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Sarkozy Braced for Political Impact of Downgrade

The threat of the loss of France's much-vaunted triple A credit rating hung over president Nicolas Sarkozy's centre-right government for months, prompting a succession of severe budgetary measures to save it - but ultimately leading ministers to accept it as all but inevitable.

The question now will be to what extent its loss will damage Mr Sarkozy politically with less than 100 days to go until the first round of the presidential election on April 22 and how hard it will hit the country's finely balanced public finances and its banks.

Mr Sarkozy will take some comfort from the fact that Standard & Poor's move inflicted only a one-notch cut in France's rating to AA+, rather than the two-notch downgrade that it had feared.

But S&P assigned a negative outlook implying a possible further downgrade in the next year and there was no escaping the stigma of being knocked out of the elite ranking of top-rating nations.

War Whore

Best of the Web: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery ... and Fighting Back is "Aggression"

US naval force
© n/a
The US Department of Defense recently promulgated a new "defense" guidance document: "Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense." I use scare quotes because it just doesn't seem quite right to use "defense" to describe a document that - like its predecessors - envisions something like an American Thousand-Year Reich.

The greatest shift in emphasis is in the section "Project power despite Anti-Access/Area Denial Challenges." The "threat" to be countered is that China and Iran "will continue to pursue asymmetric means to counter our power projection capabilities."

That refers to a long-standing phenomenon: What Pentagon analysts call "Assassin's Mace" weapons - cheap, agile weapons that render expensive, high-tech, weapons systems ineffective at a cost several orders of magnitude cheaper than the Pentagon's gold-plated turds. In the context of "area denial," they include cheap anti-ship mines, surface-to-air missiles, and anti-ship missiles like the Sunburn (which some believe could destroy or severely damage aircraft carriers).

Star of David

False Flag: Mossad Posed as CIA Agents to Recruit Anti-Iran Jihadists

Israeli soldiers with flag
© David Silverman/Getty Images
A series of CIA memos describes how Israeli Mossad agents posed as American spies to recruit members of the terrorist organization Jundallah to fight their covert war against Iran.

Buried deep in the archives of America's intelligence services are a series of memos, written during the last years of President George W. Bush's administration, that describe how Israeli Mossad officers recruited operatives belonging to the terrorist group Jundallah by passing themselves off as American agents. According to two U.S. intelligence officials, the Israelis, flush with American dollars and toting U.S. passports, posed as CIA officers in recruiting Jundallah operatives -- what is commonly referred to as a "false flag" operation.

The memos, as described by the sources, one of whom has read them and another who is intimately familiar with the case, investigated and debunked reports from 2007 and 2008 accusing the CIA, at the direction of the White House, of covertly supporting Jundallah -- a Pakistan-based Sunni extremist organization. Jundallah, according to the U.S. government and published reports, is responsible for assassinating Iranian government officials and killing Iranian women and children.

But while the memos show that the United States had barred even the most incidental contact with Jundallah, according to both intelligence officers, the same was not true for Israel's Mossad. The memos also detail CIA field reports saying that Israel's recruiting activities occurred under the nose of U.S. intelligence officers, most notably in London, the capital of one of Israel's ostensible allies, where Mossad officers posing as CIA operatives met with Jundallah officials.


US: Justice Department Defends Obama Recess Appointments

© Pete Souza/The White HousePresident Obama had the lawful power to consider the Senate to be on a lengthy absence — even though it considered itself to be meeting regularly — when he made a set of highly disputed recess appointments last week, the Justice Department concluded in a legal memorandum disclosed on Thursday.
The Department of Justice offered a defense Thursday for President Obama's controversial decision to make several recess appointments while Congress was holding pro forma sessions.

In a memo, Justice argued the pro forma sessions held every third day in the Senate do not constitute a functioning body that can render advice and consent on the president's nominees. It said the president acted consistently under the law by making the appointments.


Marines Inch Toward Charges Over Desecration video

© Gawker.com
The U.S. Marine Corps took a first, formal step on Friday toward possible charges against four Marines who, in a widely circulated video, appear to be urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.

It named a lead investigating officer whose job will include deciding what charges, if any, would be brought against the four men, all of whom have been identified, a Marine Corps official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The move came as a top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan ordered troops to "treat the living and the dead with dignity and respect."

"Defiling, desecrating, mocking, photographing or filming for personal use insurgent dead constitutes a grave breach of the (law of armed conflict)," Lieutenant General Curtis Scaparrotti, who heads day-to-day Afghan operations, wrote in a letter to troops dated January 12 and seen by Reuters on Friday.


Obama: "With Or Without Congress, I'm Going To Keep At It"

"In the coming weeks we're also going to unveil a new website, Business USA. And this site will be a one-stop shop for small businesses and exporters and will consolidate information that right now is spread across all these various sites so that it's all in one place, and it is easy to search. So, with or without congress, I'm going to keep at it. But it would be a lot easier if Congress helped," President Obama said at the White House today.

"This is an area that should receive bipartisan support, because making our government more responsive and strategic and leaner, it shouldn't be a partisan issue," he said.


Russian Villager Finds Kalashnikovs in Firewood Crates

© BBC NewsThe Kalashnikov is one of the world's most recognizable guns
A man who had bought crates off the back of a lorry in Russia for firewood found they contained 79 Kalashnikov rifles and parts, Russian media report.

The villager in Udmurtia reported the rifles to a local policeman, after which investigators examined the 64 crates.

It was established that the army-issue rifles had been delivered for scrap to the nearby Izhmash arms plant.

The driver had sold off the crates, thinking they were all empty.

However, seven of them were found to contain rifles, as well as 253 magazines and other parts, a police source told Interfax news agency.


Anti-US Chants as Slain Iran Nuclear Expert Buried

© Fars News AgencyThis undated photo released by Iranian Fars News Agency, claims to show Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, who they say was killed in a bomb blast in Tehran, Iran, on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012, next to his son.
Thousands of mourners chanted "Death to Israel" and "Death to America" on Friday during the funeral of a slain nuclear expert whom Iranian officials accuse the two nations of killing in a bomb blast this week as part of a secret operation to stop Iran's nuclear program.

The assassination of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan has raised calls in Iran for retaliation against the U.S. and Israel, and an independent news website Friday said Iran is preparing a covert counteroffensive against the West.

Roshan, a chemistry expert and a director of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, was killed in a brazen daylight assassination when two assailants on a motorcycle attached a magnetic bomb to his car Wednesday in Tehran. The killing bore a strong resemblance to earlier killings of scientists working on the Iranian nuclear program.


US: Obama Seeks Power to Merge Agencies

© The Associated PressPresident Barack Obama's version would be a so-called consolidation authority allowing him to propose only mergers that promise to save money and shrink government.
President Barack Obama will ask Congress on Friday for greater power to shrink the federal government, and his first idea is merging six sprawling trade and commerce agencies whose overlapping programs can be baffling to businesses, a senior administration official told The Associated Press.

Obama will call on Congress to give him a type of reorganizational power last held by a president when Ronald Reagan was in office. The Obama version would be a so-called consolidation authority allowing him to propose mergers that promise to save money and help consumers. The deal would entitle him to an up-or-down vote from Congress in 90 days.


Calls for Putin to Resign Flood Campaign Website

© RIA Novosti/ReutersRussian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting of the Government Presidium
Calls for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to resign and drop his presidential bid flooded his campaign website within minutes of its launch on Thursday, prompting administrators to limit public access.

Putin's spokesman and campaign official Dmitry Peskov said the website fell victim to a hacker attack in its early hours and some of the anti-Putin messages were spam. He denied that any messages were blacklisted for political reasons.

"All this fuss with calls for resignation is a kind of computer game that children are playing at. It has nothing to do with constructive dialogue," Peskov said.

Putin also unveiled his draft program for the March presidential poll, which acknowledged Russians' desire for faster change but barely touched on issues such as corruption and political reform, the subject of many voters' complaints.

Putin faced the biggest rallies of his 12-year rule last month when tens of thousands of people, many affluent and educated city dwellers, took to the streets to protest against alleged fraud in the December 4 parliamentary election.