Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Appeal Fails; Mladic Extradited to The Hague

Accused Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect Gen. Ratko MLadic is now in a jail not far from The Hague, where he will stand trial on charges of genocide "and a multitude of crimes" for the mass murder of more than 6,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995, it was announced today.

"Ratko Mladic was today transferred to the Tribunal’s custody, after having been at large for almost 16 years. Mladic, who was arrested by Serbian authorities on Thursday, 26 May 2011, has been admitted to the UN Detention Unit in The Hague," the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia said in a statement.

"His initial appearance will be announced in due course," the statement said.

Mladic, 69, claimed his health is failing, but Serbia's war crimes court rejected that plea earlier today and denied his final appeal against extradition to The Hague.

"The UN Detention Unit where Mladić is detained meets the highest international standards for the treatment of detainees. It is managed in a manner respecting the detainees’ dignity and rights, and providing all the necessary conditions for the preparation of their defense," the tribunal said.

"Following a full medical examination by the Detention Unit’s medical staff, Mladić’s health will be continuously monitored and any treatment required will be provided," the court added.

Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic is already on trial at The Hague.

So What Does the Tanking Housing Market Mean?

Housing prices have fallen to 2002 levels, but the financial markets responded with an end of the month rally today that ignored the bad news.

Standard & Poor's Case-Shiller Index reported today home price index has declined for eight straight month, dropping by 4.2% the first quarter of 2011.

The Dow Jones average went in the other direction, climbing 128.06 points after a rough month.

Felix Salmon at Reuters takes a shot at deciphering the disconnect between the housing and stock markets.

"I don’t have any good answers here, except to say that if housing is getting cheaper, in many ways that’s a good thing. Sure, it’s bad for banks, and it’s unpleasant for anybody who bought a house as an investment," Salmon writes.

"But in general, the less money we Americans spend on housing every month, the more money we have to spend on more productive sectors of the economy, and the higher our disposable incomes," he concludes.

The question is how long can the financial markets climb should banks feel the heat from the housing decline?

"As snake-bitten banks have discovered in recent years, the heath of the housing market is closely correlated to the health of banks," writes Wall Street Journal blogger Shira Ovide.

One reason the market shrugged off the data may simply be that we have known for months that a double-dip in the housing market was coming.

So this is going to be a wait-and-see moment, unless of course you are the American home owner who purchased property in the past decade thinking it would be a good investment. Those folks already know what it means for them.

Zuma: No Deal with Gadhafi; NATO: So We Bombed Him Again

NATO launched strikes overnight from Tripoli to Brega after a defiant Moammar Gadhafi told an African Union emissary he is not ready to step down, even amid mass defections in his military.

"He emphasized that he was not prepared to leave his country, despite the difficulties," the office of South African President Jacob Zuma said in a statement today.

Hours after Zuma met yesterday with Gadhafi NATO said its warplanes bombed surface-to-air missile sites, radar, artillery and storage depots.

Italy, meanwhile, opened a consulate in the rebel de facto capital Benghazi and pledged to provide the rebels with fuel and money to sustain their revolution. The rebels are running short of oil ready to bring to market, but with a sea of crude under their desert, the rebels credit is good.

In a bizarre twist of fate, it turns out Gadhafi was bit by the financial crisis of 2008 caused by Wall Street greed and Bush administration's laisses-faire policies. Gadhafi invested $1.3 billion through Goldman Sachs Group and lost 98% of their value, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The rebels have launched their own satellite and Internet television station to counter what they say is Gadhafi's powerful propaganda machine, which reaches deep into rebel territory. You can stream it here, or punch in these satellite coordinates: Nilesat Frequency 10872 V - 10873 V.

Here is a great timeline from Reuters of the Libyan Revolution from day one to the present.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Mass Military Defections Reported in Libya

Eight senior Libyan officers announced today they defected from Moammar Gadhafi's military, offering to join the rebel cause.

The five generals, two colonels and a major appeared at a news conference in Rome amid reports that about 120 other soldiers and officers have abandoned Gadhafi in the last few days.

"The people around him and the aides and people who are fighting for him are diminishing; some are deserting," rebel spokesman Guma al-Gamati told the BBC.

Libyan rebels pushed west of Misurata today, reportedly getting the help of at least a half-dozen unidentified Western operatives caught on camera by Al Jazeera in Libya.

It was not known where the operatives are from, though there have been reports of French and British target-spotters and liaison officers on the ground "advising" the Libyan rebels. The Guardian of London picked up on the Al Jazeera report (link includes the video report).

The defections came as South African President Jacob Zuma met today with Gadhafi in Tripoli to discuses an end to the conflict, even though the rebels have rejected every offer so far for failing to guarantee Gadhafi will go. The rebels held out little hope Zuma's mission would meet those terms.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) predicted this weekend that the end may be near for Gadhafi, though he contends more American firepower would have pushed him out sooner. McCain has called on the Obama administration to maintain an unrelenting assault, as was the case when the mission was in the hands of the U.S. Africa Command in the early days of the campaign.

"Gadhafi may crack. He may crack," McCain (R-Ariz.) said on the "Fox News Sunday" program. "But this thing could have been over a long time ago if we had brought the full weight of American air power to bear on him, and it is unfortunate."

Dempsey to Replace Mullen as Joint Chiefs Chairman

Army Chief of Staff Martin Dempsey has long been rumored to be  the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and President Obama made it official this Memorial Day.

Pending Senate confirmation,  Dempsey replaces current Joint Chiefs chairman Mike Mullen, whose term is set to expire Sept. 30.

Obama also announced this morning he has chosen Navy Admiral James Winnefeld to be vice chair of the Joint Chiefs, while Gen. Ray Odierno would replace Dempsey as Army chief of staff.

All three appointments require Senate confirmation.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Britain To Use Bunker-Busters Against Gadhafi

There apparently is more than a degree of psychological warfare at play in NATO's stepped up air campaign over Libya.

Britain is not stopping at deploying Apache helicopter gunships -- now London is letting it be known that it is preparing to include 2,000-pound bunker-busters in its arsenal against Moammar Gadhafi.

The Paveway bombs have already been moved to Gioia del Colle in Italy, where RAF Tornado and Typhoon jets are based, The Guardian of London reported. The Paveways are expected to be used to crash through the bunkers beneath Gadhafi's Bab al-Azizia compound in Tripoli, among other underground targets.

"We are not trying to physically target individuals in Gadhafi's inner circle on whom he relies but we are certainly sending them increasingly loud messages," British Defence Minsterer Liam Fox said, according to the BBC.

"Gadhafi may not be capable of listening but those around him would be wise to do so," Fox said.

Obama Visits Joplin As Tornado Death Toll Climbs

Updated 9 a.m. edt (Monday)

Sam Youngman of The Hill newspaper was the pooler yesterday traveling with President Obama to Joplin, Mp. He filed this report for The Hill:

"JOPLIN, Mo. -- Before landing to officially begin his visit, President Obama surveyed the damage as Air Force One flew over this town that was almost erased from the Earth by a massive tornado just one week ago.
"From the air, it looked as though a giant had taken a lawnmower right through the center of a miniature town. On the ground, the destruction was seemingly endless as fields of debris, once neighborhoods, stretched on as far as the eye could see."
end update

President Obama will get a chance today to see for himself the devastation caused by the monster tornado that struck and leveled much of Joplin, Mo., last week. His visit comes as the death toll in Joplin currently stands at 139 people dead and another 100 others still missing.

Obama plans to attend a memorial service, meet with victims and view the tornado's destruction. He is expected to arrive in Joplin around noon local time and plans to address a memorial service at 2 p.m. (cdt) at Missouri Southern State University's Taylor Performing Arts Center.

Obama returned to Washington this weekend from a four-day diplomatic trip to Europe before heading to the Missouri city of about 50,000 residents.

Flood Waters Leave Misery In Their Wake

The Big Muddy isn't getting bigger, but the problems for victims of flooding along the Mississippi are really just taking shape now.

The Associated Press out of Memphis captures this moment perfectly this morning: "The Mississippi River crest has passed through the South, but the misery caused by flooding is far from over."

The Mississippi's flood waters are receding, so now begins the process of digging out, mopping up, rebuilding and replanting.

"The final cost is not yet known, but previous floods on the Mississippi that made the record books, such as the one in 1993, cost as much as $15 billion," Jennifer Frazier, director of the Mississippi River Program of the American Land Conservancy, wrote in the Memphis Commercial Appeal of the need for better flood-plain management. "We cannot afford to keep doing it this way."

The flooding has delayed the planting of crops and some farmers fear they won't have anything to harvest this year. The American Farm Bureau Federation estimates that nearly 3.6 million acres of farmland were affected by the floods.

"There is no doubt about it, the effect of the flooding on farmers and ranchers is being felt deeply across the South," American Farm Bureau Federation Chief Economist Bob Young said. "One is reminded of the '93 or '95 floods in terms of scale of affected area. While some may be able to get a crop in the ground this year, we also need to think about the long-term economic health of these farms and communities," he said, stressing the need for levees to be rebuilt.

Now the water level Missouri River in South Dakota is rising.

This article via The Los Angles Times wire is a brain-churner, offering evidence that manmade dams along the Mississippi and its tributaries are behind the flooding in the middle of the country.

The Internal Revenue Service announced it is giving victims of the recent flooding, storms and tornadoes additional time to meet their tax obligations.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Canada Sticks With Libya Mission, But Won't Send More Jets

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said today he wants to extend his country's participation in the Libyan air campaign, but he will not succumb to pressure to increase the number of jets and ships that Canada is contributing.

"The government is going to ask for a reasonable extension and to continue parliamentary monitoring of what we're doing," Harper told CBC Radio, adding that sending more troops to Libya is not under consideration.

"We think our military involvement is about what it should be but if we want to make any changes to that we'll certainly be very transparent with Parliament on that," said Harper, who called Canada's military contribution to the NATO effort thus far "substantial."

Canadian military officials released raw figures this week showing their half-dozen CF-18 fighter jets have dropped 240 bombs over Libya during 324 sorties.

Moving forward, Harper said he hopes get unanimous support next month to extend the Canadian mission beyond the three months originally agreed upon by Ottawa.

"The government is very committed to the mission and we can, I think, report to Parliament that it has both gone well so far and that its continuation is essential for the original reasons we embarked on it," the prime minister told CBC Radio's Susan Lunn.

"We had unanimity before, I don't know whether we can get that again. I'd obviously welcome that but I think we'll have a good debate. I think all of the reasons all parties agreed to go into Libya are still present," Harper said.

NATO Launches Daring Daytime Strike on Tripoli

The war in Libya is entering a new phase that NATO believes -- and hopes -- will lower the curtain on the Gadhafi regime.

The rebel provisional government offered amnesty today to the apparently scared, dwindling ranks of Libyans still loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. The offer came as NATO sent the regime a message in the form of a bold daytime air strike on Tripoli.

Rebels in Misurata have been told French and British attack helicopters will soon join the fight.

"Yesterday two French men, who usually come to take coordinates so that Nato knows where to attack, came to the front. They told me this is the 'third stage'," said Ahmed Ibrahim, a senior rebel said, according to The Telegraph of London.

Hoping the end game (as far as the fighting goes) is in sight, the Transitional National Council dangled a carrot in front of Gadhafi loyalists today: Any defectors accused of crimes before the revolution's Feb. 17 start date will get a fair trial, while those who commit crimes after that date will be granted total amnesty.

"Those still betting on Moammar Gadhafi's regime should wake up to reality and abandon it and join the righteous and just cause," said TNC leader Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, a former judge and justice minister in the Gadhafi regime.

NATO demonstrated with a daytime raid on Tripoli today the confidence it has that Gadhafi forces are worn down and are limping. NATO warplanes destroyed guard towers and storage depots behind the high walls of Gadhafi's Bab al-Aziziyah complex.

The strikes began overnight and continued after sunrise, re-affirming the alliance's resolve that the Gadhafi regime is in its final act.

"We are joined in our resolve to finish the job," President Obama said after meetings at the Group of Eight summit of industrialized nations in France that centered on the Libyan conflict.

Remembering Joplin's Tornado Victims

Many groups are organizing fund-raising efforts to help the victims of the horrific tornado last week that hit Joplin, Mo., where the death toll has climbed to 132 people, with scores of others injured, some seriously.

Damage is expected to be in the billions of dollars and clean up and recovery is going to take months. President Obama is scheduled to visit with victims and see the devastation for himself tomorrow.

To make a donation, visit www.redcross.org, call 800-733-2767, or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Contributions also may be sent to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013. 

There is more information here and here on how to help.

Many corporations have already begun to help, but more assistance is still needed.

Friday, May 27, 2011

G-8 & Russia Agree Gadhafi Must Go

Updated at 2:15 p.m. edt

British Prime Minister David Cameron contends the time is right to bear down on Moammar Gadhafi, hoping the use of attack helicopters in Libya will deal a death blow to the fractured regime.

"Now there are signs that the momentum against Gadhafi is really building. So it is right that we are ratcheting up the military, the economic and the political pressure," Cameron said a news conference today at the Group of Eight summit in Deauville, France, on the Normandy coast.

The political pressure behind upping the firepower is keeping the NATO war partners engaged. The air campaign has gone on for more than three months, and for some counties that is long enough. Some have said they need to see definitive results, or will have to withdraw, as Norway intends to do, The New York Times reports.

end update

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for an "intensification of the military intervention" in Libya today as NATO warplanes for a fourth straight day bombed Tripoli, including Moammar Gadhafi's Bab al-Aziziyah compound.

Even the Russians, who met this week with a delegation representing the rebels Transitional National Council, have seen enough of Moammar Gadhafi, offering today to help facilitate his exit.

"We think Gadhafi has  himself of his legitimacy and it is necessary to help him  leave," said Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov, according to The New York Times.

Sarkozy, hosting the annual summit of leaders of the Group of Eight industrialized nations, said he was open to discussing a new proposal by Russia to mediate an end to the Libyan conflict.

The G-8 leaders said in a joint summit statement that the bottom line on Gadhafi is, "He must go."

The alliance believes it has Gadhafi running scared. Reports say he has been hopping from hospital to hospital, seeking a safe haven from NATO smart bombs.

NATO is about to add to its arsenal 12 French and four British helicopter gunships that would provide heightened close-in precision ground attack ability to the alliance.

"Ministers have given clearance in principle for the deployment of attack helicopters in Libya. It is a matter now for military commanders to make decisions on deployment," a spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron told the BBC.

The NATO strikes overnight in Tripoli were a stark rejection of the Libyan government's latest  ceasefire proposal. The Libyan rebels and NATO were not convinced the proposal floated yesterday guaranteed Gadhafi would leave power.

Gadhafi loyalists, meanwhile, launched a counter-attack in Misurata, dropping mortars on rebel and civilian targets in the war-mauled city. It was said to be the worst fighting in weeks in Misurata, where rebels recently pushed out Gadhafi forces in what appeared to be a game-changing offensive.

"We fired on them and advanced. They fell back and started firing mortars," said rebel spokesman Suleim Al-Faqih told Al Jazeera.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bosnian War Crimes Suspect Mladic Arrested

Updated at 3:30 p.m. edt

The arrest today of Gen. Ratko Mladic prompted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to warn accused war criminals that they will be hunted down no matter how long it takes.

"Mladic's arrest serves as a statement to those around the world who would break the law and target innocent civilians: international justice works. If you commit a crime, you will not escape judgment, you will not go free," Clinton said in a statement.

Mladic's was captured a decade and half after allegedly allowing the mass killing of about 6,000 Bosnian Muslim males. 

Clinton was the sitting First Lady when the genocide occurred and Mladic and other fugitive Bosnian Serbs later went into hiding. Her husband, then- President Bill Clinton rallied NATO into an air campaign that brought a halt to the Serbs ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims. 

"Today, as we thank Serbia for bringing a criminal to justice, we also send our deepest sympathies and extend our thoughts and prayers to all those who have suffered from the notorious acts charged to Mladic, particularly the genocide at Srebrenica in 1995," Clinton said.

"You have waited far too long for this day," she added.

Clinton also signaled the United States' desire that Mladic be handed over quickly to the special court at The Hague.

"We commend President Tadic, the government of Serbia, its security services and all those who have labored for years to bring Mladic to justice. We look forward to his earliest possible extradition to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague so that justice may be served," Clinton said.

end update

Just as the U.S. and NATO are trying to send a message to despots in places like Tripoli and Damascus, an alleged war criminal accused of committing acts of genocide and mass murder in Bosnia and Herzogovina gets apprehended by authorities.

Gen. Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military commander blamed in the 1995 slaughter of nearly 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, is under arrest today in Serbia on charges of crimes against humanity, the Serbian government announced.

Mladic picked up at a so-far undisclosed location in Serbia. Click here for the Interpol's most-wanted notice for Mladic, accused of extermination and hooliganism.

President Obama wants Mladic handed over to the special war crimes tribunal on the former Yugoslavia, a spokesman said a short while ago. The timely news of the arrest was welcomed by White House officials, especially those traveling with the President in Europe.

The systematic killings in Srebrenica, the worst act of genocide in Europe since World War II, prompted President Bill Clinton at the time to organize support for a successful bombing campaign that forced Belgrade to capitulate. 

Under what was called a policy of ethnic cleansing, Mladic led a military and militia accused of rounding up men and boys, sometimes promising their loved ones that it was just for questioning. Many of the Bosnian Muslim males never returned and some were discovered in mass graves.

Srebrenica is a Muslim enclave in the former Yugoslavia and is a centuries-old remnant and tribute to the once far-reach of the Turks' Ottoman Empire.

Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb political leader accused of having a role in the Srebrenica massacre, was arrested three year's ago and is currently on trial at The Hague.

G-8 Looks to Help Libyan Rebels & NATO

Updated 4:45 p.m. edt

France and Britain will deploy 16 helicopter gunships in Libya, including British Apaches, claiming Moammar Gadhafi is on the run and the precision ground attack aircraft will hasten the demise of his forces, according to the Financial Times.

The attack helicopters could be ready to go in a matter of days, the newspaper reported today. The leaders of the Britain, France and the United States discussed the decision to deploy the helicopters on the sidelines today at the Group of Eight summit in France.

The Associated Press later confirmed that the British government had green-lighted the use of Apaches in Libya.

As previously reported, France is sending 12 Tiger and Gazelle helicopters aboard the amphibious assault ship Tonnerre. The Apaches are on the British amphibious assault ship HMS Ocean, the Financial Times said.

end update

As world leaders meet at a French resort in Normandy, the Canadians are apparently coming under a little pressure to do a bit more in Libya.

Canada, of course, is not the only NATO member feeling the heat from the French, British and U.S., who are doing the lion's share of the work in Libya. However, it is a touchy subject since the commander of the NATO mission in Libya, Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, hails from the Canadian air force.

Hoping to deflect the jabs, Canadian military officials released raw figures this week showing their fighter jets have dropped 240 bombs over Libya during 324 sorties, The Toronto Star reported.

Ottawa has sent six CF-18 fighters, patrol and refuelling aircraft and the ship HMCS Charlottetown.

The G-8 summit in France comes as the Gadhafi regime floated its latest ceasefire deal, which so far is being received with a yawn by the Western powers.

Meanwhile, during one of the most under-reported diplomatic missions this week, Abdurraham Mohamed Shalgham, the Gadhafi regime's former UN ambassador until he publicly split with the dictator at the UN  Security Council in February, re-surfaced in Moscow.

Shalgham, who delivered upon his resignation a dramatic headline-making address in which he likened the Libyan leader to Adolf Hitler, was greeted by one of the NATO mission's biggest critics, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The meeting, seen in diplomatic circles as much more than Moscow hedging its bet, came a week after he held talks with an envoy for Gadhafi.

"Russia is an important state and plays an important role in Libya. Russia has its own ideas, and I want to listen to them," said Shalgham was quoted as saying by The Moscow Times.

Shalgham, who also had served as Gadhafi's foreign minister at one time, indicated there was no ill-will with Russia for its criticism, saying the Transitional National Council understood Lavrov's position.

In another sign that the TNC is winning over Western governments' hearts and minds, the rebel government accepted an invitation this week from the U.S. to open a liaison office in Washington.

The European Union and Germany also opened liaison offices in the de facto rebel capital, Benghazi.

It was also announced the rebels have begun selling oil headed to the U.S.  In a deal first agreed upon in late April, U.S. refiner Tesoro purchased the first oil cargo sold by rebels who need cash to finance their fight with Gadhafi.

San Antonio-based Tesoro told Reuters the Libyan rebel crude will processed in its Hawaii refinery.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

ITN: Helicopters in Libya? Brits Demo Apaches

There has been consideration of deploying helicopter gunships in Libya, raising the firepower, the stakes and the risks for NATO. France has already sent 12 attack helicopters aboard an assault ship that headed for Libyan coast.

The British army show off its lethal Apache attack helicopters in this new report from ITN posted on YouTube.

Obama and Cameron: NATO Will Oust Gadhafi

Libyan rebels clashed today with Sudanese mercenaries hired by Moammar Gadhafi while a continent away President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron predicted a newly restored vivace strike tempo in Libya by NATO warplanes would force Moammar Gadhadi to step down.

"Gadhafi and his regime need to understand that there will not be a let-up in the pressure that we are applying," Obama said after a pow wow with Cameron in London.

"I believe that we have built enough momentum that as long as we sustain the course we're on, he will step down," Obama insisted.

A day after NATO significantly increased its strikes on Gadhafi and his forces, Cameron chimed in that the two leaders agreed NATO and it's allies need to "be turning up the heat in Libya."

"It is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Gadhafi still in power. He must go," Cameron said.

Gadhafi government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim fired back a spitball at the U.S. and British leaders, snapping back that "Gadhafi's destiny, Gadhafi's future, is for the Libyan nation to decide."

The war of words came as Libyan rebels attacked and captured fortified Sudanese mercenaries near the southeast desert oasis Kufra. It was not the first time paid Sudanese fighters have been captured along Libya's southern tier.

The war to overturn Gadhafi and his dwindling war machine will be front and center tomorrow when world leaders gather for the Group of Eight summit in France.

"The President and I are agreed we will stand with those who work for freedom," Cameron said. "This is the message we'll take to the (G-8) tomorrow when we push for a major program of economic and political support for those countries seeking reform."

Real Science: The Theories Behind Tornadoes and Floods

There is no shortage of reportage on the scientific theories behind Mother Nature's savage and unforgiving spring of 2011: Global Climate change, "La Nina" and unfortunate coincidence. 

But mercifully, so far there are no rampant, bible-waving warnings that the tornadoes and floods devastating America are the latest apocalyptic revelations from heaven.

"So far, the research on tornadoes and climate change is far from conclusive, and observational records don't show any significant trends in tornado strength or frequency," wrote Andrew Freedman on the Australian website, Climate Spectator.

"What is clear, however, is that population growth has put more people in harm's way, and high death tolls can still occur despite accurate and timely warnings, particularly when tornadoes strike densely populated areas, as was so sadly demonstrated in Tuscaloosa and Joplin.," Freedman added.

The New York Times has a hefty question and answer facts column culled from experts. On the role, if any, of climate change on the extreme weather, John Collins Rudolf and Justin Gillis writes," Frustratingly, it is likely to be a year or two before we get good published analyses of the causes for this season’s strange weather — and it may be decades before science can conclusively demonstrate whether or not human-driven warming is affecting tornado frequency.

The Los Angeles Times also offers its own Q &A on tornadoes.

Sea surface temperatures in the Gulf are now 3 degrees Fahrenheit warmer on average than than prior to 1970,  according to Kevin Trenberth, distinguished senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.
“Two degrees of that can be attributed to natural variability while one degree Fahrenheit is associated with climate change,” Trenberth explains in an interview with Bloomberg news.

Tim Barnett, climate expert at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., says the deadly tornado that hit Joplin, Mo., and other recent twisters in the Midwest "were probably not due to climate change. Everyone wants to pin it on an events like this. But it is very difficult to do that scientifically for any one event."

"If you look at the past 60 years of data, the number of tornadoes is increasing significantly, but it's agreed upon by the tornado community that it's not a real increase," Grady Dixon, who teaches meteorology and climatology at Mississippi State University, tells Agence France Press. "It's having to do with better (weather tracking) technology, more population, the fact that the population is better educated and more aware. So we're seeing them more often."

Bill McKibben, founder of the global climate campaign 350.org and a distinguished scholar at Middlebury College in Vermont, offers a witty, if not sarcastic, mock denial of climate change's role in the  bombastic weather phenomena.

"It's very important to stay calm. If you got upset about any of this, you might forget how important it is not to disrupt the record profits of our fossil fuel companies," McKibben wrote in a piece published on several editorial pages. 

"If worst ever did come to worst, it's reassuring to remember what the U.S. 
Chamber of Commerce told the Environmental Protection Agency in a recent filing: that there's no need to worry because 'populations can acclimatize to warmer climates via a range of behavioral, physiological, and technological adaptations.' I'm pretty sure that's what residents are telling themselves in Joplin today," McKibben chides.

Citing the National Academy of Sciences, Gregg Easterbrook takes on the extreme right wing. "Despite what the talk radio and Tea Party types say, there is strong scientific consensus that human activity has begun to alter Earth’s climate," Easterbrook blogs for Reuters.

The Daily Caller smirks at the talk of climate change, at the expense of America's favorite weatherman.

Apocalypse not now? Jay Michaelson duly notes the lack of doomsday talk from religious conservatives.

"It's just been a bad year," Kent State University geographer Thomas W. Schmidlin tells The Associated Press.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

NATO Unleashes Unrelenting Bombardment

NATO allies appear to be sensing an opportunity to bring Moammar Gadahfi to the brink of capitulation, sooner than later.

"We believe that Gadhafi and his forces are under tremendous strain," said Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security advisor for strategic communications.

"I think you saw today there were additional targeting in Tripoli at command and control centers, all of which I think sends a message that the trend lines are against Qaddafi, that time is working against him," Rhodes said this afternoon from Britain, where President Obama will meet tomorrow with Prime Minister David Cameron to discuss the Libyan air campaign.

Alliance warplanes let loose overnight with an unforgiving guided-missile attack primarily in the Tripoli area the past two days that rattled the cage of the dictator-in-hiding and what is left of his fading family and inner-circle advisors.

“Gadhafi’s forces still represent a threat to civilians and we will continue to strike targets that carry out this violence,” Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, NATO commander of Operation Unified Protector said following today's mission.

Four RAF warplanes took the lead role in NATO's biggest bombing mission against Gaddafi's forces since the air campaign commenced two months ago. Two Tornado GR4's and two Typhoons spearheaded the nightime attack that involved a total of

Twenty NATO warplanes from six countries bombed on a compound believed to be used by Gadhafi's paramilitary and secret police, according to The Telegraph of London. It was described as the biggest air raid in two months.

"There is an enormous sense of professional pride that we were able to accomplish this mission and return safely," said the RAF wing commander, who flew out of airbase at Gioia del Colle in southern Italy. "This undoubtedly represents a significant setback for Gadhafi's forces."

A Gadhafi spokeswoman said three people were killed and more than 15r0 others wounded in the strikes, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, working closely with the White House, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) plan to schedule vote on a non-binding resolution supporting the Libyan no-fly zone and embargo after the Memorial Day recess.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this week in London "time is working against Gaddafi," giving her blessing to the rebels' Transitional National Council.

"Their military forces are improving and when Gadhafi inevitably leaves, a new Libya stands ready to move forward," she said.

Monday, May 23, 2011

NATO Adding Helicopters to Libya Campaign

Updated 11:59 p.m. edt

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is urging more NATO nations to step up and take an active role in the Libyan air campaign, which is struggling to maintain a strike tempo that wreaks havoc on Moammar Gadhafi's unrelenting forces.

"We have a lot of confidence in what our joint efforts are producing. We would like to see some other of our NATO friends and allies join in with us, in order to make sure that the pressure is maintained consistently," Clinton said after meeting with British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

The U.S. has no plans to increase its role, but Clinton pointed out that American warplanes, personnel and technology remains heavily engaged in Libya.

"Even today, the United States continues to fly 25 percent of all sorties, we continue to provide the majority of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets," Clinton said.

end update

French Gazelle and Tigre class helicopter gunships may soon join the NATO air campaign against Moammar Gadhafi, upping the ante with close-in air power that, while risky, will make it easier to target forces loyal to the well-hidden Libyan dictator, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe confirmed today.

"What we want is to better tailor our ability to strike on the ground with ways that allow more accurate hits," Juppe said, according to Reuters. "That is the goal in deploying helicopters."

A dozen French helicopters shipped out May 17 to Libya aboard the French amphibious assault carrier Tonnerre, the French daily Le Figaro reported.

"It is not just French helicopters ... it's coordinated action by the coalition," a diplomatic source said, in response to the newspaper report. "It is at NATO level."

Speaking to reporters in Brussels Juppe, insisted the use of helicopters is covered under a United Nations resolution to protect Libyan civilians from Gadhafi's wrath. The world court has issued an arrest warrant for Gadhafi, alleging the Libyan despot committed crimes against humanity.

Dozens Killed By Latest Tornado

Updated 5 p.m. EDT

The death toll from a rain-wrapped high-end EF4-rated tornado in Joplin, Mo., climbed from 89 at midday to at least 116 by the late afternoon,  Gov. Jay Nixon confirmed a short time ago.

"It looks like a war zone -- something out of a horror movie," Joplin resident Zack Tusinger said, describing the scene a short while ago in his hometown, where he lost his aunt and uncle to the twister.

As the grim count rose there were reports of at least seven people being found alive, but as the time passes the death toll is likely to increase.

"I don't think we're done counting," Nixon told The Associated Press. "I still believe that because of the size of the debris and the number of people involved that there are lives to be saved."
The tornado's estimated winds of 190-198 mph cut a six-mile path around the small city of 50,000 residents in rural Southwest Missouri.  

end update
President Obama dispatched FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate to Joplin, Mo., today to oversee federal efforts to respond to the killer tornado that uprooted much of the town last night.

Obama, who is on the first day of a diplomatic trek through Europe, called Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to pledge federal help in the aftermath of the deadly storm. The President offered condolences to the victims and families of the dozens killed by the monster tornado.

Videos posted on the Internet show first responders searching frantically for survivors in a town that has been leveled by the twister.

Obama is being kept abreast of the tragedy in Joplin while traveling, aides said. He is is expected to quickly designate the town a federal disaster area, which will make federal funds available to the storm-ravaged community.

"The President called Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to personally extend his condolences and to express that all of the families of Joplin affected by the severe tornadoes are in his thoughts and prayers. The President assured the governor that FEMA will remain in close contact and coordination with state and local officials," said White House spokesman Nicholas Shapiro.

"The President has directed FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate to travel to Missouri to ensure the state has all the support it needs. In addition, in anticipation of requests for assistance, a FEMA Incident Management Assistance Team is en route to Joplin. This self-sustaining team will work with FEMA officials already in Missouri to coordinate with state and local officials to identify needs and any shortfalls impacting disaster response and recovery," Shapiro said in a statement.

"The Federal government will continue to support our fellow Americans during this difficult time," Shapiro added.

This latest killer tornado comes amid the worst flooding along the Mississippi in generations, as well as a string of deadly twisters several weeks ago that killed more than 300 people in Alabama and other states across the South.

Reviews Mixed Over Obama's AIPAC Address

Updated 11:45 p.m. EDT

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ratcheted down the rhetoric and delivered a speech tonight to AIPAC, highlighting the U.S.-Israeli relationship and praising President Obama as a friend of Israel.

"Israel is America's indispensable ally," Netanyahu told the powerful pro-Israel lobby.

He set the tone for his address by taking a moment at the start to recognize the deadly tragedy in Joplin, Mo., where at least 116 people were killed yesterday by a most or tornado.

Netanyahu then went on to praise Obama as a true friend of Israel.

In the only moment that harkened back to tense relations between Netanyahu and Obama came when the prime minister (who indicated he will have more to say when he addresses Congress tomorrow) repeated to the crowd in Washington what he told Obama on Friday in reaction to the U.S. leader's acknowledgment that peace talks begin with the pre-1967 borders as the starting point:

"Israel cannot return to the indefensible 1967 lines,” Netanyahu told thousands of supporters of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Netanyahu was booed and heckled along the way, but the demonstrators were escorted out to cheers from the crowd.

end update

So did President Obama placate concerns by the conservative wing of the Israeli lobby with the argument yesterday that he said nothing new when he stated out loud that the pre-1967 borders should be the starting point of the Middle East peace talks?

Some notable reaction:

Likud Knesset member Danny Danon slammed Obama's remarks as political, breathlessly calling into question Obama's knowledge of Israeli and Palestinian affairs.

"Obama must understand that Israel will not pay the price for his tuition as he gets caught up to speed on the essence of the conflict. Obama is zigzagging in accordance with whatever position will give him more votes while justifying his Nobel Prize. We must stand strong in order to ensure that this will not be on account of the state of Israel," Danon said, according to Haaretz.

Hamas rejected Obama's AIPAC speech as pandering to the Israeli lobby, according to the Palestinian newspaper, Al-Resalah.

Josh Block, senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute and a former AIPAC spokesman, said in an email to Pajamas Media: “It [the speech] was a strong reaffirmation of the US-Israel relationship, and was an important and positive change from his remarks on Thursday. It reflected an important continuity of US policy going back to President Johnson.”

National Jewish Democratic Council President David Harris, who attended the AIPAC speech, said Obama included “a very helpful explanation of the 1967 parameters that some misunderstood and some purposefully distorted."

"This will dramatically help the president with going forward. I was deeply gratified to see the tremendously warm reception he got throughout the speech - it was more than a polite minimum the folks here were expected to do." Harris told Haaretz. "He got clearly genuine support throughout his address. It shows that even in this room in the heart of the pro-Israeli advocacy in the country there was a clear recognition of the fact that the status quo is not sustainable.”

Award-winning journalist Barry Lando, author of "Web of Deceit," writes at Huffington Post that Obama should have announced to AIPAC a real change in policy since Netanyahu has signaled he is not interested in talks aimed at Palestinian statehood. 

Lando writes Obama should have said to AIPAC: "We can no longer afford to confuse supporting the State of Israel with supporting the policies of the leaders who control the Israeli government at a particular time. The interests of the two are not necessarily the same. Particularly when, in my view -- and the view of many Israelis as well -- those policies undermine the long-term security of the Israel."

Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera's senior political analyst, said: "[Obama] is saying absolutely nothing new ... He remains, I think, more or less, adamant that it has to be up to the Israelis and the Palestinians, which basically, de facto, means it's up to the Israelis to dictate what exactly their security requirements are for any contours of a Palestinian solution," Al Jazeera reported.

The ISRAI website has a summary here of related editorials in the Jewish press.

Tony Karon, blogging at Time, painted Netanyahu's stonewalling as a much larger problem than Obama's border statement, which has long been held as the de facto starting point for final status talks.

"Netanyahu has fashioned his entire political career out of saying no to the peace plans of others - no to Rabin's Oslo Accords; no, even, to Sharon's pullout from Gaza; no to Obama's call for a solution based on 1967 borders," Karon wrote.

Ex-GOP Rep. Joe Scarborough, star of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program, defended Netanyahu over the U.S. President, accusing Obama of ignorance for failing to understand the "existential threat that Israelis face."

"I think the President views Israel in a way different than most Presidents in the past," Scarborough said this morning. "I think the President is firmly committed to Middle East peace at all price -- what he defines as Middle East peace -- and I think he's less concerned about Israel's security than other Presidents in the past, Democrat and Republican alike."

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Obama Plays to Crowd at AIPAC Policy Conference

President Obama sought to comfort the concerned Israeli lobby today, telling AIPAC members that his position on the 1967 borders was not groundbreaking and represents a starting point in negotiations leading to the future state of Palestine.

"If there is a controversy, then, it’s not based in substance," Obama said speaking of his policy address a few days ago on the the Middle East. "What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately."

Obama avoided commenting on his prickly relationship with right wing Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, but he candidly warned that sweeping movements throughout Arabia and demographic realities on the ground in Israel.

"The world is moving too fast. The extraordinary challenges facing Israel would only grow. Delay will undermine Israel’s security and the peace that the Israeli people deserve," cautioned Obama, after he  reaffirmed the United States' strong relationship with Israel and publicly recognized the security needs of the Jewish state.

"I believe that the current situation in the Middle East does not allow for procrastination,"  he said.

A YouTube video of the President's speech to AIPAC:

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bibi, Baby, Meant to Call You, But Lost Your Number...

President Obama's speech on Middle East policy is the latest textbook case of where a simple declarative statement meets diplomatic nuance, and the end result is all of Embassy Row starts crowing like school kids playing I've got a secret.

Except it isn't a secret, in this case. It's just a breathless Foggy Bottom moment.

History was made, some contend, when Obama said out loud yesterday what has been a given in Middle East peace negotiations dating back to the Camp David Accords:

"The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states," Obama said during his Mideast policy speech at the State Department.

"The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state," Obama added (Click here for the complete text of President Obama's speech).

For the nonplussed, at best the news here is an American President finally said out loud what everyone already understood to be the de facto basis for negotiation: The starting point was the pre-1967 borders.

The news today from The New York Times that Obama does not consider Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be a serious peacemaker is also not much of a secret.  Netanyahu lost credibility early in the peace process, when he blindsided then-President Clinton at the Wye River peace talks when he unexpectedly demanded the release of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard. It was a stunt that forever painted Netanyahu as a hurdle to a peace deal.

Netanyahu, who meets today with Obama in Washington, was none too pleased by Obama's speech. He tried until the last minute to lobby Obama to stay away from the 1967 border issue, but his rants went unheard.

"Israel appreciates President Obama’s commitment to peace. Israel believes that for peace to endure between Israelis and Palestinians, the viability of a Palestinian state cannot come at the expense of the viability of the one and only Jewish state," the Israeli leader's office said in a statement after Obama delivered his speech.

"That is why Prime Minister Netanyahu expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004, which were overwhelmingly supported by both Houses of Congress. Among other things, those commitments relate to Israel not having to withdraw to the 1967 lines which are both indefensible and which would leave major Israeli population centers in Judea and Samaria beyond those lines," the Israeli government's statement added.

Netanyahu's right wing allies in the Knesset were less diplomatic.

"Barack Hussein Obama adopted the staged plan for Israel's destruction of Yasser Arafat, and he is trying to force it on our prime minister," said Likud member Danny Danon. "All that was new in the speech was that he called for Israel to return to 1967 borders without solving the crisis. Netanyahu has only one option: To tell Obama forget about it."  

But Haaretz editor-at-large Aluf Benn  writes that Netanyahu is the big winner on the eve of his meetings in Washington. "In return for his call for the establishment of a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, without defining the size of these lands, Obama accepted Netanyahu's demands for strict security arrangements and a gradual, continuous withdrawal from the West Bank," Benn wrote.

Nonetheless, the speech advanced U.S. policy toward the Middle East peace process, as Netanyahu's prickly response demonstrated, Laura Rozen writes at Yahoo!

The Muslim Brotherhood, however, did not think the speech moved the ball forward.

"A disappointing speech. Nothing new. American strategy remains as is. American cover for dictatorial presidents, in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain remains as is," said Essam El-Erian, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt. "Perhaps the sharpest tone was towards Libya. American promises are just promises. There is no decisive decision to immediately withdraw from Iraq or Afghanistan. Threatening Iran remains the same."

Stateside, Republicans predictably jumped on the Bibi bandwagon, slamming Obama for not favoring Israel over the Palestinians in the peace process.

"President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus," ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney wrote in a statement. "He has disrespected Israel and undermined its ability to negotiate peace. He has also violated a first principle of American foreign policy, which is to stand firm by your friends."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Canada Beefs Up Laser-Guided Missile Stockpile for Libya

Rebels have stepped up activity in the mountains in Western Libya, opening up another front against Moammar Gadhafi's depleted forces.

The fighting comes as NATO has turned up the heat on Gadhafi, his family and his forces.

Canada is quietly increasing its stockpile of laser-guided smart bombs for use in Libya, The Montreal Gazette reports.

Journalists held in Libya were released.

The rebel Transitional National Government, bolstered by the apparent defection of Libyan Oil Minister Shukri Ghanem, wants to attend the upcoming OPEC meeting as the official representative of the Libyan government, AFP reports. Rebels have had a tough time getting oil to market.

Libya's secret role in human smuggling is exposed by The New York Times.

Bin Laden Had History of Jumping on Bandwagon Late

The late Yasser Arafat, after years of work as a peacemaker, was unimpressed when Osama bin Laden began citing the plight of the Palestinians in his recorded rants. Arafat questioned where bin Laden had been during years of fighting for Palestinian freedom? The PLO leader was insulted by bin Laden's opportunistic overtures.

It was a taste of how Arab freedom fighters were not in tune with bin Laden. It was a sign Al Qaeda would not flourish as a movement.

Now, in his first recorded message since his death, bin Laden has embraced the Arab revolts, once again a late-comer to a wave that is bigger than he ever was. Did anyone remember freedom-seeking pro-democracy demonstrators in Tunisia, Egypt or Libya talking about bin Laden? Was his name chanted at Tahrir Square? No.

The 12-minute recorded audio message had obviously been in the works before bin Laden's demise, the BBC reports.

There is more high level speculation, meanwhile, in Washington that bin Laden had help from within the Pakistani military or security forces.

"Somebody knew," said Defense Secretary Robert Gates. “We don’t know whether it was retired people, whether it was low level — pure supposition on our part,” Mr. Gates said. “It’s hard to go to them with an accusation when we have no proof that anybody knew.”

U.S. authorities are combing through the evidence from the Abbottabad raid and are chasing down the leads, ABC News reports.

But spymaster Leon Panetta reminded company staff in Langley that loose lips sink ships, noting the bevy of leaks sprouting in the press, according to CNN.

A U.S. envoy has arrived in Islamabad, as questions remain over the $20.7 billion in U.S. aid to Pakistan over the past decade.

An update from Peter Bergen on the succession of power in Al Qaeda.

Some red meat regarding the aftermath of the Abbottabad raid. "When that day was over and they got up the next morning and said, '(Ayman) al-Zawahiri is No. 2. We have a special forces unit just for you,'" said Rep. Mike Rodgers (R-Mich), according to The Detroit News.

The looming threat from Islamic extremists and bin Laden followers.

The Associated Press appeals for reconsideration of its request for records regarding the bin Laden raid.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Kerry: Pakistan Will Return Stealth Helicopter

Sen. John Kerry announced Pakistan will return the tail-section wreckage from the U.S. stealth helicopter used in the raid on Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad compound in a sign that Islambad wants to repair its soiled image with the United States.

Playing the role of "God cop," the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee disclosed the offer after a day of meetings with Pakistan's military and civilian leaders, The Guardian reported.

The U.S. and Pakistan had “agreed on a specific series of steps that will be implemented in order to get the relationship on track," Kerry said, according to The Washington Post.

Relations have soured since the U.S. stormed bin Laden's lair. Pakistan says the U.S. action ignored its sovereignty, while the U.S. wants to know how bin Laden was hiding out under the noses of the Pakistani military and intelligence service.

“I’ll say again and again: The make or break is real,” Kerry said. “There are members of Congress who aren’t confident that [the relationship] can be patched back together again. That is why actions, not words, are going to be critical to earning their votes.”

One in five Americans think bin Laden is still alive. Los Angeles Times blogger Andrew Malcolm asks, Ah, what?

ICC Charges Gadhafi; NATO Blows Up Bomb Boat

Updated 5:15 p.m. edt

Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim shrugged off the International Criminal Court's arrest warrant for Moammar Gadhafi, noting the ICC's "impotence" in apprehending other wanted leaders, like Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, remains in Khartoum despite charges in 2008 that he had a direct role in the genocide in Darfur.

“The ICC is not important for us. We are not part of the Rome statute. We will not show any attention to the decision, Kaim said, according to The Telegraph of London. “The practices of the ICC are questionable. It’s a baby of the European union designed for [prosecuting] African leaders.”

"We are more interested [in] the human rights council and in moving forward with trying to implement a ceasefire," Kaim said, according to The Guardian of London.

end update

An arrest warrant was issued today for Moammar Gadhafi, charging him with crimes against humanity for the slaughter of protesters who called for democratic reforms and an end to his 41-year rule.

At The Hague, International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo also requested judges consider issuing warrants for Gadhafi's son Saif al-Islam and his brother-in-law and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi, Reuters reported.

Now what? Does charging Gadhafi and his son and brother-in-law with war crimes further entrench the regime or does it send a massage to others to get out now before they face similar counts from the international court, ponders one blogger at Foreign Policy.

The court actions came as NATO maintained a stepped up tempo against Gadhafi forces and targets.

NATO warships intercepted a small boat rigged by Gadhafi forces with high explosives meant to disrupt shipping into Misurata. NATO blew the boat, manned with two life-like human dummies, out of the water.

"This is the first evidence of an attempt to use an improvised explosive device with decoy human mannequins to threaten commercial shipping and humanitarian aid in the area of Misrata," NATO said in a statement.

There were also reports of NATO air strikes overnight on Tripoli and one of the city's suburbs Tajoura. There were also strikes on Zawiyah, about 30 miles west of Tripoli, and Zuara, 80 miles west of the capital.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Tornado-Ravaged South Still Aching And Needs Help

The news moves quickly and is seems as if there is new natural or manmade disaster every few weeks. The floods snaking down the Mississippi are a slow, frightening look into the pain that Americans are suffering as their homes and livelihoods are washed away (more on this in coming days).

But only a few weeks ago, states from Arkansans, Tennessee and Louisiana all the way to Georgia, with particular devastation along the way in Alabama, tornadoes claimed more than 300 lives and left mayhem and destruction in its tracks.

Folks in those states still need some help, and people have stepped up. Prompted and pushed by Hank Williams Jr. CMT took the initiative 90-minute live concert and telethon from The Grande Ole Opry House for victims of the tonadoes, storms and floods.

"When this happened, we were kind of driven out of our home up in northwest Tennessee," Williams told CMT Insider. "We had tornadoes and flooding and no power for several days. ... Then I start seeing the news on television and the Weather Channel and, then all of a sudden, how many deaths? I couldn't believe it. Tuscaloosa, Cullman, where I used to live, Birmingham. And then it would double. Then it was 120. Then I talked to Robin Meade at CNN. Then it was 170. I said, 'This can't be right. I didn't see that right, did I? In that short of time, can it be right?'"

He decided to visit some of the tornado-ravaged areas.

"I went down there and saw it in person and what it did to Tuscaloosa," he said. "There's no way to describe. My buddies told me, 'When you get here and see it, you'll wonder how it didn't kill thousands. I've never seen anything like it in my lifetime. We've never had anything in Nashville like this or in Tennessee like this. We're talking about the biggest natural disaster in the history of the state of Alabama -- 5,700 homes, just Tuscaloosa. Thirty people are still missing, and it all adds up. I said, 'I gotta do something.'"

Ashton Shepherd, Big Kenny, Clay Walker, Clint Black, Crystal Bowersox, Danny Gokey, Darryl Worley, David Nail, Hilary and Holly Williams, Kellie Pickler, Montgomery Gentry, Phil Vassar, model Niki Taylor and Olympic gold medalist figure skater Scott Hamilton all volunteered to work the phones to accept donations for the American Red Cross.

Alabama, Alan Jackson, Gretchen Wilson, Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Ronnie Dunn, Sara Evans, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Tim McGraw and Trace Adkins all ponied up their time and talent for thee cause.

There is more here on stepping up for the cause by performers.

Alabama coaches hosted a radiothon. 

NEWLY ADDED: A bike ride to benefit tornado victims is being organized in Apison, Tenn.

The Mother of All Charity Lists for Alabama has been compiled by Alabama Possible.

Another good list that includes charities from several states slammed by tornadoes this spring.

(NOTE: This item was originally meant to be posted before the CMT program, but glitches with Google Blogger zapped that idea).

Friday, May 13, 2011

Patience While The Host Ship Patches The Leak

Dear readers,

Google Blogger, the host of this site, has had the hiccups for about 36 hours. There are a couple of posts missing since Wednesday, but the geeks at Big Brother-G say they are working to restore them (for all of its blogs, not just TBF).

Blogging will resume once it looks like the Googlies have solved the problem for real.

Until then, posting the Gone fishin' sign.


Thursday, May 12, 2011

Osama's Journal, Other Docs Show He Was Still Terror Kingpin

More evidence that Osama Bin Laden remained active atop the Al Qaeda terror syndicate is trickling out in what increasingly looks like a concerted effort to play mind games with the fractured Islamist militant group.

Bin Laden's handwritten journal and other documents show the deceased terror leader was in contact with Al Qaeda cells or individuals not only in Middle East, but as far away as London, calling on them to strike at U.S. railroads on key dates and add Los Angeles to their list of targets.

No specific plots have been discovered, according to reports, but there is still renewed concern.

"The latest trove of intelligence should be a wake-up call to Americans that this threat has always been real," Michael Downing, commanding officer of the Los Angeles Police Department's counter-terrorism and special operations bureau, told The Los Angeles Times.

Bin Laden saved his communications on small, easy-to-circulate flash drives that couriers would get in the hands of Al Qaeda members. The Navy Seals who raided his Abbottabad compound snatched handfuls of the thumb-sized drives. Arab language experts and intelligence officials are now combing over the information cache.

"In one particularly macabre bit of mathematics, bin Laden’s writings show him musing over just how many Americans he must kill to force the U.S. to withdraw from the Arab world," the Associated Press reported.

"He concludes that the smaller, scattered attacks since the 9/11 attacks had not been enough. He tells his disciples that only a body count of thousands, something on the scale of 9/11, would shift U.S. policy," AP reported.

The unprecedented leak of what routinely would be considered classified information is part of what has become an almost daily distribution of information meant to inform the free world of Bin Laden's thoughts and plans and the potential threats they posed.

There is also a degree of psychological warfare at play. The leaks might be getting into the heads of Al Qaeda operatives, some of whom have to be wondering if bin Laden included enough details in his records to put terrorist-hunters on their trail. Counterterrorism experts think it could cause Al Qaeda to slip up.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Where's Moammar?

Updated 7:30 p.m. edt (Google lost this update in it's crash; here is a truncated version):

Moammar Gadhafi appeared late this evening on local Libyan TV in a taped message aimed at ending speculation over whether he too was killed in the NATO airstrike that claimed his youngest son.

End (truncated) update

Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi has not been seen since last month when his youngest son was killed in a NATO airstrike, prompting questions about whether he is dead or just hiding.

Asked today whether the United States has any intelligence on the despot's location, White House spokesman Jay Carney shed no new light on Gadhafi's whereabouts.

"Well, I wouldn't want to comment on what intelligence we may or may not have.  We, obviously, are participants in the NATO mission, as I mentioned earlier, and continue the efforts  that we've undertaken to put pressure on Gadhafi and his regime, because he needs to leave power," Carney said.

NATO spokesman and Italian Brig. Gen. Claudio Gabellini said the alliance does not know either if Gadhafi is dead or alive.

Gadhafi has been out of sight since the deadly NATO airstrike April 30, when his son, Saif al-Arab Gadhafi, was killed. Moammar Gadhafi and his wife were said by aides to be in the house when it was targeted.

Halal MREs From U.S. Arrive in Benghazi

Crucial supplies from the United States are arriving in the de facto rebel capital of Benghazi.

More than 10,000 field rations from the U.S. prepared in the Islamic tradition (Halal)  arrived yesterday as opposition fighters prepare to launch another offensive aimed at sweeping up the oil patch towns and terminals on North Central Libya.

The MREs -- meals ready to eat -- from Department of Defense stocks are just the first shipment of millions of dollars worth of surplus non-lethal U.S. aid being sent to the rebels' Transitional National Council.

"Other items are en route and include medical supplies, uniforms, boots, tents, and personal protective gear, and these are also from DOD inventories," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. "We continue to work with the TNC to determine what additional assistance requirements we might be able to support in the coming weeks."

Rebels Show Signs of Life in Key Areas

The rebel army in Eastern Libya is executing well-coordinated movements with NATO for the first time as it prepares to launch another offensive, while their isolated comrades in Misurata may be on the verge of breaking the siege long held by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi.

And in the capital of Tripoli a band of rebels hidden away say they are loyal to the rebel government formed in Benghazi and are waiting for an opportunity to strike against Gadhafi forces. They claim to have significant numbers.

The most fierce fighting appeared to be in the besieged port city of Misurata. After NATO warplanes laid down a barrage of fire on the outskirts of the city, rebels pushed west about 10 miles toward Dafniya, The Wall Street Journal reported.

After more than two days of battles, rebels forces from Misurata were joined by fighters from Zlitan, about 35 miles away, and together they pushed Gadhafi forces out of Misurata and triggered a retreat from the city's all-important airport. They hope to keep Gadhafi loyalists far enough away from the city so their Grad missiles will be ineffective.

"The picture is looking good for us," rebel spokesman Col. Ahmed Bani told the Associated Press.

If the rebels can hold the airport it will give them a second, more reliable way to get much-needed arms, food and medicine, NPR reported. Supply shipments by sea in Misurata have been a mixed bag, given the weather and the ability for Gadhafi's snipers to hide in the city and target the port area.

The Main rebel army in Eastern Libya, meanwhile, was working closely with NATO to flush Gadhafi forces out into the open, a spokesman told reporters. The rebels west of Ajdabiya pushed forward and then made a strategic retreat from the battlefield, exposing only the Gadhafi forces to the NATO bombs.

NATO is taking steps to not hit the rebels with friendly fire as has happened on a couple of occasions on the indistinguishable battlefield.

The rebels have been stalled in the east for weeks, though there is some indication they were training, rearming, establishing a chain of command and direct communications with NATO. They hope to take the oil patch town of Brega about 20 miles to the west by the weekend.

In Tripoli yesterday, NATO bombed at least at least four targets, including a command center, a military intelligence headquarters and a building sometimes used to house members of parliament loyal to Gadhafi, according to various reports that quoted eyewitnesses.

"What we do know is it was a very sustained attack. It lasted about three hours. That's the heaviest bombardment we've seen for several weeks. And so that does indicate that they are targeting Tripoli fairly heavily," NPR reported.

In one of the most interesting developments, CNN's Frederik Pleitgen slipped away from Gadhafi escorts at the five star Rixos Hotel in Tripoli, where international journalists are corralled to take a look around on his own.

"We regularly managed to sneak out of the Rixos in recent weeks and discovered that the notion of Tripoli as a bastion of Gadhafi support is little more then a charade," Pleitgen reported.

"In one neighborhood we managed to contact the rebels. They brought us to a secret location where the refrain is: 'We are the youth of 17th of February in Tripoli. We declare our total support to the free Libyan people. We also declare our full and total support to the (rebel) Transitional National Council and believe only it and no one else is the legitimate representative of the Libyan people,'" detailed Pleitgen, now safely in Germany.

"The rebels say they believe that about 75 percent of Tripoli residents are against Gadhafi. They also say that most are afraid to take to the streets and speak their minds because Gadhafi has put armed gangs into the neighborhoods and established checkpoints to suppress dissent," the CNN correspondent added.

It is one of the most optimistic sets of developments in the three geographic areas since the revolution began more than two months ago. There is one caveat: Every time the rebels have shown signs of breaking out before, they have been pushed back or stalled. Perhaps now more than ever in the still-young uprising the insurgents need to show their supporters in Europe, the Gulf States and Washington that they are on the move.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

NATO Turns Up Heat As Mad Max Rebel Army Tries to March

NATO warplanes unleashed a massive bombardment on targets in Tripoli overnight as rebel forces to the east prepare for yet another offensive aimed at marching toward Libya's capital.

The biggest air assault in recent weeks was a sign that NATO is serious about attempting what it hopes is a final push to either get Moammar Gadhafi to step down.

NATO targeted at least four sites in Tripoli, AP reported, but may have also hit a hospital in the barrage.

The stepped up air campaign came after forces loyal to Gadhafi shelled and launched rockets over the weekend at the biggest fuel depot in Misurata, where food shortages, sniper fire and deplorable conditions are already threatening civilians.

In Eastern Libya, a rejuvenated and better trained rebel force believed to be the biggest ragtag army the insurrection has seen in recent weeks, battled outside of Ajdabiya, a rebel-held town about 90 miles from the rebel capital of Benghazi.

The rebels, whose machine gun mounted pickup trucks and dune buggies look like something out of the "Mad Max" movies, hope to regain a series of small oil patch towns and terminals in the next week, with the promised help of NATO warplanes.

Although they have failed to hold any of the ground they have captured since the fighting began two months ago, the rebel leadership insists they can march to Tripoli without the help of outside ground forces.

"We have made a clear decision," the former University of Washington lecturer-turned-Libyan rebel leader Ali Tarhouni told The Seattle Times. "We don't want any armies from the United States or Europe to go to Libya. What we are asking for is the no-fly zone, and for the no-fly zone to intensify to protect the citizens from this dictator."

Meanwhile, United Nations humanitarian workers reported an overcrowded ship carrying about 600 people believed to be African refugees sank yesterday just outside the port of Tripoli. All aboard were believed dead.

The maritime disaster came amid complaints that the African Union has behaved like a Gadhafi puppet, failing to help take care of refugees from its countries stuck in blood-soaked Libya.

In a more heartening development, Eman al-Obeidy, the woman who gained attention when she ran into a Tripoli hotel to tell Western journalists she had been beaten and raped by Gadhafi forces, is believed to have made it to safety in Qatar after sneaking out of Libya late last week.

Anderson Cooper and others at CNN deserve credit for staying on top of al-Obeidy's story and constantly pressuring Libyan officials for information on her health, safety and whereabouts after she was dragged off by Gadhafi goons. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

Hillary Cut Out of Famous Sit Room Photo

Look at what they did to White House photographer Pete Souza's famous photo of President Obama's war council watching Osama bin Laden get whacked by SEAL Team Six!

The ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn-based Hasidic newspaper Der Tzitung edited out of the original photo Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Council counterterrorism adviser Audrey Tomason for religious reasons -- they believe publishing any woman's photo is suggestive, Yahoo reports.

Pakistan Media Outs CIA's Top Agent in Islamabad

The White House declined to comment today specifically on a Pakistani TV station and newspaper identifying the CIA station chief for Islamabad, but in general said the U.S. intends to continue to pursue a working relationship with Pakistan.

The Pakistani spy agency, the Inter Services Intelligence Directorate,  is believed to be the culprit that leaked the name of the top U.S. CIA agent as payback for the U.S. hit on Osama bin Laden.

"The cooperation that we've had with Pakistan has been important for years now in our fight against terrorism and terrorists, and more terrorists have been killed on Pakistani soil, because of that cooperation, than anywhere else in the world. And that's important to note; which is not to say we don't have our differences, because we do. We obviously do. And those differences are frequently aired," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

"But the fact of the matter is that that relationship important. The cooperation continues to be important for the United States in order to pursue Al Qaeda and other terrorists as the war continues after the death of bin Laden," Carney added.

It was the second time in five months that  Pakistani authorities have outed the CIA station chief in Islamabad to Pakistani news media. The name was mention on Pakistani TV station ARY, and was then picked up by the right-wing newspaper, Nation, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani denied today that the ISI  helped hide bin Laden or was incompetent in tracking him to the compound in Abbottabad where he lived for an estimated five years before Navy SEALS killed him a week ago yesterday.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Night Stalkers Share Spotlight With SEALS

SEAL Team Six earned most of the post-Osama bin Laden attention this week, but as the days wore on most of the world also discovered the existence of the "Night Stalkers," the black ops pilots who flew the super-secret stealth helicopters into Abbottabad without detection (sort of).

President Obama met up yesterday with the crews of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment at their base at Fort Campbell, Ky., thanking them "for their extraordinary service."

 If you take to heart Obama's off-handed comment after the mission was completed last Sunday quoted by Bob Woodward of The Washington Post, the stealthy Black Hawk helicopters that the Night Stalkers flew run about $60 million apiece.

Those stealth helicopters are said to contain technology that reduces noise and deflects radar and heat detection. They either fooled the Pakistanis or the Pakistanis were indeed on board with the mission, contrary to what both Washington and Islamabad has since said.

Though not known as well as some of the black ops units of the U.S. military, the Night Stalkers have been around for a while, according to the U.S. Army. They were born out of the failed 1980 raid to rescue the hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran.

One of the lessons learned from that mission was a need for pilots who were trained and focused on night flying and were special operators in their own right, similar to the SEALS, Delta Force, Green Berets and Marine reconnaissance teams.

Originally culled from the 101st Airborne Division, known as The Screaming Eagles and based at Fort Campbell, the unit's unofficial motto is, "Death Waits in the Dark." That pretty much says it all. The official and more family-friendly motto is, "Night Stalkers Don't Quit."

One of the Night Stalkers' best-known and most-devastating missions came in 1993 in Mogadishu, Somalia, which inspired the book and film "Black Hawk Down." Two Black Hawks flown by the Night Stalkers,  Super 6-1 and Super 6-4, were lost in the battle of Mogadishu along with five members of the 160th.

Like the failed mission in Iran that created the Night Stalkers, many lessons were learned from the Black Hawk Down episode, shoring up the unit's capability and ensuring that no lives were lost in vain.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Turkey's Call for Gadhafi to Go a Boost for NATO

On any other day, Turkish leader's pronouncement that he was shedding a neutral posture and calling for Moammar Gadhafi to step down "for the sake of the country's future" would have been bigger news. The White House would have seen to that, if it were not otherwise occupied.

But blown away by the death of Osama bin Laden, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's stunning reversal of course was barely mentioned on the cables and was relegated to the inside of most American newspapers, if it appeared at all.

"The people of Libya should determine their future in solidarity and unity, it is a priority for us. Hence, we will stay in touch with National Transitional Council to ensure that the elements in our road map can be carried out," the BBC quoted Erdogan as saying.

Turkey's news was welcomed as preparations were made for today's meeting in Rome of the Libya Contact Group made up of NATO, Arab and African foreign ministers. The group aims to come up with a plan to get money to the Transitional National Council for food and medicine.

The about-face is a big deal for Turkey, on the diplomatic front, and it comes not a moment too soon. Conditions have worsened in Misurata, as Gadhafi loyalists, including snipers, are now taking aim at relief shipments. Erdogan also announced Turkey had closed its Tripoli embassy and withdrawn its employees, but maintained its embassy in rebel-held Benghazi.

Turkey does $2 billion worth of trade with Libya and 25,000 Turks are employed in that country. The Turkish government has the ears of the Arab League, Gulf States and African Union -- and it is the only secular Muslim member of NATO. If  Turkey goes all-in for regime change in Libya it brings added diplomatic clout and potential military firepower with it.

 A move by NATO to put boots on the ground is still not expected in the immediate future, but if the alliance ultimately determined that it must put an armored column in front of the rebel army, the Turks would make a logical and powerful spearhead (with European forces protecting their flanks and rear and American A-10s above their heads).