biodun iginla

Another investor wants Murdochs off News Corp board

by Emily Straton, BBC News Analyst, for the BBC’s Biodun Iginla

Another major investor has joined calls for the Murdoch family to step down from the helm of media empire News Corp following a phone hacking scandal, according to a British newspaper.

The Sunday Telegraph said the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) had added its voice to opposition already aired by shareholders including the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (Calpers) and Hermes Equity Ownership Services.

“Given the lack of independent directors, effective board leadership is even more important to provide proper oversight to the company and management,” the newspaper quoted CalSTRS as saying, adding it wanted the whole News Corp board replaced, including Rupert Murdoch and his sons James and Lachlan.

The Sunday Telegraph said CalSTRS owns more than 6 million News Corp shares.

CalSTRS could not immediately be reached for comment.

The criticism from top investors sets up what is likely to be a turbulent annual shareholder meeting for News Corp and the Murdochs on October 21.

The company is battling to recover from a phone hacking scandal which led to the closure of its British weekly newspaper News of the World in July.

Rupert Murdoch controls News Corp through a 40 percent stake in its voting stock.

Last week, corporate governance watchdog ISS called for the Murdochs and 10 other directors to step down. News Corp said it “strongly disagreed” with its analysis.

Jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan threatened to unleash "a big war" against the Turkish state six months ago

by Nasra Ismail and Biodun Iginla, BBC News

Jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan threatened to unleash “a big war” against the Turkish state six months ago unless the government began serious negotiations with him to end a separatist insurgency that first erupted in 1984.

Just after midnight on October 19, fighters from his Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) launched synchronized attacks on Turkish military outposts near the border with Iraq, inflicting one of the heaviest losses suffered by security forces since the insurgency began.

How far the Turkish government is prepared to go to avenge the killing of 24 soldiers could determine whether Ocalan’s words come back to haunt him, with the Turkish military launching airstrikes against PKK guerrilla camps in northern Iraq and sending commandos across the border in hot pursuit.

Given the depth of nationalist feeling and widespread disgust for the actions of the PKK among ordinary Turks, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, though keen to end the conflict, is unlikely to make concessions under pressure.

State officials have held informal talks with Ocalan, breaking a long-held taboo, but the PKK leader wants the state to put negotiations on a more formal footing with himself recognized as a legitimate representative for the Kurdish side.

However Kurds, tired of violence, would like the PKK to lay down its arms and the two sides seek a political solution.

It would be hard for ordinary Turks to stomach, given that many regard the 63-year-old as a murderous terrorist, with more than 40,000 people estimated to have died, most of them Kurds, in the long-running insurgency that he started.

Labeled a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union, the PKK also draws support from among the Kurdish diaspora, particularly in western Europe.

For years Ocalan directed operations from Syria, until Turkey threatened war in 1998, forcing Damascus to eject him.

He first sought refuge in Russia, then Italy and Greece, before he was finally caught in 1999 while being transferred from the Greek embassy in Nairobi to the airport.

Photographs of Ocalan show a heavy set man with a fleshy face dominated by bushy eyebrows and a mustache, below a thick head of graying hair.

“HELL BREAKS LOOSE”

After more than decade behind bars, Ocalan’s influence over the PKK and pro-Kurdish political parties, accused by authorities of maintaining ties with the group, appears undiminished.

At a national election in June, candidates from Kurdish parties scored the highest ever number of seats in parliament.

Sentenced to life imprisonment after being spared the death sentence, Ocalan has kept in contact with his followers since by passing messages through lawyers and relatives who have been allowed to visit him at the high security prison on Imrali island in the Marmara Sea south of Istanbul.

Hours before the latest attack the PKK issued a message from Ocalan, passed to his brother, saying that it was up to the government to “open the door” if it wanted a negotiated settlement.

With Ocalan in jail, militant violence had become more sporadic, as the PKK announced a series of on-off unilateral ceasefires, the last of which ended in March.

And a month before Erdogan was re-elected for a third consecutive term, Ocalan issued a chilling threat: “Either a meaningful negotiation process begins by June 15, or a big war breaks out, and all hell breaks loose.”

As the frequency of PKK attacks mounted in weeks after the vote, the military responded by intensifying airstrikes on guerrilla targets in camps across the border in northern Iraq.

Authorities also denied Ocalan’s lawyers access to the prison for two months, prompting his supporters to try to organize a mass protest in October, which police successfully stifled.

Born to a poor peasant family in the southeastern village of Omerli in 1948, Ocalan forged his political ideas amid violent street battles between left- and right-wing gangs in the 1970s.

A drop-out from Ankara University’s political science faculty, Ocalan, known as Apo, split from the Turkish left to found the PKK in 1978, pledging to fight for an independent state of Kurdistan.

A full-blown insurgency was launched in 1984 in the impoverished and largely feudal Kurdish southeast.

Killing members of rival groups, Kurdish “aga” landlords and pro-government tribesmen, the PKK won a reputation for ruthlessness while also gaining respect among poor villagers and townspeople in a society steeped in violence.

Occupy the P.U.-litzers!

Media Advisory

by Biodun Iginla, BBC News, for FAIR


12/27/11

This year has given us simply too many worthy contenders for FAIR’s annual P.U.-litzers–recognizing the stinkiest journalism of the year. A big part of the problem was that so many outlets were striving to distinguish themselves with especially awful coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. So to note those lowlights, we bring you a special installment of P.U.-litzers: The OWS edition.

–Early Warning System Award: CNN’s Wolf Blitzer

On September 19: “Protests here in New York on Wall Street entering a third day. Should New Yorkers be worried at all about what’s going on?”


–We Could Do It Better Award: New York Times’ Ginia Bellafante

Under the headline “Gunning for Wall Street, With Faulty Aim” (9/23/11), Bellafante turned in the quintessential corporate media dismissal of progressive protests. The reporter discovered “a default ambassador in a half-naked woman…with a marked likeness to Joni Mitchell and a seemingly even stronger wish to burrow through the space-time continuum and hunker down in 1968.”

The movement’s cause “was virtually impossible to decipher,” Bellafante complained, slamming [it] for “lack of cohesion and its apparent wish to pantomime progressivism rather than practice it knowledgeably.” And who has more knowledge about grassroots progressive activism than the New York Times.


–What’s News Award: NPR’s Dick Meyer; Washington Post

Asked to explain NPR’s non-coverage of OWS, executive editor Meyer said (NPR.org, 9/26/11): “The recent protests on Wall Street did not involve large numbers of people, prominent people, a great disruption or an especially clear objective.”

And the massive demonstrations around the world October 15th made it onto the front page of the next day’s Washington Post–in the form of a lower right-hand corner blurb approximately one column inch long, directing people to page A20 to find news about protests in “more than 900 cities in Europe, Africa and Asia.”


–Channeling Glenn Beck Award: Reuters


Under the headline (10/13/11) “Who’s Behind the Wall Street Protests,” the news agency provided an answer straight from one of Glenn Beck’s conspiratorial chalk boards:

One name that keeps coming up is investor George Soros, who in September debuted in the top 10 list of wealthiest Americans. Conservative critics contend the movement is a Trojan horse for a secret Soros agenda.


Who exactly is bringing up Soros’ name? Reuters names one slightly less than credible source: right-wing talker Rush Limbaugh. But Reuters did its own digging, going on to suggest “indirect financial links” between Soros and the group Adbusters, which issued the original call for the Occupy protest. The links were mostly figments of the right-wing imagination, as even some Reuters reporters pointed out. Reuters eventually changed the headline to “Soros: Not a Funder of Wall Street Protests.”


–The Suites to the Streets Award: New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin

The Times star business writer (10/4/11) did little to dispel criticism that he’s too close to his Wall Street sources by admitting that he checked out the protests–after a banker told him to:

I had gone down to Zuccotti Park to see the activist movement firsthand after getting a call from the chief executive of a major bank last week, before nearly 700 people were arrested over the weekend during a demonstration on the Brooklyn Bridge.

“Is this Occupy Wall Street thing a big deal?” the CEO asked me. I didn’t have an answer. “We’re trying to figure out how much we should be worried about all of this,” he continued, clearly concerned. “Is this going to turn into a personal safety problem?”

As I wandered around the park, it was clear to me that most bankers probably don’t have to worry about being in imminent personal danger. This didn’t seem like a brutal group–at least not yet.



–Those Facts Are Biased Award: WNYC’s Takeaway

Web producer Caitlin Curran was photographed at an OWS protest holding a sign that said this:

It’s wrong to create a mortgage-backed security filled with loans you know are going to fail so that you can sell it to a client who isn’t aware that you sabotaged it by intentionally picking the misleadingly rated loans most likely to be defaulted upon.
Curran was promptly fired by the New York public radio station for her flagrant violation of journalistic objectivity. Who could trust a journalist who took a far-out radical position like that?


–Timeless Cliches Award: Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer

“Starbucks-sipping, Levi’s-clad, iPhone-clutching protesters denounce corporate America even as they weep for Steve Jobs,” wrote Post columnist Krauthammer (10/14/11), maligning the protesters as “indigant indolents saddled with their $50,000 student loans and English degrees” whose policy proposal boils down to “eat the rich.”


–We Smell a Rat Award: Washington Post

November 16: “Is this an occupation or an infestation?”


–Fact Check Failure Award:
CNN’s Erin Burnett

New CNN host Burnett decided on her debut program (10/3/11) to fact check the Occupy Wall Street protests. Declaring that that the protesters “did not know” why they were there, adding that “it seems like people want a messiah leader, just like they did when they anointed Barack Obama.” Burnett quizzed one protester: “So do you know that taxpayers actually made money on the Wall Street bailout?” Burnett assured viewers this was true–“right now to the tune of $10 billion…. This was the big issue, so we solved it.”

A few problems: The TARP bailout is not “the big issue” for OWS, and it’s odd to think that people should feel good that big banks were about to turn low-interest government loans into profits. And the total cost of the various bank rescue policies run into the trillions of dollars (Bloomberg News, 8/22/11). But, yes, those protesters sure don’t know what they’re talking about.


–Tabloid-Style Dignity Award: New York Post

The front page of Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post (11/4/11), urging a crackdown on Occupy Wall Street, proclaimed: “Enough! Mr. Mayor, It Is Time to Reclaim Zuccotti Park–and New York’s Dignity.” This on the same front page that recently declared (8/10/11), “Crazy Stox Like a Hooker’s Drawers–Up, Down, Up.” Another cover (10/27/09) photoshopped a skirt onto a Phillies baseball player with a line about the “Frillies” coming to town. And who could forget the Iraq War classic (2/14/03), “UN Meets: Weasels to Hear New Iraq Evidence,” with animal heads superimposed onto the representatives from France and Germany? That’s the New York Post for you: Always dignified.


–Clueless and Repugnant Award: Washington Post’s Richard Cohen

After the Post columnist visited the New York protests, he wrote a column (10/24/11) defending the group against bogus charges of anti-Semitism. But he had plenty of other things to say about OWS. To Cohen, “their slogans suggest a tired socialism that is as repugnant to me as the felonious capitalism that produced the mortgage bubble and the impoverishment of millions of Americans.” Cohen was just getting warmed up. The protests are “a destination for the aimless…a tourist attraction with the usual vendors, the usual zaftig young women doing the usual arrhythmic dance, somehow missing the beat of many drums.”

Occupy Wall Street is “an incoherent articulation of anger…above all, a conspiracy to have left-leaning writers make jackasses of themselves by imparting grave and grand meaning to what is little more than a vast sleepover.” But no anti-Semitism.

2011 P.U.-litzers: Journalism That Doesn't Pass the Smell Test

Media Advisory

by Biodun Iginla, Media Analyst for the BBC


12/22/11

External image

It’s that time of year again–when FAIR goes through the year’s archives to collect a sampling of the worst moments of corporate media spin and malfeasance.

The competition was, as always, fierce. And in special recognition of the media’s befuddled approach to the Occupy Wall Street movement, next week will see the release of a second round of OWS-related P.U.-litzers.


Wacky Conspiracy Award: CBS’s Steve Kroft

Kroft (60 Minutes, 1/30/11) explained the apparently demented worldview of WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange:

Julian Assange is not your average journalist or publisher, and some have argued that he is not really a journalist at all. He is an anti-establishment ideologue with conspiratorial views. He believes large government institutions use secrecy to suppress the truth and he distrusts the mainstream media for playing along.


Paul’s Not Newt Award: Washington Post’s Sarah Kaufman

Kaufman (12/15/11) puzzled over the lack of interest in Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul:

So why, with his long-held views and an enthusiastic base of support, does Paul get so little attention? It’s not only his anti-establishment message. Part of his acceptance issue is the way he presents himself. As much as he is a refreshing departure from the mold, he also comes across as a gadfly. Consider if Paul had the heftier, more serious bearing of a Romney or a Gingrich. Would he be so easy to dismiss?


Blind Faith in Precision Weapons Award: CNN’s Chris Lawrence

The Pentagon correspondent (3/20/11) was confident from the start of the Libya War that civilians could not possibly be killed:

American Tomahawk missiles can be reprogrammed in flight. If there was a risk of civilian casualties, operators could change the target after launch. But the Navy did not use that ability, confident it was aiming at military targets. Moammar Gadhafi says the strikes killed civilians. But a defense official told us if you don’t have to reprogram your missile, you’re very confident in what you’re hitting.


That’s Our Newt Award: Washington Post’s Dan Balz; New York Times’ Trip Gabriel

Gabriel wrote (New York Times, 11/29/11): “In an election season rife with factual misstatements, deliberate and otherwise, Mr. Gingrich sometimes seems to stand out for exhibiting an excess of knowledge.”

Balz (5/12/11) called the former House speaker “an idea-spewing machine"and a "one-man think tank.” The reporter warned of one pitfall: “A keen intellect can also translate into the appearance of intellectual superiority.”


Exceptionally Clueless Columnist Award: Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker

Parker wrote a column (1/30/11) about how the president “seems afraid” of the word “exceptionalism”–a favorite anti-Obama conservative talking point. Parker claimed that during the State of the Union address, Obama spoke of America’s “uniqueness,” but he “studiously avoided using the word.” One problem: according to a review of presidential papers going back to 1929 (USNews.com, 1/31/11), only one president has ever uttered the phrase “American exceptionalism”…and that’s Barack Obama.


The Bosses’ Taxes Are None of Your Business Award: NBC News

The news that General Electric paid no taxes to the U.S. government in 2010 on worldwide profits of $14 billion wasn’t news at all at NBC, which is 49 percent owned by GE. After questions were raised about NBC’s non-coverage (Washington Post, 3/30/11), NBC Nightly News (3/31/11) finally took a look at the story–in a report that mainly provided an opportunity for GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt to rebut criticism: “Immelt says that everyone should pay their fair share of taxes, including GE, and that the corporate tax code needs to be reformed to make it more competitive and eliminate loopholes.”


False Balance Award: ABC’s Jonathan Karl

After noting that some Tea Party activists are demanding larger government spending cuts, Karl (This Week, 4/3/11) provided “balance” with this observation: “Democrats have their hotheads, too. One Obama administration official said the Republican bill, which cuts $5 billion from the Agency for International Development would kill kids. That’s right. Kill kids.” His “proof” was a soundbite from USAID director Rajiv Shah, a “hothead” who pointed out that cutting funds for preventing diseases like malaria in poor countries will mean more kids will die from malaria.


SEALS: Superheroes, or Better!? Award: ABC’s Chris Cuomo

After a team of Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden, reporters jumped to lionize the warriors. But no one jumped quite like Cuomo, who explained in one report (5/3/11) that “that taking out bin Laden was just another day at the office,” “a superhero has nothing on these guys,” and “the only thing missing seems to be the ability to leap a building in a single bound.”


The Training Wheels of War Award: NBC’s Richard Engel

On NBC Nightly News (10/21/11), speaking about the end of the Iraq War: “The training wheels off, Iraq will have to succeed or fail without American troops on the ground to guide the way.” By “training wheels,” of course, Engel means eight years of invasion and occupation by the United States.


‘Leeches on Society’ Award: CNN’s Carol Costello

When radio hosts Tavis Smiley and Cornel West appeared on CNN’s American Morning (8/8/11) to call attention to the problem of poverty, the CNN host cited discredited studies from the right-wing Heritage Foundation (Extra!, 1-2/99; Center for American Progress, 8/5/11) to make the point that “most of the poor in America live in a decent house. They have TVs. They have microwave ovens and they even have a refrigerator. What are they complaining about?” Costello even interrupted West to falsely claim that “the poor don’t pay any” taxes.

Costello later remarked to a co-host: “Frankly, I think to an extent the poor have been demonized because many people in America think they’re leeches on society. They’re just, you know, sucking everything out of us.”


Newt Not Far Enough Award: Time’s Joe Klein

If you thought Newt Gingrich’s plan to to have kids work as janitors cleaning their schools sounded weird, Klein agreed. Sort of. He thinks the problem is that the idea doesn’t go far enough.Complaining that Gingrich faced “a shrill, silly gust of liberal ire,” Klein explained (12/19/11):

It’s a good idea, which would be much better if it were expanded to all public middle and high schools, with the work seen as an unpaid form of public service, a way to build community spirit and teach civic responsibility.


Ask a Billionaire About Class War Award: NBC’s David Gregory

At the top of Meet the Press (9/25/11), the anchor announced one of the topics to come– Barack Obama’s tax plan. Gregory asked:  “Is the president’s plan basic fairness or class warfare?” Who better to answer that question than Gregory’s guest: Billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.


Job-Creating Cowboy Award: USA Today’s Susan Page; Time

Page (9/19/11) explained the secret to Texas governor Rick Perry’s presidential appeal: “He can cite job-creation statistics in Texas that are the envy of the nation’s other 49 governors.” Actually, the “secret” is that Texas has a higher unemployment rate than 26 other states.

Time magazine (9/26/11) went a totally different route with its Perry puffery:

When you look at Perry, it’s easy to picture him in an old Western. His late arrival in the primary field in August certainly felt like that moment when the big stranger steps through the swinging saloon doors and all heads pivot and the plinky-plunk piano dies away.


Tortured Headline Award: New York Times

The Justice Department’s decision to drop almost all of its investigations into CIA torture was headlined like this on Democracy Now!: “Justice Dept Drops 99 of 101 Cases Against CIA.”

At the New York Times (7/1/11), though, the glass was 2 percent full: “U.S. Widens Inquiries Into 2 Jail Deaths.”


Peculiar Foreign Culture Award: Wall Street Journal

The end of a Wall Street Journal article (7/14/11) on a new report on Afghan deaths says this about night raids: “The raids are sensitive in Afghanistan, because foreign soldiers burst into civilian homes, where strangers are unwelcome in the country’s conservative Islamic traditions.”

Perhaps in a more civilized society, heavily armed foreign soldiers who burst into your home in the middle of night are offered dinner.

Woman loads gifts into wrong car

by Alyssa Mann and Biodun Iginla, BBC News

Published: Dec. 20, 2011 at 4:44 PM

YPSILANTI, Mich., Dec. 20 – A Michigan woman who mistakenly loaded her Christmas gifts into the trunk of a lookalike car said she is hoping the items will be returned.

Linda Gipson of Ypsilanti said she loaded about $700 worth of gifts into the trunk of a vehicle she believed to be her daughter’s 2003 silver Ford Focus sedan while shopping with her family Thursday at the Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi and went back inside to continue shopping, the Detroit Free Press reported Tuesday.

However, after leaving the mall with her family she discovered she had placed the items into a car that resembled her daughter’s and opened with the same key.

“It’s a sad story,” Gipson said. “I’m just waiting here hoping that person is going to turn everything back.”

Ford officials said they were unaware of any other instances of someone being able to open a vehicle lock with the key to a different car. They said they will investigate the incident.

FAA chief resigns after DWI arrest

by Rochelle van Amber and Biodun Iginla, BBC News

Published: Dec. 6, 2011 at 8:22 PM

WASHINGTON, Dec. 6  – J. Randolph Babbitt has resigned as head of the Federation Aviation Administration, three days after he was charged with drunken driving in Virginia.

Babbitt was arrested Saturday night in Fairfax. At his request, he was put on administrative leave Monday by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, The Washington Post reported.

He announced his resignation Tuesday in a statement.

“Serving as FAA administrator has been an absolute honor and the highlight of my professional career,” he said. “But I am unwilling to let anything cast a shadow on the outstanding work done … by my colleagues.”

LaHood – who initially learned of Babbitt’s arrest through a police press release 36 hours after it occurred – said Tuesday he had told Babbitt he was “very disappointed with the way that I learned about this.” However, LaHood praised Babbitt as “a dedicated public servant and outstanding leader.”

Babbitt, 65, has been head of the FAA since 2009. He served previously as chairman of the agency’s Management Advisory Council, was an Eastern Airlines pilot for 25 years and was president of the Air Line Pilots Association.

He also was a partner at the management consulting firm Oliver Wyman.

Deputy Administrator Michael P. Huerta will run the agency, at least temporarily, the Post said.



French ex-president Chirac convicted in graft trial

by Natalie de Vallieres and Biodun Iginla, BBC News

A judge found former French president Jacques Chirac guilty on Thursday of misusing public funds, making him the country’s first head of state to be convicted since Nazi collaborator Marshal Philippe Petain in 1945.

Chirac, 79, was absent from the court as the judge declared him guilty of knowingly operating a system that diverted about 1.4 million euros of Paris City Hall funds for political purposes when he was mayor of the French capital.

The judge handed down a suspended two-year jail sentence on Chirac, who was president from 1995 until 2007 and suffers from neurological problems, according to his doctors.

Lawyers who had sought a conviction said the verdict on Chirac served as a reminder to France’s ruling class that politicians could not abuse their position with impunity.

Chirac was tried on charges of channeling public money into phantom jobs for political cronies when he was mayor of Paris between 1977 and 1995, a time when he built a new centre-right Gaullist party that launched his bid to become president.

Chirac, excused from much of the proceedings on the grounds of a failing memory, could in theory have been sent to jail for 10 years, the maximum sentence for the charges against him.

Chirac’s lawyer, Georges Kiejman, told reporters that he would talk to his client before deciding later in the day whether to make an appeal.

“The verdict may look severe but it is worth noting that the court acted with a large measure of moderation, highlighting the personal qualities of president Chirac, how old the events in question were and the role he played in reorganizing how political parties are funded,” Kiijman said.

Jerome Karsenti, a lawyer for an anti-corruption association that sought a conviction, said Thursday’s ruling was “historic and exemplary.”

“We’ve seen a strong message delivered today: politicians can no longer do as they please when in charge of public administrations,” he told reporters outside the court.

The case came to a head after 13 years of wrangling over allegations that 28 of Chirac’s cronies were on the Paris payroll from 1992 to 1995 but did not work for the city.

END OF IMMUNITY

Chirac benefited from immunity from prosecution while head of state, and for some time afterwards it was unclear whether he would be hauled before a court, let alone convicted.

Paris City Hall pulled out as a plaintiff earlier this year after Chirac agreed to a compensation deal worth 2.2 million euros, with 500,000 euros to be paid by himself and the rest by France’s ruling UMP party on his behalf.

The public prosecution service, which answers to the justice ministry, had recommended an acquittal, and many people believed

the verdict read out by judge Dominique Pauthe would follow that advice.

Seven of nine other people tried along with Chirac were also found guilty, among them Jean de Gaulle, grandson of President Charles de Gaulle, and Marc Blondel, a former trade union leader famous for his love of giant cigars.

Less than five months before a presidential election, the opposition Socialist Party said the verdict vindicated its call for repeal of the rule giving heads of state judicial immunity while they are in office.

Close to tears at the courthouse, Chirac’s adopted daughter Anh Dao Traxel said the verdict was overly harsh, adding: “For the family, this brings great sorrow.”

China's Wen says jobs a priority despite economic headwinds

by Xian Wan and Biodun Iginla, BBC News

BEIJING  - China will make job creation a more urgent priority in the face of slowed economic growth and weakened exports, Premier Wen Jibao said in comments published on Sunday, also warning that efforts to tame housing prices were at a critical point.

While visiting the southern region of Guangxi, Wen took on the issues that have raised worries about the direction of the world’s second biggest economy: inflation, housing costs, weakened demand from rich economies, and the pressure to secure jobs for millions of university students and rural migrants.

“Currently, economic growth is slowing and external demand is falling, and we should make employment even more of a priority in economic and social development, doing our utmost to expand employment,” Wen told officials in Guangxi, a poorer region next to export-driven Guangdong province, the official People’s Daily reported.

Those efforts would include “ensuring an appropriate rate of economic growth” and supporting labor-intensive industries, small businesses and private firms, he said.

Wen’s published comments did not mention the yuan exchange rate, which Beijing policymakers fear could stifle export-dependent jobs if they succumb to U.S. pressure to let the currency appreciate much more quickly.

But the Chinese premier made clear that jobs and social stability are dominant concerns.

People’s livelihoods should assume a more important role in setting macroeconomic policy because such needs affect “social harmony and stability,” said Wen, who visited Guangxi on Friday and Saturday.

RIGHT BALANCE

Wen’s government faces a tricky test in striking the right balance between maintaining growth and containing inflation.

China’s economic expansion slowed to 9.1 percent from a year earlier in the third quarter, its weakest pace in more than two years as euro-debt strains and a sluggish U.S. economy took a toll.

In September, consumer inflation dipped to 6.1 percent, retreating from three-year highs, but stubborn food price pressures remain a worry for policymakers.

“To rein in prices, we must first properly deal with food prices,” Wen told officials.

The price of pork, a key meat for many Chinese people, was leveling off, but winter could add new pressures, he added.

“With the arrival of winter, consumption (of pork) will increase,” he said. He urged officials to boost production by ensuring that incentives reach pig breeders and feed prices are kept stable. Corn processing projects should also be restricted to counter rising prices for that grain, Wen said.

His government must also deal with relentless pressure to find jobs.

China has 242 million rural residents who work off the farm, and 153 million of them are migrants working outside their home towns. They are joined by millions more migrants every year, hunting for work in factories and on building sites. As well, more than six million college and university graduates entered the workforce this year.

Wen also said another plank of the government’s efforts to contain price rises – containing housing costs – was at a crucial stage.

Housing prices in China have climbed to record highs, although annual property inflation eased to a low of 3.5 percent in September as Beijing’s campaign to cool the market made inroads.

“All levels of government must take effective measures to consolidate the fruits of (housing price) controls,” he said. Those efforts should include ensuring the government’s goals to expand affordable, state-backed housing are met, Wen said.

As of August, China had built 8.68 million units of homes for rental or sale to poorer families this year, putting it on track to fulfill its full-year goal of 10 million homes.

But echoing a widespread complaint among officials, one Guangxi official told Wen of a shortfall in financing for the affordable homes, according to the media accounts.

The premier did not hint at any backing down from affordable home targets, but indicated that commercial developers might get easier access to land for cheaper projects.

“On the one hand, we must get a grip on affordable housing construction,” he said. “On the other hand, we must also increase land provision for ordinary commercial housing.”

Breaking from biodun@bbcnews.com: Cain's Line in the Sand: Denials Invite Scrutiny

Herman Cain drew a line in the sand, and now he has to hope it sets like concrete.

Cain, a surprise leader in recent Republican presidential polls, has responded to allegations of sexual harassment with a series of definitive statements that invite closer scrutiny of his past conduct.

During 40 years in the business world, Cain says, he’s never sexually harassed anyone. He ticks off a long list of employers — Burger King, Coca-Cola, Godfather’s Pizza and more — and says he was “never, never” accused of impropriety. “There’s nothing else there to dig up,” he says.

Gary Hart in the 1980s dared the media to follow up on his phantom sexual escapades. It did, and dug up Donna Rice, including a picture of them together on a boat appropriately named “Monkey Business.” Go figure.

U.N. ends mandate for NATO military operations in Libya

by Suzanne Gould and Biodun Iginla, BBC News

UNITED NATIONS  - The U.N. Security Council on Thursday canceled its authorization for a seven-month-old NATO military operation in Libya that led to the ouster and death of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

The 15-nation council unanimously approved a resolution terminating the U.N. mandate, which set the no-fly zone over Libya and permitted foreign military forces, including NATO, to use “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians.

The resolution said the U.N. authorization for foreign military operations in Libya will lapse at 11:59 p.m. local Libyan time on October 31.

Man charged in rooster shooting

by Alyssa Mann, for the BBC’s Biodun Iginla

(0) | | |      Published: May 3, 2012 at 4:21 PM

LAKE WORTH, Fla., May 3 – A Florida man is facing charges after he allegedly shot his neighbor’s roosters because he was angry about their early morning crowing.

Cedric Leonard Livingston, 31, of Lake Worth, was charged Wednesday with crimes including possession of a weapon by a convicted felon, discharging a firearm in public and two counts of animal cruelty, The Palm Beach Post reported Thursday.

Ubencelado Maldonado, the owner of the roosters, told Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies he saw Livingston enter the back yard of their duplex April 9 and shoot the two birds with a chrome gun.

Maldonado said Livingston allegedly killed two other roosters two weeks prior to the incident with a hammer.

Livingston was ordered held in lieu of $12,000 bail.



Iranian military shot down US drone, local media say
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The Iranian military shot down an American reconnaissance drone after it “briefly violated” Iranian airspace near the borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan, local Arabic media reported on Sunday.

by Nasra Ismail and Biodun Iginla, BBC News

Iran’s military on Sunday shot down a US Army RQ-170 unmanned aerial vehicle after it “briefly violated” Iranian territory in the east, near the Afghanistan and Pakistan borders, local media said.

Al-Alam Arabic language satellite channel, quoting a military source, said the drone was shot down “a few hours ago.”

Fars news agency said the drone had violated Iran’s airspace at its eastern borders. Fars has close ties to the Revolutionary Guards, an elite force in charge of the country’s air defence and missile programmes.

“Our air defence and electronic warfare units managed to identify and shoot down an advanced unmanned spy aircraft – RQ-170 – after it briefly violated the eastern border territory,” Fars said, quoting an unnamed military source.

The drone “was downed with slight damage. It is now under the control of our forces,” the source added, calling the incident “a blatant territorial violation.”

The RQ-170 Sentinel is a reconnaissance drone whose existence was revealed in 2009 by specialised media, and later confirmed by the US Air Force in 2010.

In January, Iran announced that its forces had downed two US drones after they violated Iranian-controlled airspace. It later said it would put the aircraft on public display.

The US military and Central Intelligence Agency routinely use drones to monitor military activity in the region. They have also reportedly used them to launch missile strikes in Yemen as well as in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt.
 

Breaking News Alert: Secret U.S. Memo Made Legal Case to Kill a Citizen

by Biodun Iginla, BBC News

Saturday, October 8, 2011 – 7:35 PM EDT
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The Obama administration’s secret legal memorandum that opened the door to the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born radical Muslim cleric hiding in Yemen, found that it would be lawful only if it were not feasible to take him alive, according to people who have read the document.

The memo, written last year, followed months of extensive deliberations and offers a glimpse into the legal debate that led to one of the most significant decisions made by President Obama — to move ahead with the killing of an American citizen without a trial.

The memo provided the justification for acting despite an executive order banning assassinations, a federal law against murder, protections in the Bill of Rights and various strictures of the international laws of war, according to people familiar with the analysis. The memo, however, was narrowly drawn to the specifics of Mr. Awlaki’s case and did not establish a broad new legal doctrine.

Breaking News Alert: Steven P. Jobs, Co-Founder of Apple, Dies


by Biodun Iginla, BBC News, New York


Wednesday, October 5, 2011 – 7:42 PM EDT
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Steven P. Jobs, the co-founder of the technology company Apple Inc. who came to define the global digital culture at the outset of the 21st century, died, it was announced Wednesday.

On Aug. 24, Apple had announced that Mr. Jobs, who had battled cancer for several years, was stepping down as chief executive.

Stressed Chinese fight back - with pillows

by Xian Wan, BBC News Southeast Asia Desk, for the BBC’s Biodun Iginla

SHANGHAI - A whirlwind of pillows bearing the names of bosses and teachers filled the air as hundreds of Chinese gathered to blow off stress in Shanghai, staging a massive pillow battle.

The annual event marked its fifth year with such a surge in interest from stressed young office workers and students that organizers held two nights of pillow fighting before Christmas Day and plan another for Dec 30.

“Nowadays there are many white collar workers and students that are facing huge pressures at work and at school, so we hope to give them an outlet to release their stress before the end of the year,” Eleven Wang, the founder and mastermind behind the epic pillow fights, told me at the BBC

“Sometimes we have pressure on us by our bosses, teachers and exams, so today we can go crazy. Everyone will get to write onto the pillows the names of their bosses, teachers and exam subjects, and enjoy and vent to the maximum,” he added.

“After releasing the stress, we can once again face our daily life with joy.”

Pillows were handed out at the door as participants entered, then emotion stoked by a rock concert, with many on the floor of the huge event space rocking and waving their pillows in time to the music.

Then came the fighting.

Pillows filled the air, with many combatants opting for throwing rather than using them to whack opponents. A few hapless participants shielded their heads with as many pillows as they could hold, but most ventured eagerly in to the fray.

“I really enjoyed the fight, but my friend was useless. He joined in for two ticks and could not go on, he was afraid of getting beaten by other people,” 24-year-old Chen Yi, told me in a cell phone conversation.

“I thought it was pretty meaningful. I’ve just been working so much (at the office) and never get to break out in a sweat, so it felt really good.”

Others gamely said they enjoyed the experience even though they ended up as attackees rather than attackers.

“I don’t know who pushed me, but all of a sudden I was in the pile of pillows, where I became the target of many people, and was beaten by all sorts of people,” said university student Zhu Shishan. “Very meaningful.”

8 feared dead in shipwreck

by Maria Ogryzlo and Biodun Iginla, BBC

Published: Dec. 25, 2011 at 3:20 PM

MOSCOW, Dec. 25 – Eight people are feared dead after an Indonesian-flagged ship went missing in the Sea of Okhotsk, off Russia’s Far East coast, officials said Sunday.

The missing ship, GINGA, was carrying five Russians and three Indonesian nationals, RIA Novosti reported. So far, three bodies of sailors have been recovered during the search and rescue operation.

Previous reports said a ship was named Alfa-3 and was flying a Cambodian flag.

Emergency centers in the Russian Far East received a distress call from the ship, which launched from Japan, late Saturday. The ship wrecked in the La Perouse Strait, which separates Russia and Japan’s island of Hokkaido

Both Russia and Japan are involved in the rescue operation, Russia’s Transport Ministry said Sunday.

“The Russian search and rescue group comprises the Atlas rescue vessel, the Ozersk refrigerator ship, the shipping boats Paliya and Zaliv Vasilyeva, and also a Mi-8 helicopter while the Japanese team includes the REBUN patrol boat and a plane,” the ministry said.



Arizona dismantles major drug network with Mexico

by Rochelle van Amber and Biodun Iginla, BBC News

PHOENIX  - U.S. authorities have arrested more than 70 people in a series of Arizona narcotics raids, dismantling a major smuggling network linked to a Mexican drug cartel that generated nearly $2 billion in illicit proceeds, officials said on Monday.

The law enforcement effort, which included three sweeps conducted jointly by local, state and federal authorities, capped a 17-month investigation dubbed “Operation Pipeline Express.”

The bust, ranked as one of the largest ever in Arizona, was announced at a news conference in Phoenix by officials of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and the Pinal County Sheriff’s Department.

A total of 76 suspects – a mix of U.S. and Mexican nationals – were arrested in raids carried out last week, earlier this month and in mid-September throughout southern and central Arizona, officials said.

Those rounded up ranged from organizational “bosses” to stash house guards, scouts and drivers, they said.

To date, the case has resulted in the seizure of over 60,000 pounds of marijuana, more than 200 pounds of cocaine and about 160 pounds of heroin, along with $750,000 in cash and more than 100 weapons.

Intelligence gathered as part of probe found the drug-smuggling ring operated as a major U.S. hub for Mexico’s notorious Sinaloa cartel during at least the past five years, authorities said.

During that time, the network is estimated to have smuggled more than 3.3 million pounds of marijuana, 20,000 pounds of cocaine and 10,000 pounds of heroin into the United States, generating illicit proceeds of nearly $2 billion.

Authorities said the network richly profited by gaining a virtual monopoly over smuggling routes along an 80-mile stretch of Arizona’s southwestern desert.

Operating from cells based in the Arizona cities of Chandler, Stanfield and Maricopa, the smugglers ferried narcotics by foot and vehicle from the border to a network of “stash” houses in the Phoenix area, where the drugs were then sold to distributors from other states.

“We have dealt a significant blow to a Mexican criminal enterprise that has been responsible for poisoning our communities,” Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said. “I find it completely unacceptable that Arizona neighborhoods are treated as a trading floor for narcotics.”

The cartel is headquartered in the northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa on the Pacific coast, an area home to big marijuana and opium poppy plantations and considered the cradle of Mexican narcotics trafficking since the 1960s.

The cartel is believed to handle 65 percent of all drugs illegally transported to the United States, drug experts say.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in drug-related violence since Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched his military campaign against the cartels after he took office in late 2006.

Obituary Steve Jobs

by Biodun Iginla, BBC News and The Economist

Oct 6th 2011, 1:25

NOBODY else in the computer industry, or any other industry for that matter, could put on a show like Steve Jobs. His product launches, at which he would stand alone on a black stage and conjure up a “magical” or “incredible” new electronic gadget in front of an awed crowd, were the performances of a master showman. All computers do is fetch and shuffle numbers, he once explained, but do it fast enough and “the results appear to be magic”. He spent his life packaging that magic into elegantly designed, easy to use products.

He had been among the first, back in the 1970s, to see the potential that lay in the idea of selling computers to ordinary people. In those days of green-on-black displays, when floppy discs were still floppy, the notion that computers might soon become ubiquitous seemed fanciful. But Mr Jobs was one of a handful of pioneers who saw what was coming. Crucially, he also had an unusual knack for looking at computers from the outside, as a user, not just from the inside, as an engineer—something he attributed to the experiences of his wayward youth.

Mr Jobs caught the computing bug while growing up in Silicon Valley. As a teenager in the late 1960s he cold-called his idol, Bill Hewlett, and talked his way into a summer job at Hewlett-Packard. But it was only after dropping out of college, travelling to India, becoming a Buddhist and experimenting with psychedelic drugs that Mr Jobs returned to California to co-found Apple, in his parents’ garage, on April Fools’ Day 1976. “A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences,” he once said. “So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions.” Bill Gates, he suggested, would be “a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger”.

Dropping out of his college course and attending calligraphy classes instead had, for example, given Mr Jobs an apparently useless love of typography. But support for a variety of fonts was to prove a key feature of the Macintosh, the pioneering mouse-driven, graphical computer that Apple launched in 1984. With its windows, icons and menus, it was sold as “the computer for the rest of us”. Having made a fortune from Apple’s initial success, Mr Jobs expected to sell “zillions” of his new machines. But the Mac was not the mass-market success Mr Jobs had hoped for, and he was ousted from Apple by its board.

Yet this apparently disastrous turn of events turned out to be a blessing: “the best thing that could have ever happened to me”, Mr Jobs later called it. He co-founded a new firm, Pixar, which specialised in computer graphics, and NeXT, another computer-maker. His remarkable second act began in 1996 when Apple, having lost its way, acquired NeXT, and Mr Jobs returned to put its technology at the heart of a new range of Apple products. And the rest is history: Apple launched the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad, and (briefly) became the world’s most valuable listed company. “I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple,” Mr Jobs said in 2005. When his failing health forced him to step down as Apple’s boss in August, he was hailed as the greatest chief executive in history. Oh, and Pixar, his side project, produced a string of hugely successful animated movies.

In retrospect, Mr Jobs was a man ahead of his time during his first stint at Apple. Computing’s early years were dominated by technical types. But his emphasis on design and ease of use gave him the edge later on. Elegance, simplicity and an understanding of other fields came to matter in a world in which computers are fashion items, carried by everyone, that can do almost anything. “Technology alone is not enough,” said Mr Jobs at the end of his speech introducing the iPad 2, in March 2011. “It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.” It was an unusual statement for the head of a technology firm, but it was vintage Steve Jobs.

His interdisciplinary approach was backed up by an obsessive attention to detail. A carpenter making a fine chest of drawers will not use plywood on the back, even though nobody will see it, he said, and he applied the same approach to his products. “For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.” He insisted that the first Macintosh should have no internal cooling fan, so that it would be silent—putting user needs above engineering convenience. He called an Apple engineer one weekend with an urgent request: the colour of one letter of an on-screen logo on the iPhone was not quite the right shade of yellow. He often wrote or rewrote the text of Apple’s advertisements himself.

His on-stage persona as a Zen-like mystic notwithstanding, Mr Jobs was an autocratic manager with a fierce temper. But his egomania was largely justified. He eschewed market researchers and focus groups, preferring to trust his own instincts when evaluating potential new products. “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them,” he said. His judgment proved uncannily accurate: by the end of his career the hits far outweighed the misses. Mr Jobs was said by an engineer in the early years of Apple to emit a “reality distortion field”, such were his powers of persuasion. But in the end he changed reality, channelling the magic of computing into products that reshaped music, telecoms and media. The man who said in his youth that he wanted to “put a ding in the universe” did just that.

Correction: The quotation about “technology married with the liberal arts” came from the speech introducing the iPad 2 in March 2011, not the original iPad in January 2010, as this post originally stated.

U.S. eyes testy China talks

by Biodun Iginla, BBC News Analyst

The United States faces a tense week in China as high-level talks on trade and global hot spots like Iran and North Korea open in the shadow of a blind Chinese activist’s bold escape from house arrest to seek U.S. protection in Beijing.

The trip to Beijing would have been challenging for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner even without a human rights dispute over Chen Guangcheng, who a U.S.-based group says is hiding in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

The May 3-4 Strategic & Economic Dialogue is the last of such annual consultations before political seasons heat up in the United States and China, giving leaders in both countries less flexibility over contentious economic and security issues.

The United States goes into full campaign mode for the November presidential election, while China’s ruling Communist Party enters a leadership transition in the fall that has been complicated by a scandal that toppled senior leader Bo Xilai.

Bob Fu, whose religious and political rights advocacy group ChinaAid is the chief source of information about Chen, said he had confirmed “intensive talks” between the United States and China began right after the activist took shelter in the embassy on Friday.

“I was told the Chinese top leaders have been deliberating a decision to be made very soon,” Fu said on Sunday by telephone from Texas. A “Chinese official response (is) expected in the next day or so,” he added.

The United States has not confirmed reports that Chen, who slipped away from under heavy surveillance around his village home in eastern Shandong province, fled into the U.S. Embassy. China has also declined public comment on Chen’s reported escape.

Fu said he got his information from “both sides” in the talks over Chen’s fate. The State Department would not comment.

The New York Times, however, reported that Kurt Campbell, an assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, arrived in Beijing on Sunday for talks about Chen, citing unidentified officials in Washington and Beijing. The newspaper said the senior diplomat was photographed in a Marriott hotel.

Chen, a self-schooled legal advocate who campaigned against abortions forced under China’s “one child” policy, had been held under extra-legal confinement in his village home in Linyi since September 2010 when he was released from jail.

NORTH KOREA, IRAN LOOM

Washington and Beijing both confirmed on Saturday that the high-level talks would proceed as scheduled, which analysts said indicated efforts to contain fallout from Chen on the larger relationship.

“It is feasible that this will become a very big deal with major negative impact on U.S.-China relations, but it is also feasible and far preferable that this be able to be negotiated quickly and quietly,” Kenneth Lieberthal, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution.

The United States seeks more Chinese support in dealing with the nuclear proliferation challenges of Iran and North Korea.

Most experts believe North Korea is preparing for a third nuclear test, in defiance of a raft of U.N. sanctions and pressure from Beijing to desist. In Iran’s case, Washington wants Beijing’s cooperation on cutting oil imports from Tehran, an important energy source for China.

China has been concerned about the Obama administration strategy of rebalancing its military forces to the Asia-Pacific region, under which the United States has strengthened security ties to treaty allies Australia, the Philippines and Japan.

Underscoring those deepening ties, President Barack Obama hosts Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda at the White House on Monday, the same day that Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta host their counterparts from the Philippines.

Noda arrives in Washington days after the United States and Japan revised plans to reorganize and streamline U.S. bases on the Japanese island of Okinawa, allowing the allies to move toward closer military cooperation in the region.

The Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin come to the United States amid tensions with China over a South China Sea territorial dispute. Philippine and Chinese ships have faced off near the Scarborough Shoal in waters believed to be rich in oil and gas.

More U.S.-China friction could be in store, as supporters of Taiwan in the U.S. Congress have renewed pressure on the Obama administration to sell new F-16s to the self-ruled island, which Beijing claims as part of the sovereign territory on China.

Obama’s presumptive Republican challenger in November’s election, Mitt Romney, has painted Obama as weak on China.

In a statement on Chen on Sunday, Romney avoided criticism of Obama’s handling of the delicate case, but said: “Any serious U.S. policy toward China must confront the facts of the Chinese government’s denial of political liberties, its one-child policy, and other violations of human rights.”

Lieberthal, who was a top Asia adviser in the Bill Clinton administration, said U.S. diplomats have long struggled to handle human rights cases while pursuing other important American interests with China.

“The reality is your ability to work with the Chinese on a whole series of major U.S. equities is adversely affected if you make the focus of U.S. policy an individual case of a dissident,” he said

Mafila villa to be police barracks

by Natalie de Vallieres and Biodun Iginla, BBC News

Published: Jan. 14, 2012 at 2:13 AM

PALERMO, Italy, Jan. 14– A luxury villa used as a hideout by a boss in the Sicilian Mafia is being converted into a police barracks, Italian officials said.

The conversion is expected to take a year, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

The house in Sicily where Toto Riina, known as “The Beast,” lived for more than two decades as a fugitive boasts a swimming pool. He was arrested in 1993.

Teo Luzi, the provincial commander of the Carabinieri, called the plan a “highly symbolic act.” Riina’s victims during his criminal career included at least two magistrates.