Chatter: Syria violence undermines UN mission




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Need to know:

A sharp escalation in deaths in Syria is casting new doubts on a UN peace mission.

Activists said three Syrian military intelligence officers were killed this morning in Damascus, a day after more than 70 people died in a government crackdown in the city of Hama.

The UN wants to increase its cease-fire monitors to 300, despite US concerns over the riskiness of the mission, and chief envoy Kofi Annan is due to brief the Security Council again today.

The latest attack took place while a UN team visited Douma, a restive suburb of the Syrian capital. 

Want to know:

James Murdoch is in the hot seat, testifying before a British inquiry into media ethics prompted by the phone hacking scandal.

Murdoch is standing by his insistence that he knew little about the scale of phone hacking by people working for News Corp.'s British tabloids. He told the Leveson Inquiry that he never saw an email revealing that phone hacking went beyond a lone reporter.

The action is set to continue Wednesday with his father, News Corporation head Rupert Murdoch, appearing before the inquiry.

Dull but important:

North Korea may be persona non grata with most of the world, but China has pledged strong ties with Pyongyang in the wake of a spectacularly disastrous long-range rocket launch.

Chinese President Hu Jintao made the promise at a meeting with a North Korean Workers' Party delegation in Beijing.

China, seen as the country with the most influence over North Korea, has repeatedly called for calm on the Korean peninsula amid rising tensions.

The US, meanwhile, has raised questions over a missile launch vehicle seen in a North Korean military parade this month that may have been of Chinese origin.

Just because:

The mayor of Toronto, Canada wants to be the biggest loser. He really does.

Rob Ford, a 330-pound, Tea Party-style populist mayor, launched a "cut the waist challenge" in an attempt to slim down. Ford's public battle to lose weight reflects a country becoming ever more obese.

But so far his campaign isn't going so well. Beset by mounting political troubles, Ford has struggled to lose weight, and canceled two weigh-ins at the last minute, without explanation.

Last week, Ford was caught on cell-phone video by a woman laughing at the sight of him entering a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet. "He's supposed to be losing weight," the woman is heard saying. Ouch.

Strange but true:

Who says crime doesn’t pay?

According to Yury Fedotov, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, global crime generates $2.1 trillion a year - or 3.6 percent of the world's GDP.

This makes crime one of the top 20 economies in the world, according to figures calculated recently for the first time.

While crime may benefit a criminal few, it also ruins countries: Fedotov listed organized crime, illicit trafficking, violence and corruption as "major impediments" to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, international targets set to improve health and wipe out extreme poverty in developing countries by 2015.