Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bahrain Says Will Release Political Prisoners

MANAMA—In a bid to appease opposition demonstrators, Bahrain's king on Tuesday agreed to free some political prisoners, even as the protesters prepared for another big demonstration in the capital later in the day.

Full details of the number and the identities of prisoners to be pardoned by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa weren't immediately clear. But the main opposition bloc al-Wefaq said the decree included 25 Shiite activists, who were on trial for allegedly plotting against the state.
"No official statement has been made yet but we have been promised that the political prisoners will be included in the pardon. We will, of course, review our position after the prisoners are released, but this is a positive step," said Abdul Jalil Khalil, an al-Wefaq lawmaker.
At a government news conference on Tuesday, spokeswoman Maysoon Sabkar said it is "unclear" how many prisoners would be freed, but stressed that Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa was committed to ensuring "the participation of all political groups so that everyone can get round the table."

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Monday, February 7, 2011

Terrorism sponsor no more? Obama hints at taking Sudan from the list.

Washington(CSM)The United States on Monday held out the prospect of reducing its dwindling list of state sponsors of terrorism by yet another country, with both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton saying Sudan could soon be removed from the list.

Talk of Sudan’s possible removal from the sponsor-of-terror list came in the context of the release Monday of official results of a January referendum in South Sudan showing that the predominantly Christian half of the country had voted to secede.

The US said Monday it will recognize an independent southern Sudan – and added that recognition of an independent south by Khartoum would pave the way for a review of Sudan’s 16-year-old terror sponsor designation.

“For those who meet all of their obligations, there is a path to greater prosperity and normal relations with the United States, including examining Sudan’s designations as a state sponsor of terrorism,” Mr. Obama said in a statement.

Sudan President Omar al-Bashir on Monday appeared to accept the inevitable and said he wanted to be the first to congratulate the south on its vote to form a new state.

Sudan currently occupies the US terrorism list with three other countries: Cuba, Iran, and Syria. The Bush administration removed two countries from the list – Libya in 2006 and North Korea in 2008 – although the Obama administration has said it was considering returning North Korea to the list after a series of nuclear and missile tests in 2009.

Darfur still an issue

The State Department said Monday that Sudan has demonstrated that it wants normalized relations with the US. Since 2006 the State Department has reported improving “cooperation” from Sudan in the global war on terror, but the regime in Khartoum has also won demerits for the war in its own western province of Darfur, where hundreds of thousands of Sudanese citizens have been killed or displaced.

In his statement, Obama made special mention of Darfur, repeating US insistence that attacks on civilians there must stop.

Secretary Clinton said Sudan could be removed from the state-sponsor list if it meets the requirements of US law – including a finding that it had not sponsored any act of terror in the preceding six months.

“Removal of the state sponsor of terrorism designation will take place if and when Sudan meets all criteria spelled out in US law, including not supporting international terrorism for the preceding six months and providing assurance it will not support such acts in the future,” Clinton said. Khartoum must also fully implement all provisions of a 2005 peace agreement with the south, she added.

President Bashir may want off the US terror list, but he also has an eye on his July 2008 indictment by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity in Darfur.

Non-governmental organizations focused on Sudan and Darfur were cautiously optimistic about the official referendum results announced Monday, but said sustained international oversight would be crucial in the months leading up to southern Sudan’s independence.

'Sustained US ... attention'

The Genocide Intervention Network / Save Darfur Coalition urged “sustained US and international attention to the interim period before South Sudan's official independence in July,” said Amir Osman, the coalition’s senior director for policy and government relations.

“The United States and other international leaders must sustain aggressive diplomatic efforts to ensure a peace throughout Sudan, north and south," Mr. Osman said. "The south will require support in facing internal tensions and managing the high expectations that come with independence, and the Khartoum regime must be held accountable for its attacks on civilians and its ongoing efforts to block peacekeepers and humanitarian aid workers in the region.”

Khartoum’s Bashir still must prove his good intentions towards the south, but recent events in addition to Washington’s words Monday suggest he may be making headway internationally.

Last month the African Union issued a statement calling on the international community to drop its indictment of Bashir and to establish normal relations with Khartoum. And recent reports from Paris suggest the US and France have been considering a plan to encourage deferral of any action on Bashir’s indictment in exchange for his commitment to peace in the south and in Darfur.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Luther "Uncle Luke" Campbell, formerly of 2 Live Crew is planning to run for Mayor of Miami.

Luther "Uncle Luke" Campbell, formerly of raunchy rap group 2 Live Crew, known for such heartwarming songs as "Me So Horny" and "Face Down, Ass Up," is planning to run for Mayor of Miami. He's looking towards a March 15 vote to recall current mayor Carlos Alvarez, and told the Miami New Times, where he's a sometime columnist, that he's "mad frustrated." "Why aren't we getting it right in Miami-Dade? Why is our governor only serving one set of people? That's what is pushing me to run," he said.

Campbell's platform includes the usual planks of balancing the budget, affordable housing, and not raising taxes, and he's frustrated with the endless construction at Miami International Airport. But what may set him apart from other candidates is his plan to tax exotic dancers:

"Even though all my stripper friends are gonna be mad at me, I think we can stimulate the economy with a tax on strippers. They make all this money and don't pay taxes. I'd take that cash and put it into a fund where it supports youth athletics for girls, like cheerleading or softball," he told the paper.

The fifty-year-old Campbell joins other rappers who've recently pursued political aspirations --- Wyclef Jean attempted to run for president of Haiti last year, and Rhymefest announced his candidacy for Chicago's 20th ward alderman in October. Uncle Luke stated his intention to run a grassroots campaign modeled after President Obama's 2008 presidential bid targeting voters who are registered but apathetic. "It will be just like music marketing," he explained. "Fun. We will be having campaign parties before the election to get people motivated, get them behind something historical." Campaign parties? Unlike the old days, I don't think you'll see many strippers this time.

US envoy says Mubarak 'must stay'

Two key allies of President Hosni Mubarak, including his son Gamal, were stripped of their posts.

Hossam Badrawi, a reformer and top physician, took both positions.

US special envoy Frank Wisner welcomed the resignations and said President Mubarak should stay in power to steer the transition.

Protesters still occupy Cairo's Tahrir Square, but their numbers have fallen from Friday's huge rally.

President Mubarak has also held talks with his ministers to try to revive the economy.

Banks will reopen on Sunday, but Finance Minister Samir Radwan said the economic situation was "very serious".

Analysts say the uprising is costing the country at least $310m a day.

Safwat Sharif has been a major figure in Mr Mubarak's power structure for a long time. He is, I think I can say, fairly well hated by a lot of people including everybody in the square behind me.

Gamal Mubarak was until relatively recently apparently being groomed to succeed his father as president. Well obviously that's not going to happen.

As the news came through I was down among the crowd, and they saw this as another concession. They said they were getting concessions every day now. I think it will encourage them to keep going for the big prize they insist they must have, and that is for Mr Mubarak himself to go.

Earlier there were reports of an explosion at a pipeline that supplies gas to Israel and Jordan. The blast caused a fire near el-Arish, Egyptian state television reported.

Elite in turmoil

The resignation of leading NDP officials was announced on state TV.

"The members of the executive committee resigned from their posts. It was decided to name Hossam Badrawi secretary general of the party," it said.

Gamal Mubarak lost his post as head of the policies committee, along with Secretary-General Safwat al-Sharif.

A state-owned TV report said President Mubarak, as party leader, had accepted the resignations.

An earlier report from a private TV channel said President Mubarak had also given up his party post, but this was later retracted.

US special envoy Frank Wisner said Gamal Mubarak's resignation was a positive step.

"There is a chance to move forward. It's fragile, it's the first stage, things could go wrong. But the direction is promising," he said.

The US was looking forward to additional steps towards political change, he added.

The BBC's John Leyne in Cairo says that while the new secretary-general, Dr Badrawi, is seen as a liberal he is still close to the ruling family, and this is another indication of the turmoil in the ruling elite.

Mr Mubarak has already aid he will not stand for re-election as Egypt's president in September, but insists he must stay until then to prevent chaos in the country. Protesters are demanding that he goes immediately.

Huge impact

On Saturday, the president met the prime minister, finance minister, oil minister and trade and industry minister, along with the central bank governor.

Trade Minister Samiha Fawzi Ibrahim said exports were down 6% in January and that the authorities were providing extra food to try to stabilise prices and curb shortages.

Banks and the stock exchange have been closed for days, and many factories in the major cities have shut.

State media said the stock market would not now open on Monday as planned.

The BBC's Kevin Connolly, in Cairo, says the paralysis induced by the protests is having a huge impact on the creaking economy. Tourists have been frightened away and the prices of basic goods like cigarettes and bread have been soaring.

Section of a map showing Tahrir Square

He says many Egyptians are beginning to wonder aloud how quickly daily life will return to normal regardless of the outcome of the struggle for power.

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Radwan admitted the economy faced a "very serious" situation and that he was in constant touch with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

But he also said the economy had a "solid base" and "so far, we are coping".

Economists at Credit Agricole say the uprising is costing the country at least $310m (£192m) a day and they have revised down their economic growth estimate for Egypt this year from 5.3% to 3.7%.

Mr Radwan also said there would be a meeting with opposition groups to try to end the 12 days of protests.

He said Vice-President Omar Suleiman and "almost certainly Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq" would attend, adding that they would have "sufficient authority to negotiate with the opposition".

He did not say which opposition groups would attend. Egyptian television said the al-Wafd and al-Tajammu parties would be at the talks.

However, the BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo says if only these parties were involved the dialogue would have little credibility.

The biggest opposition group in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, has said it will take part in discussions provided the government submits political reform within a specified time frame. But it also insists Mr Mubarak must leave office immediately.

It also reported that the curfew had now been shortened and would be in effect from 1900 to 0600 local time (1700-0400 GMT).

On Saturday at a conference in Munich, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the "status quo" of undemocratic nations in the region was "simply not sustainable".

She said: "Governments who consistently deny people freedom will open the door to instability... free people govern themselves best."

The UN believes more than 300 have died across Egypt since the protests began on 25 January, with about 4,000 hurt.

WikiLeaks cables: US agrees to tell Russia Britain's nuclear secrets

(telegraph)Information about every Trident missile the US supplies to Britain will be given to Russia as part of an arms control deal signed by President Barack Obama next week.

Defence analysts claim the agreement risks undermining Britain’s policy of refusing to confirm the exact size of its nuclear arsenal.

The fact that the Americans used British nuclear secrets as a bargaining chip also sheds new light on the so-called “special relationship”, which is shown often to be a one-sided affair by US diplomatic communications obtained by the WikiLeaks website.

Details of the behind-the-scenes talks are contained in more than 1,400 US embassy cables published to date by the Telegraph, including almost 800 sent from the London Embassy, which are published online today. The documents also show that:

• America spied on Foreign Office ministers by gathering gossip on their private lives and professional relationships.

• David Miliband disowned the Duchess of York by saying she could not “be controlled” after she made an undercover TV documentary.

• Tens of millions of pounds of overseas aid was stolen and spent on plasma televisions and luxury goods by corrupt regimes.

A series of classified messages sent to Washington by US negotiators show how information on Britain’s nuclear capability was crucial to securing Russia’s support for the “New START” deal.

Although the treaty was not supposed to have any impact on Britain, the leaked cables show that Russia used the talks to demand more information about the UK’s Trident missiles, which are manufactured and maintained in the US.

Washington lobbied London in 2009 for permission to supply Moscow with detailed data about the performance of UK missiles. The UK refused, but the US agreed to hand over the serial numbers of Trident missiles it transfers to Britain.

Professor Malcolm Chalmers said: “This appears to be significant because while the UK has announced how many missiles it possesses, there has been no way for the Russians to verify this. Over time, the unique identifiers will provide them with another data point to gauge the size of the British arsenal.”

Duncan Lennox, editor of Jane’s Strategic Weapons Systems, said: “They want to find out whether Britain has more missiles than we say we have, and having the unique identifiers might help them.”

While the US and Russia have long permitted inspections of each other’s nuclear weapons, Britain has sought to maintain some secrecy to compensate for the relatively small size of its arsenal.

William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, last year disclosed that “up to 160” warheads are operational at any one time, but did not confirm the number of missiles.

Deception on Texas Blackouts Threatens American Prosperity and Security

(dailyKos)Black-outs in the face of winter storms is a problem too often faced by too many Americans due, in no small part, to under-investment in our aging electrical system that experts suggest merit a D minus grade (perhaps on a sliding scale). Washington, DC, storms regularly see blacked out neighborhoods and the Maryland utility Pepco sparking outrage from customers and legisators due to the extent of blackouts and slowed repairs. Our aged and inadequately maintained electricity system is fragile and vulnerable to natural and man-made disasters.

To rectify this -- to raise the grade (other by simply claiming that America has the 'best' electrical system via blind exhortation of exceptionalism) requires investment. That investment, however, must be based on serious efforts to identify lessons from outages to help identify the most valuable paths forward to improve the system and reduce the blackout conditions too often suffered by Americans, which represent a drag on American economic prosperity, and are an indication of a fundamental threat to American national security.

at to American national security, in 2008 (hint: under President George W. Bush), the Defense Science Board issued a report on energy (pdf) which identified two critical issues: reliance on liquid fuel (e.g, oil) and

Military installations are almost entirely reliant on a fragile and vulnerable commercial power grid, placing critical defense and Homeland security missions at risk of extended outage.

Often derided as environmentally driven "greening" of the military, military measures for improved fuel efficiency and to improve base electrical systems (smartgrids, energy efficiency, renewable energy produced on base, energy storage, (improved) data and control systems for power management, islanding of bases to keep them operating if the civilian grid is disrupted) are fundamentally about improving military capability (think longer range ships due to more efficient engines) and secondarily about (often significant) financial savings ... and, well, they offer the tertiary benefit of reducing the military's carbon footprint.

The Department of Defense views (and did even during the Bush Administration) the antiquated electrical system as a threat to national security -- which extends well beyond the risk to military bases.

When it comes to economic impact, the best (rough) estimate of annual cost to the U.S. economy due to power outages: $100 billion or nearly 1 percent of the economy (pdf: page 4). For a fraction of that cost, investment in modernization of the grid (smartgrid and otherwise) would nearly eliminate that cost and provide other benefits (such as more efficient use of energy) that would boost the economy.

In other words, improving the U.S. electrical grid would improve national security, improve the economy, and improve our environmental situation.

And, now to Texas ...

Texans, in the wake of the massive storm that hit so much of the country over the past week, are suffering through a series of rolling blackouts due to inadequate electrical supplies caused it seems - by a combination of natural and man-made disaster.

Sadly, however, there seems to be too much false blame laying by important national figures rather than serious interest in understanding what is happening and why to lay the basis for an improved situation moving forward.

For example,

  • The Drudge Report has suggested that the Texas blackouts were “a direct consequence of the Obama administration’s agenda to lay siege to the coal industry, launch a takeover of infrastructure under the contrived global warming scam, and help usher in the post-industrial collapse of America.”

  • Rush Limbaugh has put the blame on 'federal red tape'. “It’s not just in Texas, that’s everywhere. And, folks, let me tell you something: If Obama gets his way, rolling blackouts will be the new norm. What do you think ‘green energy’ is?”

  • Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) has issued a statement calling the blackouts an unacceptable safety risk that’s the result of federal energy policies run amok. “We have the desire, the resources, the knowhow and the will to build new plants, but federal red tape has blocked construction."

Simply put, one has to choose between utter ignorance or bald-faced desire to misrepresent the situation for political purposes when assessing comments like these.

Based on reporting to date, Texas' blackouts are not due to federal regulation of greenhouse gases or due to clean energy or due to any "Obama Administration agenda". In fact, with the information on hand, the reverse looks to be the case.

  1. The blackouts occurred due to cold-weather causing traditional power plants to go offline, starting with two of Texas' largest coal power plants. Water intakes froze, requiring the plants to shut down. Natural gas lines faced risks due to moisture in pipelines, leading them to shut off. Some 50 fossil-fuel plants went down representing 7 gigawatts of production capacity and taking about 14 percent of planned power production off line.

  2. Wind power production has met (and, it seems, actually exceed) its commitments to the Texas power grid -- wind-power has been producing its promised electricity service, unlike coal and natural gas systems. Wind maintained delivery of 3.5 to 4.0 gigawatts (about 7 percent of Texas' requirements) to the grid.

  3. In line with Governor Perry's dreams of secession, Texas' electrical grid remains the most independent of the regional grids in the United States from the overall electrical system. Other states' power production couldn't feed in to compensate for Texas' inability to meet its own requirements and help keep Texans warm and out of the dark.

As per the head of ERCOT, Texas' grid operator

Wednesday's rolling blackouts were not caused by a failure to predict demand accurately or to keep enough plants online, Doggett said, but by a widespread mechanical failure of more than 50 power generating units all over the state.

There was no single reason for the failures and no particular location, plant operator or type of power plant behind the problem, he said.

Frozen water pipes burst in some instances, but many of the problems emerged as ice locked up equipment that sends signals to valves, pumps and other device

Yup, truly does seem that the cause and effect is Obama Administration efforts to modernize and strengthen the national grid and policies that encourage energy efficiency, development of more secure and healthier energy systems, and greater resiliency in our electrical system.

As for item 3 above, Texas' electrical independence from the United States, this might actually be a key factor driving the rolling blackouts. The best public analysis of the Texas blackouts, to date, lays out a more robust Texas connection into the national grid would have created essentially automatic compensation for Texas fossil-fuel power plants going offline.

If Texas had been more interconnected with the US, the way the entire Eastern Interconnection (MISO, SPP, PJM, NY, NE, etc) are interconnected, it’s entirely possible that the combined system would have automatically fixed the problems before the lights in Texas went out. It’s just physics.

When an operating plant trips off, standby operating reserves automatically kick in, and if those trip too, other plants should kick in. Further, in a fraction of a second, the voltage frequency drops across the transmission grid, and voltage support may also suffer. When that happens, the ISO’s system dispatch automatically sends signals to many other generators to ramp up, to bring supply back in balance with demand and raise voltage levels to reliable levels.

Again, we don’t know the exact sequence of the Texas failure. But it’s likely that if Texas had been more strongly interconnected with the US, the entire Eastern Interconnection would have instantly responded to the frequency/voltage dips and immediately brought more generators on line in surrounding states. So even if other plants in Texas tripped off, as they apparently did, extra power from plants in Missouri and Illinois and Ohio would have kept the lights on in Texas.

That would have avoided rolling blackouts in Texas’ cities. It would have kept the electric compressor/pumps running in northern Texas that send natural gas to Northern New Mexico, which lost gas supplies for heating in the middle of winter.

In unity, there is strength, safety, reliability. We know this. We’ve had 100 years of electricity system developments to prove it, over and over.

While it will take awhile to track exactly what happened in Texas and why, the early honest lesson to identify is not a need to reject 21st century technology and double-down bets on an inadequate system but the importance of increased investment in American infrastructure, the need for intelligent interlinking of the national grid, and the value of a Smart Grid to help manage disasters -- whether natural, man-made, or both.