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Taliban attacks, rising Afghanistan death toll: monthly U.S. and NATO troops fatalities in Afghanistan surpassing those in Iraq
KABUL, Afghanistan - Insurgents armed with machine guns, mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades mounted a fierce assault on a remote, relatively lightly manned US outpost in northeastern Afghanistan on June 13, killing nine American soldiers. It was the largest loss of US troops' lives in a single assault in Afghanistan since June 2005, when 16 Americans died when a helicopter was shot down in the same province. Fifteen Americans and four Afghan soldiers were wounded. The province, Kunar, is a swath of mountainous terrain that borders Pakistan.
Although Afghanistan's south is the traditional heartland of the Taliban insurgency, the east has seen a sharp upsurge in attacks over the past few months. The 9 deaths accelerated what had been a rapidly rising fatality count among coalition troops. During May and June, the 65 deaths among US and other NATO troops killed in Afghanistan outnumbered American military fatalities in Iraq.
US officials are considering reducing forces from Iraq in coming months, partly to provide more troops for Afghanistan. Commanders have said they need at least 10,000 additional troops here. Although the attackers were driven back, the toll they exacted was undeniably heavy. The senior Defense Department official said the outpost was staffed by 45 American troops and 25 Afghan National Army soldiers. That would mean that 1 in 5 of the American defenders was killed, and one-third wounded.
NATO has said the insurgents deliberately seek to fuel tensions along the border by directing fire at Western troops inside Afghanistan from across the border in Pakistan. Last month, 11 Pakistani paramilitary troops were killed when coalition troops called in air strikes after being fired on - an attack that drew an angry protest from Pakistan's new coalition government.
The attack was unusual in its audacity. Taliban guerrillas rarely make sustained frontal assaults on much better-armed coalition forces, preferring hit-and-run attacks and roadside bombs. It would be considered an enormous battlefield coup for the insurgents to capture a coalition base, particularly if they were able to take captives and seize weaponry. Insurgents often videotape their attacks on Western forces and use the images in recruiting and propaganda videos. Coalition officials said that insurgents fired from homes and a mosque in the village of Wanat, near the American outpost. The NATO-led security force accuses Taliban militants of routinely using civilian areas as a staging ground for attacks.
Images courtesy of Press TV, Boston Globe, and AP / Rafiq Maqbool
Original Source: Boston Globe
Mayor of Nice welcomes new Brangelina arrivals - Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s twin joy: Knox Leon and Vivienne Marcheline
NICE, France (AP) - Brad Pitt was emotional but calm, Angelina Jolie laughed and chatted. The world's most famous celebrity couple were joined in emotion during the birth of their twins - a boy and a girl - and all "are doing marvelously well," the doctor who delivered the babies in a seaside hospital on the French Riviera said Sunday.
The Mayor of Nice, France, has personally welcomed Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s newborn twins, Knox Leon and Vivienne Marcheline, signing off on their birth certificates and offering his congratulations to the superstar couple. Jolie's obstetrician, Dr. Michel Sussmann, said he believed the baby girl's middle name was chosen in honor of Jolie's mother, actress Marcheline Bertrand, who died in January 2007 after a 7 1/2-year battle with cancer.
Mayor Christian Estrosi showed the waiting media the birth certificate of baby Knox, born on Saturday July 12 at 6:27pm, bearing Pitt’s full initials WBP - William Bradley Pitt. “On behalf of the inhabitants of Nice,” Estrosi declared, “I congratulate the happy parents, the most famous couple of the world, who have chosen our city for this happy event.”
"The father is having one of the happiest moments of his life, like any father, especially when they have the joy of having two children from such a wonderful wife as Angelina Jolie. The mother is doing fine. She is smiling a lot. She is as happy as the father," Estrosi said.
Nice Matin, the hometown daily in the Riviera city in the south of France, put the worth of the twins' photos at more than $11 million. It first broke news of the birth and reported Sunday that the couple have sold the rights for the first photo of their newly expanded family to a U.S. publication, which it did not name, and that the proceeds would go to charity.
Photos courtesy of Reuters, MTV Newsroom, and Mail Online
Cartoons - "Patriot", "Just Us Department", "Provinces of Iraq", "The pilot is extra", disaster response, scooters, GM, and more
Images courtesy of Britt/State Journal-Register, Britt/The State Journal-Register, Sherttius / Boulder Camera, and CAM/Ottawa Citizen/Copley News Service, Mike Smith/Las Vegas Sun/King Features Syndicate, and Jones/Creators Syndicate
Original Source: Time
EU Energy Commissioner & ICE: speculators not driving oil prices. Billionaire investor Soros: price could soon fall back sharply
Intercontinental Exchange is cooperating with regulators in their efforts to restrict oil trading, but the Atlanta-based company insists that speculation is not the reason for soaring prices.
The company, commonly known as ICE, operates a number of commodities trading exchanges, including a major oil futures exchange based in London.
They also made it clear they don't believe that's happening. "There is no evidence that regulators or researchers have found demonstrating that excessive speculation is driving crude oil prices," said Sarah Stashak, an ICE spokeswoman.
The cost of a barrel of crude oil has edged closer to its all-time high after OPEC president Chakib Khelil warned that oil prices “will not come down”. Ahead of a meeting with EU officials in Brussels today, he said that the cartel had done all it could to ease prices.
His comments pushed up benchmark crude in London by $1.24 to $137.15 a barrel - it hit an all-time high of $137.69 a barrel on June 6. The spot price - the cost of buying a barrel of oil for delivery that day - has risen close to $140.
European Union Energy Commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, said he was “not convinced” speculators are to blame and repeated his call for the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to pump more oil and scrap production quotas. But OPEC Secretary-General Abdalla el-Badri said: “The market is currently hijacked by speculators,” including hedge funds. “There is no shortage of supply as I said before.”
Many analysts now expect crude prices to shoot up towards $200 a barrel as the growth in global demand for energy outpaces the supply.
However others, including billionaire investor George Soros, have warned that the price could soon fall back sharply, and that the price looks like a bubble.
Julian Jessop, of Capital Economics, said: "I've no doubt that there is some speculative froth in the market... it's impossible to prove if it is contributing $5 or $50 to the price.
"More recently [since April] speculative positions have been flat or falling, while prices have been rising sharply," he added, saying speculative activity could not explain the recent sharp increase in price from $100 to almost $140 a barrel.
Photos courtesy of AFP/File/Yasser al-Zayyat, AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani, AFP/File/Joe Klamar, AP Photo/Yves Logghe, AFP/Marwan Naamani, Reuters/Susan Baaghil (Saudi Arabia), and Reuters/Saudi Press Agency/Handout
Image Gallery: Yahoo News: Oil Industry
Former Bush Aide McClellan Testifies. Writes in book senior White House officials misled US about reasons for invading Iraq
“Ideals of candor, transparency and integrity,” ... should outweigh “loyalty to an individual officeholder.” - Scott McClellan
WASHINGTON — Scott McClellan, President Bush’s former press secretary, told the House Judiciary Committee on Friday that he had been unfairly vilified by Bush supporters for his recent book criticizing former White House colleagues over the Iraq war and their involvement in leaking the identity of an intelligence officer. Mr. McClellan, however, offered little new information in his testimony on those issues beyond what he wrote in the book, “” (PublicAffairs), which was published in May and last week topped the nonfiction best-seller list in The New York Times.
In the book, Mr. McClellan says senior White House officials misled the nation about the reasons for invading Iraq and maneuvered him into lying to the public about their roles in the leak case. The book, with Mr. McClellan’s lacerating criticism of his former colleagues, has generated a rich discussion about the obligations of political loyalty, and his appearance Friday on Capitol Hill provided another stage for that debate. The man who once regularly and seemingly by rote defended Mr. Bush in the White House press room was attacked by the committee’s ranking Republican, Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, who grilled Mr. McClellan as ferociously as any reporter had in his three years as press secretary. Committee Democrats, on the other hand, were much gentler, treating Mr. McClellan as if he were an author promoting a book in an interview.
In his opening statement, Mr. McClellan said that in contemporary Washington politics, “vicious attacks, distortions, political spin become accepted.” He added that “there is no more recent example of this unsavory side of politics than the initial reaction to my book,” in which he said his motives for writing it were unfairly attacked.
He said he wrote the book out of loyalty to the “ideals of candor, transparency and integrity,” which he said should outweigh “loyalty to an individual officeholder.”
Mr. McClellan has seemed especially angry about having been ordered by senior White House officials to tell reporters that I. Lewis Libby Jr., the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, had no role in leaking to reporters the name of the intelligence operative, Valerie Wilson. Mr. Libby was subsequently convicted of lying and obstruction of justice for testifying to a grand jury and to investigators that he had not told reporters about Ms. Wilson’s work at the C.I.A. At the Friday hearing, called as part of the Congressional investigation into the leak of Ms. Wilson’s name, Mr. McClellan recalled being ordered by Andrew Card, then the White House chief of staff, to publicly declare that Mr. Libby, known as Scooter, had not been involved in disclosing Ms. Wilson’s identity to reporters.
“I was reluctant to do it,” Mr. McClellan told the committee. “I got on the phone with Scooter Libby and asked him point-blank, ‘Were you involved in this in any way?’ And he assured me in unequivocal terms that he was not.”
In response to a question from Representative John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan, the chairman of the committee, Mr. McClellan said it would be wrong for President Bush to pardon Mr. Libby before his term ends as president. Last year, Mr. Bush commuted Mr. Libby’s sentence, voiding a 30-month prison term.
Photos courtesy of Doug Mills/The New York Times
Original Source: New York Times
* at The Public Record;
* House Judiciary Committee Democratic Chairman John Conyers’s opening statement at Congressional Hearing;
* On June 9, Dennis Kucinich read 35 Articles of Impeachment into the record on the House floor for 5 hours.
US arrests 406 in mortgage crackdown, 60 yesterday alone, handcuffed 2 executives whose attorneys say they are used as scapegoat
More than 400 real estate industry players have been indicted since March, including dozens over the last 2 days, in a crackdown on mortgage fraud stemming from America’s housing crisis.
Two former Bear Stearns hedge fund managers today became the first executives to face criminal charges related to the collapse of the subprime mortgage market, following a federal criminal probe into the collapse of two funds they oversaw. In an indictment unsealed in New York, Ralph Cioffi and Matthew Tannin were charged with conspiracy, securities fraud and wire fraud. Cioffi was also charged with insider trading. Cioffi, 52, and Tannin, 46, surrendered to officials and were paraded in handcuffs in front of reporters and onlookers en route to their arraignment today. Their lawyers said they will fight the charges.
Since the beginning of March, 406 people have been arrested in the sting dubbed Operation Malicious Mortgage resulting from 144 cases across America. Sixty people were arrested yesterday alone, including in Chicago, Miami, Houston and a dozen other regions policed by the FBI. Law enforcement officials said their stepped-up focus on mortgage cases aims to combat problems that have grown out of the risky lending practices prevalent until the mortgage market collapse started last year.
Across the country, reports of mortgage fraud have soared over the past year as the subprime mortgage market collapsed, and defaults and foreclosures soared. Banks reported nearly 53,000 cases of suspected mortgage fraud last year, up from more than 37,000 a year earlier and about 10 times the level of reports in 2001 and 2002, according to the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. In recent months, the FBI has been investigating more than 1,400 mortgage fraud cases and 19 companies - including Bear Stearns - tied to the subprime mortgage crisis.
Edward Little, lawyer for Cioffi, said the two men were being used as scapegoats in a crisis that was not their fault. “The subprime crisis took everyone by surprise, including the Fed and Treasury, and dozens of the largest financial institutions have lost over $US300 billion to date on the same investments,” the lawyer said in a statement. “We are shocked and disappointed that the government has seen fit to fix blame on these two decent men. The good news though is that there will be a trial, and we look forward to the day they will be vindicated.”
Officials declined to say who might be the next corporate target, but FBI Director Robert Mueller said the investigations focus on accounting fraud, insider trading, and failure to disclose the value of mortgage-related securities and other investments. Under review for potential fraud are: investment banks, hedge funds, credit rating agencies, brokerage houses and due diligence firms - which evaluate loans packaged into investments. Similar to the federal investigations of Enron Corp. and WorldCom Inc., the cases are complex and rely on intense scrutiny of documents, Mueller said.
Images courtesy of Lanzano/AP, Hermann for News and AFP/Getty Images/File
Original Source: The West Australian
Oil prices soar, leaders gather for Saudi Arabia summit, Opec president says output increase would be "illogical and irrational"
Oil prices surged as some members of the Opec producers' cartel rejected demands to increase output ahead of tomorrow's meeting in Saudi Arabia to discuss soaring fuel costs. The president of Opec, Chakib Khelil, said yesterday that it would be "illogical and irrational" for it to increase output.
On Thursday oil prices fell sharply - around $5 a barrel - after Saudi Arabia announced a production hike of 200,000 barrels a day and China increased fuel prices by dropping subsidies.
But yesterday, New York's main oil futures contract, light sweet crude for July delivery, jumped $4.27 to $136.20 a barrel at one stage and in London Brent North Sea crude for August rose $3.46 to $134.46.
Venezuela initially refused to attend the meeting, but energy minister Rafael Ramirez reportedly changed his mind at the last minute after blaming speculators and the falling dollar for the high prices. Meanwhile, Iran said raising output would not curtail prices.
Saudi Arabia, the world's largest producer and the de facto leader of Opec, called the summit in the hope of easing the strains on consuming economies caused by soaring oil prices.
In what appeared to be a mistake on Thursday, the country's London embassy website said it was boosting its daily oil output by 200,000 barrels. The statement was later withdrawn and it was thought the release was intended for tomorrow.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown, America's energy secretary Sam Bodman and senior ministers from other countries, including China, will be at the Jeddah summit. Jeroen van der Veer, chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell, and Tony Hayward, his opposite number at BP, are among the senior businessmen attending.
The summit will also discuss opening up Middle East oilfields to energy majors like BP, and foreign investments from sovereign wealth funds in the Gulf.
Images courtesy of Reuters, BBC News, and Luis Vasquez/Gulf News
Original Source: Telegraph