China Military Buildup Raises Concerns

WASHINGTON, Aug. 25 (UPI) — China’s military buildup is “potentially destabilizing” to regional military balances, a U.S. Pentagon official warned.

The warning came from Michael Schiffer, deputy assistant defense secretary for East, during a media briefing on the annual report on military developments in China, prepared by the defense secretary for Congress.

Schiffer said China’s expanding military capabilities may allow it contribute to activities such as international peacekeeping and fighting piracy, the defense department’s transcript reported.

“However, the pace and scope of China’s sustained military investments have allowed China to pursue capabilities that we believe are potentially destabilizing to regional military balances, increase the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation, and may contribute to regional tensions and anxieties,” he said. “Such capabilities could increase Beijing’s options for using military force to gain diplomatic advantage, advance its interests or resolve military disputes — resolve disputes in its — in its favor.”

This year’s report includes new sections on China’s evolving maritime strategy and growing military involvement and engagement with other countries.

Schiffer stressed the United States welcomes a “strong, prosperous and successful China that … enhances security and peace both in the Asia-Pacific Region and around the globe.”

But he stressed the “logic” of sustained and reliable (bilateral) military-to-military dialogue to “gain the sort of transparency and strategic understanding that’s necessary to forge that positive, cooperative, and comprehensive relationship.”

On China’s sea trial this month of its first aircraft carrier, Schiffer said the vessel could “become operationally available to China’s navy by the end of 2012″ but it would take additional years for an air group to achieve minimal level of combat capability aboard the carrier.

He said China continues to invest heavily in undersea warfare, with a mixture of nuclear and conventionally powered submarines. He said the People’s Liberation Army has completed construction of a major naval base on Hainan Island large enough to accommodate a mix of ballistic missiles, submarines and large surface combatants, including aircraft carriers.

Commenting on the Pentagon report, U.S. Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said China’s “increasing assertiveness and military capabilities particularly China’s ability to deny access to the western Pacific” is of growing concern both to the United States and China’s neighbors, CNN reported.

McKeon said China believes “it can capitalize on the global financial crisis, using the United States’ economic uncertainty as a window of opportunity to strengthen” its economic, diplomatic, and security interests.”

China’s state-run Xinhua news agency said the Pentagon report overlooked China’s “peaceful defense policy.”

Couple Gets 12 Years In Python Killing

BUSHNELL, Fla., Aug. 25 (UPI) — A Florida woman and her boyfriend were sentenced Wednesday to 12 years in prison for the death of her daughter, who was killed by her pet Burmese python.

Lawyers for Jaren Hare, 21, and Charles Darnell, 34, argued at the sentencing — as they did at trial — that Hare’s daughter, Shaianna, was the victim of an accident, The Daily Commercial of Leesburg reported. But Sumter County Judge William Hallman said they should have known the large snake would regard the 2-year-old girl as food.

“This child was a small mammal which is on the menu for a wild animal,” Hallman said.

The couple were convicted last month of third-degree murder, manslaughter and child neglect.

The snake was kept in an aquarium covered by a quilt. It got loose in 2009 and bit and squeezed the girl.

The Burmese python is one of the largest snakes, capable of growing to more than 20 feet in length, and is a powerful constrictor.

Man Survives Attack By Swarm Of Bees

REDONDO BEACH, Calif., Aug. 25 (UPI) — A 95-year-old man in Southern California survived an attack by bees that stung him hundreds of times Wednesday, authorities said.

Police said an exterminator was trying to remove the bees, believed to be Africanized honeybees, from an apartment in Redondo Beach, the Los Angeles Times reported. That apparently upset the bees and led to the attack.

“He literally got stung by thousands of bees,” Sgt. Phil Keenan told the Times. “Most men would have died, but he’s taking it in stride.”

The man, whose name was not released, was expected to be discharged from a hospital without an overnight stay, the newspaper said.

TV Footage Shows Cyber Attack Potential

BEIJING, Aug. 24 (UPI) — China denies involvement in cyber attacks, officials saying that would violate Chinese law, but video aired recently on state TV demonstrated such an attack.

Viewers of a brief clip on China Central Television last month saw a military computer program in which the target — a Falun Gong Web site — is picked for “attack,” The Washington Post reported.

The footage was part of a state media documentary titled “The Cyber Storm Has Arrived!” and appeared to indicate China’s development of cyber weaponry, the newspaper said.

The clip was first reported by the Epoch Times, a news service affiliated with the Falun Gong group, which is banned in China. In the documentary, the Post reported, Col. Du Wenlong, a researcher at China’s top military research institute, saying China’s ability to attack and to defend its networks “must be interwoven.”

“To keep up with the pace of virtual technology, we must increase our fighting ability,” he said.

The footage seemed at variance with China’s claims it does not engage in cyber attacks, experts told The Wall Street Journal.

The Post reported experts have said China has had cyber-warfare capability for more than a decade, and wants to develop it following the U.S. launch of a Cyber Command. The report said Du described in the documentary several types of cyber-warfare attacks that could be used including “logic bombs,” implanted in an adversary’s networks.

Western experts told the Post the computer program in the video was not especially sophisticated and probably does not represent the state-of-the-art of Chinese cyber capabilities.

The Post said a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington declined further comment on the video.

The Journal said the Pentagon in July published a new strategy to respond to cyber attacks from outside the country in the wake of such attacks in the past on U.S. targets, including Google and Lockheed Martin. U.S. officials have said they suspect those attacks originated in China.

Man Sues Ex-fiancee For Fraud And Deceit

FRESNO, Calif., Aug. 24 (UPI) — A California man has filed a lawsuit accusing his ex-fiance of fraud and deceit and demanding she return a $52,000 ring and a sport utility vehicle.

James Mekalian is suing Nichole Grazioli in Fresno County Superior Court, accusing her of fraud and deceit regarding the April meltdown of their four-year relationship, The Fresno (Calif.) Bee reported Wednesday.

Mekalian, 45, is trying to get back the diamond-studded engagement ring he gave Grazioli, 31, and a 2006 Hummer. There’s also the matter of nearly $1,000 in credit card bills she allegedly ran up after they broke up, and damages for emotional distress he claims in his suit, the newspaper said.

“He wants to get on with his life, but how can he?” Mekalian’s attorney, Zepure Attashian, told the newspaper. “He’s suffering because he doesn’t know if she really loved him or just loved the possessions he bought for her.”

Girls Rewarded For Returning Found Money

FORT COLLINS, Colo., Aug. 24 (UPI) — Three Fort Collins, Colo., girls received rewards for their honesty in returning $1,100 in cash they found in a park, officials said.

Elise Forzley, Amy Moreng and Claire Hooker, all 13, received acclaim from city police and $100 each from the owner of Plato’s Closet, the rightful owner of the $1,100, The Denver Post reported.

“We appreciate what you did,” said interim Police Chief Jerry Schiager. “If there were more people like you in the world, we’d all be a little better off.”

“They are wonderful,” Renee Jelinek, the owner of Plato’s Closet, said. “I can’t thank them enough, and I’d like to thank their parents for instilling in them the idea to do the right thing.”

The girls found the money in a park a little over a month after the Jan. 12 robbery of Plato’s Closet.

Chad Allen Mahan, 26, was arrested the night of the robbery, but police were unable to find the money.

“We threw the money on the floor and it was flying around in the air,” Amy Moreng said, describing the scene after she and her friends found the missing cash.

“But we knew this wasn’t our money, and it would have been a little weird walking around with it stuffed in our wallets knowing that,” added Claire Hooker. “So we called my parents.”

“We started counting it, and we quickly knew we had to call the police,” said Mike Hooke, Claire’s father.

U.S. Has Concerns, Confidence On Libya

MARTHA’S VINEYARD, Mass., Aug. 24 (UPI) — The Obama administration has concerns but also “confidence” Libyan rebels can achieve a peaceful transition once Moammar Gadhafi is deposed, a spokesman said.

Asked during the daily briefing on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, where the president is vacationing, whether there are concerns about the rebel Transitional National Council’s ability to move forward peacefully and effectively, White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest replied with a qualified affirmation.

“Sure, because this is — the effort that is under way there is not something that will be easily implemented,” he said. “But what I can tell you is that we do have confidence in the TNC. I mean, after all, it was this president who led the effort to — several months ago, a couple months ago — to recognize them as the proper ruling entity in that country. And we are encouraged by the way that they have conducted themselves so far.

“And we continue — we intend to be a partner and to be supportive of their efforts to, like I said, put in a governmental structure and transition to a freer Libya.”

Earnest said the administration was monitoring the situation in Libya through traditional media, as well as “Twitter, Facebook [and] other social media tools that are providing some insight into what’s happening on the ground there.”

“And then we’ve also — and probably most importantly — have been in close touch with the leadership of the TNC about what’s happening on the ground there,” he said.

Earnest acknowledged there is concern that Gadhafi regime weapons could fall into the wrong hands.

“Well, that’s certainly something that we’re monitoring closely, and that’s one of the things that we are obviously closely consulting with the TNC about,” he said.

Earnest was less specific about what form U.S. financial and human commitment to the new regime would take over the long haul. He noted the United States is freeing up $1.5 billion in Libyan assets that have been frozen to keep Gadhafi from using them.

“In terms of predicting the future, that’s something I’m not going to get into from up here,” he said. “But there are some things we can do, like releasing these frozen assets, that could be very beneficial to them, that actually doesn’t involve, at this point, taxpayer assistance.”

Asked if the American public should be ready for a five- or 10-year commitment akin to Iraq and Afghanistan, Earnest noted the situation is different in Libya.

“… Certainly, one of the things that’s been different about this effort is that there are no — there’s no American military presence, in terms of boots on the ground, in Libya,” he said.

“That’s one of the things that’s been remarkable about this operation, that the president was able to provide the kinds of leadership and support for the TNC in close coordination with our NATO allies and with our allies in the region, that we were able to make that kind of commitment without putting boots on the ground there. And that’s something that we remain committed to, and that does distinguish it from the situation that exists right now in Iraq.”

He said there is “a strong commitment from the American people to the people of Libya as they work to build the infrastructure that’s needed to have a free and democratic Libya.”

The days and years ahead won’t all be smooth sailing in Libya, he said.

“In terms of the way forward, it will be a difficult — there are difficult days ahead,” he said. “There are difficult months ahead. There are difficult years ahead. But this is — I should say this. As a tyrant in Libya, Moammar Gadhafi used the resources of his country to perpetrate horrible terrorist acts against Americans and people around the world.”

He said there was no word on whether the administration believes there should be some kind of international force on the ground in Libya.

Obama Has Been Working While On Vacation

MARTHA’S VINYARD, Mass., Aug. 24 (UPI) — President Barack Obama mixed work and vacation again on Massachusetts’ Martha’s Vineyard Wednesday, playing golf after getting daily briefings from his staff.

“As usual, this morning the president received his presidential daily briefing from [counterterrorism adviser] John Brennan,” White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters. “Mr. Brennan updated the president on a couple of issues. The first is he updated him on overnight developments in Libya. Mr. Brennan also updated the president on the preparations that have been underway for several days over at DHS [Department of Homeland Security] and FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency], in preparation for the — for Hurricane Irene.”

Earnest said Obama also was briefed by Brian Deese, deputy director of the National Economic Council.

“Brian updated the president on overnight developments in the international markets,” Earnest said.

“Brian also talked through the president the CBO [Congressional Budget Office] report that was released today with — that included some deficit projections. And Brian also updated the president on the ongoing policy process that’s under way back at the White House in preparation for the major economic address that the president will deliver shortly after Labor Day.”

The president took part in a conference call with General Electric Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt and American Express CEO Ken Chenault, who head up the President’s Council on Jobs and Competiveness.

“They discussed a number of the proposals that the jobs council has been developing,” Earnest said.

Obama also signed a major disaster for Iowa, which was hit by severe storms and flooding July 9-14. The designation frees up federal funding to help the affected communities recover.

Joining the president for a round at the nine-hole Mink Meadows Golf Club were Chicago friend Eric Whitaker, chef Sam Kass and trip director Marvin Nicholson.

ABC News reported Wednesday Obama has spent time with longtime political confidantes and wealthy donors as he heads toward the 2012 election.

Video Cameras Confiscated At Town Hall

CINCINNATI, Aug. 24 (UPI) — Police, acting at the direction of aides to U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, confiscated video cameras from two Democratic activists, a Chabot spokesman said.

The incident occurred Monday in Cincinnati, where Chabot was attending a town hall meeting, Cincinnati.com reported Wednesday. Chabot spokesman Jamie Schwartz told the Web site he had a Cincinnati police officer confiscate the cameras “to protect the privacy of constituents.”

Signs were posted on doors at the North Avondale Recreation Center indicating no video cameras were permitted, but Cincinnati.com noted at least two media outlets covered the meeting.

In a letter to Cincinnati Solicitor John Curp, Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burk asked for an explanation of “the legal basis for the seizure and the enforcement by Cincinnati police of rules created by the congressman.”

Schwartz said a Chabot staff member asked a police officer to take the cameras from David Little and Liz Ping, who were given the cameras back at the end of the meeting.

“The officer was very nice about it, and we politely and cordially defended our right to record a public official speaking in public in a public building,” Little said. “What are they afraid of?”

Schwartz told Cincinnati.com constituents sometimes ask questions at town hall meetings about personal matters. He said cameras operated by the media at the meeting were permitted to keep recording “because they can be expected to respect people’s privacy.”

The Web site said attendees at the Monday town hall were required to write out questions in advance for Chabot. Schwartz said no cameras would be seized at Chabot’s next town hall meeting, scheduled for Monday.

School Offers Students $100 To Go To Class

CAMDEN, N.J., Aug. 24 (UPI) — Camden, N.J., school officials say they are trying a different approach to reduce truancy among high school students, paying some $100 to make it to class.

Camden’s “I Can End Truancy” program — ICE-T — will pay 66 students who signed pledges, along with their parents, promising not to skip classes this school year, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Wednesday. They will get paid in September because the city must spend the grant money it is using for the program by Sept. 30, the newspaper said.

The students — freshmen through seniors – will take part in conflict-resolution and anger-management workshops and other educational reinforcement sessions for the next five weeks.

School Board member Sean Brown opposes paying students to go to school but Mayor Dana Redd said proponents “wanted to come up with an innovative model.”