Thursday, April 30, 2009

Biden warns Israel off any attack on Iran

By Paul Richter
April 08, 2009


Biden said in a CNN interview that he does not believe newly installed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would take such a step. Even so, his comment underscored a gap between the conservative new Israeli government and the Obama White House on a series of questions, including the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and Iran.

While the Obama administration has made a series of recent overtures to Tehran, the Israelis have grown more confrontational out of concern that the Islamic Republic's increasing nuclear know-how could one day become an existential threat.

Netanyahu signaled several times during his election campaign that he would not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran. "I promise that if I am elected, Iran will not acquire nuclear arms," he said in one appearance, "and this implies everything necessary to carry this out."

With his brief comment Tuesday, Biden became the highest-ranking administration official to caution the Jewish state against a military strike. In the interview, Biden was asked whether he was concerned that Netanyahu might strike Iranian nuclear facilities.

"I don't believe Prime Minister Netanyahu would do that. I think he would be ill advised to do that," Biden said.

"And so my level of concern is no different than it was a year ago."

But many U.S. officials believe Israel is serious. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of U.S. forces in the Middle East, told senators this month that the Israeli government may be "so threatened by the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon that it would take preemptive military action to derail or delay it."

Other U.S. officials have made it clear in the past that they would prefer that Israel not carry out a strike against Iran. Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, cautioned last summer against military action.

"This is a very unstable part of the world," he said then. "And I don't need it to be more unstable."

Among other concerns, U.S. Defense Department officials worry that Iran might retaliate by striking at U.S. troops in neighboring Iraq.

Differences between U.S. and Israeli officials also are emerging on key issues involving the Palestinians. Netanyahu has not embraced Washington's goal of an independent Palestinian state, and some of his key supporters favor expanded Jewish settlements in the West Bank, an idea criticized by President Obama.


Iran remains most active state sponsor of terrorism

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Iran, which continues to plan and finance terrorist attacks in the Middle East and beyond, remains the "most active state sponsor of terrorism" in the world, the US government charged Thursday.
Iran was lumped with Syria, Sudan and Cuba as terrorism sponsors in the State Department report for 2008, the same countries that appeared in previous annual reports.
North Korea was dropped from the blacklist in October 2008 after it struck a verbal deal with the United States aimed at verifying its nuclear disarmament, even though a formal agreement was never sealed.
The latest report said "Iran remained the most active state sponsor of terrorism," while also calling it the "most significant" sponsor.
"Iran's involvement in the planning and financial support of terrorist attacks throughout the Middle East, Europe, and Central Asia had a direct impact on international efforts to promote peace, threatened economic stability in the Gulf, and undermined the growth of democracy," it said.
It singled out the Qods Force, an elite branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), as the Islamic republic's main means to cultivate and support terrorists overseas.
The Qods Force gave "weapons, training and funding" to Hamas and other Palestinian anti-Israeli groups, Lebanon's Shiite Muslim fundamentalist Hezbollah as well as Iraq-based militants and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, the report said.
It also said the Qods Force trained the Taliban "on small unit tactics, small arms, explosives, and indirect fire weapons."
Iran broke its own pledges to help stabilize Iraq by giving "weapons, training, funding, and guidance" to Iraqi militant groups that attack US-led coalition and Iraqi forces as well as Iraqi civilians, the US said.
The report also took to task Syria, an Iranian ally which it said also supported Hezbollah as well as Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups. Some of the leaders of those groups are based in Damascus.
"Throughout the year, Syria continued to strengthen ties with fellow state sponsor of terrorism, Iran," the report said.
It said "Syria has not been directly implicated in an act of terrorism since 1986," but it pointed out that the United Nations was still investigating a suspected Syrian role in the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
The State Department sounded more upbeat on Sudan.
Sudan generally believed it was in its interest to cooperate with US efforts to thwart attacks against the United States, but yet allowed groups like Hamas to operate on its territory, the report said.
It also said that "Al-Qaeda-inspired elements" were also in Sudan.
The US said communist Cuba, which has been under a US embargo for decades, continued to be "provide safe haven to several terrorists" such as members of the Basque separatist group ETA and the Colombian rebel group FARC.
But it added that some members of these groups stayed in Cuba last year after having arrived "in connection with peace negotiations with the governments of Spain and Colombia."

VP - Stay away from confined places!!

Border Shutdown?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Obama Faces Long Odds on Iran Diplomacy

The president is trying to reach out to Iran, but it's hard to figure out what the regime really wants

By Thomas Omestad
Posted April 29, 2009

The Obama administration appears determined to reach out to Iran in hopes of finding a deal that will ensure the Islamic republic does not turn its growing nuclear know-how into a crisis-provoking arsenal of bombs. But as the White House is learning, reading the tea leaves on where Iran is headed will be exceedingly difficult. It will be even harder to prevent politically charged disputes on other issues from disrupting any future nuclear talks.

Distractions last week included Tehran's continued jailing of a young Iranian-American journalist and a blistering speech at a United Nations conference by hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who declared Israel "the most cruel and repressive racist regime." The verbal attack by Ahmadinejad, who has predicted that Israel will be wiped off the map and openly questioned whether the Holocaust happened, led European diplomats to walk out of the session.

In Washington, President Obama called the comments part of a pattern of "appalling" statements and said they are "harmful" to overcoming the three-decade-long U.S. estrangement from Iran. But he paired his criticism with a call for staying with "tough, direct diplomacy" that harbors "no illusions." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told skeptical lawmakers that a U.S.-led diplomatic push on Iran, even if it fails or stalls, will give Washington "credibility and influence with a number of nations" to pressure Iran with "crippling" sanctions.

Also clouding the picture is the imprisonment of Roxana Saberi, a 31-year-old radio journalist from Fargo, N.D., who was working on a book in Tehran. She was sentenced to eight years in jail after being convicted in a closed-door, 15-minute trial on charges that friends and U.S. officials described as manufactured. The State Department says a positive step by Iranian authorities, such as Saberi's release, would help create goodwill. Some analysts believe that the moves against her stem from hard-line judicial officials who oppose a deal with the United States or from a desire to claim a bargaining chip in talks with the United States and other nations that may begin within weeks.

Israel is a factor in Obama's Iran strategy, too. Israel has hinted at airstrikes against Iranian nuclear targets if diplomacy fails, and the new Likud-led government of Binyamin Netanyahu is pressing Obama to get results on Iran within months.

Obama this month decided that U.S. diplomats would join with counterparts from five other countries in direct talks with Iran on the nuclear standoff and other issues, marking a sharp break with Bush administration practice. That group is known as the P-5 plus 1: the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (the United States, Britain, France, China, and Russia) plus Germany.

There have been other signs of the priority Obama is placing on a new Iran policy. He made a video message to Iranians on their holiday of Nowruz in which he appealed for a "new beginning" in relations, lauded Iranian culture, and addressed the government by its official name, "the Islamic Republic of Iran." And he approved an invitation to Iran to join a recent conference on Afghanistan, where diplomats from the two adversaries met and talked.

U.S. officials have also been consulting with other nations in the P-5 plus 1 about modifying the demand that Iran completely suspend its uranium enrichment and other nuclear fuel work before negotiations can start. U.S. officials have been tightlipped about the reconsideration, and they say suspension remains the ultimate goal. Diplomats are searching for a nuanced formula that could draw Tehran back into nuclear negotiations.

The group has invited Iran to new talks. As it awaits a reply, there are some potentially positive signals from Tehran. Ahmadinejad says Iran is readying new proposals on the nuclear impasse, and he says that "circumstances have changed," apparently an allusion to Obama and the new U.S. outreach. Iran last week also said it would welcome "constructive" talks based on mutual respect. Separately, Ahmadinejad called on Iranian judicial officials to allow Saberi to mount a full defense, a move some interpret as a prelude to a gesture in the form of her early release.

But Obama may not be the only reason Iranian leaders are considering some gestures of their own. The plunge in oil prices has hit hard; 80 percent of Iran's foreign income comes from oil. Sanctions and pressure from the West have shrunk new investments in energy and spurred capital flight. With Ahmadinejad blamed for high unemployment and inflation and facing a tough re-election contest in June, he may be looking for a diplomatic victory.

Still, it is a near certainty that Obama will need more than a little perseverance on the Iranian nuclear talks. Whether it is the Saberi case, vitriol from parts of Tehran's sparring elite, or future Iranian moves, disputes apart from the nuclear challenge will almost certainly be intruding. To stay on track, says Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, Obama will have to decide that "a rapprochement is a key U.S. objective that cannot be allowed to be derailed."

Obama Approval at 100 Days

Not as scientific as our text poll, but here it is...

Text Message Poll for April 29th

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Iran's Nuke Program Advances

Iran's Nuke Program Advances

By Tony Blankley
On Monday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cheerfully announced in a televised speech that Iran has now joined the club of countries with "industrial-level" nuclear enrichment -- confirming that Iran has begun enriching uranium with 3,000 centrifuges.
Exactly a year ago, Monday, Iran revealed they had 164 centrifuges. Until Monday they were believed to have increased that number only to 328. Experts explain that when the number of operational centrifuges reaches about 50,000, they can build nuclear weapons. Ahmadinejad went on to brag that world powers cannot stop Iran's nuclear drive, and that his country's atomic program is on its way "to the summit" -- where, presumably, one would find something more than a peaceful nuclear electricity plant.
I might add, when, a year ago, I and others expressed alarm at the 164 centrifuges Iran had then developed, I was told by a number of experts that due to the remarkably complex and sensitive nature of the technology of integrating centrifuges, it was much harder, technically, to move from a couple hundred to several thousand. Apparently, now a year later, that formidable technical challenge has been surmounted. Keep in mind, the CIA's assessment -- last year -- that Iran was five to 10 years away from being able to develop nuclear weapons presumably based that guess, at least in part, on the experts' expectation that moving from hundreds to thousands of centrifuges was more formidable than it turned out to be.
Adding piquancy to Ahmadinejad's disturbing announcement, the [Iranian] Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani further threatened: "If they [world powers] continue to pressure Iran over its peaceful nuclear activities we have no other choice but to follow parliament's order and review our membership of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty."
Following the release of this news Monday, the hot big news stories on cable that afternoon were: Don Imus's apology for saying rude things about a college women's basketball team, a shooting at an office building in Troy, N.Y., President Bush's umpteenth announcement that he really does want to pass a "comprehensive" immigration bill this year, and the late spring snow storm in the Midwest and Northeast last weekend. I guess Iran advancing surprisingly quickly toward a nuclear capacity didn't make the newsiness cut.
Further, and curiously, on Monday, the world price of oil went down $2.77, described on the business news due to "reduced tensions" between Iran and the West after the release of the British hostages. In other words, millions of worldwide investor decisions judged the news of Iran's nuclear development to not be increasing tensions.
Surely, wiser more worldly judgments could have been expected from the United States Department of State. But if the television news merely missed the story, the State Department misconstrued its significance. A State Department spokesman was briefed to respond that this development just signaled a "missed opportunity" by Iran.
For those of us with a historical bent, that "missed opportunity" by Iran immediately recalled to mind the unfortunate assertion by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in April 1940 that Hitler had "missed the bus" and lost the initiative in the early months of World War II.
Regrettably for old Neville, a few weeks after saying that Hitler had missed the bus, Herr Hitler invaded, defeated and occupied Norway, and then, in short order, Holland, Denmark and France -- and almost, but not quite, bombed Britain into submission. When the Norway invasion started in May 1940 (three weeks after he had "missed the bus"), and Chamberlain came to the floor of the House of Commons to make excuses, the chamber was filled with derisive cries from all sides of "They [The Nazis] missed the bus." A few days later, Chamberlain resigned his office, and the ultimate British victory in WWII was foreshadowed when the king asked Winston Churchill to form a government.
One wonders where today's Churchill might be, whose accession to the American presidency would prefigure successful American opposition to Iran's horrifying nuclear plans.
For heaven's sake, Iran hasn't missed an opportunity to advance its nuclear interest -- we have missed another opportunity to defeat those plans.
And for those who argue that diplomacy is the path to safety in stopping the Iranian bomb -- a glance at the news these last few weeks might suggest that it is Iran -- not the West -- that is better playing that ancient art. It was the British -- historically masters of diplomacy -- who were humiliated by the Iranians over the Royal Navy and Marines hostage incident. In its aftermath, The Dubai Khaleej Times, The Pakistan Daily Times and other Muslim news outlets proclaimed messages similar to that of The Saudi Arabia Arab News: "This is a triumph for the Iranians."
While Western media reports of our diplomatic meanderings encourage Westerners to believe we are being oh so civilized, prudent and un-cowboy-like as we gently and diplomatically nudge Iranian intentions away from their lust for nuclear weapons -- large segments of the Muslim world are cheering on every radical Muslim triumph over a "decadent" Christian West that is proving itself ripe for the pickings, and for historic civilizational revenge.
Copyright 2007 Creators Syndicate Inc.

3rd Hour Instructions for April 29, 2009

Rageh Inside Iran 1

Rageh Inside Iran 2

Rageh Inside Iran 3

Rageh Inside Iran 4

Rageh Inside Iran Video 5

Pandemic: What would happen next?

Story Highlights
The world hasn't seen a pandemic since 1968

A pandemic could skip across the world in 18 to 24 months

Hospitals would face overcrowding as millions seek treatment

Based on the past pandemic and current population, as many as 7 million could die
By Kevin Voigt
(CNN) -- The world hasn't seen a pandemic in 41 years, when the "Hong Kong" flu crossed the globe and killed about one million people worldwide. If swine flu reaches pandemic levels, what would happen next?

Recurrent outbreaks of Avian Influenza and the outbreak of SARS in 2003 rang alarm bells as potential pandemics.

Although both jumped the "animal-to-human" barrier, neither disease mutated enough to enable sustained human-to-human infection, said Dr. K.Y. Yuen, head of microbiology at Hong Kong University.

Strictly speaking, Avian Influenza and SARS did not become pandemics because they were too good at killing their hosts.

"For a sustained pandemic, it needs to be able to maintain human-to-human contact without killing its host off," he said.

Avian influenza "never became a man-to-man disease," said Dr. Lo Wing-Luk, an infectious disease expert.

"Swine flu is already a man-to-man disease, which makes it much more difficult to manage . and swine flu appears much more infectious than SARS."

But the WHO cautions, it cannot say whether or not it will indeed cause a pandemic. According to epidemiologists and health experts, here's what the world might see if there is another pandemic, based on past experience:

The disease would skip from city to city over an 18-to-24 month period, infecting more than a third of the population. World health Organization officials believe as many as 1.5 billion people around the globe would seek medical care and nearly 30 million would seek hospitalization. Based on the last pandemic and current world population, as many as 7 million people could die, epidemiologists said.

"Hospitals will become overcrowded, schools will close, businesses will close, airports will be empty," Dr. Lo said.

"Business will become very bad, as people avoid as much social contact as possible," added Dr. Yuen.

Health facilities will become overrun with patients and there would be less-than-adequate staffing, as medical health professionals fall ill themselves, experts say. "We saw cases in SARS where people who should have gone to the hospital for things like cancer treatment didn't go, and that resulted in higher deaths," Dr. Lo said.

The very young and very old will likely be the most susceptible to the illness.

Experts caution, much is still unknown about the current swine flu virus and its severity and it is too early to say whether it will lead to a pandemic. Right now, the focus is on finding answers and containing the spread.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Real China Threat

By Robert Samuelson

WASHINGTON -- Obsessed with rankings, Americans are bound to see the Beijing Olympics as a metaphor for a larger and more troubling question. Will China overtake the United States as the world's biggest economy? Well, stop worrying. It almost certainly will. China's economy is now only a fourth the size of the $14 trillion U.S. economy, but given plausible growth rates in both countries, China's output will exceed America's in the 2020s, projects Goldman Sachs. But this is the wrong worry. By itself, a richer China does not make America poorer. Indeed, because there are so many more Chinese than Americans, average Chinese living standards may lag behind ours indefinitely. By Goldman's projections, average American incomes will still be twice Chinese incomes in 2050.

The real threat from China lies elsewhere. It is that China will destabilize the world economy. It will distort trade, foster huge financial imbalances and trigger a contentious competition for scarce raw materials. Symptoms of instability have already surfaced, and if they grow worse, everyone -- including the Chinese -- may suffer. China is now "challenging some of the fundamental tenets of the existing (global) economic system," says economist C. Fred Bergsten of the Peterson Institute.

This is no small matter. Growing trade and the cross-border transfers of technology and management skills contributed to history's greatest surge of prosperity. Living standards, as measured by per capita incomes, have skyrocketed since 1950: up 10 times in Japan, 16 times in South Korea, four times in France and three times in the United States. Significantly, these gains occurred without serious political conflict. With the exception of oil, world commerce expanded quietly. The chief sources of global strife have been ideology, nationalism, religion and ethnic conflict.

Economics could now join this list, because the balance of power is shifting. The United States was the old order's main architect, and China is a rising power of the new. Their approaches contrast dramatically.

Economically dominant after World War II, the United States defined its interests as promoting the prosperity of its allies. The aims were to combat communism and prevent another Great Depression. Countries would make mutual trade concessions. They would not manipulate their currencies to gain advantage. Raw materials would be available at non-discriminatory prices. These norms were mostly honored, though some countries flouted them (Japan manipulated its currency for years).

China's political goals differ. High economic growth and job creation aim to raise living standards and absorb the huge rural migration to expanding cities. Economist Donald Straszheim of Roth Capital Partners estimates the urban inflow at about 17 million people annually. As he says, China sees export-led economic growth as a magnet for foreign investment that brings modern technology and management skills. Prosperity is considered essential to maintaining public order and the Communist Party's political monopoly.

At first, China pursued its ambitions within the existing global framework. Indeed, the United States supported China's membership in the World Trade Organization in 2001. But as it grows richer, China increasingly ignores old norms, Bergsten argues. It runs a predatory trade policy by keeping its currency, the renminbi, at artificially low levels. That stimulates export-led growth. From 2000 to 2007, China's current account surplus -- a broad measure of trade flows -- ballooned from 1.7 percent of gross domestic product to 11.1 percent. The biggest losers are not U.S. manufacturers but developing countries whose labor-intensive exports are most disadvantaged.

Next, China strives to lock up supplies of essential raw materials: oil, natural gas, copper. If other countries suffer, so what? Both the United States and China are self-interested. But the United States has seen a prosperous global economy as a means to expanding its power, while China sees the global economy -- guaranteed markets for its exports and raw materials -- as the means to promoting domestic stability.

The policies are increasingly on a collision course. China's undervalued currency and massive trade surpluses have produced $1.8 trillion in foreign exchange reserves (China in effect stockpiles the currencies it earns in trade). Along with its artificial export advantage, China has the cash to buy big stakes in American and other foreign firms. Predictably, that's stirred a political backlash in the United States and elsewhere. The rigid renminbi has contributed to the euro's rise against the dollar, threatening Europe with recession. China has undermined world trade negotiations, and its appetite for raw materials leads it to support renegade regimes (Iran, Sudan).

The world economy faces other threats: catastrophic oil interruptions; disruptive money flows. But the Chinese-American schism poses a dilemma for the next president. If we do nothing, China's economic nationalism may weaken the world economy -- but if we retaliate by becoming more nationalistic ourselves, we may do the same. Globalization means interdependence; major nations ignore that at their peril.

From Baja Blast

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech at Durban II conference (highlights)

I thought you might want to listen to some excerpts of his speech, that caused such a stir on Monday.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Handshake With Obama Belies Chavez's Contempt for America

April 18: President Obama and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez shake hands at the Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain, Trinidad. (AFP photo)

Monday, April 20, 2009

President Obama met Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Trinidad on Friday, he shook hands with a man who only four years ago called the United States the most "murderous empire that has existed in the history of the world."

Chavez has hardly mellowed, either. Last month, in a radio address, he called Obama a "poor ignorant person," and in January he accused the new president of having the "same stench" as President Bush -- just the latest lashes in a long line of his signature anti-American speeches over the years.

Here are just some of Chavez's anti-American blasts:

-- "The U.S. has bombarded entire cities, used chemical weapons and napalm, killed women, children and thousands of soldiers. That's terrorism." (Sept. 25, 2005: Washington Post interview)

-- The U.S. government under Bush is the "most savage, cruel and murderous empire that has existed in the history of the world." (Aug. 8, 2005: Caracas youth rally)

-- "Our real enemy is called the U.S. empire, and on Sunday, Dec. 2, we're going to give another knockout to Bush, so no one forgets that is the battlefield." (Dec. 1, 2007: election speech in Caracas)

-- "Capitalism will lead to the destruction of humanity ... (and America) is the devil that represents capitalism." (August 2006: speech in Vietnam)

-- American policy in the Mideast is "a policy of permanent aggression, of war, of terrorism by the U.S. empire. That's the great guilty one, the great Satan, as they call it here." (April 1, 2009: Tehran, Iran)

-- "The imperialist, genocidal, fascist attitude of the U.S. president has no limits. I think Hitler would be like a suckling baby next to George W. Bush." (Feb. 4, 2005: rally in Caracas)

-- Chavez accused the U.S. and allies of lobbing "imperialist fire! Fascist fire! Murderous fire! ... genocidal fire against the innocent people of Palestine and Lebanon by the Empire and Israel" during an address he made at the U.N. in September 2006.

-- ''The axis of evil is Washington and its allies around the world, which go about threatening, invading and murdering. We [Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales] are forming the axis of good." (Jan. 3, 2005: Caracas)

-- "The United States brought the (Sept. 11) attacks upon itself, for their arrogant imperialist foreign policy." (Sept. 12, 2001: Venezuelan TV)

-- "The hypothesis that is gaining strength ... is that it was the same U.S. imperial power that planned and carried out this terrible terrorist attack or act against its own people and against citizens of all over the world. Why? To justify the aggressions that immediately were unleashed on Afghanistan, on Iraq." (Sept, 12. 2006: Caracas speech)

-- "The devil came here yesterday," Chavez said at the U.N. general assembly, referring to President Bush as he made the sign of the cross and accused the U.S. of "domination, exploitation and pillage of peoples of the world." (Sept. 20, 2006: New York)

-- "I hope I am wrong, but I believe Obama brings the same stench" as President Bush. (Jan. 17, 2009: Caracas speech)

--"They are threatening any country that decides to be free." (Feb. 1, 2007: Caracas speech)

While those kinds of words would draw the dagger stares of the Secret Service on most offenders, they earned Chavez a warm greeting and thanks from Obama, who also received a gift from Chavez at the 34-nation Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

On Sunday, Obama defended the handshake and said his presence at the summit would help open up relations with other nations in the Americas.

"It's unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States," Obama said.

But some veteran diplomats said Chavez would wield the gracious grasp as an important symbol to help consolidate his growing power in Venezuela.

"What he's going to say is that what he has been doing in Venezuela now has the seal of approval of the United States," said Otto Reich, who was ambassador to Venezuela under President Reagan. "He sees it as a green light to continue dismantling democracy in Venezuela."

Reich said Chavez is already using the handshake as propaganda and called the summit a missed opportunity by the Obama administration.

"What the president of the United States last night and today is trying to explain as a handshake, Chavez is already announcing as the greatest exito -- success -- in Venezuelan political history," he said.

Lawyer: Iran Convicts U.S. Journalist of Spying

Finding a home: Fewer children up for adoption in China

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: b f <>
Date: Sun, Apr 19, 2009 at 6:05 PM
Subject: Finding a home: Fewer children up for adoption in China

BEIJING, China (CNN) -- At a foster home on the outskirts of Beijing, 13 special-needs children are waiting to be adopted. Our crew walked in as they were waking up from their afternoon nap, with sleepy eyes and little yawns that quickly turned into smiles.

They range in age from 1 month to 5 years old. There is little Xiao Mei, who was born with heart disease. She has had one surgery and will need another soon. Others were born with missing limbs, dwarfism, spina bifida, a cleft palate. One infant is blind and deaf.

They seem to have just as much energy as any other child. One boy, a 5-year-old with dwarfism, was fascinated with our video camera and entertained himself by wearing the accompanying headphones. We were in the middle of shooting when another girl ran over and lifted her arms to my waist. She just wanted to be picked up, to be held.

Children's Hope International, an adoption agency, founded the home in 2004 to help poor families who cannot afford to care for their ill or disabled children. Since 1992, the agency said, it has placed more than 3,500 Chinese babies with adoptive families.

The adoption landscape for these children -- and many others in China -- is changing.

The Chinese government imposed new regulations in 2007 to limit the number of international applications, putting more restrictions on prospective parents from outside China. The rules basically say you need not apply if you are single, overweight, deformed, taking antidepressants or poor. China has said the rules are in the best interest of the child.

After leading the world in international adoptions, adoptions in China are slowing down, though it is not clear whether there is a link to the new rules. According to the U.S. State Department, Americans adopted 7,906 Chinese children in 2005, a number that dropped to 3,909 children in 2008.

However, Melody Zhang of Children's Hope International said it is not that fewer people want to adopt, but there are simply more Chinese and foreigners who want to adopt and fewer children up for adoption. However, the government does not release data on the numbers of children up for adoption in the country.

"In the past, Chinese people would not consider adopting someone out of the family, but more and more people are educated, and they understand the important part is to raise the child, not necessarily a blood tie," Zhang said.

The Asian giant's growing economy has given more people the means to raise a child, so Chinese parents are less likely to give up their children.

It has also become more socially acceptable to have daughters. In the past, Chinese rural families have sometimes been known to put daughters up for adoption so they can try for a son in a country where most people are allowed to only have one child.

Zhang estimates that there are 30,000 international applications waiting to be processed in China. These days, the wait can be up to five years.

The process can be faster for parents who want to adopt a special needs child, just like the ones we met at the Children's Hope International orphanage.

That is what one American couple, Chris and Tammy Watkins, decided to do. They have three daughters but want a fourth. They live in Beijing and have spent a lot of time working in foster homes, especially with special-needs children.

They waited almost three years but a few weeks ago found out that they had been matched with a child. A 3-year-old girl is waiting for them in an orphanage in Nantong, in southeast China. She had some minor operations when she was born but is now a healthy little girl. They hope to meet her within a month.

"At first it starts out, 'I could help them.' And the more time you spend with them is, they are just great kids," Tammy Watkins said. "They need a family to love them, and that's all they need."

-        The Burninator


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Jackie Chan Says Chinese Need Control

The New York Times
Jackie Chan Says Chinese Need Control
Published: April 19, 2009

It's not unusual for actors to stumble when they talk about politics, but Jackie Chan, below, has struck a nerve on a particularly divisive issue. In the southern Chinese province of Hainan on Saturday Mr. Chan, the action star, told a group of business leaders, "I'm not sure if it's good to have freedom or not," The Associated Press reported. He also said: "I'm gradually beginning to feel that we Chinese need to be controlled. If we're not being controlled, we'll just do what we want." Mr. Chan's remarks have drawn criticism from lawmakers in Taiwan and Hong Kong, where Mr. Chan was born. "He's insulted the Chinese people," the Hong Kong pro-democracy legislator Leung Kwok-hung told The Associated Press. "Chinese people aren't pets." Another Hong Kong lawmaker, Albert Ho, said: "His comments are racist. People around the world are running their own countries. Why can't Chinese do the same?" Hong Kong and Taiwan news outlets reported the comments, but mainland China did not. According to his Web site,, Mr. Chan will perform May 1 at the Jackie and His Friends Concert in Beijing.

China, Friend or Foe?

Picture Above: Chinese Special Forces Training Onboard a Chinese Submarine
Wall Street Journal
April 18, 2009

AFP/Getty Images
Members of the People's Liberation Army honor guard line up at a welcoming ceremony in Beijing last year.

A cave complex blasted out of the rocky coastline on China's southern island province of Hainan is home to one of the newest and potentially most lethal weapons in Beijing's arsenal: a home-grown submarine designed to launch nuclear-armed ballistic missiles.

Is China's push to modernize and expand its military a threat to the U.S. and its interests? Share your thoughts.
So when the USNS Impeccable, a U.S. surveillance ship, was snooping in the area last month, China set a trap. Five Chinese vessels crowded around the U.S. ship. Crew members hurled chunks of wood into the Impeccable's path and used poles to try to snare its acoustic equipment. When U.S. sailors turned a fire hose on their assailants, the sodden Chinese crew aboard one of the vessels stripped to their underwear and closed to within 25 feet, the Pentagon said.

The encounter in the South China Sea, which lasted for about 3½ hours, was intended to send a clear message. China says the Impeccable was violating international law by conducting surveillance activities in its exclusive economic zone. The U.S. and many other nations view such activity as legal.

When U.S. surveillance ships visit the area in the future, says Su Hao, director of the Center for Strategic and Conflict Management at China Foreign Affairs University, "they'll be more cautious."

View Full Image

ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images
China's marine police take part in an anti-terrorist drill on April 1.
The Pentagon views China as the country most likely, at some point down the road, to acquire the capacity to challenge the U.S. military on a global scale. The U.S. in recent years has moved to strengthen its forces in the Pacific and urged its ally Japan to do the same. Washington and Tokyo are working together to boost anti-missile defenses, to defend against threats from both North Korea and China. And some in the Defense Department talk up the "China threat" to justify greater spending on new weapons systems.

This week, Adm. Wu Shengli, the top officer in China's navy -- officially known as the People's Liberation Army Navy -- said the service would move faster to modernize its arsenal and build larger and more capable warships "to boost the ability to fight in regional sea wars" using high-tech weaponry. In an interview with China's official Xinhua news agency ahead of the navy's 60th anniversary next week, he also said the navy would improve its ability to operate on the high seas. Other officials in recent months have talked about China building its first aircraft carrier, adding to U.S. concerns that China wants to project its power.

However, many observers, both in China and the U.S., say that fear of China is exaggerated. China's armed forces are still no match for U.S. firepower at sea, on land or in space. Many American security analysts -- including former senior military officers -- do not believe that China intends to take on the U.S., as the former Soviet Union once did. For now, China's military falls back on a mix of high-tech weaponry, such as its new Jin-class nuclear-missile submarines, and low-tech stealth and cunning.

Chinese leaders say that their country's economic rise will be peaceful. However, it is accompanied at times by a strident nationalism -- a desire to restore what many people in the country see as China's rightful place in the world, stolen by 19th-century Western imperialists and 20th-century Japanese militarists. China's belligerence toward Taiwan and its military secrecy make it easier for hawks from Washington to New Delhi to paint a picture of a vengeful China plotting its comeback.

North Korea's failed launch of a ballistic-missile-like rocket on April 5 complicates the situation. It is likely to spur Japan to strengthen its military and invest more in missile-defense efforts, in which it is now cooperating with the U.S. That could add to tension with China, which already views the U.S.-Japan alliance as a partnership designed to constrain Chinese power. China yearns for stability on the Korean peninsula, fearing that if North Korea collapses, a wave of refugees will spill over its borders, and it will end up face-to-face with U.S. forces stationed in the South.

According to the Chinese government, the country's defense budget for 2008 was $60 billion, up nearly 18% from a year earlier. The Pentagon believes China's official figures substantially underestimate actual defense spending. It estimates that China spent $105 billion to $150 billion on military-related expenses last year, as its military transforms itself from a low-tech mass army designed to fight a war of attrition against invaders to a more sophisticated, agile force capable of projecting power beyond China's borders.

China's main focus in modernizing its military over the past few decades has been preventing Taiwan from establishing formal independence and stopping any effort by the U.S. to come to the island's aid in a crisis. Now some Chinese naval officers talk of one day patrolling as far as the Indian Ocean, conjuring up images from China's imperial past 600 years ago, when a towering armada of treasure ships led by the Chinese Muslim eunuch Admiral Zheng He, or Cheng Ho, sailed through those waters on its way to east Africa.

Despite protests that its more capable navy should be no cause for alarm among neighboring states or Washington, Chinese ships and submarines have been pushing farther offshore. In at least some cases they've tested the defenses of other nations and telegraphed the Chinese navy's intentions to be a player on the high seas.

Some U.S. military analysts now see a broader threat to American domination of the seas, linked to the spread of Chinese trade and economic influence around the globe. If China can challenge a U.S. surveillance ship off its coast, they are asking, might the rising Asian economic superpower in the future aggressively patrol its maritime trade routes in the Strait of Malacca (through which most of China's vital oil supplies pass), or even the Persian Gulf? The pessimistic view says as much about the anxieties of the world's sole superpower as it does about Chinese capabilities.

Historically, the West has projected both fantastic hopes and dark anxieties upon China. Sentiments veering between the two extremes have long confused the West's relations with the Asian giant. A conflicting dynamic is now at work in relations between the U.S. and China, arguably the most important relationship of the 21st century. While economic forces are pulling the two sides closer (China has become America's largest creditor), military ties have stalled.

Generals and admirals in the Pentagon have objected to China's challenge in international waters where their Navy has operated for more than half a century -- even if those waters are right on China's doorstep. In his testimony to the Senate's armed services committee, Adm. Timothy Keating, the officer in charge of American forces in Asia, said that the interception of the Impeccable off Hainan Island showed that the Chinese are "not willing to abide by acceptable standards of behavior."

Mr. Su of China Foreign Affairs University says the world fundamentally misreads Chinese intentions. China is a land power, he says, concerned about safeguarding its border regions and consumed by its desire for internal security and cohesion. To those who see menace in China's seaward expansion, he offers this advice: "Relax."

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Chinese special forces carry out a drill Dec. 25 on a destroyer.
The Pentagon's latest annual report on the Chinese military, published late last month, was widely criticized within China as biased and alarmist. The report says that "China's ability to sustain military power at a distance remains limited," but notes that its armed forces continue to "develop and field disruptive military technologies" that are "changing regional military balances and that have implications beyond the Asia-Pacific region." It also said: "Much uncertainty surrounds China's future course."

The report "exaggerates Chinese military power" by overestimating the country's ability to project force beyond its own territory, says Yuan Peng, director of the American Studies Institute at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations in Beijing. "Chinese military power is still at a developing country's level. It lags far behind the U.S., Russia and even Japan and India in some senses."

In Mr. Yuan's view, American anxiety -- after blows to the national psyche from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the ongoing financial meltdown -- goes well beyond China's military advance. "What makes people nervous is not really our military, but China's economic rise and the Chinese political model," he says. "China is rising so fast, the population is so big and the social system is so different" that it excites unease.

Still, China's massive bulk -- its continental size and vast population -- looms over Asia, and its military modernization threatens an arms race in the region. Japan, heavily dependent on crude oil and raw materials from the Middle East and Australia, worries that one day it may run into a hostile Chinese navy along the same sea lanes that feed China's rapid growth. Some Indian strategists worry that China is gaining an ability to disrupt its ocean trade, and is encircling it through diplomatic and military links with neighboring countries from Myanmar to Pakistan.

Among the biggest worries for the U.S. is China's improved submarine fleet, which could delay or prevent U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups from responding to a crisis in and around Taiwan, the island that Beijing has pledged to bring under its rule, by force if necessary. China aims more than 1,000 missiles at Taiwan to deter any attempt by the island's leaders to formally establish independence. China has also acquired eight Russian kilo-class submarines, which are very hard to detect when submerged, and is building its own attack submarines.

Some of the newer ships and submarines in China's fleet are equipped with Russian-made anti-ship cruise missiles that can fly at supersonic speeds. Those missiles, and an anti-ship ballistic missile under development, appear aimed at giving China the ability to strike U.S. aircraft carriers, say U.S. naval officers. Aircraft carriers have been the mainstay of U.S. maritime power for decades.

While China has no aircraft carriers of its own, Chinese officials have started talking publicly again about adding one to their own fleet. Chinese shipyards would likely have little difficulty building the type of mid-sized carrier most analysts expect China to launch. But mastering the operations of a carrier task force and its aircraft would probably take many years, analysts say.

Chinese navy officers believe that their forces must be able to push beyond what they consider the first island chain -- running south from Japan and around the east side of Taiwan -- that stands between China and the broad expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Being able to move ships and subs out into the Pacific would be critical to Chinese efforts to block or delay the approach of U.S. ships to Taiwan or the mainland.

China's fleets have been pushing farther offshore. Last October, a flotilla of four Chinese navy ships, including a Russian-built guided-missile destroyer and two of the country's most-advanced frigates, passed through the narrow Tsugaru Strait between the main Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido and out into the Pacific Ocean. Japanese saw it as a demonstration of China's growing might.

Chinese submarines have also been detected a number of times nosing around Japanese waters. In 2004, a submerged Chinese sub passed through another narrow strait in what the Japanese considered a violation of international law. U.S. and Japanese defense officials interpreted it as a possible effort to map and gather intelligence about routes from the East China Sea to the Pacific.

The new naval base on Hainan, which appears large enough to accommodate surface ships as well as attack and ballistic-missile submarines, gives China's navy direct access to vital international sea lanes. It could allow submarines to deploy stealthily into the deep waters of the South China Sea, the Pentagon says.

Analysts from the Federation of American Scientists who have examined satellite images of the Hainan base say it also appears to have a facility of the sort used by the U.S. Navy to demagnetize nuclear-missile submarines before they deploy, to make them harder to detect. If that were true, it would indicate China's intention to use its ballistic-missile submarines as an active part of its nuclear deterrent. The federation says that there is no evidence that China's previous generation of nuclear-missile-carrying submarine ever carried out a single deterrent patrol.

The Defense Ministry declined to comment. The latest defense white paper says that one of the navy's missions is "the capability of nuclear counterattacks."

Despite China's modernization drive, many weaknesses remain in its armory. Chinese military officers' own assessments of their abilities, contained in professional journals and military media, say that they fall short of their goals of being able to fight and win a high-tech local war.

The limits were on painful display during the Sichuan earthquake last May -- a peacetime operation on China's own territory. China mobilized more than 114,000 soldiers to assist in disaster-relief efforts. But given the military's lack of airlift capacity, just a fraction were able to arrive in the quake-hit area by plane in the first day or so after the temblor hit. The rest had to move by rail or drive. A marine unit spent several days driving from its base in southern Guangdong province. Relief work also highlighted China's serious lack of helicopters.

Dai Xu, a colonel in the Chinese air force, said that the military's earthquake operations showed that patriotism and spirit were unable "to cover up the weaknesses in the army's equipment and technology abilities." Col. Dai, writing in a Chinese foreign-affairs journal, said that "an army without the capability of air mechanization is not qualified to talk about informatization," a reference to high-tech war.

By the Pentagon's own estimates, China's limited ability to move and sustain soldiers beyond its borders hasn't improved appreciably since 2000. The Pentagon also calculates that despite the shopping spree on new equipment, just 20% of the weapons systems used by the Chinese air force are "modern," along with 40% of the navy's submarines and roughly 30% of its surface ships.

Critically, China has no experience in modern war-fighting. The nation's last significant conflict was a 1979 border war with Vietnam. The U.S. military, on the other hand, has been almost constantly involved in conflicts since the start of the Persian Gulf War in 1990.

To make up for its deficiencies, China's military has adopted a strategy of surprise and secrecy to keep U.S. forces off guard. It calls this strategy the "assassin's mace," an allusion to a concealed blade, or bludgeon. In this way, the military believes, its technologically inferior forces can gain the advantage over a technologically superior adversary.

China's stealth fuels U.S. suspicions. The Impeccable interception recalled a similar episode in the area in 2001 when a Chinese fighter plane was in a collision with a U.S. EP-3 spy plane. The U.S. pilot nursed his crippled aircraft to a landing in Hainan, where its crew of 24 was detained for 11 days. The Chinese plane crashed, killing the pilot. In 2007, China shocked the world by blowing up one of its old weather satellites with a ballistic missile, showering debris into space.

The U.S. Air Force and Navy recently raised the specter of a belligerent China in their calls for more F-22 fighters and long-range bombers, as well as the production of a new, stealthy class of guided-missile destroyer, known as the Zumwalt. However, this month, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he planned to halt further purchases of the F-22 and end the Zumwalt program as part of an overhaul of weapons priorities to reorient the U.S. military towards winning unconventional conflicts such as the war in Afghanistan rather than fighting China, Russia or other major powers.

In China, a vocal public constituency is pressing for a more assertive military. Bai Jieming, who runs a shop in the southern boomtown of Shenzhen selling models of Chinese warships, says that replicas of one of the destroyers sent in December to patrol the Gulf of Aden against pirates, the "168," have sold out. He says that Chinese people long for an aircraft carrier. "I'd even donate money to help build it," says Mr. Bai.

The Impeccable incident has stoked fears about the risks of miscalculation. In 2007, a Chinese submarine surfaced within firing range of the U.S. aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk during maneuvers near the Philippines. The U.S. Pacific commander at the time, Adm. William Fallon, said the incident could have "escalated into something very unforeseen."

Adding to the dangers, says a U.S. Defense Department official, are unclear lines of communication between the Chinese military and other parts of the bureaucracy. Chinese leaders were "surprised, shocked and embarrassed" by the outcry from the U.S. and other countries, such as Russia, after their military shot down the weather satellite, he says. This could have been avoided if they had gotten better advice from nonmilitary sources. "There's a learning process that goes into being a major power," he says.

China sends conflicting messages about its desire for power and influence in the world. It is the world's third largest economy, and presses for a greater say in international financial institutions to match that status, yet constantly sends reminders that in terms of per capita income it remains a relatively poor developing nation. Large parts of China's military spending, including R&D outlays, do not appear in its official numbers on defense spending.

Past assessments have not seen China as an electronics superpower. China could turn its electronic prowess developing ever-faster computers and high-speed communications equipment for American consumers into cyberweaponry. Even so, it will still be a long time before China is the formidable military might some in the U.S. see.

Discovery Channel China 8

Discovery Channel China 7

Discovery Channel China 6

Discovery Channel China 5

Medvedev faces off with opposition press

Civil Society, democratization, NGOS it is all here! Enjoy! It is a vocabulary buffet.

Friday, April 17, 2009

America, the Land of the Free, and the Gays

In today's society there are a multitude of social outcasts, or "untouchables", which don't get equal rights in our country. If America is supposed the "land of the free" then why are the rights of certain minority groups withdrawn from their reach. One group who has had their freedom continually withheld are the homosexuals. They have been fighting for their own causes for decades and have been continually turned down. They are seen in America as an iniquitous group that does not deserve rights of their own. Many of these accusations are derived from a Christian background, even though there is supposed to be a separation of church and state. Although these may not be my personal viewpoints, these are the facts, and I do believe that America needs to uphold the founding fathers view of freedom.


                        The main issue regarding gay rights right now is same sex marriage. One side opposes it saying that it is immoral and harmful to society. The other side supports it saying that sexual orientation is innate and is his or her natural right to marry who they feel they should. During a debate of same sex marriage that focused on the history of marriage Chief Justice Deborah Poritz said, "It's a historical fact that marriage has been between a man and a woman, but it's also a historical fact that women were property and that women couldn't accuse their husbands of rape. Why should we just defer to the historical basis?"(Henderson.) Poritz argues that just because it is historically correct does not make it morally correct.


                        Many gay rights activists are also arguing that homosexuality is not a choice, but they are born with it. Nathaniel Frank in his article "Gay Is a Choice?" said, "the subtext of the 'choice' debate is that opposing gay rights is only appropriate if gays select their sexuality, since it is unfair to punish someone for something one does not control." The opponents of gay rights will argue that homosexuality is a choice that you can control, therefore you can change and nothing needs to change for you. The side that supports gay rights argues that if you cannot control a human function, you should not be discriminated against.


                        Another main issue regarding gay rights is if they should be allowed to adopt children. The opponents will argue that they shouldn't because it will be harmful to children, as stated in "Gay Family Values" by Tim Padgett, "Bill Maier, Focus' vice president and chief psychologist, insists the practice 'hurts children because it intentionally creates motherless or fatherless families.'"Although there are many supporters of this belief, it has been found to be unconstitutional in Florida "A Monroe Circuit Court judge has ruled Florida's 31-year-old gay adoption ban 'unconstitutional'" (Miller.)


                        Although many free citizens of America are opposed to gay rights, these people are American citizens too. Although they may not be free the still live in America. If homosexuality is not a choice, but a natural trait, whose right is it to take that away from you. Even if it is a choice the definition of freedom is "a state in which someone is able to act and live as he or she chooses, without being subject to any undue restraints or restrictions."(Encarta Dictionary)P. So if this really is the "land of the free" then gays should be allowed rights of their own.
Works Cited

Henderson, Stephan. Gay Marriage Debate Centers on History vs Change." Knight Ridder Newspapers 19 FEB 2006 Print


Frank. Nathaniel. "Gay Is a Choice?," Los Angeles Times 08 OCT 2008. Web.17 Apr 2009.


Padgett, Tim. "Gay Family Values." Time 17016 JUL 2007 51-52. Web.17 Apr 2009.


Miller. Carol M. "Judge Rules Ban on Gay Adoption Unconstitutional," Miami Herald 09 SEP 2008. Web.17 Apr 2009.


"Freedom." Encarta Dictionary. CD-ROM.




Thursday, April 16, 2009

Monday, April 13, 2009

Marijuana , A Legal Drug???

    Marijuana is a drug that has been illegal in the U.S. since the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, but recently there has been speculation that this once illegal drug could soon become legalized.  For many reasons, the legalization of marijuana would be helpful to many aspects of society medically, economically, and politically.


            Medically, marijuana is used to stop the spread of cancer. In 2007, 8 million people died of cancer; fortunately marijuana has been known to cut most tumor growth by 50% (Science Daily) and holds the promise of alleviating vomiting and nausea in patients undergoing chemotherapy (Science Daily).  Marijuana has never been directly linked to lung cancer or any other type of cancer.  Medical marijuana has been used for thousands of years, and most recently it is being consumed through means of drink or pill form for medical purposes.  Marijuana is also used or prescribed by physicians for treatment of migraines, chronic pain, asthma, and to stimulate the appetite of AIDS patients.  "Federal law still prohibits medical marijuana, but every state ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana has been approved, often by wide margins," said Ethan Nadelmann of National Review.  Many states have issued their own bills to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes.        


            The economic benefits from the legalization of marijuana would be the ability to tax the sales, the ability to control the price that it is sold at, and the ability to lower government spending on federal and local law enforcement resources on their fight against the illegal use of marijuana.  "Recently the federal government has increased the taxation on cigarettes by $0.39 to make the total tax $1.00 per 20-pack," (Tax Foundation).  If marijuana were to be legalized the potential tax benefit to the government would be huge because so many Americans use this "illegal" drug.  The legalization of marijuana would give the government the ability to control the price which would take the illegal sales of marijuana off the streets and legally put it into the hands of consumers through gas stations, grocery or convenience stores. Along with controlling the price it would be made available to those who can't afford the street cost charged by drug dealers, overall lowering the price and still giving the government the benefit of the tax money.  Government tax money would also be saved by cutting back on the law enforcement resources that are being used on the attempts to catch the offenders.  This will also lower drug related gang violence and killings over drug deals gone bad.  


             "In 2007 over 83 million Americans, over the age of 12, had tried marijuana at least once," (  Look at the facts, 83 million Americans used marijuana in one year, if that many Americans used that in one year then in 4 years 332 million Americans may have used the drug.  If a presidential candidate were to propose the legalization of marijuana on their platform, they would almost be guaranteed to win the votes of all the voters who have admitted to using this drug illegally and then the candidate against the legalization of marijuana will be at a major disadvantage.  The government would still have control because they could regulate where it was grown, how much of it was grown, and they could also put restrictions on it so that there wouldn't be pandemonium over the transition from illegal to legal usage.


            The legalization of marijuana is a large and widely discussed topic.  With marijuana legalized, the American public would have more access to a drug that could help control their medical conditions and the government would be given a tool to help stabilize the economy to lead us out of the recession, and it would give political leaders a tool to help them achieve a federal office.  In this day and age the most widely used illegal drug, in the United States, is marijuana.  Why it is that cigarettes and alcohol are legal when a drug, whose effects are less dangerous than the other two, is illegal?




    Works Cited

Henchman, Joseph. "Federal Cigarette Tax Increase Signed Into Law; Raises Taxes on Families Earning Under $250,000." Tax Foundation. 5 Feb. 2009. 4 Apr. 2009.

  "Marijuana: Facts Parents Need to Know." Health. 18 Mar. 2003. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). 4 Apr. 2009.

Nadelmann, Ethan A. "An End to Marijuana Prohibition." National Review 12 July 2004: 28-+. SIRs. 4 Apr. 2009 <>.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Reeling in a Dealer of Meth and Death in Omaha


As diners scarfed down flapjacks and sipped from speckled coffee mugs at Denny's restaurant in Omaha, four men had something more than the menu on their minds.

Federal agents believe they were the ones who ended up with the grand slam that morning.

The deal at Denny's, they say, involved Antonio Frausto, an alleged hit man for a Mexican drug cartel. He was tied to — but never charged with — the 2004 assassination of Mexican photojournalist Gregorio Rodriguez after the murder weapon was found in Frausto's home.

Frausto, 44, and two men in their 20s were arrested and indicted in U.S. District Court in Omaha on six drug-related charges, including selling a pound of the purest methamphetamine ever seized in Omaha. The fourth man at Denny's was a DEA informant.

Frausto has been a lead regional drug trafficker for the Sinaloa Federation, the top Mexican cartel, according to the Mexican Federal Attorney General's Office.

His arrest is a significant case for the Drug Enforcement Administration office in Omaha, said L.D. Mathews, assistant special agent in charge.

"People were excited to take somebody of that magnitude off the street," he said in an interview.

Sources in at least six previous busts by the DEA have said Frausto was a cartel hit man, special agent Brent Fisher testified at a federal court hearing in Omaha.

Frausto's attorney, however, argued in court that his client, carrying identification with the Ocampo name, is not Frausto-Diaz, the reported hit man.

Lab tests showed some of the meth seized in January in Omaha was 99.6 percent pure — a level never before seen here, Fisher testified. Average purity of seized meth is around 50 percent, DEA statistics show.

It's unusual to find near-pure meth this far from the Mexican border, Mathews said. That indicates a high-level connection to a Mexican "superlab," where meth is produced in mass quantity, FBI supervisory special agent Daniel Clegg said in an interview. He was stationed in Mexico for four years.

In the Frausto case, "the dope is hot off the assembly line," assistant U.S. attorney Robert Sigler said in court.

On the Web: Nebraska drug fact sheet Mexican cartels have taken over the American meth trade, once supplied by white "biker types" who manufactured small batches, Clegg said. With a lack of regulation and access to large quantities of chemical ingredients, the cartels have built labs that produce large amounts of high-quality drugs, he said. They are commercial-style operations in warehouses that produce 10 to 20 pounds per batch, Mathews said.

The Mexican organizations supply the bulk of drugs in the Omaha area, which local street gangs sell in small amounts to users, according to the National Drug Intelligence Center. Interstates 29 and 80 provide easy routes to major cities that serve as drug distribution hubs.

During a recent visit to pave the way for President Barack Obama's scheduled trip to Mexico this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton blamed Americans' appetite for narcotics for escalating Mexican drug wars. The U.S. administration vowed to give more money and manpower to secure the border and fight cartels.

They will be fighting a well-established trade.

Sinaloa, whose history of narcotics dates to 19th century Chinese farmers growing opium in the hills of the Sierra Madre, is Mexico's most violent state. It is home to the Sinaloa Federation, the most powerful cartel in the Western Hemisphere, and the Juárez Cartel, which controls roughly half the Texas and Arizona smuggling corridors.

The capital, Culiacán, averages five homicides a day as the two cartels engage in a turf war for control of smuggling routes to the U.S. and face government crackdowns.

Among last year's violence, five cops were shot dead in a pickup, four musicians were slain as they left a newspaper building and a drug lord's son was killed with a rocket launcher in a downtown shopping mall. Last week, the Mexican army seized more than $3 million and 30 firearms, some encrusted in gold and diamonds.

Newspaper photojournalist Rodriguez did not regularly cover Sinaloa's drug trade. Yet his killing in 2004 was among the first to establish Mexico as one of the deadliest countries in the world in which to be a journalist, second only to Iraq. Nine Mexican journalists were slain in a string of attacks throughout the country in the next three years.

Rodriguez, 35, and his family lived in the town of Escuinapa, a quiet city where the Catholic church plaza doubles as a city center.

Rodriguez had taken his children to dinner at a small outdoor stand, according to Mexican investigative files on his murder.

After they sat at a small table and ordered sandwiches, three men approached, and a quiet argument ensued. When Rodriguez stood, one of the men pulled a gun and shot him five times. As the men walked away, Rodriguez's daughter ran screaming for help, and his son fell on top of his father's body.

Within days, federal and state police converged on Frausto's swank home in Escuinapa, recovering a gun that ballistics tests linked to that killing and another shooting a week earlier.

In that earlier shooting, the investigative file alleges that Frausto and three other men assaulted a doctor, threatening him with a 9 mm handgun after he refused to treat one of the men's injuries. One of them shot the doctor's wife. The gunmen's Jeep Cherokee also was found at Frausto's home.

A newspaper publisher said in Mexican news reports that Rodriguez had been killed because he inadvertently photographed the city police chief at Frausto's home during a party.

Last year, the police chief was sentenced to 11 years in prison for complicity in the murder and thwarting the state police investigation, including ordering the crime scene to be washed with buckets of water.

Two other men also went to prison for the murder, but Frausto was never charged.

In Omaha, the magistrate judge would not allow the prosecution to use Mexican newspaper articles connecting Frausto to the assassination as evidence. Frausto's attorney said those claims were irrelevant to the drug charges.

Frausto has not been tied to any local killings, Mathews said.

Mexican drug rings have been linked to several Omaha murders.

In a particularly gruesome case, Omaha residents Dale Giles and Charmar Brown executed three men from Arizona and Colorado and set their bodies on fire in 2005 to avoid paying for 3,000 pounds of marijuana worth an estimated $3 million.

In 2004, Omaha resident Jesse Gutierrez tried to have his uncle killed to get out of a marijuana debt, but gunmen missed the intended target and killed two Arizona residents in the car with the uncle.

In Frausto's pending case, he allegedly bragged about his smuggling prowess as he sat among the teal green booths and adobe-colored tabletops of Omaha's Denny's at South 84th Street and Interstate 80.

According to testimony by agent Fisher and an interview with Mathews:

An informant who had been working with the DEA in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, made arrangements by phone with Frausto to buy a pound of methamphetamine Jan. 8 for $24,000 in Omaha.

Frausto travels to Omaha to handle transactions of this size, Mathews said. Both co-defendants have listed Council Bluffs addresses during previous minor arrests dating back to 2006.

Agents tailed Frausto's co-defendants as they left a brick ranch-style house near 38th and Cuming Streets, just north of historic Gold Coast mansions, and delivered the drugs to a Motel 6 near 107th and L Streets.

The four men met Jan. 18 at Denny's for a larger deal.

After Frausto's two associates left, Frausto chatted in Spanish about his line of work.

Frausto asked the buyer if he had good connections in the Midwest, places like Chicago and Detroit, saying he could get all the drugs he wanted. He said he moved multiple loads a day across the Mexican border, mentioning 32 kilos of cocaine and 25 pounds of meth daily.

As Frausto talked for more than an hour, a recording device secretly captured the conversation.

He was arrested when he left the restaurant about 11:15 a.m. His co-defendants were arrested with a bag containing four pounds of meth outside a Council Bluffs apartment.

Officers who searched the Omaha house found Frausto's wife there, although she has not been charged. They seized a 9 mm pistol and $60,000, including $23,500 traced to the previous drug buy.

In court, lawyers said Frausto is a legal immigrant who lives in Phoenix and sells cars. He told federal officials that he travels to Mexico every six months to see his doctor.

Frausto and his co-defendants remain in jail in Council Bluffs, awaiting trial and facing up to life in prison if convicted of the six drug-related federal charges.

More than 1,500 miles away in Escuinapa, the photographer's widow remains cautious.

"We'll just have to see if he was involved in my husband's murder," Maria Teresa Gonzalez said last week. "I really don't want to say much more than that. You know how it is here."

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Obama factor reaches Iran

Thursday's celebrations of Iran's nuclear power could be Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's swansong

Tuesday 7 April 2009 20.00 BST Article historyA year after becoming president in 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared that the 20th day in the Persian month of Farvardin would officially be known as National Nuclear Technology day. On this day, which falls on Thursday 9 April this year, the government and people of Iran are to celebrate their country's nuclear achievements.

Ahmadinejad is not in charge of Iran's nuclear programme. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is. Nevertheless, he allows Ahmadinejad to use the occasion to inform the people of Iran about the technical progress made by Iran's nuclear programme during the past year. Last year, Ahmadinejad declared that "Iran was ready to install some 6,000 new centrifuges at the nuclear facility in the central province of Natanz".

This year, National Nuclear Technology day will have added importance for the president. While Ahmadinejad will be making his yearly speech about Iran's nuclear accomplishments, he will be well aware that from that day, only 64 days remain until the presidential elections, scheduled for 12 June.

The past year has been one of the worst for Ahmadinejad since he took office. He has suffered a number of embarrassing domestic defeats. One of them was parliament's unwillingness to pass the subsidies reduction clause in this year's budget, which called for the reduction of energy subsidies and to distribute the money instead to Iran's poor as cash handouts. Parliamentarians are worried this may further increase the level of inflation. Ahmadinejad has invested heavily in this clause. He has been promoting it since last year and parliament's resistance has damaged his credibility.

The other setback was the embarrassing dismissal of Ali Kordan, his interior minister, by parliament. Kordan was found to have had a forged doctorate degree from Oxford university. This created a large number of email and text message jokes about the former minister's credentials by offering degrees from "Aksford" and "Oxphord" university. The fact that Ahmadinejad backed Kordan until the last moment caused further blows to his standing.

Even football and its extraordinary popularity in Iran do not seem to have helped the president. During the last world cup qualifying match between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Tehran, Ahmadinejad made a surprise appearance in the stadium, 30 minutes after the start of the game. However, the fact that Iran lost 2-1 on home soil after initially leading their Saudi rivals 1-0 led to the popular belief that Ahmadinejad had 'ghadame shoor', a Persian expression that describes someone who brings bad luck.

This wasn't the first time Ahmadinejad made a surprise appearance at a major sporting event. The previous occasion was in early March when Iran made it to the finals of the World Wrestling Championship against Azerbaijan. Iran lost that match too.

In all likelihood, Ahmadinejad is going to make the most of this year's nuclear technology day ceremony to boost his falling popularity at home. Unlike the economy, the nuclear programme is one area which Ahmadinejad has not ruined. Many people believe that the only reason is because he is not in charge of it. Nevertheless, thanks to Ayatollah Khamenei, Ahmadinejad will gladly use the opportunity as a means to boost his position.

This will be the case even if Iran's nuclear programme has not made any spectacular gains in the past year. Ahmadinejad could quite possibly paint a picture that is rosier than the reality. He will have no other choice — this is his last chance before the elections. The Iranian electorate is unforgiving and he has to take every opportunity to reach out to them.

The international community, especially Israel and the US, may have a different perception on Ahmadinejad's nuclear technology day declarations. Any major announcement could be taken as a sign of antagonism, or threat. This would be logical. However, the international community should understand that promoting one's capability and leveraging power is a tried and tested negotiation method. In other words, there is also the possibility that forthcoming statements could be mere bolstering to improve Iran's position before the start of negotiations with the US.

This is one area which Ahmadinejad has no control over. In fact, negotiations with the US may make or break his presidency.

Until now, the supreme leader has offered unprecedented support to Ahmadinejad. However, new events on the ground may mean that for the next elections, matters may not be entirely in Khamenei's hands. The election of Barack Obama and his offer of unconditional talks with Iran have created new challenges for the supreme leader. With such a popular president at the helm in Washington, shunning America could be a costly mistake.

Khamenei realises that during the expected negotiations, Obama would prefer a reformist resident of the presidential office in Louis Pasteur Street in Tehran. This is why he is waiting to negotiate with Iran after the Iranian presidential elections. He does not want to improve Ahmadinejad's chances.

Although the supreme leader is under no obligation to compromise with Obama, shunning the US president would be damaging, both diplomatically and economically. Realising that the re-election of Ahmadinejad may be interpreted as a rebuff in Washington, it is very possible that Khamenei may decide that Ahmadinejad's removal may serve his interests far more than keeping him as president.

On nuclear technology day, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could try to take all the glory for Iran's nuclear programme. Despite that, the day after Iran's presidential elections, he may find himself the most prominent victim of the "Obama factor".