London calls on Syrian opposition to unite

LONDON, Sept. 30 (UPI) — Syrian opposition groups need to unite to define their shared vision of a democratic future, the British foreign minister said from London.

British Foreign Minister William Hague met in London with Syrian opposition leaders Catherine el-Talli and Bassam Ishak, who were forced into exile by the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Hague said, in a statement following his meeting, the opposition movement would gain by a display of coordination.

“It is now vital for the many groups that form the Syrian opposition to unite and work together to define a shared vision for the future of Syria,” he said. “We urge them to continue to ensure that their protests are peaceful, to renounce sectarianism, and to work toward a Syria where the political system is inclusive, representative and adheres to international human rights standards.”

Much of the international community has called on Assad to step down because of his regime’s response to an uprising that is threatening to turn violent. Nearly 3,000 people have died at the hands of Syrian forces since the uprising began in March.

Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, was assaulted Thursday by regime supporters as he tried to meet with an opposition leader inside the country.

“We condemn this unwarranted attack in the strongest possible terms,” said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during a news conference with her Nigerian counterpart. “Ambassador Ford and his aides were conducting normal embassy business and this attempt to intimidate our diplomats through violence is wholly unjustified.”

U.N. wants calms ahead of Liberian vote

MONROVIA, Liberia, Sept. 30 (UPI) — The U.N. envoy to Liberia said, that with two weeks before elections, the Liberian people should do their part to make sure the poll is conducted peacefully.

Liberia is gearing up for national elections in October, the second vote since the end of the civil war and the first to be organized by Liberians.

Ellen Margrethe Loj, U.N. special envoy for Liberia, said the country should seize the opportunity to show it can secure gains made since the end of the civil war.

Loj, during a news conference, said last month’s peaceful constitutional referendum was reason for hope but all Liberians needed to work to move the country in a peaceful direction.

“I call on all political leaders not to incite violence. I call on all Liberians not to resort to violence,” she said. “And I call on all Liberians, political candidates as well as supporters to peacefully accept the election results.”

Liberians head to the polls Oct. 11 for parliamentary and presidential elections.

Liberian Vice President Joseph Boakai told the U.N. General Assembly that “every action” was being taken to ensure the elections are free and fair.

The United Nations has deployed peacekeepers in Liberia since 2003 to preserve a cease-fire that ended a bloody civil war. The conflict killed at least 150,000 people and another 850,000 fled to neighboring countries.

Ew-Rwandan ministers jailed for genocide

ARUSHA, Tanzania, Sept. 30 (UPI) — An international tribunal investigating the Rwandan genocide announced the sentencing Friday of two former ministers to 30 years for genocide.

The trial chamber at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, in Tanzania, sentenced Justin Mugenzi and Prosper Mugiraneza each to 30 years in prison for conspiracy to commit genocide and direct and public incitement to commit genocide.

The sentencing of the two former ministers came 12 years after their arrest. A judge in the tribunal said earlier their sentences should be reduced by five years because of the length of the trial, which started in 2003.

Mugenzi served as the Rwandan Commerce minister until his arrest. Mugiraneza was the minister of Civil Service when he was captured in Cameroon in 1999.

Two other officials, Casimir Bizimungu and Jerome-Clement Bicamumpaka, were acquitted and ordered released because of lack of evidence, the tribunal stated.

All of the Rwanda officials denied the charges. They were accused of, in official meetings and public speeches, advocating the slaughter of the minority Tutsi ethnic community.

An estimated 800,000 people were killed, most of whom were Tutsi, during 100 days in 1994 in Rwanda.

Palestinians courting U.N. for backing

RAMALLAH, West Bank, Sept. 30 (UPI) — The Palestinian foreign minister said his government was in talks with members of the U.N. Security Council for more support for U.N. membership.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Maliki said, during a news conference in the West Bank, that his government was pressing for a key ninth vote at the Security Council for its bid for full membership at the United Nations.

The Palestinian government has observer status and full membership is part of a statehood initiative launched last week by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Nine votes are needed for approval and Maliki had said his government wasn’t satisfied with the level of support it had now, Bloomberg News reports.

The European Parliament, in a resolution passed Thursday, said lawmakers viewed the Palestinian bid for statehood as legitimate.

The Security Council announced Wednesday that it referred an application for full membership submitted by Palestinian authorities to a U.N. committee tasked with vetting new members.

Washington said it would veto any move for Palestinian statehood at the U.N. Security Council, pushing direct talks with Israel as the best course of action. The United States is a key member in the so-called Quartet, which includes the United Nations, Russia and the European Union, overseeing the Middle East peace process.

The Seeds Of Perpetual War

There is no better example of the folly of United States foreign policy of the last 10 years than what is currently going on in Pakistan and Libya.

The terrorist organization du jour, the Haqqani network, is an arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, according to Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He told Congress last week that Haqqani, with ISI support, conducted a truck bomb attack that wounded more than 70 U.S. and NATO troops on Sept. 11 and an assault on the U.S. embassy in Kabul two days later, along with other attacks.

The ISI is part of the Pakistani government — a government that receives $1.5 billion in U.S. aid each year.

In Libya, U.S. and NATO forces have supported the overthrow of the Moammar Gadhafi regime by elements of the al-Qaida network we are supposedly trying to destroy in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Somalia.

Sadly, most of contenders for the GOP nomination have expressed support of our current foreign policy — a policy that rewards with cash and military aid those who are shooting at our troops.

Does that sound like a policy designed to bring about an end to military engagements? Does it sound like a policy designed to make the citizens of other countries embrace America?

Not to me. To me, that sounds like the perpetual war of the warfare state.

Big Tobacco Knowingly Dosed Smokers With Radiation For Decades

A University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) study of big tobacco intercompany documents released in a 1998 legal settlement — the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement — shows that tobacco companies tried to keep information discovered in 1959 about radioactive substances in their products quiet for decades.

“The documents show that the industry was well aware of the presence of a radioactive substance in tobacco as early as 1959,” the authors write. “Furthermore, the industry was not only cognizant of the potential ‘cancerous growth’ in the lungs of regular smokers, but also did quantitative radiobiological calculations to estimate the long-term lung radiation absorption dose of ionizing alpha particles emitted from cigarette smoke.”

The study says that tobacco company research identified the radioactive substance as polonium-210 in 1969. The isotope can be found in all foreign and domestic cigarette brands as a byproduct of tobacco crop development.

The tobacco industry has not only been aware of the isotope since 1959, but has also known of two processes by which it can be eliminated, says the study.  One technique, developed in 1980 and called acid washing, was found to be highly effective in removing the isotope from tobacco plants, where it forms a water-insoluble complex with the sticky, hair-like structures called trichomes that cover the leaves. The tobacco industry allegedly shunned the process because it was also shown to have an impact on the levels of the content of nicotine in tobacco, the drug which keeps smokers hooked.

“The industry was concerned that the acid media would ionize the nicotine, making it more difficult to be absorbed into the brains of smokers and depriving them of that instant nicotine rush that fuels their addiction,” said one researcher.

The study comes out just two years after 2009 passage of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which grants the U.S. Food and Drug Administration broad authority to regulate and remove harmful substances besides nicotine from tobacco products. The study’s authors hope that their research will be taken into account by the FDA as it attempts to regulate tobacco safety.

Massachusetts Man Arrested In Terror Plot

The FBI arrested a Massachusetts man on Wednesday who allegedly planned to build small remote controlled airplanes armed with explosives and fly them into the Pentagon and other government buildings.

Rezwan Ferdaus, a 26-year-old physics graduate of Northeastern University in Boston who lived in the basement of his parents’ home in Ashland, Mass., began planning to commit violent jihad against the United States in early 2010 after viewing radical Web sites and videos, according to The Washington Post.

The U.S.-born citizen of South Asian background traveled to Washington last May to conduct surveillance for his plan to launch three small GPS-guided aircraft from East Potomac Park: two against the Pentagon and one against the Capitol, according to a detailed plan he gave to the FBI. He planned to follow up the drone-like attacks with two teams of three machine gun-wielding attackers that were intended to cause chaos in the streets.

Ferdaus relayed his plan to FBI agents who he believed were al-Qaida operatives working within U.S. borders. The agents provided him with money to purchase remote-controlled planes and also helped him acquire what he believed to be C-4 plastic explosives. He had already purchased one remote-controlled aircraft (a small-scale model of the F-86 Sabre, a Cold War-era U.S. fighter jet), according to reports. Agents said that the man was presented with multiple opportunities to back out of his plan in conversations with his would-be collaborators.

Ferdaus also supplied the undercover agents with seven mobile phones that he modified to act as electrical switches for improvised explosive devices in Iraq. When they falsely told him that his creations had been used to kill U.S. troops, the man “appeared gratified,” according to reports.



Taxpayers Pay Settlements For Capital Hill Worker Disputes

On Thursday, the Office of Compliance (OOC) released a report that shows the number of discrimination and harassment claims on Capitol Hill have doubled in the past five years. Taxpayers have footed the bill for hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlements.

The State of the Congressional Workplace report indicated 168 claims were filed in fiscal 2010,compared to 87 in 2006. Fifty-seven of the claims made last year were based on race, while 41 claims involved age, 34 involved gender and 28 involved disabilities, the report read.

“The OOC has felt the impact of a substantial increase in discrimination, harassment, and retaliation cases over the past 5 fiscal years. The OOC dispute resolution program in fiscal year 2010 saw an increase in formal requests for confidential counseling and mediations, compared to five fiscal years ago. Also in comparison, there was an increase in discrimination, harassment, and retaliation claims. These cases are becoming more complex and sophisticated, often with multiple allegations of discrimination, discovery disputes, and issues relating to the OOC’s rules and procedures,” said a statement from OOC Executive Director Tamara Chrisler.

Since 1997, taxpayers have footed the bill for more than $13.2 million in cases resolved by the OOC. The highest number of claims filed involved terms and conditions violations, hostile work environments, harassment and discipline issues.





Hispanics Very Important In 2012 Race

Media reports indicate that both Democrats and Republicans are scrambling to become sweethearts among growing numbers of Hispanic voters in key electoral States.

President Barack Obama’s popularity among many white voters has dropped, and he faces more contention among blacks than at any time during his Presidency. Therefore, it has become increasingly important for his Administration to address the Hispanic populations of States like Florida and Nevada.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Florida, the nation’s largest Presidential swing state, has a voting-age Hispanic population that grew by nearly 250,000 people between 2008 and 2010. By contrast, the voting-age white population grew by only 30,400. Similar trends held true in Nevada and New Mexico where the number of Hispanics eligible to vote grew at nearly twice the rate of white voters.

Many people speculate that Obama’s attempt to attract more Hispanic voters is directly related to his Administration’s stance against strong immigration laws being passed in many States that some consider discriminatory and as harmful to legal Hispanic residents as they are to their illegal counterparts.

The GOP has also sought to gain rapport with Hispanic voters and have a number of conservative Hispanic politicians in the party to aid in the process. In November of 2010, Republicans elected three young conservative Hispanic Republicans: Marco Rubio easily won a Senate seat in Florida, Susana Martínez was elected Governor of New Mexico and Brian Sandoval was elected Governor of Nevada.