Tuesday, May 19, 2009

2009 NBA Playoffs: Los Angeles Lakers vs Denver Nuggets - Series Preview

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs (2) Denver Nuggets

Offense Eff.: Los Angeles (3) 109.8, Denver (7) 107.5
Defense Eff.: Los Angeles (5) 101.9, Denver (8) 103.5
Pace: Los Angeles (6) 96.9, Denver (5) 97.0

Analysis: This should be a great series to watch there is no denying that, but how great it is depends on what the Lakers bring in intensity. If they try and turn the intensity on and off like they did against the Rockets, then they will definitely lose this series, because Denver is much better than the Rockets offensively. I think the Lakers and Denver are close enough on both offense and defense that the series will be decided by three things: which stars have a big game, who wins the hustle plays, and who has a big game off the bench. So that being said here is who I see as the biggest X-factors of this series and what their impact on the series will be:

Chauncey Billups: I can't say this anymore bluntly: Derek Fisher looked REALLY bad against the Rockets in their playoff series. Sure, Billups isn't as quick as Aaron Brooks, but I still think he's gonna have his way with Fisher, so you can expect Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic to get their time on Billups. Hell, I would not even be shocked to see Kobe slide over and guard Billups at some point, while Fisher guards either Dahntay Jones or J.R. Smith.

Kobe Bryant: I'm not sure Dahntay Jones, J.R. Smith, Chauncey Billups, and dare I say Carmelo Anthony will be good enough on defense to slow down Kobe. If they aren't effective, then you can expect Kobe to have a huge series. Right now this is the biggest unknown of the series to me. We should find out after the first two games if the Nuggets have what it takes defensively to beat the Lakers.

J.R. Smith: We've seen it all throughout the playoffs, bench players like Eddie House, Mickael Pietrus, Brandon Bass, and Carl Landry have come off the bench and helped their teams win because they were the X-factor in that particular game. Well, in these playoffs, Denver has something even better than that, because J.R. Smith has been the X-factor almost every game so far for the Nuggets. He's been averaging 16.3 points a game on 49.6 shooting from the floor. That kind of production off the bench is game changing and obviously a huge advantage in the playoffs.

Carmelo Anthony: I have a feeling he's going to be out for blood against the Lakers and we will see 'Melo possessed like we've never seen him before. Maybe I'm wrong and Trevor Ariza and Lamar Odom keep him in check, but I have a feeling 'Melo is going to have a monster series.

Pau Gasol: Gasol needs to be tough down low for the Lakers in this series. He's going to have his hands full with K-Mart, Nene, and the Birdman crashing the boards. He'll get some help from Lamar Odom, but Bynum can't be counted on to give them much. I think Gasol is going to have to average about 25 and 12 in this series for the Lakers to be successful.

Andrew Bynum/Lamar Odom: One of these two is going to have to play well for the Lakers to win the series. If they don't then the Lakers won't have enough scoring to keep up with the Nuggets offensively. Maybe they'll take turns playing well or maybe they'll both suck, but you can bet their play will have a major impact on the series whether good or bad.

Nene: The Lakers might be able to beat the Nuggets if just 'Melo and Billups get their points, but if Nene goes off too then the Lakers could be in big trouble. Either Gasol or Bynum will have to keep him in check. I personally expect a lot from Nene in this series.

Prediction: Nuggets in 7

Nuggets, WWE in smackdown over arena confict

Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers are scheduled to be at the Pepsi Center in Denver next Monday night.

Problem is, so are John Cena and a bunch of wrestlers — and they called it first.

World Wrestling Entertainment said it is booked at the arena for an episode of Monday Night Raw, the same night the Nuggets are slated to host the Lakers in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.

WWE chairman Vince McMahon told The Associated Press he doesn't believe there was "any malice, just ineptness," on the part of Kroenke Sports, which owns the team and the building, but can't tolerate the company "just simply throwing us out on our ear."

Without a quick resolution, McMahon plans to send his trucks to Denver.

"That's what we intend to do," he said. "We're going to show up."

WWE spokesman Robert Zimmerman said the organization secured the Pepsi Center last Aug. 15 and has already sold more than 10,000 tickets for the event. He says the organization expects a sellout, with tickets ranging from $20 to $70.

McMahon blamed Kroenke for not believing his team was good enough to still be playing in mid-May.

"The fans in Denver had a lot more faith in making the playoffs than the owner," he said in a phone interview from Louisville, where Raw was taking place later Monday night.

Denver is usually done with basketball by now. The Nuggets had lost in the first round five straight years, but as the No. 2 seed in the West are in the conference finals for the first time since 1985.

Paul Andrews, executive vice president of Kroenke Sports Enterprises, issued a statement Monday night concerning the scheduling conflict, saying: "We are working with the WWE to resolve the situation amicably."

The league, which handles scheduling during the playoffs, is leaving it up to the team and the WWE to figure things out.

"The Nuggets and the WWE understand that the date of Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals cannot be changed," NBA senior vice president Mike Bass said. "We are confident that the Pepsi Center and the WWE will resolve their scheduling conflict."

Zimmerman said the Pepsi Center confirmed in March with the WWE that the organization wanted to keep the May 25 date, and sent a contract on April 15 — the final night of the regular season — which WWE signed and returned. Tickets went on sale April 11.

The conflict didn't arise until Sunday, when the Lakers beat the Houston Rockets in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals. Had the Rockets won, Denver would have had home-court advantage in the next round, hosting Games 1 and 2 and putting the May 25 game in Houston.

As of Monday afternoon, the schedule on the Pepsi Center's Web site listed WWE for 6:30 p.m. local time and Western Conference finals Game 4 at 7 p.m. Tickets for the wrestling event could still be purchased online.

McMahon said he couldn't guess how much he would make from the show, but that canceling wasn't easy because of how much is involved in moving his equipment, plus filling its obligated time slot on USA Network. Litigation is likely — but he plans to be putting on a card.

"When you do have a date, you plan everything around it," he said, adding, "we may be holding an event in a parking lot somewhere."

Cops: DNA links 5 Milwaukee women's slayings

Victims in crimes stretching back to 1986 were all known prostitutes

A person known only by DNA has killed five prostitutes over two decades in Milwaukee, the city where serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer once cruised gay bars for victims, police said Monday.

More than 20 DNA samples from other unsolved homicides of prostitutes are being re-sent to the state crime laboratory to check for possible links to the killer, police Chief Edward Flynn said at a news conference.

The first two victims linked by the killer's DNA died in October 1986, Flynn said. Another was killed in 1995, one in 1997 and the most recent in April 2007. He said all five were known prostitutes.

The killer's DNA was also found on the body of a 16-year-old female drug abuser slain in 1995. Milwaukee police spokeswoman Anne E. Schwartz said police believe the man suspected in the five other slayings had sex with the 16-year-old and didn't kill her but knows who did.

Suspect not on the database
Flynn said the unknown killer has never been arrested for a felony, which is Wisconsin's basis for those who must submit to DNA testing.

"He does not appear in any DNA database" checked by investigators, the chief said.

Flynn also said DNA tests showed the Milwaukee cases were not linked to murders of prostitutes that are part of active investigations in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Mesa, Ariz.

‘Extraordinarily vulnerable population’
Anyone working as a prostitute is in an "extraordinarily vulnerable population," Flynn said.

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said improved technology makes it more likely the killer can be found. "We're convinced we're going to be able to bring justice to these victims and their families," Chisholm said.

Dahmer admitted killing 17 men and boys between 1978 and his arrest in 1991 at his Milwaukee apartment where parts of some of his victims were found.

He was serving multiple life terms when a fellow prison inmate beat him to death in 1994.

Developments on swine flu worldwide

Key developments on swine flu outbreaks, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization and government officials:

_Deaths: Global total of 76 — 68 in Mexico, six in U.S., one in Canada and one in Costa Rica. Officials said victims from Canada, U.S. and Costa Rica also had other medical conditions.

_Confirmed cases: WHO says 40 countries have reported more than 8,829 cases, mostly in U.S. and Mexico.

_CDC says 46 U.S. states plus District of Columbia have combined 5,123 confirmed and probable cases. Most probable cases are eventually confirmed.

_Dozens of countries urge WHO to change its criteria for declaring a pandemic to consider how deadly a virus is — not just how far it spreads. Britain, Japan, China and others cite potential consequences such as economic devastation and how vaccine decisions would be made.

_U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told The Associated Press she wanted more information on the countries' proposal to WHO before taking a position.

_Acting CDC director says the outbreak is "not winding down" in the United States and "widespread transmission" continues. He says the epidemic is not over in Mexico.

_Japanese government says it will phase out airport quarantine checks after 41 more swine cases were confirmed in the port city of Kobe and nearby Osaka. A total of 176 cases have been confirmed in Japan, making it the fourth-most infected country in the world.

_China confirms its fourth case of swine flu on the mainland and says an Italian woman traveling in Tibet is also suspected of carrying the virus.

Memorial for NYC's 1st swine flu death

— A makeshift memorial has been erected outside a New York City school for the assistant principal who was the city's first swine flu death.

Mitchell Wiener (WEE'-ner) died Sunday after being hospitalized since Wednesday. He had been on a ventilator.

Candles and flowers were placed outside Intermediate School 238 in Queens in his memory.

Wiener's death is the country's sixth.

Officials closed the school Thursday. A total of 16 schools have been closed because of the city's most recent outbreak of the virus. The first known cases of swine flu in the United States appeared at another Queens school in late April.

A hospital spokesman says medical complications likely played a part in Wiener's death. But Wiener's family says the only pre-existing medical problem he had was gout.

Bill Clinton to be UN special envoy to Haiti

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) — Former US president Bill Clinton is to be named UN special envoy to Haiti, according to a UN official.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the formal announcement would be made at UN headquarters Tuesday.

He said this was a new post specially created for Clinton, who has been trying to focus world attention on the Caribbean island, which was devastated by hurricanes last year and is the poorest country in the western hemisphere.

"It is an honor to accept the (UN) secretary general's invitation to become special envoy to Haiti," Clinton said in a statement published by the The Miami Herald, which originally broke the story of the former president's appointment to the post.

"Last year's natural disasters took a great toll, but Haiti's government and people have the determination and ability to build back better, not just to repair the damage done but to lay the foundations for the long-term sustainable development that has eluded them for so long," he was quoted as saying.

Last March, Ban and Clinton toured Haiti together and urged the international community to continue to aid the impoverished Caribbean country.

In April, participants at a donors conference in Washington agreed to donate 324 million dollars to help Haiti rebuild.

Clinton, who visited Haiti while president in 1995, was the first US leader to travel to the country while in office since Franklin Roosevelt in 1934.

Prior to the UN post on Haiti, the former president served as UN special envoy for tsunami recovery following the 2004 tsunami, raising tens of millions of dollars for the rebuilding effort in Indonesia and other flood-ravages areas of Asia.

Man is shot near Harvard University dorm doorway

A man has been shot near a Harvard University dormitory.

Authorities say the man was wounded Monday afternoon outside an entrance to Kirkland House, one of a dozen dorms on the university's campus in the Boston suburb of Cambridge. He's hospitalized in stable condition.

Police say it's unclear if he's a student.

A witness tells The Harvard Crimson daily student newspaper the victim appeared to be "college-aged" and was bleeding but conscious.

Kirkland House administrators have sent an e-mail to students informing them of the shooting and asking them to cooperate with police and staff.

The university says the shooting appears to be an "isolated" incident. It says Kirkland House residents are being asked to remain at the undergraduate dormitory but other members of the university community can resume normal activities.

Biden begins 3-day Balkan tour in Bosnia

Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Bosnia Tuesday, the first stop of a three-day Balkan trip aimed at demonstrating an intensified U.S. engagement in the Balkans.

Biden landed in Sarajevo, where he is scheduled to meet Bosnia's three-person presidency, address parliament and meet separately with the country's two staunchest rivals — Bosniak leader Haris Silajdzic and Milorad Dodik, head of the country's Serbs.

Biden's visit is being met with mixed feelings.

Bosniaks are eager to see the U.S. get more involved in Bosnia. But Serbs have scheduled protests to tell Washington to back off.

After more than three years of war, the U.S. brokered a peace agreement in 1995 in Dayton, Ohio, that preserved the country's international borders but divided it in the two ministates — one for the Bosnia's Christian Orthodox Serbs, the other shared by Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats. The two are linked into a state by common institutions.

The agreement proved to be good enough to stop the fighting but not to ensure a functioning country.

For years, Bosnia has been blocked on its path toward European Union membership mostly by quarrels among Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats over how to enter the 27-nation bloc — as a unified country or ethnically divided as it currently is.

The Serbs say Bosnia can enter the EU only as a loose federation of two or three ethnic-based ministates. Bosniaks and Croats, meanwhile, are pushing for unification. Due to the differences, the process has stagnated.

Now, the U.S. administration wants to bring "a new focus, a new sense of energy, a new activism with regard to Bosnia-Herzegovina and the region as a whole," the U.S. ambassador to Bosnia, Charles English, said last week.

Washington wants to help people of the region take their place in the EU and NATO, he added.

Underscoring this goal, Biden is traveling to the region with Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution calling for constitutional reform in Bosnia and the appointment of a special U.S. envoy to the Balkans. The envoy should work with the EU on facilitating reforms at all levels of Bosnia's government and society.

On Wednesday, Biden will fly to Serbia, before wrapping up his tour in Kosovo on Thursday.

Vodafone Net Falls 54% on Impairments

U.K. telecommunications company Vodafone(VOD Quote) said fiscal-year profit fell 54.4% to 3.08 billion pounds as it recorded 5.9 billion pounds of impairments.

Revenue for the fiscal year rose 15.6% to 41 billion pounds, while adjusted operating profit rose 16.7% to 11.8 billion pounds before impairment charges.

Verizon Wireless, which Vodafone owns with Verizon Communications(VZ Quote), saw organic service revenue grow 10.5% in the year, driven by increased customer penetration and data. Vodafone said Verizon Wireless now contributes 30% of its adjusted operating profit.

The company said its cost-cutting plan of 1 billion pounds is "ahead of plan" and Vodafone continues to "explore further ways to reduce cost."

The company said it expects adjusted operating profit in fiscal-year 2010 of 11.0 billion pounds to 11.8 billion pounds.

Pakistan And Afghanistan Is Next Vietnam

Columnist says Pakistan and Afghanistan could turn into our next Vietnam

[Global News: Comment]

Under the pretext of responding to the September 11, 2001 attacks in America, the United and States and Great Britain invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001.

The two countries dubbed this invasion "Operation Enduring Freedom." President George W. Bush told the American people that the US strikes were, "designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations, and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime…we will make it more difficult for the terror network to train new recruits and coordinate their evil plans. Initially, the terrorists may burrow deeper into caves and other entrenched hiding places…At the same time, the oppressed people of Afghanistan will know the generosity of America and our allies. As we strike military targets, we will also drop food, medicine and supplies to the starving and suffering men and women and children of Afghanistan… "

During the 2008 presidential campaign, candidate Barack Obama promised to immediately withdraw troops from Iraq in order to bolster the forces in Afghanistan in order to defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda. "It’s time to refocus our attention on the war we have to win in Afghanistan," he said.

I believe that this approach was taken by the Obama team in order to placate the anti-Iraq contingent in the American electorate while not leaving himself vulnerable to the "soft on defense" hawkish critics on the other side.

As a campaign tactic this approach proved to be successful. In reality, this may prove to be one of the greatest miscalculations President Obama could make. After his historic election, many historians and others placed this event in the context of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s "Dream".

Some mistakenly saw this election as "the fulfillment of that Dream"; others mistakenly compared candidate Obama’s "race neutral" approach with Dr. King’s vision. Some even likened Obama’s oratory skills with that of Dr. King’s.

Today critics are asking the question: "Is the Obama Administration’s approach to the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan going to be its Vietnam?"

As America faces its most difficult economic challenges in recent history, compare President Obama’s Afghanistan and Pakistan approach with President Johnson’s Vietnam. Is the Obama Administration making the same mistakes based on arrogance, hubris, and a misplaced sense of empire that led us into Vietnam?

Here’s what the Rev. Dr. King had to say about US involvement in Vietnam in his speech "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence."

He said: "There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor-- both black and white -- through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such."

Today, President Obama is planning to send an additional 4,000 troops and other support personnel into Afghanistan. Like his predecessor, President Obama says, "If the Afghanistan government falls to the Taliban or allows al-Qaida to go unchallenged, that country will again be a base for terrorists."

The additional 4,000 troops will bring the total US force up to 30,000 by the end of 2009. President Obama is also ratcheting up the rhetoric and activity in Pakistan. There’s a significant increase in ground forces, Predator drones and air attacks.

In his announcement on March 27th, President Obama referred to the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan as, "the most dangerous place in the world." He added: "This is not simply an American problem - far from it. It is, instead, an international security challenge of the highest order. Terrorist attacks in London and Bali were tied to al-Qaida and its allies in Pakistan, as were attacks in North Africa and the Middle East, in Islamabad and Kabul. If there is a major attack on an Asian, European, or African city, it, too, is likely to have ties to al-Qaida's leadership in Pakistan. The safety of people around the world is at stake."

President Obama and his advisors should learn from history, some ancient some modern, and not repeat it. This is a region of the world that has never been defeated militarily. It is where empires go to die.

The Greeks, Indians, Persians, Mongolians, British, and Russians have tried to hold Afghanistan but never succeeded. According to historians, Alexander the Great in 330 B.C. lost more men and more animals crossing the Hindu Kush than all his subsequent campaigns in central Asia.

In 1839 the British invaded Afghanistan; in 1841 after an Afghan revolt, 4,500 British troops withdrew. According to a description published in the North American Review in 1842, On the 6th of January, 1842, the Caboul forces commenced their retreat through the dismal pass, destined to be their grave.

On the third day they were attacked by the mountaineers from all points, and a fearful slaughter ensued.

In more recent history, the Russians invaded Afghanistan. The initial deployment of the Soviet 40th Army began in Afghanistan on August 7, 1978. After nine years of fighting a US, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistani backed mujahedeen resistance, the Soviet troop withdrawal began on May 15, 1988 and ended on February 15, 1989.

Since 2001, in spite of President Bush and now President Obama’s noble speeches and military tactics, the US and its allies have not disrupted the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations.

The US has not been able to successfully "attack the military capability of the Taliban regime". What the US has done is lose 1,147 coalition forces; US Air Force data shows that munitions dropped in Afghanistan have risen 1,100 percent, from 2004 to 2007; and, tonnage figures jumped from 163 tons to 1,956 tons.

According to the United Nations, bombs have killed over 2000 Afghan civilians in 2008, up 40% from 2007. The Associated Press reports the direct correlation between the rise in Afghan civilian deaths and anti-American sentiment.

In terms of dollars, according to recently released pentagon reports, the price tag for running the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan will outstrip the cost of the conflict in Iraq next year. America cannot afford this folly.

To paraphrase the Rev. Dr. King would say: "Then came the buildup in Afghanistan and Pakistan and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war."

The US and its allies could "disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations, and attack the military capability of the Taliban regime" if more of this effort and money were spent on winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan and Pakistani people through real humanitarian assistance such as water, food, medicine, blankets, and building supplies.

The problem with this solution is that those who fuel and promote the military industrial complex in America do not profit from the sale of humanitarian assistance. They profit from war.

This is why, if America is not smart, Afghanistan and Pakistan will once again be where empires go to die.

Why Nancy Pelosi's Days Are Numbered

[Black Star News Editorial]

Speaker Nancy Pelosi's days may be numbered. Eventually she may have to resign.

The speaker needs to command respect and credibility in order to get the President's work accomplished; and this president has an ambitious agenda. Pelosi can no longer marshal the support she needs from both parties.

She has engaged in a fight she cannot win with the CIA. Pelosi says she did not find out that the CIA was waterboarding al-Qaeda suspects –simulated drowning— until 2003; that when she was briefed in 2002 as a Democratic member of the Intelligence Committee she was only told that the Department of Justice had concluded that water boarding was legal. She claims she was not told at that point that waterboarding was already in use by American interrogators.

Pelosi says she only learned about waterboarding being used in 2003 from other elected officials after they had been briefed. Even then, she could not come out and denounce this form of torture thereafter because she was sworn to secrecy, she has said. There are many problems with Pelosi's reasoning.

To begin with, we don't believe that "secrecy" should protect a lawmaker when it involves clearly illegal actions. Waterboarding is clearly torture –indeed, Japanese who waterboarded Allied troops during World War II were executed after their defeat; and it is illegal.

Therefore, Pelosi is saying that she chose to hide and protect a crime for the sake of "secrecy."

The second point is: why is Pelosi making a big deal that she was not informed in 2002 that the CIA was weatherboarding Al-Qaeda suspects and that she only learned about it in 2003? For that distinction to make any sense at all it would mean that had she learned earlier she might have done something about it.

Yet the same "secrecy" argument she is now using to try and explain why she never said anything in 2003 would conceivably also covers 2002.

Pelosi is in a no win position. And it does not help that her fight with the CIA has now become so public.

Pelosi is insisting that the CIA misled her by not telling her that waterboarding was already in use in 2002 when she was briefed: Yet at the same time she would not have done anything anyway due to "secrecy" considerations.

So then, what is her point?

The CIA, with Leon Panetta, President Barack Obama's appointee taking the lead, insists that Pelosi was informed in 2002 that water boarding was in use. And in this row, President Obama has already sided with Panetta.

Weeks ago, Panetta opposed the president's decision to release the memos detailing how weatherboarding was authorized by Department of Justice officials. The memos were released anyway.

Subsequently the Obama Administration revealed that more photographs of abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan by the U.S. military would be released. Again Panetta argued against the release of the pictures.

Last week the president announced that his Administration was withdrawing from the agreement to release the pictures--the agreement was with the ACLU following its law suit to have the pictures released.

The decision clearly means that President Obama has sided with those who argue that releasing such information would help Islamic radicals in their recruitment of fighters against the United States. We disagree with this logic. It implies that Muslims are irrational and that even those who harbor no animosity towards the U.S. would quickly pick up weapons merely after seeing such photos of abuse of Muslims.

In fact, it is quite insulting to level headed Muslims. Those disposed towards terrorism towards the United States don't need any more photos of abuse of Muslim captives to inspire them: Indeed what could accomplish this more effectively are the images now coming from Pakistan where a one million people refugee nightmare has been created after the government there, urged by the U.S., and launched a military offensive against the Taliban.

Yet, the mere fact that the president has sided with Panetta means that Pelosi has been undermined.

Even with the shameful history of misleading elected officials under the George Bush- Dick Cheney regime, the CIA is still a primary force in the battle against Islamic radicals. Given a choice between Pelosi and the CIA, in which direction will President Obama throw his hat?

The answer is clear. Pelosi's tenure as Speaker has become untenable.

Post-9/11 lawsuit rejected

Court: Prisoners can't sue top U.S. officials for abuse

By David G. Savage | Tribune Newspapers
May 19, 2009

WASHINGTON - -- The Supreme Court served notice Monday it will set a high bar for anyone who seeks to hold top officials of the government liable for abuse suffered by prisoners held by the Bush administration as part of its war on terrorism.

Justice Anthony Kennedy spoke for the majority in a 5-4 ruling in throwing out a lawsuit against former Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller for allegedly ordering the roundup of hundreds of Muslim men in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"It should come as no surprise that a legitimate policy directing law enforcement to arrest and detain individuals because of their suspected link to the (9/11) attacks would produce a disparate, incidental impact on Arab Muslims," Kennedy said. "The Sept. 11 attacks were perpetrated by 19 Arab Muslim hijackers who counted themselves members in good standing of al-Qaida, an Islamic fundamentalist group."

The ruling will serve as a procedural barrier for similar lawsuits against former officials by prisoners held as "enemy combatants." The suit dismissed Monday alleged the men were roughed up, strip-searched, shackled, screamed at by guards and locked in a maximum-security facility for months.

None of the 762 men arrested were later charged as terrorists, although many pleaded guilty to Immigration offenses.

In Monday's decision, the high court shielded Ashcroft and Mueller from being sued because the abused men could not show that these top officials personally ordered them to be mistreated.

Peter Margulies, a law professor at Roger Williams Law School in Rhode Island, said the former prisoners "will face an insoluble dilemma. They will need information to meet the heightened pleading requirement, but they won't be able to get it without discovery, which today's ruling will preclude."

Several prisoners who were formerly held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have sued top Pentagon officials, alleging they were subjected to abuse akin to torture. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputies face a suit from Jose Padilla, a one-time Chicago gang member who was arrested and harshly questioned in a military brig in South Carolina. He was later convicted of aiding terrorists, but he has sued on grounds he was subjected to abuse.

The Washington Legal Foundation, however, applauded the court's decision. It is "particularly welcome because it ensures the ability of senior national security officials to perform their duties without the distraction" of answering to lawsuits, said Richard Samp, a lawyer for the group.

PM praised, chided after Obama meet

A day after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's meeting with US President Barack Obama, Israel's political arena was split, with left-wing MKs blasting Netanyahu's insistence on refusing to utter the phrase, "two-state solution," and warning that Israel's relations with Washington were headed for an impasse.
Environmental Protection...

The prime minister's colleagues on the Right, however, were pleased that Netanyahu hadn't "capitulated" and expressed optimism regarding the bilateral relations with the US.

MK Ophir Akunis (Likud) spoke of a relaxed atmosphere in the meeting and said that the focus of the talks with the Palestinians would change, allowing Israel to insist on ensuring its own interests before discussing Palestinian statehood.

"The forebodings of a tense meeting were refuted," Akunis was quoted by Army Radio as saying, "the government is committed to a peace process with the Palestinians; not, however, on the basis of two states for two peoples, but first and foremost on the basis of a Palestinian recognition of the Jewish people."

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan said the meeting proved that there are "clear understandings and cooperation" between Netanyahu and Obama.

Kadima parliamentarians and Labor "rebels," however, were less optimistic, calling the meeting a missed opportunity and warning that it did not bode well for the relationship between the US administration and the Israeli government in the coming years.

Kadima MK Yoel Hasson called the exchange of compliments between the two leaders a show of "empty etiquette," saying that the "essence" apparent at the press conference and the preceding meeting "looks very worrisome."

Netanyahu, Hasson said, "has missed out on a real opportunity to work with a strong president like Obama."

"Netanyahu is insisting on ignoring the unequivocal policy led by US President Barack Obama, which considers the principle of two states for two peoples key to the stability of the Middle East," Labor MK Yuli Tamir said. "Thus Netanyahu trips up Israel and harms its vital interests. Today it is clear that the Netanyahu government's diplomatic tone is being dictated by Lieberman."

On the other side of the political spectrum, Danny Dayan, the head of the Yesha Council, said that Netanyahu should have corrected Obama in a diplomatic manner when the president called to "stop" the settlements.

"An Israeli obligation to freeze building in the settlements is unfounded, even when based on the road map," Dayan told Army Radio.

National Union MK Arye Eldad said that Obama's statements on Iran after the meeting were "cause for real concern."

The president's insistence on open-ended nuclear talks with Teheran, Eldad said, "in effect means that the United States is willing to live with a nuclear Iran, which leaves Israel to face Iran alone. Israel will have no choice but to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities by itself. All the means are at its disposable, no matter the price."

Trial of Suu Kyi may dash change in US policy

The Obama administration has been considering whether a softer approach on Myanmar could spur democratic change in the military-run country, but the trial starting this week of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi may dash the possibility of a new U.S. policy.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly was blunt when asked Monday whether the proceedings against Suu Kyi make it more difficult for the administration to ease tough sanctions against Myanmar: "It certainly doesn't help."

Kelly would not elaborate, saying only a "whole range of options" are being considered as senior officials from various U.S. agencies meet to review the policy meant to push Myanmar's junta "to do the right thing."

Even as the review continues, President Barack Obama extended for another year on Friday a state of emergency regarding Myanmar, also known as Burma. Sanctions would have expired had the emergency order not been extended.

Still, signals from Obama's administration had prompted speculation that the United States might be poised to reconsider its hard line against Myanmar.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in February, on a trip to Indonesia, "Clearly, the path we have taken in imposing sanctions hasn't influenced the Burmese junta." She added, however, that Myanmar's neighbors' policy of "reaching out and trying to engage them hasn't influenced them either."

Suu Kyi, who went on trial Monday, already has spent more than 13 of the past 19 years in detention. The Nobel Peace laureate has been charged with violating conditions of her house arrest by sheltering an American man who swam to her lakeside home to secretly visit her earlier this month. The offense is punishable by up to five years' imprisonment.

David Steinberg, a Myanmar specialist at Georgetown University, said the Obama administration might have been considering small changes, such as joint efforts to recover the remains of U.S. soldiers.

"The modest progress that could have taken place will be set back now," he said. The United States, Steinberg said, cannot begin easing sanctions until it sees real change from Myanmar's generals.

Suu Kyi had been scheduled to be freed May 27 after six consecutive years of house arrest. The latest charges are widely seen as a pretext for the government to keep her detained past elections scheduled for next year.

Ralph A. Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum CSIS think tank, questioned the U.S. policy of maintaining "total isolation and strict sanctions" until the junta recognizes the results of the 1990 elections it lost in a landslide to Suu Kyi's party but did not honor.

"That a new policy is needed is beyond dispute," he wrote last week. "What that policy should or will be is far from clear, however." Some, Cossa said, have pushed for an approach similar to the six-nation negotiations being used by the United States, South Korea, Japan, Russia and China to try to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear programs.

U.S. sanctions, he wrote, "need to be more targeted against the government and its leaders and not against the people themselves."

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who is a regular critic of Myanmar's generals, offered rare praise for Obama on Monday for his decision to extend the emergency order against Myanmar.

He warned Myanmar's leaders that both Democrats and Republicans "will continue to follow Suu Kyi's trial with great interest and deep concern."

Sri Lanka army chief says rebel chief's body found

Sri Lankan troops recovered the body of slain rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran on Tuesday, a day after he was killed in the Tamil Tigers' last stand against government forces in the north, the military said.

The government had announced Prabhakaran's killing on Monday, but later said they had not yet found his body. A rebel official abroad denied Prabhakaran was killed and said he was in a safe place.

As speculation grew about Prabhakaran's fate, army chief Gen. Sarath Fonseka announced that his body had been recovered.

"A few hours ago, the body of terrorist leader Prabhakaran, who ruined this country, was found in the battleground," he told state television. "I take responsibility for this statement."

Fonseka's announcement came hours after President Mahinda Rajapaksa delivered a victory address to parliament, declaring that his country had been "liberated" from terrorism after defeating the Tamil Tiger rebels on the battlefield.

Recounting how the rebels, known formally as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, once controlled a wide swath of the north and much of the east, Rajapaksa said that for the first time in 30 years, the country was unified under its elected government.

"We have liberated the whole country from LTTE terrorism," he said, declaring Wednesday a national holiday to celebrate the armed forces.

The rebels, listed as terrorists by the U.S. and European Union, had been fighting for three decades for a homeland for the mainly Hindu Tamil minority after decades of marginalization at the hands of governments dominated by the mainly Buddhist Sinhalese majority.

Briefly addressing parliament in the Tamil language, Rajapaksa said the war was not waged against the Tamil people.

"Our intention was to save the Tamil people from the cruel grip of the LTTE. We all must now live as equals in this free country," he said.

Rajapaksa has said in the past that he would negotiate some form of power-sharing with the Tamil community following the war and he alluded Tuesday to the need for an agreement.

"We must find a homegrown solution to this conflict. That solution should be acceptable to all the communities," he said. "That solution, which would be based on the philosophy of Buddhism, will be an example to the whole world."

Say anything about 2016 that you need to survive

Promise them anything, Detroit.

It hardly matters whether the world's auto companies stand a snowball's chance in Las Vegas of meeting the ambitious new targets for fuel economy and emissions by 2016 that President Barack Obama will announce today.

What matters is that insolvent General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC are under almost total federal control now and must do whatever Uncle Sam says.

And as long as U.S. taxpayers are keeping GM and Chrysler on federal life support -- and it's looking more and more like we're far too committed to pull the plug now -- the folks in Washington, D.C., will be calling the tune on what kinds of cars and trucks get built and sold here.

The Obama plan calls for overall fuel economy of vehicles sold in the United States to reach 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. That's an increase of 5% a year from today's 25-m.p.g. average. Greenhouse gas emissions must be slashed 30% by the same date.

Those are challenging targets from cost and technology perspectives, and it's almost ludicrous to expect consumers to choose so many higher-mileage vehicles if gasoline is still selling for $2 or $2.50 a gallon.

But the big benefit is that the proposal puts fuel economy standards largely under the federal umbrella, eliminating -- or at least postponing for seven years -- the potential nightmare of automakers having to conform to a patchwork mess of different and stricter standards from California and other states. California has agreed to defer to the federal standards from now until at least 2016, according to the deal struck with Obama.

And the auto companies have promised to go along. As if they had any choice.

A senior Obama administration official said the new standards will add $700 more to the cost of a car by 2016 -- on top of the $600 cost of the existing fuel economy regulations.

Who knows how much more in incentives it might cost taxpayers to get us to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles? The government's plan anticipates a gas price of $3.50 a gallon by 2016.

Whether or not consumers will play ball and whether or not GM, Chrysler and other automakers can actually meet the 2016 targets hardly seem critical points right now. In the case of the Detroit Two on the government dole, all they can think about now is whether they're still going to be alive in 2010.

They'll promise anything by 2016.