U.S. seeks to expand ground raids in Pakistan
Military commanders see intelligence windfall in expanding campaign across border
By MARK MAZZETTI and DEXTER FILKINS
WASHINGTON – Senior Americanmilitary commanders in Afghanistan are pushing for an expanded campaign of Special Operations ground raids across the border into Pakistan’s tribal areas, a risky strategy reflecting the growing frustration with Pakistan’s efforts to root out militants there.
The proposal, described by American officials in Washington and Afghanistan, would escalate military activities inside Pakistan, where the movement of American forces has been largely prohibited because of fears of provoking a backlash. Story: Investigator: Billions in U.S. aid wasted in Afghanistan
The plan has not yet been approved, but military and political leaders say a renewed sense of urgency has taken hold, as the deadline approaches for the Obama administration to begin withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan.
3 billion-year-old genetic ‘fossil’ traced
John Roach writes:
The collective genome of all life on Earth today went through a rapid growth spurt between 3.3 billion and 2.8 billion years ago, according to scientists who used computer algorithms to reconstruct the evolutionary history of thousands of genes.
The growth spurt coincides with the advent of a biochemical pathway known as electron transport that is “integral for photosynthesis as well as for respiration,” Lawrence David, a computational biologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told me.
He and colleague Eric Alm named this growth spurt the Archean Expansion. The expansion precedes an era known as the Great Oxidation, when oxygen began to accumulate in Earth’s atmosphere and likely killed off large numbers of non-oxygen breathing life forms.
Auditors question TSA’s use of and spending on technology
By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 21, 2010; 12:55 AM
Before there werefull-body scanners, there were puffers.
The Transportation Security Administration spent about $30 million on devices that puffed air on travelers to “sniff” them out for explosives residue. Those machines ended up in warehouses, removed from airports, abandoned as impractical.
The massive push to fix airport security in the United States after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, led to a gold rush in technology contracts for an industry that mushroomed almost overnight. Since it was founded in 2001, the TSA has spent roughly $14 billion in more than 20,900 transactions with dozens of contractors.
Toyota to pay record fines for disclosure delay
The automaker’s failure to promptly report defects brings federal penalties that top $32 million.
By Ken Bensinger and Ralph Vartabedian, Los Angeles Times
Toyota Motor Corp. agreed to pay two fines totaling more than $32.4 million for failing to promptly inform regulators of defects in its vehicles, instead allowing millions of potentially dangerous vehicles to remain on the nation’s roads.
The record penalties, resulting from months-long investigations by the Transportation Department into the automaker’s handling of safety issues, were related to floor mats that could entrap accelerator pedals and for a flaw that can cause total loss of steering control.
Europe’s ‘last dictator’ tightens grip with crackdown on rivals
By Tom Balmforth in Minsk and Shaun Walker in Moscow Tuesday, 21 December 2010
Alexander Lukashenko, the man often dubbed “Europe’s last dictator”, has vowed not to let “muddle-headed democracy” take hold in Belarus as he brushed off criticism of brutal tactics by riot police in the aftermath of his re-election.
As a sweeping crackdown began with scores of arrests that went to the very top of the country’s political opposition, he told reporters that the voting, which other candidates insist was rigged, was “so open and transparent that people could have confused it for a reality television show”.
Europe Turns against Germany
Berlin’s Lack of Vision
By SPIEGEL Staff
Cooking is an art. François Vatel, a famous chef at the court of Louis XIV, was so distraught over his inability to serve a sufficiently delicious meal to the king that he committed suicide. At last week’s European Union summit in Brussels, the European leaders in attendance ruled out such risks from the start, by choosing in advance from a list of top chefs who had bid for the contract.
The menu that was served last Thursday in the European Council building on Schuman Square in Brussels had a distinctly Mediterranean flavor. It included gazpacho of red beets with king crab, sole Provencal with a tangy pea puree and, for dessert, Mallorcan pastries with passion fruit, all prepared by German Michelin-starred chef Gerhard Schwaiger, manager of the luxury restaurant “Tristan” on the Mediterranean resort island of Mallorca.
Israel accused of discrimination in occupied areas
The Irish Times – Tuesday, December 21, 2010
ISRAEL IS discriminating against Palestinians living in the occupied territories by depriving them of water, electricity and roads while providing a luxurious lifestyle for Israelis living in illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.
In a 166-page document entitled Separate and Unequal, Human Rights Watch describes the “two-tier system of laws, rules and services that Israel operates for the two populations in areas of the West Bank [and East Jerusalem] under its exclusive control, which provide preferential services, development and benefits for Jewish settlers while imposing harsh conditions on Palestinians.”
Iran earthquake kills at least five people
At least five people were killed in an earthquake of 6.5 magnitude that jolted southeastern Iran on Monday, damaging buildings in outlying mountainous areas, the region’s governor said.
12:42AM GMT 21 Dec 2010
“So far five people have been killed. A higher number of casualties is possible because of the vast scale of the damage,” Esmail Najjar, governor of Iran’s Kerman province, centre of the quake, said.
State television said at least three villages had been destroyed. “Hundreds of people are trapped under the rubble,” the semi-official Mehr news agency quoted a local official as saying.
The U.S. Geological Survey put the quake’s magnitude at 6.3. The official IRNA news agency said nine aftershocks had hit since the main quake, including one of 5 magnitude. Telephone lines had been cut.
Refugee debate turns toxic after boat tragedy
By Kathy Marks, Asia-Pacific Correspondent Tuesday, 21 December 2010
Australia’s brief political truce over last week’s shipwreck off Christmas Island was replaced by an increasingly bitter argument about the future direction of the country’s refugee policy yesterday, as first-hand accounts of the tragedy began to emerge.
As many as 48 asylum-seekers are now thought to have died in the disaster. With 30 people now confirmed dead, the search for more bodies has been called off on the advice of police divers, who have scoured underground caves near the rugged Indian Ocean territory.
Japan watches nervously as China flexes its economic muscles
TOKYO LETTER: What is perceived as Chinese expansionism in Japan is leading to a rise in right-wing protests
MOST TOKYO neighbourhoods will fortunately never experience Makoto Sakurai and his noisy flag-waving mob.
The city’s normally quiet Moto- Azabu area is home to the Chinese embassy and there are few countries that Sakurai hates more than China. His group’s favourite insult – shouted at the embassy through megaphones – is shina- jin, roughly equivalent to “chink.”
“The Chinese are making fools of us,” says Sakurai, a baby-faced 30-something and the unlikely ringleader of what one academic calls “Japan’s fiercest and most dangerous hate group today”.
Like many nationalists here, he is infuriated by what he sees as Chinese expansionism. “If Japan had any guts, it would stand up to them.”
UN urges recognition of Ouattara as Ivory Coast leader
The UN Security Council has urged all parties in Ivory Coast to recognise opposition leader Alassane Ouattara as president and extended the mandate of the peacekeeping force for six months.
Incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo had ordered the 10,000-strong force to leave the country after the UN said he lost November’s disputed run-off vote.
He and Mr Ouattara have both named a cabinet amid a stand-off in Abidjan.
Meanwhile, officials said the EU would impose a travel ban on Mr Gbagbo.
A spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told the BBC that an agreement had been taken in principle to bar Mr Gbagbo, his wife and 17 other close associates, from member states.
‘Already Flying the Flag of an Independent State’
Approaching Referendum in Sudan
SPIEGEL: On Jan. 9, 2011, Southern Sudan will vote on secession from the republic of Sudan. Are you certain that the majority will vote for secession?
Benjamin: Yes, we are already flying the flag of an independent state on our government buildings. The government in Khartoum doesn’t have anything against it.
SPIEGEL: The African Union is calling for a united Sudan.
Benjamin: That is true. The reason behind that though, is the fear that the borders which were arbitrarily drawn by European nations in the 19th and 20th centuries, could be moved in other parts of our continent too.