Georgia’s PM asks for rabbi’s blessing

*What do we have to do to convince the public, hit them with SLEDGEHAMMERS????*

Georgian Prime Minister Vladimer (Lado) Gurgenidze made a special call to Israel Tuesday morning to receive a blessing from one of the haredi community’s most important rabbis and spiritual leaders, Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman.

The nonagenarian rabbi from Bnei Brak, known as the father of the yeshiva world, acquiesced to Gurgenidze’s request and blessed the Jewish community of Georgia “and all who live in that place.”

According to Steinman’s followers, shortly after the rabbi uttered the blessing Russia announced a cease-fire with war-torn Georgia.

During Tuesday’s morning prayers, Rabbi Shimon Bruk, the chairman of the Israel branch of The Council for Saving Lost Jews (Hava’ad L’hatzalat Nidchei Yisrael), a haredi organization that builds educational institutions in Eastern Europe, received a phone call from Georgia.


Georgian president’s Russia claims raise eyebrows

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — It was a claim that could have provoked a dangerous Kremlin response: The United States is readying to take over airports and ports in the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

The claim, by U.S.-backed Georgia President Mikhail Saakashvili on Wednesday was swiftly shot down by officials in Washington, who denied any such designs on Georgian soil.

Yet, it was the latest in a string of overstated pronouncements by the American-educated Georgian leader that are further fueling tensions with Moscow.

His comments — along with a stream of biased, conflicting and often false information coming from both Russian and Georgian officials — have made it hard to figure out what is really happening in the world’s latest hotspot.

Fighting between the Russian and Georgian armies raged for days, leaving hundreds dead and some 100,000 forced from their homes. The U.S. government and world diplomats are scrambling for a way to cool the tensions.

Warfare erupted when Georgia sought to retake control over the breakaway province of South Ossetia last Thursday and Russia responded with overwhelming military force.

Saakashvili has been conducting daily interviews in his fluent English on international television networks and making frequent televised speeches at home.

On Wednesday, he said in an interview on CNN that Russian troops were “closing on the capital, circling,” and planning to install their own government in Tbilisi.

Associated Press reporters in the area saw no sign of an impending coup. An AP reporter saw dozens of Russian trucks and armored vehicles heading south from the central city of Gori in the direction of Tbilisi, but they later turned away.

Saakashvili said Russian troops moving deeper into Georgia “even steal toilet seats.”

He later said on Georgian national television that the U.S. arrival of a military cargo plane with humanitarian aid “means that Georgia’s ports and airports will be taken under the control of the U.S. Defense Department.”

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell responded, “We have no need, nor do we intend to take over any Georgian air or seaport to deliver humanitarian aid. … We have no designs on taking control of any Georgian facility.”

Saakashvili has repeatedly compared the Russian incursions to Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939, to the Soviet crackdown in Prague in 1968 and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

In his Wednesday TV address, he said, “Russia has lost more airplanes than in any conflict of this scale since 1939.” While such figures are not publicly available, the calculation seemed unlikely given how brief the fighting has been and how uneven the two countries’ forces are.

He also cited rumors that Russia was planning to bomb a rally in Tbilisi on Tuesday. The rally ended peacefully.

Saakashvili insists he’s not overstating anything, and lamented Wednesday that the West ignored his warnings that Russia was planning a military operation in Georgia as “exaggerations.”

“Now look what they’re doing. This has already exceeded my worst expectations.”

Saakashvili, who graduated from Columbia University Law School, has always been blunt, and his bold language and flamboyant manner helped drive the Rose Revolution that brought him to power after disputed elections in 2003.

He has long been derided in Russia, where he is seen as a vassal of the United States as it seeks to expand its influence in Moscow’s backyard. The conflict has made that worse. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev indirectly referred to his Georgian counterpart as a “lunatic” on Tuesday.

Russia’s leadership has been fierce — and often wrong — in its claims about the conflict, too.

Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said in a BBC interview Wednesday, “There were many reports that Russian tanks are inside Georgia which later proved out to be totally untrue.”

AP reporters saw a Russian convoy in the area of Gori on Wednesday, including support vehicles, ambulances, heavy cannons and about 100 combat troops.

Well looky here!!!!!

Convenient, ain’t it??? Makes you wonder.

The United Jewish Communities has launched an emergency appeal for the embattled citizens of Georgia.

UJC has set up a mailbox to take donations, in addition to a blog addressing the crisis. The organization’s overseas partners, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel, have been assisting the local Jewish community, a number of whom have made aliyah to Israel in recent days.

Georgia has been engulfed in crisis since Russian troops invaded last week in what Western leaders have described as an act of aggression aimed at destabilizing the country’s democratic government. Though a truce was reached early Wednesday, Russian troops continue to occupy areas near the Georgian capital of Tbilisi and tensions are still running high.

The Jewish Agency and the JDC have been particuarly assisting the Georgian Jews in Gori, a city near Tbilisi that has seen some of the fiercest fighting. On Wednesday, 34 Georgian Jews immigrated to Israel.

Donations to the campaign can be made online at or mailed to P.O. Box 30, Old Chelsea Station, New York, NY 10113.

Oh goody, now it is Pakistan!!!

Suspected U.S. missile strike kills 9 in Pakistan
The attack reported by local officials near the Afghan border may signal an increased U.S. campaign against Islamic insurgents. American officials deny knowledge of the strike.
By Laura King, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
August 14, 2008
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — In what could herald an intensified U.S. campaign against Islamic insurgents in Pakistan’s tribal areas, a suspected American missile attack killed at least nine people near the Afghan border, local officials said Wednesday.

It was not immediately known whether any senior insurgent figures were among the dead, but officials in the South Waziristan tribal region said those killed included “foreigners,” often used to mean Al Qaeda operatives and commanders from outside Pakistan.,0,2015679.story

U.S. shifts Arctic foreign policy

Americans waking up to increased competition in the North, coast guard chief says
Randy Boswell, Canwest News Service
Published: Saturday, August 09, 2008

In the latest sign of the rising international political stakes in the Arctic, the top U.S. Coast Guard official has revealed a planned shift in American foreign policy from scientific research to “sovereignty” and “security presence” in Alaskan waters bordering Canadian and Russian territory.

And to underscore growing U.S. concerns over its aging polar icebreaking fleet and suspect capacity for Arctic surveillance, Homeland Security director Michael Chertoff slipped quietly into Alaska on Friday to assess the coast guard’s northern operations.

A Homeland Security officia; told Canwest News Service that Chertoff’s unannounced two-day visit does not include any public events.

In a radio interview ahead of Chertoff’s arrival, U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen said rapidly retreating sea ice is forcing abrupt changes to U.S. priorities in the Arctic.

“For about the last 20 years, the conventional view for policy-makers in Washington is that any activity in the Arctic and Antarctic is basically related to science,” Allen told the Alaska Public Radio Network.

But citing the ongoing “recession of the multi-year ice” in the Arctic Ocean and the inevitable increase in ship traffic and oil and gas exploration, Allen said: “I expect that sometime in the near future there will be an issuance of what they call a national security presidential directive to lay out new policy in the Arctic.

“This will deal with more issues of sovereignty, security presence and things like that,” added Allen. “The question is: What do we want to project up here?”

U.S. anxiety about the state of Arctic security stems largely from comparisons with Russia’s robust force of icebreakers and its recent displays of Arctic military might and economic ambition — including last summer’s controversial flag-planting on the North Pole sea floor by a Russian scientific expedition.

The U.S. is also concerned about the increased presence of foreign fishing fleets in the boundary waters between Alaska and Russia as warming Arctic waters alter the habitats of commercial species.

“The primary mission right now is the maritime boundary line with Russia — keeping foreigners from stealing Alaskan fish,” Rear Admiral Gene Brooks, head of the U.S. Coast Guard’s operations in Alaska, told the radio network.

“The way we do that is either put ships or airplanes or both on the boundary line and we do a barking dog routine,” warning or citing violators.

“The fleets are further north than ever because the species are moving north,” he stated.

Canada has its own high-profile disagreement with the U.S. over the Northwest Passage — the sea route through Canada’s Arctic islands that this country claims as “internal waters” but the U.S. and other nations consider an international strait.

There’s also a disputed section of the Beaufort Sea north of the Yukon-Alaska border where both Canada and the U.S. claim ownership.

Earlier this year, a top U.S. government oceanographer also predicted overlapping U.S. and Canadian claims for seabed territory in another area of the Beaufort Sea further north.

But this summer, U.S. and Canadian scientists plan to collaborate on a sea floor survey in that region and share information helpful to each country’s eventual claims for extended seabed territory under a UN treaty.

Israeli assassins likely to pose as Canadians: expert

OTTAWA (CBC) – Israel is reported to have reactivated a unit known to send agents posing as Canadian tourists to foreign countries to carry out assassinations.
The Kidon Unit—named for the Hebrew word for bayonet—is part of Israel’s overseas intelligence service, the Mossad.

Canadian travel documents have been a favourite of the Mossad for decades, and some in Canada say that practice is likely to resume, no matter what Israel promises.

At a time of heightened tension in the Middle East, Mossad agents posing as Canadians may expose real Canadians to attacks by groups who fear they’re on Mossad’s hit list, says a former CSIS agent, Michel Juneau-Katsuya.

It might also mean more scrutiny for Canadians travelling abroad.

“These people [the Mossad] have very active covert operations all around the world, so more scrutiny, more suspicions, maybe more surveillance against Canadians, will make travel more difficult,” says Juneau-Katsuya, who’s now a security consultant with the Northgate Group.

The last time Mossad agents were caught using Canadian passports was in 1997. Two hit men had tried and failed to inject a lethal poison into the neck of the director of the Hamas press office in Amman, Jordan.

Canada recalled its ambassador in protest. It was the third time Mossad agents had been caught posing as Canadians, and the third time Israel promised to stop.

Foreign Affairs spokesperson Reynald Doiron says it was important for Canada to tell the world that its passports were being used without its permission.

“There was no cooperation whatever between the Canadian and Israeli governments, in that Canada did not supply the passports,” says Doiron.

He adds that the passports found in 1997 were determined by the RCMP to be counterfeit.

The resumption of the Kidon Unit means the use of Canadian passports is likely to resume, no matter what Israel has said in the past, says Juneau-Katsuya.

In defence of the Kidon Unit, Israel says “pre-emptive” assassinations are necessary to protect it from attacks.

Berkeley Scientists: World In ‘Mass Extinction Spasm’

Devastating declines of amphibian species around the world are a sign of a biodiversity disaster larger than just the deaths of frogs and salamanders, University of California, Berkeley scientists said Tuesday.

Researchers said substantial die-offs of amphibians and other plant and animal species add up to a new mass extinction facing the planet, the scientists said in an online article this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“There’s no question that we are in a mass extinction spasm right now,” said David Wake, professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley. “Amphibians have been around for about 250 million years. They made it through when the dinosaurs didn’t. The fact that they’re cutting out now should be a lesson for us.”

New species arise and old species die off all the time, but sometimes the extinction numbers far outweigh the emergence of new species, scientists said.

Extreme cases of this are called mass extinction events. There have been only five in our planet’s history, until now, scientists said.

The sixth mass extinction event, which Wake and others argue is happening currently, is different from the past events.

“My feeling is that behind all this lies the heavy hand of Homo sapiens,” Wake said.

The study was co-authored by Wake and Vance Vredenburg, research associate at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at UC Berkeley and assistant professor of biology at San Francisco State University.

There is no consensus among the scientific community about when the current mass extinction started, Wake said.

It may have been 10,000 years ago, when humans first came from Asia to the Americas and hunted many of the large mammals to extinction.

It may have started after the Industrial Revolution, when the human population exploded. Or, we might be seeing the start of it right now, Wake said.

No matter what the start date, data show that extinction rates have dramatically increased over the last few decades, Wake said.

The global amphibian extinction is a particularly bleak example of this drastic decline, he said.

In 2004, researchers found that nearly one-third of amphibian species are threatened, and many of the non-threatened species are in decline.

Amphibians Dying Even In Remote Sierra Nevada

The Bay Area’s back yard provides a striking example, Wake said. He and his colleagues study amphibians in the Sierra Nevada, and the picture is grim there, as well.

“We have these great national parks here that are about as close as you can get to absolute preserves, and there have been really startling drops in amphibian populations there, too,” Wake said.

Of the seven amphibian species that inhabit the peaks of the Sierra Nevada, five are threatened.

Wake and his colleagues observed that, for two of these species, the Sierra Nevada Yellow-legged Frog and the Southern Yellow-legged Frog, populations over the last few years declined by 95 to 98 percent, even in highly protected areas such as Yosemite National Park.

This means that each local frog population has dwindled to 2 to 5 percent of its former size.

Originally, frogs living atop the highest, most remote peaks seemed to thrive, but recently, they also declined.

There are several frog killers in the Sierra Nevada, Wake said.

The first hint of frog decline in this area came in the 1990s, and researchers originally thought that rainbow trout introduced to this area were the culprits – they like to snack on tadpoles and frog eggs.

The UC Berkeley team did experiments in which it physically removed trout from some areas, and the result was that frog populations started to recover.

“But then they disappeared again, and this time there were carcasses,” Wake said.

The culprit is a nasty pathogenic fungus that causes the disease chytridiomycosis.

Researchers discovered the fungus in Sierra Nevada frogs in 2001.

Scientists have documented over the last five years mass die-offs and population collapses due to the fungus in the mountain range.

But the fungus is not unique to California. It has been wiping out amphibians around the world, including in the tropics, where amphibian biodiversity is particularly high, Wake said.

“It’s been called the most devastating wildlife disease ever recorded,” Wake said.

Global warming and habitat constriction are two other major killers of frogs around the world, Wake said. The Sierra Nevada amphibians are also susceptible to poisonous winds carrying pesticides from Central Valley croplands.

“The frogs have really been hit by a one-two punch,” Wake said, “Although it’s more like a one-two-three-four punch.”

The frogs are not the only victims in this mass extinction, Wake said.

Scientists studying other organisms have seen similarly dramatic effects.

“Our work needs to be seen in the context of all this other work, and the news is very, very grim,” Wake said.

The National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health helped support the study.