
Blood was splattered over the hotel floor and the crumpled body of a man lay in the garden. Women and children were among the wounded.
"We heard a heavy explosion from a rocket-propelled grenade. We tried to escape, but we were surrounded by suicide bombers. We hid ourselves behind a tree until morning. God protected us," said Abdullah Samadi, 24.
The gunmen, Samadi said, had been closely watching their prisoners and searching for illegal stocks of wine.
"Around dawn they came closer to us and we had to jump in the water. We were there until 9 a.m. and then the situation got better and we slowly, slowly swam toward security forces," he said.
Sediqqi said the Taliban were using civilians as human shields to defend themselves and held about 50 people hostage late into Friday morning.
Elite Afghan quick-response police backed by NATO troops freed at least 35 hostages in an operation that only began in earnest after sunrise to help security forces avoid civilian deaths in night-time confusion.
The Taliban complained wealthy Afghans and foreigners used the hotel, about 10 km (6 miles) from the center of Kabul, for "prostitution" and "wild parties" ahead of the Friday religious day holiday.
Launching their annual offensive this spring, the Taliban threatened to attack more government officials and rich Afghans, but the hotel assault was one of few in which multiple hostages were taken since the start of the war, now in its 11th year.
President Hamid Karzai said attacking a place where people went for picnics was a sign of defeat for the enemies of Afghanistan.
"This is a crime against humanity because they targeted children, women and civilians picnicking at the lake. There wasn't even a single soldier around there," said General Mohammad Zahir, head of the Kabul police investigation unit.
Television pictures showed several people wading out of the lake onto a balcony and clambering over a wall to safety.
NATO attack helicopters could be seen over the single-storey hotel building and a balcony popular with guests for its sunset views, while a pall of smoke rose into the air.
NEW FACE OF INSURGENCY?
Soldiers and police fanned out around the hotel at dawn, arriving in cars and armored Humvee vehicles and taking cover behind trees flanking the lake and a nearby golf course.
Qargha Lake is one of Kabul's few options for weekend getaways. Restaurants and hotels that dot the shore are popular with Afghan government officials and businessmen, particularly on Thursday nights.
Guests at the Spozhmai must pass through security checks before entering the hotel, where tables with umbrellas overlook the water, but security is relatively light for a city vulnerable to militant attacks.
Violence across Afghanistan has surged in recent days, with three U.S. soldiers and more than a dozen civilians killed in successive attacks, mostly in the country's east, where NATO-led forces have focused their efforts during the summer fighting months.
NATO commanders, halfway into the process of transferring security responsibility to Afghan forces, are racing through training for the Afghan army and police, including holding basic literacy classes for recruits.
Well-planned assaults in Kabul in the past year have raised questions about whether the Taliban and their al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network allies have shifted tactics to embrace attacks on landmarks, foreigners and Afghanistan's elite, extending a guerrilla war once primarily waged in the countryside.
(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi and Abdul Saboor; Writing by Rob Taylor,Missy Ryan and Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Ron Popeski)
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6886 on: Jun 22nd, 2012, 09:32am »
The Downturn Begins: Revenue Declines Are Just Beginning As U.S. Budget Cuts Loom Jun. 21, 2012 - 04:50PM By ZACHARY FRYER-BIGGS
In the cyclical ebb and flow of the defense market, finding an inflection point — the moment when boom turns into downturn — can be difficult. This time, it’s obvious.
Only two of the top dozen companies on this year’s Defense News Top 100 list saw defense revenue growth, with combined defense revenue for the Top 100 companies dropping by about 1 percent to $414.3 billion, down from $418.8 billion in 2010. In the previous year’s list, total revenue grew by more than 4 percent.
The revenue number was buoyed by nine new companies joining the list, and a weak dollar that gave non-U.S. companies an average boost of nearly 4 percent in exchange rates compared to 2010.
The drop in revenue is just the beginning of what’s projected to be a steep reduction in U.S. defense spending in coming years, as 2011 numbers predate the $487 billion in cuts over 10 years mandated by the Budget Control Act, as well as the nearly $500 billion in automatic budget cuts that could take effect Jan. 2.
The top of the list saw some reshuffling, as Boeing (No. 2) jumped two spots, hurdling both BAE Systems (No. 3) and Northrop Grumman (No. 6). Two spinoffs, Huntington Ingalls (No. 13) and ITT Exelis (No. 21), joined the list, and were two of only three companies to appear in the top 25 for the first time.
Northrop’s decline of nearly $10 billion is partially accounted for by the $6.6 billion that Huntington Ingalls, which it divested in 2010, earned.
“The decline has actually begun; it clearly shows in the figures,” said Phil Finnegan, director of corporate analysis at the Teal Group, Fairfax, Va. “It again highlights the dominance of the U.S. as a market. The U.S. is by far the biggest market, it’s beginning to decline, and so the largest companies are beginning to decline.”
Of the two companies to see increases in the top 14, only Lockheed Martin (No. 1) saw growth in local currency revenue. Italian group Finmeccanica’s (No. 8)
1 percent increase in U.S. dollar revenue masked a nearly 4 percent reduction in overall revenue, offset by a 5 percent spike in the value of the euro.
Overall, the dollar softened as the average exchange rate for foreign currencies used on the list experienced a lull in 2010, and rose by nearly 4 percent in 2011, helping to lessen the blow of revenue declines.
MBDA, the European missiles house owned by BAE, Finmeccanica and EADS (No. 7), with revenue of $3.98 billion would have been No. 22 if listed as a separate company.
While European companies faced difficult fiscal environments locally, Japanese companies, led by Kawasaki Heavy Industries (No. 41), saw growth on the back of ramped-up programs, including the new P-1 maritime patrol aircraft, and a strong yen.
And some Russian companies, including Sukhoi and RSK MiG, boosted revenue with exports to Africa and Asia, including Uganda, Vietnam and India.
The list saw some of its steepest declines among companies with interests in ground systems, particularly the U.S. mine-resistant, ambush protected-heavy vehicle program, as BAE fell two spots, Oshkosh (No. 18) fell five, and Navistar (No. 48) fell eight.
The drawdown of the U.S.’ military presence in Iraq was cited by experts as being a catalyst for reduction.
Early U.S. Spending Cuts
That U.S. defense spending declined in 2011 was not immediately apparent in overall Defense Department spending figures, as outlays rose by 1.6 percent from 2010. Both personnel and operations and maintenance spending rose. But in the accounts that matter most to defense contractors, procurement outlays fell 4.2 percent, and research and development outlays fell 2.8 percent.
“If you look back during the tenure of Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, he made a number of program and portfolio decisions, some of which affect our company,” said Bob Stevens, chief executive of Lockheed Martin.
“We’ve seen progressive actions taken, either to realign program portfolios or to focus on deficit reduction or to participate under all of the deficit control initiatives, that lead us to conclude that there would be an overall decline in defense spending,” he said. “We’ve been preparing for it.”
In particular, the lack of big-ticket items has had an effect, said Jay Hennig, president of Moog’s (No. 75) space and defense group.
“There are no big programs that were in the development phase,” Hennig said, pointing out that the U.S. Army’s Future Combat Systems program was canceled, while the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter “is in production. The Joint Common Missile, that funding has been severely whacked. Where does the development money go? It’s just not there.”
Confronted with the decline in the U.S., Hennig’s company is looking overseas.
“I would say our proposals outside of the U.S. are now 50 percent of our proposals,” he said. “Two years before, it was 10 percent. It’s a huge change.”
Stevens said Lockheed is aiming to increase its percentage of non-U.S. revenue from roughly 17 percent to more than 20 percent in the next 10 years.
But growth in non-U.S. defense spending cannot counter the DoD reductions, Finnegan said.
“There’s no backstop in the world,” he said. “European budgets are declining, or even under more pressure than U.S. budgets, and the places where companies are looking for growth, namely Asia, Brazil, and to a lesser extent the Middle East, those simply cannot make up for the decline of the large budgets in the developed countries.”
Global military spending remained flat in 2011, increasing by only 0.3 percent, according to a recent report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. That number includes double-digit Chinese military growth, spending which rarely involves outside companies.
“The pressure for European companies to do work overseas is even greater because of the decline in the domestic markets,” he said. “You can be sure that they’re going to be very aggressive in terms of pricing and in terms of technology transfer. That’s going to become an issue as they try to limit the impact of the decline in the U.S. budget by going overseas.”
Companies Going Commercial
With few growth opportunities in the broader defense markets, companies are turning to commercial endeavors. While defense revenue decreased, total revenue among Top 100 companies increased.
In the previous year’s Top 100 list, 32.8 percent of the total revenue reported by companies on the list came from defense. This year, that number dropped to 30.8 percent.
Investors have been critical of commercial ventures by defense companies, but thus far, companies have been acting prudently, said Byron Callan, an analyst with Capital Alpha Partners.
“No one’s done anything equivalent to what Lockheed did in the late ’90s, when they set up a global telecommunications business,” he said. “These adjacencies seem fine. Investors should be fine with that.”
Lockheed is looking at expanding its commercial business during this down cycle, as well, but carefully, Stevens said.
“We understand where our strengths are, what our core markets are,” he said. “We understand how to take those mature products and services into the international markets. We have interest in adjacent markets that include cybersecurity, energy, health care and so on.”
The bigger question may be whether some of the companies that have substantial commercial interests will stay in the market, Callan said.
“Companies like Rockwell Collins (No. 34), Textron (No. 19), they already have pretty good commercial businesses,” he said. “The question for them is, why are you sticking around in the defense business, other than you think you’re going to weather the storm better than anybody else?”
The 2011 declines are likely to be followed by further declines in 2012, experts said. But the deep cutting in the U.S. won’t hit until fiscal 2013, when the caps on defense spending, included in the Budget Control Act, shave roughly $50 billion per year off the projected U.S. defense budget.
The drawdown of coalition forces in Afghanistan also will likely result in cuts to spending, as well as the continued fiscal woes in Europe.
But most ominous are the automatic budget cuts, called sequestration, that could take effect on Jan. 2, totaling roughly $500 billion more in reductions.
“While our company some time ago embraced an overhead reduction, cost reduction affordability program, to align with the Budget Control Act reductions of $487 billion over 10 years, we don’t have a plan in place today to meet the demands of sequestration set to take place on Jan. 2,” Stevens said. “I believe there’s no one in the industry that has a refined plan to do that, because the exact implementation of sequestration is not at all clear.
“With the prospect of sequestration, I think we’ll see huge disruption in the industry,” Stevens said. “We won’t be talking about a couple of percent declines in revenue. We’ll be talking about disruptions in the labor force, significant disruptions in the ongoing continuity of programs, an environment where there will likely be many requests for equitable adjustment as contracts are modified.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6887 on: Jun 22nd, 2012, 09:37am »
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: Film Review 9:31 PM PDT 6/20/2012 by Justin Lowe
The Bottom Line A hybrid horror-historical actioner that gleefully warps facts to entertaining effect. Opens Friday, June 22
Cast Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell, Marton Csokas
Director Timur Bekmambetov
Screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith
Seth Grahame-Smith adapted his own novel, a genre mashup that rewrites history about the 16th president, played by Benjamin Walker.
Starting from a premise -- succinctly stated by the movie’s title -- that suggests a hybrid of history lesson and horror show, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a mishmash of styles that might leave viewers’ heads spinning. Genre enthusiasts will lap up the mixture of action and fantasy, while history buffs who don’t mind a bit of rewriting will dig into an alternative spin on the Civil War period. Audience response initially should be robust, even if closer consideration might sap some later momentum.
Beginning with Lincoln’s Indiana childhood in the early 1800s, screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith (adapting his novel, which supposedly originates with Lincoln’s secret journal) speculates that after young Lincoln and his father dare to interfere with the slave trader Barts (Marton Csokas), who also happens to be the nexus in a large network of the undead that has infiltrated the South, the vampire exacts revenge by attacking and killing the 16th president’s mother.
Lincoln seeks revenge on Barts years later as a young man (Benjamin Walker), narrowly escaping getting killed himself following the intervention of Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper), a dedicated vampire assassin. Sturges recruits Lincoln as a hunter as well, training him in the arts of vampire elimination.
After moving to Springfield, Ill., Lincoln begins dispatching ghouls as directed by Sturges, using an ax with a silver-plated blade, while combining vampire hunting with his study of law. He also meets the young Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and begins courting her, despite Sturges’ warning not to become too attached to other people, and is reunited with his childhood friend William Johnson (Anthony Mackie), a former slave.
After he finally gets his revenge by killing Barts, he’s marked for elimination by Adam (Rufus Sewell), who controls the Southern vampire horde. Lincoln temporarily sets aside his ax to marry Mary and switch his allegiance to politics, as debate intensifies over the abolition of slavery. Following his election, President Lincoln is brought back into direct conflict with the vampires with the onset of the Civil War, when Adam and his minions side with the Confederacy in an attempt to finally take control of the country.
The movie’s virtues and some of its miscues essentially originate with Grahame-Smith’s script. Taking the conceit that the institution of slavery was a vampire-motivated plot to provide the undead with fresh blood, Grahame-Smith adeptly connects Lincoln’s vampire vendetta with his anti-slavery crusade. Marrying this high-concept premise to a coherent narrative proves more challenging, however, as the tales of Lincoln’s vampire-slaying exploits make an awkward fit with the historical facts of his life.
Following up 2008’s Wanted, director Timur Bekmambetov showcases Lincoln as America’s “first superhero” (despite his lack of any supernatural abilities), shaping the first act around the future president’s desire for retribution. The initial scenes of the young lawyer dispatching the wide variety of ghouls that seem to favor Springfield in hand-to-hand combat delivers some initial thrills that more turgid set pieces later in the film seem to lack.
Bekmambetov, no stranger to vampire lore after launching his own Russian franchise with Night Watch and Day Watch, effectively deploys the appropriate camera moves, pacing and special effects to craft an awesome action figure determined to rescue the country from a bloodsucker takeover. Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography profitably welds horror tropes to special effects, but there are no real surprises in terms of either concept or execution, and the 3D conversion seems to obscure images more than enhance them.
Tall and lanky, Walker seems like he was cast more for his potential resemblance to Lincoln than for his acting or action abilities. While he appears fairly capable -- if not especially accomplished -- handling Lincoln’s legendary ax, slower scenes opposite Winstead and other actors tend to drag with Walker’s restrained delivery and stiff demeanor. Winstead’s performance as Mary is far more spirited as she flirts with Lincoln in earlier scenes and later argues with him over the fate of their family and country. The supporting cast is efficiently tasked with supporting Lincoln’s twin goals of destroying vampires and winning the war.
At a taut 105 minutes, Abraham Lincoln credibly delivers the thrills and gore it promises, though it’s ultimately too lightweight and conventional to merit either cult or classic status.
Opens: Friday, June 22 (20th Century Fox) Production company: A Burton/Bekmambetov/Lemley production Cast: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell, Marton Csokas Director: Timur Bekmambetov Screenwriter: Seth Grahame-Smith Producers: Tim Burton, Timur Bekmambetov, Jim Lemley Executive producers: Michele Wolkoff, Simon Kinberg, John J. Kelly, Seth Grahame-Smith Director of photography: Caleb Deschanel Production designer: Francois Audouy Costume designers: Carlo Poggioli, Varya Avdyushko Editor: William Hoy Music: Henry Jackman Rated R, 105 minutes
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6888 on: Jun 22nd, 2012, 09:41am »
06/22/2012 The World from Berlin 'Crisis Could Change Germany More than Reunification'
Germany's Constitutional Court has asked the country's president to delay the ratification of the permanent ESM euro bailout fund and the EU fiscal pact. German commentators accuse the chancellor of trying to push the legislation through parliament too quickly.
Offering a brief boost to opponents of the long-term euro bailout program and the planned European Union fiscal pact, Germany's Federal Constitutional Court on Thursday asked the country's president to hold off on signing the legislation into law if the two bills are approved as expected by the country's legislative chambers next week.
President Joachim Gauck's decision to respect the court's request means that Germany will not be able to ratify the European Stability Mechanism by July 1, which Chancellor Angela Merkel had hoped would send a strong message to the markets. Some opposition politicians are even calling the development a "slap" in the chancellor's face.
Germany's Left Party and former Justice Minister Herta Däubler-Gmelin of the opposition center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) have both announced their intentions to challenge the ratification of the treaties after they are approved by the federal parliament, the Bundestag, and the Bundesrat, the legislative chamber that represents the German states, in votes planned for next week.
Sahra Wagenknecht, an influential member of the Left Party who also serves as the deputy head of its parliamentary group, argued that a deal reached between Merkel's conservative government, the Green Party and the SPD on Thursday to ratify the ESM and fiscal pact treaties was "worthless." Wagenknecht and other detractors claim Merkel has tried to push the legislation through parliament too quickly without giving the legislature adequate time to debate the measures. They also claim that the fiscal pact could potentially limit the German parliament's sovereignty in determining budget policy. Wagenknecht described the legislation as no less than a "putsch" against Germany's constitution.
In recent months, the German Constitutional Court has issued a number of rulings in which it has ordered parliament to be provided a greater say in the government's euro bailout decisions. Most recently, on Tuesday, the court ruled that Merkel's government must move faster and more comprehensively in notifying parliament about important decisions pertaining to the euro rescue. Wagenknecht believes the Karlsruhe-based organ may slap the Merkel administration with a similar reprimand over the ESM and fiscal pact. Claiming that the "spirit of the constitution is being changed," the Left Party member wants a national referendum to be held on the treaty.
Under a compromise reached between Merkel's conservative government, led by her Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and the opposition on Thursday, the ESM and fiscal pact are expected to be approved by parliament on June 29. The opposition Greens and SPD succeeded with their demand that Germany push for a financial transaction tax that would force markets to share the costs of financial crises. The government will also honor their demand that the fiscal pact be complemented with provisions promoting economic growth.
'Far Too Much Time'
Despite their support for the bills, prominent Greens also criticized Merkel, with Volker Beck, a senior member of the party's parliamentary group, accusing the German leader of waiting too long before opening negotiations in parliament and for delaying the discussion because of key regional elections.
In the SPD camp, deputy parliamentary group head Hubertus Heil said the government itself was to blame for the delays. "It let far too much time pass before it began negotiating with the opposition," he said. He called on the government to move quickly to clarify any constitutional concerns surrounding the legislation.
Meanwhile, SPD floor leader Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he didn't anticipate that the ESM or fiscal pact could be ratified by July 1. He anticipated a two-to-three week delay in order to provide the court with enough time to review the constitutionality of the legislation.
The court's move did draw criticism from at least one member of Merkel's cabinet. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble of Merkel's conservatives complained that the Karlsruhe court had broken protocol by pleading directly with the president. "I don't think it is smart for constitutional organs to communicate with each other publicly. And it is even less prudent for the federal government to comment on it," he said. The conservatives' floor leader Volker Kauder also called on Gauck to ignore the request from Karlsruhe, arguing there was no reason to delay ratification.
On the editorial pages on Friday, many German newspapers come down critically in their opinions of Merkel's handling of the ESM and fiscal pact, arguing that the decisions entail shifting sovereignty on parts of budget-making policy to Brussels and that a more detailed debate should be conducted.
The business daily Handelsblatt writes:
"What actually needs to happen in order to wake up both the German government and the pro-Europe parties in parliament? For the second time in one week, the Constitutional Court has applied the brakes on the government for the overly hasty implementation of euro bailout measures. This time it is 'requesting' that the president wait before signing the treaty on the ESM. It's a preemptive request, because it is assumed that the Left Party and some members of parliament will challenge the decision in parliament and that the court will need two to three weeks to review the suit. With the request, the court is able to avoid having to issue a temporary injunction against the treaty, which could lead to a complete escalation of the situation."
"The situation that has now been created must also compel supporters of Germany's European Union strategy -- and since the deal reached on Thursday over the fiscal pact and ESM, these also include the CDU/CSU, SPD, FDP and Greens -- to think things over. There are good reasons for ratifying the ESM treaty. But this set of agreements, as well as the vote on the fiscal pact, is not some mere amendment to, say, environmental law. It is about deep encroachments into the national constitution, the transfer of sovereignty to the EU and preparations for new institutions like the ESM that, so far, have only been granted limited democratic legitimacy. It's also about possibly paving the way for actions that would affect Germans' property."
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"The timeframe for deciding on this law is an undermining of the the court's ruling on Tuesday and it mocks the notion of parliamentary democracy. But out of her desire to position herself as the queen of the euro rescue, the chancellor has degraded the parliamentary vote to the level of a farce. (...) Merkel takes a long time to act, but then she acts with brute force and at the last second. That is not parliamentarianism but a regrettably short-sighted and amateurish style of governing."
"The new treaties involve enormous sums of money and contain legal constructs that the law has never known before. It will create an ESM company that is above the law. The company will be able to sue but cannot be sued in return. It will be able to do and be what it wants. Is such a euro absolutism necessary to save the euro? How can one control it democratically? (...) One should be able to talk, discuss and deliberate about this. How should people's trust in Europe grow when the government doesn't trust the representatives of the people?"
"The ESM and the fiscal pact impinge on the core of the Bundestag's budgetary autonomy. The constitutional court judges will probably rule that the constitution's possibilities have been exhausted. They will then only accept the new treaties, when, within a reasonable amount of time, the people are also allowed to decide."
The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"(The debate between the parties) … is obscuring that fact that nothing less is being negotiated than a reorganization of Germany's fiscal constitution. (...) The power struggle between the federal government and the states over the burdens of the fiscal pact leads the issue right back to where it belongs -- namely out of the party political arena and into the constitutional arena."
"It won't be the first time that the Constitutional Court rather than the Bundestag has the final word on such an issue, either. As caustic as the Karlsruhe court sounded on Thursday, it absolutely wants to have this last word. And although it might not be timely, it will be legally binding."
Mass-circulation tabloid Bild writes:
"The ESM euro rescue fund and the fiscal pact were supposed to be forced through the Bundestag and Bundesrat at top speed. Merkel's government hoped that it would be signed into law by the president the same night. But that is not going to happen. And justifiably so."
"This is because the euro bailout cannot operate according to the motto that necessity knows no law. The president and the constitutional court have to thoroughly examine these laws. And that requires time. Especially when it's a question of our money."
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6889 on: Jun 23rd, 2012, 08:58am »
Turkey weighs response after Syria downs Turkish jet
By Jonathon Burch and Erika Solomon Sat Jun 23, 2012 8:37am EDT
ANKARA/BEIRUT (Reuters) - Turkey promised on Saturday to do "whatever necessary" in response to Syria's shooting-down of a Turkish fighter, but did not immediately contest an assertion by Damascus that the jet had been in its airspace at the time.
The downing of the aircraft, at a point close to the sea borders of both countries, provided a demonstration of Syria's formidable Russian-supplied air defenses; one of the many reasons for Western qualms about any military intervention to halt bloodshed in the country.
Ankara's once-friendly relations with Damascus had already turned icy over President Bashar al-Assad's violent crackdown on a 16-month-old revolt, but signals from both sides suggested neither wanted a military confrontation over the incident.
"It is not possible to cover over a thing like this, whatever is necessary will be done," Turkish President Abdullah Gul said, according to state news agency Anatolia, adding that Ankara had been in telephone contact with Syrian authorities.
He said it was routine for fast-flying jets to cross borders for a short distance and that an investigation would determine whether the F-4 fighter was brought down in Turkish airspace.
Syria's military said the Turkish aircraft was flying low, just one kilometer off the Syrian coast, when it was shot down.
"The navies of the two countries have established contact. Syrian naval vessels are participating along with the Turkish side in the search operation for the missing pilots," it said.
With the second biggest army in NATO, a force hardened by nearly 30 years of fighting Kurdish rebels, Turkey would be a formidable foe for a Syrian military already struggling to put down a popular uprising and an increasingly potent insurgency.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan chaired an emergency security meeting on Friday evening after which his office said it is "understood" that Syria had downed the plane and confirmed that both sides were searching for the two missing airmen.
"Turkey will present its final stance after the incident has been fully brought to light and decisively take the necessary steps," said a statement from Erdogan's office.
Turkish newspapers were less restrained.
"They (the Syrians) will pay the price," said Vatan, while Hurriyet daily said "He (Assad) is playing with fire."
The joint Turkish-Syrian search and rescue operation sits uneasily with Turkey's hosting of the rebel Free Syrian Army fighting to topple Assad, once a personal friend of Erdogan.
The souring of relations over the past year has provoked concern among Turks that Syria may revive its former support for Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) insurgents in southeastern Turkey.
"It's possible the Turks were sending jets in the area in response to an apparent escalation of the PKK's activities," Hilal Khashan, political science professor at the American University of Beirut, told Reuters.
"Turkey may suspect that Syria and Iran are supporting Kurdish rebel activities now as a reaction to Turkish support of the Syrian revolt," he said.
However, Khashan said he did not expect a harsh military reaction from Turkey. "It is under a tight leash by the United States. They don't want to start a war tomorrow."
BUDDING CIVIL WAR
A civil war, or something closely resembling one, is already in full swing in Syria, where fighting or shelling engulfed parts of the cities of Aleppo, Hama, Homs, Deir al-Zor and Douma, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The British-based watchdog also reported fierce clashes and shelling in the town of al-Bab in Aleppo province, where army helicopters were flying overhead. It said rockets and gunfire had killed three people in al-Qusair, a town in Homs province. Two men were killed in an ambush by security forces in Hama.
Turkey fears the fighting, much of which pits majority Sunni Muslim dissidents and rebels against Assad's Alawite-dominated security forces, could unleash a flood of refugees over its own border and ignite regional sectarian conflict.
It already hosts 32,000 Syrian refugees near the border. The opposition Syrian National Council meets in Istanbul.
Ankara has previously floated the possibility of setting up some kind of safe haven or humanitarian corridor inside Syria, which would entail military intervention, but has said it would undertake no such action without U.N. Security Council approval.
Turkey has said however that Assad must go.
It was unclear why the Syrians had shot down the aircraft, which, having left a base in Malatya, was flying close to a corridor linking Turkey with Turkish forces on Northern Cyprus.
"The Syrian military may have taken a calculated gamble by downing the Turkish plane, which could boost the morale of Assad's loyalists after increased defections from the military," said Yasser Saadeldine, an opposition Syrian commentator.
"A Turkish retaliation would fit into the fantasy he (Assad) is peddling that the uprising is a foreign conspiracy."
Russia and China, Assad's strongest backers abroad, have fiercely opposed any outside interference in the Syrian crisis, saying envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan is the only way forward.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after talks with his Syrian counterpart on Friday that he had urged Syria to "do a lot more" to implement Annan's U.N.-backed proposals, but that foreign countries must also press rebels to stop the violence.
Lavrov said the Syrian authorities were ready to withdraw troops from cities "simultaneously" with rebels. A Syrian military pullback and a ceasefire were key elements in Annan's six-point peace plan, most of which remains a dead letter.
(Additional reporting by; Writing by Alistair Lyon; editing by Ralph Boulton)
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6890 on: Jun 23rd, 2012, 09:11am »
High Court gives FCC ‘green light’ to sanction television indecency
By Brendan Sasso 06/23/12 09:35 AM ET
The Supreme Court’s decision to duck a call on the federal government’s power to police the airwaves for “indecent” content effectively hands that power to the FCC, according to lawmakers and conservatives reacting to the ruling.
They said the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will now face pressure from Congress and advocacy groups to go through that backlog of complaints and start cracking down on stations.
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said the court gave the FCC a “green light" to resume sanctioning stations.
“The public airways are just that—public,” he said. “The networks using them have a moral duty to the American public to responsibly provide content that is acceptable for all viewers.”
Dan Isett, director of public policy for the Parents Television Council, said in an interview that the FCC should start fining stations for indecent content as soon as possible.
“The court did not strip the FCC of the authority to do anything,” Isett said, adding that the next step is for the commission to review the backlog of complaints.
The Parents Television Council is one of the leading critics of vulgar TV content, and its members have filed many of the complaints now pending with the commission.
Lawmakers offered a similar reaction after Thursday’s ruling by the High Court.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, called the ruling “a victory for those of us who believe that we must be doing more, not less, to give the FCC and parents all across America the resources they need to protect their children from indecent programming.”
And in a joint statement, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the panel's subcommittee on Communications and Technology, said protecting family values is a priority and the FCC should enforce the rules on the books.
Since the beginning of the Obama administration, the FCC has been waiting for the courts to resolve the controversy before issuing any fines.
Federal law instructs the FCC to punish stations for broadcasting indecent material such as curse words, but the stations argue the policy violates their First Amendment right to free speech.
Instead of ruling on the constitutionality of the issue, the Supreme Court threw out the fines of the television stations in the case on procedural grounds. The legality of the ban on indecent content remains unclear. But the decision removes the FCC's rationale for not acting against stations that broadcast offensive content.
While the FCC waited for the courts, about 1.5 million indecency complaints accumulated.
“There's bipartisan agreement on this,” said Andrew Schwartzman, a telecommunications lawyer who represented artists opposed to the indecency fines, in an interview. “Everyone on the Hill wants the FCC to take a hard line.”
But it is unclear how eager FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, a Democrat, will be to crusade for tough decency standards.
Historically, Republican chairmen have been tougher on indecent content than Democratic chairmen.
In a statement in response to the ruling, Genachowski said only that the FCC will carry out Congress's directive to protect young TV viewers "consistent with vital First Amendment principles."
Because the Supreme Court did not take a position on the constitutionality of the ban on indecent content, any enforcement efforts could lead to more litigation for the FCC.
In the court's opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that the FCC is “free to modify its current indecency policy.”
The policy at issue was an especially tough standard adopted in 2004 under the George W. Bush administration. The policy bans even unscripted curse words and momentary nudity.
The FCC could adopt a new, less stringent policy in hopes of boosting its chances of surviving future court challenges. But any policy that bars offensive content risks First Amendment lawsuits.
Genachowski could drag his feet on the issue in hopes of leaving the thorny issue to his successor—who, if Mitt Romney wins the presidential election, could take office early next year.
“There will be at least a couple more years of uncertainty,” Schwartzman predicted.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6891 on: Jun 23rd, 2012, 09:17am »
Roswell, Other Famous UFO Claims Get a Fresh Look
Natalie Wolchover Date: 22 June 2012 Time: 11:08 AM ET
Did a UFO really crash near Roswell, N.M., in 1947? What was that mysterious triangle of lights that hundreds of people spotted over Phoenix, Ariz., last fall? Are alleged alien abductees telling the truth? For a new series on the National Geographic Channel called "Chasing UFOs," a team of investigators visited UFO hotspots around the world and interviewed witnesses in an attempt to address some of history's most famous purported evidence that aliens have visited Earth.
We caught up with Ben McGee, a geoscientist and the lead field researcher on the UFO-chasing team, as well as its only skeptic, to get a taste of what he and his team discovered.
"I tried to help illustrate applying critical analysis to the range of alleged evidence," McGee told Life's Little Mysteries."The difference between UFO believers and astronomers is on the one hand you have people who find the data to support their hypothesis, and on the other you have the guys who attack their own hypothesis — who know there's a huge range of possible other explanations."
At Roswell, McGee and his team conducted a "recon-style survey" of the area around the alleged UFO crash site, testing for radiation and geomagnetic activity. They got lucky.
"We were doing some perimeter sweeps with metal detectors and got a hit," he said — it was a button from an Air Force member's coat.
"That jived with some of the alleged 'witness testimony' that said there was Air Force personnel sweeping the area after the crash to clean up debris," McGee said. But it also jives with what has been the military's story all along: that they were actually recovering debris from a crashed high-altitude surveillance balloon at the site rather than a flying saucer and its occupants. "Just because the military was there doesn't mean an alien was there," he said.
Triangle over Phoenix
The UFO chasers made another stop in the Southwest, in Phoenix, and spoke to people who saw a bizarre triangle of green lights moving slowly across the evening sky last September. The lights were definitely real — they were seen by many and recorded on video — but were they a UFO?
McGee, who does consulting work in the commercial space industry, has an alternative theory. He said a company called JP Aerospace is experimenting with balloon-based exploration, and is using enormous, silent V-shape craft that consist of two giant airships attached to a transfer station. Variations of the clever design are probably being tested by others, too, he said. "I would be shocked if the government wasn't using something similar, and that's a possible explanation for the Phoenix sighting."
The UFO chasers also interviewed many credible witnesses who believe Earth is being visited by aliens, including the moon-walking Apollo 14 astronaut Ed Mitchell. They also spoke to three women who claimed to have seen an injured alien creature near an alleged UFO crash site in Varginha, Brazil in 1996, and to a self-described alien abduction survivor in Colorado. One of McGee's fellow investigators on the show, James Fox, a ufologist and filmmaker, became convinced that the witnesses were telling the truth. McGee did not.
"James Fox is not a blind believer; he is very reasonable. But he tends to believe people if he doesn't see a reason for them to lie," McGee said. "But as a scientist, I know that human testimony is one of the least reliable types of data there is. It won't convince me of anything, especially if it's something extraordinary."
"Chasing UFOs" documents these and other exploits by McGee, Fox and fellow investigator Erin Ryder. The weekly series premieres on the National Geographic Channel Friday (June 29) at 9 p.m. ET/PT, with a second episode the first week at 10 p.m.
"People who are curious about UFOs are asking the right sorts of questions. They are curious about the possibility of life in the universe. This project has been an opportunity to engage with them," McGee said, "and to let people know there's no such thing as a bad question."
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6892 on: Jun 23rd, 2012, 09:27am »
Originally published Friday, June 22, 2012 at 12:16 PM
Rangers at Rainier recovering one of their own after fatal fall
Authorities at Mount Rainier National Park faced the grim task Friday of recovering the body of one of their own rangers who slid 3,000 feet to his death while helping rescue a climbing party.
By Craig Welch Seattle Times environment reporter
The helicopter hovered above in the thin mountain air as rescuers steadied the empty litter.
Mount Rainier climbing ranger Nick Hall and his fellow rescuers were 700 feet below the volcano's summit, trying to get four injured climbers to safety.
It was late afternoon on Thursday, and one victim had just been hauled up to the waiting Chinook. The rangers were preparing to load a second climber, but howling winds were whipping the steep, icy Emmons Glacier.
Hall was trying to anchor the wind-battered empty litter with another line to keep it under control amid the gusts. But something went wrong.
"Something caused Nick to fall and the litter to come loose, and they both went tumbling down the mountainside," said Mount Rainier National Park spokesman Kevin Bacher.
Hall came to rest 3,000 feet below, becoming only the fourth Rainier ranger in the park's history to die in the line of duty.
Hall, who grew up in a small town in Maine, had transformed his love of the outdoors into a job with one of the Lower 48's most elite mountain-rescue teams. Along the way he had been a Marine and a ski patroller, rock climber and hiker who had worked his way from New England to Colorado to Yellowstone and Rainier.
Friday, Gov. Chris Gregoire praised his selflessness. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called his actions heroic. U.S. Sen. Patty Murray phoned Hall's father in Maine to thank the family for Nick Hall's service. Even a climbing group in Texas, home to the victims Hall was rescuing, has reached out to thank his family.
"We are heartbroken and in awe of Nick," his father, Carter Hall, said from his home in Maine. "A mountain is a hostile place, but we are grateful that so much appreciation for his actions is being expressed to us. We are happy so many people want to honor him."
Hall was Rainier's second park ranger to die this year. Margaret Anderson was gunned down on New Year's Day by Benjamin Colton Barnes, 24, a suspect in a Skyway shooting incident the night before. Barnes fled in the snow and was found dead the next day.
Two other climbing rangers were killed in 1995 when they fell 1,200 feet during a rescue, also on Emmons Glacier.
While the circumstances of Thursday's accident are still being sorted out, the incident appeared to start like many others.
Conditions were unusually slick and changing quickly on the 14,411-foot peak, said John Race, a mountain guide from Leavenworth, Chelan County. He'd been leading clients up the Emmons Glacier but turned back because he considered the route unsafe.
"I've worked on Rainier since 1989, and it was really primed for big sliding falls," Race said. "The surface was quite firm and icy, so we bailed."
2 fall into crevasse
Around noon, another group of four mountaineers, led by Texas lawyer and experienced climber Stuart Smith — an adventurer who has crossed Greenland on skis and scaled the highest summits on all seven continents — had been descending from a successful summit attempt as part of a single rope team when someone slipped. The whole team skidded down the mountain and two members tumbled into a crevasse at 13,700 feet. One or both of the other two caught the fall.
Two or three other rescuers and Hall, who had been a climbing ranger for four years, worked their way to the group. It's not clear if the injured climbers extracted themselves from the crevasse or if the rangers did, but by midafternoon it was obvious the injured climbers would need assistance getting down.
"The rangers could tell in the field that in addition to bumps, bruises and contusions, that there was the clear possibility of broken bones and minor head injuries," Bacher said. A Chinook was on scene, but the weather was worsening.
"They were dealing with some very challenging conditions," Bacher said. "A storm front was coming in. There were 30- to 40 mile-per-hour winds. The conditions were really icy, and it's a steep part of the mountain."
After the first victim was hauled up, the rangers tried using a line to help stabilize the litter. That's when Hall fell.
Bacher said it's too soon to know what happened — whether Hall was knocked off balance by the wind, the litter or the tagline, whether it was rotor wash from chopper blades, or if he simply lost his balance. He wore crampons and had his ice ax with him, but was unable to self-arrest and stop his fall.
Rangers got to him quickly, but could not revive him. A second chopper was called and the rangers returned their focus to the rescue.
Three of the climbers — Smith, of Waco, Texas, his niece Noelle Smith, and Ross VanDyke — were airlifted off the mountain by 9 p.m. and taken to Madigan Hospital, but deteriorating weather conditions prevented a rescue of the fourth victim.
Rangers spent the night on the mountain with that climber, Stacy Wren, who on Friday descended in near white-out conditions at times before reaching the bottom.
Grim task awaits
Rangers initiated an attempt to retrieve Hall's body Friday, but were pinned down by poor visibility.
Hall had grown up in tiny Patten, Maine, 85 miles north of Bangor, in a place where the biggest mountain is 5,000 feet high, "and I can see it from my window," his father said.
Hall and his older brother, Aaron, grew up outdoors, swimming at a lake near their grandfather's cabin and skiing in winter. They both lived for a time in the Rockies where Nick sometimes took multiday hikes alone near the Delores River. He scaled Colorado's famed 14,000-foot peaks with his dog, mountain biked through Utah with his brother and rafted the Colorado River.
But it wasn't until the two brothers skied together at Crested Butte, Colo., that it dawned on Aaron just how skilled an outdoorsman his brother had become.
"He just sailed down this expert terrain effortlessly, and I realized he and I didn't belong on the same mountain anymore," Aaron said.
Aaron said he was about to go running Sunday when Nick called and the two brothers caught up for about half an hour.
"He was saying things were pretty slow so far this year, that there wasn't much going on," Aaron said. "But he was having fun."
Carter Hall said the family wants to come to Washington and meet his son's friends and get a closer glimpse of the life he led.
"We're just so tearful thinking about what he was doing," Carter Hall said. "We want to do something to promote rescue work."
Associated Press reporter Shannon Dininny in Yakima contributed to this story.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6893 on: Jun 23rd, 2012, 4:18pm »
From UFO disbeliever to believer
9:59 PM, Jun 22, 2012 TIMOTHY J. GONZALEZ | Statesman Journal
I was trained in the sciences in a strictly academic orthodox manner. I hold a bachelor’s of science in zoology with a minor in chemistry and a master’s in biocultural anthropology, both degrees obtained at Oregon State University — as orthodox a science institution there ever was. I then taught physical anthropology at this same university for seven years.
Paranormal phenomena, including UFOs and alien abductions, were anathema to me. I could not fit them into my naturalistic worldview. First, my academic background simply would not allow it psychologically. UFOs were hallucinations, mass hysteria or some other conveniently explainable occurrence. Alien abduction experiences were the result of childhood trauma, possibly physical and sexual abuse. Second, even if I wanted to explore the paranormal, I could not and dare not because of the restrictive intellectual atmosphere of collegiate academia. People lose their jobs for talking “crazy talk”!
But then something happened in late January 2007 that challenged my worldview and my strict scientific interpretation of the natural universe.
My best friend of 30 years saw a UFO. Not a far-off, hazy blinking light or a midnight vision from a half-remembered dream but an actual UFO. He was close enough to see it in some detail: a black triangle with strobe lights that flew low over his house and emitted a deep droning sound that rattled the windows. His wife and young son had witnessed it first flying over downtown south Salem heading toward the Willamette River. She called him on her cell and told him a UFO was moving in his direction. Several people were stopped on the street corner, watching as the strange triangular object floated slowly by low overhead.
My father told me of a UFO sighting he and his grandfather had in what must have been October or November of 1957. They were watching the skies of Eastern Washington for the Sputnik satellite to pass by. But they didn’t see the tiny point of light that went “beep” on the radio. Instead, they saw two bright blue objects flying in formation from one side of the horizon to the other at an impossibly fast speed. They were well acquainted with military aircraft and these objects were like nothing they had seen before. Besides, there was no sonic boom.
Then my daughter saw a UFO in the summer of 2009. We were reading a bedtime story when she interrupted me and told me to look out the window. By the time I put the book down and looked, the object was gone. I quickly got her some pens and a writing pad. I noted the date and time and the direction she indicated the object had been moving. Then I had her draw it. I asked her about size in relation to distance, and she declared that it had been big, much too large to be an aircraft. Besides, her drawing looked nothing like an aircraft. My daughter had never been given to exaggeration or fibs, so I knew she was reporting the truth. Had she imagined it? No, absolutely not.
Now my closest friends, my dad and my daughter had all witnessed UFOs. These were not figments of the imagination. They were physically real objects. How could I not believe them? How would I feel if I had seen a UFO and they didn’t believe me? I would feel betrayed, of course.
Suddenly I had an epiphany. I had crossed over into a new worldview and there was no turning back. This was undeniable believability.
I do not believe in UFOs. I accept their physical existence in natural reality. UFOs are real. We may not know what they are; but whatever they are, they exist in the natural universe. I prefer not to consider them paranormal. They are absolutely normal. The scientific question is, normal what? This question is my passion.
Jordan Hofer of Salem is writing a book for Schiffer Publishing called “Evolutionary Ufology: A New Synthesis.” He is a research specialist in anthropology with the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), the largest such investigative entity in the world. He has also written a novel about UFOs for juvenile readers. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6895 on: Jun 24th, 2012, 09:42am »
Members of Congress trade in companies while making laws that affect those same firms
By Dan Keating, David S. Fallis, Kimberly Kindy and Scott Higham Published: June 23
One-hundred-thirty members of Congress or their families have traded stocks collectively worth hundreds of millions of dollars in companies lobbying on bills that came before their committees, a practice that is permitted under current ethics rules, a Washington Post analysis has found.
The lawmakers bought and sold a total of between $85 million and $218 million in 323 companies registered to lobby on legislation that appeared before them, according to an examination of all 45,000 individual congressional stock transactions contained in computerized financial disclosure data from 2007 to 2010.
Almost one in every eight trades — 5,531 — intersected with legislation. The 130 lawmakers traded stocks or bonds in companies as bills passed through their committees or while Congress was still considering the legislation. The party affiliation of the lawmakers was almost evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, 68 to 62.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) reported buying $25,000 in bonds in a genetic-technology company around the time that he released a hold on legislation the firm supported. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) sold between $50,000 and $100,000 in General Electric stock shortly before a Republican filibuster killed legislation sought by the company. The family of Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) bought between $286,000 and $690,000 in a high-tech company interested in a bill under his committee’s jurisdiction.
The trades were uncovered as part of an ongoing examination by The Post of the intersection between the personal finances of lawmakers and their professional duties. Earlier this year, Congress responded to criticism of potential conflicts of interest by passing the Stock Act, which bars lawmakers, their staffs and top executive branch officials from trading on inside information acquired on Capitol Hill.
But the act failed to address the most elemental difference between Congress and the other branches of government: Congress forbids top administration officials, for instance, from trading stocks in industries they oversee and can influence. The lawmakers, by contrast, can still invest in firms even as they create laws that can affect the bottom line of the companies.
“If you have major responsibility for drafting legislation that directly affects particular companies, then you shouldn’t be trading in their stock,” said Dennis Thompson, a professor of public policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and author of “Ethics in Congress: From Individual to Institutional Corruption.” “Committee chairs especially shouldn’t be in the position of potentially benefiting from trades in companies that stand to gain or lose from actions the committee takes.”
The Post analysis does not provide evidence of insider trading, which requires showing that lawmakers knowingly used confidential information to make trades benefiting themselves. Instead, the review shows that lawmakers routinely make trades that raise questions about potential conflicts and illustrate the weaker standard that Congress applies to itself.
More than a dozen lawmakers contacted by The Post defended the timing of their trades and the legislation before their committees as coincidental and said they did not know that the companies they traded were registered to lobby on bills they were considering. In interviews and through spokesmen, they said brokers made the trades and they had little or no input. Some said their spouses handled their investments. With diverse portfolios, they said, overlap is inevitable.
Richard W. Painter, who was chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, said those explanations do not provide ethical cover.
“Your wife isn’t a blind trust. Your financial adviser isn’t either,” Painter said. “If you truly want to create some distance, you should set up a blind trust. The rules that Congress has set for itself with blind trusts are a lot more liberal than the rules they created for the executive branch. This should be the route they take if they want the public to believe they don’t know what’s going on with their investments.”
Only six members of the Senate have set up blind trusts that have been approved by the ethics committee. The House does not keep a tally of the number of members who set up such trusts.
Under ethics rules, lawmakers may establish a blind trust by shifting all of their assets into an account managed by a financial adviser. The lawmaker may set general parameters for the blind trust investment decisions, but they surrender control and cannot know the details of the decisions.
Georgia State University professor Alan J. Ziobrowski said lawmakers who own stocks in companies lobbying on legislation before them have built-in conflicts.
“You can’t get into their heads to know what is motivating them,” said Ziobrowski, whose research helped prompt the initial push for the Stock Act by showing that members of Congress outperformed the market as a whole — senators by 10 percent and representatives by 6 percent. “Are they thinking about their investment, or about what is best for their constituents?”
The Post analysis is based on a comparison of federal financial disclosure forms from all members of Congress to a wide array of public records, drawing on work by the Center for Responsive Politics and Govtrack.us to convert paper documents to databases. The analysis does not include 2011 data because they have not yet been computerized.
Under Congress’s interpretation of its own conflict rules, lawmakers can take official actions that benefit themselves as long as they are not the sole beneficiaries.
Former representative Brian Baird (D-Wash.), who co-authored the original, unsuccessful version of the Stock Act in 2006, said members of Congress and their staffs do not understand that public trust is eroded when people see lawmakers take actions that have the potential to benefit themselves.
“They don’t get it, but they need to,” Baird said. “Why? Because people who are taking actions for venal and nefarious purposes might make the same argument you’re making about your innocence. That’s why if there is an appearance of an impropriety, there just might be an impropriety. Members need to bend over backwards to show people they are there for the good of the country.”
Hold on bill lifted, bonds bought
In 2007, Sen. Coburn placed a legislative hold on the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, saying he wanted changes to address fears about exposing employers and insurance companies to lawsuits. The bill prohibited employers and health insurers from using genetic information to discriminate.
After negotiating a compromise on April 22, 2008, Coburn released his hold.
On that day and the day after, Coburn’s financial disclosure form shows a total of three bond purchases in Affymetrix, a pioneering genetic technology firm that was one of 33 companies registered to lobby on the legislation.
Affymetrix lobbied on only a handful of bills that session. Coburn is one of five lawmakers who reported buying and selling Affymetrix stocks or bonds since 2004.
In an interview, Coburn said that he and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) both held up the bill. “We actually negotiated some better things into the bill,” Coburn said. “I don’t think it had anything to do with Affymetrix.”
Coburn said his Affymetrix bond purchases, worth $25,000, were made without his knowledge by Pinnacle Investment Advisors in Tulsa. The timing, he said, was coincidental.
John Hart, Coburn’s communications director, said that Affymetrix did not lobby Coburn and that his hold had no bearing on the company’s value. Hart said Coburn has placed hundreds of holds since 2005. “There is no evidence Dr. Coburn had even heard of Affymetrix before his broker made a purchase, and there is no evidence his actions affected the value of the company,” Hart said. “If there was a connection, you could argue it hurt the company — the stock lost half its value. Plus, it would be a stretch to suggest he engaged in procedural gymnastics in order to affect a trade.”
Pinnacle managing partner David Poarch said he didn’t discuss the Affymetrix purchase with the senator. He said Pinnacle bought about $1.7 million worth of convertible bonds in the company on April 22, 2008, for 104 of the firm’s 350 clients. Poarch said the firm sold those bonds for all their clients last year, including for Coburn, who earned a 35 percent profit on his investment.
Poarch said he meets face-to-face with the senator once a year, and they might speak over the phone two or three times during that period to map out investment strategies. The senator rarely directs him to make trades, he said.
“In some of our discussions, he’ll indicate sectors he likes,” Poarch said, noting that the senator rarely directs Pinnacle to make specific trades.
Coburn said he gives Poarch only general advice.
“I’ve never had a conversation with him other than, ‘Here’s what I think is going to happen to the economy, so you guys ought to listen,’ ” he said.
Affymetrix officials did not return calls seeking comment. After the genetic bill became law in May 2008, Affymetrix praised its passage in a news release. “We have actively supported this much-needed legislation for more than seven years and we are pleased to see the U.S. government take steps toward addressing the issues around genetic discrimination,” said Stephen P.A. Fodor, the company’s founder.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6896 on: Jun 24th, 2012, 09:46am »
Turkey blames Syria for jet attack, consults NATO
By Jonathon Burch and Khaled Yacoub Oweis Sun Jun 24, 2012 10:25am EDT
ANKARA/AMMAN (Reuters) - Turkey accused Syria on Sunday of shooting down a military plane in international airspace without warning and called a NATO meeting to discuss a response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Amid growing acrimony between the once-friendly neighbors, Syria said its forces had shot dead "terrorists" infiltrating its territory from Turkey, which along with Western and Arab nations has backed the cause of Syrians fighting Assad.
Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the search for two missing pilots was still under way, in coordination with the Syrian authorities. He denied it was a "joint" operation.
He told state broadcaster TRT the plane had been clearly marked as Turkish and dismissed Syria's assertion it had not identified the aircraft before opening fire.
Davutoglu said he also planned to set out Turkey's case before the United Nations Security Council where Western powers are seeking, in the face of Russian and Chinese opposition, to push through a motion that could allow stronger measures against Assad. Moscow fears this could lead to military action that could undermine its interests in Syria.
What began as demonstrations against Assad developed last year into armed rebellion, tipping the country towards a sectarian civil war, with thousands already killed across Syria.
Davutoglu said the jet was unarmed and had been on a solo mission to test domestic radar systems, but acknowledged it had briefly crossed Syrian airspace 15 minutes before it was attacked. There was no "secret" element to its mission.
"Our plane was shot at a distance of 13 sea miles from Syria's border in international airspace," Davutoglu said.
"According to the radar images, our plane lost contact with headquarters after it was hit and because the pilot lost control, it crashed into Syrian waters after making abnormal movements," he said. "Throughout this entire period no warning was made to our plane."
Some analysts said the aircraft, in violating Syrian airspace at a time of great sensitivity, could in fact have been testing Syria's Russian-made radar and air defenses, which might prove a major factor in any possible Western armed action.
The foreign ministry said Turkey knew the coordinates of the wreckage, 1,300 meters underwater, but had not found it yet.
Syria, formally at war with Israel and the target of Israeli air raids in the past, has said the plane was flying fast and low, just one kilometer off its coast when it was shot down as an unidentified intruder. It was only later found to be Turkish.
Turkey shelters the rebel Free Syria Army (FSA) and hosts 32,000 Syrian refugees on its southeastern border with Syria, some 50 km (30 miles) from where the Turkish aircraft was shot down. But it denies providing arms for the insurgents.
Syria's state news agency SANA said Syrian border forces had confronted "terrorists" who had crossed the Turkish frontier into the coastal province of Latakia and killed several of them on Sunday.
Syria and Turkey share a border 600 km (400 mile) long.
As if to underline its potential military reach, Turkey's military announced on Sunday it had carried out air strikes against nine Kurdish militant targets in northern Iraq on June 22-24. Turkey has carried out frequent air strikes against Kurdish fighters seeking more autonomy in southeast Turkey and has even sent ground forces across the border to attack bases.
Turkey's hostility to Assad has mounted steadily since the Syrian leader ignored its advice to enact democratic reform in response to protests that erupted 16 months ago as part of a wider Arab awakening, rather than violently suppressing them.
Assad's security state, dominated by his minority Alawite sect, is now embroiled in a bloody fight for survival against rebels mostly from Syria's Sunni Muslim majority.
NATO envoys will meet on Tuesday at Turkey's request under Article 4 of the military alliance's founding treaty, which provides for states to "consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the parties is threatened".
It stops short of the explicit mention of possible armed responses cited in Article 5.
Britain's foreign minister, William Hague, condemned Syria's downing of the Turkish jet as an "outrageous act" and said his country was ready to support robust action against Damascus by the United Nations Security Council.
Russia and China have previously blocked any firm measures by the council, twice vetoing draft resolutions on Syria.
Moscow, which said on Sunday it had "no doubt" there were attempts at regime change in Syria, is one of Assad's main arms suppliers and a firm opponent of any outside intervention there. It says Western powers would invite an unpredictable spread of violence if they attempted any intervention in the country.
A ship carrying Russian helicopters to Syria, which turned back after its insurance was cut, was expected to sail back to Syria accompanied by at least one other vessel, Interfax news agency said, citing a military source.
European Union foreign ministers will discuss the Syria crisis, as well as Iran and Egypt, in Luxembourg on Monday.
"The subject of Syria was already on the agenda for Monday's meeting, so they'll have a chance to talk about this before the NATO meeting on Tuesday," a Spanish government source said.
In a telephone conversation with Davutoglu, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, whose government is a firm backer of Assad, said he hoped both sides would "settle the issue peacefully to maintain regional stability".
Iraq described the incident as a serious escalation that demonstrated how Syria's conflict could spread beyond its frontiers and open up ethnic and other tensions in the region.
It remains unclear exactly what the Turkish jet had been doing - a reconnaissance mission to support Syrian rebels or to test Syria's air defenses are among the theories. Syrian anti-aircraft gunners may also have been jumpy after a defecting Syrian pilot flew his fighter to Jordan the previous day.
While the incident has aggravated tensions and exposed the risks of Syria's crisis spilling over its borders, neither Ankara nor Damascus seems likely to seek a military showdown.
"What all this tells us is that there are a lot of 'fishy' tactics and strategies going on in the region, with numerous players behind many curtains," said Hayat Alvi, lecturer in Middle Eastern studies at the U.S. Naval War College.
"Nonetheless, the idea that it would be in Turkey's and Syria's respective national interests to engage in military conflict with each other is not plausible. Both sides would have too much to lose and very little to gain."
(Additional reporting by Peter Apps and David Milliken in London, Marcus George in Dubai, Tracy Rucinski in Madrid, Justyna Pawlak in Brussels, Thomas Grove in Moscow and Marcus George in Dubai; Writing by Alistair Lyon; Editing by Ralph Boulton)
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6897 on: Jun 24th, 2012, 09:57am »
Star Wars superfan rebuilds Luke Skywalker’s crumbling Tatooine home Published June 20, 2012
It was in a galaxy far, far away … otherwise known as Tunisia.
The iconic homestead on Tatooine of future Jedi knight Luke Skywalker -- where his loyal aunt and uncle hid him from the prying eyes of the empire -- was actually filmed by George Lucas and Co. in the deserts of Tunisia. But the spot where Luke dreamed of epic Tie Fighter battles and zipping around the galaxy was crumbling -- until Terry Cooper came along.
"It’s the most iconic scene of all six Star Wars movies,” 42-year-old Welsh superfan Cooper told “Wales Tonight,” a program on TV station iTV. “And knowing that that place does exist, in a real place on Earth, that’s free to go and see … it’s something that we thought it would be a shame if this ended up as just a faceless ditch in the desert one day.”