22 February: Colin Powell backs Obama over national security

By Branko Brkic 22 February 2010

Also today: Science the predator as crickets stalked by wolf spider: Afghans woefully underprepared to take over their country; Greeks repeat no debt help needed, just get borrowing rates down; Powell backs Obama over national security; Israelis watch as Hamas killing contaminates UAE-EU relations; Democrats seek to control healthcare rate rises; Japan may review car recall system over Toyota’s problems.


Powell backs Obama over national security


Former US secretary of state Colin Powell says the country is not less safe because of the way President Barack Obama handles national security matters. Famous for his role in the first US invasion of Iraq in the early 1990s, Powell was perhaps even more famous for ultimately not agreeing with his former boss George W Bush and former vice president Dick Cheney, and resigning from government. Powell’s a Republican who supported Democrat Obama for president in 2008. He says Obama may have put too much on his plate as he tackles domestic issues after the economy all but collapsed. US politics has become increasingly polarised between left-wing reformers and right-wing hawks. Obama wants national consensus on issues ranging from national security to the economy, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. Mostly he’s going prematurely grey, like all of his predecessors. Photo: Reuters.

Read more: CBS Atlanta, The Raw Story, Kansas City Star


Science the predator as crickets stalked by wolf spider


Research published in The American Naturalist indicates that the humble cricket forewarns its offspring that predators lurk while they are still in gestation, if the mother has been exposed to the things that eat them. That’s useful since baby crickets are left to fend for themselves right after birth. It’s a pity the crickets weren’t forewarned of the brutal methods used to elicit this information by the nastiest predator of all – human beings. The researchers placed pregnant crickets in an enclosure where they were stalked, but not eaten, by a wolf spider, because its fangs were coated with protective wax. To prove their point, experimenters also placed juvenile crickets in an arena with a starving wolf spider with fully functioning mandibles. The spider got all the crickets, but took longer to hunt down the young born to spider-exposed mothers. They were found to stay hidden longer, and were more likely to freeze when they came across spider faeces or spider silk. No findings on the mental health of the surviving baby crickets were released.

Read more: The New York Times, Physorg, New Scientist


Afghans woefully underprepared to take over their country


US forces and their Afghan allies are encountering heavy resistance from Taliban fighters hiding in buildings in the Afghan opium-town of Marjah, as terrified civilians get caught up in the cross-fire. The Taliban trades drugs for weapons from their primary stronghold and the Nato offensive hopes to turn the tide of the Afghan war by flushing them out of the town of some 80,000 people. But the Americans are also trying to figure out whether the Afghan troops will soon be ready to assume the security of the country on their own. Reports from the battlefield aren’t good in this regard. It seems the Afghan army hasn’t got a hope in hell of running the show themselves. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has also urged Nato to do more to protect civilians during the fight, as the main purpose of the offensive is to win hearts and minds and restore government rule in Marjah. But war is war, and Nato says this isn’t always possible. The attack on Marjah is the biggest allied assault in the eight-year-old conflict. Meanwhile, the 2,000-strong Dutch contingent in Afghanistan looks set to be withdrawn from the country before the end of the year after the government in the Netherlands collapsed over opposition to the war. That raises fears that other nations might hasten the withdrawal of their troops as well.

Read more: AP, EU Observer, The New York Times


Greeks repeat no debt help needed, just get borrowing rates down


Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou has reiterated recent statements by his finance minister and himself saying the debt-laden country is not looking for an EU bailout. But he says Greece needs political support from its European partners to enable it to borrow money at interest rates equal to those of other countries. The cost of Greek borrowing has soared after markets reacted badly to the country’s 12.7% annual budget deficit. The EU stipulates that member states have debt of no more than 3% of gross domestic product. Greece’s total debt of some $270 billion amounts to more than 100% of its GDP, stemming from a spending frenzy around the 2004 Summer Olympics, and a system of governance whereby one in three Greeks are civil servants holding what are essentially jobs for life.

Read more: BBC, Guardian, AP


Israelis watch as Hamas killing contaminates UAE-EU relations

United Arab Emirates

Tensions between the United Arab Emirates and EU are heating up after two more fake passports linked to the killing of a Hamas operative in Dubai turned up. The Emirates say the suspected assassins used up to 13 doctored British, Irish, French and German passports that don’t require UAE visas in advance, enabling them to kill Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in his Dubai hotel room. Two Palestinians are in custody and three suspects remain unidentified, but Dubai’s police chief says Israeli spies are responsible for the murder

Read more: The Jersualem Post, AP


Democrats seek to control healthcare rate rises


The Obama administration wants new powers to regulate the amount that Americans pay for health insurance as part of its proposed changes to the nation’s healthcare system. The US president is seeking bipartisan agreement at a health summit this week, saying recent rate increases show the changes are necessary. Obama’s being helped by none other than California’s Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who says that lawmakers need to reach agreement over an issue that has bedevilled every modern US president. It’ll be give and take and will require Republicans and Democrats to merge their ideas on the matter. Some 40% of Americans are said to have inadequate healthcare cover, leading to thousands of premature deaths. It’s a real hot potato, and resurgent conservative Republicans are increasingly unwilling to compromise on anything Obama wants.

Read more: Legal News Line, The Washington Post, Science Blog


Japan may review car recall system over Toyota’s problems


Japan’s transport ministry may review its car recall system after the country was deeply embarrassed by US accusations that Toyota delayed acting on defects in its vehicles. The world’s largest car maker has recalled more than 8 million units around the world after faulty gas pedals and sticky floor-mats are said to have caused unintended acceleration in numerous models. In addition, the company’s Corolla brand is now thought to have a wonky steering-column, leading the Japanese government to say it’ll respond better to consumer interests at home, and possibly increase the types of problems subject to reporting requirements. US transport authorities are under pressure to do the same as Toyota’s president Akio Toyoda is due to appear this week before a congressional oversight and reform committee. Whether Japanese and American transport regulators will try to dovetail their reforms is moot, but it would likely be a good idea, as Toyota has a 17% share of the US car market.

Read more: Yomiuri Shimbun, The Washington Post, Kyodo News Agency


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