By Matt Spetalnick – WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama, seeking to ease voters’ concerns
about his handling of the U.S. economy, said on Saturday a meeting with his jobs council next week would
focus on possible further steps to boost hiring in the short term.Obama on Monday will visit a clean-energy plant in North Carolina, a likely battleground state in his 2012 re-election bid, where he will consult with a panel of outside advisers on job creation headed by General Electric chief executive Jeffrey Immelt.Obama’s effort to reassure Americans of his commitment to reducing unemployment, which edged up to 9.1 percent last month, comes amid signs of a slowing recovery and opinion polls showing increasing public doubts about his economic policies.Republican critics accuse Obama of wasteful spending and overregulation that they say obstruct economic growth.”I wish I could tell you there was a quick fix to our economic problems,” Obama said in his weekly radio address. „But the truth is, we didn’t get into this mess overnight, and we won’t get out of it overnight. It’s going to take time.”[ For complete coverage of politics and policy, go to Yahoo! Politics ]Though the White House and Democratic allies in Congress remain locked in tough talks with Republicans over an elusive deficit-reduction deal, Obama sought to make clear that he was not losing sight of the need to put people back to work.”I’ll travel to North Carolina where I’ll meet with my Jobs Council and talk about additional steps we can take to spur private-sector hiring in the short-term and ensure our workers have the skills and training they need,” he said.Obama said investing in education and alternative energy would improve the job market but offered no specifics. An administration official said on Thursday the White House was discussing the idea of a temporary cut in payroll taxes that employers pay on wages, among other measures.Obama on Tuesday expressed interest in seeking an agreement to continue parts of a tax-cut compromise reached last year. He cited a payroll tax holiday for employees, extended jobless benefits and a research and development tax break as measures that had helped.In the Republican response, U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger accused Obama of „broken promises” on jobs.”We can’t continue to follow the same failed agenda that has driven job creators further into doubt and uncertainty,” he said.Kinzinger also said his party had made clear that „under no circumstances will Republicans support irresponsible legislation which increases the federal government’s credit limit without any spending cuts or budgetary reforms.”He said it was time to „draw a hard line” on spending.Outside pressure is growing for a deal that would let Congress raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling before an August 2 deadline. Republicans say any increase in the debt limit would have to be matched by an equal amount of spending cuts.(Editing by Xavier Briand)
Guam mulls going its own way by Mar-Vic Cagurangan – HAGATNA, Guam (AFP) – Almost 70 years
after US Marines freed Guam from Japanese forces during World War II, political leaders on the Pacific island are again seeking liberty — this time from Washington.The Marines who took Guam in a bloody 1944 battle reinstated the island as a „non-governing US territory”, meaning its 180,000 population enjoys US citizenship but cannot vote in US presidential elections.Now, with plans to increase the US military presence in Guam by moving in 8,000 troops from Japan’s Okinawa, fears the native Chamorro population will be swamped by outsiders has given new impetus to calls for self-determination.Governor Edward Calvo successfully campaigned on the issue in a January election and pursued it in his State of the Island address in March.”I highly doubt the 1,744 Marines and soldiers who gave their lives in the Battle of Guam died so that the people they liberated could be colonised for eternity,” he said.[ For complete coverage of politics and policy, go to Yahoo! Politics ]„Because we are still an unincorporated territory (of the US) we have not reached our full potential. We should be able to determine where we want to go to as a community.”Guam, whose economy depends largely on US military spending and tourism, first came under US control when Spain ceded it to Washington in 1898 after the Spanish-American War.It is one of only 16 places classified by the United Nations as non-self-governing territories, or colonies, remaining in the world.Calvo has said he wants to hold a plebiscite on self-determination in 2012 but that need not mean cutting ties with Washington. Voters would be able to express their preference for one of three options — US statehood, independence or „free association” with Washington.Free association, a status accorded to neighbouring Pacific states the Marshall Islands, Palau and Micronesia, would give Guam recognition as a sovereign nation but it would retain close ties with the United States.University of Guam president Robert Underwood said the time was ripe to revive the quest for home rule after three attempts between 2000 and 2004 stumbled because of a bureaucratic hurdle over voter registration.He said Guam’s local population needed to assert itself before the impending US military expansion, scheduled to take place in 2014.”A society that is unfulfilled politically will always allow uncertainty to affect its development. It is important to resolve this issue now,” Underwood said.He said that while the island was always likely to remain economically dependent on the United States, that did not mean it was politically unable to rule itself, adding: „Most people in the world today are interdependent.”Guam’s population has become increasingly multi-ethnic since World War II, currently comprising about 40 percent indigenous Chamorro, 27 percent Filipino, 12 percent from other Pacific islands and the remainder Caucasian or others.Local scholar and cultural activist Jonathan Diaz said the Chamorro, who first settled on the island about 4,000 years ago, deserved to determine how their native land was governed.”I think the diversity and composition of Guam’s population may hamper the effort but, in actuality, if outsiders know and understand the story of the Chamorro people, they will let us vote,” he said.
Somalia says killed top African al Qaeda operativeBy Abdi Sheikh –
MOGADISHU (Reuters) – Somali police said on Saturday that Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Africa’s most wanted al Qaeda operative, was killed in the capital of the Horn of Africa country Tuesday.Mohammed was reputed to run al Qaeda in east Africa, operated in Somalia and evaded capture for over a decade after being accused of playing a lead role in the 1998 U.S. embassy attacks in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, which killed 240 people.Police said they shot Mohammed at a checkpoint in Mogadishu after an exchange of fire at midnight Tuesday in the chaotic country where Mohammed, also known as Harun, an accomplished linguist and computer expert with at least 18 aliases, is believed to have been hiding for most of the past decade.Washington says several al Qaeda members involved in the embassy bombings sought sanctuary in Somalia’s south, its most violent region.Somalia, Kenya’s northern neighbor, has been without an effective central government since the overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.”We have confirmed he was killed by our police at a control checkpoint this week,” Halima Aden, a senior national security officer, told Reuters in Mogadishu.”He had a fake South African passport and of course other documents. After thorough investigation, we confirmed it was him, andthen we buried his corpse,” Aden said.The United States had offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the capture of the Comorian, who spoke five languages and was said to be a master of disguise, forgery and bomb making.Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters: „Harun Fazul’s death is a significant blow to al Qaeda, its extremist allies, and its operations in East Africa.””It is a just end for a terrorist who brought so much death and pain to so many innocents in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam and elsewhere — Tanzanians,Kenyans, Somalis and our own embassy personnel,” she said on a visit to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.A senior U.S. official in Washington said that his killing removed one of the group’s „most experienced operational planners in East Africa and has almost certainly set back operations.”U.S. officials say Mohammed, believed to be in his mid 30s, also masterminded an attack on an Israeli-owned hotel along Kenya’s coast in November 2002 that killed 15 people.WRONG ROADAt times, Somali sources say, Mohammed hid among mixed-race, minority communities that live in villages dotted along the coast between Mogadishu and the Kenya border, where his Comoran looks blended in well with the coast’s Benadir and Bajuni people of mixed Somali, Arab, Persian, Portuguese and Malay ancestry.These accounts fit with Mohammed’s well-known method of „hiding in plain sight.” Adopting the guise of an itinerant Islamic preacher, he settled in an isolated Kenyan coastal village, Siyu, near Somalia’s south, in 2002, evading detection for months before and after the hotel bombing.Shortly after, he slipped into southern Somalia. Local residents said that every morning Mohammed exercised on a beach near Gendershe before he left to live just south of Mogadishu.But in recent years he was believed to have been more often under the protection of al Shabaab fighters in inland areas.Tuesday, Aden said, Mohammed may have intended to take a road that diverted into an al Shabaab base, but mistook the road and stopped at the checkpoint — the southernmost point controlled by the government before passing into al Shabaab territory — thinking it was manned by al Shabaab.When he realized he was in the wrong place, he opened fire at police who shot back.”He was killed Tuesday midnight in the southern suburbs of Mogadishu at … (a) checkpoint. Another Somali armed man was driving him in a four-wheel drive when he accidentally drove up to the checkpoint,” Aden said.”We had his pictures and so we cross-checked with his face. He had thousands of dollars. He also had a laptop and a modified AK-47,” he said.A U.S. official familiar with the events said: „He was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time — for him, that is. It was the right place and time for enemies of al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.”There was no immediate comment from Somali’s transitional government, which was rocked Friday by the killing of the country’s interior minister claimed by al Shabaab rebels.U.S.-based Somalia expert Abdi Samatar said the killing would not affect the security situation much in the short term.”But over time the gradual loss of skilled people like him and the relatively shrinking spaces they control in Mogadishu and the population’s disgust with them will do the needed damage,” he told Reuters.A Western security source in east Africa, speaking about al Shabaab as well as al Qaeda, said: „It might tone down their capability in the region. He would have been the top man to bring in resources and coordinate operations.”J. Peter Pham, director of the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, said that Mohammed’s death would have little impact operationally on the Islamist insurgency in Somalia, which is led by al Shabaab.”Even the foreign fighters present in Somalia are under Shabaab control, rather than the aegis of al Qaeda in east Africa,” he said.”Likewise, al Shabaab has its own ties with the nearest effective al Qaeda branch, the Yemen-centered al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” J. Peter Pham said.(Additional reporting and writing by James Macharia in Nairobi; Mark Hosenball and William Maclean in London; Editing by Louise Ireland)
Total lunar eclipse next week, not visible in US By ALICIA CHANG, AP Science
LOS ANGELES – The year’s first total eclipse of the moon will last an unusually long time, a rare celestial treat for a wide swath of the globe.Except if you’re in the United States and Canada. North America will be left out of Wednesday’s lunar spectacle, which will be visible from start to finish from eastern Africa, central Asia, the Middle East and western Australia — weather permitting.The period when Earth’s shadow completely blocks the moon — known as totality — will last a whopping 1 hour and 40 minutes. The last time the moon was covered for this long was in July 2000, when it lasted 7 minutes longer than that.The full moon normally glows from reflected sunlight. A total lunar eclipse occurs when the moon glides through the long shadow cast by the Earth and is blocked from the sunlight that illuminates it.As the moon plunges deeper into the Earth’s shadow, the disk will appear to gradually change color, turning from silver to orange or red. This is because some indirect sunlight still reaches the moon after passing through the Earth’s atmosphere, which scatters blue light. Only red light strikes the moon, giving it an eerie crimson hue.It’s difficult to predict the exact shade the moon will take, which will depend on how much dust and clouds are in the atmosphere during the eclipse.Since the moon will pass close to the center of the Earth’s shadow, the total eclipse phase will be longer than usual, said NASA eclipse expert Fred Espenak at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.The entire eclipse will last a little over 5 1/2 hours. Observers in Europe will miss the first part of the show because it will occur before the moon rises. Eastern Asia and eastern Australia won’t catch the final stages, which will happen after the moon sets. Portions of South America will be able see the moon entirely shrouded.Unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses are safe to watch with the naked eye.Keith Gleason, who runs the Sommers-Bausch Observatory in Boulder, Colo., is disappointed that he will not have a ringside seat to the upcoming eclipse. The last total lunar eclipse visible from the U.S. occurred on Dec. 21, 2010, which coincided with winter solstice and was widely observed. Some 1,400 people showed up for a viewing party at the observatory.”We had an absolutely glorious time,” he said.The next total lunar eclipse will fall on Dec. 10 with best viewing from Asia and Australia. The moon will be completely blotted out for 51 minutes. Only parts of the U.S. including Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest will catch a glimpse.The rest of the continental U.S. will have to wait until April 15, 2014 to witness a total lunar eclipse.
NASA launches ocean-watch satellite
WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US space agency on Friday launched a satellite to observe levels
of salt on the surface of the world’s oceans and measure how changes in salinity may be linked to future climate.The $400 million Aquarius/SAC-D spacecraft, a partnership with Argentina, launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 7:20 am Pacific time (1420 GMT).The orbiting science instrument will aim to map the entire open ocean every seven days from its position 408 miles (657 kilometers) above Earth, producing monthly estimates that show how salt levels change over time and location.”Data from this mission will advance our understanding of the ocean,” said Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division in Washington.NASA said the mission will survey salinity at the ocean’s surface in „the most detailed summary of conditions ever undertaken.”Previously, such measurements were taken largely by ships moving along their trade routes.The mission, whose name refers to US-Argentine Aquarius Satelite de Aplicaciones Cientificas (SAC)-D observatory, is set to last for three years.A European satellite was launched in 2009 to measure soil moisture and ocean salinity.The European Space Agency’s Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) mission’s main focus is soil moisture, while Aquarius is aimed primarily at measuring ocean salinity, which plays a key role in exchanges of water and heat in the atmosphere.The Aquarius/SAC-D is a global collaboration with partner Argentina as well as France, Brazil, Canada and Italy, NASA said.”This mission is the most outstanding project in the history of scientific and technological cooperation between Argentina and the United States,” said the Argentine space agency’s director Conrado Varotto.”Information from the mission will have significant benefits for humankind.”Earlier this year, NASA lost Glory, a $424 million Earth-observing satellite that failed to separate properly from its rocket launcher and plunged into the ocean.But Aquarius/SAC-D steered clear of that problem, and the payload fairing protecting the spacecraft separated and fell away as planned, allowing the craft to enter orbit.The satellite observatory is carrying seven additional instruments to collect a range of environmental data for studies of natural hazards, air quality, land processes and epidemiology, NASA said.
Gates: NATO alliance future could be ‘dim, dismal’ By ROBERT BURNS and DESMOND BUTLER, Associated Press –
BRUSSELS – In a stern rebuke, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned Friday that the future of the historic NATO military alliance is at risk because of European penny-pinching and distaste for front-line combat. The United States won’t carry the alliance as a charity case, the outgoing Pentagon chief said.Some NATO countries bristled, but Britain quickly and heartily agreed.Gates’ assessment that NATO could face „a dim if not dismal” future echoes long-standing concern of U.S. policymakers about European defense spending. But rarely, if ever, has it been stated so directly by such a powerful American figure, widely respected in the United States and internationally.The remarks, at the close of Gates’ final overseas trip, reflect a new reality of constrained American finances and a smaller global reach.Earlier in the week Gates played „bad cop” to U.S. President Barack Obama’s good, criticizing Germany’s abstention from the air campaign in Libya two days after Obama lavished an award and fancy White House dinner on visiting Chancellor Angela Merkel.But Gates spoke for the Obama administration, and his warning Friday was aimed squarely at Europe’s priorities.”The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress, and in the American body politic writ large, to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense,” he said.That assessment may cause Europeans to question the future of their defense relationship with the United States, on whom they have counted for a large measure of their security for six decades.It comes on the heels of the withdrawal of one American combat brigade from Europe as part of a significant reduction of U.S. troops in Europe.The U.S. has been the brawn behind NATO since its birth in 1949. But the disparity between strength and allies’ investment has only grown wider.In a question-and-answer session after his speech, Gates, 67, said his generation’s „emotional and historical attachment” to NATO is „aging out.” He noted that he is about 20 years older than Obama, his boss.For many Americans, NATO is a vague idea tied to a bygone era, a time when the world feared a Soviet land invasion of Europe that could have escalated to nuclear war. But with the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, NATO’s reason for being came into question. It has remained intact — and even expanded from 16 members at the conclusion of the Cold War to 28 today — but European reluctance to expand defense budgets has created what amounts to a two-tier alliance: the U.S. military at one level and the rest of NATO on a lower, almost irrelevant plane.Gates said this presents a problem that could spell the demise of the alliance.”What I’ve sketched out is the real possibility for a dim if not dismal future for the trans-Atlantic alliance,” Gates said. „Such a future is possible, but not inevitable. The good news is that the members of NATO — individually and collectively — have it well within their means to halt and reverse these trends, and instead produce a very different future.”Without naming names, Gates blasted „nations apparently willing and eager for American taxpayers to assume the growing security burden left by reductions in European defense budgets.”A German foreign ministry spokeswoman defended that nation’s contribution and noted Obama’s recent praise.However, defense spending is uneven within Europe.Liam Fox, defense secretary in Britain, a strong U.S. ally, told NATO Thursday that European governments were undermining military co-operation with the U.S. by failing to spend enough on defense. He also said other European nations should be more willing to send their forces to NATO operations such as Afghanistan.He praised Gates as a champion of the trans-Atlantic relationship.”Unless Europe carries more of the share of its own defense, we should not assume his successors will do the same,” Fox said.Over the past two years, military spending by NATO’s European members has shrunk by about $45 billion — the equivalent of the entire annual defense budget of Germany, one of the alliance’s top-spending members.As a result, the U.S. defense budget of nearly $700 billion accounts for nearly 75 percent of the total defense spending by NATO members. The combined military spending of all 26 European members is just above $220 billion.The White House stood by Gates’ comments Friday, though officials emphasized that the outgoing defense secretary was not guaranteeing a dim future for NATO, only saying that the possibility existed if allies cannot provide the resources needed. „I don’t think anyone would argue with that,” said Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council.Gates has criticized the Europeans before. He bruised feelings at NATO by publicly calling for larger troop contributions in Afghanistan. He has also criticized the heavy restrictions many European governments set for their soldiers, including bans on night patrols that mean many of them rarely leave their bases.In February 2010 at the National Defense University in Washington he said NATO was in danger of becoming a paper tiger.”The demilitarization of Europe, where large swaths of the general public and political classes are averse to military force and the risks that go with it, has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st,” he said then.To illustrate his concerns about Europe’s lack of appetite for defense, Gates pointed to Libya, where France and other NATO nations pushed hard for NATO intervention and where the U.S. insisted on a back seat role.”While every alliance member voted for the Libya mission, less than half have participated at all, and fewer than a third have been willing to participate in the strike mission,” he said. „Frankly, many of those allies sitting on the sidelines do so not because they do not want to participate but simply because they can’t.”Such inequality is unacceptable, Gates said, and so is the poor follow-through that occurred once the mission began.”The mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime in a sparsely populated country, yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the U.S., once more, to make up the difference,” he said.During his first two years on the job, Gates alternately coaxed and complained, often loudly pressing allies to send more forces and funding to Afghanistan and to lessen their restriction on the troops they had there.After a while he scaled back his constant hounding, acknowledging that it wasn’t paying off much. And he frequently joked that NATO colleagues weren’t shy about mentioning his „megaphone diplomacy.”NATO did send more forces over the past two years, and Dutch, British and other European forces have taken heavy losses. But as the Afghan war approaches its 10th anniversary, the U.S. has more than twice as many forces in Afghanistan as all other nations combined. Several NATO nations have withdrawn forces or have announced plans to do so. The U.S. shares the NATO goal of ending combat there by 2015.Gates offered praise and sympathy along with his chiding, noting that more than 850 troops from non-U.S. NATO members have died in Afghanistan. For many allied nations these were their first military casualties since World War II.Gates spoke at the Defense and Security Agenda think tank in Brussels, where earlier in the week he attended a two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers.