Tuesday, February 28, 2012

France says U.N. working on Syria resolution

PARIS (Reuters) - France said that the United Nations Security Council would start work on Tuesday on a proposed resolution to halt the violence in Syria and enable humanitarian access to victims.
"Work is starting today at the Security Council on a proposed resolution on stopping the violence in Syria and on humanitarian access to the worst affected sites and people," foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told a news briefing, adding that the focus was on the besieged city of Homs.
"We hope Russia and China will not oppose the proposed resolution," he said. "Given the emergency, it's time that all the council members, without exception, put a stop to this barbarity."
(Reporting Nick Vinocur and Jean-Baptiste Vey; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Mysterious 'Dog-Headed Pig Monster' Terrorizes Africa

Residents in northern Namibia, on the southwest coast of Africa, have reported being terrorized by a bizarre dog-pig hybrid creature. The animal is said to be mostly white and unlike anything the villagers have ever seen, with a doglike head and the broad, round, nearly hairless back and shoulders of a giant pig. The beast was spotted chasing and attacking dogs, goats and other domestic animals in this arid region not far from the Kalahari desert.
As often happens when rumors of monsters spread in rural areas around the world, some locals have taken extra safety precautions, such as traveling in groups and arming themselves with weapons. In 1995 and 1996, some Puerto Ricans armed themselves against the vampire beast el chupacabra; last year, Malaysian residents patrolled the streets searching for the mysterious orang minyak, or "oily man" creature that had recently terrorized them.
What could this monster be? One Namibian official, regional councilor Andreas Mundjindi, was quoted in Informante newspaper as saying, "This is an alien animal that the people have not seen before. We don't have a forest here, only bushes. So, this must be black magic at play." Some people in the area trace the beast to one old man rumored to be a warlock or witch doctor, suggesting it's his pet (or, what witch-hunters hundreds of years ago would have called a "familiar").
The assumption that the beast has magical origins is not surprising. A 2010 Gallup poll found belief in magic widespread throughout sub-Saharan Africa, with more than half of respondents saying they personally believe in witchcraft and sorcery.
This is not the first time that unusual animals have been spotted in rural areas of Namibia; several other monsters have been reported over the years, including in July 2009, when unknown creatures reportedly sucked the blood out of livestock, including nearly two dozen goats. Though no one saw the monsters, they were said to have left footprints similar to those of a dog, but much larger. Police followed the footprints, but they mysteriously stopped in an open field, as if the creature suddenly took flight or vanished. At that time, locals were also convinced that the strange beast was the product of black magic — going so far as to accuse an old man and his sister of conjuring the creature.
It's not clear whether locals believe that the current dog-headed, pig-bodied animal is the same mystery creature that terrorized the region three years ago. Whether the reports are real or rumor, hopefully belief in these creatures won't be used as an excuse for mob attacks on elderly men and women suspected of witchcraft.
This story was provided by Life's Little Mysteries, a sister site to LivScience. Follow Life's Little Mysteries on Twitter @llmysteries, then join us on Facebook.

Benjamin Radford is deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine and author of Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries. His Web site is www.BenjaminRadford.com.

Clinton wary of declaring Assad a war criminal

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday an argument could be made for declaring President Bashar al-Assad a war criminal, but said such action could complicate a solution in Syria.
"Based on definitions of war criminal and crimes against humanity, there would be an argument to be made that he would fit into that category," Clinton told a Senate hearing on the State Department budget.
"People have been putting forth the argument," the chief US diplomat said.
"But I also think that from long experience that can complicate a resolution of a difficult, complex situation because it limits options to persuade leaders perhaps to step down from power," Clinton said.
The secretary appeared to be referring to Yemen, where the United States supported a deal that gave outgoing Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh "complete" immunity from prosecution in return for stepping down.
The United States defended that deal as a way to promote democracy in Yemen.
In Brussels on Monday, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said France wants to see the Syrian regime dragged before the International Criminal Court (ICC), saying he would plead for such action before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
He said he would say that he hopes to "see the international community reflect on the conditions of a referral to the ICC."
But he said that, as Syria was not a party to the Rome convention establishing the ICC, the tribunal could not initiate action itself and it would be up to the UN Security Council to refer the matter.

NASA Scientist Wins Free Space Trip on Rocket Plane

PALO ALTO, Calif. — A NASA scientist has won a free flight to suborbital space, but he may not be able to claim the prize.
Thomas Goodwin, a physiology and bioengineering researcher at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, won a suborbital flight on XCOR Aerospace's Lynx vehicle, a $95,000 value. Goodwin's name was randomly selected here Monday (Feb. 27) at the 2012 Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference (NSRC-2012).
"I'm not sure I can accept this," Goodwin said, referencing his status as a government employee, which may prevent him from using the prize. "I'm very surprised."
If government regulations and red tape prohibit Goodwin from claiming the award, a backup is ready to step up; XCOR officials drew an alternate name just in case. Conference attendees who registered in advance were entered in the drawing.
XCOR's Lynx is a two-person space plane designed to take off and land on a conventional airport runway. In addition to flights with paying passengers, the rocket-powered vehicle is being designed to carry research experiments to suborbital space.
XCOR officials have said the Lynx could be in flight-test operations by the end of 2012. The company plans to charge $95,000 per seat when the space plane is up and running. XCOR also announced Monday that it recently secured $5 million in equity funding that will help fund its work on the Lynx.
Whoever eventually goes up in the space plane will be in for a real treat, XCOR officials said.
"Hang onto your hat, because it's going to be one amazing ride," said former NASA astronaut and space shuttle commander Rick Searfoss, XCOR's chief test pilot.
XCOR isn't the only company developing craft to take scientists, experiments and tourists up to suborbital space. Virgin Galactic, for example, is charging $200,000 for rides on its SpaceShipTwo vehicle, which seats six passengers, along with two pilots.
NSRC-2012, which runs through Wednesday (Feb. 29), brings scientists and educators together to talk about how commercial suborbital spacecraft can help advance research in atmospheric science, physics, planetary science, biology and physiology, among other fields, according to conference organizers.
The meeting is jointly hosted by NASA, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, and the Colorado-based Southwest Research Institute.
You can follow SPACE.com senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter: @michaeldwall. Follow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

News PipeLine LPPNEWS

Russia 'thwarts plot' to assassinate Putin

Russia said on Monday its secret services had thwarted a plot hatched in a Ukrainian port city by suspected militants from Chechnya to assassinate Vladimir Putin after next weekend's presidential vote.
State television showed the two men confessing to conspiring to kill the Russian strongman in a bombing attack that was revealed to the public less than a week before Putin's likely victory in Sunday's election.
The plot was confirmed by Putin's spokesman as well as the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) and its Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) counterpart, who worked jointly to break up the conspiracy.
The purported confessions showed the two men saying they acted on the orders of Chechen Islamist militant Doku Umarov -- the warlord who has claimed Moscow's deadliest airport and metro bombings in the past two years.
Officials said the pair, along with a third man who died while trying to prepare a bomb, were both ethnic Chechens and were detained in Ukraine's Black Sea port of Odessa in January and early February.
It was not clear why the authorities had waited until just days were left before the March 4 poll to make their announcement.
"It just seems like an incredible coincidence that these monsters were discovered today," independent military analyst Alexander Golts told AFP.
But Prime Minister Putin's official spokesman Dmitry Peskov called such suggestions "blasphemous".
Channel One said the three plotters went to Ukraine from the United Arab Emirates via Turkey with "clear instructions from representatives of Doku Umarov".
"They told us that first you come to Odessa and learn how to make bombs," Channel One showed a man a man identified as Ilya Pyanzin as saying.
"And then later, in Moscow, you will stage attacks against commercial objects, with the subsequent assassination attempt against Putin," the man said.
The state television footage showed a video of Putin getting into his car being played on the laptop computer belonging to second suspect Adam Osmayev, a man the report said had lived and studied at university in London.
The hidden-camera footage of the Russian prime minister's movements was shot "so that we had an understanding of how he was protected," Osmayev said.
Osmayev had bruises and cuts across his face in the Channel One video and was later led away to his cells by hooded agents from Ukraine's SBU.
An SBU official told Interfax that the two men's fate was uncertain because Russian prosecutors had still not requested their extradition.
Osmayev was shown telling investigators that some explosives had already been hidden near the Kutuzovsky Prospekt avenue that Putin passes daily to reach the government White House.
Channel One also quoted an unidentified Russian FSB official as saying that the blast would have been "powerful enough to tear apart a truck".
Putin's spokesman Peskov said the Russian premier had no plans to alter his schedule because of the threat and hit out at suggestions that the report was planted in the media to benefit his election campaign.
"The fact that the information was published now is easily explained by the fact that the preparations were being made not only in Moscow but also in Ukraine," he told Interfax.
The Channel One news director said his station received the first details about the plot from Russia's FSB on February 17 and dismissed speculation about the report's benefits to Putin's election campaign.
"This is a very serious group (of plotters) who had funding and real bombs," Channel One news director Kirill Kleimenov told RIA Novosti.
An FSB official told RIA Novosti that the suspected plotters were all Chechens who belonged to one of Umarov's armed groups.
But the kazvkazcenter.com news site that Umarov regularly uses to air his views cast doubt on the validity of the Channel One report and carried no claim of responsibility for the plot.


Visit to Cuba is permissible, and fairly easy to do 

Cuba Cigar Sales Rise 9%

Castro Wants Tourists, Period. 

Despite most recent arrest, Cuba independent journalist Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia vows to stay on the job

Obama gains with women: Jobs, social issues help

WASHINGTON (AP) — It's looking like President Barack Obama may be back in the good graces of women.
His support dropped among this critical constituency just before the new year began and the presidential campaign got under way in earnest. But his standing with female voters is strengthening, polls show, as the economy improves and social issues, including birth control, become a bigger part of the nation's political discourse.
"Republicans are making a big mistake with this contraception talk, and I'm pretty sure that they are giving (the election) to Obama," says Patricia Speyerer, 87, of McComb, Miss., a GOP-leaning independent. "It's a stupid thing."
The recent furor over whether religious employers should be forced to pay for their workers' contraception is certainly a factor but hardly the only reason for women warming up to Obama again after turning away from him late last year.
An Associated Press-GfK poll suggests women also are giving the president more credit than men are for the country's economic turnaround.
Among women, his approval ratings on handling the economy and unemployment have jumped by 10 percentage points since December. Back then, a wide swath of Americans expressed anxiety over the nation's slow climb out of recession and anger at a government that couldn't agree on steps to speed things up.
Since then, the unemployment rate has kept declining, and Obama hasn't been shy about trumpeting it, and analysts say that drop may have resonated particularly with women.
For Obama, there is no more crucial constituency than women. They make up a majority of voters in presidential elections, and a bit more of them identify with his party. He would not be president today without topping Republican John McCain in that group in 2008. And Republicans would need to win a sizable share — more than about 40 percent — of female voters to beat him.
Though the economy remains the top concern among both women and men, an array of social issues — gay marriage, access to birth control and whether cancer research should be kept separate from the issue of abortion— have returned to the nation's political conversation since December. And both parties have snapped up those issues to awaken their staunchest supporters.
Republicans from Capitol Hill to the presidential campaign trail focused particularly on a requirement in Obama's health care law for some religious employers to pay for birth control. Obama then adjusted that policy by instead directing insurance companies to pay for birth control — and Democrats are running with a message that Republicans want to upend long-established rights for women.
"Women are used to making decisions and running their lives," said Linda Young, president of the National Women's Political Caucus, which favors abortion rights. "To hear their right to contraception questioned in 2012 is shocking, and it's gotten a lot of people's attention."
Republicans say the economy will again overtake that discussion and it will be clear the GOP offers families more once Republicans choose a nominee, turn their fire from each other to Obama and make their case on issues such as gas prices and the deficit.
"The economic indicators, we have to admit, are very slowly improving, and that is something that has always affected the female vote," said Rae Lynne Chornenky, president of the National Federation of Republican Women. "Until we get a candidate I don't think the full story can be told."
"People in both political parties are keeping this (cultural narrative) alive because they're trying to excite their bases," said Republican Brian Flaherty, who served as a Connecticut legislator for 15 years. "You can afford to have this attention in February on" reproductive issues.
An AP-GfK poll conducted Feb. 16-20 showed that on overall approval Obama has gained 10 percentage points among women since December, from 43 percent to 53 percent, even though his administration seemed to stumble over whether religious employers should be forced to pay for contraception.
Women also are the reason behind Obama's lead over Republican hopefuls Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum: In one-on-one matchups, Obama beats Romney 54 percent to 41 percent and tops Santorum 56 percent to 40 percent among women, but virtually ties each Republican among men. Women are Obama's to lose: They are more apt to identify with Democrats and give that party higher favorability than are men.
Over time, there hasn't been much shift in women's views of the Democratic Party, but views of the GOP have become more polarized since the AP last asked about the issue in January 2011. Thirty-nine percent of Republican women hold a "very favorable" view of the party, compared with 27 percent a year ago. At the same time, 57 percent of Democratic women now give the GOP a deeply unfavorable rating, the first time that figure has topped 50 percent.
Republicans insist their objections to Obama's policy on birth control coverage are about government infringing on the freedom of religion, not about contraception, which is supported by a broad majority of Americans.
But Santorum also says, as he has for years, that contraception conflicts with his Roman Catholic beliefs.
"Well, I'm a Roman Catholic, too," said Speyerer. She recalls that in 1940s New Orleans, where she was born and married, it was illegal to publish anything about birth control, "and I don't want to see that happen again."
Democrats already have sought to capitalize on that sentiment, holding a faux hearing last week with a single woman denied the chance to testify about contraception to a Republican-controlled House committee.
There will be more of that this week. Senate Democrats have agreed to debate a measure by Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri that would allow health plans to deny coverage for any service that violates the sponsor's beliefs. And on Thursday, a coalition of women's groups called HERvotes is holding a news conference in Washington to protest the renewed questioning of long-established rights for women.
The AP-GfK poll was conducted Feb. 16-20 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,000 adults, including 485 women. Results from the full sample have a margin of sampling error of 4 percentage points. Among women, the margin of error is 6 points.