Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Woman Must Remove 'Messages From God'

A San Mateo woman who has covered her Cottage Grove Avenue home's roof and property with painted slogans she calls messages from God has been ordered to remove the signs or face possible fines or jail time.The San Mateo City Council unanimously ruled last week that Estrella Benavides' garbled writings alleging vast government conspiracies violate city codes regulating the size of signs. Benavides, 47, who also broadcasts the messages from a loudspeaker on the roof of her car, has said the messages come to her from God through a statue at her church and from the Bible.She claims the city's ruling violates her free speech rights. "They're telling me based on the San Mateo sign code that I'm violating the law," Benavides said. "I'm telling them based on the U.S. Constitution that their sign code violates the law."The council ruling orders Benavides to remove the signs or face fines of $50 a day starting late next month. If she refuses to take down the signs or pay, the city will have no choice but to sue her or file criminal charges, City Attorney Shawn Mason said.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Gulf States To Aid Attack On Iran

Three Arab states would be willing to allow the Israeli air force to enter their airspace in order to reach Iran in case of an attack on its nuclear facilities, a Kuwaiti newspaper reported. According to the report, a diplomat from one of the gulf states visiting Washington said Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates have told the United States that they would not object to Israel using their airspace, despite their fear of an Iranian response.The Kuwaiti newspaper also reported that NATO leaders are urging Turkey to open its airspace for an attack on Iran as well and to also open its airports and borders in case of a ground attack. A British newspaper reported that Israel is negotiating with the US over permission for an “air corridor” over Iraq, should an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities become necessary.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Jesus... Tales from the Crypt

Brace yourself. James Cameron, the man who brought you 'The Titanic' is back with another blockbuster. This time, the ship he's sinking is Christianity. In a new documentary, Producer Cameron and his director, Simcha Jacobovici, make the starting claim that Jesus wasn't resurrected --the cornerstone of Christian faith-- and that his burial cave was discovered near Jerusalem. And, get this, Jesus sired a son with Mary Magdelene. No, it's not a re-make of "The Da Vinci Codes'. It's supposed to be true. Let's go back 27 years, when Israeli construction workers were gouging out the foundations for a new building in the industrial park in the Talpiyot, a Jerusalem suburb. of Jerusalem. The earth gave way, revealing a 2,000 year old cave with 10 stone caskets. Archologists were summoned, and the stone caskets carted away for examination. It took 20 years for experts to decipher the names on the ten tombs. They were: Jesua, son of Joseph, Mary, Mary, Mathew, Jofa and Judah, son of Jesua. Israel's prominent archeologist Professor Amos Kloner didn't associate the crypt with the New Testament Jesus. His father, after all, was a humble carpenter who couldn't afford a luxury crypt for his family. And all were common Jewish names.There was also this little inconvenience that a few miles away, in the old city of Jerusalem, Christians for centuries had been worshipping the empty tomb of Christ at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Christ's resurrection, after all, is the main foundation of the faith, proof that a boy born to a carpenter's wife in a manger is the Son of God. But film-makers Cameron and Jacobovici claim to have amassed evidence through DNA tests, archeological evidence and Biblical studies, that the 10 coffins belong to Jesus and his family. Ever the showman, (Why does this remind me of the impresario in another movie,"King Kong", whose hubris blinds him to the dangers of an angry and very large ape?) Cameron is holding a New York press conference on Monday at which he will reveal three coffins, supposedly those of Jesus of Nazareth, his mother Mary and Mary Magdalene. News about the film, which will be shown soon on Discovery Channel, Britain's Channel 4, Canada's Vision, and Israel's Channel 8, has been a hot blog topic in the Middle East (check out a personal favorite: Israelity Bites) Here in the Holy Land, Biblical Archeology is a dangerous profession. This 90-minute documentary is bound to outrage Christians and stir up a titanic debate between believers and skeptics. Stay tuned.

Cheney Enjoys Warm Welcome In Australia

Vice President Dick Cheney, in a series of statements during a visit to Asia, defended the Iraq war, attacked administration critics at home and warned that the U.S. would confront potential adversaries abroad. His visit was meant to thank Australia and Japan for their support in Iraq. But answering growing criticism in the U.S. and Australia, he defended the Iraq war as a "remarkable achievement" in one speech, and dismissed suggestions his influence in Washington is waning. At a news conference Cheney warned that "all options" are on the table if Iran continues to defy U.N.-led efforts to end Tehran's nuclear ambitions, leaving the door open to military action. Cheney enjoyed a generally warm welcome, including lunch at Australian Prime Minister John Howard's harborside mansion and a cruise past the Sydney Opera House. On Saturday, he held talks with Howard — who defended his friendly relations with the White House. Cheney left Australia this morning. In Japan, Cheney asserted that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's opposition to President Bush's troop buildup in Iraq would "validate the al-Qaida strategy."Pelosi complained to the White House that Cheney was impugning the patriotism of critics of the war. Cheney refused to back down: "I said it and I meant it," he told reporters. "I didn't question her patriotism; I questioned her judgment." He took a similarly uncompromising stand on Iran, criticizing its defiance of a U.N. deadline for freezing its uranium-enrichment programs. While the White House seeks a peaceful resolution to the problem, he said, he did not rule out military action. Cheney was more diplomatic, but no less direct, on Friday when he discussed North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons and China's rapid modernization of its 2.3 million-strong military forces. Noting that China — an emerging economic power — had hit a defunct weather satellite with a missile last month, Cheney said some of the country's actions were at odds with its pledge to develop peacefully. In the same speech, though, he praised China for its help in persuading North Korea to seal its main nuclear reactor in exchange for oil. But Cheney added that North Korea had "much to prove," namely that it would honor the deal.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Psychics Hired To Find Bin Laden

Psychics were recruited by the Ministry of Defence to locate Osama Bin Laden's secret lair. Newly declassified documents revealed that the MoD conducted an experiment to see if volunteers could 'see' objects hidden inside an envelope. It is claimed the ministry hoped positive results would allow it to use psychics to 'remotely view' Bin Laden's base and also to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. However, after running up a bill of £18,000 of taxpayers' money, defence chiefs concluded there was 'little value' in using psychic powers in the defence of the nation and the research was taken no further. The study, conducted in 2002, involved blindfolding test subjects and asking them to 'see' the contents of sealed brown envelopes containing pictures of objects and public figures. The MoD tried to recruit 12 'known' psychics who advertised their abilities on the Internet, but when they all refused they were forced to use 'novice' volunteers.The report, released under the Freedom of Information Act, shows 28 per cent of those tested managed to guess the contents of the envelopes, which included pictures of a knife, Mother Teresa and an 'Asian individual'. But most subjects, who were holed up in a secret location for the study, were hopelessly off the mark. One even fell asleep while he tried to focus on the envelope's content. A former MoD employee who received a copy of the report said the timing of the study must have been related to military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nick Pope, who ran the MoD UFO research programme and worked at the ministry for 21 years, said: "It can only be speculation, but you don't employ that kind of time and effort to find money down the back of the sofa. "You go to this trouble for high-value assets. We must be talking about Bin Laden and weapons of mass destruction." The MoD last night defended its decision to fund the secret tests despite the questionable use of taxpayers' money. And Mr Pope said: "I don't think this was a waste of public money. Many people will say so, but I think it is marvellous that the Government is prepared to think outside the box. "And this is as outside the box as it gets."

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Former ACLU President Arrested for Child Pornography

A youth sports coach in Arlington County who is also a past president of Virginia's American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) chapter was arrested and charged with receiving and possessing child pornography. Charles Rust-Tierney, 51, of Arlington, made an initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Alexandria and was detained pending a preliminary hearing Wednesday.It was unclear whether he had an attorney. A call to his home went unanswered. A federal agent said in a sworn affidavit Friday that Rust-Tierney has subscribed to various child-pornography Web sites the past several years. The affidavit states that Rust-Tierney also admitted to an agent Friday that he has downloaded videos and photos, which were found in a search of his home, from child porn sites. Arlington police are continuing their investigation and seeking information from the public on the case.

Britain To Boost Afghanistan Force

More British troops are to be sent to Afghanistan, Defence Secretary Des Browne tonight confirmed. The Government had been expected to announce on Monday that up to 1,000 extra troops would be deployed. But Mr Browne said he felt "obliged to clarify the situation" early after widespread media speculation. The decision comes just days after Tony Blair announced 1600 troops are to be withdrawn from Iraq. Mr Browne said the decision had been taken after efforts to persuade other Nato countries to help bolster the force in the volatile Helmand province failed. "We are acutely aware that our Armed Forces, particularly the Army, continue to operate at a high operational tempo, but we believe this additional commitment is manageable," he said in a statement released by the Ministry of Defence.Mr Browne disclosed that the matter had been discussed in Cabinet yesterday, and the "final details" of the force levels were now being drawn up by the MoD. "The UK has always agreed that Nato needs more forces in these regions, where the Taliban challenge is most serious - in particular, for a greater manoeuvre capability," he said. "Nato must respond to this request, or we will put at risk everything we have achieved across Afghanistan in the last five years: the stability which has brought five million refugees home, the advances in democracy, the economy, human rights and women’s rights." Nato commanders have been complaining for months that they do not have enough troops to inflict a decisive defeat on the Taliban - who are widely thought to be preparing a spring offensive. One senior officer privately described it as a “Cinderella” operation, compared with Iraq. The alliance currently has some 35,000 troops in the country, including 5,600 British troops, mainly deployed in Helmand. However, there has been deep frustration within the alliance that the brunt of the fighting has been borne by troops from just a few countries - notably Britain, the United States and Canada.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Joe Liebeman + GOP???

The next issue of Time magazine, due on Friday, features several takes on the Iraq war and domestic politics. "Independent" Sen. Joe Lieberman receives a mini-profile titled "What Joe Wants," a key question since he is "the Senate's one-man tipping point." Republicans, the magazine says, are "courting him" and Lieberman "has been indulging in some fairly immodest political footsie." Lieberman calls jumping to the Republican side, and tilting the Senate, "a remote possibility," which means there's at least a chance of that. Time seems to push Lieberman in this direction, as the article concludes: "Lieberman's GOP flirtation has its risks--and a time limit....The longer he waits to capitalize on his moment, the greater the danger that he'll be tagged as one of those politicians for whom having power is more important than using it."Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin claims that his side still "counts on him as a friend" even though it is "a little painful and awkward." Last month, after Lieberman told Democratic chief Sen. Harry Reid that he had "stopped attending the weekly Democratic lunch because he didn't feel comfortable discussing Iraq there, Reid offered to hold those discussions at another time," Time's Massimo Calabresi reveals. "Lieberman has started attending again." But Lieberman also keeps in touch with Bush aide Stephen Hadley "every week or two." In the magazine's "10 Questions" slot, Sen. Chuck Hagel calls new Iraq commander David Petraeus "a first-rate general, but he's not a miracle worker." Asked if the war would have gone better if Kerry had been elected in 2004, Hagel says: "Well, I don't think you can go back and undo those kinds of things." Asked if he is going to run for president, Hagel answers: "I'll let you know." He says Sen. John McCain is still a friend, but calls his recent stand on Iraq resolutions in Congress "duplicitous." He notes that having people with a military background is important, and the only one with that in the Bush administration was Colin Powell, "the one person they listened to least."

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Britain To Pull Out Of Iraq Due To Prince Harry's Deployment

Prince Harry's regiment will learn on Thursday whether it is to be sent to Iraq in the latest round of troop deployments. Defence Secretary Des Browne will brief MPs on Thursday on which military units will be sent to Iraq in April as part of a long-planned rotation of troops, said the Ministry of Defence. A spokesman refused to reveal which units were involved, or to indicate whether Harry's regiment, the Blues and Royals, will be among those deployed. But speculation is rife that the Prince, who is third in line to the throne, will become the first royal to serve a tour of duty in a war-zone since his uncle, the Duke of York, flew helicopters in the Falklands conflict in 1982. Mr Browne's announcement will come in a written statement to the House of Commons, said the MoD.It follows the announcement by Prime Minister Tony Blair that Britain's commitment in Iraq is to be reduced from 7,100 to 5,500 within the next few months as security responsibilities are handed over to homegrown forces. Unconfirmed reports earlier this month suggested that the Prince's unit, 'A' Squadron of the Blues and Royals, had been warned unofficially to expect a six-month tour of duty in southern Iraq starting in April. They are expected to be deployed as part of a Household Cavalry detachment as 1 Mechanised Brigade replaces 19 Light Brigade, which is returning home after a six-month tour of duty. It is not yet known what duties the Prince - known in the Army as Cornet Wales - will perform if he is sent to Iraq. But Prince Harry has insisted he wants to be treated the same as any ordinary soldier, rather than being kept away from harm in a headquarters job.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Charges Dropped Against Farmer

Charges have been dismissed against a retired Isanti County farmer who chased after a gasoline thief with a shotgun. The charges against Kenneth Englund earlier were reduced from felony assault to two misdemeanors.
Kenneth Englund
Isanti County Attorney Jeffrey Edblad says his office no longer believes that the case could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, so the charges were dismissed. Englund's attorney, Brian Toder, had argued that Englund was within his rights in going after the thief in an effort to help law enforcement.

Monday, February 19, 2007

'Cold Cash' Jefferson May Get Homeland Security Seat

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who stripped Rep. William Jefferson of his seat on a powerful tax committee last year, has decided to put him on the Homeland Security panel, infuriating some Republicans who charge he may be a security risk. Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat, was kicked off the Ways and Means Committee amid a federal bribery probe, yet still won re-election to a ninth term. Pelosi is giving him a seat on the panel after Jefferson was outspoken in his criticism of the homeland security agencies that responded to Hurricane Katrina. His appointment must still be formally approved by the rest of the House Democrats. The decision immediately came under fire from the top Republican on the committee, Rep. Peter King. It sends a terrible message," King, R-N.Y., said Friday. "They couldn't trust him to write tax policy, so why should he be given access to our nation's top secrets or making policy for national defense?" "Members of the committee have access to intelligence secrets, plots here in the country, overseas, and people under suspicion. This shows how unimportant the Democrats think homeland security is," King said.Jefferson's chief of staff, Eugene Green, called King's criticism "ridiculous and just politics." "Representing New Orleans as he does, we're very concerned as to what happened in the wake of Hurricane Katrina," said Green. "It's just natural for the congressman to serve his constituents on a committee of this nature." Jefferson, 59, is the subject of a federal investigation into whether he accepted bribes related to a telecommunications deal in Africa. The FBI's evidence against him includes $90,000 found in his freezer fodder for late-night talk show jokes but not funny to Pelosi, who had promised to run the most ethical Congress in history. Pelosi stripped Jefferson of his seat on the Ways and Means Committee over objections from some members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Meanwhile, the FBI's raid of Jefferson's congressional office ran afoul of lawmakers; Pelosi and then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert succeeded in having the seized material sealed, where it remains pending the outcome of Jefferson's legal challenge.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

US F-22 Stealth Fighters Arrive In Japan For First Overseas Deployment

The US military's newest and most expensive stealth fighter is on its first overseas mission. The first two of a dozen F-22 fighter jets arrived today at the US Air Base on the Japanese island of Okinawa, flying in from Langley Air Force Base, Virginia. The rest are due to arrive tomorrow.The military says the $350 million-a-copy jets are being sent to Japan to underscore US flexibility in meeting "ongoing commitments and security obligations throughout the Pacific." The three-to-four-month deployment is designed to show off the fighter's strengths amid a growing security challenge posed by China and North Korea. Lieutenant General Bruce Wright, the top US commander in Japan, calls the F-22 Raptor a "very formidable asset."

Jim Ramstad, Traitorous Turncoat

Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn. (NOT), sided with Democrats Wednesday in support of a resolution against President Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq. "The original mission of U.S. troops in Iraq was to liberate the country and turn it over to the Iraqi people," Ramstad said in a House speech. "We need to get back to that original mission."Ramstad, a moderate who often crosses party lines, said that the resolution Congress passed in 2002 authorizing force against Iraq "was never intended to provide justification for sending 21,500 more American troops into the middle of a civil war." The House is debating a nonbinding resolution expressing disapproval of Bush's plan to send the additional troops to Iraq. The resolution is expected to pass the House this week.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Chavez To Nationalize Food Distribution

During an event held Wednesday to grant pensions on new beneficiaries of the Venezuelan Welfare Institute (IVSS), President Hugo Chávez threatened to nationalize wholesalers and major food vendors. "Down there in the barrio, you should denounce any grocery store which sells meat above the set price. Then, we will take control of it. We will give it to the community council in order to manage it, because I am certain that it will not steal its own community.""The bigger you are, the more you have to take care of Chávez. If there is need to take over and nationalize you, just wait for some hours until the law is enacted and released in the Official Gazette. I will keep a watchful eye then. Give me the first excuse to nationalize the first warehouse, the first large outlet and make it available for the people," Chávez boasted. The Venezuelan Government enforced Tuesday a hike in prices for poultry, beef and milk, in addition to increasing control of the whole meat marketing and income tax exemption for some staples.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Top Iraq Al Qaeda Leader Injured Near Baghdad

The leader of al Qaeda in Iraq was wounded and an aide was killed in a clash with Iraqi forces north of Baghdad, the Interior Ministry spokesman said. The clash occurred near Balad, a major U.S. base about 50 miles north of the capital, Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf said. Khalaf said al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri was wounded and his aide, identified as Abu Abdullah al-Majemaai, was killed.
Abu Ayyub Al-Masri
Khalaf declined to say how Iraqi forces knew al-Masri had been injured, and there was no report on the incident from U.S. authorities. Deputy Interior Minister Maj. Gen. Hussein Ali Kamal said he had no information about such a clash or that al-Masri had been involved. Al-Masri took over the leadership of al Qaeda in Iraq after its charismatic leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was killed in a U.S. airstrike last June in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad.

I Don't Like To Be Around Gay People

Former Miami Heat superstar Tim Hardaway told a local sports radio show that he "hates gay people," and he's gotten a lot of peoples' attention especially in South Florida. "Disgusting. Having grown up in northern florida, dealing with racism there and desegregating of schools up there, it's unfortunate you still hear things like that on the radio," one man told reportres outside of a Coral Gables carwash that uses Hardaway's name as a draw. The manager of the carwash was away and unavailable for comment. Hardaway made the comments while he was being interviewed by Dan Le Batard on 790 the Ticket Wednesday afternoon.The five time All Star was asked how he would deal with a gay teammate. "First of all I wouldn't want him on my team," said Hardaway. "Second of all, if he was on my team I would really distance myself from him because I don't think that's right and I don't think he should be in the locker room when we're in the locker room." Le Batard took Hardaway to task, pointing out that his comments were 'flatly homophobic' and bigoted, but that only seemed to stir up the former point guard. "Well, you know, I hate gay people," Hardaway said in response to Le Batard. "I let it be known I don't like gay people. I don't like to be around gay people. I'm homophobic. It shouldn't be in the world, in the United States, I don't like it."

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Death Certificates On Abortions Proposed

Legislation introduced in Tennessee would require death certificates for aborted fetuses, which likely would create public records identifying women who have abortions. Rep. Stacey Campfield, a Republican, said his bill would provide a way to track how many abortions are performed. He predicted it would pass in the Republican-controlled Senate but would have a hard time making it through the Democratic House. "All these people who say they are pro-life _ at least we would see how many lives are being ended out there by abortions," said Campfield. The number of abortions reported to the state Office of Vital Records is already publicly available. The office collects records _ but not death certificates _ on abortions and the deaths of fetuses after 22 weeks gestation or weighing about 1 pound. The identities of the women who have abortions are not included in those records, but death certificates include identifying information such as Social Security numbers.
Rep. Stacey Campfield
Campfield's bill, introduced Monday, would give abortion providers 10 days following an "induced termination of a pregnancy" to file a death certificate. House Judiciary Chairman Rob Briley, a Democrat, called Campfield's proposal "the most preposterous bill I've seen" in an eight-year legislative career. "It is totally inconsistent with everything the law contemplates as it relates to anything close to that subject," he said. The anti-abortion group Tennessee Right to Life has not yet taken a position on the death certificate bill, said spokeswoman Myra Simons. But she said the organization applauds the sponsors' efforts to "draw attention to the way abortion is handled in Tennessee." Keri Adams, vice president of Planned Parenthood in Tennessee, on Wednesday called the proposal an attempt to terrorize frightened and vulnerable women who are seeking abortion. "We certainly hope the Tennessee Legislature doesn't invest too much energy in this bill," she said. "We think it's clearly a violation of privacy, and potentially illegal concerning HIPAA regulations."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

US Citizen Charged With Undergoing Terrorist Training

A US citizen was charged with receiving training from a terrorist organization for his alleged involvement with Islamic fighters in Somalia, the US Justice Department said. Daniel Joseph Maldonado, also known as Daniel Aljughaifi, 28, was arrested in Kenya while fleeing Ethiopian and Somali forces that had ousted Islamists who had ruled most of Somalia for six months. 'This case represents the first criminal prosecution of an American suspected of joining forces with Islamic extremist fighters in Somalia,' Kenneth L Wainstein, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's National Security Division said in a statement.'The prosecution of Mr Maldonado demonstrates the scope of our laws and serves as a warning to others who would travel overseas to wage violent jihad.' Madonado allegedly travelled to Somalia to participate in a holy war with the Union of Islamic Courts and al-Qaeda, according to the criminal complaint. He is also charged with conspiring to use an explosive device outside the United States, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Receiving training from a terrorist organization carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Nashville Mayor Vetos English Language

Mayor Bill Purcell vetoed a measure that would have made English the official language of Nashville, saying it was unconstitutional, unnecessary and mean-spirited. "This ordinance does not reflect who we are in Nashville," Purcell said. The measure passed 23-14 last week by the Metro Council required all government documents to be in English, except when multilingual communications are required by federal rules or are needed "to protect or promote public health, safety or welfare." Opponents and supporters of the ordinance agreed it was largely a symbolic slap at illegal immigration that had no significant effect.
Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell
Purcell said his legal staff had advised him the bill violated the U.S. and state constitutions and would be costly to defend. "If this ordinance becomes law, Nashville will become a less safe, less friendly and less successful city," Purcell said. "And as mayor, I cannot allow that to happen." His veto seems likely to stand. It would take 27 council votes to override it. Councilman Eric Crafton, who sponsored the measure, said it would offer an incentive for immigrants to learn English. Opponents including the Chamber of Commerce worried it would hurt the image of Nashville, which bills itself as "Music City USA." Phone calls to Crafton's home went unanswered. Several smaller communities have passed similar laws or resolutions, including Pahrump, Nev.; Taneytown, Md.; and the Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch, Texas. Nashville, a city of more than 600,000, is home to the nation's largest Kurdish community and has been a resettlement site for refugees from Africa and Southeast Asia. The Hispanic immigrant population also has boomed.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Obama's Dirty Little Secret

We couldn't find any credible polls on whether Americans are likely to elect a president who smokes. But Sen. Barack Obama isn't taking any chances. According to the Chicago Tribune, Obama is working to kick the habit. Some of us around the editorial department didn't know the senator smoked. In a sense, it makes him more human. But it's a chink in the armor of his boy-next-door image. It also makes us wonder how many other public officials are privately puffing.After all, smokers are no longer seen as cool or sophisticated, the way Franklin Roosevelt might have been viewed when he toted around his cigarette holder. These days, those gripped by addiction are seen as weak, a damaging attribute for a candidate. We figure Obama has a pretty good shot at quitting, since his every move is being captured by the media. Sneaking a puff in a parking garage or car won't be an option when photographers are lurking around every corner. We wish him the best of luck. As any former smoker will attest, it's tough to quit. There's never an easy time to do it - let alone when you're starting a marathon campaign aimed at the White House.

Al-Qaeda Plot To Attack France

French intelligence has produced a dossier alleging that al-Qaeda plans an attack on the country during forthcoming presidential elections. The Arabic-language al-Hayat daily newspaper has reported there were "several indications of a plot to copy the Spanish scenario in France", a reference to the explosions that rocked Madrid in March 2004. The London-based daily quoted mainly "messages posted on internet sites close to al-Qaeda carrying threats against France, accompanied by pictures from the campaigns for the presidential elections", which are slated for April and May. The newspaper said the eight-page intelligence report took three months to prepare and included contributions from different French intelligence services which identified "four sources of threat". One came from "Iraqi networks", including returnee volunteers from European countries who had fought with the Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda. "The north African networks linked to Algeria's Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat" (GSPC) are another source of threat, the report said.Al-Hayat also published a letter attributed to al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden addressed to a GSPC leader referred to as Abu Qassem, in which he recommends targeting France "to hit where it hurts most". Although France was not mentioned by name in the letter, the Saudi-born terror chief - who has a $US25 million ($32 million) US bounty on his head - made clear references to it. "This infidel country has colonised Muslim countries for a long time. Today it uses all its power to support the infidel group which rules Algeria with an iron fist," bin Laden said in the letter published by the daily. "It is a religious duty to fight [this enemy] even in the heart of its land, especially that it chases the mujahedeen [holy warriors] within its country and in neighbouring ones ... and that it is a firm US ally," the letter said. Paris has come under fire from Islamic radicals over its 2004 ban on religious insignia including the Muslim headscarf in state schools, as well as over its support for the Algerian Government. In January, the GSPC urged Algerians to attack French nationals. Formed in 1998 by dissidents of the Islamic Armed Group, the GSPC is the sole remaining radical movement that continues to wage an insurgency against the secular Algerian state. Last September the group officially placed itself under al-Qaeda orders.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Philippine Military Aims To Finish Off Abu Sayyaf Rebels

The Philippine military said it has set a new, open-ended deadline to finish off remaining Abu Sayyaf militants in the southern island province of Sulu "in the very immediate future." Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Hermogenes Esperon Jr. imposed the new deadline six months after the military's intensified hunt for Abu Sayyaf group started in August under the codename "Oplan Ultimatum" with more than 8,000 soldiers operating in the island province. "We have imposed another deadline, a self-imposed deadline to our operations in Sulu. We are adding some more special forces there to add to the current punch that we have there," Esperon told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo, the headquarters of the Philippine military."Within the year, in the very immediate future, that's what we're aiming for," he said. Last month, the military reported having killed Abu Sayyaf chieftain Khadaffy Janjalani and his deputy Abu Sulaiman, and seven other sub-commanders in a series of encounters in Sulu and the neighboring province of Tawi-Tawi. The military is hunting for in Sulu two Indonesian Jemaah Islamiyah militants, Dulmatin and Omar Patek who allegedly masterminded the 2002 bombings in Bali, Indonesia, as well as a few remaining Abu Sayyaf leaders include Radullan Sahiron alias Kumander Putol and Isnilon Hapilon, who are on the "wanted" list issued by the Philippine and U.S. governments.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Texas Lawmaker Proposing Texas-Run Prison In Mexico

With so many non-violent Mexican citizens clogging an increasingly jammed Texas prison system, a state lawmaker thinks it may be time for Texas to set up its own prison in Mexico. After all, he figures, the inmates would be closer to home and they're going to be deported anyway when their sentences are complete, so the move would save taxpayers money. "The plusses are that it's a heck of a lot less expensive to build and staff prisons down there," Sen. Craig Estes said. "They would be Texas quality and they'd roughly cost about half." A hidden side benefit? "I would hope some people might look at it as economic development in some areas of Mexico that desperately need it," he said. State officials fear a looming crowding crunch in Texas prisons, already one of the nation's largest. Estes, a Wichita Falls Republican, said contracting with private prison companies to build and run prisons in Mexico might be the answer. But Mexican inmates in Texas prisons probably shouldn't start packing. The chairman of the key legislative committee insists Estes' bill is going nowhere, and a Mexican lawmaker said his countrymen will want to know: What's in it for us?As of Dec. 31, 8,058 Mexican nationals were among the 152,671 convicts in 110 Texas prisons. Among the states, only California, where about 10 percent of the 172,000 prisoners are Mexican citizens, has a larger total inmate population. Texas prison administrators want nearly $400 million from the Legislature this year to build two new prisons for about 4,000 inmates. About 11,000 new inmates are expected in the next four years. Of the 8,000 Mexican citizens held in Texas, about 4,000 are considered nonviolent and would be prime for transfer to Mexico, Estes said. "This is more humane," he said. "They would be closer to their families. It would be a prison system where Spanish is predominantly spoken. There probably would be a mix of guards: U.S. citizens and quite a few Mexican nationals." Texas prison officials won't comment on pending legislation, but the chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee put the idea on death row. "Hell no!" Sen. John Whitmire said. "It's pretty generally accepted it's unconstitutional and unworkable. It's interesting to talk about it, but Mexico prisons are dysfunctional."
Sen. Craig Estes
Whitmire suggested instead that Texas could offer parole to some nonviolent Mexican inmates, return them home and insist they stay there as a condition of parole. "We're going to release them sooner or later anyway," he said. "But I don't get a lot of support. It makes too much sense." Ronaldo Del Carmen, a corrections expert at Sam Houston State University, called Estes' proposal "a novel idea" but doubted its legality. The transfer of inmates just between states requires court hearings. The transfer between countries raises entirely different legal hurdles, Del Carmen said. "You have some serious due process problems," he said. "I think it can be done through a treaty, but I doubt very much if it can be done by legislation, to contract with a private contractor in Mexico. I doubt even Congress could do it." In Mexico, Rep. Antonio Valladolid, a member of the Mexican Congress' Border and Migrant Committee, said Estes would have a tough sell. "Somebody would have a difficult time trying to explain to Mexico what the benefits would be to participate in such a scheme," he said. Estes submitted a similar bill late in the Legislature's session two years ago. "It didn't go anywhere," he said. A decade ago, Florida-based Correctional Services Corp. won support of state officials to build a prison in Mexico for up to 1,600 of Arizona's Mexican prisoners. The concept, to cut prison labor costs and take advantage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, never developed, although it has resurfaced occasionally in the Arizona Legislature. "It always proved to be ineffective," Katie Decker, spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Corrections, said. "I don't think we'll ever know unless we take the first step," Estes replied. "It's like any idea around here. You run it up the flagpole and see if it flies. Other than the legal question, I don't see a downside into looking into it."

Friday, February 09, 2007

U.S., Israel Sign Security Agreement

The United States and Israel have signed an agreement calling for collaboration on security. Israeli Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter signed the memorandum during a visit to Washington, the Jerusalem Post reported. He and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff met Wednesday evening.Chertoff and Dichter agreed to set up a Homeland Security Steering Committee to meet once a year and make sure that common goals are carried out. The memorandum cited areas of common interest including joint efforts to make air travel and shipment more secure, and partnerships in emergency planning and in research on explosives detection.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Iran Test-Fires Russian Air Defence Missiles

Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards have successfully test-fired a new Russian-made air defence missile system, whose delivery last month sparked bitter US criticism. The test-firing of the surface-to-air missiles, on the first of two days of war games by the Guards' air force and naval divisions, comes amid mounting tensions with the West over the Iranian nuclear programme. Iranian state television showed several missiles from the TOR-M1 system being fired in the desert from mobile vehicle launchers and then successfully taking out their targets in the sky. "We have successfully test-fired the new modern TOR-M1 defence system, within the framework of the Revolutionary Guards defence doctrine based on a military strategy of deterrence," Revolutionary Guards air force commander Hossein Salami was quoted as telling the ISNA news agency. "The Iranian armed forces have added the new missile system to its defences to consolidate its defence capabilities," he said. Russia only completed the delivery of the missiles in January. Tehran and Moscow in 2005 signed a contract for the purchase of 29 TOR-M1 missile systems estimated to be worth 700 million dollars. The United States had urged Russia to cancel the sale, saying it was a mistake when the UN Security Council had imposed sanctions against Iran's ballistic missile industry as part of measures against its nuclear drive. "We don't think that it's an appropriate signal to be sending ... particularly when they are under UN sanctions for trying to develop a nuclear weapon, and when they continue to be in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions," deputy State Department spokesman Tom Casey said in January. Russia has significant economic interests in Iran and succeeded in watering down the December Security Council resolution against Tehran, limiting it to targetted sanctions against the Iranian nuclear and ballistics industries. Salami said that the "agile and very accurate" TOR-M1 system has a 12 kilometre (7.2 mile) range that could be increased to 20 kilometres (12 miles). "The TOR-M1 is capable of confronting small aircraft, aircraft with high manoeuvre and speed abilities and cruise missiles, and in less than a second it is ready to spot and be launched again," he said. "This system can hit targets accurately and is able to immune itself against diversions carried out by radars and be successful in electronic war." Iran's leaders have repeatedly said the country's armed forces are ready for any eventuality in the current standoff with the West over its nuclear programme. Although the United States has said it wants the standoff solved through diplomacy, Washington has never ruled out military action to thwart Iran's atomic drive. The United States accuses Iran of seeking a nuclear weapon, a charge vehemently denied by Tehran which insists its atomic programme is peaceful in nature.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Terrorists Tunneling Towards Israeli Civilians

Arab terrorists in Gaza are digging tunnels towards Jewish communities in southern Israel, according to General Security Service (Shabak) chief Yuval Diskin. Diskin says that the terrorist organizations have dug a network of tunnels from Gaza towards Israeli territory. The purpose of the tunnels is to detonate large charges under Israeli civilian and military targets. Israel's security arms believe a number of tunnels, in various states of completion, already exist. Diskin says that underneath what he termed the "relative quiet" on the Gaza front in recent months, the terrorists have been digging tunnels. Unlike those they dug in the past, which ran mostly towards Egyptian territory and were meant to smuggle weapons and personnel in from the Sinai area, these tunnels are being dug towards Israeli territory.It was a similar tunnel that Hamas and its allies used to enter an army camp near the Kerem Shalom border crossing between Gaza, Israel and Egypt last June, when they abducted Corporal Gilad Shalit and killed two other soldiers. A resident of one of the kibbutzim near Gaza recently reported that the inhabitants have been hearing the sound of hammer blows underground, although it was not clear from where precisely they were coming. The residents, he says, are convinced that they are hearing the sound of an Arab terrorist tunnel being dug underneath their feet. The civilians in the area are concerned that terrorists might detonate explosives underneath one of the Jewish communities or infiltrate through the tunnel and carry out an attack against a civilian community.

Germany Grants Lebanese Authorities $500,000 Worth Of Equipment To Increase Border Security

Germany gave Lebanese authorities $500,000 worth of equipment to help increase security along the country's borders, a German Embassy press release and airport officials said. Germany's Ambassador to Lebanon Marius Haas handed over the equipment, which included document scanners to identify fabricated and false documents and related equipment at a ceremony held at Beirut airport. The German Embassy statement said the donation is part of joint efforts to improve management and security along Lebanon's borders.Under a U.N. resolution that ended this summer's 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas, Germany helps in monitoring at Lebanon's airport and seaports to prevent weapons shipments to Hezbollah. It has sent customs and police officers to advise Lebanese airport authorities on how to tighten checks on traffic, as well as X-ray equipment to reinforce control. Germany is also in charge of the multinational naval force patrolling Lebanon's coastline to prevent arms shipments from reaching Hezbollah guerrillas.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Muslim Lifeguards Go On Patrol In Australia

Just over a year ago, Cronulla Beach in Sydney was the scene of ugly race riots in which young white men, many of them surfers, attacked anyone who looked vaguely Middle Eastern The violence was reportedly sparked by an attack on two surf lifesavers - symbols of white Anglo-Saxon culture - by a group of Lebanese youths Many predicted heightened racial tensions at Sydney's beaches. Instead, Cronulla has become the scene of reconciliation, with 17 young men and women training there to become Australia's first Muslim lifeguards. Last weekend they received the bronze medallions that qualify them to patrol beaches and rescue swimmers from the surf Among them were a number of women wearing a newly designed head-to-toe swimsuit, dubbed the burqini.The two-piece outfit - featuring leggings, a loose top and a head covering - enables them to carry out their tasks while conforming to the Islamic dress code Mecca Laa Laa, 20, one of the newly graduated lifeguards, said it would give Australian Muslim women the freedom to enjoy the beach while fulfilling their religious obligations. "The point is to get women active in the water, to encourage them to participate in sporting activities ... and wearing the burqini allows them to do that," she said Ms Laa Laa and other members of the group - of Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian and Libyan backgrounds - have been training the past four months, learning about the undertows and rip currents that claim lives every year The lifeguards were trained as part of a programme called On The Same Wave, introduced by Surf Life Saving Australia after the Cronulla riots. The organisation worked with female trainees to design the uniform. But the burqini has been embraced by Muslim women generally. About 9,000 women in Sydney have bought the swimsuits, which are endorsed by the Australian Islamic Council.

Monday, February 05, 2007

February 11, Islamic Republic's Nuclear Rights 'Will Be Established'

"Giant achievements" by Iran will be unveiled by its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in the coming days, the Iranian Fars news agency reported. The Iranian news agency said an upcoming dramatic announcement on Iran's nuclear "rights" would be made on February 11. The report was accompanied by a series of announcements heralding alleged Iranian technological and medical breakthroughs, including an "AIDS cure." Ahmadinejad's "administration is going to publicize the country's remarkable progresses and achievements within the coming days," the Fars news agency said. "The Iranian president also reiterated that February 11 is the day when the Iranian nation's inalienable right to access and use nuclear technology will be established," the agency added. "The Iranian nation will celebrate stabilization and establishment of its nuclear rights during the Ten-Day Dawn, " Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying. The "ten-day dawn" in early February marks the date of the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979."When a nation decides to stand on its own feet to climb up the peaks, God helps it and that nation will embrace victory," Ahmadinejad said. The Iranian government's boasts of "great achievements" included an announcement on Saturday that Iranian scientists have "introduced an AIDS cure". "After seven long years of arduous work, Iranian scientists here on Saturday introduced a herbal medicine which cures Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)," Fars reported. "The drug named 'IMOD' is completely effective and safe with no proven side effects," Iran's Minister of Health Kamran Bagheri Lankarani claimed during a ceremony. "The world should know today that the capable Iranian nation, relying on its own youths and scientists, has now conquered the peaks of knowledge and science," Ahmadinejad declared during his speech.

British Columbia On Alert For Huge Earthquake

Seismologists warned that a "catastrophic" earthquake could strike the southwestern coast of British Columbia soon. The experts noted rumblings from deep beneath the Pacific Ocean, along Vancouver Island, which could foretell a giant quake. But they said the probability of a quake was still low. "Everyone drives their car every day, and the probability of getting in a car accident is small" although it rises during rush hour, Garry Rogers, a seismologist at the Pacific Geoscience Centre on Vancouver Island. "Well, Vancouver Island is now driving in rush hour," he said.The activity, known to scientists as episodic tremor and slip, emanates from the crush of the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate beneath the North American Plate, which is Canada's shoreline. The Juan de Fuca plate runs from Vancouver Island on Canada's West Coast south to Northern California in the United States.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Iran Diplomat Goes Silent

"I do not do interviews anymore" was the cryptic response from Iran's veteran U.N. Ambassador Javad Zarif. Zarif, a U.S. educated diplomat, was responding to reporters' requests for an elaboration on the latest developments related to Iran's atomic "research" program, as well as White House allegations about Tehran's increasing influence inside neighboring Iraq. The Iranian's response on the interview request was even more curious, since he has generally been accessible to the media. Zarif, Iran's most experienced diplomat in dealing with the United States, had been the "unofficial" point man in indirect contacts with the Bush administration as well as with several congressmen and senators on Capitol Hill. To many inside the United States, Zarif has been the face of Tehran. A moderate by Iranian standards, he has often privately admitted to being "confused" by the policies of current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "Many in the government just really don't know him," he often confessed. Zarif also admitted that he saw his long government service likely coming to an end sometime in 2007.
Ambassador Javad Zarif
"I have been in New York for more than 5 years. I am overdue to be rotated. If it happens, I can always go home and teach at a university," he sheepishly explained. Once a point man at the center of Iranian foreign policy, Zarif has been relegated to explaining the policies of others since the government under Ahmadinejad took office. During his tenure, several unusual incidents occurred at Iran's U.N. mission that raised eyesbrows at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Last year, a mysterious fire engulfed the ambassador's 5th Ave residence (one the home of the Shah of Iran) causing Zarif to find shelter in a suburban Westchester County hotel for several months. In 2005, the New York Police Department raised complaints about two Iranian diplomats supposedly photographing several subway stations. Neither incident was ever fully explained. Another sign was Zarif's declining status inside the U.N. diplomatic corps took place just last Wednesday. The Iranian was expected at a New York reception for visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Zarif was inexplicably delayed. By the time he arrived, the foreign minister had left. Embarrassed, Zarif darted in and out of the Russian mission. Just who might replace the Iranian ambassador is another unanswered question. The U.S. mission to the United Nations had no comment.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Meth Users Turning To Urine To Get High

When Wright County deputies opened up a smelly rented storage locker last June, they had no idea what they would find. Inside a man had stored 50 gallon jugs of urine. "The officers that responded looked at it and said, 'yeah, that's odd,'" said Wright County Narcotics Sgt. Becky Howell. The deputies gave the go-ahead to the owners to throw out the urine. When they did, they got sick. A week and half later, that report hit Howell's desk. "I said, 'Oh my gosh, this is a meth lab, this is a urine extraction lab,'" Howell said. It's a new way to get meth. Some people drink the meth-tainted urine outright to get high. Others filter the drug back out through the cooking process. "I'm not 100 percent sure what this guy was doing," said Howell. "Five years ago, I probably would have been surprised at that. But now, knowing and understanding methamphetamine and an addict's addiction to it, it doesn't surprise me." It did surprise Jeremy Rezac. He's a recovering meth addict who used to cook up to $20,000 worth of the drug a day. Back then, he said it was easy to buy pseudoephedrine or ephedrine in the form of pills. "A couple hundred bucks, send junkies, out to get your pills for you. A couple of hours later you were ready to rock and roll," he said.But all of that changed in the summer of 2005 when lawmakers passed one of the toughest meth laws in the country. It added 10 new BCA agents, dealt out new penalties for child endangerment and placed limits on the amount of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine one person can buy in a month. It also put those pills behind the pharmacy counter and made everyone sign a log. The state said that brought homegrown meth labs down by 70 percent. "You can't find that product no more. You can't find it on the streets no more. The government did what they needed to do," said Rezac. "It takes a lot of time and money and I think the average meth user, meth cook, they don't want the hassle anymore." Howell said there's still a group that does deal with the hassle and has quickly found a way around the law. She's seen addicts travel in packs to different drug stores because they know the pharmacies do not communicate with each other. Of the big retail chains, only Walgreens and Target keep an internal database to track pseudoephedrine pills purchases within their own stores. None of chains share with their competitors. "They know they can still go shopping for pills and go to the various stores and obtain their packages. They can sign the ledger, prove their ID and then they can move to the next store," Howell said.
She said her deputies don't have the time or resources to cross-check all of the logs to match the addict with their purchase. State Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, wants that loophole to change. "The meth law that was passed in 2005 was tremendous," she said, "but now that drug scene has morphed. It's changing. Meth is morphing and changing. We need to adapt and be quick on our feet also." She's considering legislation that would track pseudoephedrine and prescription drug purchases across different stores. Pharmacies would enter a patient's personal information and their purchase into a central database. Only officers with a search warrant would have access to that information. Rosen would also like more money for treatment programs. "I feel we are sitting back on our heels a little bit," Rosen said. "We are saying OK, we did our job, our job has been done. We passed that great bill and now we're good." Rosen plans on working closely with the state's new meth coordinator. In December Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed Chuck Noerenberg to this newly-created position. His job is to figure out where the state stands on meth and where Minnesota has to go. "We have the foundation in place but we still have a very serious problem in Minnesota," he said, pointing out that 80 percent of meth in the state is imported from Mexico. His initial priorities will focus on a new child-endangerment protocol and assessing what types of treatment work best. "Meth treatment is longer and more complex than other chemical dependency treatment and that's something we need to have a better understanding before we sink a lot of money into it," Noerenberg said. While the state has made great progress in combating homegrown meth, no one in government, law enforcement or even on the streets expects the drug to go away soon. "We still have a ways to go," said Howell.

Friday, February 02, 2007

U.S. F-22 Stealth Fighters To Join Drill With South Korea

The U.S. stealth fighter F-22A Raptor will be temporarily deployed in Japan this month and engage in joint drills with the South Korean Air Force. Twelve Raptors are to be sent to Kadena Air Base in Japan starting on Feb. 10, in what will be the first overseas deployment of the fighter jets, Yonhap quoted military sources in Washington as saying.About 260 personnel, including about 20 pilots, will be deployed with the F-22 Raptors to Japan, Yonhap said. A squadron of U.S. radar-evading F-117A Nighthawk jets and 300 U.S. Air Force members, arrived last month at South Korea's Gunsan Air Base, 270 km south of Seoul, for a four-month stay. The U.S. Air Force said the deployment was part of a routine training.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

You Can't Kill Women, Quebec Tells Immigrants

Immigrants who want to live in the small Canadian town of Herouxville, Quebec, must not stone women to death in public, burn them alive or throw acid on them, according to an extraordinary set of rules released by the local council. The declaration, published on the town's website, has deepened tensions in the predominantly French-speaking province over how tolerant Quebecers should be toward the customs and traditions of immigrants. "We wish to inform these new arrivals that the way of life which they abandoned when they left their countries of origin cannot be recreated here," said the declaration, which makes clear women are allowed to drive, vote, dance, write cheques, dress how they want, work and own property.
Salam Elmenyawi
"Therefore we consider it completely outside these norms to ... kill women by stoning them in public, burning them alive, burning them with acid, circumcising them etc." Herouxville, which has 1300 inhabitants, is about 160km northeast of Montreal. Andre Drouin, the councilor who devised the declaration, told reporters the town was not racist. "We invite people from all nationalities, all languages, all sexual orientations, whatever, to come live with us, but we want them to know ahead of time how we live," he said. The declaration is part of a wider debate over "reasonable accommodation", or how far Quebecers should be prepared to change their customs so as not to offend immigrants. The Herouxville regulations say girls and boys can exercise together and people should only be allowed to cover their faces at Halloween. Salam Elmenyawi, president of the Muslim Council of Montreal, said the declaration had "set the clock back for decades" as far as race relations were concerned."I was shocked and insulted to see these kinds of stereotypes and ignorance about Islam and our religion ... in a public document written by people in authority who discriminate openly," he said.