Sunday, December 11, 2011

News From Across The Globe: Analysis: Newt Gingrich survives first big night o...

News From Across The Globe: Analysis: Newt Gingrich survives first big night o...: In his first debate Saturday as the polling Republican frontrunner, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich bore the brunt of the attacks from ...

Analysis: Newt Gingrich survives first big night of attacks

In his first debate Saturday as the polling Republican frontrunner, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich bore the brunt of the attacks from every contender on the stage on a host of issues. But after two hours of attacks in the forum, co-sponsored by Yahoo News, ABC News and the Des Moines Register, he appeared to escape relatively unscathed.
Prompted at times by ABC News moderators Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos, all five of the GOP contenders on stage took shots at Gingrich at some point. But a relaxed and confident Gingrich delivered responses that  played out in a way to potentially strengthen his standing among Republicans in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucus.
Over the course of the night, Gingrich was challenged on his consulting for government-backed mortgage giant Freddie Mac, his past support for a government mandate to buy health insurance, his three marriages, a comment he made calling Palestinians an "invented" people, and even a proposal he once floated to build a colony on the moon. But despite the barrage, Gingrich appeared to coast largely above the fray.
After about 15 minutes of tame policy talk, Romney took the first shot when asked if he thought Gingrich was in the best position to defeat President Barack Obama in 2012.
"Well, of course I don't agree with that," Romney said. "I think a lot of people don't agree with that." Romney went on to criticize Gingrich for spending most of his career in Washington, comparing it to his years in the private sector.
"Let's be candid," Gingrich replied. "The only reasons you didn't become a career politician is because you lost to Ted Kennedy in 1994."
"You'd have been a 17-year career politician by now if you'd won," he said.
In what could have been the most devastating portion of the debate for Gingrich, a candidate now married to his third wife, the moderators asked whether someone who had cheated on a spouse could be trusted to run the country. Each candidate was given an opportunity to attack Gingrich on the issue before he could respond.
"If you cheat on your wife, you'll cheat on your business partners," Perry said. "I think that sends a very powerful message. . . . I think that issue of fidelity is important."
"Trust is everything," added former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who said marriage infidelity should not disqualify a candidate.
When they got to Romney, however, he declined to address Gingrich directly, but he emphasized his 42 years of marriage. Gingrich responded by saying that he has asked God for forgiveness and played up his own grandchildren but said that his past was fair game.
"I think that's a very, very important issue and I think people have to render judgment," Gingrich said. "I'm delighted at the way people have been willing to look at who I am, to look at what my record has been."
Even though most of the criticism was aimed at Gingrich, Romney will likely suffer the most from the contest. During a brief argument with Rick Perry, Romney challenged the Texas governor to a $10,000 bet that he never supported a national individual mandate to purchase health insurance in his book No Apology, as Perry accused. Expect to see that clip played repeatedly over the course of the campaign.
If Saturday's Republican presidential debate was the weathervane that would signal whether the Republican primary race would go negative in the days before the first caucuses and primaries, we're in for quite the slog.
Since Republican support for businessman Herman Cain began to slide--he dropped out of the race last weekend--Gingrich has replaced him as the the latest "anti-Mitt Romney" candidate. And based on the response from Romney's campaign this week, it is clear that Boston is taking Gingrich's rise seriously. Romney this week launched his very own blitzkrieg against Gingrich, deploying the many surrogates who have endorsed him to nail him at several angles. The campaign also released a bruising anti-Gingrich web video that reminded voters of the time he criticized the entitlement reform plan put forth by Republican Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and passed by the House GOP, calling it  "right-wing social engineering."
Gingrich on Friday struck back, accusing Romney of "running to the left of Teddy Kennedy" when he ran for Senate in 1994. In those comments, Gingrich suggested that Romney is a politician who is only a conservative when it's convenient, a criticism that has been ruthlessly lobbed at the former governor for years. Later that day, Gingrich's team in Iowa blasted Romney for launching the latest attacks on Gingrich, calling the effort "a load of crap."
"What we're seeing from Mitt Romney is desperation and panic and I think that's going to be very frustrating to people who want to move forward," said Gingrich Iowa co-chairwoman Linda Upmeyer. "They don't want to see $3 million of attack ads. It's a bad way to go and he ought to reconsider that tactic. Because Iowans, we're not stupid people and we understand a load of crap when we see it. That isn't what wins you caucuses or elections here in Iowa."
Gingrich told Yahoo News in a recent interview that of all the lessons he had learned about himself while running for president of the United States, he was most surprised in his ability to resist the temptation to attack his fellow candidates. Throughout the campaign, Gingrich has made a point to deflect questions about other candidates, choosing to keep criticism narrowly focused on President Barack Obama or the media.
"I may be more capable of calm discipline than I would have guessed," Gingrich said in a Yahoo News interview in November. "Watch the way in which I am methodically not getting engaged in a fight with my friends."

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Anti-Wall St. movement grows to dozens of cities

NEW YORK (AP) — About 175 protesters who were part of a growing anti-Wall Street sentiment were arrested in Chicago early Sunday when they refused to take down their tents and leave a city park when it closed, police said, after a day of protests in cities around the world where thousands gathered to rally against what they see as corporate greed.
The arrests were mostly peaceful and came as somewhat of a contrast to many demonstrators elsewhere, who have taken care to follow laws in order to continue protesting Wall Street's role in the financial crisis and other grievances. Most of the marches were largely nonconfrontational, though dozens were arrested in New York and elsewhere in the U.S. when police moved to contain overflowing crowds or keep them off private property. Two officers in New York were injured and had to be hospitalized.
At least one protest grew violent. In Rome, rioters hijacked what had been a peaceful gathering and smashed windows, tore up sidewalks and torched vehicles. Repair costs were estimated at $1.4 million, the mayor said Sunday.
In Chicago, about 500 people had set up camp at the entrance to Grant Park on Saturday evening after a protest earlier in the day involving about 2,000, the Chicago Tribune reported. Police said they gave protesters repeated warnings after the park closed at 11 p.m. and began making arrests when they refused to leave.
Officers also asked protesters to take down their tents before beginning to cut them down to clear the area, police said. Protesters who were arrested would be released after background checks were done to make sure they didn't have any outstanding arrest warrants, police said. They could face fines for violating a municipal ordinance.
In New York, two dozen were arrested Saturday when demonstrators entered a Citibank branch and refused to leave, police said. They asked the branch to close until the protesters could be taken away.
Earlier, as many as 1,000 demonstrators also paraded to a Chase bank branch, banging drums, blowing horns and carrying signs decrying corporate greed. A few went inside the bank to close their accounts, but the group didn't stop other customers from getting inside or seek to blockade the business.
Lily Paulina of Brooklyn said she was taking her money out because she was upset that JPMorgan Chase was making billions of dollars, while its customers struggled with bank fees and home foreclosures.
"Chase bank is making tons of money off of everyone ... while people in the working class are fighting just to keep a living wage in their neighborhood," the 29-year-old United Auto Workers organizer said.
Police told the marchers to stay on the sidewalk, and the demonstration seemed fairly orderly as it wound through downtown streets.
The day culminated in an event in the city's Times Square, where thousands of demonstrators mixed with gawkers, Broadway showgoers, tourists and police to create a chaotic scene in the midst of Manhattan.
"Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!" protesters chanted from within police barricades. Police, some in riot gear and mounted on horses, tried to push them out of the square and onto the sidewalks in an attempt to funnel the crowds away.
Sandra Fox, 69, of Baton Rouge, La., stood, confused, on 46th Street with a ticket for "Anything Goes" in her hand as riot police pushed a knot of about 200 shouting protesters toward her.
"It's horrible what they're doing," she said of the protesters. "These people need to go get jobs."
Sergio Jimenez, 25, said he quit his job in Texas to come to New York to protest. He participated in an anti-war march to mark the 10th anniversary of the Afghanistan War.
"These wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were all based on lies," Jimenez said. "And if we're such an intelligent country, we should figure out other ways to respond to terror, instead of with terror."
Throughout the country — from several dozen people in Jackson, Miss., to some 2,000 each in Pittsburgh and Chicago — the protest gained momentum.
Nearly 1,500 gathered for a march past banks in downtown Orlando, Fla. Hundreds marched on a Key Bank branch in Anchorage and declared it should be foreclosed. In Arizona, reporters and protesters saw an estimated 40 people detained around midnight at a park in Phoenix.
In Colorado, about 1,000 people rallied in downtown Denver to support Occupy Wall Street and at least two dozen were arrested.
Rallies drew young and old, laborers and retirees. In Pittsburgh, marchers included parents with children in strollers. The peaceful crowd stretched for two or three blocks.
"I see our members losing jobs. People are angry," said Janet Hill, 49, who works for the United Steelworkers, which she said hosted a sign-making event before the march.
Retired teacher Albert Siemsen said at a demonstration in Milwaukee that he'd grown angry watching school funding get cut at the same time banks and corporations gained more influence in government. The 81-year-old wants to see tighter Wall Street regulation.
Around him, protesters held signs reading: "Keep your corporate hands off my government," and "Mr. Obama, Tear Down That Wall Street."
In Canada, demonstrators gathered in cities across the country, with hundreds of people protesting in the heart of Toronto's financial district. Some protesters spent the night at parks in Toronto and other cities.
Overseas, tens of thousands nicknamed "the indignant" marched in cities across Europe, as the protests that began in New York linked up with long-running demonstrations against government cost-cutting and failed financial policies in Europe. Protesters also turned out in Australia and Asia.
Associated Press writers Bob Seavey in Phoenix, Kevin Begos in Pittsburgh, Dinesh Ramde in Milwaukee, Charmaine Noronha in Toronto, Jack Elliott Jr. in Jackson, Miss., and Colleen Long, David B. Caruso and AP Radio correspondent Martin Di Caro in New York contributed to this report.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Obama: Iran 'Will Pay a Price' for Assassination Plot

President Barack Obama said today that Iran will "pay a price" through sanctions and international pressure for its recent hostile behavior including the alleged Iran-directed plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S. in Washington, D.C.
Echoing previous statements by top U.S. officials, Obama said that when dealing with Iran, "We don't take any options off the table," but did not make any mention of possible military action in favor of pushing harsh economic sanctions and corralling international condemnation of Iran's alleged action.
"We're going to continue... to mobilize the international community to make sure that Iran is further and further isolated and pays a price for this kind of behavior," Obama said.
Obama declined to comment on whether he believed the highest levels of the Iranian government were aware or involved in the alleged plot, but said even if the Iranian president or supreme leader did not have "detailed operational knowledge, there has to be accountability with respect to anybody in the Iranian government engaging in this kind of activity."
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Tuesday the DEAand FBI had disrupted a plot "conceived, sponsored and... directed from Iran" to murder the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S. in or outside a crowded Washington, D.C. restaurant which potentially would have been followed up by bombings of the Saudi Arabian and Israeli embassies. The U.S. said an Iranian-American, 56-year-old Manssor Arbabsiar of Corpus Christi, Texas, was working for elements of the Iranian government -- specifically Iran's elite military unit the Quds force -- when he attempted to hire hitmen from the feared Zetas Mexican drug cartel to carry out the hit, but Arbabsiar was unwittingly speaking to a DEA informant from the start.
The U.S. Treasury Department announced Tuesday sanctions against five Iranians allegedly tied to the plot and additional sanctions Wednesday against an airline company allegedly linked to the Quds force. U.S. representatives began Wednesday meeting separately with members of the United Nations Security Council as part of the American government's effort to "unite world opinion" against Iran, in the words of Vice President Joe Biden.
A lawyer for Arbabsiar has not returned requests for comment, but the man's wife, Martha Guerrero, said he was wrongly accused.

"I may not be living with him being separated, but I cannot for the life of me think that he would be capable of doing that," she told ABC News' Austin affiliate KVUE Tuesday, noting the two had been separated some time. "He was at the wrong place at the wrong time. I'm sure of that."
Iranian officials have strongly rejected the U.S. accusations, calling them a "fabrication." The head of the Iranian mission to the United Nations penned a letter Tuesday to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressing "outrage" at the allegations.
"The U.S. allegation is, obviously, a politically-motivated move and a showcase of its long-standing animosity towards the Iranian nation," the letter says. "The Islamic Republic of Iran categorically and in the strongest terms condemns this shameful allegation by the United States authorities and deplores it as a well-thought evil plot in line with their anti-Iranian policy to divert attention from the current economic and social problems at home and the popular revolutions and protests against United States long supported dictatorial regimes abroad."

Alleged Terror Plotter Claims He Was 'Directed By High-Ranking' Iranian Officials

The case, called Operation Red Coalition, began in May when Arbabsiar unwittingly approached a DEA informant seeking the help of a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, according to counter-terrorism officials.
Arbabsiar reportedly claimed he was being "directed by high-ranking members of the Iranian government," including a cousin who was "a member of the Iranian army but did not wear a uniform," according to a person briefed on the details of the case.
Arbabsiar and a second man, Gohlam Shakuri, an Iranian official, were named in a five-count criminal complaint filed Tuesday afternoon in federal court in New York. They were charged with conspiracy to kill a foreign official and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, a bomb, among other counts. Shakuri is still at large in Iran, Holder said.
Holder identified Shakuri as an Iran-based member of the Quds force.
Arbabsiar, a naturalized U.S. citizen, expressed "utter disregard for collateral damage" in the planned bomb attacks in Washington, according to officials.
The complaint describes a conversation in which Arbabsiar was allegedly directing the informant to kill the Saudi ambassador and said the assassination could take place at a restaurant. When the informant feigned concern about Americans who also eat at the restaurant, Arbabsiar said he preferred if bystanders weren't killed but, "Sometimes, you know, you have no choice, is that right?"
U.S. officials said Arbabsiar met twice in July with the DEA informant in the northern Mexico city of Reynosa, across the border from McAllen, Texas, and negotiated a $1.5 million payment for the assassination of the Saudi ambassador. As a down payment, officials said Arbabsiar wired two payments of $49,960 on Aug. 1 and Aug. 9 to an FBI undercover bank account after he had returned to Iran.
Officials said Arbabsiar flew from Iran through Frankfurt, Germany, to Mexico City Sept. 29 for a final planning session, but was refused entry to Mexico and later put on a plane to New York, where he was arrested.
Officials said Arbabsiar is now cooperating with prosecutors and federal agents in New York, where the case has been transferred.
"Though it reads like the pages of a Hollywood script, the impact would've been very real and many lives would've been lost," FBI Director Robert Mueller said of the foiled plot.
ABC News' Richard Esposito and Rym Momtaz contributed to this report.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Torture rife in Afghan detention facilities: U.N.

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's intelligence agency and police force have been "systematically" torturing detainees including children at a number of jails, in breach of local and international laws, a United Nations report said Monday.
Scores of people told the U.N. that the National Directorate of Security (NDS) and the Afghan National Police had physically or mentally abused them, using beatings, electrocution and toenail removal, according to the report.
But the head of the U.N. in Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, said that torture was neither institutional nor government policy, and praised the ministry and intelligence agency for allowing access to their prisons for research.
The Afghan government rejected many of the allegations, but conceded there may have been some abuse, and added that steps were being taken to prevent further problems.
Interviews with 379 pre-trial detainees and convicted prisoners were conducted at 47 different facilities by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) from October 2010 to August 2011.
The report said 324 of the detainees were accused of crimes related to the war.
There was systematic torture found at five NDS "facilities," the report said, and "multiple, credible allegations" of torture at two others. There were also some allegations from 17 other facilities that the U.N. said it was still investigating.
Almost half of those interviewed were suspected insurgents, 20 percent were arrested while carrying explosives and 11 percent were failed suicide bombers.
UNAMA said almost half of those it interviewed at NDS facilities experienced interrogation techniques that constituted torture. Of those in police facilities, more than a third of the 117 suspected insurgents or those believed to be assisting militants told UNAMA they had been subjected to torture or inhumane treatment.
Beyond physical mistreatment, which included sexual humiliation, many prisoners also said they had been held beyond the maximum duration allowed by law and denied family visits.
The United Nations said Afghanistan's difficult security situation did not justify any mistreatment.
The intelligence agency said in an official response that "reference has been made to some issues that are not in conformity with work principles of the NDS," and specifically rejected some allegations of mistreatment.
"Torture methods such as electric shock, threat of rape, twisting of sexual organs etc. are methods that are absolutely non-existent in the NDS," an official government response said.
The statement suggested some insurgent prisoners might be making false claims to discredit the government. However it also said several officials had recently been dismissed or suspended, and the agency was "keen for reform and improvement in the field of interrogation."
UNAMA said it had designed its study to take into account concerns from the Afghan authorities that detainees might give false accounts to discredit security agencies and further insurgent propaganda.
The Interior Ministry accepted there were cases of poor treatment of detainees in police custody, but said they were in the minority and it was committed to punishing violators and ensuring police were trained to protect human rights.
"It is evident ... that the outcome of the report cannot be totally rejected/denied due to some existing problems," it said.
The report follows a similar U.N. investigation into alleged torture that prompted NATO to halt transfers of prisoners to several southern Afghan jails in July.
Those findings raised questions about the capacity of Afghan security forces at a time when they are meant to be taking on greater security responsibilities ahead of a planned withdrawal of all foreign combat troops by the end of 2014.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said it was made aware of UNAMA's findings last month and has since helped the Afghan government develop a six-stage plan to tackle torture, which included inspections, monitoring, training in human rights protection, and formal certification procedures.
"Initiatives being implemented will help strengthen rule of law, continue to enhance government credibility, and limit the appeal of the insurgency," ISAF said in a statement.
(Editing by Emma Graham-Harrison and Daniel Magnowski)

Friday, October 7, 2011

Hong Kong student's Apple tribute is Internet hit

Hong Kong design student said on Friday he was overwhelmed and felt "unreal" after his sombre logo in tribute to Apple founderSteve Jobs caused a worldwide Internet sensation.
The design, featuring Jobs's silhouette incorporated into the bite of a white Apple logo on a black background, has gone viral on the Internet since news of his death.
"I feel so unreal," Jonathan Mak, a second year graphic design student at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, told AFP, after he was inundated with tens of thousands of emails and messages on his Twitter account.
"You don't get to 180 thousands notes without feeling slightly insane," the 19-year-old posted on another microblogging site Tumblr Friday, referring to the messages he has received.
Mak said newspapers in the United States and Germany have contacted him about buying the copyright to use his logo and had received job offers.
"I am flattered by the attention but I would like to focus on my study before taking on any full-time job," said the bespectacled student, adding that he was trying to cope with his new-found fame.
"I'm quite busy now actually as I'm trying to finish a school project."
When asked about whether he would be targeting commercial opportunities, Mak said he was considering contacting Apple on copyright issues because his design is based on Apple's own logo.
Some merchandisers have reportedly used his logo for commemorative memorabilia for Jobs such as t-shirts and caps that are being sold on the Internet.
"I will consider using any proceeds I make from the copyright for cancer research, as suggested by some people to me on the Internet," he said. Jobs died at 56 of pancreatic cancer.
Mak said he first came up with the design after Jobs announced his resignation in late August, but the logo received little attention at the time.
The teenager said the Apple founder had inspired him in his design.
"He was a minimalist, which is the way I would like to emphasise in my design -- fewer elements but a powerful message."
"Steve Jobs strongly believed in his own ideas and continued with his beliefs no matter how people criticised him. He was courageous," said Mak.

Thirty-two bodies found in Mexican Gulf state

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican security forces have found 32 bodies at several locations around the eastern city of Veracruz, authorities said Thursday, barely two weeks after 35 corpses were dumped on a busy street in the Atlantic port.
Just two days after the Mexican government unveiled a plan to lay down the law in the state of the same name, police and marines found the bodies in three separate areas of the city, the Navy said in a statement.
The bodies were in homes around the port as the military conducted operations under the new "Safe Veracruz" program, the statement said. Twenty bodies were found in one house that was searched after a tip from naval intelligence.
More than 44,000 people have died in drug-related violence since President Felipe Calderon launched a military campaign to crush Mexico's powerful drug cartels in late 2006.
The killings have damaged support for Calderon's ruling conservatives, who face a major struggle to hold onto power in presidential elections due next July.
Earlier Thursday, Calderon said there could be no turning back from the fight against the gangs.
"Part of the problem is that we didn't fight (gangs) before like we should have done," he said in a speech.
On September 20, 35 bodies were dumped in broad daylight in the Boca del Rio area of Veracruz. A vigilante-style group later claimed responsibility for the deaths.
Calling themselves the Zeta Killers, the group said it was targeting one of the most notorious of Mexico's drug gangs, which has stirred fears of paramilitary violence emerging.
Founded by renegade special forces soldiers, the Zetas have made a name for themselves as one of the bloodiest gangs in the country with countless slayings and kidnappings.
(Editing by Will Dunham)

Karzai: Taliban can't move finger without Pakistan

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — As the war in Afghanistan hit the 10-year mark Friday, President Hamid Karzai claimed the Taliban are being propped up by neighboring Pakistan, saying the militants can't lift a finger without the Pakistanis.
The war will only end when something is done to rout insurgents from their sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan, Karzai said in an interview with the BBC that aired on Friday, exactly 10 years after the U.S. and its allies invaded Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001.
The invasion was aimed at toppling the hard-line Taliban regime and punishing it for giving safe harbor to al-Qaida, which orchestrated the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. Over the years, the U.S.-led coalition became mired in a battle against insurgents who have been weakened by international troops yet continue to plant bombs and stage suicide attacks and assassinations of top Afghan figures.
"Definitely, the Taliban will not be able to move a finger without Pakistani support," Karzai said. "The fact is the Taliban were and are stationed, in terms of their political headquarters and operational headquarters, in Pakistan. We all know that. The Pakistanis know that. We know that."
Militant sanctuaries in Pakistan won't go away unless the government of Pakistan cooperates with Afghanistan and the international community finds an effective way to remove the hide-outs, he said.
"We're not saying this in a manner of accusation and reprimand," Karzai added, trying not to inflame already strained relations between the two nations. "We are saying this in a manner of a statement intended towards a solution of the problem."
Pakistan maintains it cut off ties to the Taliban and other militants following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, but Washington and Kabul say otherwise.
President Barack Obama said Thursday that Pakistan was "hedging its bets" by maintaining ties to militant groups trying to undermine the Afghan government. Obama also acknowledged that the United States has not been able to persuade Pakistan that the U.S. goals of a stable Afghanistan pose no threat to Pakistan.
Just-retired Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen went further, recently calling the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani insurgent network a "veritable arm" of the Pakistani intelligence agency. Mullen also alleged that Pakistani intelligence supported militants who mounted a recent 20-hour rocket attack on the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters in the capital, Kabul.
In the wide-ranging interview, Karzai candidly said the Afghan government and international allies have failed to provide security for the Afghan people. He also said that his government wants to talk to the Taliban, but doesn't know where to contact legitimate representatives of the insurgency.
Former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was leading the government's U.S.-backed effort to talk peace with the Taliban, was killed Sept. 20 by an assassin who claimed to be an emissary from the Taliban. Upon meeting Rabbani, the killer detonated explosives he had tucked into his turban — a deadly blast that dealt a major setback to efforts to find a political resolution to the war.
The Afghan government with support from its international allies has been making peace overtures to the Taliban for years. But after Rabbani's death, Karzai shifted his policy, saying he was giving up trying to talk to alleged Taliban envoys. He said Pakistan holds the only key to making peace with insurgents and must do more to support reconciliation.
"We have not said we will not talk to them (the Taliban)," Karzai said. "We've said we don't know who to talk to.
"We're not dealing with an identifiable individual as a representative of the Taliban, or a place that we can knock on and say, 'Well, here we are. We want to talk to you.'"
"Until that place emerges — an address and a representative — we will not be able to talk to the Taliban because we don't know where to find them," he said.
The Taliban have not claimed responsibility for Rabbani's death.
Asked what needs to be improved in Afghanistan, Karzai acknowledged, "We've done terribly badly in providing security to the Afghan people and this is the greatest shortcoming of our government and of our international partners. What we should do is provide better and a more predictable environment of security to the Afghan citizens and in that, the international community and the Afghan government definitely have failed."
Violence continued Friday with attacks on at least three coalition posts in Paktika province near the Pakistan border.
A suicide bomber detonated a vehicle packed with explosives near the entrance to Combat Outpost Margah, which had also been hit with 22 rockets, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene. Combat Forward Operating Base Tillman was hit with a half-dozen rockets and Forward Operating Base Boris was struck with two.
No deaths were reported among NATO service members.
Separately, the U.S.-led coalition said Friday that it is conducting an investigation to determine how a NATO service member died in southern Afghanistan. NATO did not disclose any other details about what led to the service member's death on Thursday.
So far this year, 458 NATO troops have been killed in Afghanistan. The death is the fourth so far this month.
In the capital, former Afghan Attorney General Abdul Jabar Sabet went missing Thursday afternoon after he was attacked by two gunman, said Mohammad Zahir, the chief of criminal investigation for the Kabul police.
Associated Press Writers Amir Shah in Kabul and Matt Ford in Paktika contributed to this report.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Beating Butter: Denmark Imposes the World's First Fat Tax

Are the Danish facing an era of dry toast? On Oct. 1, consumers inDenmark saw a sudden jump in the cost of many of their favorite bread-friendly products. The average price of a half-pound package of butter increased by 2.5 krone (or 45 U.S. cents). A pound of cheese rose from 34.5 krone ($6) to 36 krone ($6.50). And don't even think about lard. In a single day, the cost of a half-pound block of pork fat skyrocketed from 12 krone ($2.15) to 16 krone ($2.85) — a 35% increase. Thanks to a new fat tax, Danes are paying more for just about anything they might want to slather on a piece of bread.
Other countries have imposed tariffs on food and drink considered unhealthy, but Denmark is taking the "fax tax" appellation literally. In the name of reducing cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes, the law that went into effect on Saturday specifically targets saturated fats — the fats found most commonly in animal products like butter, cream, and meat. But few outside the government seem to think it's a good idea — or even a healthy one.(Read: "Bypassing Obesity for Alcoholism: Why Some Weight-Loss Surgeries Increase Alcohol Risk.")
The tax, the first of its kind in the world, imposes a 16 krone (roughly $3) hike per kilo of saturated fat on any food that contains more than 2.3%. Given current Danish consumption — they eat a lot of butter and sausage in Denmark — that should amount to somewhere around 82 million kilos (180 million lbs) of fat subject to the tax.
"At the political level there was a high degree of consensus for this law," says Tor Christensen, chief consultant for Denmark's Ministry of Taxation. "There was wide agreement about trying to improve the average Danish lifespan, about trying to improve the health of the Danish people." The tax was approved by nearly 90% of the Danish parliament. (See pictures of obesity rehab.)
It's not the first time that the Danish government has taken to regulating less-than-healthy foodstuffs. Sugar has long been subject to higher tariffs, though in its original incarnation, the tax was intended to raise revenue rather than improve public health. In 2004, Denmark became the first country in the world to ban transfats — the solid fats commonly used in snack foods and industrially produced baked goods. Experts say that ban has played a significant role in reducing rates of cardiovascular disease by over 30% in Denmark in the past several years.
People within the food industry aren't happy about the tax, however. "It's very frustrating how this has been implemented," says Poul Pedersen, managing director of Thise Mejeri, an organic dairy cooperative based in northern Denmark. Its 83 farmers produce 2,500 tons of butter per year — and all of them are facing diminished revenues now that they've had to raise prices. "We don't know by how much yet because it's very complicated to figure out, but of course we expect sales to go down," Pedersen says.
The tax applies to all saturated fats equally, regardless of whether they are contained in a McDonald's hamburger or a quart of milk from grassfed cows. That provision has particularly incensed the country's dairy farmers, who bristle at a categorization of their products as unhealthy, and whose recommendations, says Pedersen, were ignored by the government. "Of course we want people to eat heathfully," he says. "And no one should be eating a kilo of butter per day. But we in the dairy industry know that we produce a good and healthy product when it's eaten in moderation." (Can FoodCorps get America to eat healthfully?)
Restaurants too will feel the pain of the increasing costs. Christian Puglisi, chef of Copenhagen's highly-regarded Relae, hasn't yet raised menu prices, but knows he'll have to once he has tallied his purveyors' new invoices. The bureaucracy worries him less, though, than the tax's impact on the organic farms with which he does most of his business. "Organic is already more expensive than industrially produced [food], and the tax will just make it more so," Puglisi says. "But organic producers can't absorb the price increase the way that industrial can, so fewer people are going to be willing to buy it."
Although Danes have historically shown themselves willing to accept higher taxes that they deem beneficial to society, Puglisi doesn't believe this one fits that criteria. "The government says it wants to make people healthier, but it's talking with two tongues. It's just going to push more people to buy cheaper industrially produced products, rather than good food. It's insanely stupid."
Even medical professionals doubt the salutary effects of the law. "You can't predict the health effect of a food by looking at a single nutrient in it," says Dr. Arne Astrup, professor of human nutrition at the University of Copenhagen. "Take cheese, as an example. It's high in saturated fat, but it also contains calcium and protein that seem to change the fat's effect on the body. You would think that people who ate a lot of cheese would have higher risks of cardiovascular disease, but research has shown that's not the case." (See more on the fat tax in Denmark.)
With just under 10% of the population classified as obese, rates in Denmark are lower than Europe's 15% average, and fall significantly below the U.S.'s rate of 33.8%. Nevertheless, the average Danish lifespan of 79 years is lower than that of other Western European countries like Sweden (81.5 years), Spain (81.8 years) and France (80 years), a statistic that the departing center-right government (a center-left government took power on Oct. 3) hoped to improve with the tax.
However, Dr. Astrup says the tax ministry that proposed the measure is working with outdated data. "They based their decision on a report written in 2001," he says. "In 2001 all the available evidence suggested that we could achieve significant benefits by cutting saturated fats. But it turns out that a lot of that benefit came from cutting transfats, not saturated ones."
Many in Denmark believe the government was motivated more by financial concerns than health ones. Dr. Astrup is one of them. "This fat tax didn't evolve from proposals by the nutrition council," he says. "It was created wholly within the Tax Ministry because they were 1 billion krone ($180 million) short. They didn't do it to cut down on cardiovascular disease, they did it to close a budget gap."
If government estimates are correct (and the tax ministry itself admits that its predictions are rough), those 82 million kilos (180 million lbs) of taxable saturated fats should result in revenues of 1.3 billion krone ($233 million). Yet ministry advisor Christensen rejects the claim that the tax was motivated by the economic crisis and the government's need to generate new income. "Actually, the aim of this program of tax reform is to reduce taxes on labor, to reduce income tax," he says. "But the government has to find another source to make up the financing that it lost with those reductions. Instead of keeping income tax high, It decided to tax the unhealthy things."
Although public sentiment seems to be running against the tax, Christensen's reasoning has a fan in Sebastian Sejer, a 34-year-old graphic designer who lives outside of Copenhagen. "I know it's unpopular," Sejer says. "But I think it's a way to actually achieve something good while reducing the income tax. I work in advertising and I know that these small changes can make a difference in consumer behavior." (See more on Arizona's flab tax.)
Research on countries that have imposed cigarette and soda taxes largely indicates that he's right: increased prices do lead to at least moderately reduced consumption. But are dairy-loving Danes ready to give up their wholefat milk and cheese? Sejer's own behavior raises some doubts. He went shopping over the weekend, and ended up buying the same butter he always does. "I know it's a contradiction. But it's not going to affect what I eat."

Pakistan angered by Afghan allegations on Rabbani

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan urged Afghanistan on Thursday to act responsibly after Kabul accused Islamabad of masterminding the killing of the chief Afghan peace envoy.
Pakistan angrily rejected allegations that its spy agency was behind the September 20 killing of Burhanuddin Rabbani by a suicide bomber who hid explosives in his turban and posed as a Taliban representative with a message of reconciliation.
"It is our expectation that everyone, especially those in position of authority in Afghanistan, will demonstrate requisite maturity and responsibility," Foreign Office spokeswoman Tehmina Janjua told a news conference.
"This is no time for point-scoring, playing politics or grandstanding."
Pakistan has been on the defensive since the top U.S. military official accused its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency of supporting a September 13 attack by the Taliban-allied Haqqani militant group on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.
Afghans have long been suspicious of Pakistan's intentions in their country and question its promise to help bring peace.
Senior Afghan officials have accused the ISI of masterminding the assassination of Rabbani, a former Afghan president.
President Hamid Karzai has said there was a Pakistani link to the killing and investigators he appointed believe the assassin was Pakistani and the suicide bombing was plotted in Pakistan.
On Wednesday, Afghanistan's intelligence agency said it had thwarted a plot to assassinate Karzai after arresting a bodyguard and five people with links to the Haqqani network and al Qaeda.
The plotters, who included university students and a medical professor, had been trained to launch attacks in Kabul and had recruited one of Karzai's bodyguards to kill the president, the National Directorate of Security (NDS) said.
Pakistan is looking increasingly isolated since Karzai signed a wide-ranging agreement with its rival India this week.
The pact signals a formal tightening of links that may spark Pakistani concern that India is increasingly competing for leverage in Afghanistan.
Pakistan wants wide say in any peace settlement in Afghanistan. Analysts say Pakistan maintains ties with Afghan militants in a bid to counter India's growing influence there. Pakistan denies this.
Janjua did not express any alarm over Karzai's pact with India, but she suggested it could create more regional instability.
"The most important thing that we would like to underscore is that within the context of any relationship, the fundamental principle of ensuring stability in the region must be taken into full account," she said.
Pakistan has long feared a hostile India over its eastern border and a pro-India Afghanistan on its western border.
(Reporting by Augustine Anthony; Editing by Michael Georgy and Robert Birsel)

Where Steve Jobs Ranks Among the Greats

He was indisputably a titan of the digital era. But how does Steve Jobs stack up against the greatest business leaders in American history?
We won't really know for years, of course, since nobody's sure where technology will lead or what his company, Apple, may still achieve. But Steve Jobs was clearly a visionary who changed much about the way people use technology. His death from pancreatic cancer at just 56 feels like a national loss. And he's one of the few people in any field who can plausibly be compared with America's greatest innovators. So it doesn't seem too early to try.
Here's my methodology: Instead of measuring the amount of wealth created, I'm more interested in the impact that innovators have had on life in America, on how they improved living standards, advanced the nation's competitiveness and created opportunity for others. By that measure, Steve Jobs, for all his accomplishments, is up against a pantheon of epic overachievers.
Back in the 1700s, Benjamin Franklin, the quintessential American, helped form the ethos of the middle class--which he called "the middling people, the farmers, shopkeepers and tradesmen"--while serving as the conscience of the upstart nation through his publications, crafty diplomacy and deft political touch. Alexander Hamilton--who like Jobs, died young, at the age of 49--helped create the financial system that turned the United States from a banana republic into a stable nation global investors would be comfortable doing business with.
During the Industrial Revolution, pioneers like John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie helped the United States become one of the world's mightiest economies--one that overtook Europe in the production of vital new materials like oil and steel. By the late 1800s, Thomas Edison developed an electric-lighting system that literally turned darkness to light and ushered in sweeping second- and third-order changes, from the improvement of working conditions in factories everywhere to safer homes no longer lit by candles. Edison also found time to invent the phonograph, the movie projector, and many other things, including a key modification to Alexander Graham Bell's telephone that remained part of the basic design until the 1980s.
In the 20th century, Henry Ford brought the gilded luxury of personal transportation to virtually everybody with his mass-produced cars, an innovation that shifted whole population centers from city to suburb. The Wright Brothers invented airplanes that would eventually move people from city to city--then from continent to continent--in hours, an order-of-magnitude change in the timeliness with which business could be conducted. Walt Disney invented new forms of entertainment for increasingly prosperous people with the newfound luxury of leisure time. Sam Walton, who founded Wal-Mart, brought everyday low prices to millions of shoppers. Ted Turner, who started CNN, broadcast his splashy cable news all day long, breaking the networks' monopoly on news and spawning an on-air information revolution.
When Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak co-founded Apple in 1976, they set to work building a line of computers--culminating in the Macintosh--that would be the most intuitive machines of their kind. In a way, they introduced the middling people to the magic of digital processors the way Henry Ford introduced them to cars. The brash young Jobs left Apple in 1985, after a spat with the board over the company's direction. By his own later admission, he needed a strong dose of perspective.
Jobs did other things for 12 years, until returning to Apple as CEO in 1997. The company was floundering, after a string of misfires. Jobs straightened things out, then brought Apple to new heights with wonders like the iPod, iPhone and iPad, along with services like iTunes and Apple TV meant to complement the elegant devices. By the time Jobs retired as CEO earlier this year, Apple was more valuable than virtually any other technology company in the world, including Google, IBM and Microsoft.
Jobs's death has touched Apple customers, and many others, in a heartfelt way that's unusual for a business leader--especially today. Encomiums have flowed from practically everybody with a blog or Twitter account. "He was our Thomas Edison and our Henry Ford, all in one brief life," wrote political commentator David Frum in his Twitter feed, summarizing the thoughts of many.
But was he? Edison and Ford devised innovations so profound they transformed whole societies and materially improved the lives of people who never even purchased a Ford or Edison product. Edison lit public places, while also providing electricity that helped heat them and power other machines. The automobiles that rolled off Ford's assembly lines swept putrid piles of horse manure off of urban streets and made cities more liveable. Edison and Ford, like other historical giants, created progress that could be measured every day in the humblest of homes, while also laying the foundation for entirely new industries.
If you're an Apple customer, chances are you feel that Steve Jobs has done something similar for you. Apple products are famous for their user-friendliness and their ability to enhance productivity, whether through third-party apps or ingenious features like the iMovie software that lets amateurs create videos with a professional look and feel. Perhaps more than anything, Apple customers simply enjoy using their products, which takes the drudgery out of scanning spreadsheets or speed-reading emails. Nobody really says that about a Blackberry or a Hewlett-Packard PC.
But many Apple products remain high-end indulgences for people with the money to spend on an enhanced digital experience. Yes, Steve Jobs has done the masses a service by showing his utilitarian competitors how to devise an artful user interface, which usually trickles down to cheaper generic devices once Apple has moved on to version 4 or 5. But Macs and iPhones and iPads remain too pricey for many mainstream consumers, who might read about the wonders of Apple gizmos the way they read about luxury cars or fancy dinners: Sounds nice, and I hope I can afford one some day. Meanwhile, you'd have to stretch to define a way in which Steve Jobs has materially improved society, enhanced public life or broadly shared his gifts with people who can't afford to be his customers. (Cue the outrage of Apple Nation.)
Jobs was truly a brilliant designer, marketer and technologist--all in one. But it's worth keeping in mind that the digital revolution would have carried on without him. Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore, the founders of Intel, invented much of the circuitry that powered Jobs's devices over the years, along with many other computing machines. Bill Gates developed software that has powered far more computers than Apple ever built. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the co-founders of Google, have provided an Internet search service that's arguably more useful to more people--for free--than anything Apple has rolled out. Jobs helped make the first 30 years of the mass-computing era colorful and even fun. But it didn't take him to make it possible.
He did accomplish something, however, that's rare in the annals of business history: He made consumers fall in love with his ideas and his products, and even with him. Jobs wasn't a particularly likeable guy, by most accounts. He had a prickly demeanor and an I-know-better arrogance that would have been the downfall of a lesser visionary. Yet he leaves behind a vast army of Apple acolytes who may propel his ideas to heights beyond Jobs's own reach. In the firmament of business giants, Steve Jobs shines medium-hot, like the sun. But like a few other geniuses who die too young, his star may get brighter the longer he is gone.