nuclear threat

Iranian cities evacuated by smog alert

Iranian authorities on Jan. 2 advised the 1.5 million residents of Isfahan to leave the city if they can because air pollution has reached emergency levels. (BBC Radio, Jan. 2) Tehran's Air Quality Control Company also warned Jan. 2 that air pollution in the capital has also reached alarming levels, and ordered elementary schools and daycare centers closed in the city due to heavy smog. (Mehr News Agency, Jan. 1) Early last month, Tehran residents were likewise urged by authorities to lave the city in response to "dangerous" smog levels, blamed on nearly incessant bumper-to-bumper traffic. Similar edicts were issued for Isfahan and Arak. Schools were also ordered closed, and a cabinet meeting in the capital cancelled. Hospital admissions during the smog alert jumped by 15%, primarily due to people suffering headaches, respiratory problems and nausea. (AAP, Dec. 6; IBT, Dec. 5; AFP, Dec. 3)

East China Sea edging towards war...

Japan scrambled  fighter jets on Dec. 13 after a Chinese maritime aircraft entered airspace over the disputed islands known as the Senkaku to the Japanese and the Diaoyu to China. The Japanese defense ministry said the incident was the first violation of Japanese airspace by a Chinese official aircraft since 1958. "It is extremely deplorable," said Osamua Fujimura, Japan’s chief government spokesman. Kyodo News quoted Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura that the plane belonging to the Chinese Oceanic Administration was spotted near the Uotsuri Island at 11:06 AM local time, and Japan's Air Self-Defense Force responded by dispatching F-15 jets. The response was of course prosted by Beijing. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei  said: "Flying a marine surveillance airplane in airspace above the Diaoyu Islands is completely normal. China urges Japan to stop illegal actions in the waters and airspace of the Diaoyu Islands. The Diaoyu islands and affiliated islands are part of China's inherent territory. The Chinese side calls on Japan to halt all entries into water and airspace around the islands." (Japan TodayFT,  BBC News, Dec. 13)

North Korea joins ICBM club —but why now?

North Korea announced Dec. 12 that it had successfully launched a satellite into orbit atop a three-stage rocket. "The launch of the second version of our Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite from the Sohae Space Center in Cholsan County, North Phyongan Province by carrier rocket Unha-3 on December 12 was successful," North Korea's news agency, KCNA, reported. "The satellite has entered the orbit as planned." Efforts to launch a satellite last April failed when the rocket exploded moments after lift-off. This time, the effort appears to have succeeded. The US mobilized four warships to track the launch, and Japan's government issued orders to its military to shoot down any rocket debris that entered its territory. The first stage splashed into Yellow Sea, the second into the Philippine Sea  north of Luzon Island; the third remains in orbit. This means North Korea now has the ability to go "exo-atmospheric"—a capacity that could be used in an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM). The US maintains the launch constitutes a test of long-range missile technology banned under UN resolutions.

Military coup d'état against Obama?

Israel's ultra-right Arutz Sheva this week is virtually alone in having noted a commentary by "columnist" Gordon Duff in Iran's semi-official Press TV Oct. 29 positing that Rear Admiral Charles M. Gaouette—sacked from his command of a Pacific carrier battle group to face an investigation into "inappropriate leadership judgment"—was planning a military "mutiny" to "topple Obama" in the event of his re-election. Duff asserts that all US military bases at home and abroad were placed on a state of alert in response to the threat. Writes Duff:

Fukushima: thyroid growths in children spark concern

Following disturbing findings of thyroid growths in children of Fukushima prefecture, Japan's Environment Ministry this week began thyroid gland tests on children in Nagasaki prefecture, across the central island of Honshu to the south. Those children will serve as a control group for kids undergoing similar tests in Fukushima prefecture. Fukushima's prefectural government one year ago launched what it intends to be a lifelong thyroid gland test program for 360,000 children who were aged 18 or under when the disaster began in March 2011. The Fukushima screening have been conducted on 115,000 children—about one third of the total number of children that will require testing. In July, it was revelaed that over 35% of the 38,114 then screened were found to have abnormal thyroid growths.

NYC: obligatory disaster rant

Well, we're back online after four days of the electricity being out in Lower Manhattan, and our rage level is even higher than usual. Where to even begin? For starters, with the most obvious reality. This blogger is 50 years old and grew up in New York City. Never in my life have I experienced a storm of anywhere near this magnitude (actually prompting the mayor to announce a "mandatory evacuation" of low-lying areas) until Hurricane Irene last year—and now it just happened again, even worse (much worse) one year later with the Hurricane Sandy "Frankenstorm." Pretty ominous evidence that something is way out of wack. 

Israel shoots down Hezbollah drone?

Israeli warplanes swooped low over Lebanese villages Oct. 7 in a menacing show of force apparently aimed at Hezbollah the day after a mysterious incursion by an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The Israeli Air Force shot down the drone shortly after it crossed into southern Israel from the Mediterranean, passing "over settlements and military bases in the Negev," the IAF said. The craft's launch point is unknown. Israeli officials believe the UAV may have been on a mission to perform surveillance of the Dimona nuclear complex. Israeli politicians have been quick to draw their own conclusions. "It is an Iranian drone that was launched by Hezbollah," Knesset member Miri Regev, a former chief spokeswoman for the Israeli military, wrote on her Twitter feed. "Hezbollah and Iran continue to try to collect information in every possible way in order to harm Israel." (Slate, AP, Oct. 7; JP, Oct. 6)

Tehran protesters: 'Forget Syria!'

Calm returned to central Tehran on Oct. 4, a day after it was rocked by unprecedented protests over Iran's plunging currency. All money-changers and most shops were closed, and the Grand Bazaar—the normally bustling commercial heart of the city—was mostly shuttered, with only a few streetside shops open. In the nearby traditional money-changing district, police patrolled past closed exchange outlets. The previous day, hundreds of police and security personnel flooded central Tehran,  arresting unlicensed money changers—part of efforts by authorities to halt the dive of the rial, which is at an all-time low against the dollar. Scuffles broke out with stone-throwing men, and trash dumpsters were set alight. Opposition website Kaleme.com said slogans included "Allahu akbar!" (God is great, associated with the 1979 revolution) and "Leave Syria alone, instead think of us!" (Middle East Online, World Bulletin, Turkey, Oct. 4)

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