Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Who Picked Donkeys And Elephants?

In an election year, politicians might seem as sly as foxes or as eager as beavers. But those two animals are not what jump to mind when we think of Republicans or Democrats. Instead, we picture an elephant or a donkey. Those two party mascots dominate campaign posters and political cartoons. But where did the party animals come from? "If we were starting all over again I can't fathom a reason to pick a donkey," said a man in Minneapolis.
"The agricultural term is the jackass," said Dr. Larry Jacobs, a professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota. "The jackass arrived at the Democratic party's doorstep during the very negative campaign of 1828." Andrew Jackson was the Democrats' candidate, and his opponents often described him as "Andrew Jackass" because he was known to be a fairly stubborn man. "Jackson was a pretty earthy guy," said Jacobs. So the stubborn Democrat took the symbol of the donkey and made it his own. The image faded away after the election but was revived in the 1870s by a cartoonist at Harper's Magazine. "He started describing and portraying the Democratic Party as a jackass," said Jacobs. "After that, they couldn't escape it."So, what about the Republican elephant? The same cartoonist drew a sketch of a donkey scaring away an elephant labeled the "Republican Vote." The image stuck and has been associated with Republicans ever since. The Republicans now say their elephant is actually a sign of strength and intelligence. The Democrats say their donkey is courageous and clever, although they have never officially adopted the animal as their symbol. The Independence Party of Minnesota picked its own mascot a couple years ago. They went with a buffalo.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Al-Qaeda Trying To Influence US Election

Pentagon press secretary, Eric Ruff, said that Al-Qaeda was trying to influence the upcoming United States legislative elections by increasing violence in Iraq. According to Agence France-Presse, Ruff told reporters that, "It would seem that if they (Al-Qaeda) can increase the violence, they can increase opposition to the war and have an influence against the president."Describing his comment, he said that he has not seen any intelligence reports regarding the view that Al-Qaeda is trying to influence the elections. But, he asserted it was not surprising that Al Qaeda could use violence to influence U.S. elections like the Madrid bombings on the eve of Spanish elections in March 2004.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Did Israel Use Uranium Bombs?

A British newspaper reported that during this summer's war in Lebanon, Israel used uranium-based munitions, including uranium-tipped bunker-buster bombs. According to the report, scientists found two soil samples thrown up by Israeli heavy or guided bombs which showed "elevated radiation signatures." "The weapon was either some novel small experimental nuclear fission device or other experimental weapon (eg, a thermobaric weapon) based on the high temperature of a uranium oxidation flash ...[or it] was a bunker-busting conventional uranium penetrator weapon employing enriched uranium rather than depleted uranium," Dr. Chris Busby, the British Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, told The Independent.Asked by reporters if the IDF had been using uranium-based munitions in Lebanon this summer, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said: "Israel does not use any weaponry which is not authorized by international law or international conventions." Currently, international law does not cover modern uranium weapons because they had not yet been invented when the Geneva Convention rules were written. Army Radio reported that the IDF was investigating the matter.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Is Fidel Castro Dead?

According to Brazil's leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, he is. But perhaps Lula misspoke. Lula expressed disappointment that Castro had not implemented a "democratic opening" in Cuba. "I am a lover of the Cuban revolution," Lula said in an interview with the Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo. "I only regret that Fidel Castro did not carry out a process of political opening while he was alive," Lula added.Some reporters have dismissed the statement as a slip of the tongue. But not everyone is sure. Since mid-September, Cuban media have not released any pictures or videos of the ailing communist dictator. "I think what he said is that he thinks; he thinks that Fidel is dying," A Miami news outlet quoted author and political analyst Carlos Alberto Montaner as saying. The TV station also cited Dr. Manuel Cereijo, an analyst on Castro and Cuba. Cereijo noted Brazil's close ties with Cuba and suggested Lula may know more than he is telling about Castro's condition. "I think that Fidel is very ill and probably he has undergone a second surgery," Montaner said.

US Hails New Airborne Laser Weapon

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency Friday rolled out its airborne laser aircraft, the latest development in a missile-defense system once ridiculed as a ``Star Wars'' fantasy. In a ceremony at Boeing's Integrated Defense Systems facility in Wichita, the agency announced it's ready to flight test some of the low-power systems on the aircraft. It is a modified Boeing 747 40-0F designed to destroy enemy missiles.The director of the Missile Defense Agency says he embraced early critics' comparison of the laser-equipped plane to the Star Wars movies. He says the agency believes it's building ``the forces of good to beat the forces of evil.'' The laser weapon's system is designed to detect, track and destroy ballistic missiles in their boost flight phase. The system is made up of three lasers mounted on the nose of the aircraft.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Insurgent Killed By His Own Bomb In Afghanistan

A insurgent was torn to pieces by his own bomb when it exploded on a highway patrolled by Afghan and foreign troops in south-eastern Afghanistan, police said. Police believe the man was either a suicide bomber with explosives strapped to his body or had been planting the bomb at the side of the road on the outskirts of Khost city. “We found a torn-into-pieces body at the blast site on an empty road” leading to the Pakistani border, Khost police criminal investigation chief Colonel Mohammad Yaqoub said.We think he was planting a roadside bomb or he himself was a suicide bomber who became the target of his own evil actions.” Separately Taleban rebels attacked the headquarters of Khaiwa district in eastern Nangarhar province, police said. A gun battle lasting several hours left a policeman injured and part of the district headquarters on fire. This year has seen a dramatic increase in suicide bombings, roadside blasts and other attacks on Afghan and foreign troops and government installations that have been blamed on Taleban insurgents. The extremist Taleban regrouped following their ousting by a US-led coalition in late 2001. The violence has claimed around 3,000 lives this year alone, most of them rebels.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Australian Muslim Leader Under Fire Over Remarks On Women

Australia's most senior Islamic cleric has sparked uproar after describing scantily-clad women as "uncovered meat" inviting sexual attack. The government's sex discrimination commissioner called for the cleric, Sheik Taj Aldin al-Hilali, to be sacked and deported while several ministers expressed outrage over the remarks. Al-Hilali made the remarks in a Ramadan sermon to 500 worshippers last month in which he criticised women who "sway suggestively", wear make-up and no hijab or Islamic headscarf, The Australian newspaper reported. "If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it ... whose fault is it, the cats or the uncovered meat," he said."The uncovered meat is the problem. If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred." Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward said Al-Hilali, who has the title Mufti of Australia, had a history of making such comments and should be thrown out of the country. "It is incitement to a crime. Young Muslim men who now rape women can cite this in court, can quote this man ... their leader in court," she told Australian television. "It's time we stopped just saying he should apologise. It is time the Islamic community did more than say they were horrified. "I think it's time he was asked to go and I would encourage the authorities to consider whether a man who incites young Muslim men to crime, because that is essentially what he has done, should be allowed to stay," she said. Goward said she was not aware of the citizenship status of the Egyptian-born cleric who arrived in Australia in 1982 from Lebanon. Al-Hihali told The Australian that he only meant to refer to prostitutes as meat, and not any scantily-clad woman without a hijab, but the paper says there was no mention of the word prostitute in the sermon.Australia last month announced plans to toughen its citizenship policies but denied that new demands requiring immigrants to pledge allegiance to Australian values were aimed at Muslims. Immigrants will have to sit a 45-minute test covering their competency in English and issues such as democracy, the rule of law and the equality of men and women, under the government blueprint. The move comes after repeated complaints by Prime Minister John Howard that some members of Australia's 300,000-strong Muslim community refused to fully integrate into society.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Canada Brands Afghan Party A Terrorist Group

Canada has officially branded the Hezb-i-Islami party headed by former Afghan prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar as a terrorist organization, Public Security Minister Stockwell Day said on Tuesday. The party is allied with Taliban militants. Hekmatyar, who was briefly prime minister in the 1990s, earlier this year pledged allegiance to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and is believed to be hiding in the border region with Pakistan."The government of Canada has determined that this entity knowingly engages in terrorist activity," Day said in a statement. Canada has 2,300 troops in southern Afghanistan battling the Taliban. The listing brings to 40 the number of organizations Canada has labeled as terrorist. The government can now seize Hezb-i-Islamican assets and people found guilty of dealing in its assets or finances can be imprisoned for up to 10 years.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Israeli Leader Brings Hard-Liner To Coalition

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in a bid for political survival, struck an alliance Monday with a hard-liner who has called for stripping Israeli Arabs of citizenship, executing lawmakers for talking to Hamas, and bombing Palestinian population centers. Taking the hawkish Yisrael Beiteinu party into the government would shore up Mr. Olmert's coalition, weakened badly by the war with Hezbollah, but probably ends any chance for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from much of the West Bank. Yisrael Beiteinu's leader, Avigdor Lieberman, announced the deal Monday after meeting with Mr. Olmert. "We are joining the government," said Mr. Lieberman. Mr. Olmert said that as deputy prime minister, Mr. Lieberman would be responsible for "strategic threats," such as Iran's nuclear ambitions. His appointment must be approved by parliament, a step seen as a formality.Mr. Lieberman, 48, entered the political stage a decade ago as a top aide to Benjamin Netanyahu, then prime minister. He gained a reputation as a powerful behind-the-scenes mover widely detested for his strong-arm tactics. Mr. Lieberman's comments about Arabs have made him one of Israel's most divisive figures. At the height of fighting against Palestinians in 2002, Mr. Lieberman, then a Cabinet minister, called for the bombing of Palestinian gas stations, banks and commercial centers. More recently, he advocated trading Israeli Arab towns for West Bank settlements – in effect stripping Israeli Arabs of citizenship – and called for the execution of Israeli Arab lawmakers who met with leaders of Hamas, which is running the Palestinian government. Such positions have drawn accusations of racism. On Monday, Mr. Olmert's spokeswoman, Miri Eisin, dismissed Mr. Lieberman's past stances as rhetoric. Despite misgivings about Mr. Lieberman, the Labor Party, Mr. Olmert's main coalition partner, didn't appear inclined to bolt the government. Labor's central committee is expected to make a decision this week.

Monday, October 23, 2006

VA Patients Warned Of Possible HIV Exposure

It's been an uneasy weekend for some patients of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Minneapolis. A letter postmarked Friday says they may have been exposed to Hepatitis or even HIV. The risk is very small, but patients with questions haven't been able to get them answered. Instead, they had to address their concerns to a recorded message. One patient, who wished to not be identified, said he is angry something like this could have happened. But, even further, he's lost sleep because there hasn't been anyone available to answer his questions.The safety alert involves patients who have had prostate biopsies during the past six years, from Sept. 27, 2000 to Sept. 28, 2006. The letter from the VA Medical Center says a device was not cleaned properly, stating, "Although it was cleaned and disinfected, the needle port on the device was not scrubbed with a brush which is like a pipe cleaner." A spokesperson with the VA Medical Center said there is no evidence of contamination of the equipment with Hepatitis or HIV. The alert was merely issued as a precautionary measure. In April of 2006, a national alert went out warning VA hospitals using this equipment there was a potential problem with the cleaning and sterilization process. The spokesperson could not divulge currently how many patients were potentially exposed. In the letter, patients were given three contact numbers to schedule follow-up appointments and tests. Unfortunately, patients had to leave messages all weekend. The hospital spokesperson said that issue will be addressed by administration Monday.

Muslims Cannot Drink Alcohol. However Drugs Are A-Okay

Using everything from cow dung fumes to Coca-Cola mixed with mosquito coil ash, teenagers in southern Thailand are intent on getting high at any cost. Methamphetamines are also readily available, with "yaaba", as it is known, sold in primary schools for 25 baht a tablet in the south. "The yaaba epidemic is the most serious problem in the southern communities," said Dr Srisompob Jitpiromsri, a political scientist at a southern Thailand university. Dr Srisompob interviewed 150 prisoners jailed for drug crimes, both consumers and traders, to determine how the recent epidemic had developed. "At first, it was just for fun," the prisoners told him. "Muslims cannot drink alcohol, they have to avoid it. But when you use codeine and kratom and mix it with Coke and get 'drunk', this is not a sin."Dr Srisompob said local leaders knew about the drug problem but were unable to stop it. Some claim 25 to 30 per cent of teenagers in the villages of Thailand's three southern provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat are using yaaba. Others put the number even higher. The inexpensive kratom leaf, from a native plant, is fuelling the current epidemic, Dr Srisompob said. Traditionally it was used by rubber tappers to give them energy; children now boil the kratom leaves to mix with Coca-Cola and sometimes codeine. "At first, I thought Coke is a really popular drink here," said Abdulrahman Abdulsamad, headmaster of an Islamic school in Bajo, Narathiwat. Then he realised. Teenagers also used ash from mosquito coils as a mixer. Putting fresh cow dung in a plastic bag and inhaling the fumes was another way to get high, he said. "I talk about it a lot with the students," Mr Abdulrahman said. "Even between classes I preach about it, the students get bored with me." Hama Mayuni, a social worker in Narathiwat, said drug use was rampant, even in primary schools."With the unemployment people started to take drugs," said Mr Hama. "Even in the private Islamic schools." He said premium yaaba sold for 300 baht a tablet but in primary schools low-grade tablets sold for 25 baht. "If you don't have yaaba you use mosquito coils," he said. Mr Hama accused local police of involvement in the drugs trade. "How can you stop it when the police are involved?" he said. "It's better to keep silent. If I talk about it, I will be in danger." In his research, Dr Srisompob looked for connections between drug users and the insurgent activities. He found no direct link, but suggested drug takers aged 15 to 24 were likely to be unemployed, have low self-esteem and dislike Thai officials.

Four People Die After Receiving Flu Vaccinations

Four people have died after receiving flu vaccinations, it was announced Sunday. The Leumi health maintenance organization informed the Health Ministry of three victims among its subscribers, and the Meuhedet HMO announced that one of its subscribers had also died. In response, the Health Ministry has instructed health facilities to immediately stop providing the vaccinations. Army Radio reported that the first three victims were all vaccinated last week at the same branch in Kiryat Gat. The injections were all performed from the same vaccine pool. Three of the victims, ages 75, 70 and 52, had been vaccinated in previous years against the flu, and none showed abnormal reactions.An initial investigation conducted by the Health Ministry discovered that all four had suffered from various illnesses, including diabetes, high blood pressure and heart problems. The first three people died of cardiac arrest - one of them a day after receiving the vaccination, another three days after and the last six days after. The fourth victim, a 67-year-old male from Petah Tikva, died several hours after receiving the immunization. Ashkelon District physicians are investigating the deaths. The Health Ministry has contacted the manufacturer of the vaccine, Aventis Pasteur of France, whose products are sold worldwide, and requested that it perform extensive examinations of its laboratories. It is still unclear whether there is a connection between the vaccinations and the fatalities, or the nature of such a connection if it exists. It is also unclear whether there were complications in the administration of the vaccine, whether related to the method of injection or the vaccine itself.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Pentagon Asked To Remove Reporters Associated With Terrorist Propaganda Promoting CNN

The chair of the House Armed Services Committee asked the Pentagon today to remove C-N-N reporters embedded with U-S combat units. The network televised portions of a video on Wednesday showing insurgent snipers targeting U-S military personnel. Executives said the tape came to the network unexpectedly through contact with an insurgent leader.Representative Duncan Hunter wrote in his letter that, quote, "C-N-N has now served as the publicist for an enemy propaganda film featuring the killing of an American soldier." San Diego-area Republicans Darrell Issa and Brian Bilbray also signed the letter. C-N-N executives defended their decision to air the footage, saying its news value outweighed other concerns.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Young Bugler Honors Veterans

When a high school student found out the military song, Taps, was being played on a boom box at veterans' funerals he decided to do something about it. Ryan Boe was a trumpet player for his Boy Scout troop and brought his music ability to the color guard. Now, he's trying to give veterans the proper send off. Every person who serves in the military is suppose to get final honors when they die, but because of a shortage of volunteers, their final song is often played from a compact disc."I think joining the military and serving your country is an honorable thing to do, and so they deserve an honorable funeral," said Boe. As a bugler himself, Ryan knew he could help out. He joins the Anoka County Vietnam Veterans almost every Saturday -- and days he doesn't have school -- to personally play Taps. After more than two dozen funerals, Ryan still admits he gets a little nervous. "I don't want to, ya know, mess up a note ... playing Taps at their funeral," said Boe. The 17-year-old even got his father, a Vietnam veteran, to join the color guard. "When the family members cry, we know that Ryan has definitely done his job," said Peter Boe, Ryan's Father. Taps was first played in 1862 at the burial of a Civil War soldier.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Captured Taliban Say They Were Sent By Pakistani Mullahs

Handcuffed and weary, three confessed Taliban fighters told this week how they crossed into Afghanistan from Pakistan to carry out a "jihad" against troops after mullahs said it was their duty as Muslims. The young men -- two Pakistanis and an Afghan -- were captured after a fierce five-hour battle in Paktika province, just a few kilometres (miles) from the border. During the battle, 24 of their fellow fighters were killed. The bloodied and broken bodies were later shown to reporters by the Afghan army at a base in Barmal district. The dead were mostly Afghans but included an Arab, Chechens, Pakistanis, Turks and a man from Yemen, an officer said, citing information from the captured three, identity cards and, in one case, a name on a bullet belt. "Mullahs in Pakistan were preaching to us that we are obliged to fight jihad in Afghanistan because there are foreign troops -- there is an Angriz (British) invasion," dishevelled Alahuddin told reporters."A Pakistani Taliban commander, Saifullah, introduced us to a guide who escorted us to Barmal," he said. "Then he left and we joined a group already here and came to the ambush site." It was only Alahuddin's second day in Afghanistan and it went horribly wrong. His group of 32 Taliban lay in wait for an army convoy, launching a clumsy attack mainly with AK-47 machine guns. The Afghan soldiers and their International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) counterparts retaliated. Two columns of support quickly arrived and surrounded the attackers as attack helicopters were called in. After five hours of fighting, 24 Taliban and a soldier were dead. Some of the rebels not killed by the troops blew themselves up with their own grenades, soldiers said. One of the dead had a Pakistani ID document on his chest when he was shown to reporters, while the others had other papers on them that the Afghan army said gave their nationalities. Alahuddin said he was misled into believing that Afghanistan was overrun by foreign "infidels", especially the British forces hated since their 19th century wars in the region. "We were sent to Afghanistan blindly. We call on our other friends in Pakistan and say, 'There is no jihad here, everybody is Muslim,'" he told reporters. A few hours later, the three men were on the floor of a helicopter with their eyes taped shut being taken to Kabul for interrogation. Alahuddin was from Miranshah in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area that is just on the other side of the border with Afghanistan's Paktika. The Pakistan government last month signed a truce with the area's pro-Taliban tribal elders who agreed to stop militants from crossing the border to carry out attacks in support of the Taliban insurgency.In return the Pakistan army -- which says it has 80,000 men along the border to stop infiltration -- cut back its presence. Political analyst Samina Ahmed, from the International Crisis Group, this week called the deal "irresponsible to say the least". For "all practical purposes, now the Taliban are running the show," she told a meeting in Brussels. Another of the captured men, the confused and clearly uneducated Zahidullah, was also from Miranshah. He said that he too was brought into the fight by a mullah who put him in touch with the Taliban. "We came to Afghanistan to carry out jihad against British forces -- as Muslims we are obliged to do jihad against them, this is what we were told," he said. The captured men had no identification documents to prove that they were Pakistanis. However an AFP reporter recognised their dialect as being from the Waziristan area. There are around 40,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, around a half of them Americans. Just over 5,000 are from the British army which also has one of its generals, David Richards, in command of the ISAF force. The US-led coalition that works alongside ISAF and the Afghan security forces said last month it had seen a 300 percent increase in incidents in the area since a North Waziristan truce reached weeks before the September accord. General Murad Ali, the deputy commander of southeastern military corps, was proud of the actions of his men in the counterattack, seen as a sign of the increasing professionalism of the Afghan army. He openly accused the Pakistani military of aiding the Islamists tearing at the fragile young Afghan democracy. "The cooperation of Pakistan with Taliban and Al-Qaeda is visible," Ali said. "They cross into Afghanistan even in areas where Pakistani posts are installed, but they are not prevented. They carry out attacks and then return." Such accusations anger Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf who is under pressure from Afghanistan and its international allies to end extremist support for militants. Musharraf says the root of the problem lies inside Afghanistan.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

President Blocks Enemies From Space

President Bush is posting what amounts to a "no trespassing" sign, of sorts, on outer space. He's signed an order that asserts the U-S right to keep space from being exploited by America's adversaries for hostile purposes. The first space policy revision in nearly ten years also says Washington will oppose treaties or other restrictions that try to limit America's access to space.The policy says "freedom of action in space is as important to the United States as air power and sea power" -- although the White House says it does not call for the development or deployment of weapons in space. The order wasn't publicly announced, but unclassified details are posted on a government Web site.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

U.S. Experiencing Difficulties Negotiating Agreements For Transfer Of Guantanamo Detainees

State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey confirmed that the United States has "difficulties at times" negotiating agreements with other countries for the transfer of terrorist suspects held in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. "There are countries that are often reluctant to step forward," Casey said. Referring to a story in the Washington Post, Casey confirmed one case in which virtually every country in Europe refused to grant asylum to several Guantanamo prisoners from China who were not being sent home because of fears they could face political harassment there. Albania agreed to accept five of those detainees last May after more than 100 other countries rebuffed the U.S. request.The United States does not want to be the world's jailer, Casey said, but does want to be able, when appropriate, "to transfer individuals back to their home countries or to their countries of residence. That is not always an easy process for us, and it is one that requires us to make sure we have appropriate assurances both on their treatment, as well as on their current ability to be monitored or detained, if that is appropriate, in their home country". "... Certainly we would welcome additional cooperation from some of the other countries out there," he added. "It is something that we do continue to work on every day". There are about 435 prisoners from about 40 countries at Guantanamo, according to the U.S. Defense Department, and military tribunals have concluded that about one-quarter of them are not a security risk, or are otherwise eligible for release or transfer. John Bellinger, the chief legal adviser at the State Department, said U.S. officials ultimately expect 60 to 80 prisoners to face trial by military commission under new legislation signed into law by President George W. Bush.

Game Over For Cronulla Monopoly

Lobby groups have allegedly achieved what the Australian Federal Government couldn't, by having a downloadable board game based on the Cronulla riots removed from the internet. "The page you are attempting to access has been removed because it violated Angelfire's Terms of Service," reads an error notice that users are shown when attempting to access the game online. Angelfire is a US web hosting company and is part of the Lycos network. The Cronulla 2230 game was hosted on a free account registered with Angelfire. By signing up to create a free account with Angelfire, users agree not to "upload, post, email, otherwise transmit, or post links to any Content ... that is ... hateful, or racially, sexually, ethnically or otherwise objectionable".Cronulla 2230, which incites players to "Win Back Australia!" and includes slogans such as "We grew here! You flew here", is in violation of this term of service. Anti-racism group FightDemBack! (FDB), which monitors the activities of racists, fascists and other such offenders operating in Australia and New Zealand, has taken responsibility for having the game removed from the internet. "FDB have successfully applied to free web hosting service Angelfire/Lycos to have ... 'Cronulla 2230' ... removed," the group said today in a statement. But one of the group's founding members, Brian Stokes, admitted to smh.com.au in a telephone interview that he wasn't completely certain that it was FDB's complaint, not a complaint from another party, that prompted Angelfire to remove the game. "The website was pulled offline just a few hours after we launched a complaint on it," Stokes said. Yesterday the Federal Government said it was examining ways to ban the game, but the progress it made was questionable because of complicated laws regulating internet content and overlapping jurisdictions of the bodies tasked with stamping out racist content. While the game is now offline, there's no certainty that it's gone for good, as there are numerous other web hosting companies similar to Angelfire, such as Yahoo's Geocities, that enable users to anonymously create websites for free. FDB will continue to monitor the issue, but the group is not worried as "most other [free web hosting] outfits ... have objectionable content limitations" in their terms of service.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Japan Reconsiders Nuclear Weapons

Shoichi Nakagawa, chairman of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party's policy research council, said that an active debate on developing atomic weapons should be initiated following North Korea’s nuclear menace. Nakagawa, in an interview with a Japanese TV channel, said: “I think discussions should be allowed. To ensure Japan will not be attacked, arguments could be made that going nuclear is one option.”
Shoichi Nakagawa
As the only country to experience a nuclear weapons attack, even the mention of nuclear weapons is taboo in Japan. Open discussion of the issue is nearly impossible. Japan also holds the unique distinction of being the only country with the technology capable of producing nuclear weapons that chooses not to. Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emphasized that Japan had absolutely no intention of arming itself with nuclear weapons.

Monday, October 16, 2006

China Erects Fence Along Its Border With North Korea

Ahead of the adoption of a U.N. Security Council resolution against Pyongyang, China increased security along its border with North Korea by building fences in and near Dandong, its largest city on the border. Residents on both sides of the border seemed unable to quell anxiety about the situation, as some North Korean merchants began stockpiling goods. After Pyongyang said last week that it conducted a nuclear test, areas along the border appeared calm. But a drive closer, about 12 miles north of central Dandong, showed new barbed-wire fences. The width of Yalu River, which forms the border between China and North Korea, is less than 33 feet, which means crossing the river is relatively easy.A nearby resident said, "The fences were built a week or so ago, though we don’t know why." Locals said the fences seem to be to prevent North Koreans from illegally crossing the border into China. Beyond the river, North Korean farmers working with tractors in fields could be seen. Before, houses lined the North Korean side of the river. A Chinese source in Dandong said, "About 150 households were forcibly moved from the border area to a remote location." A merchant in Dandong who trades between China and North Korea said even after the U.N. resolution condemning Pyongyang, "It is unlikely that the movement of daily goods and food (for North Korean citizens) will be adversely affected." However, a border-guard official in Dandong told Yazhou Zhoukan (Asiaweek), a Hong Kong news magazine, that it was possible at least 500,000 North Korea refugees could flow into provinces that border North Korea if daily necessities from China are stopped because of closure of the border.

Minnesota Principal Resigns Over Kitten Mercy Killing

A Minnesota school principal has resigned and could face felony firearm charges after he shot and killed two orphaned kittens on school property last month. Wade Pilloud, who resigned as principal of the Indus school, says he shot the kittens to spare them from starving to death after their mother was killed in an animal trap.In an e-mail to the reporters, he says he is not a cat hater. He says he did not want the animals to suffer. Pilloud says the shooting, which occurred on school grounds, endangered no one. Several students on the grounds for after-school activities heard the shots. An attorney for the school district, which is 40 miles west of International Falls, says some parents were concerned about the safety of their children.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Blair Announces Basis For Northern Ireland Accord

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that the parties at Northern Ireland talks here have reached "the basis" for an agreement to be implemented in the coming months. The restoration of power sharing between Protestant and Catholic political parties, which has been suspended for four years, could take place by March 26, Blair said at a press conference with his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern. "I think there is a basis for moving forward. It is very difficult. People have to overcome very, very entrenched positions over a number of years," Blair said. "No one will find it easy or comfortable sitting in the executive with people with whom they'd once been deeply hostile," he said.
Bertie Ahern
"On the basis of the text we will ask the parties to come back to us by the 10th of November," Blair said. "What essentially is happening here is that we are ensuring that before the 24th of November we have a fully worked out agreement, that that is enshrined in legislation," he said. Also by that date, there should be "the nomination of the first minister and deputy first minister in order to give everyone confidence that power sharing is to go ahead," he said. He said there will then be a period until March in which the parties will prepare for government. Ahern said: "I believe we have all the elements that can bring satisfaction to all the issues. If not perfect by everybody's agenda it's a fair and sustainable balance."

Saturday, October 14, 2006

More Christian Discrimination

A Christian woman has been banned by British Airways for wearing a small cross necklace to work - while muslims and sikhs are allowed to wear headscarves and turbans. Heathrow check-in worker Nadia Eweida was sent home after refusing to remove the crucifix which breached BA's dress code. Her treatment by BA - which styles itself as the "world's favourite airline" - brought condemnation both from Christian groups and members of other faiths last night. BA's chief executive Willie Walsh has upheld the action against Miss Eweida for failing to comply with "uniform regulations" despite himself coming under fire recently for failing to wear a tie. Miss Eweida, who has an unblemished record during seven years at BA, is suing her employer for religious discrimination after being suspended from work without pay for two weeks.She said her treatment was all the more extraordinary as she and fellow employees had just undergone "diversity training" - including receiving advice from pressure group Stonewall on how to treat gays and lesbians in the workplace. The airline's uniform code states that staff must not wear visible jewellery or other 'adornments' while on duty without permission from management. It makes exceptions for Muslim and Sikh minorities by allowing them to wear hijabs and turbans. Under rules drawn up by BA's 'diversity team' and 'uniform committee', Sikh employees can even wear the traditional iron bangle - even though this would usually be classed as jewellery - while Muslim workers are also allowed prayer breaks during work time. But Miss Eweida, 55, from Twickenham, insisted her cross, which is smaller than a ten pence piece, was not jewellery but an expression of her deep Christian faith. She questioned why she was being forced to hide her religion when BA's Muslim and Sikh workers could express theirs. Miss Eweida said last night: "I will not hide my belief in the Lord Jesus. British Airways permits Muslims to wear a headscarf, Sikhs to wear a turban and other faiths religious apparel."Only Christians are forbidden to express their faith. I am a loyal and conscientious employee of British Airways, but I stand up for the rights of all citizens." Her case comes at a time of intense debate over the rights of individuals to express their belief - following Jack Straw's call for Muslim women to remove their veils. Earlier this month it emerged BBC governors had agonised over whether newsreader Fiona Bruce should wear a small cross on a chain around her neck while on air in case it might cause offence by suggesting a religious affiliation. Miss Eweida, a Coptic Christian whose father is Egyptian and mother English, was ordered to remove her cross or hide it beneath a company cravat by a duty manager at Heathrow's Terminal 4 last month. She then sought permission from management to wear the chain - but was turned down. When Miss Eweida, who is unmarried, refused to remove the necklace she was offered the choice of suspension with pay or unpaid leave, pending a disciplinary hearing. Following a meeting with her managers on 22 September 2006, Customer Service Manager Caroline Girling told Miss Eweida in a letter: "You have been sent home because you have failed to comply with a reasonable request. "You were asked to cover up or remove your cross and chain which you refused to do. "British Airways uniform standards stipulate that adornments of any kind are not to be worn with the uniform."In a letter to Miss Eweida's MP, Vince Cable, last week, BA chief executive Willie Walsh insisted his employee had not yet been disciplined but said she was off work for failing to comply with "uniform regulations". He added: "We have previously made changes to our uniform policy to accommodate requests, after a detailed evaluation process including Health and Safety assessment to incorporate the wearing of Sikh bangles." But Miss Eweida said: "BA refuses to recognise the wearing of a cross as a manifestation of the Christian faith, but rather defines it as a piece of decorative jewellery. "I would like to say how disappointed I am in this decision and the lack of respect shown by BA towards the Christian faith. "I have been badly treated. I am a loyal and hardworking employee and for seeking similar rights to other employees, I have been treated harshly by British Airways management. "British Airway can be great again, but it needs to treat Chrstians fairly.I am not ashamed of my faith." Miss Eweida is suing BA under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003. Her case is being supported by her union, the TGWU, and she has hired Paul Diamond, a barrister specialising in religious affairs and an adviser for the Keep Sunday Special campaign, to represent her at her employment tribunal. And a petition of support has been signed by more than 200 fellow workers. BA is already at the centre of a criminal investigation into alleged price-fixing - which has led to the resignations of two executives. The airline has come under fire in the past for its adherence to political correctness. A decade ago it attempted to ditch its traditional Union Flag tailfin in favour of an ethnic design - which provoked the anger of Baroness Thatcher. Mr Cable, MP for Twickenham and Liberal Democrat deputy leader said: "It is absolutely mind boggling that Britain's flag-carrying airline could treat its employees in such a disgraceful and petty manner. "Nadia is a devout Christian who was displaying her faith, but in a modest and totally unprovocative manner. "It is absolutely right that other religious minorities be allowed exemption from the dress code, but why can't a Christian be treated in the same way?" Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, international director of the Christian charity the Barnabas Fund, said: "Discrimination against Christians is commonplace in Muslim-majority contexts, such as Egypt where Nadia's family roots are. "Now we see the same thing increasingly happening within the UK. "Her Sikh and Muslim colleagues at BA can show their faith publicly in what they wear, but Nadia and other Christians cannot. All we are asking for is a level playing field for all faiths." Andrea Williams of the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship said: "The forces of political correctness are such that an individual needs to be very determined to protect their rights."

Friday, October 13, 2006

Up To 20 Taliban Dead In Clash With NATO Forces

As many as 20 Taliban insurgents were killed Thursday in a clash with NATO and Afghan troops near Kandahar, an alliance spokesman said. There were no casualties among NATO or Afghan forces. Squadron Leader Jason Chalk said about 60 rebels attacked a joint NATO and Afghan patrol in Panjwaii district, where Canadian forces are deployed. The nationality of the NATO soldiers on the patrol was not disclosed.Chalk said the patrolling soldiers returned fire and called in air strikes on insurgent positions. Last month, Canadian and other NATO forces launched a major two-week operation against the Taliban in the Panjwaii district. The British commander of NATO in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David Richards, later said the operation had been a "major success" with more than 500 rebels killed and 130 captured.

Kiwi Troops Prepare For Afghanistan

Adjusting to a cold Afghan winter will be one of the biggest challenges faced by a group of 108 New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) personnel deploying to Afghanistan. The contingent, led by Group Captain Kevin Short, will relieve the current rotation of NZDF personnel who have been serving with the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team (NZ PRT) in Afghanistan's Bamyan Province for the past six months. They will leave the relative warmth of Ohakea Air Force Base at 10am on Monday 16 October and fly to Afghanistan at the beginning of an icy winter - where temperatures can drop as low as -20 degrees Celsius. "The biggest challenge we will face will be achieving all of our objectives over a harsh winter," Group Captain Short said. "We are more limited than the summer rotations because of the snow and cold. It will be frustrating at times but we will do our best to cope."The deployment would be the ninth rotation of defence force personnel to serve in the NZ PRT. Numbers had been reduced by 14 personnel for the winter rotation because the icy conditions and snow made it too difficult to patrol a number of mountain ranges and passes in Bamyan province, Group Captain Short said. The majority of the 108-strong deployment would stay at Kiwi Base in Bamyan province but 11 would be based in Bagram, to the east, to provide logistical support, he said Commander Joint Forces New Zealand Rear Admiral Jack Steer said the NZ PRT aimed to ensure security in Bamyan province by carrying out regular patrols, liaising with local government and helping to distribute aid and improve infrastructure. The teams had done a "remarkably good job" since New Zealand took control of the Bamyan provincial reconstruction team in September 2003, he said. "The relationship we have fostered with the Afghan people in Bamyan has made our job of ensuring a secure environment and helping the nation get back on its feet much easier. I have confidence that this deployment will continue the good work."

No-Go For Thai Tank Dancing Girls

Thai coup leaders have banned go-go girls from dancing near tanks and troops on Bangkok streets, saying they are a distraction from the serious business of power. The tanks sent in to lead Thailand's first coup in 15 years have turned Bangkok into a carnival-type attraction. But Colonel Acra Tiprote says a coup is not entertaining. "People should differentiate between entertainment and seriousness," he said.He spoke to Reuters after a troupe of 10 women in tight camouflage vests and shorts posed with soldiers and tanks while making a music video. "It is not appropriate to entertain soldiers while they are on duty," he said. Thais and foreign tourists have flocked to the Army Headquarters to take picture with tanks and soldiers. Many gave soldiers flowers or food and drink.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Alaska Villages Give Venezuela's Free Oil Offer The Cold Shoulder

In Alaska's native villages, the punishing winter cold already is coming through the walls of the lightly insulated plywood homes, many of the villagers are desperately poor, and heating-oil prices are among the highest in the nation. And yet a few villages are refusing free heating oil from Venezuela, on the patriotic principle that no foreigner has the right to call their president "the devil." The heating oil is being offered by the petroleum company controlled by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, President Bush's nemesis. While scores of Alaska's Eskimo and Indian villages say they have no choice but to accept, others would rather suffer. "As a citizen of this country, you can have your own opinion of our president and our country. But I don't want a foreigner coming in here and bashing us," said Justine Gunderson, administrator for the tribal council in the Aleut village of Nelson Lagoon. "Even though we're in economically dire straits, it was the right choice to make."Nelson Lagoon residents pay more than $5 a gallon for oil — or at least $300 a month per household — to heat their homes along the wind-swept coast of the Bering Sea, where temperatures can dip to minus-15. About one-quarter of the 70 villagers are looking for work, in part because Alaska's salmon fishing industry has been hit hard by competition from fish farms. The donation to Alaska's native villages has focused attention on the rampant poverty and high fuel prices in a state that is otherwise awash in oil — and oil profits. In 2005, 86 percent of the Alaska's general fund, or $2.8 billion, came from oil from the North Slope. The Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, a native nonprofit organization that would have handled the heating oil donation on behalf of 291 households in Nelson Lagoon, Atka, St. Paul and St. George, rejected the offer because of the insults Chavez has hurled at Bush. Chavez called Bush "the devil" in a speech to the United Nations last month. He has also called the president a terrorist and denounced the war in Iraq. Dimitri Philemonof, president and chief executive of the association, said accepting the aid would be "compromising ourselves." "I think we have some duty to our country, and I think it's loyalty," he said.Over the past two years, Citgo, the Venezuelan government's former Tulsa-based — and now Texas-based — oil subsidiary, has given millions of gallons of discounted heating oil to the poor in several states and cities — including New York, Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maine — in what is widely seen as an effort by Chavez to embarrass and irritate the U.S. government and make himself look good. In Boston, a city council member wants a landmark Citgo sign near Fenway Park taken down and replaced with an American flag. In Florida, a lawmaker asked the state to cancel Citgo's exclusive contract to sell fuel at turnpike service stations. About 150 native villages in Alaska have accepted money for heating oil from Citgo. The oil company does not operate in Alaska, so instead of sending oil, it is donating about $5.3 million to native nonprofit organizations to buy 100 gallons this winter for each of more than 12,000 households. "When you have a dire need and it is a matter of survival for your people, it doesn't matter where, what country, the gift or donation comes from," said Virginia Commack, an elder in the arctic village of Ambler, an impoverished Eskimo community of 280 where residents are paying $7.25 a gallon for fuel.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Quake Raises Fears of 2nd North Korea Test

A strong earthquake in northern Japan on Wednesday may have led the Tokyo government to suspect that North Korea had conducted a second nuclear test. In Washington, White House spokesman Blair Jones said U.S. officials had not detected any evidence of additional North Korea testing. "Japanese officials are now saying that this occurrence may be related to an earthquake in northern Japan," Jones said. The earthquake came at a time when the Japanese government and other countries in Asia were jittery about reports that North Korea planned a second nuclear test. "We have very real concerns that they may conduct another nuclear test and that they may do so very soon," Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told reporters on Wednesday, a day after he met with North Korean Ambassador Chon Jae-hong to condemn the atomic program. The scare began when Japanese media reported the government had detected tremors in North Korea, leading it to suspect Pyongyang had conducted a second nuclear test.Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's spokesman confirmed the government was checking whether the North had tested another nuclear device. Around the same time, the Japanese meteorological agency said a strong earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.0 shook northern Japan Wednesday morning. The quake, which struck at 8:58 a.m., was centered off the coast of Fukushima, 149 miles northeast of Tokyo. The agency said that the tremor was a genuine quake and had nothing to do North Korean nuclear testing. Then Abe said he had no information to confirm North Korea had conducted a second nuclear test. "I have had not received information about any indications ... that a test has take place," Abe said at a parliamentary budget meeting. U.S. and South Korean monitors said they detected no new seismic activity Wednesday in North Korea. The U.S. Geological Survey said it had detected an earthquake in Japan but not in North Korea."There has been no activity in the last two hours," official Rafael Abreu told AP just after 9 a.m. in Korea. The agency can detect most tremors if they are above magnitude-3.5, he said. The head of South Korean seismic monitoring station said no activity has been detected in North Korea that could indicate a possible second North Korea nuclear test. "There's no signal from North Korea, even no small event," Chi Heon-cheol, director of the South's Korea Earthquake Research Center, told The Associated Press.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

North Korean Nuclear Test Pushes Japan Down Military Path

North Korea's announcement yesterday that it has tested a nuclear bomb is set to push Japan to expand its own military and stir debate on what was once the ultimate taboo of developing atomic weapons itself. The test comes with Japan in the midst of expanding its defence posture, 60 years after it was defeated in World War II and forced by the United States to renounce the right to a military. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office just two weeks ago, is a sworn hawk on North Korea who has long supported a larger role for Japan's military alongside its ally the United States. "We need to make a stern response and North Korea will be responsible for all the consequences," Abe said as he visited Seoul "Japan for its part will immediately start studying a response with stern measures."Analysts expect North Korea's test to boost the hand of Abe, who wants to rewrite the pacifist 1947 constitution and allow Japanese troops to engage in overseas operations alongside allies. Washington currently protects Japan by treaty as the country was stripped of its right to maintain an armed forces after defeat in World War II. But after North Korea in 1998 fired a missile over Japan's main island, Japan and the United States started working in earnest on a missile shield. Abe said that Japan would step up cooperation with the United States, including on missile defence, "to maintain the safety of the Japanese country and people." The United States stationed its first surface-to-air Patriot missiles in Japan after North Korea in July test-fired seven missiles in Japan's direction. Despite its pacifism and US guarantees to protect Japan, the country now has around 240,000 troops on active duty and an annual military budget of 4.81 trillion yen (41.6 billion dollars).

France Not Sure North Korean Blast 'A Reality'

Another country is weighing in on reports that North Korea has tested a nuclear bomb. A top French official says she's not sure "whether it was a reality or not."The French defense minister says some kind of blast with an explosive force of about half a kiloton -- or about 500 tons of TNT -- went off. But France's atomic energy commission hasn't confirmed whether it was caused by a nuclear device.

Scientists Question North Korea Nuke Test

North Korea sets off an earthshaking explosion _ and claims it was nuclear. Was it? For scientists, that was not a quick and easy question to answer. Like earthquakes, large explosions send out shockwaves that can be detected on seismographs. Big nuclear bombs make big waves, with clear signatures that make them fairly easy to detect, analyze and confirm that they were caused by splitting atoms. But smaller blasts _ as North Korea's appears to have been _ are trickier to break down. The natural sound of the Earth, with its constant seismic activity of tectonic plates grinding together, complicates the task of trying to determine whether a smaller blast was caused by conventional explosives or a nuclear device, said Xavier Clement of France's Atomic Energy Commission. He likened the problem to trying to "detect the violins or a flute in a symphony orchestra when you are playing the cymbals."His agency estimated the North Korean blast at around 1 kiloton or less _ equivalent to the explosive force of 1,000 tons of TNT. For a nuclear device, that would be so weak that the French defense minister suggested that "there could have been a failure" with the North Korean reported test. Clement said it could take days before scientists can declare with certainty whether the explosion was nuclear. And when blasts are very weak, "we could be in a situation where we cannot tell the difference between the two," he said. The United States, Russia, China, Japan and South Korea are among the countries with equipment strong enough and close enough to monitor a North Korean test, said Russian nuclear physicist Vladimir Orlov of the Moscow-based PIR Center, a nonproliferation think-tank. "It takes days, dozens of lab hours, to evaluate results. Now we can have only a rough estimate," he said. The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, or CTBTO, has about 200 stations worldwide designed for monitoring nuclear tests as part of what it hopes will become the world's most reliable source for such tests. But until the treaty comes into force, the data are not made public, only released to governments and vetted partners.Seismic data comes in almost immediately, and is usually passed to governments within an hour or so. Their scientists must decide what the numbers and graphs mean. With the North Korean blast, there were wide variations. While the French atomic agency estimated around 1 kiloton and South Korea's geological institute half of that, Russia's defense minister expressed "no doubt" that North Korea detonated a nuclear test and said the force of the underground blast was equivalent to 5,000 to 15,000 tons of TNT. "People have different way of cross cutting the data and interpreting them," said Lassina Zerbo, director of the International Data Center at the CTBTO, which is based in Vienna, Austria. The test ban treaty, which bans all nuclear explosions, will not enter into force until it has been ratified by 44 states who possess either nuclear power or research reactors. So far 34 have ratified it. Holdouts include the United States, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. The CTBTO's stations are more extensive than those used by most countries. They monitor seismic events but also underwater data, radioactive particles in the air and radiowaves."Within 72 hours we will have full data. Then all this will be available to member states," said Zerbo. While the North Korean explosion was small, potentially complicating monitoring efforts, sensors in South Korea were likely close enough to categorize it as nuclear, if that is what is was, said Friedrich Steinhaeusler, professor of physics at Salzburg University. A nuclear blast also gives off a clear signature _ a clear graph of peaks and curves _ that differentiates it from other kinds of shocks, he added. "We'll have the confirmation soon," he said.

Monday, October 09, 2006

North Korea Claims To Have Carried Out Nuclear Test

North Korea's official news agency says the country has successfully carried out an underground nuclear test. It says there has been no leak or danger, but has as yet given no details about the location or size of the test. The United States Geological Survey says it has detected no seismic activity on the Korean peninsula in the past 48 hours.However, South Korea says it detected an explosion in the north. The region has been on high alert since North Korea said last week it would conduct a nuclear test. Earlier, South Korean news agency Yonhap says the South Korean president called an emergency meeting to discuss the issue. A foreign ministry spokesman told the news agency there had been a grave change in the situation involving the North's nuclear activity.Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has just arrived in Seoul for a meeting with Mr Roh, following talks on the crisis with his Chinese counterparts in Beijing. At the Beijing summit, Japanese and Chinese leaders said that such a test would be considered "unacceptable".