30 April 2011

Scott Walker Rejected $12 Million Of The Specific $150 Million In High-Speed Rail Funds He Now Wants

This takes gall, but gov walker has plenty of that! The hypocrisy of the repiglicans and tea-baggers just goes on and on, and they just expect people to accept it....
WASHINGTON -- Millions of dollars of federal funding for specific high-speed rail services that Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) is now requesting were included in the initial batch of grants he rejected for the state of Wisconsin, a federal official tells The Huffington Post.
On Tuesday (29MAR11), Walker appeared to abruptly reverse tone and course by asking the Department of Transportation for $150 million in grants to help pay for high-speed rail improvements. While campaigning for the post he now holds, Walker made a big show of calling for the rejection of more than $800 million in federal funds that had been awarded for Wisconsin, calling it wasteful, if not unneeded, spending.
Inconsistency, the governor’s office insisted, this surely was not. The $150 million in funds Walker was now requesting were for improvements to the Hiawatha line -- between Milwaukee and Chicago – which, the governor stressed, was more popular and profitable. The previous batch of money was for a line between Madison and Milwaukee, which, because it was new, would have had cost overruns and required additional state obligations.
A Department of Transportation source, however, says that while the majority of the $800-million-plus in funds set aside for Wisconsin was for the Madison-Milwaukee rail, a small but not insignificant chunk was for improvements to the Hiawatha line.
“They received $12 million to upgrade and lay new track on the Hiawatha line between Milwaukee and Chicago,” the DOT official said.
A call to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation was not immediately returned.
Walker, it should be noted, was not responsible for Wisconsin’s initial application for high-speed rail funds. That would be his predecessor: Democrat Jim Doyle. But he also did not have to reject the full $800-million-plus package upon coming to office. The $12 million set aside for the Hiawatha line could, theoretically, have been kept and used for the purposes that Walker now wants.
That it wasn’t kept earned Walker early plaudits among fellow, self-proclaimed fiscal conservatives. But it also put Wisconsin in its current predicament, in which it is one of potentially dozens of states petitioning the Department of Transportation for a chunk of the $2.4 billion that the state of Florida gave up when its governor, Rick Scott, rejected high-speed rail.
According to the DOT official, all applications for that money, including Wisconsin’s, are due this coming Monday (4APR11).


Just for fun, I got 28 of 30 correct and I DID NOT CHEAT!

Independence Day Quiz

Lady LibertyThe 4th of July is the time when we celebrate our nation-- a time to reflect on the freedoms which we believe are not granted by our government, but are self-evident rights for all humankind.  Time for the Independence Day Quiz which asks,  "How much do you really know?"  Every day thousands leave their homelands to settle here in the land of the free.  Before they become citizens they are required to take a citizenship test and score 80%.  Could you pass this test if you took it today?   Our quiz is made up of 20 questions which were once used on the actual citizenship test.  We've added a few curveballs-- The last ten questions may be a bit harder, but a score of around 24 out of 30 is considered a passing grade. Below is a link to a 30-question test to see how well you know the U.S. government, the Constitution and basic laws. Supposedly 96% of all high school seniors failed the test, and 50+% of those over 50 did too!  Good luck!

A Rational Budget for the Pentagon 19APR11

A call for real reductions in the Pentagon's budget from the NY Times....
In their budget-cutting zeal, Republicans are demanding harsh sacrifices from the country’s most vulnerable citizens. At the same, they are determined to leave one of the biggest areas of wasteful government spending untouched: the Pentagon budget.
The budget plan they pushed through the House this month would spend $7.5 trillion on the military over the next dozen years. And that does not include the cost of actual war-fighting. The country cannot afford to spend that much, and it doesn’t need to.
The $7.5 trillion was President Obama’s projection, which he has since lowered to $7.1 trillion. Saving $400 billion is better but still not enough, especially since it can be achieved merely by holding annual nonwar-related spending at its current swollen level, adjusted for inflation.
National security is a fundamental responsibility of government. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Pentagon has spent without limits and in some cases without sense. Annual budgets, adjusted for inflation, have grown by 50 percent in the past decade. And that is apart from the more than $1 trillion spent on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The White House and Congress must impose some rationality on this process. Here is a path that could save hundreds of billions of dollars more through 2024:
PERSONNEL Pay and benefits account for nearly half of the basic Pentagon budget. The size of the uniformed services should not be reduced, at least for now. The Pentagon’s civilian work force, currently 650,000, should be cut by up to 10 percent, saving more than $7 billion a year.
We in no way minimize the sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform. But after years of lagging far behind, military pay is now more than $5,000 a year higher than comparable civilian employment, more than $10,000 a year higher when special allowances and benefits are counted. Freezing noncombat pay for three years would save $3 billion per year. The formula for future increases should be adjusted to incorporate allowances and benefits, saving an additional $5 billion a year. 
Another $4 billion to $6 billion annually could be saved by reasonable increases in annual health insurance premiums for military retirees of working age. Those premiums — currently $460 per family — have been frozen for the past 15 years while health care costs soared.
All told, these changes would save about $20 billion annually or more than $200 billion over the next 12 years.
FORCE STRUCTURE The Pentagon took too long to recognize that today’s wars make more intensive demands on the Army and Marines and less on the Navy and Air Force. Ground forces have been increased, but that needs to be paid for by corresponding reductions at sea and in the air. That shift has already begun but needs to go further. Another $1 billion to $2 billion a year could be saved by reducing the number of aircraft carrier groups from 11 to 10 and associated air wings from 10 to 9.
PROCUREMENT Twenty years after the cold war’s end, the Pentagon is addicted to hugely expensive weapons systems that are poorly suited to current and future military needs. Defense Secretary Robert Gates successfully pressed Congress to end production of the costly Air Force F-22. He now needs to cut way back on the far overbudget F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Far fewer of these are needed to assure American dominance of the skies. Terminating the deeply troubled Marine Corps version of the F-35 and cutting back the Navy and Air Force versions by 50 percent would save $130 billion over the life of the program, with most of those savings achieved in the 2020s. Eliminating the Marine Corps’ costly and accident-prone V-22 Osprey vertical take off and landing aircraft would save another $10 billion to $12 billion. Further savings may be possible by scaling down future orders for the Virginia class nuclear attack submarine and reconsidering the newly vulnerable littoral combat ship.
For too long America’s military spending decisions have been insulated from serious scrutiny or discipline. The result is that more than 50 cents of every dollar of discretionary federal spending now goes to the Pentagon. There is no way to bring the deficit under control without making substantial and rational cuts in that budget.


   THESE REALLY WORK!!  I checked this out on Snopes and it's for real!                                                                         


   AMAZINGLY SIMPLE HOME REMEDIES:                                                                                                              


HOLD THE VEGETABLES WHILE YOU CHOP.                             

THE SINK.                                                         

   TO USE A TIMER..                                                                                                                             




AFRAID TO COUGH.                                                  

   THE DUCT TAPE.                                                                                                                               


   7. IF YOU CAN'T FIX IT WITH A HAMMER, YOU'VE GOT AN ELECTRICAL PROBLEM.                                                                      


   DAILY THOUGHT:                                                                                                                               




"Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy."
- Proverbs 31:8-9

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"
-  Mary Oliver, from her poem "The Summer Day"

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
"The Summer Day" by Mary Oliver, from The Truro Bear and Other Adventures: Poems and Essays. © Beacon Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission.

29 April 2011

Tornado Survivors Pick Up Pieces As Obama Visits 29APR11

THE vicious, violent, deadly storms that ravaged the southern U.S. this week, and the other violent weather across the country this past month reminds us just how precious life is. It is good the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been dispatched by Pres Obama to provide all the assistance the U.S. government has to offer in these disaster areas. We all need to keep these people and communities in our prayers and thoughts and donate what we can to relief agencies. BUT, it must be noted, most of these areas devastated by violent weather have elected repiglican and tea-baggers to federal and state office, elected officials who support rep paul ryan's buget proposal that drastically slashes non-defense government funding, a budget that practically eliminates FEMA. Now that these people need FEMA , and are receiving federal disaster assistance, maybe they will reconsider the propaganda and deception of their repiglican and tea-bagger elected officials? We will see....
Andy Page cries as he sits with his cat, Ellie, placed in a pet carrier, in his storm-demolished apartment in Trenton, Ga., on Thursday. Page has several cats, and Ellie was the last one he was looking for.
Enlarge Angela Lewis/AP Andy Page cries as he sits with his cat, Ellie, placed in a pet carrier, in his storm-demolished apartment in Trenton, Ga., on Thursday. Page has several cats, and Ellie was the last one he was looking for.
President Obama, flanked by Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and Tuscaloosa, Ala., Mayor Walter Maddox, tours tornado damage in Tuscaloosa on Friday.
Enlarge Charles Dharapak/AP President Obama, flanked by Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and Tuscaloosa, Ala., Mayor Walter Maddox, tours tornado damage in Tuscaloosa on Friday.
text size A A A
April 29, 2011
Gas station lines, reports of looting and the discovery of smashed heirlooms sapped survivors' energy Friday around cities shattered by the deadliest tornado outbreak in nearly four decades. President Obama arrived in devastated Alabama to console victims, while authorities worked to overcome damaged infrastructure and even a shortage of body bags in one town.
As Obama stepped off a plane at the airport in hard-hit Tuscaloosa, rescuers and survivors combed the remains of neighborhoods pulverized by Wednesday's outbreak that killed at least 318 across seven states. In one of its first official assessments of the tornadoes' strength, the National Weather Service gave the worst possible rating to one that raked Mississippi and said it was the strongest to hit the state since 1966.
After witnessing the damage in storm-wracked neighborhoods, Obama said he's "never seen devastation like this."

Heard On 'Morning Edition'

He promised residents: "We're going to make sure you're not forgotten."
The situation was dire about 90 miles to the north in the demolished town of Hackleburg, Ala., where officials were keeping bodies in a refrigerated truck amid a body bag shortage. Officials said at least 27 are dead there, and searches for the missing continue. Town officials say they need everything from portable showers to tents and flashlights.
The only grocery store, the fire and police departments and the school are destroyed. There are no power, communications, water or other services. Fire Chief Steve Hood said he desperately wants flashlights for the town's 1,500 residents because he doesn't want them to use candles that could start fires.
"We don't have water to put out any fires," he said.
People have looted a demolished Wrangler plant, and authorities locked up drugs from a destroyed pharmacy in a bank vault, said Stanley Webb, chief agent in the county's drug task force.
"If people steal, we are not playing around. They will go to jail," he said.
Elsewhere, drivers hunted for fuel for cars and generators after many gas stations were shuttered by widespread power outages. Others trickled back to their homes, ducking police roadblocks and fallen limbs and power lines to reclaim their belongings.
They struggled with no electricity and little help from stretched-thin law enforcement. And they were frustrated by the near-constant presence of gawkers who drove by in search of a cellphone camera picture — or worse, a trinket to take home.
Search and rescue teams fanned out to dig through the rubble of devastated communities that bore eerie similarities to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when town after town lay flattened for nearly 90 miles. Authorities in Concord and elsewhere even painted the same "X" symbols they did in New Orleans to mark which homes they searched and how many survivors were found.
The storms did the brunt of their damage in Alabama. More than two-thirds of the victims lived there, and large cities bore the scars of half-mile-wide twisters that tore through. The high death toll seems surprising in the era of Doppler radar and precise satellite forecasts. But the storms were just too wide and too powerful to avoid a horrifying body count.
As many as 1 million homes and businesses there were without power, and Bentley said 2,000 National Guard troops had been activated to help. The governors of Mississippi and Georgia also issued emergency declarations for parts of their states.

Stories From The Storm

Listeners who witnessed the storms called in to NPR's Morning Edition to share their stories. Here's a sampling:
I was actually watching the news, so we were tracking the storm and we realized it was coming right for us as it was headed for downtown. We went into the back of the building and ... by the time we got into cover, we felt the storm hit. Um, we could feel the pressure change and we heard a huge crack! And I thought it was a tree coming down outside ... but it ended up being my upstairs neighbor's roof caving in on them, and then immediately water started pouring down through our ceiling. Our insurance put us up in a temporary hotel until we kind of figure out what's going on because our condo has been reduced to studs. So we're looking at maybe on the outside of six to eight months of reconstruction. We're just taking it day by day now.
— Jennifer Swift, Raleigh, N.C.
I had the family in the bathroom, tiny bathroom downstairs, and the cushions over their heads and answering their questions as to what was going on, because I was looking out the windows. The trees were moving in ways I've never seen them before. And ... we survived. But people just a couple of miles down from us didn't. I remember late that night, I was standing on my front porch and I watched the funnel cloud go past. You get that impression that you don't know whether or not you're next ...
— Stephen McAmis, Cleveland, Tenn.
The storms seemed to home in on populated areas by hugging the interstate highways and obliterating neighborhoods and even entire towns from Tuscaloosa to Bristol, Va.
Alabama emergency management officials said in a news release early Friday that the state had 210 confirmed deaths. There were 33 deaths in Mississippi, 33 in Tennessee, 15 in Georgia, five in Virginia, two in Louisiana and one in Kentucky. Hundreds if not thousands of people were injured, 900 in Tuscaloosa alone.
Officials said at least 13 of Mississippi's deaths were in the town of Smithville, where winds ripped open the police station, post office, city hall and an industrial park with several furniture factories.
Jones County Sheriff's Department spokesman Lance Chancellor described the devastation Friday on NPR's Morning Edition.
"There are brick structures [in Smithville], brick homes that were reduced to nothing left but the slab. And the carpet that was glued down on that slab was actually sucked up by the tornado," Chancellor said.
The police department lost all of its patrol cars — they were all slammed into the building and crushed by a fallen communications tower, he said. And the only thing left of the U.S. Post Office is a 20-foot section of brick wall.
"There's ... just debris everywhere you look in every direction," he said.

Interactive Graphic

Click on the map below to see images from the massive storm system and learn how a tornado is formed.
An Interactive Graphic by The Associated Press: Massive Storms Kill Scores Across The South
Smithville Fire Department Assistant Chief Tim Coker told NPR that the storm and its aftermath are "pretty traumatic for everybody" in their small town.
"We're all kind of like a small family more than a community because we all kind of grew up together and we all know each other," Coker said. "The hardest thing probably about being a volunteer is it's always people you know. That's kind of the tough part. So, you just kind of put the walls up and, uh, move on. It's going to sink in later, usually."
At Smithville Cemetery, even the dead were not spared: Tombstones dating to the 1800s, including some of Civil War soldiers, lay broken on the ground. Brothers Kenny and Paul Long dragged their youngest brother's headstone back to its proper place.
The National Weather service said the Smithville tornado was an EF-5 storm, with top winds of 205 mph. Meteorologist Jim LaDue at the weather service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said he expects "many more" of Wednesday's tornadoes to be rated EF-5, the worst rating in the tornado measurement system.
This story contains material from The Associated Press

Gimme Shelter UNHCR VIDEO

ANOTHER video for the UNHCR, this one more sobering, showing the work done by the agency in the DRC...think about this the next time you whine about wanting something you don't need, or complain about the taxes you pay going to foreign aid. I paid a total of $10,700 U.S. in federal income taxes in 2010, 1.7%, less than $200 U.S., went to foreign aid.

UNHCR Respect

I have always loved Madeleine Albright, she is a great lady, was one of the best as Secretary of State, her memoir, "Madam Secretary" is fantastic. But this video for the UNHCR's 50th anniversary is also why I love her......

What do you think Abbie Hoffman would do to stop the Koch brothers? from BRAVE NEW FOUNDATION 24APR11

THIS is what democracy looks like!
Abbie Hoffman levitated the Pentagon, brought down Lyndon B. Johnson, shamed Richard Nixon and challenged Wall Street. His legacy lives on, so tell us what you think Abbie Hoffman would do to stop the Koch brothers at 

2010 extreme weather cost lives, health, economy from CLIMATE PROGRESS 29APR11

THE vicious, violent, deadly storms that ravaged the southern U.S. this week, and the other violent weather across the country this past month reminds us just how precious life is. It is good the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been dispatched by Pres Obama to provide all the assistance the U.S. government has to offer in these disaster areas. We all need to keep these people and communities in our prayers and thoughts and donate what we can to relief agencies. BUT, it must be noted, most of these areas devastated by violent weather have elected repiglican and tea-baggers to federal and state office, elected officials who support rep paul ryan's buget proposal that drastically slashes non-defense government funding, a budget that practically eliminates FEMA. Now that these people need FEMA , and are receiving federal disaster assistance, maybe they will reconsider the propaganda and deception of their repiglican and tea-bagger elected officials? We will see....

“April is the cruelest month.” — T. S. Eliot
CAP’s Daniel J. Weiss, Valeri Vasquez, and Ben Kaldunski have written an excellent 34–page report, “The Year of Living Dangerously.”  Its conclusion begins, “The extreme weather in 2010 could be a preview of a not-too-distant future should we fail to reduce carbon dioxide pollution.”
Here is an overview of that report by the authors.
April 2011 has been a cruel month indeed for Americans due to extreme weather. The Weather Channel observed that:
It’s been a truly awful, record-setting, tornadic April. We’ve had eleven major severe weather events, some lasting multiple days.
These extreme events included “supercell thunderstorms” in Iowa, severe drought and record wildfires in Texas, and heavy rains across the United States. The recent southeastern storms and tornados took at least 297 lives across eight states. And heavy rains in the Mississippi River valley could cause the most severe, damaging floods there in nearly a century.
This extreme weather, though record setting in some places, may be the new normal. Last year, unprecedented extreme weather led to a record number of disaster declarations by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The United States and the world were swept by flooding, severe winter storms, heat waves, droughts, hurricanes, and tornadoes.
The extreme weather of 2010 exacted a huge human and economic toll as well. More than 380 people died and 1,700 were injured due to weather events in the United States throughout the year. And the magnitude of these events forced the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to declare 81 disasters last year. For nearly 60 years, the annual average has been 33. In 2010, total damages exceeded a whopping $6.7 billion. As of April 2011, FEMA had dedicated more than $2 billion in financial assistance to those harmed by extreme weather in 2010.
A February 2011 special report from Reuters noted that it’s been rough going for the $500 billion U.S. property insurance business, explaining that “storms are happening in places they never happened before, at intensities they have never reached before and at times of year when they didn’t used to happen.”
It is precisely this uncertainty “associated with climate change that substantiates the risks to the economy and society,” says George Backus, D.Engr., of the Discrete Mathematics and Complex Systems Department at Sandia National Laboratories. This is bad news for a nation just emerging from the grips of the Great Recession. Per Backus, a 2010 report from Sandia estimates that “the climate uncertainty as it pertains to rainfall alone [puts] the U.S. economy is at risk of losing between $600 billion and $2 trillion, and between 4 million and 13 million U.S. jobs over the next 40 years.”
Dr. Evan Mills, a scientist in the Environmental Energy Technologies Division at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory confirms that in the United States, “insured weather-related losses in recent years have been trending upward much faster than population, inflation, or insurance penetration, and far outpace losses for non-weather-related events.”
It is difficult, of course, to link or “attribute” individual extreme weather events in a single year to global warming. Climate factors—including human influences—shape weather patterns. According to Munich Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurers, “the only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change.” And as Kevin Trenberth, Sc.D., head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, explained at the American Meteorological Society’s January 2011 meeting, “Given that global warming is unequivocal, the null hypothesis should be that all weather events are affected by global warming rather than the inane statements along the lines of ‘of course we cannot attribute any particular weather event to global warming.’”
In other words, says Trenberth, “it’s not the right question to ask if this storm or that storm is due to global warming, or is it natural variability. Nowadays, there’s always an element of both.”
Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas pollutants are turning up the heat on our planet. Scientists agree that the string of disastrous weather extremes this past year are the types of severe weather that will become more frequent or ferocious as the planet continues to warm. For instance, in the “first major paper of its kind” tracking global climatic trends from 1951 to 1999, Scottish and Canadian researchers used sophisticated computer models to confirm a human contribution to more intense precipitation extremes with very high confidence.
This analysis is supported by a 2010 Duke University-led study that found, “Global warming is driving increased frequency of extreme wet or dry summer weather in southeast, so droughts and deluges are likely to get worse.”
A study published in the 2011 Journal of Climate presents “evidence of a significant human influence on the increasing severity of extremely warm nights and decreasing severity of extremely cold days and nights.”
Likewise, a report by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Climate Central, The Weather Channel, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that “if temperatures were not warming, the number of record daily highs and lows being set each year would be approximately even. Instead … record high temperatures far outpace record lows across the U.S.”
The recent extreme weather should not be a surprise. In 1999, Trenberth projected that global warming would lead to severe precipitation.
An increase in heavy precipitation events should be a primary manifestation of the climate change that accompanies increases in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Nine years later, the U.S. Climate Change Program under President George W. Bush came to a very similar conclusion. “Heavy downpours have become more frequent and intense. Droughts are becoming more severe in some regions.” These are some of the extreme weather events we experienced this April, and in 2010.
Because we have not brought carbon pollution under control, the weather events of 2010 will continue to revisit us—with a vengeance. We must act quickly and unequivocally to address climate change before the threat becomes insurmountable. This includes recognizing that global warming is already affecting us both domestically and internationally.
The purpose of this report is to gather, condense, and synthesize some of the massive amount of data about extreme weather and its links to global warming. This summary of climate science can help provide context to the recent surge in extreme weather events. In this report we will catalogue the extreme U.S. weather in 2010 and then examine the consequences on our health and economy.
As we note in the conclusion, conservatives remain eager to dismiss these weather extremes by claiming they are solely due to natural variability. What’s more, the House of Representatives voted to defund federal science programs that gather and analyze the data essential to understand changes in global weather patterns and other climate impacts. But all this denial cannot make this threat disappear. We must act before cruel Aprils occur every month.

Download this report (pdf)
Download the introduction and summary (pdf)
Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow and the Director of Climate Strategy, Valeri Vasquez is a Special Assistant for Energy Policy, and Ben Kaldunski is a former intern with the Energy Team at American Progress.  The authors thank Dr. Heidi Cullen, CAPAF Senior Fellow Dr. Joseph Romm, and CAPAF Think Progress Climate Editor Brad Johnson.
See also:
Related Posts:

No Welfare for Whalers This Year? from SEA SHEPHERD 26APR11

CUTTING CORPORATE WELFARE in Japan.......too bad that idea can't take hold in D.C.!!!
No welfare for the whalersThe Japanese whaling industry, otherwise known as the Institute for Cetacean Research, has been kicked off the dole this year.
The corporate welfare whale killers will most likely not be able to return to the Southern Ocean in December 2011. The Japanese government this week announced massive budget cuts to divert monies for the restoration needed to repair earthquake and tsunami damages and to help the people evacuated from the no-go zone around Fukushima. In addition, the ongoing crisis of keeping the nuclear reactors cooled is draining hundreds of millions of dollars from the government treasury.
This has resulted in cuts across the board, including child support, senior citizen support and pensions, and infrastructure repairs and maintenance.
However, the government bureaucrats of Japan are still driven by pride, anger and revenge. For this reason, Japan recently sent a delegation to Palau to pressure the Republic of Palau from working with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Japan has offered but not yet confirmed that they will supply Palau with a patrol boat and funds to operate it if Palau rejects the agreement with Sea Shepherd.
Sea Shepherd will be quite satisfied if Palau gets the support of Japan for the patrol vessel and funds. That will allow us to go onto other Pacific island nations to make similar offers, which hopefully will motivate Japan to respond with counter offers. We may be able to manipulate Japan into providing fishery patrol vessels to the entire South Pacific region.
So there is a small possibility that the government could still risk public outrage in Japan by once again subsidizing the Japanese whaling fleet. And if that happens, Sea Shepherd ships will once again return to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary to continue our interventions against unlawful Japanese commercial whaling activities.
There have been a few critics who have been advising us to lay off Japan because of the recent disasters. The point is that Sea Shepherd interventions are not targeting the Japanese people. We are addressing unlawful activities – whale poachers in an area far from Japan, the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, where whales are supposedly protected by law.
Would the war against drug trafficking be put on hold if Colombia has an earthquake? Would we stop opposing shark finning by Chinese longliners off Latin America if China suffers an earthquake? The answer is “no.” Natural disasters cannot be used as a justification for illegal activity including the violations of international conservation law.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is dedicated to shutting down all illegal whaling activity by anyone, anywhere, for any reason. There can be no discrimination. Poaching is poaching and not only is it ethically wrong – it’s a crime!

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for 29APR11 from MOJO

As Sgt. Albert Smith pulls security, two young Afghan boys navigate their way around him in a village near Qalat, Afghanistan, April 26. Members of Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul visited the village to discuss agricultural issues with the residents. Photo via US Army.

Paul Ryan vs. the Truth 27APR11

HERE'S the truth about rep paul ryan's r WI claim that his budgets Medicare plan is the same as the plan members of Congress have (sans the taxpayer subsidy of approximately $7500 a year). This from MOJO shows just how much more members of Congress would pay if that were true...and what the rest of us WILL pay if this budget is adopted....
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
There's a lot of annoying mendacity in Paul Ryan's budget proposal, but the most annoying by far is his repeated insistence that under his plan seniors would get "the same kind of health-care program that members of Congress enjoy." Aside from the fact that he's offered no details about how or why private insurers would magically decide to provide the same kind of benefits to the elderly that they do to members of Congress, he's just flatly lying about the most important part of his proposal: namely that it will force seniors to pay far, far more for Medicare than they do now — and far, far more than members of Congress pay for their health insurance. If you're a millionaire, maybe this counts as the "same kind" anyway, but for the rest of us it doesn't.
Here's the difference: under Ryan's plan, the government pays a set amount for Medicare and you pay for the rest. So far, that's pretty similar to the congressional plan. But that set amount goes up very slowly under Ryan's plan — much more slowly than the actual rise in the cost of health insurance — which means that seniors have to pay a bigger and bigger share of the total premium cost as the years go by. CAP's Tony Carrk and Nicole Cafarella ran the numbers to see how that would have worked out if Ryan's formula had applied to Congress over the past decade, and the dismal results are on the right, below.
Under the actual congressional plan, family premiums have gone up from $2,500 to $5,000. Under Ryan's plan, premiums would have gone up to about $8,300. That's a difference of $3,300 in only ten years. Over the course of 30 years, the difference would be more like $10-15,000.
That's a pretty whopping difference, and it would be even bigger for Medicare beneficiaries since Medicare starts from a bigger base. The result is that lots of seniors just flatly wouldn't be able to afford to buy Medicare. They wouldn't have enough money to pay their share of the premium, and that means they'd be uninsured and uncovered. Ryan has, of course, offered up a bunch of handwaving about how indigent seniors would get bigger subsidies, but unsurprisingly has been pretty sparing with any details. If he explained things, after all, everyone would immediately figure out (a) just how miserly his plan is, and (b) how much it would actually cost to support all those seniors who couldn't afford the astronomical premiums his plan forces on them.
The end result of all this is debatable. What's not debatable, however, is whether his plan is "the same kind of health-care program that members of Congress enjoy." It's not. It's not even close.


This short film illustrates the power of words to radically change your message and your effect upon the world. At Purplefeather we provide powerful, optimised web content to get you noticed online. Homage to Historia de un letrero, The Story of a Sign by Alonso Alvarez Barreda Music by: Giles Lamb Filmed by Director Seth Gardner.

What Is Happening in That Canadian Election?!? 28APR11

THIS is going to be fascinating to watch, the possibility of a NDP socialist led government in Canada will provide a valuable lesson in democracy for us and third party politics in national elections. While I don't see a viable party organization in time for the 2012 elections, with the economy in the state it is in and the nation devolving to a plutocracy, the right wing extremism of the gop / tea-baggers and the lack of moral courage of the Democratic party to stand fast and defend the poor, the working class and the middle class, it is possible enough progressive candidates could be elected to Congress in 2016 to have a real affect on government policy. This from Tikkun....

by: Peter Marmorek

We elect a new government next Monday in Canada after a one month election that began with a lot of whimpering, but seems to be ending with a remarkable bang. To the surprise of media, pundits, and most of the country, the NDP, the socialist party that has been forever mired in third place federally (behind the Liberals and Conservatives) has suddenly surged into second, closing fast on the governing Conservatives (3% behind at the last poll). The second place Liberals, who have been advocating that NDPers vote strategically for them on an ABC (Anybody But Conservative) rationale are catatonic with horror as the same rationale rolls round onto them.
Fortunately, Ian Welsh is around to explain what this all means, who the players are, and who owns the teams on which they play. I’ve deeply admired Ian’s analyses (of politics both Canadian and International) over the years in the Agonist, in Pogge, in Firedoglake, and now on his own website. Here’s a taste of his explanation, which aligns with mine so precisely as to make any further comment of mine redundant. His whole piece is well worth reading!
The scourge of the NDP has been the perception that they can’t win Federally.  As a result, in most Federal elections vote switching has often cost them at least 5% of their vote, and I’d argue up to 10%…. As a result, parties that range from Center to Left (the Liberals, NDP and Bloc) have regularly pulled in about 60% of the vote, and yet the Conservatives have had minority governments for much of the last decade.  This is also due to the fact that, like the US system, ours is first past the post, winner take all.
….There are other factors.  Ignatieff, the Liberal leader, is a sleazeball who apologized for torture…. So when the Liberals went on the offensive against the Conservatives, claiming Conservatives couldn’t be trusted with Medicare (which in Canada means universal single payer health care), I suspect that many Canadians thought “well, that’s true.  But I don’t think I can’t trust you with it either.”  ….Whatever one thinks of the NDP, even its detractors know that the NDP loves universal healthcare.
So, what’s outcome of this election going to be?  Damned if I know.  The polls are all over the place.  The most likely outcome remains a Conservative minority government.  The second most likely outcome seems to be that the NDP and Liberals, together, get more seats than the Conservatives, in which case they could form a coalition government, probably with the NDP as the senior coalition member
How good a government Layton would run I don’t know. I don’t have a good feel for the wonks behind him, or for how strong a leader he’d be.  Nonetheless I am confident that of the possibilities, he’s the best man for the job.  Ignatieff is a weasel, and no one who has apologized for torture should be in charge of anything, anywhere, while Harper is a conservative ideologue who thinks that Canada should be more like the US, as well as being an autocrat who spits over Canada’s democratic and parliamentary traditions.  The sooner he retires, the better.
The outcome is still uncertain. … But still, for the first time in a long time, I am actually seeing some hope for the future.

28 April 2011

Judges Question Evidence On Guantanamo Detainees 28APR11

THE Guantanamo Papers show just how flawed and prejudiced to the guilt of the defendant military "justice" is, and why these people deserve to be tried in civilian courts. These military trials are a disgrace and make a mockery of the U.S. government's policies on justice, civil rights and human rights. 

Listen to the Story

[4 min 33 sec]A side-by-side comparison of the Pentagon's secret Guantanamo detainee assessment briefs and federal court rulings involving those detainees shows that intelligence analysts and federal judges can reach starkly opposing conclusions, even while relying on the same raw intelligence.

More From This Investigation

The Pentagon's threat profiles suggest little doubt about the prisoners' alleged terrorism record, but in some cases, federal judges have been unimpressed by those conclusions. The classified Guantanamo assessment reports were obtained recently by The New York Times and shared with NPR.
One such example involves Fouad al-Rabia, a Kuwaiti arrested in the Tora Bora area of Afghanistan in December 2001.
"Detainee is an al-Qaida member who met with Osama bin Laden at least four times and gave him a $1 million U.S. contribution," is the opening statement in the report on al-Rabia. "Detainee provided support to the Taliban and al-Qaida on the Bagram frontline before going to fight at Tora Bora, where he was placed in charge of logistics."
The report went on to allege that al-Rabia may have directed an al-Qaida training camp and provided instruction to some of the al-Qaida members involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Nowhere in the report is there any suggestion that the information on al-Rabia may be unreliable.
When al-Rabia filed a petition for habeas corpus, the federal judge hearing his case, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, had an opportunity to review all the files on which his threat assessment was based. She was not impressed.
"The Government has failed to provide the Court with sufficiently credible and reliable evidence to meet its burden of persuasion," Kollar-Kotelly wrote. "If there exists a basis for al-Rabia's indefinite detention, it most certainly has not been presented to this Court." She ordered al-Rabia released, and in December 2009, he returned to Kuwait, a free man after eight years at Guantanamo.
Since 2008, the detainees at Guantanamo have been able to challenge their detention through the habeas process, and the court rulings in their cases have made clear that the evidence against them has sometimes been flawed. Only with the disclosure of the previously secret detainee assessments, however, has it become clear how far the government went in making unproven claims about the detainees' alleged terrorist activity.

Related Document

Read the judge's decision in the Fouad Mahmoud Al-Rabiah's habeas case.
In the case of al-Rabia, the Guantanamo investigators depended on statements made about him by other detainees, the most important of whom was later judged to be unreliable. Al-Rabia was also subjected to coercive interrogations, where he was confronted with the accusations made against him.

"They initiated a very harsh program," says defense attorney Matthew MacLean, "utilizing a number of techniques that ultimately over a period of several months broke him down to the point that he basically started parroting back to them whatever they said."
MacLean and al-Rabia's other attorneys showed Kollar-Kotelly that the detainee made his "confessions" after first denying the accusations against him, and that he changed course so quickly and thoroughly as to make his confession suspect.

"Al-Rabia's full confession sought to weave together all of the 'evidence' interrogators told al-Rabia that they possessed," she wrote, "even though the 'evidence' is absent from the record in this case."

In fact, Kollar-Kotelly's observation is supported by a line from al-Rabia's assessment brief. "Detainee admits to details only when confronted with the fact that interrogators already know the details," the assessment notes, as if that observation supported al-Rabia's guilt rather than his willingness to provide his interrogators the answers they were seeking. Kollar-Kotelly noted in her opinion that al-Rabia had been told that he could go back to Kuwait if he confessed, but that if he denied the accusations against him, he would have to stay at Guantanamo.
Significant discrepancies between the views of the intelligence analysts who wrote the detainee threat assessments and the judges who analyzed them as part of the habeas process are evident in many other detainee cases.

In his detainee assessment brief, Musab al-Mudwani, a Yemeni, is described as "an al-Qaida operative who planned to participate in terrorist operations targeting U.S. forces in Karachi, Pakistan and possibly inside the United States." That claim is based in part on the circumstances of al-Mudwani's capture following a firefight with Pakistani security guards at the site of a suspected al-Qaida residence in Karachi. Al-Mudwani was also said to have confessed to his al-Qaida associations during interrogations at Guantanamo.
The federal judge who considered al-Mudwani's habeas petition, Thomas F. Hogan, was not persuaded by the government's evidence presentation. Of 26 statements introduced by the government in support of its argument that al-Mudwani should be indefinitely detained at Guantanamo, Hogan threw out 23.

"There is no evidence that he fired a weapon in battle or was on the front lines," Hogan wrote. "There is also no evidence that he planned, participated in, or knew of any terrorist plots. ... The Court fails to see how, based on the record, Petitioner poses any greater threat than the dozens of detainees who recently have been transferred or cleared for transfer."

Detainee Database

NPR/New York Times
Explore the NPR/New York Times database featuring government documents, court records and media reports on the 779 detainees at Guantanamo.
Hogan also concluded that al-Mudwani, who had been subject to "coercive" interrogation in Afghanistan before being transferred to Guantanamo, had been so traumatized by his interrogation experience that his subsequent testimony was tainted. The judge nonetheless approved the government's request that al-Mudwani remain in detention, pointing out that in his judgment the government had to demonstrate only that al-Mudwani was a "part of" al-Qaida in order to justify his continued detention.

Hogan's willingness to defer to the government on that point may have indicated that he recognized how different the role of an intelligence official may be from that of a federal judge. The first is focused on potential threats to national security and is rigorous about containing them. The second is focused on justice and is rigorous about promoting it.

"They're asking different questions," says Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow and national security blogger at the Brookings Institution. "Sometimes one will be shown to have been asking the right question, and sometimes the other will be shown to asking the right question. That's why we have different branches of government taking on different responsibilities. It's why we generally don't put intelligence analysts in charge of the law and why we generally don't put judges in charge of intelligence analysis."

An intelligence analyst has to worry about getting as much information from a detainee as possible and may therefore have a reason to keep that detainee locked up. At Guantanamo, there was also an enormous volume of material. The analysts had hundreds of detainees to review. Matthew MacLean, who helped defend al-Rabia, notes that those who decided which detainees were dangerous may not have had the time to assess thoroughly the information on which they based their decisions.

"You can't do it without looking to see what's behind it," MacLean says. "We ultimately were able to do that ourselves with the information the government provided, and the judge was able to see it, too. What any other analyst has been able to see, I couldn't say." 

The Wageless Recovery 26APR11

This is a sobering article by Robert Reich, and I am afraid he is correct in his predictions. From Huffpost.....
This week's biggest economic show occurs tomorrow (Wednesday) when Fed chair Ben Bernanke steps in front of the cameras for the Fed's first-ever news conference. The question on everyone's mind: Will the Fed signal it's now more worried about inflation than recession?
Much of Wall Street thinks inflation is now the biggest threat to the U.S. economy. As has been the case in the past, the Street is dead wrong. The biggest threat is falling into another recession.
The most significant economic news from the first quarter of 2011 is the decline in real wages. That's unusual in a recovery, to say the least. But it's easily explained this time around. In order to keep the jobs they have, millions of Americans are accepting shrinking paychecks. If they've been fired, the only way they can land a new job is to accept even smaller ones.
The wage squeeze is putting most households in a double bind. Before the recession, they'd been able to pay the bills because they had two paychecks. Now, they're likely to have one-and-a half, or just one, and it's shrinking.
Add to this the continuing decline in the value of the biggest asset most people own - their homes -- and what do you get? Consumers who won't and can't buy enough to keep the economy going. That spells recession.
Why doesn't Wall Street get it? For one thing, because lenders always worry more about inflation than borrowers -- and, in general, the wealthier members of a society tend to lend their money to people who are poorer than they are.
But Wall Street's inflation fears are also being stoked by several specifics.
First are price upswings in food and energy. The Street doesn't seem to understand that when most peoples' wages are dropping, additional dollars they spend on groceries and at the gas pump means fewer dollars they have left to spend in the rest of the economy. Rather than cause inflation, this is likely to lead to more job losses.
The Street is also worried that the Fed's easy money policies are pushing the dollar down and thereby fueling inflation - as everything we buy abroad becomes more expensive. But if wages are stuck in the mud and everything we buy abroad costs more, Americans have even fewer dollars to spend. This also spells recession, not inflation.
Finally, the Street worries that if Democrats and Republicans fail to agree to a plan to cut the budget deficit, the credit-worthiness of the United States as a whole will be in jeopardy - causing interest rates to rocket and inflation to explode. Standard & Poors, the erstwhile credit-rating agency, has already sounded the alarm.
The Street has it backwards. Over the long term, the deficit does have to be tackled. But not now. When job growth remains tepid, when wages are dropping, and when the value of most households' major asset is declining, government has to step in to maintain overall demand.
This is the worst possible time to cut public spending or reduce the money supply.
The biggest irony is that the Street is doing wonderfully well right now, in contrast to most Americans. Corporate profits for the first quarter of the year are way up. That's largely because corporate payrolls are down.
Payrolls are down because big companies have been shifting much of their work abroad where business is booming. The Commerce Department recently reported that over the last decade American multinationals (essentially all large American corporations) eliminated 2.9 million American jobs while adding 2.4 million abroad.
What the Commerce Department didn't say is the pace is picking up. In 2000, 30 percent of GE's business was overseas and 46 percent of its employees; now 60 percent of its business is outside the U.S., as are 54 percent of its employees. Over the past five years, Oracle added twice as many workers overseas as in the US; 63 percent of its employees now work abroad.
Corporations are simultaneously finding ways to cut the pay of their remaining U.S. workers -- not just threatening job losses if they don't agree to the cuts, but also automating the work or sending it to non-union states. (The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, an unremittingly reliable barometer of Street thought, argued earlier this week that such states offer workers the freedom to choose whether to join a union -- in reality, the freedom to lose even more bargaining power and be forced to accept even lower wages.)
America's jobless recovery is becoming a wageless recovery. That puts the odds of another recession greater than the risk of inflation. Wall Street and its representatives in Washington don't understand -- or don't want to.

Robert Reich is the author of Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future, now in bookstores. This post originally appeared at

Bahrain Execution Scheduled For Shiite Protesters 28APR11

IF this was happening in Cuba or N Korea or Iran the U.S. government would be howling in protest. Some in the administration might even have the courage to speak up if it was happening in the prc....but it is happening in BAHRAIN, base of the U.S. NAVY 5TH FLEET, and by our silence and by keeping the 5th Fleet in Bahrain we will give Islamic extremist one more piece of propaganda to use against us. We have a moral duty to object to these sentences and to insist the Bahraini government meet the demands of it's people for freedom, democracy and human rights.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A military court in Bahrain sentenced four Shiite protesters to death after convicting them on Thursday of killing two policemen during anti-government demonstrations last month, state media said.
Three other Shiite activists, who were also on trial, were sentenced to life in prison after they were convicted of playing a role in the policemen's deaths.
The verdicts – which can be appealed – were the first related to Bahrain's uprising. The kingdom's Shiite majority has long complained of discrimination and is campaigning for greater freedoms and equal rights in the tiny, Sunni-ruled island nation, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.
Bahraini human rights groups blasted the verdict and said the trial, conducted in secrecy, had no legal credibility and was politically motivated.
"This verdict is a message from the government, determined to stop the democracy movement," said Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. "It's a warning saying 'this is how we will treat you if you continue to demand your rights.'"
Faced with unprecedented political unrest, Bahrain's king declared martial law and invited troops from Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-ruled Gulf countries to help quell Shiite dissent after weeks of street marches and bloody clashes in the capital Manama. At least 30 people have died since Feb. 15, when the anti-government protests erupted. Four opposition supporters have also died in police custody.
For Sunni Arabs rulers around the Gulf, Bahrain is seen as a critical showdown with Shiite powerhouse Iran. Arab leaders fear that any serious political gains by Bahrain's Shiites – about 70 percent of the population – could open the door for greater influence by the Islamic Republic even though there is no history of close bonds between Iran and Bahraini Shiites.
Earlier this month, the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council issued a strongly worded warning to Iran to stop "meddling" in their affairs. Bahrain this week expelled an Iranian diplomat.
Iran, in turn, has called the Saudi-led force an "occupation" and said it reserves the right to take further diplomatic action against Bahrain.
The seven opposition supporters sentenced Thursday were tried behind closed doors on charges of premeditated murder of government employees. In an earlier hearing this week, Bahrain state media said the military prosecutor presented evidence that showed the defendants killed the policemen intentionally by running them over with a car.
Their lawyers denied the charges.
International rights groups have expressed deep concern over the verdict that followed a trial of civilians in a military court, set up under emergency laws.
"This is very worrisome by the international standards for fair trials," said Malcolm Smart, a Middle East and North Africa director with Amnesty International.
The president of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, denounced the death sentences and called the closed-door trial "deplorable."
Foreign media was barred from the courtroom, but selected representatives from state-aligned media were allowed. Family members of the defendants also attended the trial.
A relative of one of the defendants sentenced to death, said there were no emotional outbursts in the courtroom when the verdicts were read.
"He was smiling when they said it, because he did not want us to cry," the relative said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of harassment by the authorities and of jeopardizing the appeal.
A report by the Bahrain News Agency said the defendants had "all their legal rights" during the trial for what it called "one of the most gruesome murders in Bahrain."
The report carried links to government-produced videos posted on YouTube, including clips of purported confessions of alleged accomplices describing the policemen's killings. They also included testimonials from alleged relatives of one of the slain policemen and a taxi driver killed in the unrest. The footage refers to demonstrators as "gangs of outlaws" and "beasts without mercy."
Hundreds of protesters, opposition leaders and human rights activists and Shiite professionals such as doctors and lawyers have been detained since emergency rule was declared March 15. Earlier this month, the authorities banned media from covering legal proceedings in the country's military courts.
Bahrain rarely uses capital punishment, and when it does it is usually applied to foreigners. After a decade-long moratorium on the death penalty, three Bangladeshi citizens were put to death in 2006, according to Amnesty International.
Another Bangladeshi man was executed last July after being convicted of premeditated murder.

Syria Army Units Reportedly Clash Over Crackdown 28APR11

OVER 200 government officals who were members of assad's baath party resign protesting the brutality of the govt on civilians and Syrian Army divisions take sides and fight each other. From Huffpost.....
BEIRUT — Syrian army units have clashed with each other over following President Bashar Assad's orders to crack down on protesters in Daraa, a besieged city at the heart of the uprising, witnesses and human rights groups said Thursday.
More than 450 people have been killed across Syria – about 100 in Daraa alone – and hundreds detained since the popular revolt against Assad began in mid-March, according to human rights groups.
While the troops' infighting in Daraa does not indicate any decisive splits in the military, it is significant because Assad's army has always been the regime's fiercest defender.
It is the latest sign that cracks – however small – are developing in Assad's base of support that would have been unimaginable just weeks ago. About 200 mostly low-level members of Syria's ruling Baath Party have resigned over Assad's brutal crackdown.
Ausama Monajed, a spokesman for a group of opposition figures in Syria and abroad, said the clashes among the soldiers have been happening since Monday.
"There are some battalions that refused to open fire on the people," Monajed told The Associated Press, citing witnesses on the ground in Daraa, a city of 75,000 near the Jordanian border. "Battalions of the 5th Division were protecting people, and returned fire when they were subjected to attacks by the 4th Division."
The 4th Division is run by the president's brother, Maher.
The reports were corroborated by three witnesses in Daraa and an activist contacted by the AP. All four asked that their names not be used for fear of reprisals.
One of the witnesses said soldiers fired at each other Thursday around the Omari mosque in central Daraa. He said the soldiers from the 5th division, composed mostly of conscripts known to be sympathetic to residents, were battling soldiers of the 4th Division.
"They are defending the people against the forces of Maher Assad," said the resident, who said he lived next to the mosque and witnessed the battles.
"Assad's forces have it in their heads that we are terrorists and extremist Muslims and they are out to get us," he said. "But the 5th Division are made up of people like us. We are speaking to them."
Another witness in Daraa told the AP that he saw soldiers from different army units clashing Monday in front of the Bilal mosque, when Syrian forces rolled into town. He said the battle between the forces lasted for several hours.
"We saw ordinary soldiers fall," the resident said. "And then I heard people shout 'God is great! They are martyrs of freedom!'"
The military released a statement Wednesday denying there were any splits.
The government has blamed armed thugs and a foreign conspiracy for the unrest, rather than true reform seekers. State-run Syrian TV has been running lingering, gruesome close-ups of dead soldiers to back up their claims that they were under attack.
On the diplomatic front, Turkey held out the prospect of closer economic ties if Assad meets demands for reform, even as Western powers warned of sanctions if the crackdown doesn't end. Assad met a delegation led by the chief of Turkey's National Intelligence Agency and the head of the agency that oversees infrastructure projects, Turkey's Anatolia news agency reported.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has talked to Assad at least three times since protests began in Syria, said Turkey does not want to see an "an authoritarian, totalitarian, imposing structure" there. But he has not called for Assad's ouster.
Syria is a highly unpredictable country, in part because of its sizable minority population and the regime's web of allegiances to powerful forces including Lebanon's Hezbollah and Shiite powerhouse Iran. Serious and prolonged unrest are likely to hurt the regime's proxy in Lebanon, the militant group Hezbollah, and weaken Iran's influence in the Arab world.
But within Syria, there are very real fears of sectarian bloodshed should a power vacuum emerge. Syria has multiple sectarian divisions, largely kept in check under Assad's heavy hand and his regime's secular ideology. The majority of the population is Sunni Muslim, but Assad and the ruling elite belong to the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
There are fears that if the regime falls, there could be revenge attacks and persecution as rival groups jockey for power.
For now, Assad is facing the gravest challenge to his family's four decades of rule. He unleashed the military, backed by snipers and tanks, in Daraa and several other areas Monday.
Daraa was the hardest-hit: On Thursday, more soldiers in armored personnel carriers rolled into Daraa, where residents huddled inside homes to avoid blasts of mortars and heavy gunfire. Hiding from snipers perched on rooftops, desperate Syrians pleaded for international help Thursday as a military siege paralyzed the city.
The protest movement insisted it will not be intimidated and used the crackdown in Daraa as a rallying cry to encourage fresh demonstrations across the country Friday.
Syria has banned nearly all foreign media and restricted access to trouble spots since the uprising began, making it almost impossible to verify the dramatic events shaking one of the most authoritarian, anti-Western regimes in the Arab world.
Daraa resident Abdullah Abazeid said the death toll in Daraa includes a 6-year-old girl, hit by a sniper Wednesday on the roof of her parents' apartment. He added that pro-government gunmen known as "shabiha" damaged a large numbers of shops in the city.
Abazeid said they were still hiding the bodies of the dead because the cemetery was occupied by Syrian forces.
The city was still without telephones, electricity and water and lacked food and infant formula, he said, adding that some parents were giving their children water and sugar for lack of powder milk.
Later in the evening, there were reports that power had been restored.
Meanwhile, Syrians were pouring into the neighboring countries of Lebanon and Jordan seeking refuge from the violence. A woman in Jordan whose family lives in Daraa said she heard her two brothers had been killed.
She said she came to the border to tell her story to the media, but her husband and female members of his family dragged her away, screaming.
Elsewhere in Syria, security was tightened in the Damascus suburb of Douma and the coastal city of Latakia, the heartland of Syria's ruling elite.
"Security is so tight around Douma that even birds can't go in," he said, adding that security forces with lists of wanted people continued to detain residents in the area.
Hadid reported from Cairo. Associated Press writers Jamal Halaby at the Jordanian-Syrian border, and Christopher Torchia in Istanbul contributed to this story.

Obama Birth Certificate: Jon Stewart Mocks Trump, The Media's Reaction (VIDEO) 28APR11 & Jon Stewart Eviscerates The 'Birther' Movement (VIDEO) 23JUL09

TOO good not to share, the racism behind the birther movement is so pathetic, thank you Jon Stewart for making us laugh at the stupidity and ignorance of the people and the pandering media....
Now that President Obama has released his long-form birth certificate, it looks like the "Birther" movement Jon Stewart has been mocking since its inception finally has to stop. But as we witnessed Wednesday, not before a thorough media frenzy covers the "bombshell" that was the White House realeasing the document.
On Wednesday night's "Daily Show," Stewart mocked all the mainstream media outlets for using words like "stunning, shocking and surreal" to describe Obama's putting the issue to rest:
"I don't want to nitpick but wouldn't the bombshell have been him not being from America? This one's more of a non-shell."
Stewart mostly focused on the media's overreaction, but got in a few jabs about Obama, like his saying, "I've got better stuff to do" during his adress on the birth certificate before hopping on a jet to do an interview with Oprah. But it was definitely Donald Trump who bore the brunt of Stewart's jokes, especially after his press conference where he took all the credit for the certificate being released. He even went so far as to say that he was "honored" and proud of himself and his "accomplishment."
"Wow, that is the hardest I've ever seen Trump be on himself," Stewart said, later adding, "I pray this man runs for President."
Watch the full segment below and see Stewart's reaction to The Donald artfully dodging questions about his "investigation" in Hawaii, as well as the media's unstoppable speculation on the authenticity of the birth certificate.

Jon Stewart Eviscerates The 'Birther' Movement (VIDEO)
In a lengthy opening segment, Jon Stewart took on "birthers" last night, mocking their internal leadership and the media figures and politicians who support them. If you don't know by now (which is totally possible as a rational adult who does not engage with the lunatic fringe) "birthers" think that our president is not an American citizen, but instead a citizen of Kenya, who, through a massive government and familial conspiracy, tricked the American people into electing him.
Despite OVERWHELMING evidence that Barack Obama is a U.S. citizen, "birthers" have created a media frenzy of late that has prompted conservative representatives to introduced the so called "birther bill" that would call for presidential candidates to provide their birth certificates before running. There has been some very responsible reporting on the subject, if you can ever call engaging crazy people responsible, by Rick Sanchez, Chris Matthews and others who called these people crazy and showed copies of the president's birth certificate amongst other documents proving he was born in Hawaii.
Still, the subject hasn't really been delved into with the amount of scrutiny it deserves until the "Daily Show" does a segment on it.