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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Kissinger cable heightens suspicions about 1976 Operation Condor killings - latimes.com

Kissinger cable heightens suspicions about 1976 Operation Condor killings - latimes.com

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For Poland, plane crash in Russia rips open old wounds - latimes.com

For Poland, plane crash in Russia rips open old wounds - latimes.com

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Right gears for fight, not filibuster - Jeanne Cummings and Kenneth P. Vogel - POLITICO.com

Right gears for fight, not filibuster - Jeanne Cummings and Kenneth P. Vogel - POLITICO.com

MSNBC

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  MSNBC.com

Complex relations in battle against Taliban
Pakistan helps capture some Afghan militant leaders, quietly frees others
By Greg Miller
The Washington Post
updated 5:55 p.m. ET April 10, 2010
The recent capture of the Afghan Taliban's second in command seemed to signal a turning point in Pakistan, an indication that its intelligence agency had gone from providing help to cracking down on the militant Islamist group.
But U.S. officials now believe that even as Pakistani security forces worked with American counterparts to detain Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and other insurgents, the country's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, or ISI, quietly freed at least two senior Afghan Taliban figures it had captured on its own.
U.S. military and intelligence officials said the releases, detected by spy agencies but not publicly disclosed, are evidence that parts of Pakistan's security establishment continue to support the Afghan Taliban. This assistance underscores how complicated the CIA-ISI relationship remains at a time when the United States and Pakistan are both battling insurgencies that straddle the Afghanistan border and are increasingly anxious about how the war in that country will end.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity and declined to disclose the names of the Taliban figures who were released, citing the secrecy surrounding U.S. monitoring of the ISI. But officials said the freed captives were high-ranking Taliban members and would have been recognized as insurgents the United States would want in custody.
The capture of Baradar was "positive, any way you slice it," said a U.S. counter-terrorism official. "But it doesn't mean they've cut ties at every level to each and every group." Initial reports said the arrest had occurred in February, but U.S. officials say that it took place in late January.
U.S. officials believe that Pakistan continues to pursue a hedging strategy in seeking to maintain relationships with an array of entities -- including the U.S. and Afghan governments, as well as insurgent networks -- struggling to shape the outcome in Afghanistan, even as it aggressively battles the Pakistani branch of the Taliban.
The ISI wants "to be able to resort to the hard power option of supporting groups that can take Kabul" if the United States suddenly leaves, said a U.S. military advisor briefed on the matter. The ISI's relationship with the Afghan Taliban was forged under similar circumstances in the 1990s, when the spy service backed the fledgling Islamist movement as a solution to the chaos that followed the Soviet withdrawal.
'We will go against these people'
In interviews in Islamabad, Pakistani intelligence officials said the ISI was committed to dismantling insurgent groups, denying that any Taliban operatives had been captured and released. "It is our policy that we will go against these people," a Pakistani intelligence official said. Clasping his hands together, he said the CIA and ISI are "working like this."
U.S. officials concur that that the collaboration between the CIA and ISI has improved substantially but said they see ongoing signs that some ISI operatives are providing sanctuary and other assistance to factions of the Taliban when their CIA counterparts are not around.
"They did in fact capture and release a couple," said a U.S. military official involved in discussions with Pakistan, adding that the ISI's decision to do so "speaks to how hard it is to change your DNA."
Pakistani officials acknowledge ISI contacts with the Taliban but describe them as benign and note that monitoring militant groups inside the country is what an intelligence service is supposed to do.
"There may be certain individuals who may not like American policy, but that does not mean they will not do their duty," said the Pakistani intelligence official, adding that the capture of Baradar in Karachi was one of 63 joint CIA-ISI operations carried out over the past year.
'Shadow governors'
The U.S. military adviser said the senior Taliban figurers were detained in Baluchistan, a province that encompasses the sprawling city of Quetta, where Mullah Muhammad Omar and other Afghan Taliban leaders are believed to have taken refuge after being expelled from Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion in 2001.
The releases took place in January and February, officials said, around the same time that the ISI conducted a series of raids that led to the reported capture of Baradar and four other senior Taliban figures. Among them were so-called "shadow governors" who preside unofficially over swaths of territory in Afghanistan.
U.S. officials said there are new questions about whether one of those arrests occurred. Pakistan security officials said in February that Maulvi Abdul Kabir, thought by some to be a member of the Taliban's "Quetta Shura" leadership core, had been captured in the northwest Nowshera district. But U.S. officials said there has been no subsequent evidence of the arrest, and now believe that Kabir was never detained.
Pakistan has been pressured repeatedly to sever its ties to the Taliban since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. As recently as November, President Obama sent a letter to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari warning that the government's use of insurgent groups to advance its interests "cannot continue."
CIA funnels moneyIn the years since 2001, the CIA has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to the ISI, which has helped track down al-Qaeda operatives and provided targeting information for an escalating campaign of drone strikes. Over the past several years, Pakistan has also launched a series of military operations in the tribal region aimed at rooting out insurgent groups.
Officials from both countries said those efforts have intensified during the past 12 months.
Pakistan has recently permitted the United States to insert additional CIA operatives and eavesdropping equipment. Officials said U.S.-provided communications intercepts helped lead the ISI to Baradar in Karachi earlier this year, although the ISI has requested equipment of its own.
"We are extremely dependent on the Americans for signals" intelligence, the Pakistani intelligence official said. "We have been crying for them to give us satellite telephone intercept capability. We do not have that to date."
Even after the Baradar arrest, some U.S. intelligence officials cautioned against seeing the capture as a decisive turn.
High-ranking U.S. intelligence officials acknowledge that they have a very limited understanding of the ISI. CIA veterans who have worked closely with the agency describe it as sprawling and so compartmentalized that units working alongside the CIA might have little knowledge of the activities of the so-called "S" directorate that maintains ties to insurgent groups.
CIA officials believe that the ISI's links to the Taliban are active, but "it's not clear how high that goes, or who knows about it," said the U.S. counter-terrorism official. "The Pakistanis did a sharp change of policy after 9/11, and it's not certain everybody got the memo -- or read it if they did."
Staff writer Karen DeYoung in Islamabad contributed to this report.
URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/36369112/ns/world_news-washington_post/

MSNBC

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  MSNBC.com

Thai troops clash with protesters; 15 dead
Hundreds injured in Red Shirt demonstrations in Bangkok
By GRANT PECK
The Associated Press
updated 2:29 p.m. ET April 10, 2010
BANGKOK - Thai soldiers and police fought pitched battles Saturday night with anti-government demonstrators in streets enveloped in tear gas, but troops later retreated and asked protesters to do the same. At least 15 people were killed, including a Japanese journalist, and more than 650 wounded, according to hospital officials.
Beleaguered Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva went on national television shortly before midnight to pay condolences to the families of victims and indirectly assert that he would not bow to protesters' demands to dissolve Parliament.
"The government and I are still responsible for easing the situation and trying to bring peace and order to the country," Abhisit said, vowing a transparent investigation into Thailand's worst political violence in nearly 20 years.
The army had vowed to clear the "Red Shirt" protesters out of one of their two bases in Bangkok by nightfall, but the push instead set off street fighting. There was a continuous sound of gunfire and explosions, mostly from Molotov cocktails. After more than two hours of fierce clashes, the soldiers pulled back.
Army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd went on television to ask the protesters to retreat as well. He also accused them of firing live rounds and throwing grenades during the fighting. An APTN cameraman saw two Red Shirt security guards carrying assault rifles.
"The security forces have now retreated to a certain extent from the Red Shirts," Sansern said. He said a senior government official had been asked to coordinate with the protesters to restore peace.
Call for new governmentThe Red Shirt protesters are demanding that Abhisit dissolve Parliament and call new elections. Their demonstrations are part of a long-running battle between the mostly poor and rural supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and the ruling elite they say orchestrated the 2006 military coup that removed him from power.
The Red Shirts see the Oxford-educated Abhisit as a symbol of an elite impervious to the plight of Thailand's poor and claim he took office illegitimately in December 2008 after the military pressured Parliament to vote for him.
The government's Erawan emergency center said tallies from four Bangkok hospitals showed the death toll early Sunday had risen to at least 15 — four soldiers and 11 civilians. 
Among them was Japanese cameraman Hiro Muramoto who worked for Thomson Reuters news agency. Reuters said he was shot in the chest while covering the fighting.
"Journalism can be a terribly dangerous profession as those who try to tell the world the story thrust themselves in the centre of the action," said Reuters Editor-in-Chief David Schlesinger. "The entire Reuters family will mourn this tragedy."
The injury toll for the day rose to 678, according to the Erawan emergency center. The army said any live rounds were fired only into the air, but confirmed that two of its soldiers had been shot. Government spokesman Panithan Wattanayakorn said more than 60 troops had been injured.
The protesters marched the body of a man they said was killed in the fighting to one of their encampments. They carried the man — who had part of his head blown off — on a stretcher.
Protests spreadMost of Saturday's fighting took place around Democracy Monument, which is near one of the encampments of the Red Shirt protesters. But it spread to the Khao San Road area, a favorite of foreign backpackers.
Soldiers made repeated charges to clear the Red Shirts, while some tourists stood by watching. Two protesters and a Buddhist monk with them were badly beaten by soldiers and taken away by ambulance.
A Japanese tourist who was wearing a red shirt was also clubbed by soldiers until bystanders rescued him.
Red Shirt leaders at the second rally site in the capital's main shopping district said they were leading followers to reinforce their comrades at the site of the fighting.
Government forces have confronted the protesters before but pulled back rather than risk bloodshed.
On Friday, the army failed to prevent demonstrators from breaking into the compound of a satellite transmission station and briefly restarting a pro-Red Shirt television station that had been shut down by the government under a state of emergency. The humiliating rout of troops and riot police raised questions about how much control Abhisit has over the police and army.
To effectively confront the protesters, Siripan Nogsuan Sawasdee of Chulalongkorn University said the government needs the cooperation of the military, but the army may be reluctant to use force against the protesters.
Role of militaryThailand's military has traditionally played a major role in politics, staging almost a score of coups since the country became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.
On Saturday afternoon, army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd said the military planned to clear out the protesters from their original rally site in the old section of Bangkok by dusk. More troops were also sent to the second rally site in the heart of Bangkok's upscale shopping district. The city's elevated mass transit system known as the Skytrain, which runs past that site, stopped running and closed all its stations.
The deployment came after protesters were pushed back by water cannons and rubber bullets from the headquarters of the 1st Army Region. Although they have two main rally sites, the Red Shirts use trucks and motorcycles to send followers all over the city on short notice.
Arrest warrants have been issued for 27 Red Shirt leaders, but none is known to have been taken into custody.
Merchants say the demonstrations have cost them hundreds of millions of baht (tens of millions of dollars), and luxury hotels near the site have been under virtual siege.
URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/36362013/ns/world_news-asiapacific/

© 2010 MSNBC.com

The Korea Times

   04-09-2010 16:38
Speculation Over NK Attack on Cheonan Mounting
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Staff Reporter

The government has asked lawmakers not to come to premature conclusions over the primary cause of the sinking of the naval vessel Cheonan until the government-led, multinational team releases investigation results with concrete evidence.

In spite of the renewed requests for patience, the speculation that North Korea might have played a role in the unexplained explosion continues unabated.

If supportive evidence emerges, experts predict that U.N.-led sanctions are likely to be the most realistic steps for the Korean government to take.

Rep. Park Sun-young of the minor Liberty Forward Party questioned Prime Minister Chung Un-chan Thursday on whether the government conducted a test to see if the debris from the naval ship explosion in the West Sea showed positive results for nuclear materials.

During the interpellation session at the National Assembly, Chung remained silent on the question.

The lawmaker coerced Chung to answer if the government has ever considered the possibility that the North Korean military hardliners used a so-called Seal Delivery Vehicle to attack the stern of the vessel.

The prime minister replied that he would not reveal what he had learned.

Defense Minister Kim Tae-young, however, said the chances were low.

Chung reiterated that the government would keep all possibilities open until the Korea-led multinational investigation team determines what went wrong.

Many lawmakers showed few signs of stopping their guesswork regarding the possible North Korean involvement in the maritime disaster.

President Lee Myung-bak said Wednesday that if South Korea goes it alone in the investigation of the maritime disaster and discovers the truth, those responsible may refuse to accept the outcome.

``The multinational team will reach a conclusion on the primary cause with such solid evidence that those who are found to be responsible won't be able to deny it,'' he said.

Despite Lee mentioning nothing about North Korea in the speech, his remark was construed as meaning that he would not rule out the involvement of the North.

North Korean refugees here said the suspicion is reasonable.

A group of North Korean Intellectuals said in a statement that North Korea considers provocative acts a necessary part of a winning strategy.

Daily NK, a media outlet run by North Korean defectors, said chances of the communist nation going for bellicose acts are higher under the current circumstances.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has struggled to control citizens after the currency reform failed. A recent survey conducted by a team of U.S. experts, including Marcus Noland, found that the worsened food situation after the failed reform has caused North Koreans to show skepticism twoard the government.

``Kim Jong-il may see a window of opportunity when security threats exist outside, as the presence of external dangers will help him unite the nation,'' the media said.


The Washington Post

Pending midterm elections add political for friction to court nomination

By Scott Wilson
Saturday, April 10, 2010; A01


No matter whom President Obama puts forward as his next Supreme Court nominee, the White House is anticipating a fight within the sharply divided Senate, one made even more fractious by election-year politics.
Court nomination fights have traditionally served to electrify each party's voter base, and the confirmation process to fill the seat of departing Justice John Paul Stevens will come as members of Congress are accelerating their reelection campaigns.
Since Obama nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the court in June, the political climate has become far stormier, in no small part because of his effort to secure health-care reform legislation and Republicans' near-united stand against the president's proposals.
Many Republicans regard continuing opposition to Obama's agenda as their best hope to pick up seats in the November midterm elections, and Democrats are a vote short in the Senate of being able to avoid a filibuster that has been used only once in a Supreme Court nomination fight.
Meanwhile, the Sotomayor confirmation process has given the White House momentum heading into this one, including a short list of vetted candidates, and presidential aides are confident in their ability to successfully navigate the weeks ahead.
Their chief concern is how quickly the Senate will act; they fear that Republican delays could push the confirmation process past the August recess and fully into the fall campaign season.
"In a way, it's premature to say how this will unfold until we know who the nominee is going to be and what record they will bring to the process," said Robert Dallek, a presidential historian. "But the one thing I am sure of is that it won't be an appointment that flies through the Judiciary Committee and the Senate without some extremely contentious debate."
Bill Clinton was the last president to fill a Supreme Court seat in a midterm election year, in 1994, and his choice, Judge Stephen G. Breyer, was confirmed 87 to 9. After Obama nominated Sotomayor to replace retiring Justice David H. Souter, the Senate confirmed her by a vote of 68 to 31.
Neither of those nominations changed the liberal-conservative balance on the nine-member court, which often decides the most controversial issues by a single vote. Similarly, Obama will not be making a "balance-upsetting pick" in replacing Stevens, said a senior administration official, suggesting that the choice should inspire "less of a battle mentality" than if a conservative justice were retiring.
Administration officials say they are prepared to move faster than they did on the Sotomayor selection because many of the leading candidates have already been vetted, including three whom Obama interviewed as finalists.
"Obviously, it helps that we've been through the process once before," the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal White House thinking. "We're not starting from scratch this time."
Obama nominated Sotomayor on June 1, and the Senate confirmed her by the August recess, despite delays that arose over her past remarks suggesting that, in some circumstances, Latinas make better judges than do white men.
"The hope and expectation is that this confirmation process will be concluded in that same time," said a second White House official who is involved in the process. "That is our marker."
The Senate has filibustered only one Supreme Court nomination -- a bipartisan move in 1968 to block Justice Abe Fortas's ascension to chief justice -- and political analysts say Republicans are unlikely to adopt that approach, regardless of whom Obama nominates.
Of the 41 Republican senators, four were members of a bipartisan group that pledged in 2005 to reject filibusters of judicial nominees unless "extraordinary circumstances" arose. That deal is no longer operative. But at least three of the Republicans -- Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine and Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina -- have stuck by that standard in recent years.
Obama made clear during the Sotomayor search that a diversity of life experience and judicial "empathy" were qualities that he valued in a nominee, and officials said at the time that he had some interest in adding a "first" to the high court. Sotomayor became the first Hispanic justice.
In a brief Rose Garden statement Friday, Obama added a political edge to the criteria he will use this time. He said that in addition to having a track record of judicial excellence, his choice will "be someone who, like Justice Stevens, knows that in a democracy, powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens."
Obama was alluding to the high court's January ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a decision that opened the door for corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts of money for and against specific candidates.
Obama sharply criticized the 5 to 4 ruling in his State of the Union address, and White House officials have said that finding ways to mitigate its effect on the November elections is a top legislative priority. Using such a populist message, which casts the high court as defender of the country's unpopular corporate elite at a time of severe economic strain, could help rally liberal interest groups and even some independents behind the nominee.
White House counsel Bob Bauer, who was not part of the administration during the Sotomayor nomination, will oversee the project and manage the vote-counting operation in the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate as a whole.
Anita Dunn, the former White House communications director, will manage the outreach to outside groups during the confirmation process, according to an administration official.
Bauer, who brings decades of Washington experience to the post, may open the selection to candidates beyond those who have already been vetted.
"The fact we've done this before is not going to prevent the president or the people involved in this from looking again," the senior administration official said. "I wouldn't assume those are the only names being looked at."
Staff writers Paul Kane and Anne E. Kornblut and research editor Alice R. Crites contributed to this report.

Friday, April 09, 2010


The New York Times


  • April 9, 2010

    Pope Put Off Punishing Abusive Priest

    The priest, convicted of tying up and abusing two young boys in a California church rectory, wanted to leave the ministry.
    But in 1985, four years after the priest and his bishop first asked that he be defrocked, the future Pope Benedict XVI, then a top Vatican official, signed a letter saying that the case needed more time and that “the good of the Universal Church” had to be considered in the final decision, according to church documents released through lawsuits.
    That decision did not come for two more years, the sort of delay that is fueling a renewed sexual abuse scandal in the church that has focused on whether the future pope moved quickly enough to remove known pedophiles from the priesthood, despite pleas from American bishops.
    As the scandal has deepened, the pope’s defenders have said that, well before he was elected pope in 2005, he grew ever more concerned about sexual abuse and weeding out pedophile priests. But the case of the California priest, the Rev. Stephen Kiesle, and the trail of documents first reported on Friday by The Associated Press, shows, in this period at least, little urgency.
    The letter that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later pope, wrote in Latin in 1985, mentions Father Kiesle’s young age — 38 at the time — as one consideration in whether he should be forced from the priesthood. The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said it was wrong to draw conclusions based on one letter, without carefully understanding the context in which it was written.
    “It’s evident that it’s not an in-depth and serious use of documents,” he said. Earlier Friday, Father Lombardi suggested that the pope would be willing to meet with sexual abuse victims.
    But John S. Cummins, the former bishop of Oakland who repeatedly wrote his superiors in Rome urging that the priest be defrocked, said the Vatican in that era, after the Second Vatican Council, was especially reluctant to dismiss priests because so many were abandoning the priesthood.
    As a result, he said, Pope John Paul II “really slowed down the process and made it much more deliberate.”
    The letters and memos, released to The New York Times by Jeff Anderson, a co-counsel representing some of the priests’ victims, reveal a rising level of exasperation among church officials in Oakland about the delays from the Vatican.
    Bishop Cummins wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger in February 1982: “It is my conviction that there would be no scandal if this petition were granted and that as a matter of fact, given the nature of the case, there might be greater scandal to the community if Father Kiesle were allowed to return to the active ministry.”
    In late 1981 Cardinal Ratzinger had just been appointed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church’s doctrinal office. This office was supposed to handle abuse cases only when they were considered violations of the sacrament of Confession, before the policies were clarified in 2001 and the doctrinal office took on all the abuse cases. (It is unclear why the doctrinal office was handling the case of Mr. Kiesle in the 1980s).
    Bishop Cummins had first petitioned the doctrinal office to defrock Mr. Kiesle in 1981. He also wrote directly to Pope John Paul II. Cardinal Ratzinger requested more information, which officials in the Oakland Diocese supplied in February 1982. They did not hear back from Cardinal Ratzinger until 1985, when he sent the letter in Latin suggesting that his office needed more time to evaluate the case.
    The Rev. George Mockel, a diocesan official in Oakland, wrote in a memo to Bishop Cummins: “Basically they are going to sit on it until Steve gets quite a bit older. My own feeling is that this is unfortunate.”
    Mr. Kiesle was finally defrocked in 1987. He was convicted for the first time of child molesting in 1978, just six years after he was ordained. He pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of lewd conduct while he was a pastor at Our Lady of the Rosary in Union City, Calif.
    Mike Brown, a spokesman for the Oakland Diocese, said that after Mr. Kiesle was convicted, the diocese withdrew permission for him to work as a minister. Mr. Kiesle served three years’ probation for his misdemeanor and underwent treatment, enabling him to eventually get his record wiped clean.
    In 1985, while the bishop in Oakland was pressing Cardinal Ratzinger to defrock Mr. Kiesle, the priest began volunteering in the youth ministry at one of his former parishes, St. Joseph’s in Pinole, Calif., news reports say.
    Maurine Behrend, a former employee in the diocese’s youth ministry office, recalled encountering Mr. Kiesle at a Youth Day in April 1988 and learning from another minister that Mr. Kiesle had been convicted of molestation. Ms. Behrend alerted the head of the youth ministry office and personally warned Bishop Cummins two weeks later.
    In May 1988, she wrote to a church official, demanding to know why “a convicted church molester is currently the youth ministry coordinator at St. Joseph’s parish in Pinole.”
    Bishop Cummins, who is now 82, contested news reports that Mr. Kiesle was volunteering at his old parish for three years, saying diocesan officials would have heard and acted earlier. Bishop Cummins did not recall ever being alerted, despite Ms. Behrend’s irate letter.
    Bishop Cummins said Mr. Kiesle was finally removed from his volunteer position when the bishop happened to bump into him at a child’s confirmation ceremony at the parish. The next day, the bishop said he made sure Mr. Kiesle was banned from working at the parish.
    In 2002, Mr. Kiesle was charged in several cases of molestation, including abusing at least a half-dozen young girls while at his former parishes in the 1960s and 1970s. But those charges had to be dropped when the United States Supreme Court struck down a California law that extended the statute of limitations on child molestation cases.
    He eventually pleaded no contest in 2004 to a separate felony charge of molesting a child at his vacation home in Truckee, Calif., in 1995 and was sentenced to six years in prison.
    Rick Simons, an attorney in Hayward, Calif., who represented two of the victims who later sued the Diocese of Oakland, said he met Father Kiesle when he took his deposition in prison. “Of all the priests who abused children that I have met, and there’s probably a couple dozen, he was by far the most evil, remorseless sociopath of the lot,” he said.
    Mr. Kiesle was released, and is listed in California’s sex offenders registry as living in Walnut Creek, Ca. He lives in a gated community, where guards on Friday prevented a reporter from approaching his home.
    Mr. Simons said that about eight victims of Mr. Kiesle reached a settlement with the Diocese of Oakland in 2005, and that on average each received about $1 million to $1.5 million.
    Daniel J. Wakin contributed reporting from Rome, Anna Bloom from Oakland, Calif., and Rachel Gross from Walnut Creek, Calif.

    Thursday, April 08, 2010

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      MSNBC.com

    NBC: Multiple closure orders dogged mine 

    Met criteria for federal enforcement for  ‘pattern of violations’
    By Mike Kosnar and Kelly O'Donnell
    NBC News
    updated 6:32 p.m. ET April 8, 2010
    Parts or all of the mine where at least 25 workers died were ordered closed 61 times in the past 15 months, according to information from the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
    The information was provided in a summary to several congressional lawmakers after the accident at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia. The summary has not been made public but was provided to NBC News.
    Despite what experts said is an alarming number of so-called withdrawal orders, a total of more than 100 since 2000, federal regulators never took stepped-up action to cite the mine for a "pattern of violations" even though the mine met the criteria.
    Withdrawal orders refer to shutting down a portion of the plant or the entire plant and removing all workers from that location.
    According to the document, the mine agency did not take further action against mine owner Massey Energy Co. because the company eventually "successfully reduced its rate" of serious violations.
    In five instances since 2000, inspectors issued withdrawal orders based on a threat of imminent danger that could reasonably be expected to cause death or serious physical harm. One of those orders came as recently as December.
    The document provided to lawmakers does not specify if the individual orders were complete or partial withdrawals of the mine, the length of the orders, or any other information that would shed light on each event.
    The mine safety agency does not have the authority to shut down a mine unless it goes to court, but it can issue withdrawal orders that force miners to evacuate an area until hazards are eliminated.
    Forced shutdowns became more common in the industry after 2008 in the wake of a series of deadly mine accidents. The Upper Big Branch Mine has been the subject of more than 100 withdrawal orders since 2000, but 61 of those were handed down in 2009 and so far this year.
    Previous reports have shown a string of safety violations at Massey's sprawling mine in the months leading up to Monday's explosion, which killed at least 25 workers and left four missing.
    Massey has been repeatedly cited for problems with the system that vents methane and for allowing combustible dust to build up, including two large fines assessed in January when federal inspectors found dirty air flowing into an escapeway where fresh air should be, and an emergency air system flowing in the wrong direction. Miners were so concerned about the conditions that several told their congressman they were afraid to go back into the mine.
    President Barack Obama has asked federal mine safety officials to report next week on what may have caused the latest disaster. The White House said Thursday that Obama will meet with Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Mine Safety and Health Administrator Joe Main.
    URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/36283885/ns/us_news-life/
    The New York Times


    April 9, 2010
    I.H.T. Op-Ed Contributor

    If You Can't Retaliate, You Weren't Attacked

    SEOUL — On the evening of March 26, Cheonan, a 1,200-ton South Korean corvette, was on patrol in coastal waters near the disputed border with North Korea when its stern was suddenly torn away by a powerful explosion.

    The warship sank within a few minutes, taking the lives of 46 sailors. The South Korean government initially assumed the warship was attacked by a North Korean submarine and put its military on high alert.

    However, the next morning the South Korean government began to work hard to dismiss or at least downplay the probability of a North Korean attack. President Lee Myung-bak and his officials warned against “premature conclusions” and emphasized that there was no definite evidence linking the Cheonan disaster to North Korea.

    They might be right: despite occasional bouts of bellicose rhetoric, North Korea is currently in a negotiating mood (that is, seeking to squeeze more money from the outside world). But the evidence points to an external explosion roughly equivalent to that of 180 kilograms of TNT, so a mine or torpedo are the most plausible explanations.

    If so, why is the Seoul government dismissing such an option? There are good reasons for this. If North Korean involvement was established, the Seoul government would face a hard choice: it would have to retaliate or be seen as spineless. This is a lose-lose situation for South Korea, since it has no way of “punishing” the North.

    Full-scale war is out of the question. The military balance leaves almost no doubt that a war would be won by the South (with some American involvement), but the price of victory would be unacceptably high.

    The Seoul metropolitan area, home to half of South Korea’s population, lies within range of a heavy concentration of North Korean artillery. A massive artillery barrage would leave many thousands dead and devastate vital parts of the country. Any advance north across difficult and heavily fortified mountainous terrain would also be very costly — not to mention the costs of postwar reconstruction.

    So nothing short of a massive North Korean attack on major population centers in the South would likely be seen by Seoul as sufficient cause for a large-scale military operation.

    Limited actions, such as raids against the North Korean naval and military installations, would make the Seoul government look strong in the eyes of voters, but would create many problems for which the same voters would soon start blaming the government.

    Plus, such raids are useless. Kim Jong Il and his henchmen would not lose sleep if they learned that a few dozen North Korean sailors or soldiers were killed in a South Korean attack. In the North, even the death of many thousands is politically irrelevant so long as they are not members of Kim’s inner circle. At the same time, such raids would scare investors away from South Korea and damage its financial rating.

    Financial sanctions, such as closing the Kaesong industrial park, a joint South-North economic development, or freezing the few remaining exchange projects, might seem attractive at first glance, but in the long run could be counterproductive. Contrary to some assumptions, the Kaesong park and other exchange projects are damaging for Kim Jong Il, since they represent a potentially dangerous contact with the outside world.

    Without any means of retaliating, Lee Myung-bak’s administration may have decided to play down the likelihood of North Korea’s involvement or at least portray it as one of several possible explanations.

    Whether North Korea was involved or not, the Cheonan affair is a sober reminder that if North Korea did choose to become aggressive again, not much could be done to counter it. Partial operations might be impressive but are inefficient, and large-scale retaliation would likely be quietly blocked by the South Koreans. This is understandable — they’re the ones who live on the front line.

    Andrei Lankov is professor of history at Kookmin University in Seoul.



    The New York Times


  • April 8, 2010

    China Seems Set to Loosen Hold on Its Currency

    HONG KONG — The Chinese government is preparing to announce in the coming days that it will allow its currency to strengthen slightly and vary more from day to day, people with knowledge of the emerging consensus in Beijing said on Thursday. The move would help ease tension with the Obama administration about the United States’ huge trade deficit with China.

    China’s exports have been bolstered by its policy of keeping its currency, known as the renminbi or yuan, pegged at a nearly fixed rate to the dollar. Many members of Congress and economists say that by spending several hundred billion dollars each year to hold down the value of the renminbi, China has made its exports extremely competitive in foreign markets and taken away sales from manufacturers in the United States and other countries.

    But if China allows only a small move in the renminbi, the effects on the American trade deficit may also be small. Chinese companies are formidably competitive and, while labor costs are rising in China, transportation and communication costs are plunging because of heavy investment in new expressways and rail lines.

    A marginally stronger renminbi would make Chinese goods only marginally more expensive in the United States and make American goods slightly cheaper in China, which is now exporting more than four times as much to the United States as it imports.

    The move is being made for domestic policy reasons in China, primarily as an inflation-fighting tool, people with knowledge of the emerging consensus in Beijing said on Thursday. While any announcement could still be delayed, China’s central bank appears to have prevailed with its arguments within the Chinese leadership for a stronger but more flexible currency, these people said.

    Insisting on anonymity because of the delicacy of the issue in Beijing, they predicted that China’s policy shift could easily occur before President Hu Jintao arrives in Washington next week for discussions with President Obama and other world leaders on improving nuclear security.

    Administration officials, especially Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, have publicly kept quiet to avoid giving the impression that a currency policy shift by China was a result of American pressure, instead of a decision based on what was best for the Chinese economy. Mr. Geithner maintained that silence on Thursday, holding meetings with senior officials in Hong Kong before flying in midafternoon to Beijing for a brief stopover and a meeting with Vice Premier Wang Qishan.

    A terse Treasury statement after the meeting with Mr. Wang noted only that the two men “exchanged views on U.S.-China economic relations, the global economic situation and issues relating to the upcoming economic track dialogue of the second U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, to be held in Beijing in late May.”

    Chinese officials have been publicly wrangling over what to do about the currency for a month. The central bank favors a prompt move, while the Commerce Ministry, aligned with exporters, has opposed currency appreciation. The Obama administration has stayed scrupulously silent, fearing that public comments could backfire by stirring a nationalist reaction in Beijing against international pressure.

    Holding down the value of the renminbi through huge currency market intervention has become an enormous expense for China. The central bank spent 9.2 percent of the country’s economic output last year on the purchase of foreign reserves, mainly Treasuries that are now paying low interest.

    A stronger renminbi could prove to be a mixed blessing for the United States. If China cuts back sharply on purchases of Treasuries, then the Obama administration could find it harder to finance American budget deficits.

    But with the Chinese economy booming, a small move in the renminbi may still leave the central bank struggling with trade surpluses and a tide of speculative investment into China. That could force it to continue buying Treasuries with the extra dollars.

    Allowing wider variation in the currency would also make it easier for China’s central bank to fight inflation, which Wen Jiabao, the premier, identified last month as a top concern for the leadership. Consumer prices were 2.7 percent higher in February than a year earlier, after prices were falling as recently as last October. Inflation is accelerating in China faster than most Western economists expected.

    A stronger currency helps hold down prices by making imports cheaper. It also gives China’s central bank more room to raise interest rates and brake economic growth while lessening the risk of drawing more speculative investments into the country.

    A slightly stronger renminbi that fluctuates each day against the dollar would mainly hurt low-margin, labor-intensive industries in China like shoes and textiles. Many Beijing officials have been worried about job losses in these industries if the currency appreciates.

    Much of this production is already starting to move out of China, notably to Vietnam and Bangladesh, where labor costs have stayed low. And Chinese factories producing these goods have been struggling to find enough workers over the last two months as the economy grew powerfully this winter, stimulated by heavy bank lending, strong demand for workers in the retail sector and rising government spending on high-speed rail lines and other infrastructure investments.

    In 2005, China allowed the renminbi to jump 2 percent overnight against the dollar and then trade in a wider daily range, with a trend toward further strengthening against the dollar. For its coming policy shift, China may follow a similar pattern, but officials may emphasize much more in public remarks that the value of the renminbi can fall as well as rise on any given day. That would help discourage a flood of speculative money into China from investors betting on rapid further appreciation in the currency, said people with knowledge of the emerging consensus in Beijing.

    Xia Bin, a member of the monetary policy committee of the Chinese central bank, hinted at the new policy for the currency while attending a forum in Shanghai on Thursday.

    “Whether to let the yuan slowly appreciate or let it rise to a tolerable range after careful calculation, I think it is better to have that quick, prompt appreciation,” he said, according to news service reports.

    Mr. Xia later added that, “At a certain point, when necessary, it is better to have a quick, prompt appreciation in a bid to fend off speculative capital.”

    But Mr. Xia, who spoke after others had already described an emerging consensus in Beijing in favor of a small move in the currency, cautioned that no one should expect a “large, one-time” appreciation of the renminbi of the sort that many members of Congress have sought.

    The central bank declined to comment on its currency plans.

    Michael Wines contributed reporting from Beijing and Li Bibo contributed research from Beijing.