Category: Political

Source: AP

The Netherlands became the first NATO country to end its combat mission in Afghanistan, drawing the curtain Sunday on a four-year operation that was deeply unpopular at home and even brought down a Dutch government.

The departure of the small force of nearly 1,900 Dutch troops is not expected to affect conditions on the ground. But it is politically significant because it comes at a time of rising casualties and growing doubts about the war in NATO capitals, even as allied troops are beginning what could be the decisive campaign of the war.

Canada has announced it will withdraw its 2,700 troops in 2011 and Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski has promised to pull out his country’s 2,600 soldiers the year after.

That is likely to put pressure on other European governments such as Germany and Britain to scale back their forces, adding to the burden shouldered by the United States, which expects to have 100,000 troops here by the end of next month.

President Barack Obama has pledged to begin withdrawing American troops starting in July 2011. But Defense Secretary Robert Gates told ABC’s “This Week” broadcast Sunday that only a small number of troops would leave in the initial stage.

The end of the Dutch mission took place amid bad news from Afghanistan — including rising casualties and uncertainty over a strategy that relies heavily on winning Afghan public support through improved security and a better performance by Afghanistan’s corrupt and ineffectual government.

July was the deadliest month of the nearly 9-year war for U.S. forces with 66 deaths. U.S. commanders have warned of more losses ahead as the NATO-led force ramps up operations in longtime Taliban strongholds in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand, which accounted for most of last month’s American deaths.

Two more international service members were killed Sunday in fighting in the south, NATO said without specifying nationalities.

The Dutch departure was sealed after Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende’s government collapsed earlier this year over disagreement among coalition members on whether to keep troops in Afghanistan longer. His Christian Democrat party suffered heavy losses at parliamentary elections in June.

Twenty-four Dutch soldiers have died in Afghanistan since the mission began in 2006. Most of the Dutch soldiers were based in the central province of Uruzgan, where they will be replaced by soldiers from the U.S., Australia, Slovakia and Singapore.

The Dutch pioneered a strategy they called “3D” — defense, diplomacy and development — that involved fighting the Taliban while at the same time building close contacts with local tribal elders and setting up numerous development projects.

Dutch troops, some of them riding bicycles, mingled closely with the local population and often did not wear helmets while walking around towns and villages as a way of winning the trust of wary local tribes.

“The international community and NATO are helping Afghanistan to stand on its own legs so the country can defend itself against extremists who want to use it as a breeding ground for global terrorism,” Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said in a message to Dutch troops.

NATO spokesman Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz played down the significance of the Dutch move, saying it did not signal a weakening of coalition resolve.

“The overall force posture of (NATO) and of the Afghan security forces is increasing,” Blotz told reporters. He noted the surge of mostly U.S. forces that have recently taken control of key areas in Helmand and Kandahar provinces from British and Canadian forces.

The American move into those areas is part of a bid to bolster security in Kandahar city, the biggest urban center in the south and the Taliban’s former headquarters. The U.S. move into areas around Kandahar was largely responsible for the spike in casualties over the past two months.

An escalation in fighting is likely to lead to a rise in civilian casualties, undermining support for the coalition among ordinary Afghans. A minibus full of civilians struck a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan early Sunday, and Afghan officials said six of those on board were killed.

At least 270 civilians were killed in the fighting in July, and nearly 600 wounded — a 29 percent increase in civilian casualties over the previous month, according to Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary.

U.N. figures show that the Taliban are responsible for most civilian deaths through suicide attacks and roadside bombs. Nevertheless, many Afghans still blame the coalition, arguing that without foreign troops, the Taliban would have little reason to mount attacks.

More than 200 Afghans marched through Kabul on Sunday to protest the alleged deaths of 52 civilians in a NATO rocket attack in the south. NATO has repeatedly disputed the allegations of civilian deaths, and Blotz said Sunday that a joint assessment team has only confirmed that between one and three civilians may have died in the July 23 attack in the Sangin district of Helmand province.

Protesters carried photos of children allegedly killed or wounded in the missile strike and shouted “Death to America! Death to NATO!”

“We should not tolerate such attacks. The Americans are invaders who have occupied our country in the name of fighting terrorism,” said 22-year-old Ahmad Jawed, a university student.

He said the Afghan government was equally to blame for failing to exert control over NATO troops.

“We don’t have a strong enough government to protect the rights of the Afghan people,” Jawed said.

In a letter to NATO-led forces, the top U.S. and coalition commander, Gen. David Petraeus, reminded his troops they cannot succeed in turning back the Taliban without “providing (civilians) security and earning their trust and confidence.”

“The Taliban are not the only enemy of the people,” Petraeus said in the letter. “The people are also threatened by inadequate governance, corruption and the abuse of power — the Taliban’s best recruiters.”

Petraeus told his troops to “hunt the enemy aggressively” but “use only the firepower needed to win a fight.”

“If we kill civilians or damage their property in the course of our operations, we will create more enemies than our operations eliminate,” he said


Source: AP

Abnormally high radiation levels were detected near the border between the two Koreas days after North Korea claimed to have mastered a complex technology key to manufacturing a hydrogen bomb, Seoul said Monday.

The Science Ministry said its investigation ruled out a nuclear test by North Korea, but failed to determine the source of the radiation. It said there was no evidence of a strong earthquake, which follows an atomic explosion.

On May 12, North Korea claimed its scientists succeeded in creating a nuclear fusion reaction — a technology necessary to manufacture a hydrogen bomb. In its announcement, the North did not say how it would use the technology, only calling it a “breakthrough toward the development of new energy.”

South Korean experts doubted the North actually made such a breakthrough. Scientists around the world have been experimenting with fusion for decades, but it has yet to be developed into a viable energy alternative.

On May 15, however, the atmospheric concentration of xenon — an inert gas released after a nuclear explosion or and radioactive leakage from a nuclear power plant — on the South Korean side their shared border was found to be eight times higher than normal, according to South Korea’s Science Ministry.

South Korea subsequently looked for signs of a powerful, artificially induced earthquake. Experts, however, found no signs of a such a quake in North Korea, a ministry statement said.

“We determined that there was no possibility of an underground nuclear test,” it said. The ministry said the gas is not harmful.

While any fusion test would have registered seismic activity, according to nuclear expert Whang Joo-ho of South Korea’s Kyung Hee University, the presence of xenon could also have come from a leak.

Since the wind was blowing from north to south when the xenon was detected, a Science Ministry official said the gas could not have originated from any nuclear power plants in South Korea.

But the official — speaking on condition of anonymity, citing department policy — said the xenon could have come from Russia or China. Whang agreed, saying a nuclear test or radioactive leakage would be the only reasons that could explain the atmospheric concentration of xenon reported by the ministry.

A Vienna-based United Nations agency, however, said no signs of increased radioactivity were detected last month along the Korean border.

“We have not registered anything that would raise any suspicion,” said Kirsten Haupt, a spokeswoman for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, a U.N. agency that looks for signs of nuclear testing worldwide.

Earlier Monday, South Korea’s mass-circulation Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported that North Korea may have conducted a small-sized nuclear test, citing the abnormal radioactivity. The paper cited an atomic expert it did not identify.

North Korea — which is believed to have enough weaponized plutonium for at least a half-dozen nuclear weapons, conducted two underground nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, drawing international condemnation and U.N. sanctions.

The news of the detected radiation comes as tension is running high on the Korean peninsula over the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on a North Korean torpedo attack. North Korea flatly denies the allegation and has warned any punishment would trigger war, as the U.N. Security Council reviews Seoul’s request for action over the sinking.

Source: AP

Bill Clinton’s presidential library won’t publicly release memos and notes Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan wrote about the sexual harassment lawsuit that triggered Clinton’s impeachment.

Kagan was involved in defending Clinton in the lawsuit brought by ex-Arkansas state worker Paula Jones, according to documents released Friday. Clinton’s testimony for the Jones lawsuit, denying a sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, led to his impeachment.

The library held back several of Kagan’s memos to Clinton’s top advisers in the case, saying that publicly releasing them would divulge confidential advice. They were turned over to the Senate Judiciary Committee that will hold hearings on Kagan’s nomination, however.

It’s clear from files that were made public that Kagan had a hand in the Jones case. In a September 1996 memo, Kagan writes that she’s been in touch with other lawyers on a brief in the Jones lawsuit and, “I am happy with the direction they seem to be taking.”

Earlier that year, she forwards to colleagues a brief written by then-Solicitor General Walter Dellinger supporting Clinton’s bid to postpone the civil trial until after he had left office.

“It’s really pretty good,” Kagan says of Dellinger’s brief. She notes approvingly that the brief “downplays” the question of whether the president should have immunity for conduct before he took office, and instead focuses on the argument that the case should be delayed because it would disrupt the performance of Clinton’s duties as chief executive.

The White House said Kagan, who didn’t focus on litigation matters, played only a tangential role in both the Jones case and the Whitewater investigation of Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton’s financial dealings.

“Kagan’s work focused principally on providing legal advice to the policy and legislative staff,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. Her “work on Whitewater and Paula Jones involved reviewing legal pleadings, assisting in response to document requests, and offering legal research on short-term projects.”

Clinton could have chosen to keep the records off-limits entirely, Earnest said, but instead gave them to the Senate panel “in the interest of transparency.”

The papers are part of a roughly 40,000-page cache of records released Friday, most related to Kagan’s stint in the White House counsel’s office in 1995 and 1996.

Clinton settled the Jones case before trial. Although the House impeached him on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, the Senate rejected both counts.

Source: The Daily Beast

Anxious that Wikileaks may be on the verge of publishing a batch of secret State Department cables, investigators are desperately searching for founder Julian Assange. Philip Shenon reports. Plus, Daniel Ellsberg tells The Daily Beast: “Assange is in Danger.”

(This story has been updated to reflect new developments on Assange’s whereabouts, including the cancelation of a scheduled appearance in Las Vegas.)

Pentagon investigators are trying to determine the whereabouts of the Australian-born founder of the secretive website Wikileaks for fear that he may be about to publish a huge cache of classified State Department cables that, if made public, could do serious damage to national security, government officials tell The Daily Beast.

The officials acknowledge that even if they found the website founder, Julian Assange, it is not clear what they could do to block publication of the cables on Wikileaks, which is nominally based on a server in Sweden and bills itself as a champion of whistleblowers.

American officials said Pentagon investigators are convinced that Assange is in possession of at least some classified State Department cables leaked by a 22-year-old Army intelligence specialist, Bradley Manning of Potomac, Maryland, who is now in custody in Kuwait.

And given the contents of the cables, the feds have good reason to be concerned.

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Source: Washington Examiner

The Mexican government is opening a satellite consular office on Catalina Island — a small resort off the California coast with a history of drug smuggling and human trafficking — to provide the island’s illegal Mexican immigrants with identification cards, The Washington Examiner has learned.

The Mexican consular office in Los Angeles issued a flier, a copy of which was obtained by The Examiner, listing the Catalina Island Country Club as the location of its satellite office. It invites Mexicans to visit the office to obtain the identification, called matricular cards, by appointment.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican whose district includes Catalina Island, said handing out matricular cards will exacerbate an already dangerous situation.

“Handing out matricular cards to Mexicans who are not in this country legally is wrong no matter where it’s done,” he said. “But on Catalina it will do more damage. It’s a small island but there’s evidence it’s being used as a portal for illegals to access mainland California.”

Rohrabacher added, “If there were a large number of Americans illegally in Mexico and the U.S. consulate was making it easier for them to stay, Mexico would never permit it.”

Mexican officials with the consular office in Los Angeles could not be reached immediately for comment. The matricular consular identification card, is issued by the Mexican government to Mexican nationals residing outside the country, regardless of immigration status. The purpose is to provide identification for opening bank accounts and obtaining other services. But the cards are usually used to skirt U.S. immigration laws, since Mexicans in the country legally have documents proving that status, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said.

In 2004 testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI officials called the card an unreliable form of identification. The agency said that Mexico lacks a centralized database for them, which could lead to forgery, duplication, and other forms of abuse.

Officers with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said their agency was asked by Mexican officials not to enforce U.S. immigration laws on the island while the cards were being issued.

“It amazes me every time that the Mexican government has the gall to tell us what to do,” said an ICE official, who asked not to be named. “More surprisingly is how many times we stand by and let them. This is just an example of one of hundreds of requests we’ve had to deal with.”

In April, Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies seized a boat carrying large quantities of marijuana and detained three Mexican nationals who said they were being smuggled into the United States.

The island has a sizable Mexican migrant population. Most are undocumented low-income workers.

1:15pm UPDATE:

Mexican government officials have moved their satellite consular office from the Catalina Island Country Club to a Catholic Church – citing protection under the Geneva Convention.

Source: FoxNews

A year after President Obama pledged to end the practice of funding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with “emergency” spending bills, the Senate is taking up a $60 billion request that would do exactly that.

The spending bill, which includes $33 billion for the two wars in addition to disaster relief funds and aid for Haiti, is running headlong into concern from war-weary Democrats and deficit-conscious Republicans.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called the bill a “heavy lift” in her chamber. But the Senate, which is taking up the request first, could be the scene of a spending stand-off between Democrats and Republicans.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., plans to offer an amendment requiring Congress to offset the cost of the package with spending cuts elsewhere. He slammed the administration for continuing to use the “emergency” supplemental to fund the wars — by designating the spending bill as “emergency,” Congress avoids having to find a way to pay for it.

“The last day war funding was unforeseen was September 10, 2001,” the first-term senator said in a written statement. “This legislation is designed to bail out career politicians who want to avoid the hard work of prioritizing spending.”

The Bush administration routinely used supplemental spending bills to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama criticized the practice as a candidate and when he came into office pledged to keep war funding within the traditional budget request.

“For seven years, we have been a nation at war. No longer will we hide its price,” he said in his February 2009 address to a joint session of Congress.

When Obama requested $83 billion in additional funding last spring for the wars, he said he would draw the line there.

“This is the last planned war supplemental,” he wrote in April 2009 to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, calling for “an honest, more accurate and fiscally responsible estimate of federal spending” after years of “budget gimmicks and wasteful spending.”

But while Congress provided $130 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan at the end of last year as part of the traditional budget process, Obama this year came back to Capitol Hill for the additional $33 billion — mostly to cover the cost of sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

“The irony certainly isn’t lost on us,” a Senate GOP aide told “Obviously they stuck with that pledge about as well as they stuck with most the other pledges they made.”

But the aide said pending the consideration of the Coburn amendment, “the process for the supplemental could move relatively expeditiously.”

The aide said House Democrats could pose a bigger hurdle. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said earlier this month that it would be easier to get the legislation passed in the House if it were approved by the Senate first since that would limit a back-and-forth debate.

The bill includes money for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, aid for Haiti earthquake relief and money for flood relief in Rhode Island and Tennessee.

The White House Office of Management and Budget defended the package in a statement Monday, calling the funding “essential” and urging Congress to act quickly to approve it.

“The administration looks forward to working with the Congress to further refine the bill as the legislative process moves forward and to meet these urgent and essential needs,” the statement said.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, also defended the package after his committee unanimously approved it earlier this month.

“This bill is neither a bailout nor a stimulus. Instead it is the minimum necessary to meet emergency requirements and the cost of war,” he said. “We recognize that many on both sides of the aisle believe we simply shouldn’t spend more, but I say to you the nation still has legitimate needs and a responsibility to act.”

Source: UK Telegraph

The Tibetan spiritual leader said Marxism has “moral ethics, whereas capitalism is only how to make profits.”

However, he credited China’s embrace of market economics for breaking communism’s grip over the world’s most populous country and forcing the ruling Communist Party to “represent all sorts of classes.”

Capitalism “brought a lot of positive to China. Millions of people’s living standards improved,” he said.

The Dalai Lama, 74, giving a series of lectures at the Radio City Music Hall in central Manhattan until Sunday, struck a strikingly optimistic note in general, saying that he believed the world is becoming a kinder, more unified place.

Anti-war movements, huge international aid efforts after Haiti’s earthquake this year, and the election of Barack Obama as the first black president in a once deeply racist United States are “clear signs of human beings being more mature,” he said.

The Dalai Lama said he felt a “sense of the oneness of human beings,” jokingly adding: “If those thoughts are wrong, please let me know!”

Although China, which forced him to escape for his life in 1959, is loosening up, he had harsh words for a communist leadership that he said still seeks to rule by fear.

As Chinese become richer, “they want more freedoms, they want an independent judiciary, they want to have a free sort of press,” he said.

The Chinese government, he said, seeks harmony, “but harmony must come out of the heart, not out of fear. So far, methods to bring harmony mostly rely on use of force.”

Yahoo News

An Arizona state official has threatened to shut off Los Angeles’ Arizona-based electricity supply in retaliation for the city’s decision to boycott the state. Arizona Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce told L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in a letter that 25 percent of L.A.’s electricity comes from Arizona, and he’d “be happy to encourage Arizona utilities to renegotiate your power agreements.”

“I am confident that Arizona’s utilities would be happy to take those electrons off your hands,” Pierce wrote to Villaraigosa (PDF). “If, however, you find that the City Council lacks the strength of its convictions to turn off the lights in Los Angeles and boycott Arizona power, please reconsider the wisdom of attempting to harm Arizona’s economy.”

[Video: Boycott us and we’ll cut your power, Arizona official says]

Conservative websites like Hot Air are playing up Pierce’s letter, but it seems like the move could also hurt Arizona. Los Angeles could procure utilities from another state, and Arizona-based utilities would lose the city as a customer. California gets about a third of its electricity from Arizona, Fox News reports, most of it from a nuclear power plant outside Phoenix, coal-fired power plants and two hydroelectric power generators. APS, the energy company that owns the nuclear power plant, has not returned a call seeking comment.

Last week, L.A.’s City Council voted to end city travel to Arizona and future contracts with the state in protest of the state’s new immigration law, which critics say will promote racial profiling. Arizona could lose $52 million in contracts from L.A.

Mayor Villaraigosa was in Washington visiting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, but an aide released a statement in response to Pierce’s letter, NBC’s L.A. television affiliate reported: “The mayor stands strongly behind the City Council, and he will not respond to threats from the state that has isolated itself from an America that values freedom, liberty and basic civil rights.”

UPDATE: It appears Pierce’s plan isn’t tenable. Alan Bunnell, a spokesman for APS, the energy company that owns the nuclear power plant, tells Yahoo! News that California owns a stake in most of the Arizona-based plants that provide them with energy, including the nuclear facility in question “They actually are owners in them, it’s not like they have contracts with them,” Bunnell said.

Source: MSNBC

Thai troops fired bullets at anti-government protesters and explosions thundered in the heart of Bangkok on Friday as an army push to clear the streets and end a two-month political standoff sparked clashes that have killed two and wounded 45.

As night fell, booming explosions and the sound of gunfire rattled around major intersection in the central business district. Local TV reported that several grenades hit a nearby shopping center and elevated-rail station. Plumes of black smoke hung over the neighborhood as tires burned in eerily empty streets while onlookers ducked for cover.

Among those wounded were two Thai journalists and a Canadian reporter, who was in a serious condition.

With security deteriorating and hopes of a peaceful resolution to the two-month standoff fading, the unrest plunged Thailand deeper into political uncertainty, threatening the country’s stability, economy and already-decimated tourism industry.

Violence escalated after a rogue army general regarded as a military adviser to the Red Shirt protesters was shot in the head on Thursday evening, possibly by a sniper. A doctor said Maj. Gen. Khattiya Sawasdiphol was still in a coma Friday and he could “die at any moment.”

Two other people have been killed in the violence since then and 45 wounded, officials said.

“We are being surrounded. We are being crushed. The soldiers are closing in on us. This is not a civil war yet, but it’s very, very cruel,” Weng Tojirakarn, a protest leader, told The Associated Press.

Coup claims
Fighting has now killed 31 people and injured hundreds since the Red Shirts, mostly rural poor, began camping in the capital on March 12, in a bid to force out Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. They claim his coalition government came to power illegitimately through manipulation of the courts and the backing of the powerful military, which in 2006 forced the populist premier favored by the Red Shirts, Thaksin Shinawatra, from office in a coup.

Last week, Abhisit offered November elections, raising hopes that a compromise could be reached with the Red Shirts, who have been demanding immediate elections. Those hopes were dashed after Red Shirt leaders made more demands.

Late Thursday, the army moved to seal off the Red Shirt encampment in an upscale commercial district of the capital. Some 10,000 protesters, women and children among them, have crammed into the area.

Friday’s violence was initially centered on a small area home to several foreign embassies, including those of the U.S. and Japan which were forced to close, but by midafternoon had spread around the 1-square-mile (3-square-kilometer) protest zone barricaded with bamboo stakes and tires. The British, New Zealand and the Dutch embassies, which are in the vicinity, also were shut.

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