Friday, April 12, 2013
The countdown is underway to the fall of the Damascus and the Assad regime. The problem is that most of the rebels are radical Islamic jihadists who could proven even worse than the murderous Assad.
“The question comes up, ‘How long will Assad last?’” said James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, during Congressional testimony on Thursday. “Our standard answer is, ‘His days are numbered. We just don’t know the number.”
“Our assessment is that he is very committed to hanging in there and sustaining his control of the regime,” Clapper noted, even as he warned the Assad regime does possess chemical and biological weapons and could choose to use them. “The opposition is gaining in strength; it is gaining territory,” Clapper said, reported the World Tribune. “At the same time, the regime is experiencing shortages in manpower and logistics.”
“In testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee on March 12, Clapper, who heads the intelligence community, said the Assad regime was coming under increasing pressure amid rebel gains.” the Tribune reported. “He said the Syrian military was unable to stop rebel advancements by conventional systems and could resort chemical weapons. ‘We assess that Syria has a stockpile of munitions — including missiles, aerial bombs, and possibly artillery rockets — that can be used to deliver CW agents,’ Clapper said.”
Now comes news that the rebels fighting against Assad have pledged their loyalty to al Qaeda.
“The head of Syria’s jihadist Al-Nusra Front has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, but distanced his group from claims it has merged with Al-Qaeda in Iraq,” reports Agence France Presse. ”Al-Nusra’s announcement on Wednesday is likely to bolster assertions by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime that it is fighting ‘terrorists’ who want to impose an Islamic state. ‘The sons of Al-Nusra Front pledge allegiance to Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri,’ Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani said in a recording….Al-Nusra is among the most prominent organisations involved in Syria’s conflict, which erupted in March 2011 with peaceful protests against Assad’s regime but has evolved into a war that has killed tens of thousands. It has gained notoriety for suicide bombings but also won admiration from some insurgents for its reputation as a formidable fighting force leading attacks on battle fronts across Syria.”
Joel Rosenberg's Blog
She still managed to play basketball, crawl about under her car, carry heavy groceries and tote luggage around. But she developed a limp and used a cane just in time for a hearing on her disability benefits.
There currently are 14 million Americans on disability payments, up from 4.3 million in 1990.
The program is paying out $200 billion per year, and according to the Congressional Budget Office, as of 2009, Social Security Disability Insurance pays out more than it takes in from payroll taxes.
SSDI is slated to go broke in 2016.
Now from across the political spectrum, experts are warning of problems ahead, not just economic but societal, as one of the products of the decades-old SSDI system is that it has fostered a standard of long-term dependency.
MIT economist David Autor tells WND, “As currently designed, the SSDI program spends too few societal resources helping individuals with disabilities to remain employed and too many resources supporting the long-term dependency of individuals who could be self-suﬃcient with the appropriate accommodation and support.”
Autor is sympathetic to the plight of those on disability, noting that many workers with non-medical problems have turned to SSDI as a “last resort” in the face of a dismal economy.
Mary C. Daly, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, tells WND, “Disability insurance has turned into a long-term unemployment benefit program, which taxpayers have to pay for.
“SSDI is reducing the nation’s potential workforce as people move onto the program,” Daly says.
She “doesn’t like the word dependency because it is pejorative,” and instead criticizes the structure of the disability system for incentivizing continued use without any constructive route into work for those who are able.
Others are less sympathetic: SSDI “has become a voluntary life sentence to idle poverty,” concludes the Washington Examiner.
And a consensus is emerging that SSDI is not being used for its intended purpose, which was to support those who are unable to work.
Cornell Professor Richard Burkhauser, a disability policy expert, warns, “SSDI is increasingly being used as a long-term unemployment program for workers who, given the appropriate rehabilitation and accommodation, could work.”
The sheer number of people on disability is staggering, without even considering the policy’s other consequences. The number of people on disability, 14 million, is “more than the total number of employees in the manufacturing sector of the economy,” observed Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute.
The government spends more on disability than it does on both food stamps and welfare combined, according to a blockbuster NPR report. The dependency trend and fiscal trajectory continue their death spiral, unmoved by the supposed economic recovery.
The recession officially ended in 2009. Since the recession ostensibly ended, the number of SSDI enrollees is double the number of jobs created, as Investor’s Business Daily reported.
The current unemployment rate would necessarily be higher if some of those on disability were instead seeking work. Aside from the economic consequences, SSDI could lead to a destructive self-fulfilling prophecy.
Read more at http://www.wnd.com/2013/04/disabled-outnumber-workers-in-u-s-manufacturing/#f52sUtq5hASuASM3.99
"The powerful strike means of our revolutionary armed forces are on standby for launch with precise coordinates of targets input into warheads," the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement carried by state media.
If fired, they will turn enemy strongholds into "a sea of fire", it said.
The statement came on the first anniversary of new leader Kim Jong-Un becoming head of the ruling Worker's Party, and ahead of next Monday's birthday celebrations for late founder Kim Il-Sung.
The official party mouthpiece Rodong Sinmun praised Kim Jong-Un as the "No 1 man of conviction and will" and credited him with the success of the North's long range-rocket launch in December and February's nuclear test.
"History has never seen any socialist leader like him," the newspaper said.
The launch and test, along with the UN sanctions imposed for each, are at the core of the current crisis that has seen Pyongyang threaten nuclear strikes against the United States and its allies.
South Korean intelligence says the North has prepared two mid-range missiles for imminent launch from its east coast, despite warnings from ally China to avoid provocative moves at a time of soaring military tensions.
Although Pyongyang has not announced any launch, many observers believe it will take place during the build-up to the April 15 birthday anniversary.
State media said foreign delegations had already begun arriving in Pyongyang for the event, which is one of the most important dates on the North's calendar.
The missile launch may also coincide with some high-profile visits to South Korea, with both US Secretary of State John Kerry and Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Seoul this week.
Mr Rasmussen held talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se on Thursday and they agreed Pyongyang should halt its bellicose rhetoric and provocative actions, Mr Yun's office said.
Yonhap news agency quoted military sources as saying the North was moving multiple missiles around in an apparent bid to confuse outside intelligence-gatherers about its intentions.
"North Korea... with its bellicose rhetoric, its actions, has been skating very close to a dangerous line," US defence secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday.
"Our country is fully prepared to deal with any contingency, any action that North Korea may take or any provocation that they may instigate," Mr Hagel added.
The South Korea-US Combined Forces Command has raised its "Watchcon" status from 3 to 2 to reflect indications of a "vital threat", while the South's national police force has also been placed on heightened terror alert.
The North last week told foreign diplomats in Pyongyang they had until April 10 to consider evacuation, and warned foreigners in South Korea to get out ahead of a possible "thermo-nuclear" war.
The European Union said the seven EU countries with embassies in North Korea saw no need to leave, and added that it saw no risk to EU citizens in the South.
Despite the reassurances, there is still growing global concern that sky-high tensions might trigger an incident that could swiftly escalate.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned against heating up the crisis, and stressed that Moscow and Washington were cooperating closely.
"On North Korea we have no differences with the United States," Lavrov said after meeting John Kerry on the sidelines of a G8 foreign minister's meeting in London.
The mid-range missiles mobilised by the North are reported to be untested Musudan models with an estimated range of up to 4,000 kilometres (2,485 miles).
That would cover any target in South Korea and Japan, and possibly even US military bases on the Pacific island of Guam.
Japan, whose armed forces have been authorised to shoot down any North Korean missile headed towards its territory, has deployed Patriot missiles in its capital as a pre-emptive defence measure.
Pyongyang warned that Tokyo would be its primary target if war broke out on the Korean Peninsula, if Japan maintains its “hostile posture.” It also threatened a nuclear strike against the island nation if it intercepts any North Korean test missiles.
In the comments, carried by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Friday, Pyongyang lambasted Tokyo’s standing orders to shoot down any North Korean missile heading towards Japan, Seoul-based Yonhap news agency reports. The agency warned that any “provocative” intervention on the part of Japan would see Tokyo “consumed in nuclear flames.”
"Japan is always in the cross-hairs of our revolutionary army and if Japan makes a slightest move, the spark of war will touch Japan first," KCNA warned.
Speaking in Seoul alongside his South Korean counterpart Yun Byung-Se on Friday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said the rhetoric emanating from Pyongyang was “unacceptable.”
Kerry, who arrived in South Korea to kick off a four-day diplomatic tour in East Asia amidst rising tensions in the region, further insisted the international community "are all united on the fact that North Korea will not be accepted as a nuclear power."
"I am here to make it clear today, on behalf of President Obama and the citizens of the United States and our bilateral security agreement, that the United States, will, if needed, defend our allies and defend ourselves."
Kerry continued that any North Korean nuclear missile test would be "a huge mistake."
"If (North Korean leader) Kim Jong-Un decides to launch a missile, whether it's across the Sea of Japan or any other direction, he will be choosing willfully to ignore the entire international community."
"It will be a huge mistake for him to do that because it will further isolate his country," Kerry continued.
His comments mirrored statements made by President Barack Obama, who met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in the Oval Office on Thursday.
"We both agree that now is the time for North Korea to end the belligerent approach they have taken and to try to lower temperatures," Obama told reporters.
"It's important for North Korea, like every other country in the world, to observe basic rules and norms,"he continued.
A Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile launcher is refueled from a tank truck at the Defence Ministry in Tokyo on April 11, 2013 (AFP Photo / Yoshikazu Tsuno)
Kerry's visit coincides with the disclosure of a US Defense Intelligence Agency report which says North Korea has the technological know-how to arm a ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead.
The analysis, disclosed at a congressional hearing in Washington on Thursday, was rebuffed by Pentagon spokesman George Little.
Little argued "it would be inaccurate to suggest that the North Korean regime has fully tested, developed or demonstrated the kinds of nuclear capabilities referenced" in the DIA report.
The Director of National Intelligence James Clapper also concluded that the report was not in line with America’s other intelligence agencies.
"Moreover, North Korea has not yet demonstrated the full range of capabilities necessary for a nuclear armed missile," Clapper continued.
On Wednesday, the South Korean military was put on high alert following intelligence reports from Seoul, Tokyo and Washington that a North Korean mid-range missile test could occur at any time.
Pyongyang is expected to launch its untested Musudan missile from its east coast. With a range of 1,800 to 2,180 miles, the missile could hit the Japanese mainland, as well as the Japanese island of Okinawa and the US territory of Guam.
On Friday, Japan announced it would permanently deploy Patriot missile interceptor batteries on Okinawa, where the United States currently has a total military deployment of some 50,000 personnel.
Japan had initially planned to station the missile batteries in March 2015, but now hopes to place them on the island later this month. Several other Patriot Advance Capability-3 missile interceptor were deployed throughout Japan during the past week to defend key military units and Tokyo.
The US for its part announced last week that it will soon deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) to Guam in response to North Korean threats.
The ongoing crisis on the Korean Peninsula was sparked in February, when North Korea conducted its third nuclear test. The launch was condemned by the United Nations and much of the international community, prompting the UN to approve a new round of sanctions in early March.
Pyongyang reacted to the sanctions by threatening to launch a nuclear strike against the US.
In late March, Pyongyang declared it had entered a state of war with its southern neighbor following an earlier decision to withdrawal from the 60-year armistice that ended the Korean War.
North Korea had previously threatened to pull out of the 1953 armistice if the South did not halt a joint annual military exercise with the US.
BAGHDAD (AP) — British archaeologists said Thursday they have unearthed a sprawling complex near the ancient city of Ur insouthern Iraq, home of the biblical Abraham.
The structure, thought to be about 4,000 years old, probably served as an administrative center for Ur, around the time Abrahamwould have lived there before leaving for Canaan, according to the Bible.
The compound is near the site of the partially reconstructed Ziggurat, or Sumerian temple, said Stuart Campbell of Manchester University's Archaeology Department, who led the dig.
"This is a breathtaking find," Campbell said, because of its unusually large size — roughly the size of a football pitch, or about 80 meters (260 feet) on each side. The archaeologist said complexes of this size and age were rare.
"It appears that it is some sort of public building. It might be an administrative building, it might have religious connections or controlling goods to the city of Ur," he told The Associated Press in a phone interview from the U.K.
The complex of rooms around a large courtyard was found 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Ur, the last capital of the Sumerian royal dynasties whose civilization flourished 5,000 years ago.
Campbell said one of the artifacts they unearthed was a 9-centimeter (3.5-inch) clay plaque showing a worshipper wearing a long, fringed robe, approaching a sacred site.
Beyond artifacts, the site could reveal the environmental and economic conditions of the region through analysis of plant and animal remains, the archaeological team said in a statement.
The dig began last month when the six-member British team worked with four Iraqi archaeologists to dig in the Tell Khaiber in the southern province of Thi Qar, some 200 miles (320 kilometers) south of Baghdad.
Decades of war and violence have kept international archaeologists away from Iraq, where significant archaeological sites as yet unexplored are located. Still, the dig showed that such collaborative missions could be possible in parts of Iraq that are relatively stable, like its Shiite-dominated south.
Campbell's team was the first British-led archaeological dig in southern Iraq since the 80s. It was also directed by Manchester University's Dr. Jane Moon and independent archaeologist Robert Killick.
"This has been an opportunity to get back to an area very close to our heart for a long time," Campbell said.
Iraq faces a broader problem of protecting its archaeological heritage. Its 12,000 registered archaeological sites are poorly guarded.