Archive for February, 2013

Sequester railroads Biden’s pricey aircraft travel

February 28, 2013

Published February 28, 2013


Feb. 27, 2013: Vice President Biden gestures as he speaks at the Winter-Spring meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General. (AP)

As the federal budget goes off the rails, Joe Biden’s getting back on — with Amtrak.

The looming sequester is forcing the veep to once again take the train — as opposed to military aircraft — to his weekend trips home to Delaware.

Biden said Wednesday he initiated the change, calling it the one thing about the sequester that’s working to his “benefit.”

Speaking at the National Association of Attorneys General, Biden said that while he took nearly 8,000 train trips as senator, the Secret Service made him travel by air because the Amtrak “gives too many opportunities for people to interact with me in a way they wouldn’t like to see.”

But because of the looming budget cuts, Biden said: “I was able to say, ‘Look guys, I’ve got to take the train now — it’s cheaper than flying.’ So I get to take the train again.”

The plane trips to Delaware cost tens of thousands of dollars each, according to published reports.

Multiple sources confirmed the vice president’s plans.

“AF2 is grounded for weekend trips starting Friday,” one source said, referring to the pricey military plane Biden uses most weekends to travel home, often to play golf at Fieldstone Golf Club, a private club. Biden also occasionally flies by military plane to Delaware during the week.

“He’ll start taking the train again this weekend when the sequestration starts. It’s a huge expense to be taking the military flights,” a source said. “So now it’s back to ‘regular Joe.”

And by “regular Joe,” that means first-class seats, nowhere near the quiet car. Those familiar with the veep’s travel history say Biden would pass some of the one-hour, 18-minute trip from D.C. to Wilmington, Del., reading the paper or reviewing work materials.

But mostly he just talks, a source said. A lot. And poses for photos.

“He just walks around shaking hands posing for pics,” said the source. “He talks to everyone and anyone, and doesn’t sit still.”

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Civil rights leaders outraged over Scalia’s ‘racial entitlement’ argument

February 28, 2013

Justice Antonin Scalia

Civil rights leaders are up in arms over Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s skeptical questions about a key portion of the Voting Rights Act, a cornerstone of the civil rights movement that brought an end to Jim Crow-era racial discrimination at the polls in the South.

In oral arguments over the law on Wednesday, Scalia, a stalwart of the court’s conservative wing, suggested that the Voting Rights Act was overwhelmingly reauthorized in 2006 by Congress because the nation’s politicians were afraid to oppose a “racial entitlement.”

By | The Ticket

Scalia said that each time the Voting Rights Act has been reauthorized in the past 50 years, more and more senators supported it, even though the problem of racial discrimination at the polls has decreased over that time. “Now, I don’t think that’s attributable to the fact that it is so much clearer now that we need this,” he said. “I think it is attributable, very likely attributable, to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement. It’s been written about. Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.”

The Supreme Court was hearing arguments from Shelby County, Ala., that the nine states and assorted counties covered under the 1965 law no longer need special federal oversight to prevent them from discriminating against black voters.

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a major figure in the civil rights movement who was a former chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, said on MSNBC that he was appalled by the comment. “It is an affront to all of what the civil rights movement stood for, what people died for, what people bled for, and those of us who marched across that bridge 48 years ago, we didn’t march for some racial entitlement,” he said. “We wanted to open up the political process and let all of the people come in, and it didn’t matter whether they were black or white, Latino, Asian-American or Native American.”


NAACP President Ben Jealous told ABC News
, “The protection of the right to vote is an American entitlement. It is a democratic entitlement. And those who would seek to use incendiary rhetoric from the bench of the Supreme Court should think twice about their place in history.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson also criticized his remark.

Later on Wednesday, Justice Sonia Sotomayor appeared to indirectly reprimand Scalia for the comment, asking Shelby County’s attorney Bert Rein whether he believes the right to vote protected under the act is a racial entitlement. Rein answered, “No.”

Spencer Overton, a law professor at George Washington University and a fellow at the liberal think tank Demos, told Yahoo News that Scalia’s comment represented a “political assumption that has no place in a court of law. His assumption raises questions about his ability to approach this case in an impartial manner, and it also suggests that the question of the persistence of voting discrimination is best left to Congress,” Overton wrote in an email.

Justices often make controversial comments or ask provocative questions during oral arguments, and it’s very difficult to predict a case’s outcome simply by listening to the justices question the attorneys. But most court-watchers emerged from the oral arguments believing the portion of the Voting Rights Act that singles out states and counties with a history of racial discrimination at the polls—most of them in the South—will be struck down. Discriminating against minority voters would still be illegal under the act, but people who hope to challenge discriminatory actions would have to do so through the regular court process, which takes longer than the special pathway set up under the law.


Pope Benedict Retires from the Vatican Pledging Unconditional Obedience to his Successor

February 28, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI greets the crowd from the window of the Pope’s summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, the scenic town where he will spend his first post-Vatican days and make his last public blessing as pope,Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

On Wednesday, February 27, 2013, the Pontiff struck a prayerful pose.

Pilgrims celebrate the Papacy of Benedict XVI in St. Peter’s Square

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Benedict left the Vatican on Thursday after pledging unconditional obedience to whoever succeeds him to guide the Roman Catholic Church at one of the most crisis-ridden periods in its 2,000-year history.

The first pope in six centuries to step down, Benedict flew off in a white Italian air force helicopter for the papal summer villa south of the capital where he took up temporary residence.

Bells rang out from St Peter’s Basilica and churches all over Rome as the helicopter circled Vatican City and flew over the Colosseum and other landmarks to give the pontiff one last view of the city where he is also bishop.

“As you know, today is different to previous ones,” he told an emotional, cheering crowd in the small town of Castel Gandolfo in his last public remarks as pope.

“I will only be the supreme pontiff of the Catholic Church until 8 p.m and then no longer. I will simply be a pilgrim who is starting the last phase of his pilgrimage on this earth.”

He turned and went inside the villa, never to be seen again as pope.

In an emotional farewell to cardinals on Thursday morning in the Vatican’s frescoed Sala Clementina, Benedict appeared to send a strong message to the top echelons of the Church as well as the faithful to remain united behind his successor, whoever he is.

“I will continue to be close to you in prayer, especially in the next few days, so that you are fully accepting of the action of the Holy Spirit in the election of the new pope,” he said. “May the Lord show you what he wants. Among you there is the future pope, to whom I today declare my unconditional reverence and obedience.”

The pledge, made ahead of the closed-doors conclave where cardinals will elect his successor, was significant because for the first time in history, there will be a reigning pope and a former pope living side by side in the Vatican.

Some Church scholars worry that if the next pope undoes some of Benedict’s policies while his predecessor is still alive, Benedict could act as a lightning rod for conservatives and polarize the 1.2 billion-member Church.

Before boarding the helicopter, Pope Benedict said goodbye to monsignors, nuns, Vatican staff and Swiss guards in the San Damaso courtyard of the Holy See’s apostolic palace. Many of his staff had tears in their eyes as the helicopter left.

As the helicopter took off, he sent his last message on Twitter: “Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives”.

Benedict will spend the first few months of his retirement in the papal summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, a complex of villas boasting lush gardens, a farm and stunning views over Lake Albano in the volcanic crater below the town.

At 8 p.m. (1900 GMT/2 p.m. ET) the papacy will be officially vacant and two Swiss Guards that ceremonially watch over the summer villa will march away and not return until the new pope takes possession of the hilltop residence.

Benedict will stay until April when renovations are completed on a convent in the Vatican that will be his new home.


With the election of the next pope taking place in the wake of sexual abuse scandals, leaks of his private papers by his butler, falling membership and demands for a greater role for women, many in the Church believe it would benefit from a fresh face from a non-European country.

A number of cardinals from the developing world, including Ghanaian Peter Turkson and Antonio Tagle of the Philippines are two names often mentioned as leading candidates from the developing world who listen more.

“At the past two conclaves, the cardinals elected the smartest man in the room. Now, it may be time to choose a man who will listen to all the other smart people in the Church,” said Father Tom Resse, a historian and senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.

Benedict, wearing the white papal cassock and red cape he will shed after his resignation becomes official, urged the Church to strive to be “deeply united”.

A lover of classical music, he compared the Church hierarchy to an orchestra with many instruments which should always seek to be harmonious.

“Let us remain united, dear brothers,” said Benedict, who alluded to the scandals and reports of infighting among his closest aides.

“In these past eight years we have lived with faith beautiful moments of radiant light in the path of the Church as well as moments when some clouds darkened the sky,” he said.

The pope said he had “tried to serve Christ and his Church with deep and total love”.


Once the chair of St Peter is vacant, cardinals who have assembled from around the world will begin planning the conclave that will elect his successor.

One of the first questions facing these “princes of the Church” is when the 115 cardinal electors should enter the Sistine Chapel for the voting. They will hold a first meeting on Friday but a decision may not come until next week.

The Vatican seems to be aiming for an election by mid-March so the new pope can be installed in office before Palm Sunday on March 24 and lead the Holy Week services that culminate in Easter on the following Sunday.

In the meantime, the cardinals will hold daily consultations at the Vatican at which they discuss issues facing the Church, get to know each other better and size up potential candidates for the 2,000-year-old post of pope.

There are no official candidates, no open campaigning and no clear front runner for the job. Cardinals tipped as favorites by Vatican-watchers include Turkson, Tagle, Brazil’s Odilo Scherer, Canadian Marc Ouellet, Italy’s Angelo Scola and Timothy Dolan of the United States.

Benedict, a bookish man who did not seek the papacy and did not enjoy being in the global spotlight, proved an energetic teacher of Catholic doctrine but a poor manager of the Curia, the Vatican bureaucracy that became mired in scandal.

He leaves his successor a top secret report on rivalries and scandals within the Curia, prompted by leaks of internal files last year that documented the problems hidden behind the Vatican’s thick walls and the Church’s traditional secrecy.

In this September 1978 file photo provided by the German Catholic News Agency KNA, Albanian-born Mother Teresa, left, and German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, right, attend a Mass during the 85th German Catholics Day in Freiburg, southern Germany, from Sept. 13-19, 1978. Ratzinger was elected Pope, April 19, 2005 and chose Benedict XVI as his papal name. Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday, Feb. 11, 2013, he would resign Feb. 28 because he is simply too old to carry on. (AP Photo/KNA, File)


The helicopter takes the Pope out of Vatican City on his last day as Pope, February 28, 2013

Google boss Sergey Brin: using a smartphone is ’emasculating’; Shows “Google Glass”

February 28, 2013

The Google co-founder Sergey Brin has said that spending your life looking at a smartphone is “emasculating”.

Google founder Sergey Brin says using a smartphone is 'emasculating'

Sergey Brin showing off Google Glass augmented reality spectacles Photo: AP

The Telegraph 

Mr Brin made the comment when he was talking to the Technology, Education and Design (TED) conference in Los Angeles about the future of Google.

Containing a battery, a tiny computer running, a camera and wireless link, the glasses work as a “heads up display”, with the intention that they will be used to access the web and communicate.

Mr Brin hopes the glasses will bring a new, more natural way of interacting with each other digitally.


Talking about the way people walk around hunched over their smartphones, he said: “Is this the way you’re meant to interact with other people? It’s kind of emasculating. Is this what you’re meant to do with your body?”

An early prototype of Google’s futuristic Internet-connected glasses (AP)

He admitted that he was as much a victim of this, adding, according to the TED blog: “I have a nervous tic. The cell phone is a nervous habit — If I smoked, I’d probably smoke instead, It’d look cooler. But I whip this out and look as if I have something important to do. It really opened my eyes to how much of my life I spent secluding myself away in email.”

His comments drew immediate derision from bloggers, especially in light of how much Google has invested in its Android mobile phone operating system.

John Gruber wrote on the tech blog “We’re taking advice on cool from this guy? Seriously?” He added:“Strapping a computer display to your face is not the answer.”

Last month Mr Brin was spotted testing out his Google Glass spectacles on the New York subway.

They are due to go on sale later this year. The Guardian reported that a pair had been offered for sale on eBay for $16,000. It is not known whether they were genuine.


Obama’s Last Sequester Meeting with Republicans Lasted Seven Minutes

February 28, 2013
FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2013 file photo, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. President Barack Obama will meet Friday with the top leaders in the House and Senate to discuss what to do about automatic cuts to the federal budget, White House and congressional leaders said. The meeting is set to take place hours after the $85 billion in across-the-board cuts will have officially kicked in. This suggests both sides are operating under the assumption a deal won't be reached to avert the cuts ahead of the March 1 deadline. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio

Never let it be said that President Obama has failed to spend time with Republican leaders in seeking an alternative to automatic budget cuts that are due to hit most federal departments Friday. On Wednesday, for example, the president gave GOP lawmakers as much as seven minutes, a rare face-to-face encounter that the White House described as a “meeting.”

The White House’s characterization of this momentary huddle at the Capitol as a meeting illuminates Mr. Obama’s strategy in dealing with Republicans on the budget cuts and other fiscal deadlines.With speeches and other staged events, the president has tried to build public pressure for his agenda of tax increases coupled with spending cuts.

But he has made little time for negotiating directly with lawmakers who oppose his plans.

“It is a sincere conviction among Republicans that the president’s negotiating posture isn’t about getting a deal done, it’s a zero-sum political game where his aim is to destroy the Republican [House] majority in the next election,” said Steve Schmidt, a Republican strategist who served in 2008 as Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign manager. “It’s certainly not an effective strategy for a leader in search of a deal.”


Since Mr. Obama’s contentious deficit-reduction talks with Republican leaders in 2011, which resulted in the “sequester” cuts set to take effect Friday, the president has been taking his case to the public on questions of taxation and spending.

Mr. Obama made his re-election campaign a referendum on his policies to aid the middle class and to force wealthier households to pay more, both for reducing deficits and for spending more on certain areas such as education, infrastructure and research.

Months before he won a second term in November, Mr. Obama predicted that his re-election would break the Republican “fever” that he viewed as the GOP’s knee-jerk opposition to his agenda. Since his victory Nov. 6, the president has been telling lawmakers who are fighting his efforts to raise taxes that elections have consequences.

His strategy worked in the “fiscal cliff” negotiations at the end of last year, resulting in a tax hike on households earning more than $450,000 per year and a temporary extension of the nation’s borrowing limit. There were few direct negotiating sessions with Republicans, the president preferring instead to call on the public to pressure GOP lawmakers into making a deal.

Now he is trying the same tactics, warning the public of airport delays, lax border security and thousands of teacher layoffs if the pending budget cuts take effect. He is trying to force Republicans to agree to ending tax breaks, mainly for wealthy individuals and corporations, that would raise as much as $580 billion.

“I’m not interested in playing a blame game,” Mr. Obama told shipyard workers in Newport News, Va., on Tuesday. “All I’m interested in is just solving problems. I want us to be able to look back five years from now, 10 years from now, and say we took care of our business and we put an end to some of these games that maybe, I guess, are entertaining for some but are hurting too many people.”

Said Republican strategist Whit Ayres, “The president is really good at campaigning and really bad at governing. So he’s doing what he’s good at.”

Mr. Schmidt said the president may have miscalculated that he can beat congressional Republicans with this strategy again because they conceded on tax increases two months ago.

“Republicans gave in on the higher tax rates on the revenue front, but that doesn’t mean a permanent acquiescence on these issues,” Mr. Schmidt said. “The president is beating Republicans in a public argument, but in fact Republicans are highly likely to retain the [House] majority because of demographics and where the competitive races are. If you’re lurching from crisis to crisis, people eventually get numb to it. There’s a ‘boy who cried wolf’ quality to it.”

The president’s effort to blame Republicans for the sequester is particularly galling to lawmakers who remember how it came about in the summer of 2011. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, gave a brief history of the episode Tuesday on the Senate floor.

“I was less than 100 yards from this very spot when Vice President Biden called me at my desk to lay it out,” Mr. McConnell recalled. “He explained the sequester in exquisite detail, and then, as has been reported, the administration stubbornly stuck by those details throughout the negotiations, refusing any effort by Republicans to adjust its design in any way.”

Since the fiscal cliff negotiations ended Jan. 1, Mr. McConnell’s aides say the president did not reach out to him on the sequesters until making a phone call last week. The two men didn’t have any personal encounters until Wednesday at the Capitol.

Mr. Obama’s motorcade arrived at the Capitol at 10:57 a.m. for the dedication of a statue of civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks. The ceremony began at 11:04 a.m. Somewhere in between, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, the president held a “brief meeting” on the budget cuts with Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and Mr. McConnell.

Pressed by reporters about the substance of a meeting that lasted less time than the average person’s morning shower, Mr. Carney conceded that the president mainly discussed his “anticipation” of a Friday meeting at the White House with congressional leaders.

That session, widely perceived as a photo opportunity, will be held on the same day that the budget cuts are to begin taking effect.

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Spending cuts fact or fiction: The “half-truths” about tomorrow’s budget cuts

February 28, 2013

By Rick Klein, Olivier Knox, Richard Coolidge, and Jordyn Phelps | Power Players

With looming across-the-board budget cuts set to take effect tomorrow if Congress and the White House fail to reach a deal, there have been a lot of “apocalyptic” warnings coming from Washington. While the significance of the cuts should not be “belittled,” fact-checker Bill Adair tells Top Line the truth has been twisted and exaggerated in this ongoing political drama.

Perhaps the most alarming warning about tomorrow’s cuts, known as “the sequester,” has come from President Obama, who has said that “federal prosecutors will have to close cases and let criminals go.” Adair says that while the Justice Department will indeed have to cut back on prosecutions, dangerous criminals are not going to be wandering the streets starting tomorrow.

“From what we could tell, [it was] a vast exaggeration to equate that with letting criminals go, wording that really implies opening the prison doors and letting people stream out, and so that one got a mostly false on the truth-o-meter,” says Adair, editor of the fact-checking project PolitiFact.

But Adair points out that the president has been mostly truthful about his broader claim that he doesn’t have control over what will get chopped and won’t.

“There is little discretion over what is being cut and what’s not, and he’s right about that, and we’ve given that a mostly true on our truth-o-meter,” Adair says. “These are across the board cuts and the reason it didn’t get a complete true is because there is some discretion that these agencies.”

Adair also points out that government agencies and state governments that will be affected by the sequester will have some flexibility in deciding what to cut from their respective budgets; and a lot of the cuts will be gradual, meaning there will be time to adjust and plan.

“Overall, I predict we’ll wake up Friday morning and our houses will still be standing,” Adair says in conclusion.

To hear more about what’s truth and what’s folly when it comes to sequestration, including what the fact-checkers at PolitiFact are investigating now, check out this week’s Top Line.

ABC’s Eric Wray, Alexandra Dukakis, Tom D’Annibale, and Bob Bramson contributed to this episode.


Philippines Aims to Drill in South China Sea

February 28, 2013
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario speaks during a media briefing at the foreign affairs headquarters in this picture provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila January 22, 2013.


Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario speaks during a media briefing at the foreign affairs headquarters in this picture provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila January 22, 2013.
By Simone Orendain
Voice of America

January 24, 2013

MANILA — This week, the Philippines announced it will take China to an international arbitration tribunal because of Beijing’s claim of nearly the entire South China Sea. The years-old squabble has long deterred most oil and gas prospectors from the region – but not all of them. A Philippine company is hoping to work with a Chinese state-owned entity to drill for natural gas in the disputed waters.
On hold Forum Energy is stuck in a holding pattern. The British-based company, which is majority-owned by a Philippine entity, had hoped to start drilling for natural gas off Reed Bank in the South China Sea, but it has not gotten government approval.Forum began preliminary work to assess the area’s potential reserves, but in early 2011 workers said they were chased away by Chinese vessels. More than five years ago this area showed a potential 3.4 trillion cubic feet of gas and possibly 10 trillion more.

Manuel Pangilinan, chairman of Philex Petroleum, which has a 65 percent stake in Forum Energy, is eyeing a partnership with the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) to drill in Reed Bank.

“There are no oil rigs in this country that are owned by Filipinos. So your options are only two: one, damn the torpedoes and send the [foreign] vessel in and see what happens,” Pangilinan said.

Or, the second, Pangilinan says, is to have a commercial arrangement with a Chinese company.

Such a joint venture is an option that China has consistently supported. Earlier this month, China’s ambassador in Manila told a local newspaper it would be better for Forum and CNOOC to get to work, instead of letting the reserves sit untouched while the two countries sort out their differences.

Authorities in the Philippine government are trying to figure out how to proceed. Energy Undersecretary Ramon Oca says they want to “make sure we are not violating” international law.

Island dispute

Click to Enlarge


The Philippines takes the position that China does not follow the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which delineates a country’s exclusive economic zone as 370 kilometers from its coastline. The Philippines says China’s claim of just about the entire South China Sea is illegal.Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario announced this week that the country is ready to bring it to international arbitration, which would be legally binding.“On numerous occasions, dating back to 1995, the Philippines had been exchanging views with China to peacefully settle these disputes,” noted del Rosario. “To this day, a solution is still elusive. We hope that the arbitral proceedings shall bring this dispute to a durable solution.”

Beijing responded by reiterating China’s claim that it has “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea islands.

The Philippines has said it would support a Philippine-Chinese partnership in the region, provided it conformed to Philippine law, meaning parties would have to follow the 60 percent locally owned-to-40-percent foreign owned rule, among other requirements. President Benigno Aquino said recently he supports a joint partnership as long as royalties would go to the Philippines.


It is this question of royalties that poses the biggest challenge to a joint drilling partnership.

Li Mingjiang, coordinator of China Studies at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, says the royalties issue is in many ways at their heart of their dispute.

“The implications are that if you follow Filipino laws and regulations, to some extent, China is conceding the sort of sovereign right to the Philippines in their waters with regards to the energy resources,” Li said.

Australia Defense Force Academy Professor Carl Thayer does not see a joint development partnership happening anytime soon.

“Does China want to accept that? And, if it did and worked in an area where the central government had a claim, it would seem to undermine the central government,” Thayer noted. “And then now, DFA is having second thoughts. So I don’t think the prospects are very good.”

Thayer says that until the international arbitration filing, observers thought Forum’s proposal to partner with China was a potential step forward in the development and sharing of the contested resources. Now, with arbitration expecting to take at least a few years, that already slim chance of collaboration has become even less likely.

China’s Marine Patrol Ships Start New Deployment to the South China Sea

February 28, 2013


Marine patrol ship “Haixun 31” sails out of the port of Sanya, south China’s Hainan Province, Feb. 28, 2013. A formation of three marine patrol ships “Haixun 21”, “Haixun 31” and “Haixun 166” started their coast guard mission in South China Sea on Thursday, a second one by the national Maritime Safety Administration at this water area in 2013. The first mission was conducted from Jan. 15, 2013 to Jan. 17, 2013. (Xinhua/Hou Jiansen)


Staff members examine the helicopter carried by marine patrol ship “Haixun 31” before it sails out of the port of Sanya, south China’s Hainan Province, Feb. 28, 2013. A formation of three marine patrol ships “Haixun 21”, “Haixun 31” and “Haixun 166” started their coast guard mission in South China Sea on Thursday, a second one by the national Maritime Safety Administration at this water area in 2013. The first mission was conducted from Jan. 15, 2013 to Jan. 17, 2013. (Xinhua/Hou Jiansen)


Marine patrol ship “Haixun 31” sails out of the port of Sanya, south China’s Hainan Province, Feb. 28, 2013. A formation of three marine patrol ships “Haixun 21”, “Haixun 31” and “Haixun 166” started their coast guard mission in South China Sea on Thursday, a second one by the national Maritime Safety Administration at this water area in 2013. The first mission was conducted from Jan. 15, 2013 to Jan. 17, 2013. (Xinhua/Hou Jiansen)


Marine patrol staff members get ready to conduct a coast guard mission at the port of Sanya, south China’s Hainan Province, Feb. 28, 2013. A formation of three marine patrol ships “Haixun 21”, “Haixun 31” and “Haixun 166” started their coast guard mission in South China Sea on Thursday, a second one by the national Maritime Safety Administration at this water area in 2013. The first mission was conducted from Jan. 15, 2013 to Jan. 17, 2013. (Xinhua/Hou Jiansen)

China announced on Monday that it’s increasing its military patrols in the South China Sea to protect Chinese fishermen and, presumably, to keep out other countries’ fishermen. China has declared that it’s claiming sovereignty over the entire South China Sea, including regions that have historically belonged to other countries, including the Philippines, Brunei, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam. China announced last year that in 2013 it would start boarding and taking control of other countries’ ships in the South China Sea. According to China, the new South China Sea patrols highlight great advances in China’s law enforcement capability in relevant waters, as Beijing seeks to safeguard its sovereignty and national interests in the region. China Daily (Beijing) – See more at:

China Daily Website

China will launch routine fishery patrols around Nansha waters in South China Sea this year to better protect the legitimate interests of Chinese fishermen in the area, the Chinese fishery administration said on Sunday. Wu Zhuang, chief of the South China Sea Fishery Bureau under the Ministry of Agriculture, said promoting fishery patrols around the Nansha Islands on a regular basis is the main priority of fishery law enforcement this year.

“In face of many concentrated new challenges, the fishery-protection work this year includes guarding the Huangyan Islands and the Meiji Reef, strengthening the supervision and administration of Xisha waters and Beibu Gulf, and developing regular-based fishery patrols in around Nansha Islands,” Wu said.

Along with the perfection of vessel equipment and personnel, China is expected to accelerate its pace in terms of fishery patrols in the South China Sea, Wu said, adding that the bureau has taken a very strong position regarding fishery patrols and protection.

Analysts said regular patrols in the South China Sea highlight great advances in China’s law enforcement capability in relevant waters, as Beijing seeks to safeguard its sovereignty and national interests in the region.

Photo: Chinese Marine Surveillance officers monitor Chinese fishermen in the South China Sea. Vietnam has just started to create a similar maritime force. The Philippines is beefing up its Coast Guard.

Yang Baoyun, an expert on Southeast Asian studies at Peking University, said that apart from sending naval patrols that provide protection to domestic fishermen, flexible policies and diplomacy by government leaders are also needed in dealing with islands disputes with Southeast Asian counties, as fishing rights and regional stability should both be taken into account.

China’s fishery administration began exploring ways to protect fishermen’s interests in the South China Sea in 2012, as rows between Chinese fishermen and naval vessels of neighboring countries constantly flared up in the area. Due to the frequent patrols and quick response of the vessels, no illegal foreign detentions of Chinese fishing boats were reported around Nansha waters last year, Wu said.

According to Xinhua, more than 400 fishing vessels are currently operating in the South China Sea.

“Where there is a fishing vessel, there is our patrol ship. We will overcome all difficulties to protect fishermen,” said Captain Yang Jia’en, head of the patrol vessel Yuzheng 302.

Xinhua-China Daily

First highlight: The “Xuzhou” guided missile frigate, which had been commissioned to the Navy of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) for only half a year, participated in the series military exercise code-named “Blue Whale” and obtained a good result of directly hitting the target in its first live-ammunition firing by launching the YJ-83 anti-ship missile in July 2008.



China Says U.S. Computer Hackers Targeted Two of its Websites 144,000 Times per Month

February 28, 2013

BEIJING (AP) — China’s military says overseas computer hackers targeted two of its websites an average of 144,000 times per month last year, with almost two thirds of the attacks originating in the United States.

The comments by Defense Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng on Thursday followed accusations last week by an American cybersecurity company that Chinese military-backed cyberspies infiltrated and stole massive amounts of data from U.S. companies and other entities. China denied the allegations and its military said it has never supported any hacking activity.

Geng told reporters at a monthly news conference that an average of 62.9 percent of the attacks on the Defense Ministry’s official website and that of its newspaper, the People’s Liberation Army Daily, came from the U.S.

China says its military cyberforce is purely for defense.



American businesses have been hesitant to complain about Chinese cyber espionage due to fears of losing opportunities in the growing economic power, according to ABC News’ George Will.

“They’re dealing with a very difficult, frankly a gangster regime in China right now,” Will said. “And no one wants to make them unhappy.”

While Will noted that the U.S. also engages in cyber espionage, citing attacks against the computer systems running Iran’s nuclear facilities, Rogers said that the difference is the U.S. does not seek economic gain as the Chinese have.

“This is an important difference. The United States does not participate, use its military intelligence services for economic espionage,” Rogers said. “We do not do it. It’s prohibited.”

Italy’s Berlusconi investigated for corruption — Again

February 28, 2013


Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi smiles before casting his vote at the polling station in Milan, February 24, 2013. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi smiles before casting his vote at the polling station in Milan, February 24, 2013.    Credit: Reuters/Stefano Rellandini

ROME (Reuters) – Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, challenging for a share of power after this week’s election, has been placed under investigation on suspicion of bribing a senator to change sides in parliament in 2006, sources in the investigation said on Thursday.

Two of Berlusconi’s lawyers, Niccolo Ghedini and Piero Longo, said they had not yet received any official notification of the investigation from Naples magistrates and would not comment until they had.

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi

The fresh accusations come as parties including Berlusconi’s center-right People of Freedom (PDL) struggle to form a government after this week’s inconclusive election, which left no party with a majority in parliament.

The prosecutors are investigating allegations that a senator, Sergio De Gregorio, was paid 3 million euros ($3.9 million) to leave his party and join the PDL, the sources told Italian news agencies.

De Gregorio’s move helped to trigger the fall of the last center-left government, headed by Romano Prodi.

No comment was immediately available from De Gregorio’s lawyer.

The PDL did not confirm the investigation but a statement from party secretary Angelino Alfano said “the aggression by magistrates against Silvio Berlusconi is beginning again”. He said the party would organize a demonstration “to defend the sovereignty of the People of Freedom and Italian democracy”.

In a separate case, prosecutors in Reggio Emilia have opened an investigation into Berlusconi’s campaign pledge to return property taxes paid last year if the center-right won the election.

The case was opened after two formal complaints filed by citizens, alleging that the offer constituted vote buying. PDL official Deborah Bergamini said in a statement that the investigation was “an illogical action aimed at intimidating anyone whom magistrates do not like”.

Renewed scandal surrounding Berlusconi could reduce the willingness of the other major political groups, the center-left and the 5-Star Movement, to form a government with the former prime minister.

The new allegations emerged during a separate corruption probe against De Gregorio, who left the Italy of Values party in September 2006 and was re-elected as a senator, this time for the PDL, in 2008.

Berlusconi is currently on trial for tax fraud in a case centering on the purchase of broadcasting rights by his Mediaset group, for making public the taped contents of a confidential phone call, and for paying for sex with an underage girl.

He has faced up to 30 prosecutions for fraud and corruption over his career, but has never been definitively convicted.

($1 = 0.7628 euros)

(Reporting by Naomi O’Leary; Editing by Kevin Liffey)