Saturday, November 26, 2011

All 3 arrested US students leave Egypt

Three American students arrested during a protest in Cairo caught flights out of Egypt early Saturday, according to an airport official and an attorney for one of the trio.
The three Americans were arrested on the roof of a university building near Cairo's Tahrir Square last Sunday. Officials accused them of throwing firebombs at security forces fighting with protesters.
Luke Gates, 21, and Derrik Sweeney, 19, left the Egyptian capital Saturday on separate flights to Frankfurt, Germany, an airport official in Cairo said. Gregory Porter, 19, also left the country, his attorney said.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.
An Egyptian court ordered the release of Gates, Porter Sweeney on Thursday. All were studying at the American University in Cairo.
Attorney Theodore Simon, who represents Porter, a student at Drexel University in Philadelphia, said police escorted the three students to the Cairo airport Friday. Simon later said his client was on a flight.
"I am pleased and thankful to report that Gregory Porter is in the air. He has departed Egyptian airspace and is on his way home," Simon said, though he declined to say when Porter was expected back in the U.S.
Simon said he and Porter's mother both spoke by phone with the student, who is from the Philadelphia suburb of Glenside.
"He clearly conveyed to me ... that he was OK," Simon told the AP.
Gates is a student at Indiana University. It wasn't clear when he was expected back in the U.S.
Joy Sweeney told the AP her son, a 19-year-old Georgetown University student from Jefferson City, Missouri, would fly from Frankfurt to Washington, then on to St. Louis. She said family will meet him when he arrives late Saturday.
"I am ecstatic," Sweeney said Friday. "I can't wait for him to get home tomorrow night. I can't believe he's actually going to get on a plane. It is so wonderful."
Sweeney said she had talked with her son Friday afternoon and "he seemed jubilant."
"He thought he was going to be able to go back to his dorm room and get his stuff," she said. "We said, 'No, no, don't get your stuff, we just want you here.'"
She said the American University in Cairo will ship his belongings home.
Sweeney had earlier said she did not prepare a Thanksgiving celebration this week because the idea seemed "absolutely irrelevant" while her son still was being held.
"I'm getting ready to head out and buy turkey and stuffing and all the good fixings so that we can make a good Thanksgiving dinner," she said Friday.

NBA owners, players reach tentative deal

After nearly two years of bickering, NBA players and owners are back on the same side.
"We want to play basketball," Commissioner David Stern said.
Come Christmas Day, they should be.
The sides reached a tentative agreement early Saturday to end the 149-day lockout and hope to begin the delayed season with a marquee tripleheader Dec. 25. Most of a season that seemed in jeopardy of being lost entirely will be salvaged if both sides approve the handshake deal.
Barring a change in scheduling, the 2011-12 season will open with the Boston Celtics at New York Knicks, followed by Miami at Dallas in an NBA finals rematch before MVP Derrick Rose and Chicago visiting Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.
Neither side provided many specifics about the deal, and there are still legal hurdles that must be cleared before gymnasiums are open again.
"We thought it was in both of our interest to try to reach a resolution and save the game," union executive director Billy Hunter said.
After a secret meeting earlier this week that got the broken process back on track, the sides met for more than 15 hours Friday, working to save the season. Stern said the agreement was "subject to a variety of approvals and very complex machinations, but we're optimistic that will all come to pass and that the NBA season will begin Dec. 25."
The league plans a 66-game season and aims to open training camps Dec. 9, with free agency opening at the same time. Stern has said it would take about 30 days from an agreement to playing the first game.
"All I feel right now is 'finally,'" Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade told The Associated Press.
Just 12 days after talks broke down and Stern declared the NBA could be headed to a "nuclear winter," he sat next to Hunter to announce the 10-year deal, with either side able to opt out after the sixth year.
"For myself, it's great to be a part of this particular moment in terms of giving our fans what they wanted and wanted to see," said Derek Fisher, the president of the players' association.
A majority on each side is needed to approve the agreement, first reported by The NBA needs votes from 15 of 29 owners. (The league owns the New Orleans Hornets.) Stern said the labor committee plans to discuss the agreement later Saturday and expects them to endorse it and recommend to the full board.
The union needs a simple majority of its 430-plus members. That process is a bit more complicated after the players dissolved the union Nov. 14. Now, they must drop their antitrust lawsuit in Minnesota and reform the union before voting on the deal.
Because the union disbanded, a new collective bargaining agreement can only be completed once the union has reformed. Drug testing and other issues still must be negotiated between the players and the league, which also must dismiss its lawsuit filed in New York.
"We're very pleased we've come this far," Stern said. "There's still a lot of work to be done."
The sides will quickly return to work later Saturday, speaking with attorneys and their own committees to keep the process moving.
When the NBA returns, owners hope to find the type of parity that exists in the NFL, where the small-market Green Bay Packers are the current champions. The NBA has been dominated in recent years by the biggest spenders, with Boston, Los Angeles and Dallas winning the last four titles.
"I think it will largely prevent the high-spending teams from competing in the free-agent market the way they've been able to in the past. It's not the system we sought out to get in terms of a harder cap, but the luxury tax is harsher than it was. We hope it's effective," deputy commissioner Adam Silver said.
"We feel ultimately it will give fans in every community hope that their team can compete for championships."
The league hopes fans come right back, despite their anger over a work stoppage that followed such a successful season. But owners wanted more of the league's $4 billion in annual revenues after players were guaranteed 57 percent of basketball-related income in the old deal.
Participating in the talks for the league were Stern, Silver, Spurs owner Peter Holt, the chairman of the labor relations committee, and attorneys Rick Buchanan and Dan Rube. The players were represented by executive director Billy Hunter, president Derek Fisher, vice president Maurice Evans, attorney Ron Klempner and economist Kevin Murphy.
Owners locked out the players July 1, and the sides spent most of the summer and fall battling over the division of revenues and other changes owners wanted in a new collective bargaining agreement. They said they lost hundreds of millions of dollars in each year of the former deal, ratified in 2005, and they wanted a system where the big-market teams wouldn't have the ability to outspend their smaller counterparts.
Players fought against those changes, not wanting to see any teams taken out of the market when they became free agents.
"This was not an easy agreement for anyone. The owners came in having suffered substantial losses and feeling the system wasn't working fairly across all teams," Silver said. "I certainly know the players had strong views about expectations in terms of what they should be getting from the system. It required a lot of compromise from both parties' part, and I think that's what we saw today."
Even the final day had turbulent patches. It required multiple calls with the owners' labor relations committee, all the while knowing another breakdown in talks would mean not only the loss of the Christmas schedule but possibly even the entire season.
"We resolved, despite some even bumps this evening, that the greater good required us to knock ourselves out and come to this tentative understanding," Stern said.
He denied the litigation was a factor in accelerating a deal, but things happened relatively quickly after the players filed a suit that could have won them some $6 billion in damages.
"For us the litigation is something that just has to be dealt with," Stern said. "It was not the reason for the settlement. The reason for the settlement was we've got fans, we've got players who would like to play and we've got others who are dependent on us. And it's always been our goal to reach a deal that was fair to both sides and get us playing as soon as possible, but that took a little time."
It finally yielded the second shortened season in NBA history, joining the 1998-99 lockout that reduced the schedule to 50 games. This time the league will miss 16 games off the normal schedule.
Though the deal's expected to be approved, it may not be unanimous as there are factions of hard-liners in both camps who will be unhappy with substantive portions of the deal.
"Let's all pray this turns out well," Pacers forward Danny Granger wrote on Twitter.
But getting what the owners wanted took a toll. Stern, after more than 27 years as the league's commissioner, hoped to close a deal much sooner but was committed for fighting for the(...)More.

Violence mars Black Friday shopping

Black Friday's typical jostling and jockeying took a more ominous turn during this year's bargain-hunting ritual with a shooting, a pepper spraying and other episodes of violence that left several people injured.
In the most serious case, a robber shot a shopper who refused to give up his purchases outside a San Leandro, Calif., Walmart store, leaving the victim hospitalized in critical but stable condition.
Police in San Leandro, about 15 miles east of San Francisco, said the victim and his family were walking to their car around 1:45 a.m. Friday when they were confronted by a group of men who demanded their shopping items. When the family refused, a fight broke out, and one of the robbers pulled a gun and shot the man, said Sgt. Mike Sobek.
"The suspects saw these guys, got out of their car and tried to rob them but were unsuccessful," Sobek said.
At another Walmart in a wealthy suburb of Los Angeles, a woman trying to get the upper hand to buy cheap electronics unleashed pepper spray on a crowd of shoppers, causing minor injuries to 20 people, police said.
The attack took place about 10:20 p.m. Thursday shortly after doors opened for the sale at the Walmart in Porter Ranch in the San Fernando Valley.
The store had brought out a crate of discounted Xbox video game players, and a crowd had formed to wait for the unwrapping, when the woman began spraying people "in order to get an advantage," police Sgt. Jose Valle said.
Ten people were slightly injured by the pepper spray and 10 others suffered minor bumps and bruises in the chaos, Valle said. They were treated at the scene.
The woman got away in the confusion, but could face felony battery charges if found, Valle said.
Meanwhile, police in suburban Phoenix came under fire when a video was posted online showing a 54-year-old grandfather on the floor of a Walmart store with a bloody face, after police said he was subdued Thursday night trying to shoplift during a chaotic rush for discounted video games.
The video, posted on YouTube, shows Jerald Allen Newman unconscious and bloodied as outraged customers yell expletives and say "that's police brutality" and "he wasn't doing anything."
In a police report that redacted the names of officers and witnesses, Newman's wife and other witnesses said he was just trying to help his grandson after the boy was trampled by shoppers, and only put a video game in his waistband to free his hands to help the boy.
Larry Hall, assistant chief of Buckeye police, said Newman was resisting arrest and it appeared the officer acted within reason.
Hall said the officer decided to do a leg sweep and take him to the ground but the man unfortunately hit his head.
"The store was incredibly crowded, and I was concerned about other customers' safety," the officer wrote in his police report.
Hall said Newman, who had a bloody nose and received four stitches on his forehead, was booked on suspicion of shoplifting and resisting arrest.
In Sacramento, Calif., a man was stabbed outside a mall Friday in an apparent gang-related incident as shoppers were hitting the stores.
The victim was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, police said.
The stabbing stemmed from a fight between two groups around 3 a.m. in front of a Macy's department store at the Arden Fair Mall.
No arrests have been made. Police were hoping surveillance video will help identify the suspects.

Marines to wind down Afghan combat in 2012

U.S. Marines will march out of Afghanistan by the thousands next year, winding down combat in the Taliban heartland and testing the U.S. view that Afghan forces are capable of leading the fight against a battered but not yet beaten insurgency in the country's southwestern reaches, senior U.S. military officers say.
At the same time, U.S. reinforcements will be sent to eastern Afghanistan in a bid to reverse recent gains by insurgents targeting Kabul, the capital.
Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, said in an Associated Press interview that the number of Marines in Helmand province will drop "markedly" in 2012, and the role of those who stay will shift from countering the insurgency to training and advising the Afghan security forces.
The change suggests an early exit from Afghanistan for the Marine Corps, even as the prospects for solidifying their recent successes are uncertain.
"Am I OK with that? The answer is 'yes,'" Amos said. "We can't stay in Afghanistan forever."
He added: "Will it work? I don't know."
At stake is President Barack Obama's pledge to win in Afghanistan — the war he touted during his 2008 presidential campaign as worth fighting, while pledging to get out of Iraq. Facing a stalemate in 2009, Obama ordered an extra 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan — including about 10,000 Marines to Helmand province — on the belief that if the Taliban were to retake the government al-Qaida would soon return to the land from which it plotted the 9/11 attacks.
Also at stake are the sacrifices of the nearly 300 Marines killed in Afghanistan over the past three years.
Weighing against prolonging the conflict is its unsustainable cost and what author and former Defense Department official Bing West has called its "grinding inconclusiveness."
In a series of pep talks to Marines in Helmand this past week, Amos said the Marine mission in Afghanistan would end in the next 12 to 18 months. That is as much as two years before the December 2014 deadline, announced a year ago, for all U.S. and other foreign troops to leave the country.
"Savor being out here together," Amos told Marines on Thanksgiving at an outpost along the Helmand River called Fiddler's Green, "because it's going to be over" soon.
He was referring only to the Marines' role, which is limited mainly to Helmand, although there also are Marine special operations forces in western Afghanistan. The U.S. military efforts in Kandahar province and throughout the volatile eastern region are led by the Army, along with allied forces.
Helmand and neighboring Kandahar for the past two years have been the main focus of the U.S.-led effort to turn the tide against a resilient Taliban insurgency. In that period, the Taliban and other insurgent networks have grown bolder and more violent in Afghanistan's eastern provinces where they have the advantage of sanctuary across the border in Pakistan and where U.S. and NATO forces are spread more thinly than in the south.
During two days of visiting Marine outposts throughout Helmand this week, Amos touted progress against the Taliban and was told by Marine commanders that plans are well under way to close U.S. bases, ship war equipment home and prepare for a major drawdown of Marines beginning next summer. Amos declined to discuss the number of Marines expected to leave in 2012, but indications are that 10,000 or more may depart.
There are now about 19,400 Marines in Helmand, and that is due to fall to about 18,500 by the end of this year.
Marine Gen. John Allen, the top overall commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, was ordered by Obama last summer to pull out 10,000 U.S. forces by the end of this year and another 23,000 by the end of September 2012. That has driven the move to accelerate a transition to Afghan control.
Allen said in an interview Thursday that winding down the Marine combat mission in Helmand makes sense because security "has gotten so much better now." He said the pullout of 23,000 U.S. forces in 2012, including an unspecified number of Marines, likely will begin in the summer, which historically is the height of the fighting season in Afghanistan. Allen said Afghan security forces, often criticized for weak battlefield performance, desertion and a lack of will, are closer to being ready to assume lead responsibility for their nation's defense than many people believe.
"The Afghan national security forces are better than they thought they were, and they're better than we thought they were," Allen said.
That is why he thinks it's safe to lessen the Marine's combat role in Helmand, reduce their numbers and put the Afghans in charge.
That approach also allows Allen to build up elsewhere. He said that in 2012 he will put more U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan, increase the number of U.S. special operations forces who are playing a key role in developing Afghan forces, and add intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance resources. He said he plans to add "several battalions" of U.S. forces in the east. He gave no specific troop number, but a battalion usually totals about 750.
"I'm going to put a lot more forces and capabilities into the east," he said. "The east is going to need some additional forces because our intent is to expand the security zone around Kabul."
The top Marine in Helmand, Maj. Gen. John Toolan, said he is not convinced that 2012 is the best time to shift the focus to eastern Afghanistan, where the Haqqani network has taken credit for a series of spectacular attacks recently, including suicide bombings inside Kabul, the heavily secured capital. He said he believes the Taliban movement in southern Afghanistan is still the biggest threat to the viability of the central government.
Toolan said the Marines continue to make important progress against a Taliban whose leaders are showing signs of frustration and division.
"They're starting to break up," Toolan said. "There's still a lot to be done to see that these insurgents stay on their backs."
Stephen Biddle, a defense analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations and who recently visited U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said there is a risk to putting the Afghans in the lead role in Helmand as early as 2012.
"If you throw them into the deep end and put them in the lead in really tough neighborhoods you run the risk that they get their noses bloodied early in ways that could make it hard for them to recover because they lose confidence," Biddle said in an interview in Washington. On the other hand, if the U.S. and its allies wait until 2013 or 2014 to hand off to the Afghans in the most challenging areas, there would be less chance to bail them out.

Pakistan: 25 troops dead in NATO helicopter attack

Pakistan on Saturday accused NATO helicopters of firing on two army checkpoints in the northwest and killing 25 soldiers, then retaliated by closing a key border crossing used by the coalition to supply its troops in neighboring Afghanistan.
The incident Friday night was a major blow to already strained relations between Islamabad and U.S.-led forces fighting in Afghanistan. It will add to perceptions in Pakistan that the American presence in the region is malevolent, and to resentment toward the weak government in Islamabad for co-operating with Washington.
It comes a little over a year after a similar but less deadly incident, in which U.S. helicopters accidentally killed two Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border, whom the pilots mistook for insurgents. Pakistan responded by closing the Torkham border crossing to NATO supplies — as it did Saturday — for 10 days until the U.S. apologized.
In a statement sent to reporters, the Pakistan military blamed NATO for Friday's attack in the Mohmand tribal area, saying the helicopters "carried out unprovoked and indiscriminate firing."
NATO officials in Kabul said Saturday morning that they were aware of the reports, and would release more information after they were able to gather more facts about what happened.
Much of the violence in Afghanistan against Afghan, NATO and U.S. troops is carried out by insurgents that are based just across the border in Pakistan. Coalition forces are not allowed to cross the frontier to attack the militants, which sometimes fire artillery and rockets across the line.
American officials have repeatedly accused Pakistani forces of supporting — or turning a blind eye — to militants using its territory for cross-border attacks. The border issue is the major source of tension between Islamabad and Washington, which wants to stabilize Afghanistan and withdraw its combat troops there by the end of 2014.
The border is disputed in many areas and not clearly marked, adding to the difficulties faced by the different militaries in controlling it.
Pakistan state TV said the helicopters killed 25 Pakistani soldiers in the incident. Two government officials in Mohmand confirmed the death toll and said 14 other soldiers were wounded.
The helicopters attacked two checkpoints around 1,000 feet apart from each other, one of them twice, and two officers were among the dead, said a government official in Mohmand and a security official in Peshawar, the main city in Pakistan's northwest.
The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Ties between Washington and Islamabad had already taken an especially hard hit from the covert U.S. commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani garrison town on May 2. The Pakistanis were outraged that they were not told about the operation beforehand, and now are angered even more than before by U.S. violations of the country's sovereignty.
In a statement, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani strongly condemned the alleged NATO attack, and said government was taking it up "in the strongest terms with NATO and the U.S.
A Pakistani customs official told The Associated Press that he received verbal orders Saturday to stop all NATO supplies from crossing the border through Torkham in either direction. A transporter who runs a terminal at the border where NATO trucks park before they cross confirmed the closure. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Torkham runs through the famed Khyber Pass and is the main crossing to Afghanistan from Pakistan, the country through which NATO ships about 30 percent of the non-lethal supplies used by its Afghan-based forces. A short stoppage will have no effect on the war effort, but it is a reminder of the leverage Pakistan has over the United States from the supply routes to landlocked Afghanistan running through its territory.
The incident is also a reminder of the extreme volatility of the border.
The checkpoint that was attacked had been recently set up in Mohmand's Salala village by the army to stop Pakistani Taliban militants holed up in Afghanistan from crossing the border and staging attacks, said two local government administrators, Maqsood Hasan and Hamid Khan.
The Pakistani military has blamed Pakistani Taliban militants and their allies for killing dozens of security forces in such cross-border attacks since the summer. Pakistan has criticized Afghan and foreign forces for not doing enough to stop the attacks, which it says have originated from the eastern Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan. The U.S. has largely pulled out of these provinces, leaving the militants in effective control of many areas along the border.
The Afghan government blamed Pakistan for firing hundreds of rockets into eastern Afghanistan earlier this year that killed dozens of people. The Pakistan army has denied it intentionally fired rockets into Afghanistan, but acknowledged that several rounds fired at militants conducting cross-border attacks may have landed over the border.
The Afghan and Pakistani Taliban are allies but have largely focused their attacks on opposite sides of the border. The Afghan Taliban aims to topple the U.S.-allied government in Kabul, and the Pakistani Taliban has tried to do the same in Islamabad.
The U.S. helicopter attack that killed two Pakistani soldiers on Sept. 30 of last year took place south of Mohmand in the Kurram tribal area. A joint U.S.-Pakistan investigation found that Pakistani(...)More.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Mom of kids killed in Ariz. crash drawing support

Friends and acquaintances are lending support to an Arizona mother who lost her three children and her ex-husband in a plane crash in the Superstition Mountains.
Karen Perry, of Apache Junction, Ariz., has experienced a series of struggles in recent years and is described as a selfless woman trying to raise her three children. Morgan Perry, 9, was diagnosed with epilepsy and faced multiple brain surgeries. Luke Perry, 6, had autism. Perry's third child, Logan Perry, was 8.
"They were just great kids," Mark Blomgren, principal at the school in Apache Junction where the two oldest children attended, told the Arizona Republic. "All the teachers were naturally shocked. They cared about them and wondered how their mom was doing and they were just hit pretty hard. Logan and Morgan were just special kids that the teachers really bonded with."
Crews continued working Friday in the crags and outcroppings of the mountaintop area just east of Phoenix to finish recovering the remains of the six people aboard, Pinal County sheriff's spokesman Elias Johnson told The Associated Press. The dead included Perry's ex-husband, Shawn Perry, 39, who was the pilot.
He lived in Safford, Ariz., where he owned a small aviation business, and had flown to the Phoenix suburb of Mesa, Ariz., with another pilot who co-owned the company and a company mechanic to pick up the children for Thanksgiving. The plane was headed back to Safford when it crashed.
The other pilot was identified as Russell Hardy, 31, of Thatcher, Ariz., and the mechanic was Joseph Hardwick, 22, of Safford.
The twin-engine plane was traveling about 200 mph when it slammed into a sheer cliff in the mile-high Superstition Mountains an hour after sundown Wednesday, authorities said.
The aircraft exploded in flames, split apart and scattered burning debris.
"No one could have survived that crash," Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said Thursday.
"This is their entire family — it's terrible," Babeu said. "Our hearts go out to the mom and the (families) of all the crash victims. We have had so many people that are working this day, and we just want to support them and embrace them and try to bring closure to this tragedy."
Karen Perry is also a pilot.
Video from news helicopters Thursday showed the wreckage strewn at the bottom of a blackened cliff.
There was no word on what caused the crash, but the sheriff said there was no indication the plane was in distress or that the pilot had radioed controllers about any problem.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating.
It was very dark at the time, and the plane missed clearing the peak by only several hundred feet. The aircraft crashed about 40 miles east of downtown Phoenix around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, authorities said.
Some witnesses told Phoenix-area television stations they heard a plane trying to rev its engines to climb higher before apparently hitting the mountains.
The mountains are filled with steep canyons, soaring rocky outcroppings and reach an elevation of about 5,000 feet at the highest point.
Part of the recovery operation was in such dangerous terrain that only teams well trained in using ropes could maneuver, Babeu said.
"Regular deputies and even myself would not go into this exact area," he said.

Biden's 2012 targets: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida

A year from Election Day, Democrats are crafting a campaign strategy for Vice President Joe Biden that targets the big three political battlegrounds: Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida, states where Biden might be more of an asset to President Barack Obama's re-election campaign than the president himself.
The Biden plan underscores an uncomfortable reality for the Obama team. A shaky economy and sagging enthusiasm among Democrats could shrink the electoral map for Obama in 2012, forcing his campaign to depend on carrying the 67 electoral votes up for grabs in the three swing states.
Obama won all three states in 2008. But this time he faces challenges in each, particularly in Ohio and Florida, where voters elected Republican governors in the 2010 midterm elections.
The president sometimes struggles to connect with Ohio and Pennsylvania's white working-class voters, and Jewish voters who make up a core constituency for Florida Democrats and view him with skepticism.
Biden has built deep ties to both groups during his four decades in national politics, connections that could make a difference.
As a long-serving member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden cemented his reputation as an unyielding supporter of Israel, winning the respect of many in the Jewish community. And Biden's upbringing in a working class, Catholic family from Scranton, Pa., gives him a valuable political intangible: He empathizes with the struggles of blue-collar Americans because his family lived those struggles.
"Talking to blue-collar voters is perhaps his greatest attribute," said Dan Schnur, a Republican political analyst. "Obama provides the speeches, and Biden provides the blue-collar subtitles."
While Biden's campaign travel won't kick into high gear until next year, he's already been making stops in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida this fall, speaking at events focused on education, public safety and small businesses and raising campaign cash. Behind the scenes, he's working the phones with prominent Jewish groups and Catholic organizations in those states, a Democratic official said.
Biden is also targeting organized labor, speaking frequently with union leaders in Ohio ahead of a vote earlier this month on a state law that would have curbed collective bargaining rights for public workers. After voters struck down the measure, Biden traveled to Cleveland to celebrate the victory with union members.
The Democratic official said the vice president will also be a frequent visitor to Iowa and New Hampshire in the coming weeks, seeking to steal some of the spotlight from the Republican presidential candidates blanketing those states ahead of the January caucus and primary.
And while Obama may have declared that he won't be commenting on the Republican presidential field until there's a nominee, Biden is following no such rules. He's calling out GOP candidates by name, and in true Biden style, he appears to be relishing in doing so.
During a speech last month to the Florida Democratic Convention, Biden singled out "Romney and Rick", criticizing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for saying the government should let the foreclosure crisis hit rock bottom, and hammering Texas Gov. Rick Perry's assertion that he would send U.S. troops into Mexico.
And he took on the full GOP field during an October fundraiser in New Hampshire, saying "There is no fundamental difference among all the Republican candidates."
Democratic officials said Biden will follow in the long-standing tradition of vice presidents playing the role of attack dog, allowing Obama to stay out of the fray and appear more focused on governing than campaigning.
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal strategy. The Obama campaign has been reluctant to publically define Biden's role in the(...)Read more.

Pressure mounts as Syria misses observer deadline

Syria faced the possibility of sweeping economic sanctions from the Arab League on Friday as pressure mounted on Damascus to end the country's bloodshed, even as the military vowed to "cut every evil hand that targets Syrian blood."
The army's defiant statement signaled the country's violence is worsening as President Bashar Assad tries to quash the most serious threat to his family's 40-year dynasty under ever increasing international pressure.
Assad is facing the most severe isolation his country has seen in decades because of the violence, which appears to be spiraling out of control. The largely peaceful uprising against Assad that began in March has become more violent as defectors from the army turn their guns on security forces and some protesters take up arms to protect themselves.
The escalating bloodshed has raised fears of civil war. The U.N. estimates the military crackdown on the revolt already has killed at least 3,500 people. Activists said at least 11 people were killed by security forces Friday.
According to the military's statement, six elite pilots and four technical officers were killed in an ambush on Thursday in Homs, in an unusually high-level strike.
"Our armed forces (will) continue to carry out our mission to defend the country's security, and we will hit back against anything that threatens us," the statement said.
It is not clear who was behind the attacks. It's impossible to independently verify events on the ground because Syria has banned foreign journalists and prevented local reporters from moving freely.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said security forces carried out raids Friday in the village of Furoqlos, near where the pilots were ambushed, and detained 37 people. It gave no further details.
On Thursday, the Arab League gave Syria 24 hours to agree to an observer mission or face sanctions, a humiliating blow to a nation that was a founding member of the Arab coalition.
But the Friday afternoon deadline passed with no agreement. Instead, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby received a letter from Syria seeking more details about the proposed observer mission and its legal status.
The League will meet Saturday to decide on sanctions, according to Arab League Deputy Secretary-General Ahmed Ben Heli. The punishments could include halting flights and imposing a freeze on financial dealings and assets.
One senior diplomat said the League would still accept an agreement from Syria by the end of the day — even though the official deadline has passed. But Damascus gave no clear signs that it would bow to the pressure.
The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak publicly.
Syria is the scene of the deadliest crackdown against the Arab Spring's eruption of protests, with the U.N. reporting more than 3,500 people killed in eight months. International pressure has been mounting on Assad to stop the killing.
Also Friday, a U.N. human rights panel expressed alarm at reports it received of security forces in Syria torturing children. The Geneva-based Committee against Torture says it has received "numerous, consistent and substantiated reports" of widespread abuse in the country.
Former ally Turkey — now a leading critic of Assad's regime — said allowing the observers would be a "test of goodwill" for Syria.
"Today is a historic decision day for Syria," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a joint news conference with Italy's new Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi Friday in Istanbul. "It must open its doors to observers."
Syria's state-run SANA news agency, however, dismissed the ultimatum, declaring Friday that the Arab League had become a "tool for foreign interference" and that it was serving a Western agenda to stir up trouble in the region.
SANA also said thousands of people were demonstrating in support of the regime.
But violence continued Friday, after activists urged protesters to flood the streets to support army defectors who have sided with the opposition.
Syrian security forces fired outside mosques in Daraa province — apparently to prevent demonstrations by people leaving mosques after Friday afternoon prayers, activists said. Demonstrations were reported in Idlib province, which borders Turkey.
At least 11 people were reported killed, according to the British-based observatory while another activist group, the Local Coordination Committees said that as many as 19 were killed.
Some countries are exploring the possibility of stronger steps to force Assad's hand, with French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe calling for EU-backed humanitarian corridors to allow aid groups a way in.
Juppe called the situation in Syria "no longer tenable" and accused Assad's regime of "repression of a savagery we have not seen in a long time."
He told France-Inter radio he was in contact with partners in the United Nations, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Arab League about the possibility of setting up the humanitarian corridors.
Juppe suggested that aid groups like the Red Cross could use the corridors to bring medical supplies to cities like Homs.
France, Syria's one-time colonial ruler, was the first country to formally recognize Libya's opposition in an early stage of Moammar Gadhafi's crackdown on protests. Paris played a prominent role in the NATO-led air campaign against Gadhafi's forces.
But while the European Union said protecting civilians caught up in Syria's crackdown on anti-government protests "is an increasingly urgent and important aspect" of responding to the bloodshed there, it fell short of endorsing Juppe's corridor idea.
Other countries have taken an unambiguous stance against intervention.
Last month, Russia and China vetoed a Western-backed U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the bloodshed in Syria. They have argued that NATO misused a previous U.N. measure authorizing the use of force to protect civilians in Libya to justify months of airstrikes and to promote regime change.
They expressed fears that any new resolution against Syria might be used as a pretext for a similar armed intervention.

US awaits release of 3 students held in Egypt

Three American students arrested during a protest in Cairo and ordered released by an Egyptian court are in the midst of being processed by authorities there, a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said Friday.
Katharina Gollner-Sweet, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, told The Associated Press that Derrik Sweeney, Luke Gates and Gregory Porter are being processed for their eventual release one day after a court ordered them released from police custody, according to information from Egyptian officials.
"According to the latest information that the Egyptians gave out they were ordered released in the court but they are in an administrative out-processing stage," Gollner-Sweet said. "We are continuing to provide normal consular services."
The three U.S. college students, who attend the American University in Cairo, were arrested on the roof of a university building near Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square on Sunday. Officials accused them of throwing firebombs at security forces fighting with protesters.
A court in Egypt ordered the release of the students, a lawyer in Philadelphia confirmed Thursday.
Attorney Theodore Simon, who represents Porter, a 19-year-old student at Drexel University in Philadelphia, said he spoke by phone with Porter, describing the student's demeanor as "calm and measured, demonstrating a maturity well beyond his 19 years."
"He was extremely thankful and appreciative for our efforts and the unconditional support of his mother and father," Simon said.
Porter is from Glenside, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia.
Sweeney's mother, Joy Sweeney, said she is "absolutely elated" at the news of her 19-year-old son's release.
"I can't wait to give him a huge hug and tell him how much I love him," she said, adding that the news of the court order was the best Thanksgiving gift.
The 21-year-old Gates is a student at Indiana University.
His parents released a statement Thursday through the school, saying they were "extremely happy" to hear that their son would soon be released.
"This has been a difficult situation, and while we are disappointed that he will be held a few days longer to complete administrative procedures related to his release, we're confident he will be home soon," Bill and Sharon Gates wrote.
The State Department released a statement saying it was trying to independently confirm the reports of the students' release.
Earlier Thursday, Egypt officials said the Abdeen Court in Cairo had ordered their release. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media. They did not say when the students would be released.
Joy Sweeney said she wasn't sure when her son, a student at Georgetown University, would be returning to their home in Jefferson City, Mo.
"If he can find his passport (then he'll leave) tomorrow, if not, it won't be until Monday," she said.
She said the U.S. consul general in Egypt, Roberto Powers, recommended that her son leave Egypt as soon as possible.
"He also conveyed that that was what Derrik had conveyed to him that he wanted to do. He was enjoying his experience but (was) ready to be done with it," Sweeney said.
Derrik Sweeney interned for U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., earlier this year. Luetkemeyer's spokesman Paul Sloca, said the congressman is "extremely pleased that he's safe and coming home, especially on Thanksgiving."
Sweeney said she had not prepared for a Thanksgiving celebration, although a friend had taken her some food. She said the idea of a Thanksgiving feast had seemed "absolutely irrelevant" before the news of her son's pending freedom.
Asked what she thought her son would take away from his arrest, Sweeney said she thought he would make something useful of it.
"I'm sure that he'll put a life-lesson learning experience into a positive story," Sweeney said. "He's a writer, he will write about this experience."

Earlier deals, longer hours woo Friday shoppers

Big crowds on Black Friday can be both a blessing and a curse.
Early signs point to bigger crowds at the nation's malls and stores as retailers like Target and Macy's opened their doors at midnight on the most anticipated shopping day of the year and a few others opened on Thanksgiving Day. Shoppers were mostly peaceful across the country, but a few violent incidents broke out as millions of shoppers rushed into stores and tensions flared.
It started on Thanksgiving, when Los Angeles authorities say 20 people at a local Walmart store suffered minor injuries when a woman used pepper spray to gain a "competitive" shopping advantage shortly after the store opened.
Then, early Friday in Fayetteville, N.C., gunfire erupted at Cross Creek Mall and police say they're looking for the two suspects involved. Separately, police say two women have been injured and a man charged after a fight broke out at an upstate New York Walmart. And a central Florida man is behind bars after a fight broke out at a jewelry counter in Walmart in Kissimmee, Fla.
Later Friday morning, a Phoenix television station KSAZ reported that witnesses say police slammed a grandfather in a Walmart in Buckeye, Ariz., to the ground after he allegedly put a game in his waistband so that he could lift his grandson out of the crowd.
The incidents are the result of two converging trends on Black Friday. The crowds continue to get bigger as retailers offer more incentives and longer hours. At the same time, shoppers are competing for a small group of products, instead of years past when there were several hot items from which they could choose.
"The more the people, the more the occurrences," says Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst with market research firm The NPD Group.
Indeed, a record number of shoppers are expected to head out to stores across the country this weekend to take advantage of discounts of up to 70 percent. For three days starting on Black Friday, 152 million people are expected shop, up about 10 percent from last year, according to the National Retail Federation.
"I came here for the deals," said Sidiki Traore, 59, from Roosevelt Island, N.Y. who was among about 10,000 people who were standing outside of Macy's store in New York's Herald Square for its midnight opening.
The crowds are good news for retailers, many of which depend on the busy holiday shopping season for up to 40 percent of their annual revenue. To draw in shoppers this year, they pulled out of their bag of tricks. In addition to several retailers opening much earlier than previous years, some began offering to match the prices of competitors and rolling out layaway programs.
Shoppers on Friday, though, say they mostly are being lured into stores by the deals, including discounts of 20 to 60 percent on many items at The Gap and a $400 Asus Transformer 10-inch tablet computer for $249.99 at Best Buy.
After showing up at Best Buy in New York on Wednesday at 3 p.m., Emmanuel Merced, 27, and his brother were the first in line when it opened. On their list was a Sharp 42-inch TV for $199, a PlayStation 3 console with games for $199.99 and wireless headphones for $30. Merced says he likes camping out for Black Friday and he figures he saved 50 percent.
"I like the experience of it," says Merced, who plans to spend $3,000 to $4,000 on gifts this season.
To be sure, not every store was filled to the brim with people looking for deals on Black Friday. With so many major stores opening at midnight, crowds shopped early, staying up late to snag the best deals. That meant there was an unusual lull during the typically bustling pre-dawn hours when stores used to open their doors.
At a Target on Chicago's north side, for instance, crowds were light four hours after the store opened. And door-buster deals, including the typically quick-to-sell out TVs and gaming systems, remained piled up in their boxes. Shoppers pushed carts through mostly empty aisles while thumbing through circulars and employees - some in Santa hats - roamed the store. There was no Christmas music — or any music — playing.
Rebecca Carter, a graduate assistant, began Black Friday shopping at 11 p.m. on Thursday night and left Target around 4 a.m. carrying a bag full of pillows. Carter, who prowls Black Friday deals every year, said crowds were noticeably lighter this year as she(...)Read more.

Egypt new PM claims more powers than predecessor

Egypt's military rulers picked a prime minister from ousted leader Hosni Mubarak's era to head the next government in a move quickly rejected by tens of thousands of protesters, while the United States ratcheted up pressure on the generals to quickly transfer power to a civilian leadership.
More than 100,000 people packed into Cairo's central Tahrir Square for their biggest demonstration since the current showdown began, with activists accusing the generals of trying to extend the old guard and demanding they step down immediately after failing to stabilize the country, salvage the economy or bring democracy following Mubarak's ouster.
Tensions have risen ahead of parliamentary elections, set to begin on Monday. The election is to be staggered over multiple stages that end in March, and the military said Friday it would extend the voting period to two days for each round in an apparent effort to boost turnout due to the current unrest. The first stage covers nine provinces that include Cairo and the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria.
Kamal el-Ganzouri, 78, served as prime minister between 1996 and 1999 and was deputy prime minister and planning minister before that. He also was a provincial governor under the late President Anwar Sadat.
In a televised statement, he said the military has given him greater powers than his predecessor and he wouldn't have accepted the job if he believed military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi had any intention of staying in power.
"The powers given to me exceed any similar mandates," he said, looking uncomfortable, grasping for words and repeatedly pausing as he spoke. "I will take full authority so I'm able to serve my country."
He also said he won't be able to form a government before parliamentary elections start on Monday.
The Obama administration, meanwhile, appeared to bring its position on the crisis in Egypt closer to the protesters' demands, urging the generals to fully empower the next interim civilian government.
"We believe that Egypt's transition to democracy must continue, with elections proceeding expeditiously, and all necessary measures taken to ensure security and prevent intimidation," The White House said in a statement. "Most importantly, we believe that the full transfer of power to a civilian government must take place in a just and inclusive manner that responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people, as soon as possible."
The stance is significant because the Egyptian military has over the past 30 years forged close relations with successive U.S. administrations, receiving $1.3 billion annually in aid.
El-Ganzouri's appointment was announced by state TV following a meeting late Thursday between him and Tantawi. Tantawi was Mubarak's defense minister of 20 years and served in el-Ganzouri's earlier government.
It was the latest in a series of efforts by the military to appease protesters without meeting their main demand of stepping down immediately.
The generals also apologized Thursday for the killing of nearly 40 protesters in five days of deadly clashes, mostly centered on side streets near the square. This was the longest spate of uninterrupted violence since the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak on Feb. 11. The streets were relatively calm on Friday as a truce negotiated Thursday in Cairo continued to hold.
But the choice of el-Ganzouri only deepened the anger of the protesters, already seething over the military's perceived reluctance to dismantle the legacy of Mubarak's 29-year rule.
"Illegitimate, illegitimate!" the crowds in the downtown square chanted on hearing the news.
"Not only was he prime minister under Mubarak, but also part of the old regime for a total of 18 years," said protester Mohammed el-Fayoumi, 29. "Why did we have a revolution then?"
El-Ganzouri replaces Essam Sharaf, who resigned this week after nearly nine months in office amid deadly clashes between police and protesters calling for the military to immediately step down. Sharaf was criticized for being weak and beholden to the generals.
The military has said parliamentary elections, the first since Mubarak's ouster, will be held on schedule despite the unrest in Cairo and a string of other cities to the north and south of the capital. Voting starts Monday and concludes in March, meaning that el-Ganzouri could be prime minister only until a new government is formed following the seating of a new legislature.
"El-Ganzouri is a new Sharaf. He's old regime," said Nayer Mustafa, 62. "The revolution was hijacked once. We won't let it happen again."
Friday's protest in Tahrir was dubbed by organizers as "The Last Chance Million-Man Protest." Swelling crowds chanted, "leave, leave" and "the people want to bring down the field marshal", in reference to Tantawi, who took over the reins of power from Mubarak.
Pro-reform leader and Nobel peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei was mobbed by hundreds of supporters as he arrived in the square and took part in Friday prayers, leaving shortly afterward.
"He is here to support the revolutionaries," said protester Ahmed Awad, 35. "He came to see for himself the tragedy caused by the military."
The demonstrators have vowed not to leave the sprawling plaza until the generals step down in favor of a civilian presidential council. Their show of resolve resembles that of the rallies which forced Mubarak to give up power.
Fireworks lit the sky in the evening and a large banner strung over a side street called Mohammed Mahmoud, where most of the fighting occurred, declaring the(...)Read more.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Festive Thanksgiving Day Parade heads through NYC

Spectators cheered and sang on Thursday as the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade made its way through the crowded streets of Manhattan beneath brilliant sunshine.
A jetpack-wearing monkey and a freakish creation from filmmaker Tim Burton were two of the big new balloons that made their inaugural appearances. Paul Frank's Julius and Burton's B. joined more than a dozen other giant balloons, including fan favorites like Snoopy and Spider-Man.
"Here comes Snoopy!" said an excited Regan Lynch, 5, nudging her grandfather, Nick Pagnozzi.
Pagnozzi, 59, of Saddle River, N.J., drove into the city at 6 a.m. to get a seat on the bleachers along Central Park West. He said Regan wanted to make sure he took pictures of every balloon.
In all, the parade featured more than 40 balloon creations, 27 floats, 800 clowns and 1,600 cheerleaders. Star appearances included Mary J. Blige, Cee Lo Green, Avril Lavigne and the Muppets of Sesame Street. Some performances were at a stage at the end of the route in Herald Square; others were on floats.
"I feel like a kid all over, man, you know?" said Green, who rode a float featuring young hockey players.
In the crowd along Seventh Avenue, tourist Wilfred Denk of Munich, Germany, said he was most impressed by the high school marching bands. The procession featured bands from as far away as Hawaii.
"Those kids, they play good music and they really put on a good show," Denk said. He and his wife, Bethina, were on their honeymoon in New York.
Suddenly, a float bearing a replica of Mount Rushmore came into view. "Look, Neil Diamond!" said Bethina Denk.
The crowd started singing "Sweet Caroline! Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!" as Diamond waved from a platform in front of the Mount Rushmore heads.
Near the beginning of the route, Conor Jones, 5, of the Bronx, ducked as a troupe of clowns dressed as firefighters doused the crowd with multicolored confetti. He and his twin brother, Nolan, have attended the parade three years in a row.
"I like the bands best," he said. His brother preferred the Spider-Man balloon.
Dozens of handlers got revved up with a cheer heralding their cartoon balloon character: "Buzz! Lightyear! Buzz! Lightyear!"
Nearby, balloon handler Joe Sullivan, a retired banker, held one of six nylon lines securing a huge floating pumpkin. He's been volunteering in the parade for more than 15 years.
"When it's windy it's a struggle," he said. "But today is great weather."
Macy's predicted 3.5 million people could crowd the parade route, while an additional 50 million watched from home.
The parade begins at 77th Street and heads south on Central Park West to Seventh Avenue, before moving to Sixth Avenue and ending at Macy's Herald Square.
Sherre Chaplen, 49, of Thomaston, Conn., said she was surprised by the energy of the clowns and musicians, who are often overshadowed by the balloons on television.
Chaplen came to New York with her teenage daughter and husband.
"This was on the bucket list," she said. "It's so much different seeing it live than at home. It's something everyone should do at least once in a lifetime."
The parade got its start in 1924 and included live animals such as camels, goats and elephants. It was not until 1927 that the live animals were replaced by giant helium balloons. The parade was suspended from 1942 to 1944 because rubber and helium were needed for World War II.
Since the beginning, the balloons have been based on popular cultural characters and holiday themes. Returning favorites this year included Buzz Lightyear, Clumsy Smurf, SpongeBob SquarePants and Kermit the Frog.
The 2011 parade also featured an elf balloon designed by Queens resident Keith Lapinig, who won a nationwide contest.
All the balloons are created at Macy's Parade Studio in New Jersey, and each undergoes testing for flight patterns, aerodynamics, buoyancy and lift. The floats are driven into New York through the Lincoln Tunnel before the parade.

Top Marine spends Thanksgiving in Afghanistan

A turkey trot it was not.
The U.S. Marines' top general, James Amos, sprinted up and down the Helmand River Valley in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, visiting frontline Marines at nine remote outposts to share Thanksgiving and applaud their gains against the Taliban in a region where al-Qaida hatched the 9/11 plot a decade ago.
Traveling mostly in an MV-22 Osprey, the hybrid that flies like an airplane and takes off and lands like a helicopter, Amos began shortly after daylight and finished 14 hours later — and, improbably, managed to confront just one turkey dinner.
At one point the 65-year-old Amos referred to his unusual daytrip as the "Bataan death march," a reference to the gruesome forced march of American POWs in the Philippines during World War II.
Amos shook hands with hundreds of Marines, all veterans of tough fighting in Helmand Province, which has been a focal point of the U.S.-led strategy to counter the Taliban and other insurgent groups. The Marines have vastly improved security in Helmand over the past year, but with President Barack Obama having ordered 33,000 U.S. troops to withdraw from Afghanistan by next September, the prospects for sustaining those gains are uncertain, and the subject of debate at home.
At each stop Amos struck similar themes in pep talks to his Marines: they are coming close to winning, and when the Marine Corps leaves Afghanistan it will shift its focus to the Pacific, where he said "a whole lot of opportunities" will await a Corps no longer bogged down by land wars in the greater Middle East. He also said Thanksgiving is a time for Marines to reflect on "the unique fraternal bond" among men and women at war.
Marine Sgt. Maj. Michael Barrett, the top enlisted Marine, who accompanied Amos, said that for most troops Thanksgiving was just another day at war — until they finished their work.
"Then they'll have a meal of a lifetime," he said.
The feast was finally set for Amos when he arrived after dark at Camp Dwyer, the southern-most stop on his trip. He helped heap plates with roast turkey, baked ham and prime rib — with all the traditional fixings — and then sat amongst the troops to finish it off.
Amos said "Happy Thanksgiving" at each Marine outpost, but the troops did not seem in a festive mood — at least in the presence of their commandant. The business of war does not take a holiday. When he asked the Marines what was on their minds, they asked about the future of the Corps, the latest of Washington's stalled budget debate, the possibility of seeing some of their retirement benefits go away, and internal Marine issues.
Some conveyed a sense of confidence that Afghanistan would soon be behind them.
At Combat Outpost Hanson, one member of the 3rd battalion, 6th Marine Regiment asked, "Who do you want us to fight next, sir?" Amos said he did not know, but he reassured the Marine that there would be no shortage of security crises in the years ahead.
At Combat Outpost Alcatraz, in Sangin district where fierce fights against the Taliban have waned only recently, the top overall commander of the war, Marine Gen. John Allen, joined Amos for a pep talk to several dozen Marines.
Allen said Marines will "go home under the victory pennant," but he stressed that the struggle to degrade Taliban influence and build up Afghan security forces — in Helmand and throughout Afghanistan — is far from over.
"As big as this is, and as hard as it has been, we are going to be successful here," Allen said. "We're going to win this. We're going to liberate these people, we're going to set this country up to be a free country in one of the toughest regions in the world."
There are now about 97,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. All are scheduled to leave by(...)Read more.

Protesters reject Yemen president's power transfer

A U.S.-backed deal for Yemen's authoritarian president to step down fell far short of the demands of protesters who fought regime supporters on the streets of Sanaa Thursday in clashes that left five dead.
The agreement ending President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 33-year rule provides for only the shallowest of changes at the top of the regime, something the U.S. administration likely favored to preserve a fragile alliance against one of the world's most active al-Qaida branches based in Yemen.
The plan drawn up by Yemen's oil-rich Gulf neighbors does not directly change the system Saleh put in place over three decades to serve his interests.
"It gives an opportunity for regime survival," said Yemen expert Ibrahim Sharqieh at the Brookings Doha Center. "The only one we've seen changing here is the president, but the state institutions and everything else remain in place. Nothing else has changed."
Saleh signed the agreement Wednesday in the Saudi capital Riyadh, transferring power to his vice president within 30 days. If it holds, he will be the fourth dictator pushed from power this year by the Arab Spring uprisings.
But the deal leaves much more of the old regime intact than the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya — something that will almost certainly translate into continued unrest. Protesters who have been in the millions for nearly 10 months were out again Thursday, rejecting a provision that gives Saleh immunity from prosecution.
Throughout his rule, Saleh consolidated power through wily tactics that included exploiting tribal and regional rivalries and putting close relatives and confidantes in key security positions. For years, he accepted funds from the West to fight Islamist militants, then turned around and used some of those militants to help fight his enemies.
Ruling party and opposition members say Saleh signed the deal under heavy pressure from the U.S. and Saudi governments and that he feared possible sanctions against him and his family, who are suspected of having huge fortunes stashed in foreign banks. Some doubt that the deal marks the end of political life for the president, who has proved to be a wily politician and suggested in remarks after the signing ceremony that he could play a future political role in the country, along with his ruling party.
Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world and even before the uprising, the government exerted only weak authority over most of the country. The uprising led to a collapse in security that created a vacuum al-Qaida militants exploited to gain a firmer foothold in the country. The militants even seized some territory in the south.
The U.S. has long considered Saleh a necessary though unreliable partner in fighting terror, training and funding his special forces to fight Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which has been linked to plots against U.S. targets.
Sharqieh, the Yemen expert, said both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia had reasons to ease Saleh's departure while not calling for deeper regime change. Saudi Arabia, a deeply conservative hereditary monarchy, fears the pro-democracy uprisings sweeping the Arab world will spread to its shores and worries that collapsing security in Yemen will also spill trouble over its borders.
With this deal, the U.S. may want to appease the protesters while ensuring it can still count on Yemen to fight al-Qaida.
"Saudi Arabia does not want to see a successful youth revolution on its southern border, and Washington does not want security in Yemen to be in the hands of those protesting in Change Square," said Sharqieh, referring to the Sanaa square that is the center of the protest movement.
Likewise, the U.S. stood by its ally Hosni Mubarak, the longtime authoritarian leader of Egypt, throughout much of the uprising against him in January and February. For the U.S., Mubarak was a valued counterweight to Islamists in the Middle East and a staunch support of Arab-Israeli peace.
Saleh is transferring power to Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. In the coming days, an opposition group that signed the deal will name a prime minister, whom Hadi will swear in. The new prime minister will then form a national unity government, evenly divided between the opposition and Saleh's ruling party. Hadi will also announce a date for presidential elections, to be held within 90 days.
The deal ensures that Saleh's party will play a large role in the country's future. More importantly, it does not mention Saleh's son, Ahmed, who commands the elite Republican Guard, or his other relatives and associates who command security forces. These units are often the enforcers of Saleh's regime and could remain more loyal to him and his associates than to a new coalition government.
Under the plan, the new government will also appoint a committee to "restructure" the security forces, including the army, the police and the intelligence services. But it remains unclear what powers it will have to push through its suggested reforms.
Inside Yemen, many of the protesters who have braved lethal government crackdowns to demonstrate for democratic reforms rejected the deal.
Thousands marched Thursday in the capital Sanaa, the central city of Taiz and elsewhere, protesting the deal and calling for Saleh to be tried for charges of corruption and for the killing of protesters during the uprising.
Security forces and pro-Saleh gunmen opened fire on a protest march in Sanaa, killing five protesters, said Gameela Abdullah, a medic at the local field hospital.
A video posted online by activists showed men in long robes and Arab head scarves firing assault rifles at protesters, who scrambled for cover. Some hurled rocks and carried large pictures of Saleh.
"We'll keep fighting until Saleh is tried for all the crimes he has committed against the people in his capacity as the head of the armed forces," said activist Bushra al-Maqtari in Taiz, which has seen some of the most violent crackdowns on anti-regime protesters. Hundreds of demonstrators have been killed nationwide since January.
Abdullah Obal, a leader in the opposition coalition that signed the deal, said his group would meet with protesters to try to address their demands.
"The agreement does not cancel the youth's demands or go against them," he said. "It is their right to protest."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Justin Bieber’s Accuser Can’t Wait for DNA Test

Justin Bieber’s kind of, sort of, baby mama drama continues with Mariah Yeater saying she can’t wait to submit her baby for DNA testing.
Yeater’s attorney Jeffrey Leving told that his client is looking forward to comparing her son’s DNA with Bieber’s. In her paternity suit, Yeater claims that Bieber is the father of her son Tristyn, the result of a backstage tryst at one of his concerts last year.
Bieber’s reps did not immediately respond to’s requests for comment. On Monday, a source close to Bieber told that arrangements were made for Bieber to take a DNA test, but did not confirm whether or not the test happened.
Meanwhile, Bieber’s busy promoting his new Christmas album. He performed with his mentor Usher on NBC’s “Today” this morning.

Hacker group Anonymous targets UC-Davis pepper-spray cop

The rogue hacker group known as Anonymous posted a YouTube video disclosing the cellphone number, email and home address of Lt. John Pike, the University of California Davis police officer who sparked worldwide outrage when he pepper-sprayed a group of student protesters over the weekend.
"Dear Officer John Pike," a computer-generated voice in the video said. "Your information is now public domain."
The video, which was posted on Tuesday, has since been removed because it is "a violation of YouTube's policy prohibiting hate speech."
Anonymous has threatened or claimed credit for attacks on numerous media organizations, including Fox News--but this appears to be the first time the hacking group has targeted an individual.
"We have no problem targeting police and releasing their information even if it puts them at risk," the group said, "because we want them to experience just a taste of the brutality and misery they serve us on an everyday basis."
The voicemail box for Pike's cellphone was full late Tuesday, the Daily News reported.
"Expect our full wrath," the video concludes. "Anonymous seeks to avenge all protesters. We are going to make you squeal like a pig."
Pike and another officer were reportedly placed on administrative leave following the weekend clash with protesters on the UC-Davis campus.
The image of Pike pepper-spraying the students has been seared into the public consciousness. Photoshopped images of Pike pepper-spraying other things--like Mt. Rushmore--have gone viral.
But not everyone is convinced Pike's use of force was excessive. On Monday, Fox News' Megyn Kelly told Bill O'Reilly that pepper spray "is a food product, essentially."

Thanksgiving travel rush is under way across US

Undeterred by costlier gas and airfare, millions of Americans set out Wednesday to see friends and family in what is expected to be the nation's busiest Thanksgiving weekend since the financial meltdown more than three years ago.
The rough economy led people to find ways to save money, but many refused to scrap their travel plans.
"We wouldn't think of missing it," said Bill Curtis, a retiree from Los Angeles who was with his wife at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, Calif. "Family is important and we love the holiday. So we cut corners other places so we can afford to travel."
About 42.5 million people are expected to hit the road or take to the skies for Thanksgiving this year, according to travel tracker AAA. That's the highest number of travelers since the start of the recession at the end of 2007.
Heavy rain slowed down early travelers along the East Coast. Snow across parts of New England and upstate New York made for treacherous driving and thousands of power outages. And a mudslide covered train tracks in the Pacific Northwest. But most of the country is expected to have clear weather Thursday.
For many travelers, it was a smooth, if more expensive, trip.
The average round-trip airfare for the top 40 U.S. routes is $212, up 20 percent from last year. Tickets on most Amtrak one-way routes have climbed slightly, and drivers are paying an average $3.33 a gallon, or 16 percent more than last year, according to AAA.
Jake Pagel, a waiter from Denver, was flying to see his girlfriend's family in San Jose, Calif. Pagel said had to give up working during one of the restaurant industry's busiest and most profitable times.
"I think it's something you can't quantify in terms of monetary cost," he said. "I mean, being able to spend quality time with your family is fairly significant."
Most travelers — about 90 percent, according to AAA — were expected to hit the road.
John Mahoney acknowledged the economy has changed the way he travels, which is why he and his girlfriend slept in their car instead of getting a motel room when a heavy, wet snowstorm flared up along the New York State Thruway during their 20-hour drive from New Hampshire to St. Louis.
"Americans will still do what Americans do. We travel the roads," he said.
Some drivers who tried to get an early start along the Pennsylvania Turnpike found themselves stopped by — or stuck in — a gooey, tar-like mess after a tanker truck leaked driveway sealant along nearly 40 miles of highway. At least 150 vehicles were disabled Tuesday night.
Shun Tucker of suburban Chicago decided to spend the holiday with family in Memphis, Tenn., and booked a $49 bus ticket for a nine-hour trip south. "Yeah, I could go to the airport, but it's going to cost me $300," she said.
Lucretia Verner and her cousin set out on a drive from Tulsa, Okla., to Atlanta. They said they wouldn't stop to eat on the way, making do with the water, juice, lunch meat and bread they took with them.
Colette Parr of Las Vegas took flights with connections and switched airlines to save almost $200 on her trip to Newark, N.J.
Investment manager Matt Rightmire and his family typically fly on Thanksgiving. This year, they are making the holiday pilgrimage by car from New Hampshire to his in-laws in Youngstown, Ohio. He figured he is saving $1,000.
"It's family," he said. "That's what the holidays are about: Spending time with family. I don't really think it's optional. You may try to find the least expensive way to get there, but you've got to see your family."