Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Priests Brawl in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity

Scuffles have broken out between rival groups of Greek Orthodox and Armenian clerics in a turf war at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity.

Bemused tourists looked on as about 100 priests fought with brooms while cleaning the church in preparation for Orthodox Christmas, on 7 January.

Palestinian police armed with batons and shields broke up the clashes.

Groups of priests have clashed before in the church, built on the spot where Christians believe Jesus was born.

"It was a trivial problem that... occurs every year," Bethlehem police Lt-Col Khaled al-Tamimi told Reuters.

"No one was arrested because all those involved were men of God," he said.

Nobody was seriously injured in the scuffles, according to the police.

Previous clashes between the denominations which share the administration of the church have been sparked by perceived encroachments on one group's territory by another.

The 1,700-year-old church, one of the holiest sites in Christianity, is in a bad state of repair, largely because the priests cannot agree on who should pay for its upkeep.

Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the site where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified, has also seen similar incidents.

Cheetah the Chimp from 1930s Tarzan Flicks Dies

A Florida animal sanctuary says Cheetah the chimpanzee sidekick in the Tarzan movies of the early 1930s has died at age 80.

The Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor announced that Cheetah died Dec. 24 of kidney failure.

Sanctuary outreach director Debbie Cobb on Wednesday told The Tampa Tribune ( ) that Cheetah was outgoing, loved finger painting and liked to see people laugh. She says he seemed to be tuned into human feelings.

Based on the works of author Edgar Rice Burroughs, the Tarzan stories, which have spawned scores of books and films over the years, chronicle the adventures of a man who was raised by apes in Africa.

Cheetah was the comic relief in the Tarzan films that starred American Olympic gold medal swimmer Johnny Weissmuller. Cobb says Cheetah came to the sanctuary from Weissmuller's estate sometime around 1960.

Cobb says Cheetah wasn't a troublemaker. Still, sanctuary volunteer Ron Priest says that when the chimp didn't like what was going on, he would throw feces.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Walt Handelsman, Copyright 2011 Tribune Media Services

China Gets Approval for Afghanistan Oil Exploration Bid

China has gained potential access to millions of barrels of oil after it won approval for oil exploration and extraction in Afghanistan.

The country's cabinet approved a deal to allow China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) to develop oil blocks in the Amu Darya Basin.

The basin is estimated to hold around 87 million barrels of oil.

The deal comes as China is looking to expand its oil resources in wake of a growing domestic demand.

"The Afghan cabinet has ordered mines minister Wahidullah Shahrani to sign an oil exploration contract for Amu Darya with China National Petroleum Corporation," Afghanistan president's office said in a statement.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Why's The Media Shafting Ron Paul, And Ignoring NDAA & SOPA Dangers?

The American broadcast media's ongoing blackout of NDAA and SOPA -- and their race to marginalize GOP presidential front-runner Ron Paul -- suggests a level of moral bankruptcy in the press that is troubling, to say the least.

Even though President Obama is on vacation in Hawaii, NDAA sits on his desk, and could receive his signature via autopen at any moment -- certain hotly contested provisions within the NDAA would allow for the lifelong imprisonment of American citizens on US soil, by military force, without right to a trial, access to an attorney, and so forth -- yet the media isn't talking about it?

Similarly, SOPA has reached an advanced stage in Congress -- like a metastasizing deadly cancer -- and would allow for totalitarian-style censorship of US Internet content without trial. Even this article would be subject to removal under SOPA provisions. Yet the media isn't talking about it?

Look, you don't have to be a Ron Paul supporter. But you do have to see that the media plays a vicious game where it considers Iowa a major stepping stone in the path to the presidency, UNLESS someone they don't favor is the front-runner there (as is the case with Ron Paul's surging popularity). Now, all of a sudden, the pundits are crawling out from underneath their rocks to tell the American people that Iowa has become "irrelevant."

Something is desperately wrong here.

Yes, you can argue that FOX News is owned by News Corporation -- which also owns the FOX television and movie studio. Yes, you can argue that CNN is owned by Time Warner -- which also owns the Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema movie studios.

Is this the reason why they are silent on SOPA? To protect their respective parent company's box office profits?

It's a tempting line of paranoia, but not convincing enough. Surely at least one or two producers at these networks must have a conscience? Surely they realize that totalitarian censorship, and detainment of Americans without giving them a trial, is fundamentally wrong? It goes beyond political affiliations or economic status: these bills affect every single American.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Brazil Overtakes UK as Sixth-Largest Economy

Brazil has overtaken the UK to become the world's sixth-largest economy, according to a team of economists. The banking crash of 2008 and the subsequent recession has relegated the UK to seventh place in 2011, behind South America's largest economy, which has boomed on the back of exports to China and the far east.

Russia and India are expected to benefit from a surge in growth over the next 10 years and push the UK into eighth place. Like most economies, India is struggling with high inflation and slowing growth, but its highly educated workforce and skills in growth areas from IT and services to engineering will push the economy into fifth place. After a decade of selling oil and gas to Europe and other parts of Asia, Russia will be at number four.

The only compensation for ministers concerned by Britain's relative fall is that France will fall at a faster pace. Nicolas Sarkozy can still boast that France is the fifth-largest economy behind the US at number one, China, Japan and Germany, but by 2020, the Centre for Economics and business Research (CEBR) forecasts it will fall past the UK into ninth spot. Germany will also slip to seventh place in 2020.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Uncut CNN Ron Paul Interview, Later Edited to Look Like He Storms off Set

Here is the edited version:

Thursday, December 22, 2011

1,100-Year-Old Mayan Ruins Found in North Georgia

Mayan calendar photo via Flickr Commons

Archaeologists have discovered the ruins of an ancient Mayan city in the mountains of North Georgia believed to be at least 1,100 years old. According to Richard Thornton at, the ruins are reportedly what remains of a city built by Mayans fleeing wars, volcanic eruptions, droughts and famine.

In 1999, University of Georgia archeologist Mark Williams led an expedition to investigate the Kenimer Mound, a large, five-sided pyramid built in approximately 900 A.D. in the foothills of Georgia’s tallest mountain, Brasstown Bald. Many local residents has assumed for years that the pyramid was just another wooded hill, but in fact it was a structure built on an existing hill in a method common to Mayans living in Central America as well as to Southeastern Native American tribes.

Speculation has abounded for years as to what could have happened to the people who lived in the great Meso-American societies of the first century. Some historians believed that they simply died out in plagues and food shortages, but others have long speculated about the possibility of mass migration to other regions.

When evidence began to turn up of Mayan connections to the Georgia site, South African archeologist Johannes Loubser brought teams to the site who took soil samples and analyzed pottery shards which dated the site and indicated that it had been inhabited for many decades approximately 1000 years ago. The people who settled there were known as Itza Maya, a word that carried over into the Cherokee language of the region.

The city that is being uncovered there is believed to have been called Yupaha, which Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto searched for unsuccessfully in 1540. So far, archeologists have unearthed “at least 154 stone masonry walls for agricultural terraces, plus evidence of a sophisticated irrigation system and ruins of several other stone structures.” Much more may still be hidden underground.

The find is particularly relevant in that it establishes specific links between the culture of Southeastern Native Americans and ancient Mayans. According to Thornton, it may be the “most important archeological discovery in recent times.”

Why Do GOP Bosses Fear Ron Paul?

Ron Paul represents the ideology that Republican insiders most fear: conservatism.

Not the corrupt, inside-the-beltway construct that goes by that name, but actual conservatism.

And if he wins the Iowa Republican Caucus vote on January 3—a real, though far from certain, prospect—the party bosses will have to do everything in their power to prevent Paul from reasserting the values of the “old-right” Republicans who once stood, steadily and without apology, in opposition to wars of whim and assaults on individual liberty.

Make no mistake, the party bosses are horrified at the notion that a genuine conservative might grab the Iowa headlines from the false prophets. Already, they are claiming a Paul win won’t mean anything. If Paul prevails, says Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, “People are going to look at who comes in second and who comes in third. If [Mitt] Romney comes in a strong second, it definitely helps him going into New Hampshire and the other states.”

The party’s amen corner in the media is doing its part. Republican-insider radio and television programs have begun to go after Paul, the veteran congressman from Texas who is either leading or near the top in recent polls of likely caucus goers. Rush Limbaugh ridicules Paul on his radio show, while Sean Hannity’s Fox show has become a nightly Paul-bashing fest, with guests like former Education Secretary Bill Bennett trashing the congressman with lines like: “his notion of foreign policy is impossible.”

Actually, Paul’s notion of foreign policy is in line with that of conservatives used to believe. The congressman is often referred to as a libertarian, and he has certainly toiled some in that ideological vineyard. But the truth is that his politics descend directly from those of former Ohio Senator Robert “Mr. Republican” Taft and former Nebraska Congressman Howard Buffett—old-right opponents of war and empire who served in the Congress in the 1940s and 1950s and who, in Taft’s case, mounted credible bids for the party’s presidential nomination in 1940, 1948 and finally in 1952. In all three campaigns, Taft opposed what he described as the “Eastern establishment” of the party—the Wall Streeters who, he pointedly noted, had little in common with Main Streeters.

Taft was a steady foe of American interventionism abroad, arguing very much as Paul does today that it threatens domestic liberty. Indeed, just as Paul joined US Senator Russ Feingold in opposing the Patriot Act, spying on Americans and threats to freedom of speech and assembly in the first days of what would become an open-ended “war on terror,” so Taft warned during the cold war that “criticism in a time of war is essential to the maintenance of any kind of democratic government.”

“The maintenance of the right of criticism in the long run will do the country…more good than it will do the enemy,” explained Taft, who challenged President Truman’s attempts to use war powers as an excuse to seize domestic industries and otherwise expand what Dwight Eisenhower would eventually define as the military-industrial complex.

Buffett, the father of billionaire Warren, opposed military interventionism during the cold war era, declaring on the floor of the House: “Even if it were desirable, America is not strong enough to police the world by military force. If that attempt is made, the blessings of liberty will be replaced by coercion and tyranny at home. Our Christian ideals cannot be exported to other lands by dollars and guns. Persuasion and example are the methods taught by the Carpenter of Nazareth, and if we believe in Christianity we should try to advance our ideals by his methods. We cannot practice might and force abroad and retain freedom at home. We cannot talk world cooperation and practice power politics.”

When the threat of increased US involvement in Vietnam arose in the early 1960s, the elder Buffett wrote in William F. Buckley’s National Review: “When the American government conscripts a boy to go 10,000 miles to the jungles of Asia without a declaration of war by Congress (as required by the Constitution) what freedom is safe at home? Surely, profits of U.S. Steel or your private property are not more sacred than a young man’s right to life.”

Just as Ron Paul has consistently opposed free-trade deals and schemes to enrich government contractors, the elder Buffett railed against the crony capitalism of his day. “There are businesses that are being enriched by national defense spending and foreign handouts,” Buffett warned in 1948. “These firms, because of the money they can spend on propaganda, may be the most dangerous of all. If the Marshall Plan meant $100 million worth of profitable business for your firm, wouldn’t you Invest a few thousands or so to successfully propagandize for the Marshall Plan? And if you were a foreign government, getting billions, perhaps you could persuade your prospective suppliers here to lend a hand in putting that deal through Congress.”

Buffett campaigned in 1952 to nominate Taft as the Republican candidate for president. That effort was opposed by the Wall Street speculators and banksters of the day, and it failed—although not without a serious fight that went all the way to the GOP convention.

After his defeat, Taft griped, “Every Republican candidate for President since 1936 has been nominated by the Chase National Bank.”

That was the pure voice of old-right conservatism speaking.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Occupy Protesters Indicted on Felony Charges in Houston

Seven Occupy protesters were indicted on felony charges by a grand jury in Houston on Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office says, in connection with their demonstration at the local port as part of a national day of action by the movement.

The decision comes nearly a week after a judge initially dismissed the charges, saying the protesters could not be charged with possessing or using a "criminal instrument" – a felony in Texas – for their use of PVC pipe.

The protesters -- three from Austin, four from Houston -- put their arms through the pipe and used latches on it to connect together, making their arrest more difficult but not preventing it, said one of their attorneys, Daphne Silverman, of the National Lawyer's Guild in Houston. Donna Hawkins, a spokeswoman for the District Attorney's Office, confirmed the indictment.

"They are feeling, 'wow,' is the word. ... They're in a lot of shock. They were very happy with the justice's decision last week, they believed in her, they believed in the justice system," Silverman said. "These people ... are not criminals. These folks are out there attempting to make the country better for all of us."

Silverman, who noted that she believed the law had been wrongly applied by the prosecutor, said it's likely the protesters will be back in court in January to talk about the next step, such as negotiations or to go to trial. If convicted, they face up to two years in jail.

Gingrich to Gay Americans: Vote for Obama

When an Iowa Democrat this week asked Newt Gingrich for his thoughts on gays and lesbians, the presidential hopeful instructed him to vote for Barack Obama.

Scott Arnold, a professor at William Penn University and Oskaloosa resident, caught up with Gingrich at a  coffee house in Iowa, where the first caucus in the GOP nominating process will take place Jan. 3.

Arnold, according to the Des Moines Register, said, “I asked him if he’s elected, how does he plan to engage gay Americans. How are we to support him? And he told me to support Obama.”

Earlier this month, Gingrich’s half-sister, a lesbian who is married to her partner, said she and her brother got along but that she’s voting for Obama in 2012.

Gingrich, meanwhile, recently signed an anti-gay marriage pledge and called same-sex marriage a “temporary aberration that will dissipate.”

The former speak of the House is thrice married and twice divorced after adulterous affairs.

Arnold, after the encounter with Gingrich, said, “It’s a little bit frustrating and disheartening when you’re told to support the other side. That he doesn’t’ need your support.”

Ron Paul Becoming Serious Contender in Republican Presidential Race

As the first votes in the Republican presidential race approach, Rep. Ron Paul has become a serious force with the potential to upend the nomination fight and remain a factor throughout next year’s general-election campaign.

Although few think the congressman from Texas has a realistic shot at winning the GOP nod, he has built a strong enough base of support that he could be a spoiler — or a kingmaker.

In a muddled field, Paul could win the Iowa caucuses. While other candidates have been hesitant to commit to the state or have had trouble sustaining their initial bursts of support, Paul has been methodically building an organization and a growing corps of followers.

Over the past week, he has spent more than $600,000 on attack ads that are cutting into support for a fellow front-runner, former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.). And Paul has built an organization that will allow him to remain in the race well beyond the early-voting states and amass convention delegates.

Perhaps most fearsome to Republican leaders is Paul’s refusal to rule out a third-party presidential bid that would steal votes from the Republican nominee and make President Obama’s path to reelection considerably easier.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll, for instance, indicates that Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney would be locked in a dead heat in a one-on-one contest. But in a three-way race with Paul, Obama would hold a wide advantage. The survey also suggests that Paul on his own would pose at least as much danger to Obama as Gingrich would.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Barney Frank Zings George Will, Paul Ryan on Marijuana Legalization

Paul Leads in Iowa

Newt Gingrich's campaign is rapidly imploding, and Ron Paul has now taken the lead in Iowa.  He's at 23% to 20% for Mitt Romney, 14% for Gingrich, 10% each for Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry, 4% for Jon Huntsman, and 2% for Gary Johnson.

Gingrich has now seen a big drop in his Iowa standing two weeks in a row.  His share of the vote has gone from 27% to 22% to 14%.  And there's been a large drop in his personal favorability numbers as well from +31 (62/31) to +12 (52/40) to now -1 (46/47). Negative ads over the last few weeks have really chipped away at Gingrich's image as being a strong conservative- now only 36% of voters believe that he has 'strong principles,' while 43% think he does not.

Paul's ascendancy is a sign that perhaps campaigns do matter at least a little, in a year where there has been a lot of discussion about whether they still do in Iowa.  22% of voters think he's run the best campaign in the state compared to only 8% for Gingrich and 5% for Romney. The only other candidate to hit double digits on that question is Bachmann at 19%. Paul also leads Romney 26-5 (with Gingrich at 13%) with the 22% of voters who say it's 'very important' that a candidate spends a lot of time in Iowa.  Finally Paul leads Romney 29-19 among the 26% of likely voters who have seen one of the candidates in person.

Paul's base of support continues to rely on some unusual groups for a Republican contest.  Among voters under 45 he's at 33% to 16% for Romney and 11% for Gingrich.  He's really going to need that younger than normal electorate because with seniors Romney's blowing him out 31-15 with Gingrich coming in 2nd at 18%. Paul is also cleaning up 35-14 with the 24% of voters who identify as either Democrats or independents. Romney is actually ahead 22-19 with GOP voters.  Young people and non-Republicans are an unusual coalition to hang your hat on in Iowa, and it will be interesting to see if Paul can actually pull it off.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Study: Eating Less Keeps the Brain Young

A team of Italian researchers at the Catholic University of Sacred Heart in Rome have discovered that this molecule, called CREB1, is triggered by "" (low caloric diet) in the of mice. They found that CREB1 activates many genes linked to longevity and to the proper functioning of the brain.

This work was led by Giovambattista Pani, researcher at the Institute of General Pathology, Faculty of Medicine at the Catholic University of Sacred Heart in Rome, directed by Professor Achille Cittadini, in collaboration with Professor Claudio Grassi of the Institute of . The research appears this week in the (PNAS).

"Our hope is to find a way to activate CREB1, for example through , so to keep the brain young without the need of a ," Dr Pani said.

Caloric restriction means the animals can only eat up to 70 percent of the food they consume normally, and is a known experimental way to extend life, as seen in many experimental models. Typically, caloric-restricted mice do not become obese and don't develop diabetes; moreover they show greater and memory, are less aggressive. Furthermore they do not develop, if not much later, Alzheimer's disease and with less severe symptoms than in overfed animals.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Friday, December 16, 2011

Five Bold Moves That Could Change World Affairs

What are some potential game-changers in contemporary international diplomacy? By "game-changer," I mean a bold and risky initiative that fundamentally alters the strategic landscape, creating new possibilities and forcing others to rethink their own positions.

I'm thinking about the kind of bold stroke that the late Michael Handel analyzed in his book The Diplomacy of Surprise: Hitler, Nixon, Sadat. He was interested in how certain leaders launched faits accomplis or other unexpected maneuvers to break out of diplomatic gridlocks. Obvious examples are Richard Nixon's opening to China, Anwar Sadat's surprise announcement that he was willing to go to Jerusalem in search of peace, or (less positively) the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop pact that briefly united Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union and helped open the door to World War II. These initiatives often involved advance planning behind the scenes, but they were unexpected at the time and had dramatic effects as soon as they were revealed.

So I've been trying to imagine other steps that contemporary world leaders could take that might have equally dramatic effects. This sort of initiative can be risky, of course, and there's no guarantee that a bold gamble will succeed. With that caveat, here's a short list of five potential "game-changers," in no particular order.  

The United States Takes the Military Option "off the Table" with Iran   

For at least a decade, U.S. leaders have repeatedly insisted that all options are "on the table" with Iran. In one sense this is a truism: as long as you have certain capabilities, you always have the option of using them no matter what you've said in the past. But constantly harping on the possibility of military action is not a good way to build trust -- especially when the opponent is already deeply suspicious. It is also a very good way to convince an adversary that it ought to acquire some means of deterring a serious attack, such as acquiring a nuclear weapon, which is precisely what we don't want Iran to do. In any event, keeping the military option "on the table" doesn't appear to have achieved very much thus far. 

So what would happen if the Obama administration announced that the military option was "off the table" completely? It could remind everyone that this step did not preclude military action to defend U.S. allies or retaliate against direct attacks on the United States or its forces, but that we were not contemplating any sort of preventive attack on Iran itself, and were going to rely on diplomacy instead. I doubt this would cause a sudden U.S.-Iranian thaw, but it might clear the air somewhat and strengthen the hand of Iranians who recognize that crossing the nuclear threshold may not be in their own interest.

I don't for a minute think Obama & Co. will do any such thing between now and November 2012 (and probably not afterwards), and I certainly can't imagine any of the GOP candidates (save Ron Paul) acting along these lines. But that just shows you how little imagination our foreign-policy establishment has these days.

Above, President Obama prepares to deliver a statement on the U.N. Security Council sanctioning Iran over its nuclear program in June 2010.

Hamas Revises Its Charter  

If you've never read the Hamas Charter, it's worth a quick gander. You'll find it pretty disturbing. Many experts believe that a lot of its elements (including the explicit rejection of Israel's legitimacy, etc.) are not a true indication of Hamas' bottom lines, but, even so, there's a lot of offensive stuff that has nothing to do with concrete issues that divide Israelis and Palestinians. Case in point: the various references to a global Zionist conspiracy (going back to the French Revolution!), along with positive references to long-discredited anti-Semitic forgeries like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Check out Articles 22, 28, and 32, for example. In addition to making it easier for opponents to justify marginalizing Hamas, such passages make the organization sound out of touch with reality.

But imagine what could happen if Hamas announced it was dropping the most offensive (and stupid) clauses in its current charter? It could still adopt a hardline position on other matters, and still try to portray Fatah as corrupt, inept, or heavily compromised. But by providing an unmistakable signal that Hamas was willing to dump some of its most extreme claims, revising the Charter could open a path towards the organization's participation in the peace process (which is probably necessary if it is ever to succeed), and thus be a potential game-changer.

Above, Palestinians walk past Hamas posters in Gaza City in March 2011.

The United States Proposes Reciprocal Global Nuclear Arms Reductions

The American and Russian nuclear arsenals have declined significantly since the end of the Cold War, but are still far larger than either country needs for deterrence. In any case, the greater danger today is not some sort of great power nuclear war, but rather that a terrorist group will one day get a hold of a nuclear bomb or sufficient weapons-grade material to make a crude bomb of their own. 

So even if you are a fan of nuclear deterrence, you ought to be in favor of shrinking the global stockpile by as much as possible. What if the United States announced that it was prepared to match -- on a percentage basis -- reductions made by the other nuclear powers? If everyone else cuts by 10 percent, so will we. If others agree to cut by 50 percent, or even 80 percent, we're down with that too. And because our arsenal is larger than most, we would be getting rid of lots more weapons than anybody else was (except Russia, which has fewer in active service but more in storage).

This proposal need not lead directly to total disarmament, however. In particular, the United States could make it clear at the outset that there is a floor below which it will not go (perhaps a couple of hundred weapons). But the basic idea would be to challenge the other nuclear powers to get serious about reducing their own arsenals, by making it clear that we were willing to make even deeper cuts to our own.

This idea rests on two important realities: 1) the United States is the world's strongest conventional military power, and doesn't need an enormous nuclear arsenal in order to be secure, and 2) states only need a small number of survivable nuclear warheads to inflict massive damage on another country, which means you don't need thousands of bombs to have an effective deterrent. 

A proposal like this sounds utopian, but the United States would have little to lose by making it. At the very least, we'd sound far-sighted, and it would highlight the importance of the broader issue of nuclear security. And, hey, we'd save a bunch of money too.

Above, President Obama meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao during a Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC in April 2010.

Israel Accepts the Arab League Peace Plan

Back in 2002, Saudi Arabia floated a peace proposal that promised full Arab recognition of Israel once a two-state solution was achieved. The proposal was relaunched in 2007 and endorsed by the full Arab League. It is merely a general proposal and not a fully-formed "final status agreement," but it identified most of the key issues to be addressed and made it clear that these issues (including controversial topics like the so-called "right of return") would be resolved via negotiations. So far, Israel has rejected the initiative.

Critics of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu often claim that he is not really interested in a genuine two-state solution, and that all his talk of negotiation is just a smoke screen designed to buy time for more settlement building. But what if he went before the Knesset and declared that he had decided to accept the Arab League offer, and was ready to begin negotiations on the basis of their proposal? I think that could be a game-changer, and it wouldn't sacrifice any vital Israeli interests. (And if Hamas revised its charter (see above) maybe the Likud Party could revise its platform too!)

Above, Prime Minister Netanyahu meets with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during trilateral peace negotiations in September 2010.

China Proposes Multilateral Negotiation and Arbitration over the South China Sea

China's rise has fueled growing concerns about its long-term intentions. In recent years, a focal point of these concerns has been conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea. These disputes include bilateral contests between China and Vietnam over the Spratly Islands and China and the Philippines over Scarborough Shoal, and a multilateral disagreement between China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam over the Paracels. These various claims are also bound up in each state's control over "economic zones" in the region.

Up until now, China has sought to address these issues through bilateral negotiations, for the obvious reason that this approach maximizes its own potential leverage over the other contestants. Its naval activities in the area have increased and it has advanced territorial claims that many observers find dubious, while rejecting proposals to submit the various claims for arbitration. Taken together, these developments have intensified its smaller neighbors' fears and encouraged them to seek closer ties with the United States.

But what if China took a longer view, and concluded that a more conciliatory approach would undercut balancing tendencies in Southeast Asia and allow it to consolidate its position over time? In other words, what if Beijing suddenly announced that it wanted to begin multilateral negotiations for a final territorial settlement in the South China Sea, and that it was willing to submit the matter to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea if the negotiations failed?  It might end up with a smaller share of the areas in dispute, but the diplomatic benefits from a more conciliatory policy might outweigh the drawbacks by a wide margin.

I can think of other issues that cry out for a "game-changer" -- the ongoing euro crisis, the Indo-Pakistani dispute over Kashmir, the legal limbo that persists at Guantanamo, etc. -- but I'll stop here. The floor is now open: What are some other "game-changers" that might make a dramatic difference if some leader were creative enough to imagine a different approach and brave enough to try it? And don't worry if your proposals sound far-fetched; bold attempts to break free of the existing status quo will always appear a bit crazy at first.

Above, China's Lin Zhen Min and Vietnam's Pham Quang Vinh pose after an Association of South East Asian Nations meeting in July 2011.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ron Paul: Poised for an Upset in Iowa?

The basic story of the campaign season, if you've been absorbing the most conventional accounts from the most conventional media, is that Mitt Romney established himself early on as the candidate to beat. One by one, the other candidates have, in rapid succession, risen to the challenge but failed to surmount it. In that storyline, we've gone from Michele Bachmann to Rick Perry to Herman Cain to -- now -- Newt Gingrich. And the movement up and down for these various candidates has been chiefly the result of the sorts of crash-and-burn errors that the media dearly loves to report on, from Bachmann's HPV debacle to Perry's brain freezes to Cain's alleged sexual harassment of his subordinates.

Now, the media waits in wonder for the story to repeat itself with Gingrich. Sure enough, the first sign of his presumed decline came yesterday when Reuters reported that a University of Iowa poll suggested that Newt's "support could be slipping." It wasn't the most convincing poll in the world, for a variety of reasons related to timing and sample size that are too complicated to expound upon at length, but it nevertheless shot around the world on social media, as the political press geared up for another turn at the flame-out feeding frenzy. And as luck would have it, Public Policy Polling came out today with another set of numbers that suggested the same thing.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Newt Gingrich's Christian Nationalist Infommercial

Rick Perry's 'Country Solynda' Gaffe: GOP Candidate Mispronounces Solar Company's Name, Calls It a Country

Hours after Saturday's presidential debate in Des Moines, Iowa, GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry continued his string of memorable campaign gaffes.

CNN Political Ticker reports that Perry campaigned in the Hawkeye State, stopping in Ames. He focused on energy, taking shots at the Obama administration's handling of government spending.

"No greater example of it than this administration sending millions of dollars into the solar industry, and we lost that money," Perry said. "I want to say it was over $500 million that went to the country Solynda."

Perry was on target with his loan estimate, as the Department Of Energy issued a $535 million guarantee back in 2009. The only problem with his remark: the funding went to an energy company named Solyndra.

Newt Gingrich Condemned for Calling Palestinians 'Terrorists'

Palestinian officials say Republican frontrunner's claim children are taught to kill in textbooks is based on Israeli propaganda

Leading Palestinian officials have rounded on the Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich for his description of Palestinians as an "invented" people and "terrorists".

The Republican frontrunner insisted at a candidate debate on Saturday – to warm applause from the audience – that "these people are terrorists. They teach terrorism in their schools. They have textbooks that say, if there are 13 Jews and nine Jews are killed, how many Jews are left? We pay for those textbooks through our aid money.

"It's fundamentally time for somebody to have the guts to stand up and say, enough lying about the Middle East."

Palestinian officials said Gingrich's allegations were based substantially on material produced by an Israeli organisation, Palestinian Media Watch, which has published a long list of entries on its website under the heading 'Promoting Violence for Children'. An article from 2007 describes Palestinian textbooks paid for with US aid money that deny Israel's right to exist.

But Xavier Abu Eid, a senior adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said the website and Gingrich's allegations were groundless.

The Republican Primary Campaign in Iowa Is Right at Home on Fox News

There’s a reason Fox News is beginning to look like a meet-the-candidate pancake breakfast in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

“You don’t win Iowa in Iowa, you win it on this couch,” is how the Republican commentator Dick Morris put it on “Fox & Friends” on Wednesday. Mr. Morris said that the Republican debates and Fox News had forged a national primary that “imposes itself on Iowa.”

It’s certainly obvious in Iowa that candidates are investing a lot more time in television interviews than they are on the campaign trail. It’s a safe bet: a recent New York Times/CBS News poll of likely Iowa Republican caucus participants showed that 37 percent said they get most of their information from Fox News, that’s compared with 27 percent who cited broadcast news and a mere 2 percent who said they relied on MSNBC.

Accordingly, caucus and primary voters have a voice on Fox News. All the networks, broadcast and cable, are closely covering the campaign, but Fox News practically owns and operates it: its viewers are seeing the world through the eyes of a Tea Party activist in Davenport, or a small business leader in Ames — my own private Iowa.

And that responsibility gives Fox News an oddly bipolar feel these days. Long, detailed interviews with candidates and considered discussions of the pricklier primary issues like immigration and Medicare are woven into the cable channel’s customary brisk, blistering brio and hyperbole — all those flashy news alerts about President Obama waging “class warfare,” updates on an elderly robbery suspect known as the Geezer Bandit and the liberals’ “war on Christmas.”

Actually, not even the 2012 campaign can crimp the cherished Fox News holiday tradition of mixing persecution and poinsettia. This week, a Fox News reporter stopped Gov. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, an independent, demanding to know why he used the word “holiday tree” instead of “Christmas tree” in a lighting ceremony invitation. Mr. Chafee, who looked at the camera with the pleading congeniality of a Soviet dissident stopped by the K.G.B., tried to explain the separation of church and state and noted that he had used the same neutral wording as his Republican predecessors, to no avail. “What holiday is it?” the reporter asked as Governor Chafee walked away. “What holiday is it, Governor?” (Even Jon Stewart’s mockery doesn’t seem to dim the channel’s ire.)

Fox News is known for ambush interviews, but it doesn’t have to lie in wait for Republican candidates. Many news organizations took a telling clip from a recent interview that Mitt Romney gave to the Fox News anchor Bret Baier in Florida that showed the usually imperturbable former Massachusetts governor looking rattled and jumpy when asked about health care. The full interview was long, thorough and even more tense — Mr. Baier also pressed Mr. Romney on his changing views on amnesty for illegal immigrants with the polite insistence that candidates used to face from single-issue voters in Iowa kaffeeklatsches.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Gingrich Calls Palestinians 'iIvented' People

Republican presidential hopeful defends Israel and says Palestinians are Arabs who "had a chance to go many places."

Republican White House hopeful Newt Gingrich has stirred controversy by calling the Palestinians an "invented" people who could have chosen to live elsewhere.

The former House of Representatives speaker, who is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for the 2012 presidential race, made the remarks in an interview with the US Jewish Channel broadcaster released on Friday.

Asked whether he considers himself a Zionist, he answered: "I believe that the Jewish people have the right to a state ... Remember, there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire" until the early 20th century,

"I think that we've had an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs, and who were historically part of the Arab

"And they had a chance to go many places, and for a variety of political reasons we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940s, and it's tragic."

Most historians mark the start of Palestinian Arab nationalist sentiment in 1834, when Arab residents of the Palestinian region revolted against Ottoman rule.

Israel, founded amid the 1948 Arab-Israel war, took shape along the lines of a 1947 UN plan for ethnic partition of the
then-British ruled territory of Palestine which Arabs rejected.

More than 700,000 Palestinians were forced from their lands by Zionist armed groups in 1948, in an episode Palestinians refer to as the Nakba or "catastrophe".

Perry Parody

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The National Defense Authorization Act is the Greatest Threat to Civil Liberties Americans Face

If Obama does one thing for the remainder of his presidency let it be a veto of the National Defense Authorization Act – a law recently passed by the Senate currently which would place domestic terror investigations and interrogations into the hands of the military and which would open the door for trial-free, indefinite detention of anyone, including American citizens, so long as the government calls them terrorists.

So much for innocent until proven guilty. So much for limited government. What Americans are now facing is quite literally the end of the line. We will either uphold the freedoms baked into our Constitutional Republic, or we will scrap the entire project in the name of security as we wage, endlessly, this futile, costly, and ultimately self-defeating War on Terror.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio Failed to Investigate Over 400 Sex Crimes, Including Molestations of Undocumented Children

Arizona’s infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio (R) spends a lot of time playing politics and apparently no time doing his actual job. The AP reports that, over a three-year period ending in 2007, Arpaio “inadequately investigated” or in some instances didn’t even work more than 400 sex crimes reported to his office. The cases “include dozens of alleged child molestations.”

In El Mirage, Arizona, where Arpaio provided contract services, he failed to follow through on at least 32 reported child molestations— with some victims as young as 2. Many of the children were undocumented immigrants. According to an El Mirage detective, Arpaio’s people essentially “put their feet on the desk, and that was that”:

In El Mirage alone, where Arpaio’s office was providing contract police services, officials discovered at least 32 reported child molestations — with victims as young as 2 — in which the sheriff’s office failed to follow through, even though suspects were known in all but six cases. [...]

El Mirage Detective Jerry Laird, who reviewed some the investigations, learned from a summary of 50 to 75 cases files he picked up from Arpaio’s office that an overwhelming majority of them hadn’t been worked. That meant there were no follow-up reports, no collection of additional forensic evidence and zero effort made after the initial report of the crime was taken.

“I think that at some point prior to the contract [for police services] running out, they put their feet on the desk, and that was that,” Laird said.

Arpaio refused to answer questions for months and “declined a public records request for an internal affairs report, citing potential disciplinary actions.” He acknowledged his office completed an internal probe into the investigations, but said, “I don’t think it’s right to get into it until we get to the bottom of this and see if there’s disciplinary action against any employees.”
Rick McKee, Copyright 2011 Cagle Cartoons

US Forced to Leave Pakistani Air Base as Relations Reach All Time Low

US military personnel have begun leaving Shamsi air base in Pakistan, after a NATO attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border plunged U.S.-Pakistani relations to an all time low.

More than 70 US marines and CIA operatives are set to leave the base today.

An official told NBC: 'Two U.S. cargo planes reached Shamsi Airport and the loading of the equipment and other cargo items has also started.'

U.S Pakistani relations are at an all time low

Strong feelings: US Pakistani relations are at an all time low

The Pakistani government had last month demanded the US vacate the air base within 15 days. The US are leaving ahead of their December 11 deadline.

The US is suspected of using the facility to send armed drones to maintain pressure on Taliban and al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan's tribal region.

The government issued the demand after NATO helicopters and jet fighters allegedly attacked two Pakistan posts along the Afghan border, killing 24 soldiers.

Predator drones were initially allowed to land at Shamsi when they couldn't get back to Afghanistan.

The U.S. has lessened its dependency on the base since tensions with Pakistan began to flare up a year ago.

Pakistani security troops stationed near the base were on high alert today as the US began its departure.

Roads to the air base have been cordoned off, according to English-language Samaa TV in Pakistan.

Islamabad has also withdrawn from a December 5 conference in Germany on the future of Afghanistan, and prevented convoys from sending supplies to U.S. military in Afghanistan from Pakistan, Fox News reported.

The US offered commiserations for the loss of life, but it has not admitted responsibility for the attack.

Leaving the base is more of an inconvenience than a genuinely strategic blow.

Ron Paul Refusing To Attend Debate Hosted By "Reality Television Personality"

Sunday, December 4, 2011

New 'Super-Earth' Found With Fine-Tuned Telescope Readings

A distant planet barely bigger than Earth has been discovered in our galaxy, but it might have been missed if not for the combined efforts of several observatories both on and around our home planet.

U.S. space agency astronomers say the hard-to-detect data gathered during multiple readings by the Kepler space telescope and two ground observatories revealed tiny clues they needed to make the improbable discovery of a so-called super-Earth planet that otherwise would have gone undetected.

NASA's orbiting Kepler probe initially detected the super-Earth - a distant rocky planet about the size of the Earth - in our Milky Way galaxy about 350 light years from our solar system. Overlapping readings taken by two ground-based telescopes at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona confirmed the discovery.

Discovering a relatively small, Earth-sized planet so far away is remarkable because usually only distant planets at least as big as our solar system’s monstrous gas-giant, Jupiter, can be detected - and Jupiter has nearly 320 times more mass than the Earth, with 120 times more surface area.  

The newly-found alien world is relatively small at only 1.6 times the size of the Earth. It also streaks around its very bright star in just 2.8 days, and orbits from a scorchingly close distance of 6 million kilometers, making the bizarre super-Earth more difficult to track and identify.  

The NASA astronomers say the task took 65 scientists 15 months and that the multiple precision measurements and other readings taken by Kepler and the Kitt Peak telescopes made such a sensitive planet detection possible.

In a related development, the California Institute of Technology, Caltech, on Friday announced the significant discovery of 18 Jupiter-sized planets.  The huge alien worlds, or exoplanets, were detected in a decade-long survey of more than 300 expanding, aging stars.

Herman Cain Quotes Pokémon: Ex-Candidate Admits 'Pokémon 2000' Inspiration

Herman Cain wanted to be the very best, like no one ever was, but his quest to catch 'em all ended on Saturday.

The businessman and GOP presidential candidate stepped aside from the race on Saturday, bowing to falling polling numbers and growing sex scandal-related controversy. It was a sad moment for the conservatives who backed him, but a happy one for many video game and anime fans, as during his announcement, he finally admitted that he had been quoting Pokémon during various other speeches.

"I believe these words came from the Pokémon movie. I’m not sure who the original author is, so don’t go write an article about the poet, but it says a lot about where I am– where I am with my wife and my family, and where we are as a nation," Cain said. "Life can be a challenge. Life can seem impossible. It's never easy when there's so much on the line. But you and I can make a difference. There's a mission just for you and me."

The movie, to be exact, was "Pokémon 2000," and the song "The Power of One" by Donna Summer, not a "poet" as he had previously stated. But there are plenty of other Pokémon show and film lines he could have used, and as a service to both the Nintendo-based franchise and his speech writers for potential future campaigns, we've come up with a list of other great phrases he should keep in his political Pokédex.

Paul Calls Senate’s Bluff, Kills Terrorist Detainee Amendment

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Thursday — simply by asking for a recorded vote — managed to kill an amendment that would have clarified that the military can indefinitely detain enemy combatants.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), called the amendment to the floor, explaining it ought to garner the support of all senators because it would simply “clarify” that enemy combatants acquitted of crimes in a court can still be held in military detention until they are no longer deemed a threat. 

Looking to spare vulnerable Democrats from an awkward vote on the controversial issue of extra-judicial military detention, Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), with the assent of his Republican counterpart John McCain (R-Ariz.), attempted to swiftly pass the amendment by unanimous consent. 

“I think that this can be accepted on voice vote,” Levin said, when Sessions finished presenting the amendment. “I have great problems with it, but I think there is probably a majority here that will favor it.”  

But from across the chamber, Paul demanded a recorded vote on the amendment, which resulted in a resounding 41-59 defeat.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Ban Liffted to Slaughter Horses

Ban lifted to slaughter horses. A lot of people aren't happy about Congress' decision to lift a 5 year ban on slaughtering horses. The decision was made a few weeks ago. It means that horse meat could soon be available for people to eat in the U.S.

A lot of people we spoke with on Friday are unhappy with the decision to lift the ban. Marvin Tate says "I don't believe in it and I love animals, so I don't believe it's right for them to slaughter any animals period." Amalah Riggs says "horse slaughtering is wrong because it goes against animal rights, and we keep animals as pets so why would we want to eat them. it doesn't make sense."

We talked with Melanie McKenna who used to work for a veterinary clinic, and has rescued horses in the past. She says she hates the idea of having horses killed, but understands why it's done, because there are stricter regulations in U.S. slaughter houses. She says "if we have them here in the United States we know the controls. We know that the horses are going to be at least taken care of in a humane way. "

Before horses were shipped to slaughter houses in Mexico and parts of Canada. The drive alone kills many of the animals. McKenna says "they get trampled in the truck, they might fall down. They might get trampled by other horses, they won't have any food or water."

Economic factors also play a role. Some people can no longer afford to keep the animals as pets because many have lost their jobs. They can't afford to pay for their food because of increased hay prices. The other alternative of setting the animals free doesn't work out well for the horse. Horses that are set free in the wild makes are less likely to survive because they are not used for finding food for themselves.