Monday, May 31, 2010

Why was Israeli raider force unprepared for violent resistance?

More questions than answers came from the IDF video shots of the violent reception for Israeli naval commandos when they raided the Turkish ship early Monday, May 31 to prevent the pro-Palestinian flotilla from reaching Gaza Port and breaking the Israeli blockade on the Hamas-ruled territory.
Prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, who cancelled his trip to the United States and is flying straight home from Canada, will have to fill in the gaps left by his official spokesmen.
Released finally 12 hours after the event, the IDF shots failed to explain the big mystery of how soldiers armed with paint balls and pistols managed to kill more than 10 pro-Palestinian activists (The final figure is still not clear. Ankara reports 15 Turkish dead) and injure at least 34 aboard the Turkish Marmora.

Together with six injured soldiers - two in critical condition - the wounded activists are being treated in Israeli hospitals.
Israel's chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi, and Navy commander, Maj. Gen. Eliezer Marom, reported that a fierce clash developed aboard the ship as the soldiers dropped on deck from helicopters and were mobbed by passengers. The activists fired pistols, but it is not clear if the guns were in the peace activists' luggage or snatched from the soldiers.
Neither is it clear how civilian protesters were able to disarm elite fighters of the Navy's Shayetet 6 unit.
The soldiers performed their mission of preventing the flotilla from docking in Gaza Port and opening the door to large-scale weapons deliveries - but at what cost?

Surely the operation's planners must have taken into account that the 600 mixed nationals aboard the Turkish vessel, the hard core of international Palestinian agitprop against Israel, would not receive the soldiers with flowers and white flags, any more than the demonstrators at Iblin and Naalin hand out to the Israeli Border Police breaking up their riots week after week.
The Border Police was bettered qualified to handle themselves against the arsenal the activists aboard the Turkish vessel used against the navy men, of firebombs, stun grenades, broken glass, slingshot, iron bars, axes and knives - and with far less risk of loss of life.
Also underestimated was the number of troops needed to commandeer the Turkish ship, control the wheelhouse and turn it round to Ashdod port. Each commando who shinnied down the ladder from a helicopter was besieged and separated from the unit, then beaten, stabbed and assaulted with flying objects. Some were pushed down into the hold and stripped of their anti-flak vests first. The soldiers reported they barely escaped lynching or possibly being taken hostage.
Any Israeli police officer dealing with Palestinian rioters knows that the first rule is never to get separated from the main force. The Shayatet 6 elite troops lacked this experience.
This error was compounded by the planners seriously underestimating expected resistance and sending the men in armed only with paintballs and pistols with orders to shoot only if their lives were at risk. They did open fire, but only after half a dozen of their number were badly hurt.
The entire episode bespeaks faulty intelligence on what was going on aboard the six vessels bound for Gaza, although the information was available from daily live broadcasts and easy access to visitors.
And another question: The IDF is famous for its innovative electronic warfare capabilities. So why were the signals and images coming from the convoy not jammed as promised and allowed to reach world TV screens hours before the authorities responsible for Israeli information woke up?
And finally, why did the interception take place 80 miles out to sea in international waters, thereby fueling the complaint that Israel broke international law? The blockade zone is 20 nautical miles deep from Gaza. An Israeli raid at that limit would have been easier to justify.

Ginni Thomas: Democrats Imposing Tyranny
The Democrats’ control of the White House and Capitol Hill has resulted in tyranny, says Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, founder of

Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, has harsh words for President Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress.

“I’ve never seen in my 30 years in Washington an agenda that’s so far left,” Thomas tells Newsmax.TV. “It grabs a lot of power so that Washington elites can pick winners and losers.”

Washington has turned away from our Founding Fathers, says Thomas, a former consultant to The Heritage Foundation.

Ginni Thomas: Democrats Imposing Tyranny
Saturday, 29 May 2010 10:05 PM Article Font Size
By: Dan Weil

The Democrats’ control of the White House and Capitol Hill has resulted in tyranny, says Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, founder of

Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, has harsh words for President Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress.

“I’ve never seen in my 30 years in Washington an agenda that’s so far left,” Thomas tells Newsmax.TV. “It grabs a lot of power so that Washington elites can pick winners and losers.”

Washington has turned away from our Founding Fathers, says Thomas, a former consultant to The Heritage Foundation.

Story continues below video.

They gave us a government that’s supposed to make us “citizens, not subjects; to be self-governed, not to be ruled by a tyranny in Washington,” Thomas says.

“Whether it’s a soft tyranny or a hard tyranny, it’s time to put our foot down. If we don’t stop this train that’s headed for a cliff right now, we won’t have the country we grew up in.”

With Democrats in control, there are no checks and balances in Washington now, says Thomas a native Nebraskan who founded her website in November to promote grass-roots political activism.

The Democrats aren’t listening to the people, she says, adding, “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The Bush administration did a much better job of listening, Thomas believes. When it proposed immigration and Social Security reform that the public resisted, the White House backed off.

That’s not the case now, “even though the citizenry is rebelling and trying to speak,” she says. “I’ve never seen Washington not listening like what we’re seeing now. We’re either going to be self-governed or ruled.”

Hopefully citizens will take out their frustrations in November “and make sure people who aren’t listening will have a new job,” Thomas says.

As for Liberty Central, it inspires citizens to action on behalf of five major principles.

Limited constitutional government
Individual liberty
Personal responsibility
Free enterprise
National security

Washington is deficient in all these areas, so people need to start participating in government more, Thomas says.

Tea partyers represent the first political responders to Washington’s follies, Thomas says.

“That’s because they’re the people figuring this power grab out quicker than most,” she says.

“This is truly a grass-roots movement. I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this in our lives. It’s very inspirational. I appreciate all they’ve done.”

The left’s ridicule of the tea partyers just shows their merit, Thomas says.

“The left goes after the people they’re most afraid of. It’s important in this political environment to have the right friends and enemies. If the left is calling you names, you’re someone we want to pay attention to.”

Thomas voices high praise for Sarah Palin. The former Alaska governor appeals to people because of her authenticity, Thomas says.

“She’s a breath of fresh air. People want to hear real people talking about what’s really happening. That’s why she’s so effective.”

© Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Israel braces for Turkish, Hizballah, Hamas reprisals. Greece halts joint drill

debkafile's military sources report Israeli concerns that Turkey may not confine itself to strong diplomatic retaliation for the Israel Navy's seizure Monday, May 31, of the Marmora, the Turkish vessel leading the flotilla for breaking the Gaza blockade and resort to military action along with the Iranian-backed Hizballah and Hamas. A statement from Ankara threatened "unprecedented and incalculable" reprisals, following which the Turkish chief of staff Gen. Ilker Basbug was recalled urgently to Ankara from a visit to Egypt. Greece has since halted its joint exercise with Israel in protest against the naval action.
debkafile reports from Ankara that the Turkish government is planning to continue pounding the Israeli blockade with more flotillas and have them escorted by Turkish warships and fighter jets. Israel merchant vessels moored outside Ashdod port have been instructed to sail into port and take shelter in case of missile attacks from the Gaza Strip against Ashdod and Ashkelon.
Monday morning, Israeli warplanes headed west over the Mediterranean in support of the still ongoing Israeli commando operation aboard the Turkish Marmora, the scene of violent clashes between Israeli troops and the 600 "peace activists," some of them armed. Ankara later reported 15 dead aboard the vessel.
Israeli army spokesman, Col. Avi Beneyahu, called the incident "an act of terror on the high seas." Far from being a humanitarian mission, the flotilla was sponsored personally by Turkish prime minister Recep Erdogan to break the Israeli blockade on Gaza and permit arms supplies and terrorist to reach the Strip unrestricted. It aimed at provoking a widely publicized international incident with fatalities and showing Israel using strong-arm tactics against unarmed peace-lovers.

Its leaders and the nations involved therefore refused to heed warnings that the vessels would be prevented from entering Gaza Port and rejected Israeli offers to ferry their aid cargo overland to the Gaza Strip. Population within missile range of Gaza advised to take shelter in secured areas.
An estimated 19 activists were killed battling with Israeli troops, and dozens injured. Ten Israeli soldiers were wounded, two critically. They were all ferried to Israeli hospitals by helicopter.

The pro-Hamas passengers were described as mobbing the Israeli commandos as they were dropped onto the Marmara's deck, using knives and iron bars to beat them and shooting with a sidearm snatched from a soldier and at least two other pistols recovered empty from two of the bodies.

Israeli security forces are preparing for the Lebanese Hizballah and Palestinian Hamas to go back to shooting missiles and rockets against Israeli towns, in support of the seaborne attack on Israeli commandos. The police are also on special alert in and around Israeli Arab communities, after Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyah called them out on a general strike, and the Holy Places, especially in Jerusalem.

Egypt will face pressure to end its joint embargo on Gaza with Israel at the Arab League Council meeting urgently Tuesday, June 1. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas demanded the session.
Demonstrations against Israel were staged in Syrian and Lebanese towns. Jordan hands stiff complaint to head of Israeli diplomatic mission in Amman.

Netanyahu in Canada, 'Thank You for Standing Up for Truth'

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addressed a pro-Israel crowd Sunday at the United Jewish Appeal's annual Walk for Israel in Toronto. “Thank you for standing up for truth... Thank you for standing up for Israel,” he told his audience.

Netanyahu noted that 32 years had passed since an Israeli prime minister visited Toronto. “Now everyone knows what they've been missing,” he joked.

"The ties between Israel and Canada have never been stronger,” he continued. “I want to take this opportunity to thank Prime Minister Harper. Prime Minister Harper has been an unwavering friend of Israel.” Harper has stood up to efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state, he added.

Netanyahu then praised the crowd of several thousand. “Year after year, you show us that we are not alone. Even though we are thousands of miles away, we know that you stand by our side” he said.

The prime minister mentioned Israel's negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. “Israel must ensure that peace is anchored in security. We must not repeat the mistakes of the past,” he said.

"When Israel left Lebanon, Iran moved in. When Israel left Gaza, Iran moved in again... We cannot afford a third Iranian presence in the hills overlooking Tel Aviv,” he explained. A PA state would need to be demilitarized, and to recognize Israel as the Jewish state, he added.

He also spoke of the importance of maintaining Israel's right to self-defense, and of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Following the speech Netanyahu and his family proceeded to Ottawa, where he will meet Monday with Harper.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Doctor Will See You Now. Please Log On.

ONE day last summer, Charlie Martin felt a sharp pain in his lower back. But he couldn’t jump into his car and rush to the doctor’s office or the emergency room: Mr. Martin, a crane operator, was working on an oil rig in the South China Sea off Malaysia.

He could, though, get in touch with a doctor thousands of miles away, via two-way video. Using an electronic stethoscope that a paramedic on the rig held in place, Dr. Oscar W. Boultinghouse, an emergency medicine physician in Houston, listened to Mr. Martin’s heart.

“The extreme pain strongly suggested a kidney stone,” Dr. Boultinghouse said later. A urinalysis on the rig confirmed the diagnosis, and Mr. Martin flew to his home in Mississippi for treatment.

Mr. Martin, 32, is now back at work on the same rig, the Courageous, leased by Shell Oil. He says he is grateful he could discuss his pain by video with the doctor. “It’s a lot better than trying to describe it on a phone,” Mr. Martin says.

Dr. Boultinghouse and two colleagues — Michael J. Davis and Glenn G. Hammack— run NuPhysicia, a start-up company they spun out from the University of Texas in 2007 that specializes in face-to-face telemedicine, connecting doctors and patients by two-way video.

Spurred by health care trends and technological advances, telemedicine is growing into a mainstream industry. A fifth of Americans live in places where primary care physicians are scarce, according to government statistics. That need is converging with advances that include lower costs for video-conferencing equipment, more high-speed communications links by satellite, and greater ability to work securely and dependably over the Internet.

“The technology has improved to the point where the experience of both the doctor and patient are close to the same as in-person visits, and in some cases better,” says Dr. Kaveh Safavi, head of global health care for Cisco Systems, which is supporting trials of its own high-definition video version of telemedicine in California, Colorado and New Mexico.

The interactive telemedicine business has been growing by almost 10 percent annually, to more than $500 million in revenue in North America this year, according to Datamonitor, the market research firm. It is part of the $3.9 billion telemedicine category that includes monitoring devices in homes and hundreds of health care applications for smartphones.

Christine Chang, a health care technology analyst at Datamonitor’s Ovum unit, says telemedicine will allow doctors to take better care of larger numbers of patients. “Some patients will be seen by teleconferencing, some will send questions by e-mail, others will be monitored” using digitized data on symptoms or indicators like glucose levels, she says.

Eventually, she predicts, “one patient a day might come into a doctor’s office, in person.”

Although telemedicine has been around for years, it is gaining traction as never before. Medicare, Medicaid and other government health programs have been reimbursing doctors and hospitals that provide care remotely to rural and underserved areas. Now a growing number of big insurance companies, like the UnitedHealth Group and several Blue Cross plans, are starting to market interactive video to large employers. The new federal health care law provides $1 billion a year to study telemedicine and other innovations.

With the expansion of reimbursement, Americans are on the brink of “a gold rush of new investment in telemedicine,” says Dr. Bernard A. Harris Jr., managing partner at Vesalius Ventures, a venture capital firm based in Houston. He has worked on telemedicine projects since he helped build medical systems for NASA during his days as an astronaut in the 1990s.

Face-to-face telemedicine technology can be as elaborate as a high-definition video system, like Cisco’s, that can cost up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Or it can be as simple as the Webcams available on many laptops.

NuPhysicia uses equipment in the middle of that range — standard videoconferencing hookups made by Polycom, a video conferencing company based in Pleasanton, Calif. Analysts say the setup may cost $30,000 to $45,000 at the patient’s end — with a suitcase or cart containing scopes and other special equipment — plus a setup for the doctor that costs far less.

Telemedicine has its skeptics. State regulators at the Texas Medical Board have raised concerns that doctors might miss an opportunity to pick up subtle medical indicators when they cannot touch a patient. And while it does not oppose telemedicine, the American Academy of Family Physicians says patients should keep in contact with a primary physician who can keep tabs on their health needs, whether in the virtual or the real world.

“Telemedicine can improve access to care in remote sites and rural areas,” says Dr. Lori J. Heim, the academy’s president. “But not all visits will take place between a patient and their primary-care doctor.”

Dr. Boultinghouse dismisses such concerns. “In today’s world, the physical exam plays less and less of a role,” he says. “We live in the age of imaging.”

ON the rig Courageous, Mr. Martin is part of a crew of 100. Travis G. Fitts Jr., vice president for human resources, health, safety and environment at Scorpion Offshore, which owns the rig, says that examining a worker via two-way video can be far cheaper in a remote location than flying him to a hospital by helicopter at $10,000 a trip.

Some rigs have saved $500,000 or more a year, according to NuPhysicia, which has contracts with 19 oil rigs around the world, including one off Iraq. Dr. Boultinghouse says the Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico may slow or block new drilling in United States waters, driving the rigs to more remote locations and adding to demand for telemedicine.

NuPhysicia also offers video medical services to land-based employers with 500 or more workers at a site. The camera connection is an alternative to an employer’s on-site clinics, typically staffed by a nurse or a physician assistant.

Mustang Cat, a Houston-based distributor that sells and services Caterpillar tractors and other earth-moving equipment, signed on with NuPhysicia last year. “We’ve seen the benefit, ” says Kurt Hanson, general counsel at Mustang, a family-owned company. Instead of taking a half-day or more off to consult a doctor, workers can get medical advice on the company’s premises.

NuPhysicia’s business grew out of work that its founders did for the state of Texas. Mr. Hammack, NuPhysicia’s president, is a former assistant vice president of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, where he led development of the state’s pioneering telemedicine program in state prisons from the mid-1990s to 2007. Dr. Davis is a cardiologist.

Working with Dr. Boultinghouse, Dr. Davis and other university doctors conducted more than 600,000 video visits with inmates. Significant improvement was seen in inmates’ health, including measures of blood pressure and cholesterol, according to a 2004 report on the system in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In March, California officials released a report they had ordered from NuPhysicia with a plan for making over their state’s prison health care. The makeover would build on the Texas example by expanding existing telemedicine and electronic medical record systems and putting the University of California in charge.

California spends more than $40 a day per inmate for health care, including expenses for guards who accompany them on visits to outside doctors. NuPhysicia says that this cost is more than four times the rate in Texas and Georgia, and almost triple that of New Jersey, where telemedicine is used for mental health care and some medical specialties.

“Telemedicine makes total sense in prisons,” says Christopher Kosseff, a senior vice president and head of correctional health care at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. “It’s a wonderful way of providing ready access to specialty health care while maintaining public safety.”

Georgia state prisons save an average of $500 in transportation costs and officers’ pay each time a prisoner can be treated by telemedicine, says Dr. Edward Bailey, medical director of Georgia correctional health care.

With data supplied by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which commissioned the report, NuPhysicia says the recommendations could save the state $1.2 billion a year in prisoners’ health care costs.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants the university regents and the State Legislature to approve the prison health makeover. After lawsuits on behalf of inmates, federal courts appointed a receiver in 2006 to run prison medical services. (The state now runs dental and mental health services, with court monitoring.) Officials hope that by putting university doctors in charge of prison health, they can persuade the courts to return control to the state.

“We’re going to use the best technology in the world to solve one of our worst problems — the key is telemedicine,” the governor said.

WITHOUT the blessing of insurers, telemedicine could never gain traction in the broader population. But many of the nation’s biggest insurers are showing growing interest in reimbursing doctors for face-to-face video consulting.

Starting in June, the UnitedHealth Group plans to reimburse doctors at Centura Health, a Colorado hospital system, for using Cisco advanced video to serve UnitedHealth’s members at several clinics. And the insurer plans a national rollout of telemedicine programs, including video-equipped booths in retail clinics in pharmacies and big-box stores, as well as in clinics at large companies.

“The tide is turning on reimbursement,” says Dr. James Woodburn, vice president and medical director for telehealth at UnitedHealth.

Both UnitedHealth and WellPoint, which owns 14 Blue Cross plans, are trying lower-cost Internet Webcam technology, available on many off-the-shelf laptops, as well as advanced video.

UnitedHealth and Blue Cross plans in Hawaii, Minnesota and western New York are using a Webcam service provided by American Well, a company based in Boston. And large self-insured employers like Delta Air Lines and Medtronic, a Blue Cross Blue Shield customer in Minneapolis, are beginning to sign up.

Delta will offer Webcam consultations with UnitedHealth’s doctor network to more than 10,000 Minnesota plan members on July 1, says Lynn Zonakis, Delta’s managing director of health strategy and resources. Within 18 months, Webcam access will be offered nationally to more than 100,000 Delta plan members.

Dr. Roy Schoenberg, C.E.O. of American Well, says his Webcam service is “in a completely different domain” than Cisco’s or Polycom’s. “Over the last two years, we are beginning to see a side branch of telemedicine that some call online care,” he says. “It connects doctors with patients at home or in their workplace.”

Doctors “are not going to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for equipment, so we have to rely on lower tech,” he adds. The medical records are stored on secure Web servers behind multiple firewalls, and the servers are audited twice a year by I.B.M. and other outside computer security companies, Dr. Schoenberg says.

In Hawaii, more than 2,000 Blue Cross plan members used Webcams to consult doctors last year, says Laura Lott, a spokeswoman for the Hawaii Medical Service Association. Minnesota Blue Cross and Blue Shield started a similar Webcam service across the state last November.

Doctors who use the higher-tech video conferencing technology say that Webcam images are less clear, and that Webcams cannot accommodate electronic scopes or provide the zoom-in features available in video conferencing. “If they are not using commercial-grade video conferencing gear, the quality will be much lower,” says Vanessa L. McLaughlin, a telemedicine consultant in Vancouver, Wash.

Last month, Charlie Martin, the crane operator, was back in the infirmary of the Courageous for an eye checkup. In Houston, his face filled the big screen in NuPhysicia’s office.

After an exchange of greetings, Chris Derrick, the paramedic on the oil rig, attached an ophthalmological scanner to a scope, pointed it at Mr. Martin’s eye, and zoomed in.

“Freeze that,” Dr. Boultinghouse ordered, as a close-up of the eye loomed on the screen. “His eyes have been bothering him. It may be from the wind up there on the crane.”

Pirates threaten boats on US-Mexico border lake

ZAPATA, Texas (AP) - The waters of Falcon Lake normally beckon boaters with waterskiing and world-record bass fishing. But this holiday weekend, fishermen on the waters that straddle the U.S.-Mexico border are on the lookout for something more sinister: pirates.

Twice in recent weeks, fishermen have been robbed at gunpoint by marauders that the local sheriff says are "spillover" from fighting between rival Mexican drug gangs.

Boaters are concerned about their safety, and the president of the local Chamber of Commerce is trying to assure people that everything's fine on the U.S. side of the lake.

At the fishing camp his family has owned for 50 years, Jack Cox now sleeps with a loaded shotgun at his feet and a handgun within reach.

In the American waters, Cox said, "you're safer, but you're not safe." Mexican commercial fishermen regularly cross to set their nets illegally, why wouldn't gunmen do the same? he asked.

Two weeks ago, the Texas Department of Public Safety warned boaters to avoid the international boundary that zig-zags through the lake, which is 25 miles long and 3 miles across at its widest point. Authorities also urged anyone on the water to notify relatives of their boating plans to aid law enforcement in case of trouble.

Since issuing the warning, most boats have stayed on the U.S. side.

"That's a good indication. It means they're getting the message," Texas Parks and Wildlife Capt. Fernando Cervantes said Thursday as he patrolled with two other game wardens. "They're still coming out, but they're not going across."

The border is marked by 14 partially submerged concrete towers that mark the Rio Grande's path before the lake was created in 1954.

Game wardens and the U.S. Border Patrol watch over the lake but do not cross into Mexican waters, and no Mexican law enforcement is visible.

Men armed with assault rifles robbed fishermen on the Mexican side of Falcon Lake on April 30 and May 6. They traveled in the low-slung, underpowered commercial Mexican fishing boats that are familiar here. They asked for money, drugs and guns, and took what cash was available. No one was hurt.

A third incident happened a couple of days before the warning was issued, but Cervantes said the fishermen were able to escape without the thieves boarding their boat.

The attacks "were really unusual," Cervantes said. "We had never seen it, and then they started up."

Violence on the Mexican side of the lake has been climbing for several months.

A fractured partnership between the region's dominant Gulf Cartel and its former enforcers, the Zetas, plunged many of the area's Mexican border cities into violence. Police stations were attacked, officers killed and rolling gun battles between the gangs and with the Mexican military became commonplace.

"To me, this is spillover violence," Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez Jr. said. "I don't do the Chamber of Commerce talk. I talk reality."

Still, the sheriff says, boaters should safe provided they stay on the American side.

Cox, 81, says it was only a matter of time before the violence from Mexico crept onto the water. And the idea that gunmen looking to score easy cash from fishermen would not cross the lake's imaginary boundary doesn't make sense, he said.

That perspective is what worries Chamber of Commerce President Paco Mendoza.

"What's keeping our town alive is our lake," Mendoza said. In recent years, drilling in the county's oilfields has virtually stopped, and the wells are no longer producing like they once did. In those days, oilfield workers packed Zapata's restaurants and hotels, he said.

So Zapata increasingly looks to the lake for economic growth. Five fishing tournaments are scheduled between now and July, and a few big ones are set for next year.

"As far as we know, all of our contracts are still in play," Mendoza said.

Falcon Lake landed on the national map of fishing destinations after the 2008 Bassmaster Elite Series tournament, where bass-fishing world records were broken.

The pirate warning could hurt businesses that depend on the lake, "but anglers will continue to come to Falcon because of the great fishing," Mendoza said.

Norma Amaya, who runs a tackle shop with her husband, insists there is plenty of good fishing in U.S. waters. She points to a photo taken in December of a woman holding a 13.2-pound bass and smiling broadly.

Amaya said her husband's guide service had had a couple cancellations since the pirate warning, but they are still booked solid for next year's peak season, which runs from December to March.

They've stopped selling Mexican fishing licenses because no one is fishing over there now. Robert Amaya stopped taking clients into Mexican waters back in March, when violence was peaking in Mexico.

"It is dangerous over there (in northern Mexico), I wouldn't advise anyone to cross," she said.

Norma Amaya said the reports of pirates "have been blown out of proportion. It's probably just some hoodlums. I don't think the cartels want the exposure."

As he helped launch his cousin's bass boat from Falcon Lake State Park, Ronnie Guerra said he hadn't heard much about the pirates. But he knew enough to stay on his side of the lake.

"We already know what's going on on the other side," he said. "It's been going on for a long time."

Iranian Guards general assassinated in Damascus - French sources

The death of Khalil Sultan, a high-ranking general of the IRGC's al Qods external terror branch, at his home in the exclusive Damascus district of Al Mezzeh Sunday, May 16 is now revealed by French intelligence and Syrian exile sources in Paris to have been assassination by an unknown hand.

The authorities in Damascus said at the time that the general, whom they described as a rich Syrian businessman, sales agent for the Iranian Kordo automobile manufacturers, was killed in the course of a robbery.
In fact, according to debkafile's intelligence sources, Sultan ran Iranian Revolutionary Guards' covert operations in Damascus and Beirut under deep cover. The gang which burst into his luxury villa and gunned him down with automatic rifles removed only documents and laptops, but did not touch valuables, cash or gold.
As Tehran's top operative for disposing of anti-Iranian elements in Syria and Lebanon, he worked in conjunction with Bashar Assad's intelligence branches. Their most recent joint project was the roundup of Iranian-Arab exiles from Ahwaz who live in Syria.
Western sources disclose that his death caused deep shock in top Syrian and Iranian government and security circles. His assassins' success in reaching this top secret agent in the most closely-guarded neighborhood of the capital, seat of Syrian government institutions and domicile of senior officials, has caused Syrian intelligence and the regime as a whole deep embarrassment - particularly after a long series of hits against high-profile Hizballah and Hamas operatives in the Syrian capital's most secure districts - like the case of Hizballah commander Imad Mughniyeh.

The victim was close to the al Qods Brigades chief Gen. Qassem Suleimeni, who is entrusted with the Islamic Republic's most hush-hush clandestine operations. French sources stress, on the other hand, that he was also a personal friend of the Iranian general who recently defected to the West. They name him as Gen. Reza Baba Hossein, the first time, debkafile's sources note, that this Iranian general has been publicly revealed to be a defector to the West.

that an Iranian general has been publicly named as a defector to the West.
Sultan's duties and diverse connections suggest three possible parties may have wanted him dead:

1. More than one foreign element had an interest in sabotaging Iran's covert activities in Syria and Lebanon and the intelligence partnership between Tehran and Damascus.
2. Syrian opposition exiles in Paris point the finger at their Sunni compatriots who are involved in activities for weakening Iranian and Shiite influence in their country.
3. Sultan's friendship with the defecting general may have aroused Tehran's suspicion that he abetted his friend's escape - or even had contacts in Western intelligence himself - in which case, Iranian intelligence would have no qualms about signing his death warrant.

Netanyahu 'Furious' with Obama over Iran Policy

Top News

JERUSALEM — Washington's unprecedented backing for a UN resolution for a nuclear-free Middle East that singles out Israel has both angered and deeply worried the Jewish state although officials are cagey about openly criticising their biggest ally.

The resolution adopted by the United Nations on Friday calls on Israel to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and urges it to open its facilities to inspection.

It also calls for a regional conference in 2012 to advance the goal of a nuclear-free Middle East.

Israel is widely believed to be the only nuclear power in the Middle East, with around 200 warheads, but has maintained a policy of deliberate ambiguity about its capabilities since the mid-1960s.

The document, which singles out Israel but makes no mention of Iran's controversial nuclear programme, drew a furious reaction from the Jewish state who decried it as "deeply flawed and hypocritical."

But it was US backing for the resolution which has caused the most consternation among Israeli officials and commentators, who interpreted the move as "a resounding slap around the face" which has dealt a very public blow to Israel's long-accepted policy of nuclear ambiguity.

Publicly, the Israel government has not criticised the US position but privately, officials expressed deep disappointment over the resolution, which Washington backed despite intensive Israeli efforts to block it.

According to the top-selling Yediot Aharonot daily, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was "furious with the Obama administration for having failed to prevent the resolution from passing... and for choosing to support it."

"The American support for the resolution, after decades in which it supported Israel on this issue, came as a complete surprise," the paper said.

"In the secret talks that Netanyahu held with Obama's men... Israel was promised that the resolution would not focus on Israel and that if it did, the Americans would vote against."

The left-leaning Haaretz daily said Israel had been "sacrificed by the US on the altar of a successful conference" in what constituted "a diplomatic victory for Egypt" which has campaigned against Israel's nuclear arsenal.

Five years ago, the paper recalled, Obama's predecessor George W. Bush, refused to accept parts of a draft document calling on Israel to join the NPT and dismissed the idea of holding talks to create a nuclear-free Middle East -- even at the cost of the conference's failure.

The controversial resolution was passed just days ahead of a key meeting between Obama and Netanyahu aimed at restoring friendly ties between the two allies which had been soured over a dispute about Jewish settlements.

But the Maariv daily said that Obama's 'last minute' invitation for Netanyahu to visit the White House had clearly been planned with the NPT review conference in mind.

"It is reasonable to assume that the Americans knew they were going to deliver a blow to Israel's policy of nuclear ambiguity and that Obama wanted to try to minimize the damage," the paper said.

The move draws a line under a long-held "agreement" between Israel and Washington dating back to 1969 under which the Jewish state was permitted to keep silent on its country's nuclear potential while holding back from any nuclear test.

In return, Washington agreed not to exert or allow any pressure on Israel over its nuclear capabilities.

"It is an undeniably negative change to US policy" with regards to Israel's nuclear programme, said Eitan Gilboa, an analyst from Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv.

Pointing to contradiction between Obama both applauding the resolution and criticising it for singling out Israel, Gilboa said Washington was "losing its leadership role because of the naive and unrealistic" outlook of its president.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Netanyahu, Obama’s newest prop

Netanyahu must not permit Obama’s public relations campaign to divert him from this missioThe Democratic Party is feeling the heat for US President Barack Obama’s hostility towards Israel. In an interview with Channel 10 earlier this month, Democratic Party mega-donor Haim Saban characterized the Obama administration as ideologically aligned with the radical Left and harshly criticized its treatment of Israel.

Both Ma’ariv and Yediot Aharonot reported this week that Democratic congressmen and senators are deeply concerned that the administration’s harsh treatment of Israel has convinced many American Jews not to contribute to their campaigns or to the Democratic Party ahead of November 2’s mid-term elections. They also fear that American Jews will vote for Republican challengers in large numbers.

It is these concerns, rather than a decision to alter his positions on Israel specifically and the Middle East generally, that now drive Obama’s relentless courtship of the American Jewish community. His latest move in this sphere was his sudden invitation to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to visit him at the White House for a “warm reception” in front of television cameras next Tuesday.

It is clear that electoral worries rather than policy concerns are behind what the White House has described as a “charm offensive,” because since launching this offensive a few weeks ago, Obama not changed any of his policies towards Israel and the wider Middle East. In fact, he has ratcheted up these policies to Israel’s detriment.

TAKE HIS goal of ridding the world of nuclear weapons. On Friday, the UN’s monthlong Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference is scheduled to adopt a consensual resolution before adjourning. According to multiple media reports, Israel is set to be the focus of the draft resolution that will likely be adopted.

The draft resolutions being circulated by both Egypt and the US adopt Egypt’s demand for a nuclear-free Middle East. They call for a conference involving all countries in the region to discuss denuclearization. The only difference between the Egyptian draft and the US draft on the issue is that the Egyptians call for the conference to be held in 2011 while the US calls for the convening of the conference in 2012-2013. The draft resolution also calls for all states that are not members of the NPT – Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea – to join the NPT as non-nuclear powers.

So while Iran is not mentioned in the draft resolution – which must be adopted by consensus – in two separate places, Israel’s purported nuclear arsenal is the target of an international diplomatic stampede.

In 2005, Egypt circulated a draft resolution that was substantively identical to its current draft. But in stark contrast to today’s conclave, the NPT review conference in 2005 ended without agreement, because the Bush administration refused to go along with Egypt’s assault on Israel.

Particularly in light of Iran’s nuclear weapons program and the Iranian regime’s expressed goal of destroying Israel, the Bush administration preferred to scuttle the conference rather than give any credence to the view that Israel’s purported nuclear arsenal is a greater threat to global security than Iran’s nuclear program – which, as in today’s draft, wasn’t mentioned in Egypt’s resolution five years ago. The Obama administration has no problem going along with Cairo.

Obama’s willingness to place Israel’s nuclear program on the international agenda next to Iran’s is par for the course of his utterly failed policy for contending with Iran’s nuclear program. After his diplomatic open hand policy towards Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was met with a clenched fist, Obama’s attempt to convince the UN Security Council to pass “smart sanctions” against Iran has been checkmated by Iran’s nuclear deal with its newest strategic allies, Turkey and Brazil.

That deal, which facilitates rather than impedes Teheran’s nuclear weapons program, has ended any prospect that the Security Council will pass an additional sanctions resolution against Iran in the near future. But then, in order to secure the now weakened Russian support for his sanctions resolution, Obama exempted Russia from the sanctions and turned a blind eye to continued Russian and Chinese nuclear proliferation activities in Syria, Turkey and Pakistan. Furthermore, Obama agreed to make most of the remaining provisions non-binding.

In the meantime, and in spite of the fact that his sanctions bid is in shambles, Obama has asked congressional Democrats to stall their sanctions bills for another month. So, too, Obama prevailed on his Democratic colleagues in Congress to exempt Russia and China from their sanctions bills.

AS PART of the administration’s attempt to woo American Jews back into the Democratic Party fold despite its anti-Israel policies, last week a group of pre-selected pro-Obama rabbis was invited to the White House for talks with Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and with Dan Shapiro and Dennis Ross, who hold the Palestinian and Iran dossiers on Obama’s National Security Council, respectively. According to a report of the meeting by Rabbi Jack Moline that has not been refuted by the White House, the three men told the Democratic rabbis that the administration has three priorities in the Middle East. First Obama seeks to isolate Iran. Second, he seeks to significantly reduce the US military presence in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq. And third, he seeks to resolve the Palestinian conflict with Israel.

These priorities are disturbing for a number of reasons. First, isolating Iran is not the same as preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. By characterizing its goal as “isolating” Iran, the administration makes clear that preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is not its goal. Moreover, as Iran’s deal with Brazil and Turkey makes abundantly clear, Iran is not isolated. Indeed, its foreign relations have prospered since Obama took office.

In his write-up of the meeting, Moline indicated that Ross and Emanuel view Obama’s rejection of Israel’s right to build homes for Jews in Jerusalem as motivated by his goal of isolating Iran. So in the view of Obama’s Jewish advisers, his preferred method of isolating Iran is to attack Israel.

Add that to his third priority of establishing a Palestinian state by the end of next year and you have a US president for whom bashing Israel is his first and third priorities in the Middle East.

When one factors in his willingness to put Israel’s purported nuclear arsenal on the international chopping block, it is clear that there is no precedent for Obama’s hostility towards Israel in the history of US-Israel relations.

THIS BRINGS us to Obama’s meeting next Tuesday with Netanyahu. Obama’s continued commitment to his anti-Israel policies indicates that there are two possible scenarios for next week’s meeting. In the best case, the meeting will have no substance whatsoever. It will be nothing more than a public display of presidential affection for the Israeli premier.

The more likely scenario is that Obama will use the meeting as an opportunity to pressure Netanyahu not to attack Iran’s nuclear installations; not to attack Hizbullah’s and Syria’s missile depots, launchers and silos; and to extend the prohibition on Jewish building in Judea and Samaria beyond its September deadline and expand the prohibition to Jewish home construction in Jerusalem.

Regarding the latter scenario, it can only be hoped that Netanyahu has learned from his previous experiences with Obama. In December, in the hopes of alleviating US pressure, Netanyahu announced an unprecedented 10-month ban on Jewish building in Judea and Samaria. For his efforts, Netanyahu was rewarded with an escalation of American pressure against Israel.

After he pocketed Netanyahu’s concession on Judea and Samaria, Obama immediately launched his poisonous assault on Israeli rights to Jerusalem.

Likewise, Netanyahu’s willingness to outwardly support both Obama’s effort to appease Iran and his efforts to pass anti-Iran sanctions in the Security Council gained Obama a year and a half of quiet from Jerusalem. During that time, Iran has moved within months of the bomb and the US has abandoned its goal of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

This experience has one clear lesson: If Obama seeks policy concessions from Israel during their meeting, Netanyahu must reject his entreaties. In fact, it may even be counterproductive for Netanyahu to abstain from responding in the hopes of buying time.

If on the other hand, Obama avoids discussion of substantive issues and devotes his meeting with Netanyahu to a discussion of Michelle Obama’s war on obesity, Netanyahu should consider what Obama did to the family of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl while the president signed the Daniel Pearl Press Freedom Act last week.

Pearl was decapitated in 2002 by jihadists in Pakistan. Among other things, his killers claimed he had no right to live because he was Jewish. At the ceremony, Obama barred Pearl’s father, Judea Pearl, from speaking. In so doing Obama reduced Daniel Pearl’s family to the status of mere props as Obama vapidly and reprehensibly proclaimed, “Obviously, the loss of Daniel Pearl was one of those moments that captured the world’s imagination because it reminded us of how valuable a free press is.”

This appropriation of Pearl’s murder and denial of what it represented served Obama’s purpose of pretending that there is no jihad and that radical Islam is not a threat to the US. And by silencing Pearl’s father, the president turned him into an unwilling accomplice.

Netanyahu should take two lessons from Obama’s behavior at the ceremony. First, Netanyahu must do everything he can to avoid being used as a prop. This means that he should insist on having a joint press briefing with Obama. He must also insist on having a say regarding which journalists will be included in the press pool and who will be permitted to ask the two leaders questions.

Second, Netanyahu must not become Obama’s spokesman. As part of his unsuccessful bid to convince Obama to change his policies towards Israel, Netanyahu and his advisers have gone on record praising Obama for his support for Israel. These statements have stymied attempts by Israel’s US supporters to pressure Obama to change those policies.

The Israeli official who has been most outspoken in his praise for Obama and his denial that Obama’s policies are hostile towards Israel has been Ambassador Michael Oren. Oren has repeatedly praised Obama for his supposedly firm support for Israel and commitment to Israel’s security – most recently in an appearance on Fox News on Wednesday. Moreover, according to eyewitness reports, in a recent closed-door meeting with American Jews, Oren criticized the Republican Party for attacking Obama for his animosity towards Israel.

This quite simply has to end. As foreign officials, Israeli diplomats should not be involved in US partisan politics. Not only should Israeli officials not give Obama undeserved praise, they should not give Republicans undeserved criticism.

At the end of the day, American Jews have the luxury of choosing between their loyalty to the Democratic Party and their support for Israel. And in the coming months, they will choose.

The government of Israel has no such luxury. The government’s only duty is to secure Israel and advance Israel’s national interests in every way possible. Netanyahu must not permit Obama’s public relations campaign to divert him from this mission.

Friday, May 28, 2010

House passes downsized jobs bill

Democrats narrowly won House approval Friday of a nearly $90 billion jobs and tax package, capping days of turmoil that split the party and called into question its ability to effectively lead on budget and economic issues.

For the once activist House, the changed mood is quite extraordinary as if many members want only to hunker down and wait out November’s elections—still five months away. Going into Memorial Day, the budget process has all but collapsed, and an emergency war funding bill—requested in February—has yet to be even considered by the House Appropriations Committee.

The scaled-back jobs package, adopted 215-204, is roughly half of what had been envisioned just a week ago. And the internal divisions—and resulting delays—killed any chance of Congress completing action before hundreds of thousands of workers begin to lose their jobless benefits June 2.

The Senate left early for the holiday recess, meaning a June 1 deadline threatening Medicare payments to physicians will also go unmet. On a second 245-171 vote Friday, the House approved a $22.9 billion patch to forestall this reduction through 2011, but here too, nothing can be enacted until the Senate returns June 7.

The numbers are severe. The National Employment Law Project estimates that 340,000 workers will be impacted early by the disruption in jobless benefits; if no solution is found, a total of 1.2 million could be impacted by the end of June. For physicians, the threatened Medicare cut will begin to be felt by mid-month and means a 21% reduction under the erratic formula that now governs reimbursements.

Nonetheless, the costs also are real, and the joint House-Senate Democratic leadership—which had banked on using these same deadlines to force action— badly underestimated the fear in their caucuses over deficits and spending.

In similar circumstances last year, the dire economy gave more political cover to Barack Obama’s big-spending recovery plan which passed easily with only seven Democratic defections. Sixteen months later the European debt crisis and jittery markets make headlines; even as Democrats fear a double dip recession before November, they can’t come together behind a plan.

“We negotiated to get what we could get,” insisted a House leadership aide. “You put a marker down so that people can respond to it. But it’s the consensus building is why we win our votes,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D—Cal.) told reporters later. But 34 Democrats on the left and right opposed the end-product and the fact that the bill fell short of 218 votes will make it that much harder to move forward in the Senate.

The often intense talks got little attention in the national press, pushed out of sight by bigger events, like the oil spill disaster in the Gulf. But in the absence of any budget debate this year, this was very much a proxy test of what the party could do.

“No bill seems easy and this wasn’t. But it was absolutely vital,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sander Levin (D—Mich.).

Still, labor allies were infuriated Thursday night when the decision was made to jettison $24 billion in aid to cash-strapped states to help governors maintain Medicaid services. Government assistance to help the unemployed keep their health insurance was also a casualty, even as the leadership gave up about $1 billion in revenues by moving back to January 2011 the effective date for tax reforms opposed by powerful private equity and venture capital partnerships.

The long term deficit impact of the bill—about $31 billion—stems from a six -month emergency extension of jobless benefits for the long term unemployed through Nov. 30. When the Medicare “doc-fix” is added, the red ink grows to $54 billion drawing the ire of Republicans.

“if you want to walk a $54.2 billion deficit increasing, tax-hiking, job-killing plank, vote yes,” taunted Michigan Rep. Dave Camp, the ranking Republican on the Ways and Means panel. “Grandson of stimulus is on the floor,” added Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, chairman of the party’s conference and No. 3 in the leadership. “Why don’t we try something completely different like fiscal discipline in Washington.”

“Just say no is not going to work forever,” countered Rep, Charles Rangel (D—N.Y.), a senior Democratic tax writer. And if Republicans want new ideas, Democrats would argue that their bill breaks new ground with a self-contained $58 billion package of revenue and spending offsets that pays for more than $30 billion in tax cut extenders as well as infrastructure investments and a $1 billion summer jobs program.

It is one of the most aggressive examples yet of the restored “pay-go” rules that were used by the Clinton Administration in the 90’s. And much as the tax provisions have angered many business interests, Democrats see them as part of their “economic justice” platform going into November.

“This bill creates jobs and it pays for the creation of those jobs by saying those who outsource our jobs can’t get off the hook and have to pay their fair share of taxes,” said Rep. Robert Andrews (D—N.J.), citing new tighter rules for the Foreign Tax Credit. “Now I know this discomforts some on the minority side. I know it goes against their philosophy that whatever corporate America does must be OK. …Those days are ending.”

Read more:

He Was Supposed to Be Competent By PEGGY NOONAN

I don't see how the president's position and popularity can survive the oil spill. This is his third political disaster in his first 18 months in office. And they were all, as they say, unforced errors, meaning they were shaped by the president's political judgment and instincts.

There was the tearing and unnecessary war over his health-care proposal and its cost. There was his day-to-day indifference to the views and hopes of the majority of voters regarding illegal immigration. And now the past almost 40 days of dodging and dithering in the face of an environmental calamity. I don't see how you politically survive this.

The president, in my view, continues to govern in a way that suggests he is chronically detached from the central and immediate concerns of his countrymen. This is a terrible thing to see in a political figure, and a startling thing in one who won so handily and shrewdly in 2008. But he has not, almost from the day he was inaugurated, been in sync with the center. The heart of the country is thinking each day about A, B and C, and he is thinking about X, Y and Z. They're in one reality, he's in another.

President Obama promised on Thursday to hold BP accountable in the catastrophic Gulf of Mexico oil spill and said his administration would do everything necessary to protect and restore the coast.
.The American people have spent at least two years worrying that high government spending would, in the end, undo the republic. They saw the dollars gushing night and day, and worried that while everything looked the same on the surface, our position was eroding. They have worried about a border that is in some places functionally and of course illegally open, that it too is gushing night and day with problems that states, cities and towns there cannot solve.

And now we have a videotape metaphor for all the public's fears: that clip we see every day, on every news show, of the well gushing black oil into the Gulf of Mexico and toward our shore. You actually don't get deadlier as a metaphor for the moment than that, the monster that lives deep beneath the sea.

In his news conference Thursday, President Obama made his position no better. He attempted to act out passionate engagement through the use of heightened language—"catastrophe," etc.—but repeatedly took refuge in factual minutiae. His staff probably thought this demonstrated his command of even the most obscure facts. Instead it made him seem like someone who won't see the big picture. The unspoken mantra in his head must have been, "I will not be defensive, I will not give them a resentful soundbite." But his strategic problem was that he'd already lost the battle. If the well was plugged tomorrow, the damage will already have been done.

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.The original sin in my view is that as soon as the oil rig accident happened the president tried to maintain distance between the gusher and his presidency. He wanted people to associate the disaster with BP and not him. When your most creative thoughts in the middle of a disaster revolve around protecting your position, you are summoning trouble. When you try to dodge ownership of a problem, when you try to hide from responsibility, life will give you ownership and responsibility the hard way. In any case, the strategy was always a little mad. Americans would never think an international petroleum company based in London would worry as much about American shores and wildlife as, say, Americans would. They were never going to blame only BP, or trust it.

I wonder if the president knows what a disaster this is not only for him but for his political assumptions. His philosophy is that it is appropriate for the federal government to occupy a more burly, significant and powerful place in America—confronting its problems of need, injustice, inequality. But in a way, and inevitably, this is always boiled down to a promise: "Trust us here in Washington, we will prove worthy of your trust." Then the oil spill came and government could not do the job, could not meet need, in fact seemed faraway and incapable: "We pay so much for the government and it can't cap an undersea oil well!"

This is what happened with Katrina, and Katrina did at least two big things politically. The first was draw together everything people didn't like about the Bush administration, everything it didn't like about two wars and high spending and illegal immigration, and brought those strands into a heavy knot that just sat there, soggily, and came to symbolize Bushism. The second was illustrate that even though the federal government in our time has continually taken on new missions and responsibilities, the more it took on, the less it seemed capable of performing even its most essential jobs. Conservatives got this point—they know it without being told—but liberals and progressives did not. They thought Katrina was the result only of George W. Bush's incompetence and conservatives' failure to "believe in government." But Mr. Obama was supposed to be competent.

Remarkable too is the way both BP and the government, 40 days in, continue to act shocked, shocked that an accident like this could have happened. If you're drilling for oil in the deep sea, of course something terrible can happen, so you have a plan on what to do when it does.

How could there not have been a plan? How could it all be so ad hoc, so inadequate, so embarrassing? We're plugging it now with tires, mud and golf balls?

What continues to fascinate me is Mr. Obama's standing with Democrats. They don't love him. Half the party voted for Hillary Clinton, and her people have never fully reconciled themselves to him. But he is what they have. They are invested in him. In time—after the 2010 elections go badly—they are going to start to peel off. The political operative James Carville, the most vocal and influential of the president's Gulf critics, signaled to Democrats this week that they can start to peel off. He did it through the passion of his denunciations.

The disaster in the Gulf may well spell the political end of the president and his administration, and that is no cause for joy. It's not good to have a president in this position—weakened, polarizing and lacking broad public support—less than halfway through his term. That it is his fault is no comfort. It is not good for the stability of the world, or its safety, that the leader of "the indispensble nation" be so weakened. I never until the past 10 years understood the almost moral imperative that an American president maintain a high standing in the eyes of his countrymen.

Mr. Obama himself, when running for president, made much of Bush administration distraction and detachment during Katrina. Now the Republican Party will, understandably, go to town on Mr. Obama's having gone only once to the gulf, and the fund-raiser in San Francisco that seemed to take precedence, and the EPA chief who went to a New York fund-raiser in the middle of the disaster.

But Republicans should beware, and even mute their mischief. We're in the middle of an actual disaster. When they win back the presidency, they'll probably get the big California earthquake. And they'll probably blow it. Because, ironically enough, of a hard core of truth within their own philosophy: when you ask a government far away in Washington to handle everything, it will handle nothing well.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A US nuclear submarine crosses into Strait of Hormuz

Tehran reports that an Iranian naval patrol Thursday, May 27, detected a US nuclear submarine sailing through the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which most of the oil produced by Persian Gulf states passes on its way to world markets. debkafile's Iranian sources report Tehran has placed its navy and army on high alert.
Western intelligence and naval sources confirm that a nuclear-armed American submarine has in fact entered the Persian Gulf. This confirms debkafile's report of May 20 that the Obama administration had decided to boost US military strength in the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf regions in the short term with an extra air and naval strike forces and 6,000 Marine and sea combatants. Carrier Strike Group 10, headed by the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier, was due to sail out of the US Navy base at Norfolk, Virginia Friday, May 21.
On arrival, it was to raise the number of US carriers off Iranian shores to two.
Thursday's arrival of a US nuclear submarine also ties in with the currently rising military tensions along Israel's borders with Syria and Lebanon.
Up until now, President Barack Obama kept just one aircraft carrier stationed off the coast of Iran, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Arabian Sea, in pursuit of his policy of diplomatic engagement with Tehran.

Protesters Heckle Rahm Emanuel in Israel

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Vote Endorses Muslim Center Near Ground Zero

After a raucous hearing, a Manhattan community board backed a proposal on Tuesday evening to build a Muslim community center near the World Trade Center.

Khalid Latif and Sumra Mian at the hearing. The Muslim center would be built just north of where the twin towers stood.
Muslim Prayers and Renewal Near Ground Zero (December 9, 2009) The 29-to-1 vote, with 10 abstentions, followed a four-hour back-and-forth between those who said the community center would be a monument to tolerance and those who believed it would be an affront to victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The board’s vote was advisory — it did not have the power to scrap plans for a center — but it was seen as an important barometer of community sentiment.

Middle school students and rabbis were among the more than 100 people who testified at the hearing, which was held a short distance from ground zero. Some carried pictures of family members killed in the attacks; others brandished signs reading “Show respect for 9/11. No mosque!”

C. Lee Hanson, 77, whose son Peter was killed in the attacks, said he opposed the center not because he was intolerant, but because he believed that building a tribute to Islam so close to the World Trade Center would be insensitive.

“The pain never goes away,” Mr. Hanson said. “When I look over there and I see a mosque, it’s going to hurt. Build it someplace else.”

Jean Grillo, 65, a writer from TriBeCa, said shutting out any faith undermined American values. “What better place to teach tolerance than at the very area where hate tried to kill tolerance?” she said.

The proposed center, called the Cordoba House, would rise as many as 15 stories two blocks north of where the twin towers stood. It would include a prayer space, as well as a 500-seat performing arts center, a culinary school, a swimming pool, a restaurant and other amenities.

The group behind the project, the Cordoba Initiative, is seeking to make major structural changes to the five-story building at 45 Park Place, which was built in the late 1850s in the Italian Renaissance palazzo style.

The group needs the approval of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which could decide as early as July if the building merits historic protection.

In addition, the center faces intense opposition in the United States and abroad. Over the past few days, Community Board No. 1, which represents Lower Manhattan, was flooded with hundreds of calls and e-mail messages about the proposal, most of them from outside New York, according to Julie Menin, the board’s chairwoman.

Some of the board members who abstained said they wanted time to learn more about the Cordoba Initiative, but the board rejected a motion to delay the vote a month.

The days leading up to the vote were marked by a feverish exchange of words, culminating in remarks about Muslims from a leader of the Tea Party, Mark Williams, that were widely dismissed as racist.

But Mr. Williams was not the only critic. Many families of Sept. 11 victims fervently opposed the proposal, saying they were offended by the idea of building a prayer space so near the site.

“That should be a serene site,” Bill Doyle, a leader of a group of 9/11 families, said in a telephone interview. “Now you’re going to see protests and demonstrations there all the time.”

City officials, including Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg; the City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn; and the Manhattan borough president, Scott M. Stringer, have rallied behind the proposal.

The City Council has the power to overturn decisions on landmarks, but Ms. Quinn pledged on Tuesday to help shepherd the center to completion.

“I’m very confident we could find a way for both the landmark concept and the development of the mosque to move forward,” she said.

The center is estimated to cost $100 million, but exactly how the Cordoba Initiative will finance the project remains unclear.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who has led services in TriBeCa since 1983, told the board the center would help “bridge and heal a divide” among Muslims and other religious groups.

“We have condemned the actions of 9/11,” he said. “We have condemned terrorism in the most unequivocal terms.”

The center is expected to create more than 150 full-time and 500 part-time jobs, and it would offer a range of cultural events, modeled on the 92nd Street Y.

Syria has 1,000 ballistic missiles zeroed on Israeli targets

A colossal Iran-funded and directed armament program has enabled Syria to field 1,000 ballistic missiles and Hizballah 1,000 rockets - all pointed at specific Israeli military and civilian locations, including the densely populated conurbation around Tel Aviv, debkafile's military sources reveal. Syria has smuggled most of its stock of liquid-fuel powered ballistic missiles over to Hizballah in Lebanon, while its own production lines have been working day and night for five months to upgrade its stock solid fuel-propelled missiles, so improving their accuracy. North Korean military engineers and technicians are employed on those production lines.

According to Western military sources, a command center for coordinating a missile offensive against military and civilian targets in Israel has been operating at Syrian general staff headquarters in Damascus since early March with the help of Iranian, Syrian, Hizballah and Hamas liaison officers.

The command center, operating under direct Iranian command, was formally established at a gala banquet attended by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Damascus on February 25. Its primary mission was defined as "target unification" - military lingo for interaction at the command level to make sure that Tehran, Damascus, Beirut and Gaza do not send short-range missiles flying toward the same Israeli target at the same time.
Each of the four has been assigned one of four Israeli sectors and given specialist training in its features.

The new joint command gave Hizballah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah the confidence to sneer at Israel's five-day, countrywide home front missile defense exercise, which ends Thursday, May 27.

In a speech on Tuesday, May 25, he said: 'Israel wants to reassure its people and make them feel strong and properly prepared to stand up to all possible war situations. But this assurance is false. So carry on with your drills," he said, "but when the rockets start falling on the occupied territories, we'll soon see how much good they are."
The command center's central strategy, say our military sources, is to eliminate the Israel Air Force's edge by releasing a simultaneous deluge of missiles and rockets from hundreds of stationary and mobile launching sites in remote parts of Syria, Lebanon, Iran and the Gaza Strip.
Most of the projectiles in the Syrian, Hizballah and Hamas arsenals are propelled by liquid fuel and therefore take 50 minutes to 1 hour to load and loose at assigned targets. During this time gap, they are vulnerable to air attack. As a bridging device, western intelligence sources believe the joint command in Damascus plans to attack Israel with synchronized missile fire from Iran and Syria during the time Israeli warplanes are hammering, say, Hizballah batteries in Lebanon.
The thinking in Tehran and Damascus is that the Israeli Air Force will find it hard to tackle three or four fronts simultaneously.

Tehran and Damascus are therefore building air shields around their missile bases and launching sites, for which purpose Assad asked Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to speed up the delivery of the advanced Russian Pantsir anti-aircraft missiles when the latter visited Damascus on May.
Medvedev promised to accede to this request.

debkafile's military sources recall that the same Russian Pantsir missiles were ineffective in preventing the September 2007 air strike, by which Israel destroyed the North Korean plutonium reactor financed by Tehran at Al-Azur in northern Syria.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

GOP Senator on Obama: 'He Needs to Take a Valium'

Newser) – President Obama visited Senate Republicans today, but bipartisanship wasn't exactly overflowing, reports Politico. GOP Senator Pat Roberts' take: "The more he talked, the more he got upset. He needs to take a valium before he comes in and talks to Republicans and just calm down." The White House, for its part, characterized the meeting as "civil in tone."

Bob Corker reportedly lit into the president for pushing ahead with a mainly Democratic bill on regulatory reform, and Obama and McCain got into a "frank" discussion over border security. Afterward, Obama announced he would send 1,200 National Guard troops to the border, and McCain made clear that wasn't enough. All in all, the fence-mending visit may actually have made relations worse, writes Manu Raju.

North Korea on war readiness. US-South prepare. Tehran watches

North Korean ruler Kim Jong-il ordered his military to prepare for all-out war after Barack Obama sent the US military to work with Seoul to prepare for future aggression and plan a joint submarine maneuver for the near future.
Tuesday, May 25, military observers in the Korean Peninsula and Japan were predicting limited skirmishes on land, sea and air. Some sources found North Korea capable of going all the way to test-firing a nuclear warhead for the first time.
Monday, May 24, President Barack Obama ordered the 28,000 US soldiers stationed in Korea to "work closely with the Republic of Korea to ensure readiness and deter future aggression." President Lee Myung-bak said Pyongyang must pay a price for the torpedo attack on a South Korean Chenan that killed 46 sailors in March. Officials accused Kim of personally ordering a submarine to sink the corvette.
Seoul also suspended inter-Korean trade, investment and non-humanitarian aid and banned North Korean merchant ships from passing South Korean waters.

Washington and Seoul have been hoping Beijing would step in to cool the crisis and avert a clash on China's doorstep. But US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who attended the two-day annual US-Chinese conference in Beijing, failed to persuade Chinese President Hu Jintao to rein in the North Korean ruler and calm the crisis.

China is also reluctant to joint South Korean plans backed by the US and Japan to bring the issue before the UN Security Council for further sanctions against the North. Past penalties for its nuclear activities have already ravaged the North Korean economy.
debkafile's military sources point to the Korean crisis's grave repercussions for current Middle East war tensions. North Korea and Iran have worked closely together in the development of their clandestine nuclear weapons programs. The two rogue powers often pursue the same diplomatic tactics for fobbing off international pressures. For Syrian president Bashar Assad, the brazenly defiant Kim Jong-Il is a role model. Above all, Pyongyang is the primary source of nuclear technology and sophisticated missiles for Iran and Syria.
The plutonium reactor which the Israeli Air Force destroyed in September 2007 in northern Syria was made in North Korea and, according to debkafile's intelligence sources, North Korean nuclear scientists and technicians are back at work in the country.
While Israel regards the Korean conflict as remote, Tehran and Damascus are studying its every twist and turn and drawing lessons on the responses of the world powers for their own use. They are especially interested in China's handling of this crisis as a pointer to whether or not it will veto the sanctions before the UN Security Council against Iran.

By and large, Beijing seeks to manipulate the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs as levers for reducing American influence in Asia and the Middle East alike. Therefore, a decision by Hu to go easy on Pyongyang in the current crisis may well be a good-news signal for Tehran.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Another threat looming for homeowners after short sales, foreclosures

Before Larry Thomas unloaded his Pompano Beach home last fall for a fraction of what he paid, he cut a deal that will keep him from worrying about a huge debt hanging over his head.

Thomas insisted that his lender, American Home Mortgage Servicing, agree not to come after him for the estimated $174,000 he still owed on his two mortgages. "I feel incredible relief," the 32-year-old restaurant manager said last week.

Others may not be as fortunate.

Lenders will file a tidal wave of lawsuits against homeowners in the next few years as a way to recoup losses when home sales or foreclosure auctions don't result in enough money to pay the mortgages in full, real estate and legal analysts say.

"It will be a dramatic problem because the borrowers will not know it's coming," said Frank Alexander, a law professor at Emory University in Atlanta.

Under Florida law, banks have five years from the date of the sale to file for so-called deficiency judgments and up to 20 years to collect. Lenders can garnish wages or make claims on borrowers' assets.

Before the housing meltdown, few lenders filed these lawsuits. Foreclosures and short sales — selling for less than the mortgage amount — were relatively rare at the time, and many of the homeowners didn't have sufficient assets to make it worth the banks' time and expense.

But following the heady days of the housing boom that spawned millionaire investors seemingly overnight, it's not uncommon for borrowers to default on mortgages while still holding lucrative investments.

As the next wave of the housing crisis plays out, those most in danger of getting slapped with lawsuits include angry homeowners who ransack properties they're losing in foreclosure and borrowers who walk away from "underwater" mortgages. In both cases, analysts say, banks will want to discourage other people from such behavior.

More than four in 10 homeowners said they would consider abandoning properties that are underwater, or worth less than the mortgages, according to a national online survey released last week by real estate firms Trulia and RealtyTrac.

Mortgage companies typically won't sue homeowners who negotiate in good faith or those who default on their loans because of job losses or other unforeseen circumstances, said Anthony Manno, an executive with Steelbridge Real Estate Services. The Miami-based company works with lenders on the resale of foreclosed homes.

Still, borrowers shouldn't rely on a lender's verbal commitment, Manno said. "Get something in writing."

Critics insist that spite will play a role in some of these lawsuits. Lenders deny it.

"We certainly would not do that," said Russell Greene, president of Grand Bank & Trust of Florida in West Palm Beach. "It's a business decision — not an emotional decision. It's very time-consuming to take someone to court."

Even if lenders don't pursue the judgments, they could sell mortgage debt to collection agencies at deep discounts. And it will be those debt collectors that will hound borrowers, said Shari Olefson, a Fort Lauderdale real estate lawyer.

"They paid money to be able to hassle you," she said.

Thomas, the former Pompano Beach homeowner, said he didn't have money for a down payment but was approved for 100 percent financing on two loans in spring 2006. He bought a three-bedroom home for $245,000 near Copans Road and Dixie Highway.

Thomas said he soon became responsible for the entire mortgage after his roommate lost his job. That became even more difficult after Thomas took a pay cut.

So he attempted a short sale, eventually finding plenty of prospective buyers interested in a property that had plummeted nearly 70 percent in value. He and American Home Mortgage accepted one offer for $80,000. After closing costs, the lender netted about $71,000, said his Fort Lauderdale lawyer, Joe Kohn.

But before the sale closed, Kohn had American Home Mortgage waive its right to collect on the remaining mortgage debt.

Christine Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the lender, wrote in an e-mail that she can't discuss Thomas' case because of privacy issues. But when homeowners seeking short sales demonstrate legitimate hardship, "we provide a full release of liability, and we do not pursue deficiency judgments."

Some banks say they won't file a lawsuit, though they aren't willing to put that in writing, Kohn said.

"I have no choice but to accept that," he said. "Even when you play by the rules, banks don't always do what we'd like."

Under new government guidelines for short sales that took effect this spring, lenders aren't supposed to hold homeowners responsible for any remaining mortgage debt. But not all short sales fall under the guidelines, while some lenders choose not to implement them, Kohn said.

A forgiven mortgage balance through 2012 is not considered taxable income on a primary residence as long as the debt was used to buy or improve the house. But borrowers who walk away from investment properties risk having to pay federal income taxes on the forgiven amount.

Homeowners who hand their properties back to the bank through so-called deeds in lieu of foreclosure also should make sure they won't be on the hook for any mortgage debt.

With friends facing deficiency judgments, Thomas said he's grateful he sought legal advice on how to avoid a lawsuit. He now rents a home west of Boca Raton, but he just found out the owner is in foreclosure.

"I've escaped my own problem, only to inherit someone else's," Thomas said. "But this is nothing. It's just a matter of picking up the pieces and moving on to the next rental."

Obama Exporting Chicago's Misery to a City Near You

If you want to get a good glimpse of what America will look like if President Obama continues to push his “change” agenda, take a close look at Chicago. But brace yourself: it is not a pretty picture.

Chicago, as we all know, is Mr. Obama’s home and the place where he served as a community organizer, a state legislator, and a US Senator. Obama championed a variety of jobs creation programs, advanced ideas to reduce crime, and sought earmarks totaling some $800 million dollars to boost the Chicago economy. By all accounts, he was energetic, determined, and successful pushing these programs.

But while many, including Obama, have focused almost exclusively on Mr. Obama’s noble intentions, few have focused on the results. Which of Obama’s efforts in Chicago delivered the promised benefits? None.

Chicago is a city in crisis. Crime rates have surged despite the many, Obama-led, community-building efforts. The number of Americans murdered in Chicago this year is about the same number of troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past year. Two State Senators have argued that Chicago’s crime problem is too big for locals to solve and have called for deployment of the National Guard.

Nor is crime the only problem in the windy city. Unemployment is at11.2%, 1.3 points above the national average. Worse yet, minorities are particularly hit by a failing Chicago economy that continues to shed jobs as the unemployment rates among minorities top 20%.

Alas, the index of misery in Chicago earned the city the distinction as the third most miserable city in America, as high taxes cripple job growth, innovation, and entrepreneurialism.

None of Mr. Obama’s efforts as a community organizer, state legislator or U.S. Senator did anything to reduce Chicago’s misery index. It’s possible that the opposite may be true. Remember: as a U.S. Senator, Mr. Obama averaged nearly $286.9 million per year in earmark requests, which he justified as ways to promote job growth, reduce crime, and improve schools. Yet, Chicago’s misery worsened.

Is it possible that Mr. Obama made Chicago’s problems worse by championing a philosophy of greater federal support, avoidance of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility? Was the nearly $1 billion of Obama earmarks spent, not on investments that might have helped spark economic activity, but instead directed to dubious causes aimed at rewarding key supporters such as the Unions? Did Obama help choke off economic vitality and entrepreneurialism by acquiescing to high taxes and growing regulatory burdens?

I think so.

Mr. Obama did not set Chicago on a path of ruin single-handedly. He had lots of help. Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat Party Whip, White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel. Valerie Jarrett and other Chicagoans occupy key positions in the Which House. Like Obama, Durbin and Emanuel have, for years, directed funding, both directly and indirectly to Illinois and to Chicago for assistance, entitlement programs, pork projects and perks. And yet, the problems in Chicago only grew.

Here is the scary part: now they are in Washington, working hard to duplicate on a national scale the failures they achieved in Chicago.

None of the powerful Chicago politicians now in Washington have practical experience creating jobs. All of them have a mistaken belief that the federal government can generate job growth by turning the spigot of taxpayer money in the intended direction. They also believe that ever larger and more intrusive government and regulatory regimes added to every level of American life are a prescription for economic growth. This same, failed philosophy that guided their actions in Chicago now guides their efforts in Washington.

Obama’s Chicago experiment has been a dismal failure.

Why should Americans trust Obama and allow him to experiment with the future of the country and our children? Obama’s vision is wrong. His favored solutions do not work, and Obama’s path only leads to greater misery. Americans deserve better, and so does Chicago.

If Team Obama wanted to find out why their earlier programs failed and led to an exodus of jobs, they could talk to companies that have relocated to more business friendly states such as Texas. In Texas, Team Obama would find a lower tax rate, a healthy climate for entrepreneurial growth, and pro-growth policies that encourage innovation and new investment.

Team Obama might even want to take a trip and talk to the guy that first put Texas on the path of long-term growth, fiscal solvency, and enhanced competitiveness. The roads to Crawford are well marked, so he should not be hard to find.

Ankara threatens reprisals if Israel halts flotilla for Gaza

The Turkish government sent a secret message to Jerusalem Monday, May 24, threatening reprisals if the Israeli Navy prevents the "Freedom Flotilla" of nine boats from reaching the Gaza Strip on May 27 for the avowed objects of breaking Israel's blockade on the Hamas-ruled territory and delivering humanitarian aid. debkafile's military and intelligence sources report that the Turkish message was an ultimatum to Israel threatening retaliation against Israeli interests. It is backed by the unreported presence of one or more helicopters on one or more of the Turkish vessels for challenging Israeli Air Force support for the naval blockade.

Three boats set sail from Turkey Sunday, May 23, to rendezvous en route with vessels from the UK, Greece, Algeria, Ireland, Sweden and Kuwait carrying 750 assorted pro-Palestinian activists and $20 m worth of cement, medical equipment and schools supplies. The venture, on behalf of the Turkish-based Humanitarian Aid Foundation is sponsored personally by Prime Minister Recep Erdogen. This foundation is quietly sponsored by Turkish intelligence and all its operations, including the Gaza flotilla, the most ambitious yet for breaking the Israeli blockade on Gaza - drawn from the prime minister's office in Ankara.
Israel has imposed a 20-nautical mile closure on the Gaza coast and vowed to prevent the Turkish-led flotilla from entering port. A fleet of private Israeli vessels is on its way from the Herzliya marina to protest its arrival. They are flying banners protesting eight years of Gaza missile fire against Israel and photos of kidnapped soldier Sgt. Gilead Shalit, held for four years.

Our sources report Erdogan has approved a plan of action whereby when Israeli warships and naval commandoes board the vessels to prevent them reaching Gaza, the helicopter carrying the leading activists will take off, fly over their heads and land in Gaza. The assumption is that the Israeli Air Force will not dare to intercept the helicopter and bring it down while still offshore for fear of an international outcry against a purported humanitarian mission.
Jerusalem has not yet replied to the Turkish ultimatum. It is standing fast as yet - barring provocations or shooting from the convoy to gain media attention - by the decision to block the flotilla's entry to a Gazan port. The vessels will be diverted to an Israeli port, if necessary by Israeli naval units boarding them, and the people aboard detained at a special camp thrown up to house them.
The cargo will be unloaded and, if it contains no materials usable for Hamas' military effort against Israel, trucked to the Gaza Strip and handed over. Ankara is perfectly aware that Israel does not object to overland deliveries of humanitarian aid to Gaza. Its "Freedom Flotilla" is therefore aimed solely at breaking the blockade thrown up around the terrorist enclave by Israel and Egypt.

In Gaza the UN Relief and Works Agency protest the vandalization of one of its 435 holiday camps for a quarter of a million Palestinian teens and children.

In the past month, the Hamas regime has sanctioned five executions - three last Tuesday in front of their families - and dumped their bodies in the Shifa hospital.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

< previous post next post > Dengue Fever In Florida Portends A Growing Problem

You may not have heard much about a nasty tropical infection called dengue fever. But that may soon change.

Federal health officials have identified the first sizable outbreak of the mosquito-borne disease in the U.S. in 55 years, in the Florida Keys. They say the southern U.S. is ripe for more.

The first cases in the recent outbreak occurred last summer and fall. In August, a New York woman recently back from a Key West vacation came down with the characteristic dengue symptoms — fever, wicked headache, chills, muscle and joint pain, and bloody urine. An alert doctor in Rochester, N.Y., diagnosed dengue fever.

Around the same time, the virus showed up in a woman and a married couple in Key West, none of whom had traveled to areas where dengue is common.

These cases triggered an investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Florida health officials. That uncovered 23 more cases in Key West last summer and fall. Everyone recovered.

Taking the probe another step, the CDC did blood tests on randomly selected Key West households for antibodies to dengue virus, a marker of past infections. Out of 240 people tested, five percent had evidence of recent infection.

The outbreak has subsided, but the virus is still around. On April 9, a 41-year-old Key West man was hospitalized with bloody urine and abnormal blood counts. He also had the dengue virus, and hadn't traveled outside the area. That brings the Key West outbreak to 28 cases.

Dengue fever is rarely fatal, though it can be. But it's often very unpleasant, and dangerous in people with impaired immune systems and other disorders. It's the most common mosquito-borne virus in the world, causing up to 100 million infections and 25,000 deaths each year.

Until this outbreak, Florida hadn't seen dengue fever since 1934. The U.S. as a whole hasn't seen many infections since 1945, except for occasional outbreaks along the Texas-Mexico border and a 2001 outbreak in Hawaii, imported from Tahiti.

By some estimates, several million Americans, mostly immigrants and the poor, have illnesses more commonly seen in the developing world, such as dengue fever and Chagas disease. The conditions often go unrecognized by American doctors.

Infectious disease specialists have been watching for more dengue in the southern U.S. Two species of mosquitos that carry the dengue virus are widespread in this country. Dengue is the most common cause of fevers among Americans returning from the Caribbean, South America and Asia. An infected traveler can touch off a local outbreak if bitten by a stateside mosquito when there's a lot of dengue virus in his or her blood.

Perhaps most ominous, cases of dengue fever elsewhere in this hemisphere – in the Caribbean, Central and South America – have jumped from around 1 million to 4.8 million since 2000. That's why the U.S. made dengue a reportable disease last year.

Officials don't know what caused dengue to pop up in Key West. But all the ingredients are there –- abundant mosquitos of the right kind, lots of tourists exposing lots of skin, and what CDC calls "a proliferation of man-made containers able to serve as mosquito-breeding sites." Lax mosquito spraying programs has also played a role, officials say.

The Florida outbreak might have gone unnoticed if it hadn't been for that astute physician back in upstate New York. So the CDC is urging doctors all over the country to think dengue if they have another patient with the right combination of symptoms and travel history.

Dengue Fever Hits Key West

More than two dozen cases of locally-acquired dengue fever have hit the resort town of Key West, Fla., in the past nine months, officials from the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Although not the first cases of home-grown dengue in the U.S., or even in Florida, the outbreak highlights the need for physician vigilance regarding this and other formerly exotic tropical diseases, the CDC said in the May 21 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

"The re-emergence of dengue in Florida as well as the threat posed to the U.S. from other emerging mosquito-borne arboviruses (e.g., chikungunya) emphasizes the necessity for strong vector-borne surveillance and mosquito control infrastructure to rapidly identify and control outbreaks of dengue or other mosquito-borne diseases," MMWR's editors wrote in a commentary accompanying the report.

Dengue fever is a viral infection transmitted by mosquito bites. It can be debilitating, but is not usually fatal in otherwise healthy people.

It is endemic in the Western Hemisphere from Mexico southward. Most cases seen by U.S. physicians have involved travelers to such regions.

Over the past 30 years, a few cases of locally-acquired dengue have been confirmed along the Texas-Mexico border, according to the report, authored by CDC researchers, public health officials in Florida, and physicians who treated the first cases in the new Key West outbreak.

Dengue was also known in Florida in the 1930s, but no locally-acquired cases had been confirmed since then, until last August.

The first case was actually identified in Rochester, N.Y., involving a 34-year-old woman who had just returned from a week-long visit to Key West.

The day after arriving back in Rochester, she went to her doctor complaining of fever, headache, malaise, and chills. Lab analysis showed bacteria and blood in her urine.

Not surprisingly, her primary care physician and a local emergency department did not initially suspect dengue. The presumptive diagnosis was a urinary tract infection and she was treated accordingly.

Some of her symptoms resolved, but a week later she returned to her primary care doctor saying she didn't "feel right," the MMWR report said. An infectious disease specialist was called in, who inquired about travel to dengue-endemic areas.

She denied having been out of the country, but said she had received multiple mosquito bites during her Key West visit, and she was tested for dengue antibodies, which came back positive. Public health officials in the county where Key West is located were informed, and they notified local physicians and the public of the potential for locally acquired dengue.

As a result, several other recent cases of febrile illness with other symptoms such as headache, myalgia, chills, and vomiting, were discovered to be dengue.

In response, according to the MMWR report, officials in the Keys stepped up mosquito control efforts, going door-to-door to find and eradicate breeding sites. They also encouraged the public to take steps to prevent mosquito bites.

Officials conducted random serological testing in local households, finding that about 5 percent of 240 individuals carried dengue antibodies.

Key West physicians were also contacted to provide serum specimens from recent patients with symptoms consistent with dengue. Nine of 21 samples sent for testing came back positive for dengue.

The tally of confirmed dengue infections in Key West eventually grew to 28, with the most recent case diagnosed in mid-April.

Dengue is much more of a problem elsewhere in the hemisphere, with an estimated 4.6 million cases from 2000 to 2007 in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America, according to MMWR's editors.

But the Key West outbreak demonstrates the potential for significant penetration into the continental U.S., they suggested.

They noted that international travelers can pick up the virus in endemic areas, and are often still viremic when they return. In areas with mosquito species capable of transmitting the virus -- such as Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, both present in the southern and southeastern U.S. -- dengue can then spread locally.

The editors also recommended that physicians consider dengue when evaluating any patient with a febrile illness who has recently been in subtropical areas of the U.S., as well as in countries to the south.

"This is particularly important when signs and symptoms such as thrombocytopenia, leukopenia, hemoconcentration, rash, or eye pain are present," they wrote.

Suspected cases should also be reported promptly to public health authorities, they indicated.

No external funding for the work was reported.

No potential conflicts of interest were reported.