March 4th, 2012
David Enders and Jonathan S. Landay
NEAR QUSAYR, Syria — Resting in a safe house south of the shell-battered city of Homs, Syrian rebel Abu Abdo at first framed the conflict convulsing his country as a war between the Sunni Muslim majority and the authoritarian regime of President Bashar Assad.
Then the leather-jacketed member of the local Free Syrian Army added, "The majority of the Shiites and Alawites are with the government."
Abdo's comments underscored how sectarian divisions are hardening a year after the outbreak of the uprising against Assad, whose scorched-earth crackdown on what began as peaceful protests for democratic reform has ignited a Sunni-dominated insurgency that's drawing in Sunni jihadis from beyond Syria's borders.
More ominously, the sectarian hatred is bleeding into a region seething with political and religious tensions. Outraged by a death toll estimated at more than 7,500 mostly Sunni Syrians — and apparently frustrated by the lack of action taken by a 60-nation "Friends of Syria" conference in Tunisia last month — Sunni regimes, led by Saudi Arabia, have publicly called for providing arms to the insurgents, whose nominal leaders are based in Sunni-governed Turkey.
Lebanon and majority-Shiite Iran — one of Assad's main arms suppliers — are standing firmly by the Syrian leader, whose regime and security forces are run by his minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiism. Iraq, where the 2003 U.S.-led invasion replaced a minority Sunni dictatorship with majority Shiite rule, has withheld criticism of Assad and declined to back an Arab League peace plan calling for him to step down.
The alignments appear to be confirming the worst fears of politicians, experts and the region's people: Syria has become the latest battleground in the centuries-old feud between Islam's main branches, with the violence threatening to evolve into a proxy conflict between the branches' rival standard-bearers, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
It also could reignite sectarian mayhem in adjacent Lebanon, fuel the Shiite-Sunni tensions wracking Iraq and inflame instability elsewhere. That could include the tiny Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain, the headquarters of the U.S. 5th Fleet, where the Saudi-backed Sunni monarchy has been persecuting majority Shiites who are demanding democratic reform.
"It's the proverbial gathering storm," said a senior Middle Eastern diplomat in Washington, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the issue. "It's not about Syria. It's about the Shias and Sunnis."
"Sectarian tension currently runs high in Syria," Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, who's a Shiite, said in a Saudi newspaper interview published Thursday. "Syria is on our borders and if a sectarian civil war erupts there, it will be moved directly to Iraq and other countries such as Jordan and Lebanon."
A Sunni member of the Iraqi Parliament, Mudher al Janabi, said: "The Iraqi government cannot abandon Assad. ... The sectarian bond is too strong."
The United States has aligned with the Sunnis, and not only because of what the Obama administration decries as Assad's wanton slaughter of civilians. Assad's fall also would deal a strategic blow to Iran by eliminating its only Arab ally and closing the conduit through which Tehran transships missiles that Hezbollah, the Shiite militia movement that dominates Lebanon, aims at Israel.
Abdo, the rebel fighter, who used a nom de guerre, said the Homs region began growing more polarized soon after the anti-Assad protests erupted last March. Minority populations fled mixed villages in an echo of what occurred around Baghdad as Iraq's civil war escalated in 2005.
"It began two or three months after the start of the revolution," he recounted. "If the Sunnis are the minority in a place, they leave. If they are the majority, they stay."
On the battlefield, rebels trade sectarian barbs over the radio with the Syrian army, saying things such as, "(expletive) Hassan Nasrallah," the charismatic leader of Hezbollah.
The tensions are palpable along Lebanon's northern border with Syria. After crossing into Lebanon's Bekaa Valley earlier this week, the first question a group of Syrian refugees asked a Lebanese man they encountered was, "Are you Sunni?"
Predominantly Sunni northern Lebanon, where animosity over the Syrian army's 1976-2005 occupation lingers and Sunnis and Alawites clashed last month, is a bulwark of support for the Syrian rebels. Sympathizers harbor refugees and smuggle humanitarian aid and light weapons to the disparate groups of military deserters and civilians that make up the Free Syrian Army.
"The Hezbollah mindset, the Iranian mindset, the Alawite mindset is not just based on existence only. It's based on killing the other, exterminating the other," said Imad Khalid, a Sunni cleric in Wadi Khalid, near the Syrian border.
"If I was in charge, I'd not fight against Israel. For now my enemy is Hezbollah, my enemy is Iran and what Bashar Assad is doing."
Amin Taba, a Beirut-based Syrian activist who sends humanitarian aid into Syria, said that in the uprising's early days, the pro-democracy marches included Sunnis and Alawites, as well as Christians. But the longer the conflict rages, he said, the deeper the Sunni-Shiite chasm will grow.
"Because of the situation, people are going to resort to mullahs," he said.
The divisions also are hardening across the region, with Sunni Arab governments, eager to eliminate Iran's chief Arab ally, making it clear that they intend to intensify their backing of the opposition.
"We cannot abandon our religious and moral position towards the situation in Syria," Saudi King Abdullah told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in a telephone conversation Feb. 22, according to Saudi Arabia's official news agency.
Two days later, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal said he thought that arming the rebels was "an excellent idea" because "they have to protect themselves."
On Monday, denouncing Assad, Kuwait's Parliament also recommended arming his opponents. The same day, the tiny Persian Gulf oil sheikdom of Qatar, which played a central role in arming the Libyan rebels who toppled Moammar Gadhafi, indicated that it would do so.
"We should do whatever necessary to help them, including giving them weapons to defend themselves," said the Qatari prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al Thani. "This uprising in Syria now (has lasted) one year. For 10 months, it was peaceful. Nobody was carrying weapons, nobody was doing anything. And Bashar continued killing them."
In an apparently coordinated move, the Paris-based Syrian National Council, the internationally recognized opposition coalition, said Thursday that it was forming a military council to unify the Free Syrian Army under a single command that would help funnel weapons to the rebels.
Murhaf Jouejati, a member of the Syrian National Council's foreign relations bureau who teaches at the National Defense University in Washington, told McClatchy that he thinks that the Saudis and Qataris are more likely to provide money for arms purchases than actual weapons.
"I think they are going to facilitate this, certainly, by providing money for the Free Syrian Army to buy its equipment where it can," Jouejati said. He noted that arms are "plentiful on the black market," including guns being sold by Syrian troops, an estimated 80 percent of whom are Sunni conscripts.
Some experts worry that Iran could step up its support for Assad as the Saudis and other Sunni Arab regimes intensify their backing for the rebels. That could include aiding Bahrain's Shiite opposition — which has resisted Iranian help so far — and instigating the restive Shiite majority in Saudi Arabia's oil-producing Eastern Province.
"This portends very bad things for the region," said Vali Nasr, a former State Department adviser who teaches at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
"If this gets worse and becomes a full-scale civil war ... this will spill over. Other countries are vulnerable ... and could end up having a bigger, broader conflict in the Gulf between Saudi Arabia and Iran."
(Enders is a McClatchy special correspondent. Landay reported from Washington. Special correspondent Sahar Issa contributed to this article from Baghdad.)
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
March 4th, 2012
By Dr. Mercola
Above, ABC's "Nightline," Bill Weir talks with Microsoft founder Bill Gates about his charitable endeavors.
Gates' latest plan is to try to end world hunger by growing more genetically modified (GM) crops.
He's already invested $27 million into Monsanto Company—leading some countries to reject his charity due to the high risks, such as:
- New disease vectors
- Mutated pesticide-resistant insects
- Resistant "superweeds"
- Contamination of surrounding non-GM crops
We already know how deeply entrenched the U.S. government has become with Monsanto.
For a visual illustration of their 'revolving-door-relationship' with the governmental regulatory agencies, see the graph toward the bottom of this article.
It is this type of government infiltration that allowed genetically engineered alfalfa to be approved without any restrictions at all, despite the protests of the organic community and public comments from a quarter of a million concerned citizens.
In Bill Gates, Monsanto also has one of the wealthiest and most influential "philanthropists" supporting their agenda and spreading misleading propaganda about their products.
In recent years, it has become disappointingly clear that Gates may be leading the pack as one of the most destructive "do-gooders" on the planet... His views on what is required to make a difference in poverty- and disease-stricken third world nations are short-sighted and misinformed at best. A recent article in the Seattle Times1 joins me in arguing that Bill Gates' support of genetically modified (GM) crops as a solution for world hunger is based on unsound science. A team of 900 scientists funded by the World Bank and United Nations, investigated the matter over the course of three years, and determined that the use of GM crops is simply NOT a meaningful solution to the complex situation of world hunger.
Instead, the scientists suggested that "agro-ecological" methods would provide the most viable means to ensure global food security, including the use of traditional seed varieties and local farming practices already adapted to the local ecology.
"Philanthropy is the Enemy of Justice"
In a recent article with the same headline, "Philanthropy is the Enemy of Justice", Robert Newman criticizes2 the choice of Bill Gates as the designated "voice" of the world's poor at the World Economic Forum, held in January.
"Am I saying that philanthropy has never done good? No, it has achieved many wonderful things... But beware the havoc that power without oversight and democratic control can wreak," Newman writes.
"The biotech agriculture that Lord Sainsbury was unable to push through democratically he can now implement unilaterally, through his Gatsby Foundation. We are told that Gatsby's biotech project aims to provide food security for the global south. But if you listen to southern groups such as the Karnataka State Farmers of India, food security is precisely the reason they campaign against GM, because biotech crops are monocrops which are more vulnerable to disease and so need lashings of petrochemical pesticides, insecticides and fungicides – none of them cheap – and whose ruinous costs will rise with the price of oil, bankrupting small family farms first. Crop diseases mutate, meanwhile, and all the chemical inputs in the world can't stop disease wiping out whole harvests of genetically engineered single strands.
Both the Gatsby and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundations are keen to get deeper into agriculture, especially in Africa. But top-down nostrums for the rural poor don't end well."
I agree. Donating patented seeds, which takes away the farmers' sovereignty, is not the way to save the third-world poor. As reported by Netline last year3, Monsanto and other biotech companies have collaborated with the Gates Foundation via the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to promote the use of genetically modified (GM) crops in Africa. The Gates Foundation has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to AGRA, and in 2006 Robert Horsch was hired for the AGRA project. Horsch was a Monsanto executive for 25 years. In a nutshell, the project may be sold under the banner of altruism and 'sustainability', but in reality it's anything but. It's just a multi-billion dollar enterprise to transform Africa into a GM-crop-friendly continent.
Conflicts of Interest Abound
Gates' philanthropic methods came under scrutiny back in August 2010, when it was discovered that The Gates Foundation had purchased 500,000 shares of Monsanto stock; dramatically increasing its previous holdings—and hence its financial conflicts of interest—in the biotech firm. AGRA-Watch commented on the ties stating4:
"The Foundation's direct investment in Monsanto is problematic on two primary levels," said Dr. Phil Bereano, University of Washington Professor Emeritus and recognized expert on genetic engineering.
"First, Monsanto has a history of blatant disregard for the interests and well-being of small farmers around the world, as well as an appalling environmental track record. The strong connections to Monsanto cast serious doubt on the Foundation's heavy funding of agricultural development in Africa and purported goal of alleviating poverty and hunger among small-scale farmers. Second, this investment represents an enormous conflict of interests."
It would be naive to think that all these philanthropic collaborations are designed to solve any problem besides how to help Monsanto monopolize the world's food supply with expensive patented GM seeds, and the herbicides to go with them.
In the interview above, Gates claims the seeds would be donated to the impoverished areas in question. But seriously, how long would the seeds remain free? There's rarely such a thing as a free lunch anymore, and it appears highly unlikely that Monsanto is poised to "feed Africa" indefinitely... And since you cannot save Monsanto's seeds from year to year, they will literally own the areas and the people they temporarily donate their seeds to. And once you own the rights to all the food grown around the globe, you literally rule the world.
That appears to be the goal. And only sane, rational, thinking people can stop them. It's really too bad that Gates has signed up as a lackey for "the Dark Side," as it were, instead of using his unfathomable wealth to really create positive, sustainable change.
It's an undisputed fact at this point that the introduction of genetically engineered crops lead to diminished biodiversity, which is the direct opposite of what the world needs. Truly, in order to save the planet and ourselves, small-scale organic and sustainable farming must not only prevail but flourish, and GM crops do not help, but rather threaten their existence. Seeds have always been sold and swapped freely between farmers, preserving biodiversity, and without that basis, you cannot have food sovereignty. And with fewer farmers, "feeding the hungry with GM crops" is nothing but a pipe dream.
Both Genetically Engineered Seeds and Herbicides Pose Risks to Environment and Human Health
Besides the threat to the environment and to agricultural practices, GM crops also bring a whole host of health concerns; not just from the GM seeds, but also from the herbicide used: Monsanto's Roundup. It's the world's best-selling herbicide, which is designed to be partnered with genetically engineered "Roundup Ready" crops.
According to a shocking report5, regulators were aware as early as 1980 that glyphosate, the active chemical ingredient of Roundup, caused birth defects in lab animals. However, the information was not made public. Instead, regulators misled the public about glyphosate's safety, and with the introduction of Roundup Ready crops, the use of Roundup has skyrocketed.
According to Monsanto. NO6:
"Dr. Andres Carrasco, a lead embryologist at the University of Bueno Aires Medical School and the Argentinean national research council, discovered that glyphosate-based herbicides like Monsanto's Roundup formula caused deformations in chicken embryos that resembled the kind of birth defects which where reported in areas like La Leonesa, where big agribusinesses depend on glyphosate to treat genetically engineered crops."
Golden Rice: a "Trojan Horse"
The idea that you can end world hunger with genetically engineered crops is simply not very well thought through. Last summer, I reported on The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's donation of $20 million toward the development of so-called "golden rice"—yet another untested GM crop that risks bringing economic and ecological disaster. Golden rice has been genetically engineered to produce beta-carotene, which your body can convert to vitamin A. It's been promoted as a way to alleviate vitamin A deficiency, which is common in developing countries where people don't have regular access to beta-carotene-rich foods, like vegetables and fruits.
However, while this sounds all well and good in theory, the reality of a beta-carotene producing rice may not be all it's cracked up to be. According to Food Freedom7:
"Golden rice is a Trojan horse for pushing through GE-friendly biosafety regulations under the guise of humanitarian aid. Once in place, these regulations open the door for the biotech industry to bring in commercial, patented GE crops; USAID and Monsanto accomplished exactly this in Kenya with their sweet potato project."
It may be easier to see why so many people question this kind of philanthropy once you understand a bit more about the product itself, and why it likely cannot ever live up to its own hype. In this case, your body can only convert beta-carotene to vitamin A under certain conditions. Specifically, beta-carotene is fat-soluble, which means dietary fat is required for your body to convert it into vitamin A. But many people in developing countries eat very low-fat diets, as they simply do not have access to animal foods or other fat on a regular basis. Furthermore, malnourished people might not be able to convert beta carotene to vitamin A efficiently, so taken as a whole, the actual usefulness of golden rice is debatable.
The soundness of the idea becomes even more questionable when you consider the unrealistic amounts of rice you'd have to consume each day to obtain the recommended amount of vitamin A. As stated in a golden rice case study from Iowa State University8:
"Even if golden rice is successfully introduced … a woman would need to eat 16 lbs. of cooked rice every day in order to get sufficient Vitamin A, if golden rice were her only source of the nutrient. A child would need 12 lbs." [Emphasis mine]
What people in the developing world need in order to receive ample dietary vitamin A is access to a diverse range of nutritious foods -- including animal products like eggs, cheese and meat and vegetables such as dark leafy greens and sweet potatoes. This is the type of diet that is attained from biodiverse farming -- the opposite of what will occur if GM crops like golden rice get planted on a large scale.
Learn More about Genetically Engineered Foods
Many Americans are still unfamiliar with what GE foods are, which is understandable when you consider that these foods do not need to be labeled in the U.S. We have a plan to change that, and I urge you to participate, and to continue learning more about genetically engineered foods and associated risks, and help your friends and family do the same.
To start, please print out and use the Non-GMO Shopping Guide, created by the Institute for Responsible Technology. Share it with your friends and family, and post it to your social networks. You can also download a free iPhone application, available in the iTunes store. You can find it by searching for ShopNoGMO in the applications.
An even better strategy is to simply buy USDA 100% Organic products whenever possible, (as these do not permit GM ingredients) or buy whole fresh produce and meat from local farmers. The majority of the GMO's (genetically modified organism) you're exposed to are via processed foods, so by cooking from scratch with whole foods, you can be sure you're not inadvertently consuming something laced with GM ingredients. When you do purchase processed food, avoid products containing anything related to corn or soy that are not 100 percent organic, as any foods containing these two non-organic ingredients are virtually guaranteed to contain genetically engineered ingredients, as well as toxic herbicide residues.
To learn more about GM foods, I highly recommend number of great films and lectures available, including:
March 4th, 2012
Election observers and opposition politicians have reported widespread legal violations at polling stations across the country as Russians cast their ballots for a new president.
Meanwhile Obama seeks free trade status for authoritarian ruled Russia~BLS
Several hundred thousand observers affiliated to the five candidates are monitoring the vote as citizens make their choice at 95,000 stations in regions spreading across ten time zones.
Prime minister Vladimir Putin is expected to win by a large margin but he has been unsettled by mass street protests against his rule over the last three months.
Within two hours of polls opening in Moscow at 8am, Twitter and other social media were flooded with reports of suspected "carousel voting": a ploy widely used during disputed parliamentary elections in December in which organised groups of people vote at several different polling stations using the same absentee ballots.
The reports of falsifications remain so far unconfirmed, although bloggers posted photographs and videos of large groups of people arriving simultaneously at stations to vote.
Before the vote, election monitors had warned that many polling stations had run out of absentee ballots, indicating they might be used in fraud, possibly by Mr Putin's supporters.
Activists from the Democratic Choice NGO put up footage on Sunday which showed them infiltrating a group recruited online who were allegedly offered money to ride by bus to a polling station where they received a ballot to vote on an "extra list".
Rosvybory, a monitoring organisation run by the anti-corruption blogger and protest leader Alexei Navalny, claimed to have recorded 2,500 violations of electoral law by early afternoon. One case involved voters being paid to cast their ballot.
Navalny tweeted: "We, of course, expected carousels, but not on this scale."
Observers also reported being illegally removed by police or election officials from several polling stations.
Moscow's election chief, Valentin Gorbunov, denied the reports of carousel voting and said that factories were providing transport for their workers to polling stations, which was not illegal.
Mr Putin, 59, who was president from 2000 to 2008, voted alongside his wife Lyudmila at a polling station inside the Russian Academy of Sciences. Three topless activists from the Ukrainian group, Femen, staged a brief protest after he had left. They cried "Putin thief" and one of the women had "I steal for Putin" written across her chest.
Mr Putin's four opponents are communist Gennady Zyuganov, former Putin ally Sergei Mironov, billionaire tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov and ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, none of whom pose a substantial threat.
The leaders of the opposition movement, who have been systematically marginalised from mainstream politics, will hold protests against Mr Putin's rule in the capital on Monday.
Analysts say Mr Putin has a large chunk of genuine support, especially among older and provincial voters, but that election results are skewed in his favour because of overwhelmingly unfair media coverage, black PR against his opponents, and fraud at the ballot box.
Security was tight on Sunday in central Moscow, with police officers lining the streets. Pro-Putin supporters were already erecting a stage near the Kremlin where they are expected to celebrate early reports of his victory in the evening.
More from The Telegraph
March 4th, 2012
We have contacted Rep. Cantor to also inquire as to his predilection for McDonalds or Burger King, when it comes to french fries. No answer, as of yet, but we will keep you posted....~BLS
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) endorsed Mitt Romney for president on Sunday, saying the former Massachusetts governor has the best plan for the economy.
"Mitt is the only one that knows how to create jobs and he is the only one that put forward the plan to do that," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Cantor said he already cast his vote in Virginia for Super Tuesday, and expects Romney to win all of the state's delegates. Only Romney and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) will be on the ballot in Virginia. Cantor added that he expects a good result for Romney in Super Tuesday generally, despite some difficulty in putting the
Romney's economic plan mirrors many efforts being made by the House Republicans, Cantor said.
But he said the endorsement is not about winning the vice presidential spot and that he wants to remain in Congress.
"No," he said to whether he hopes to be vice president. "This is about Mitt Romney and making sure that he is put into office. This is not about that. I am not open to that."
“Brad has decided to move on,” Cantor Chief of Staff Steve Stombres told Politico. “He has been a valuable member of our team and I wish him nothing but the best.”
Related News On Huffington Post:
March 4th, 2012
~It came out of nowhere......
To avert a possible catastrophe – this time set for February 2013 – scientists suggest confronting asteroid 2012 DA14 with either paint or big guns. The stickler is that time has long run out to build a spaceship to carry out the operation.
NASA's data shows the 60-meter asteroid, spotted by Spanish stargazers in February, will whistle by Earth in 11 months. Its trajectory will bring it within a hair’s breadth of our planet, raising fears of a possible collision.
The asteroid, known as DA14, will pass by our planet in February 2013 at a distance of under 27,000 km (16,700 miles). This is closer than the geosynchronous orbit of some satellites.
There is a possibility the asteroid will collide with Earth, but further calculation is required to estimate the potential threat and work out how to avert possible disaster, NASA expert Dr. David Dunham told students at Russia’s University of Electronics and Mathematics.
“The Earth’s gravitational field will alter the asteroid’s path significantly. Further scrupulous calculation is required to estimate the threat of collision,” said Dr. Dunham, as transcribed by Russia’s Izvestia. “The asteroid may break into dozens of small pieces, or several large lumps may split from it and burn up in the atmosphere. The type of the asteroid and its mineral structure can be determined by spectral analysis. This will help predict its behavior in the atmosphere and what should be done to prevent the potential threat,” said Dr. Dunham.
In the event of a collision, scientists have calculated that the energy released would equate to the destructive power of a thermo-nuclear bomb.
In response to the threat, scientists have come up with some ingenious methods to avert a potential disaster.
Fireworks and watercolors
With the asteroid zooming that low, it will be too late to do anything with it besides trying to predict its final destination and the consequences of impact.
A spaceship is needed, experts agree. It could shoot the rock down or just crash into it, either breaking the asteroid into debris or throwing it off course.
“We could paint it,” says NASA expert David Dunham.
Paint would affect the asteroid’s ability to reflect sunlight, changing its temperature and altering its spin. The asteroid would stalk off its current course, but this could also make the boulder even more dangerous when it comes back in 2056, Aleksandr Devaytkin, the head of the observatory in Russia’s Pulkovo, told Izvestia.
2012 DA14 orbit diagram
Whatever the mission, building a spaceship to deal with 2012 DA14 will take two years – at least.
The asteroid has proven a bitter discovery. It has been circling in orbit for three years already, crossing Earth’s path several times, says space analyst Sergey Naroenkov from the Russian Academy of Sciences. It seems that spotting danger from outer space is still the area where mere chance reigns, while asteroid defense systems exist only in drafts.
Still, prospects of meeting 2012 DA14 are not all doom and gloom.
“The asteroid may split into pieces entering the atmosphere. In this case, most part of it will never reach the planet’s surface,” remarks Dunham.
But if the entire asteroid is to crash into the planet, the impact will be as hard as in the Tunguska blast, which in 1908 knocked down trees over a total area of 2,150 sq km (830 sq miles) in Siberia. This is almost the size of Luxembourg. In today’s case, the destination of the asteroid is yet to be determined.
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