Saturday, January 28, 2012

Pat Bagley, Copyright 2012 Cagle Cartoons

Court Ruling: Alabama Residents Cannot Sue Government over Formaldehyde-Laden FEMA Trailers

Mississippi and Alabama residents cannot sue the U.S. government over formaldehyde-laden trailers that the Federal Emergency Management Agency provided when Hurricane Katrina made thousands of homes uninhabitable, the 5th Circuit ruled.

Agreeing with the August 2010 decision of a federal judge, the federal appeals court said the plaintiffs, representing 10,000 residents, lack subject-matter jurisdiction to sue since FEMA provided the trailers at no cost to residents and under no obligation.

In 2005 hurricanes Katrina and Rita destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes along the Gulf Coast. The Federal Emergency Management Agency contracted private businesses to immediately construct and provide thousands of travel trailers to give residents as temporary shelter until other housing became available.

FEMA trailers were available at no cost to residents for use as temporary emergency housing from September 2005 until May 2009. Applications for receiving the trailers notified residents that the units were intended for temporary use and that applicants were required to accept alternative housing options as they became available.

Seven months in, FEMA began receiving complaints from trailer occupants about formaldehyde odors inside the units. Formaldehyde is a chemical substance commonly found in construction materials such as plywood, particle board, home furnishing and fabrics. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, it is a known human carcinogen. The Environmental Protection Agency classifies it as a probable human carcinogen.

FEMA notified these early complainants to ventilate the trailers by opening the doors and windows. In June 2006, FEMA prepared an informal brochure informing trailer occupants of the dangers of formaldehyde exposure, encouraging them to ventilate their units and urging them to seek medical help if they developed health problems related to formaldehyde.

It began working with the Environmental Protection Agency on the issue in September 2006, with more than 200 occupants had complained to FEMA about formaldehyde by the end of the year.

After lawsuits over the substance began accumulating, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated all the cases and assigned the matter to Louisiana's Eastern District.

The master 2008 complaint alleges that, between March and June 2006, FEMA harmed trailer occupants by placing litigation concerns ahead of their safety. It said the agency exposed them to trailers FEMA knew to contain dangerous levels of formaldehyde, without warning them of the dangerous nature of the units or remedying those units' dangers.

Though FEMA knew about formaldehyde levels in trailers between March and June 2006, it allegedly failed to respond to occupants' concerns as part of a deliberate effort to avoid liability for future formaldehyde exposure claims and litigation. The plaintiffs also claimed that FEMA ignored and manipulated federal scientists' concerns to forestall negative publicity and legal liability.

After concluding that emergency statutes in Mississippi and Alabama law would bar suit against a "private person under similar circumstances," the trial court dismissed the plaintiffs' claims on summary judgment.

The United States cannot be sued without consent, and that consent is a prerequisite to federal jurisdiction. Courts must measure the government's liability according to the law of the state where the alleged act occurred. In this case, Mississippi and Alabama law applied.

The Mississippi and Alabama plaintiffs appealed upon entry of the final judgment in August 2010, but the maneuver proved unsuccessful Monday.

"Because the Mississippi and Alabama emergency statutes abrogate the tort liability of a private person who, (1) voluntarily, (2) without compensation, (3) allows his property or premises to be used as shelter during or in recovery from a natural disaster, the government's voluntary, cost-free provision of the EHUs [Emergency Housing Units] to disaster victims, in connection with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, is also immunized conduct under the statute," Judge Carl Stewart wrote for a three-member panel. "The government's provision of the government-owned EHUs, as implemented by FEMA, was voluntary because it was under no contractual or legal obligation, under the Stafford Act or other federal legislation, to provide the EHUs to disaster victims in response to the disasters."

The panel rejected claims that the trailer occupants' taxes amounted to compensation for FEMA's federally subsidized trailers, and it held that FEMA would have immunity because of its conduct "in recovery from an actual disaster." Though the storm passed in 2005, FEMA's temporary emergency housing program did not end until May 2009.

Stewart concluded the 13-page opinion by refusing to certify the plaintiffs' questions about the case to the Alabama and Mississippi Supreme Courts. The former trailer occupants wanted the court to answer whether the government is considered a "person" under the states' emergency laws, whether the Federal Torts Claims Act pre-empts state law regarding liability when the United States exercises nondiscretionary duties, and whether Alabama and Mississippi's Legislatures planned to immunize the United States under the emergency statutes.

The Alabama plaintiffs also pressed the issue of the "actual disaster" wording.

http://www.courthousenews.com/2012/01/27/43419.htm

UN Tells Israel to Halt Demolition of Palestinian Homes

The United Nations has demanded that Israel stops the demolition of Palestinian homes in the West Bank following a report on the “dramatic” increase in homes being knocked down.­

The current policy and practice of demolition causes extensive human suffering and should end,” said the UN humanitarian coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territories, Maxwell Gaylard.

According to the report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 622 Palestinian homes were demolished by Israeli forces in the West Bank in 2011, “forcibly displacing” almost 1,100 people, over half of them children, Agence France Presse (AFP) reports.

Gaylard said that on Thursday he visited the village of Anata near Jerusalem, which has recently seen seven Palestinian homes destroyed.

He was informed that bulldozers and troops had arrived in the middle of the night of 23 January and that 52 people, including 29 children, had been forced from their homes, which were then completely destroyed,” a UN statement said.

Israeli authorities insist that they only demolish homes built without the required permission. But the Palestinians say they are rarely granted permits, according to AFP.

http://rt.com/news/un-israel-palestinian-homes-923

Tea Party Group Wants To 'Soften' Slavery In Textbooks

Some political groups are asking Tennessee lawmakers to re-write history, or at least how it is taught. Some members of the Tea Party say what's in your kid's textbook may be giving them a negative opinion about our nation's founding history.

What do you remember about American History class? Chances are you took away the basics; the birth of a democracy and a roller-coaster of ups-and-downs. But some Tea Party members say those basics are flawed when it comes to textbooks.

"My biggest concern is that important information is being omitted, which creates a negative light on our Founding Fathers," said Tea Party activist Brian Rieck.

Many members of the group are asking Tennessee lawmakers to tweak textbooks so that doesn't happen. Notably, they're hoping to make changes in how slavery and encroachment on Native Americans are portrayed to students.

"Slavery is of course portrayed in the textbooks nowadays I'm sure as a totally negative thing. Had there not been slavery in the South, the economy would've fallen," Rieck said.

Rieck told News 5 without offering that balance, the Founding Fathers, many of whom were slave owners, could be slighted for their contributions in the eyes of students.

But when teaching her grandchildren about our past, Jackie Leonard says that's not something that goes through the mind. "I think it was a bad thing, and I think that our children today need to know that," said Leonard.It's also a worry for educators like C.J. Manahan who teach from those textbooks.

"I feel they do a pretty good job of presenting [history] objectively already," said Manahan.

Manahan, an eighth-grade American History teacher, tells us making these types of changes could send mixed signals on what it means to be an American.

"We can't create opinions from history. You know, [many Founding Fathers] were slaves owners, yes. That's true, and if people choose to have an opinion of that being negative, that is their right. So, it's not anybody's place to decide what everyone's opinions happen to be," Manahan said.

http://www.wcyb.com/watercooler/30309212/detail.html

Low IQ Behind Some Conservative Beliefs

Children with low intelligence are more likely to grow up to be social conservatives and racists, researchers found in a study published out of the U.K.

The study, which appeared in the journal Psychological Science and was written up by LifeScience, built upon previous research linking low education with prejudice, using data from two studies testing IQ and then political beliefs.

“As suspected, low intelligence in childhood corresponded with racism in adulthood. But the factor that explained the relationship between these two variables was political: When researchers included social conservatism in the analysis, those ideologies accounted for much of the link between brains and bias,” LifeScience wrote.

Lead researcher Gordon Hodson, of Brock University in Ontario, concluded that people with low IQs are attracted to the hierarchy and structure in socially conservative institutions.

His findings are expected to cause some controversy since they play into some stereotypical notions of the political divide in the U.S., where liberals can be characterized as elitist and intellectual and conservatives as dumb and backward

http://blog.chron.com/hottopics/2012/01/low-iq-behind-some-conservative-beliefs

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Aislin, Copyright 2012 Cagle Cartoons

Challenging the Republican's Five Myths on Inequality

Recent comments by Mitt Romney, the probable Republican nominee for President all but guarantee the inequality issue will remain front and center this election year.

When asked whether people who question the current distribution of wealth and power are motivated by “jealousy or fairness” Romney insisted, “I think it’s about envy. I think it’s about class warfare.” And in this election year he advised that if we do discuss inequality we do so “in quiet rooms” not in public debates.

A public debate, of course, is inevitable. And welcome. To help that debate along I’ll address the five major statements that comprise the Republican argument on inequality.

1. Income is Not All That Unequal

Actually it is. Since 1980 the top 1 percent has increased its share of the national income by an astounding $1.1 trillion. Today 300,000 very rich Americans enjoy almost as much income as 150 million.

Since 1980, the income of the bottom 90 percent of Americans has increased a meager $303 or 1 percent. The top 1 percent’s income has more than doubled, increasing by about $500,000. And the really, really rich, the top 10th of 1 percent, made out, dare I say, like bandits, quadrupling their income to $22 million.

Meanwhile a full-time worker’s wage was 11 percent lower in 2004 than in 1973, adjusting for inflation even though their productivity increased by 78 percent. Productivity gains swelled corporate profits, which reached an all time high in 2010. And that in turn fueled an unprecedented inequality within the workplace itself. In 2010, according to the Institute for Policy Studies, the average CEO in large companies earned 325 times more than the average worker.

2. Inequality doesn’t matter because in America ambition and hard work can make a pauper a millionaire.

This is folklore. A worker’s initial position in the income distribution is highly predictive of how much he or she earns later in the career. And as the Brookings Institution reports “there is growing evidence of less intergenerational economic mobility in the United States than in many other rich industrialized countries.”

The bitter fact is that it is harder for a poor person in America to become rich than in virtually any other industrialized country.

3. Income inequality is not a result of tax policy.

Nonsense. A painstaking analysis by economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Stefanie Stantcheva found “a strong correlation between the reductions in top tax rates and the increases in top 1% pre-tax income shares from 1975–79 to 2004–08”. For example, the U.S. slashed the top income tax rate by 35 percent and witnessed a large ten percent increase in its top 1% pre-tax income share. “By contrast, France or Germany saw very little change in their top tax rates and their top 1% income shares during the same period.”

4. Taxing the rich will slow economic growth.

An examination of 18 OECD countries found “little empirical support for the claim that reducing the progressivity of the tax code has spurred economic growth, business formation or job growth”.

Indeed, Piketty, Saez and Stantcheva’s rigorous analysis came to the opposite conclusion. Our economy may be growing more slowly because we are taxing the rich too little, not too much. Economists Peter Diamond and Saez estimated the optimal top tax rate, that is the tax rate that would maximize revenue without slowing economic growth, could be as high as 83 percent.

Redistributing income stimulates economies in part because when 1% make more they save whereas when the 99% make more they spend. As a result, according to Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s, a dollar in tax cuts on capital gains adds .38 cents of economic growth while a dollar in unemployment benefits gives the economy a boost of $1.63 and a dollar of food stamps adds $1.73.

5. Taxing the rich would not raise much money.

Of course it would. If only the richest 400 families, whose average income in 2008 was an astounding $270 million actually paid the statutory rate of 39 percent (revived as of next January 1st) an additional $500 billion would be raised over 10 years, putting a substantial dent in the projected deficit.

In 2010 hedge fund manager John Paulson made $5 billion. That year, according to Pulitzer Prize winner David Cay Johnston, Paulson paid no income taxes. Am I envious Mr. Romney? You bet I am. But I’m also angry at the stark injustice of it all. And terrified of the power such wealth can wield in a country that allows billionaires to spend unlimited sums influencing legislation and elections.

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that two-thirds of Americans now believe the conflict between rich and poor is our greatest source of tension. I agree. It is a conflict that deserves to be aired fully and in public.

 

http://www.onthecommons.org/challenging-republicans-five-myths-inequality

President Obama's New Numbers Look Great

Just in time for his State of The Union address, the latest ABC News/Washington Post Poll shows that President Obama has garnered a 53 percent favorability rating--much higher than Republican opponents and his highest since April 2010. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, the two Republican frontrunners at the moment, clock in with 31 and 29 percent favorability ratings respectively.

Apparently Obama's done well out of the spotlight, and his popularity seems to be the clear winner of these debates and primaries (and the subplots that unravel with each one). Romney and Gingrich? Not so much. "Obama may be benefitting from a less-grim economic outlook, but also by comparison to the Republicans, deep in their intramural food fight," ABC's Gary Langer writes, noting that the number of people who see Romney as unfavorable are up by 15 points to 49 percent in just two weeks.  "While that reflects a remarkable reversal of fortune for Romney, Gingrich, too, has lost ground, dropping 6 points in favorability since December — and with more than half of Americans, 51 percent, now seeing him unfavorably, up from the low 40s last fall."  As political number wizard Nate Silver pointed out earlier this month though, you shouldn't confuse "favorability" with "approval". "In most surveys, Mr. Obama’s favorability ratings are slightly stronger than his approval ratings — Americans take a somewhat more sympathetic view of Mr. Obama personally than of his policies," Silver wrote two weeks ago when Obama's favorable and unfavorable numbers were evenly split.

http://www.theatlanticwire.com/politics/2012/01/president-obamas-new-numbers-look-great/47763

Supreme Court Court Rejects Willy-Nilly GPS Tracking

The Supreme Court said Monday that law enforcement authorities might need a probable-cause warrant from a judge to affix a GPS device to a vehicle and monitor its every move — but the justices did not say that a warrant was needed in all cases.

The convoluted decision (.pdf) in what is arguably the biggest Fourth Amendment case in the computer age, rejected the Obama administration’s position that attaching a GPS device to a vehicle was not a search. The government had told the high court that it could even affix GPS devices on the vehicles of all members of the Supreme Court, without a warrant.

“We hold that the government’s installation of a GPS device on a target’s vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a ‘search,’” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the five-justice majority. The majority declined to say whether that search was unreasonable and required a warrant.

All nine justices, however, agreed to toss out the life sentence of a District of Columbia drug dealer who was the subject of a warrantless, 28-day surveillance via GPS.

Four justices in a minority opinion said that the prolonged GPS surveillance in this case amounted to a search needing a warrant. But the minority opinion was silent on whether GPS monitoring for shorter periods would require one.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor voted with the majority, but wrote in a separate, solo opinion that both the majority and minority opinions were valid. She also suggested that Americans have more rights to privacy in data held by phone and internet companies than the Supreme Court has held in the past.

“I think it’s fair to say, the use of a a GPS device like this requires a warrant where they are tracking him for a long time,” Thomas Goldstein, who has argued dozens of cases before the Supreme Court, said in a telephone interview.

The Justice Department maintained it had probable cause in the case, though not a valid warrant. The majority said because of procedural rules, it would not decide whether the “search” in this case required a warrant. “We consider that argument forfeited,” the majority wrote.

http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/01/scotus-gps-ruling

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Immigrants For Sale

Campaign To Legalize Marijuana Use In Michigan Kicks Off

A brand new campaign to legalize marijuana in Michigan kicked off Friday.

A grass-roots committee working toward ending marijuana prohibition in Michigan is campaigning to amend state law and legalize marijuana use for adults 21 and older. The amendment would not apply to or change workplace or driving issues regarding marijuana.

Supporters say they’ll be passing around petitions for the proposed constitutional amendment in Michigan. Attorney Matthew Abel predicts they’ll be able to get the 300,000 signatures needed to get the measure on the November ballot.

“We’re doing this as a volunteer effort. We’re not paying petitioners. However, we have an army of committed people who are upset about this. There are over 130,000 medical marijuana patients, and most of them are not happy with the government and the way that this has been dealt with,” said Abel.

Abel points to recent polls that show more Americans support legalizing marijuana than those who oppose it. He said the support for legalization among Americans is between 46 and 50 percent, up from 36 percent five years ago and 25 percent in the late nineties.

WWJ Lansing Bureau Chief Tim Skubick said the group might have more voter support these days, but he doubts they’ll win at the ballot box.

http://detroit.cbslocal.com/2012/01/20/campaign-to-legalize-marijuana-in-michigan-kicks-off

Newt’s Faulty Food-Stamp Claim

Newt Gingrich claims that “more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history.” He’s wrong. More were added under Bush than under Obama, according to the most recent figures.

The former speaker made that claim Jan. 16 in a Republican debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and his campaign organization quickly inserted the snippet in a new 30-second TV ad that began running Jan. 18 in South Carolina.

Gingrich would have been correct to say the number now on food aid is historically high. The number stood at 46,224,722 persons as of October, the most recent month on record. And it’s also true that the number has risen sharply since Obama took office.

But Gingrich goes too far to say Obama has put more on the rolls than other presidents. We asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition service for month-by-month figures going back to January 2001. And they show that under President George W. Bush the number of recipients rose by nearly 14.7 million. Nothing before comes close to that.

And under Obama, the increase so far has been 14.2 million. To be exact, the program has so far grown by 444,574 fewer recipients during Obama’s time in office than during Bush’s.

It’s possible that when the figures for January 2012 are available they will show that the gain under Obama has matched or exceeded the gain under Bush. But not if the short-term trend continues. The number getting food stamps declined by 43,528 in October. And the economy has improved since then.

http://factcheck.org/2012/01/newts-faulty-food-stamp-claim/#.TxsIC0BIjvI.twitter

Friday, January 20, 2012

Passing on the Propaganda

Gary Markstein, Copyright 2012 Creators Syndicate

Colorado Secretary of State Orders Review of Petitions for Pot Legalization

The petition signatures of a campaign to legalize limited possession of marijuana in Colorado need a line-by-line review, the secretary of state's office announced Thursday.

Earlier this month, the campaign turned in nearly 160,000 signatures in an effort to put the measure on this year's ballot. The proposal needs only 86,105 valid signatures to qualify.

When secretary of state staffers began reviewing a sample of the signatures, though, they did not find enough valid ones to be able to project with certainty that the measure would meet the threshold. The office projects, based on the sample, that the measure will have about 89,000 valid signatures — or 103 percent of the needed amount. State law requires a projection of 110 percent or more of the needed amount to certify a measure without a signature-by-signature review.

The office now has until Feb. 3 to verify the petition's signatures.

Even if the campaign comes up short in the new count, it will have an extra 15 days to get the additional needed signatures, said campaign proponent Brian Vicente.

"We're confident that we will ultimately qualify," Vicente said.

The proposal seeks to legalize possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for any purpose for those 21 and older. It would allow for marijuana stores but it also would allow communities to ban such businesses.

The measure is backed by a number of prominent national drug-reform advocacy groups.

This week, a different group of activists backing a separate legalization proposal — one that would prohibit judges from imposing penalties on anyone for marijuana possession of any amount — received the required go-ahead from a state board. They may soon begin collecting signatures.

A third group of marijuana activists has said it also intends to file a legalization initiative.

http://www.denverpost.com/news/marijuana/ci_19780421

Ten Books That Could Be Kicked Out of Classrooms Under Arizona's Insane Curriculum Law

In December, an Arizona judge upheld a state law that bans classes that “promote the overthrow of the United States government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” That ruling’s already cost Tucson public schools their Mexican Studies program, and as part of that elimination, Shakespeare’s The Tempest is being removed from classrooms and sent to the district’s book depository. As nuts as it is to think that the Bard’s story of a sorcerer and his daughter could promote a rebellion in Arizona, there are a lot of other books that could fall under scrutiny if this law is allowed to stand.

1. Paradise Lost, John Milton: Sure, this is supposed to be John Milton’s repentance of his republican apostasy, but what if red-blooded American kiddies get confused by the eloquence of that wily creature Satan? That whole “Farewel Remorse: all Good to me is lost; / Evil be thou my Good” thing could cause all sorts of kerfuffles and uprisings, like those darn video games my grandson is always playing.

2. A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens: It’s a short leap from Marquis Evrémonde to Mitt Romney, and we wouldn’t want to invite that comparison, now would we? Darnay is such an avatar of the politics of envy.

3. The Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling: This one might be a squeaker. Sure, the hero advocates strongly against the anti-Muggle, Squib, and Mudblood race politics of Voldemort and his cronies. But that Potter kid is awfully disrespectful to the Minister of Magic and forms of authority in general.

5. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card: Pre-teens plotting an overhaul of world government and resisting the efforts of the military that’s recruited them to manipulate them. Total recipe for disaster. Especially now that blogging is an actual thing that kids can do. Nuke this one. And parents, shut down your kids’ Tumblrs just to be safe.

6. The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, Paula Danziger and The Day They Came to Arrest the Book, Nat Hentoff: Because the last thing a state that’s cracking down on curriculum needs is sympathetic novels about students who organize to fight a crackdown on curriculum or fighting a book banning, lining up civil libertarians against censorship-minded feminists and African-American students and parents. How will authority survive if challenging it is seen as reasonable? And how can tender-hearted children face the prospect of standing up for themselves and choosing sides in disagreements?

7. Am I Blue? Coming Out from the Silence, Marion Diane Bauer: Even though gay people, especially teenagers, are at risk of violence and discrimination, it would be far too dangerous to marginalize the people who hate them and to promote a sense of solidarity and mutual support within the community of gay people and straight allies.

8. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie:: God forbid anyone, particularly from a minority group that’s been demonstrably oppressed and damaged by the actions of the United States government, spend any time contemplating their own identity or doing anything other than instantly assimilating without looking back.

9. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood: It’s critically important that we remind girls as early as possible to accept what the state has to say about their fertility without question, and to make clear that there’s never any point at which it would be justified that women break the law to retain control over their own health and bodies.

10. The Hunger Games series, Suzanne Collins: Again, a mixed bag. The heroine’s an awful rebel, but the series as a whole tends to endorse dropping out of the political process rather than continuing to participate in the furtherance of a revolution, so the net effect might be to neutralize those pesky kids.

http://thinkprogress.org/alyssa/2012/01/18/406198/ten-books-that-could-be-kicked-out-of-classrooms-under-arizonas-insane-curriculum-law/?mobile=nc

The Religious Right Roars Back in South Carolina

The national media like to cite the fact that a majority of Iowa Republican caucus-goers are evangelical or born-again Christians (57 percent this year) as evidence that Iowa is a bastion of social conservatism. In South Carolina, evangelical Protestants account for not just a majority of Republican voters: they are a majority of religiously active residents in the state. And not all evangelicals are the same. There is a depth and intensity to the social conservatism here. And the candidates are behaving accordingly. They aren’t changing their positions, but they are offering religious frames and justifications for them. After hearing constantly about jobs and the budget deficit, we’re starting to hear a lot more about morality, family and values.

If you drive west on Route 378 from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to the State Capitol in Columbia, you’ll pass more churches than businesses. These aren’t mega-churches in the feel-good Rick Warren mold, with their Christian rock bands and squishy environmentalism. These are typically small, plain white buildings, not much larger than the trailers and ranch houses that surround them, with modest signs advertising their Baptist or Methodist faith. This isn’t the suburban West; it’s the rural South. The gospel churches here preach is old-time religion. In the words of a lifelong resident of the region, “It’s fire and brimstone: repent or you’ll burn in Hell.”

Stop at a convenience store in Marion County, near the Pee Dee River, and you’ll see a few unusual signs. One, in the parking lot, warns that alcohol consumption is prohibited and adds “No Profanity.” (The sign says that the parking lot is under the supervision of the Marion County Police Department. A web search by this reporter could not ascertain what the penalty is for getting caught swearing in a convenience store parking lot.) In the men’s room you might find a strange admonishment on the condom dispenser: Hygeia Corp of Kannapolis, North Carolina, warns you that while they’ll sell you a condom for four quarters, the best way to avoid contracting HIV is to abstain from sex until marriage and to be monogamous within marriage.

Rick Santorum, a staunch social conservative who won a tie victory with Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucus, is not doing as well here. Polls show Santorum barely beating Ron Paul for third place. Religion, normally Santorum’s strength, may actually be the reason. “I think Santorum would be doing better if he weren’t a Catholic,” says one South Carolina political insider. Even Santorum supporters admit it could be a hurdle for him. “I’m sure here in the Deep South [Santorum’s Catholicism] would be an issue for some people,” said Al Phillips, who attended a Santorum town hall in Spartanburg on Wednesday. It’s possible that one reason Newt Gingrich is outpacing Santorum for second place is that many South Carolina Republicans may not know Gingrich converted to Catholicism when he married his third wife, Callista.

Nonetheless, Santorum is milking the religion and family values angle for all it’s worth. In Spartanburg he bent over backward to tie his renewed interest in moral values to the economic issues the campaign has focused on until now. “I talked about the importance of marriage and the family to our economy,” said Santorum. “People need to see the economy is inextricably linked to the strength of the family.”

Asked about drug policy Santorum nearly called for the reinstatement of the Volstead Act. Usually people invoke the nation’s miserable experience with Prohibition to argue for legalizing drugs. Santorum points to the fact that alcohol consumption declined under Prohibition to argue that legalizing drugs would lead to more drug use. “Legalizing alcohol was something that probably should have happened, but legalizing alcohol means more alcoholics,” said Santorum. “I absolutely oppose any legalization or liberalization of our drug laws,” he declared to applause.

Santorum does not think drugs should be illegal and users thrown in prison merely because it will protect the health of potential drug users. He explicitly argues that the law should make a moral statement against intoxication. “Morality is reflected through our laws,” said Santorum. And, of course, it all comes back to the same theme. Santorum blames drug abuse on the scourge of out-of-wedlock childbirth, noting that most drug offenders, like most prisoners in general, grew up with absentee fathers. Clearly, Santorum is unacquainted with the difference between causation and correlation. “If you want to do something about the drug problem, we’re going to have to do something about faith and family,” he said.

When Santorum was asked about gay marriage on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, his answer focused on the question of child rearing and promoting traditional marriage. In South Carolina, his reasons seem to come from a different place. “My duty as a Christian is to respect every individual,” insisted Santorum, a religious spin on his usual effort to inoculate himself against charges of homophobia. But, he was sure to add, “We can’t redefine what God has created.” 

At the Personhood USA forum in Greenville, South Carolina, home of the infamous Bob Jones University, the candidates framed their staunch opposition to abortion rights in religious terms. Whereas usually the Republican candidates talk solely about their scientific belief that a fetus is a person, they all brought up religion at the Wednesday night event.

“The Obama administration is trying to impose its secular values on a country that deeply opposes it,” said Newt Gingrich in his introductory remarks. “With aggressive articulate leadership we could have a cultural revival.” When asked later about human cloning, Gingrich said, “This may be first time since leaving the Garden of Eden that we may have to address, What does it mean to be human? The greatest of all sins is playing God.”

Rick Perry reiterated his preposterous assertion that “this administration is in a war against religion.” Even Ron Paul uncharacteristically invoked the importance of “family and morality” in “solving our problems.” He also called for eliminating all federal funding for contraception and hospitals on the grounds that the organizations receiving the money may also provide abortions and thus is abortion is being indirectly subsidized.

Gingrich and Santorum have been battling over the support of religious and social conservative activists. On Saturday a group of 150 social conservative leaders gathered to pick a candidate and emerged on Sunday with an answer: Rick Santorum. It was a bad break for Gingrich, considering that on their first ballot he had lagged Santorum by only nine votes, fifty-seven to forty-eight. The Gingrich campaign did their best to put a positive spin on the event, blasting out a press release titled “150 Christian Leaders Unanimous in Their Support for Not-Romney.” Gingrich has continued to trumpet his own handful of endorsements from fire-breathing religious conservatives, such as Left Behind author Timothy LaHaye.

Meanwhile, Ron Paul is aggressively recruiting anti-gay pastors. At times since 2008 it has appeared that the religious right has been subjugated to the fiscal conservatism of the Tea Party movement. But that’s just the face Republicans present to swing voters. If you want to see the real Republican Party, listen to what the candidates have to say in South Carolina.

http://www.thenation.com/blog/165756/religious-right-roars-back-south-carolina

Ron Paul Proposes Bill to Repeal Indefinite Detention Provision

Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) introduced legislation to the U.S House on Wednesday that would repeal Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012.

The $662 billion defense spending bill contained controversial provisions, Sections 1021 and 1022, that required terrorism suspects to be detained by the military without trial, regardless of where they were captured.

Proponents of the bill claimed it merely clarified existing law, but human rights advocates and others said the provisions were unconstitutional and allowed the military detention of American citizens without trial.

“This is precisely the kind of egregious distortion of justice that Americans have always ridiculed in so many dictatorships overseas,” Paul said on the House floor. “A great man named Solzhenitsyn became the hero of so many of us when he exposed the Soviet Union’s extensive gulag system. Is this really the kind of United States we want to create in the name of fighting terrorism?”

While signing the bill on December 31, Obama issued a statement in which he pledged that the new laws would not violate Americans’ constitutional rights. But human rights advocates said Obama’s signing statement did not prevent future administrations from abusing the law.

Paul said the law’s definition of a terrorist was far too broad and vague. Under the law, anyone who “substantially supports” or is an “associated force” of the Taliban or al Qaeda could be detained.

“Sadly, too many of my colleagues are too willing to undermine our Constitution to support such outrageous legislation,” he continued.

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/01/18/ron-paul-proposes-bill-to-repeal-indefinite-detention-provision

Thailand Recognizes Palestinian State

Thailand said Thursday that it has recognized a Palestinian state, in a move hailed by Palestinian leaders eager to boost their international standing amid a stalemate with Israel.

Thailand has "officially recognized the state of Palestine and officially informed all permanent and observer missions to the United Nations in New York of this development," a press officer for Thailand's mission said.

In Ramallah, a Palestinian foreign ministry official told AFP that Thailand was recognizing the state along the lines that existed before the 1967 Six-Day War.

"Thailand's recognition of a Palestinian state is the first of the New Year 2012 and is a new achievement for Palestinian diplomacy," Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki told the official news agency WAFA.

Maliki said the announcement brought to 131 the number of countries that recognize a Palestinian state along 1967 lines.

Thailand recognized Israel in 1954 and has historically maintained friendly relations with the Jewish state. The kingdom is a major Israeli vacation destination and the countries have cooperated in agriculture and other areas.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in a statement thanked Thailand for the move and said that procedures would begin to establish diplomatic relations.

"President Mahmud Abbas thanks Thailand's king and government for its official recognition of the Palestinian state," the Abbas statement said.

Thai foreign ministry spokesman Thani Thongphakdi said the recognition "has been under consideration for some time".

http://news.yahoo.com/palestinians-thailand-recognises-state-163950684.html

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cameron Cardow, Copyright 2012 Cagle Cartoons

Russian Space Probe Crashes into Pacific West of Chilean Coast

A Russian space probe, which was designed to boost the nation’s pride on a bold mission to a moon of Mars but got stuck in Earth orbit instead, came down in flames Sunday, showering its fragments into the Pacific Ocean south of Chile’s coast.

The fragments of the Phobos-Ground landed in water 1,250 kilometres west of Wellington Island off Chile’s southern coast, the Russian military Air and Space Defence Forces said in a statement carried by the country’s news agencies.

The military space tracking facilities were monitoring the probe’s crash, its spokesman Col. Alexei Zolotukhin said.

The $170 million craft was one of the heaviest and most toxic pieces of space junk ever to crash to Earth, but space officials and experts said the risks posed by its crash were minimal because the toxic rocket fuel on board and most of the craft’s structure would burn up in the atmosphere high above the ground anyway.

The Phobos-Ground was designed to travel to one of Mars’ twin moons, Phobos, land on it, collect soil samples and fly them back to Earth in 2014 in one of the most daunting interplanetary missions ever. It got stranded in Earth’s orbit after its Nov. 9 launch, and efforts by Russian and European Space Agency experts to bring it back to life failed.

Prof. Heiner Klinkrad, Head of The European Space Agency’s Space Debris Office that was monitoring the probe’s descent, said the craft didn’t pose any significant risks.

“This one is way, way down in the ranking,” he said in a telephone interview from his office in Berlin, adding that booster rockets contain more solid segments that may survive fiery re-entries.

Thousands of pieces of derelict space vehicles orbit Earth, occasionally posing danger to astronauts and satellites in orbit, but as far as is known, no one has ever been hurt by falling space debris.

http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/1115900--russian-spacecraft-crashes-into-pacific-west-of-chilean-coast

False Flag

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.

The officials did not know whether the Israeli program to recruit and use Jundallah is ongoing. Nevertheless, they were stunned by the brazenness of the Mossad's efforts.

"It's amazing what the Israelis thought they could get away with," the intelligence officer said. "Their recruitment activities were nearly in the open. They apparently didn't give a damn what we thought."

Interviews with six currently serving or recently retired intelligence officers over the last 18 months have helped to fill in the blanks of the Israeli false-flag operation. In addition to the two currently serving U.S. intelligence officers, the existence of the Israeli false-flag operation was confirmed to me by four retired intelligence officers who have served in the CIA or have monitored Israeli intelligence operations from senior positions inside the U.S. government.

The CIA and the White House were both asked for comment on this story. By the time this story went to press, they had not responded. The Israeli intelligence services -- the Mossad -- were also contacted, in writing and by telephone, but failed to respond. As a policy, Israel does not confirm or deny its involvement in intelligence operations.

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/01/13/false_flag?tryagain

Provoking Iran into Firing the First Shot

While the possibility of a war with Iran is acknowledged in US news reports, its regional and global implications are barely analyzed.

Very few people in America are aware or informed regarding the devastation and massive loss of life which would occur in the case of a US-Israeli sponsored attack on Iran. The media is involved in a deliberate process of camouflage and distortion.

War preparations under a “Global Strike” Concept, centralized and coordinated by US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) are not front page news in comparison to the most insignificant issues of public concern, including the local level crime scene or the tabloid gossip reports on Hollywood celebrities.

The “Globalization of War” involving the hegemonic deployment of a formidable US-NATO military force in all major regions of the World is inconsequential in the eyes of the Western media.

The broader implications of this war are either trivialized or not mentioned. People are led to believe that war is part of a “humanitarian mandate” and that both Iran as well as Iran’s allies, namely China and Russia, constitute an unrelenting  threat to global security and “Western democracy”.

While the most advanced weapons system are used, America’s wars are never presented as “killing operations” resulting in extensive civilian casualties. While the incidence of “collateral damage” is acknowledged, US-led wars are heralded as an unquestionable instrument of “peace-making” and “democratization”.

This twisted notion that waging war is “a worthy cause”, becomes entrenched in the inner consciousness of millions of people. A  framework of “good versus evil” overshadows an understanding of the causes and devastating consequences of  war. Within this mindset, realities as well as concepts are turned upside down. War becomes peace. The lie becomes the truth. The humanitarian mandate of the Pentagon and NATO cannot be challenged.

When “going after the bad guys”, no options can be taken off the table.  An inquisitorial doctrine similar to that of the Spanish Inquisition, prevails. People are no longer allowed to think.

Iran is a country of close to 80 million people. It constitutes a major and significant regional military and economic power. It has ten percent of global oil and gas reserves, more than five times those of the United States of America.

The conquest of Iran’s oil riches is the driving force behind America’s military agenda. Iran’s oil and gas industry is the unspoken trophy of  the US led war.

While the US is on a war footing, Iran has  — for more than ten years — been actively developing its military capabilities in the eventuality of a US sponsored attack.

If hostilities were to break out between Iran and the Western military alliance, this could trigger a regional war extending from the Mediterranean to the Chinese border, potentially leading humanity into the realm of a World War III scenario.

http://www.darkpolitricks.com/2012/01/provoking-iran-into-firing-the-first-shot

Thursday, January 12, 2012

RJ Matson, Copyright 2012 Cagle Cartoons

Why Are Republican Prudes Still Desperate to Control Your Sex Life?

So far, the Republican primaries have been a decidedly unsexy affair. Candidates have passionately spouted rhetoric against premarital sex, gay sex — even non-procreative sex within marriage. It’s enough to make you wonder if the country has gone to the prudes.

Rick Santorum, who has compared gay sex to bestiality, outdid himself in an interview that resurfaced last week in which he suggested that states should have a right to outlaw birth control since contraceptives are “a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” The other Rick, former Texas Gov. Perry, has been an outspoken opponent of gays in the military and the “sin” of homosexuality. Recent dropout Michele Bachmann seemed a messenger from a previous era, what with her belief that homosexuality is “personal enslavement” and her pledge to ban pornography.

Anti-sex rhetoric is hardly new to the Republican Party, of course, which has routinely campaigned to increase the dangers and consequences of sex by restricting access to contraceptives and abortion. But the GOP war on sex also comes at a time when the party’s presidential candidates have perhaps never been more out of step with the sexual beliefs and practices of most Americans.

“The private sexual behavior of all ages, of all political persuasions is getting more liberal,” says Marty Klein, a sex therapist and author of “America’s War on Sex.” “It’s going toward more variety, more partners, more kinky sex, more experimentation and, as the age of first marriage goes up, by definition the amount of premarital sex is going up.” Indeed, “the vast majority of Americans have sex before marriage,” according to a Guttmacher study, and most believe that out-of-wedlock nookie is morally a-OK.

http://www.alternet.org/sex/153731/why_are_republican_prudes_still_desperate_to_control_your_sex_life/?page=entire

Blaming U.S. and Israel, Iran Reports Killing of Nuclear Scientist

Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment site and his bodyguard-driver on Wednesday during the morning commute in Tehran, Iranian media reported, in an assassination that could further elevate international tensions over the Iranian nuclear program and stoke the country’s growing anti-Western belligerence.

 

It was the fourth such attack reported in two years and, as after the previous episodes, Iranian officials accused the United States and Israel of responsibility. The White House condemned the attack and denied any responsibility. The official reaction in Israel appeared to be more cryptic.

Iranian news accounts said the suspected assassin had attached a magnetized explosive device to the scientist’s car and escaped during the rush hour in northern Tehran. News photographs from the scene showed a car, a Peugeot 405, draped in a pale blue tarp being lifted onto a truck. Some photographs published by Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency showed what it said was the body of the scientist still inside the car. The head was covered with a white cloth.

The scientist was identified as Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, 32, a professor at a technical university in Tehran, and a department supervisor at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant — one of two known sites where Western leaders suspect Iranian scientists are advancing toward the creation of a nuclear weapon.

The Mehr news agency said the explosion took place on Gol Nabi street, on the scientist’s route to work, at 8:20 a.m. The news agency said he was employed at the Natanz site as the director of commercial affairs.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/12/world/middleeast/iran-reports-killing-of-nuclear-scientist.html?_r=1

Mexico’s Drug War Kills More than 47,000 in 5 Years

More than 47,500 people have been killed in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon started his military-led offensive against the drug cartels in 2006, according to new data released Wednesday by the country’s attorney general.

The latest figures show that 12,903 people have been killed as a result of the country’s drug war between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, 2011 — a 10 per cent increase from the same period in the previous year.

The report showed Mexico’s northern border region to be the most violent, with Ciudad Juárez again the most violent city. But municipalities further south, such as Acapulco and Veracruz, also rank in the top 10, while states such as Quintana Roo — home of Cancun — remain on par with Canadian crime rates.

Rumours had been circulating recently that the government would no longer publish this kind of data, due to the widespread unpopularity of the ongoing military strategy. But the death toll actually exceeded the projections of newspapers such as Reforma, whose ominous “execution meter” counted 12,359 deaths in 2011.

If government estimates stay at similar rates in the final three months of 2011, the official count would exceed 17,000 — the deadliest year yet for Mexico.

The numbers didn’t surprise Mexico City-based security specialist Walter McKay, a former Canadian police officer who now maps drug war deaths across Mexico. But he cautions that the murky nature of Mexico’s drug war makes it difficult to track numbers with real accuracy.

http://www.thestar.com/news/article/1113909--mexico-s-drug-war-kills-more-than-47-000-in-5-years?bn=1

Small Government Candidates Pledge Strict Enforcement of Obscenity Laws

Major GOP Candidates All Pledge To Be ‘Hard On’ Porn - A headline surely Onion-worthy but sadly all too true.

In October, right as then Republican front runner Herman Cain was showing his superior morality by denying he had extra-marital affairs or sexually harassed women, Morality In Media (MIM), the “leading national organization opposing pornography and indecency through public education and the application of the law (hateful, sanctimonious, self-loathing prudes who hate the idea of anyone being happy),” launched an effort to get presidential candidates in both major parties to commit to strict enforcement of obscenity laws.

Andy Singer / PoliticalCartoons.com

After all, what Jenna Jameson does with a banana trumps high unemployment, soaring college tuition costs; corruption; environmental apocalypse; outdated and crumbling infrastructure; external threats and foreign conflicts; and wall street greed during a time of unprecedented income equality during worst economy since the great depression, and it’s all Americans can think about.

Well, it seems Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum all pledged their commitment to the MIM pledge. That’s right, the serial adulterist was among the three major GOP candidates to agree to proscribing the one last pleasure away from desperate and unemployed Americans.

Former Senator Rick Santorum in a written statement:

“Federal obscenity laws should be vigorously enforced. If elected President, I will appoint an Attorney General who will do so.”

Former Governor Mitt Romney in a written statement:

“(I)t is imperative that we cultivate the promotion of fundamental family values. This can be accomplished with increased parental involvement and enhanced supervision of our children. It includes strict enforcement of our nation’s obscenity laws, as well as the promotion of parental software controls that guard our children from Internet pornography.”

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich in a face-to-face meeting:

When MIM’s Executive Director Dawn Hawkins asked former Speaker Gingrich if he will enforce existing laws that make distribution of hard-core adult pornography illegal, he responded: “Yes, I will appoint an Attorney General who will enforce these laws.”

Just to be clear,they are all running on a platform of less government? Perhaps Republican truism only applies to less economic opportunity for the middle class and poor. Evidently, Jesus was much more concerned with what consenting adults chose to do for a profession than such ludicrous and inhumane acts as staying faithful to your dying spouse, looking out for the neediest, and adopting better energy strategies that do not involve pillaging an already exhausted planet with reckless abandon. And lord knows the founding fathers intended elected leaders to inject their warped religious views into the secular sphere of government. And do I even have to mention the irony of vigorously opposing pornography by a group of men who appear readily willing to screw the American electorate in public.

Instead of promoting social and economic polices that seek to strengthen struggling families, including mandating sick leave and parental leave, the GOP candidates would rather focus on ridiculously irrelevant social issues that seek to appease a small but influential group of theocratic loons ahead of the South Carolina Primary.

http://www.cagle.com/2012/01/small-government-candidates-pledge-strict-enforcement-of-obscenity-laws

Conservative Activists Scrambling for a Strategy to Block Romney

A near-panic has taken hold among some core conservative activists, who are now scrambling to devise a strategy to deny Mitt Romney the Republican presidential nomination.

Many of these activists see South Carolina’s primary on Jan. 21 as their last best hope of stopping Romney by consolidating in a united front against him. But many acknowledge that they have yet to figure out which of the remaining conservative rivals to rally behind and which should get out.

National political correspondent Dan Balz explains the significance of Mitt Romney's “impressive” win in the New Hampshire primary and how it may affect the upcoming South Carolina primary on January 21.

The tension is exacerbated by the deep divisions between two key GOP wings: tea party groups yearning for a pure small-government conservative, and evangelical Christians who want a loyal social conservative.

In one sign of their desperation, some activists are holding out for what they acknowledge is a spectacular long shot: a late-entering savior who could still qualify for enough state ballots and win enough delegates to force a brokered GOP convention this summer.

The Romney conundrum will be on the agenda Friday when about 150 evangelical leaders huddle at a Texas ranch to debate their next move. Likewise, the subject of consolidating conservative opposition to the former Massachusetts governor is expected to be a major point of discussion among about 500 attendees at a tea party convention set for this weekend in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where the list of speakers includes two Romney rivals seeking the conservative mantle, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.

“We’re aware that the vote is being split and how dangerous that is,” said Joe Dugan, a Gingrich supporter who is chairman of the Myrtle Beach Tea Party and coordinator of the convention.

“We’re trying to encourage coalescing around one candidate,” Dugan added. “But tea party people are very independent-minded.”

One participant in Friday’s evangelical meeting, the Rev. Jim Garlow — pastor of a San Diego megachurch and a leading champion of California’s anti-gay-marriage initiative — said Romney is “untrustworthy” and not “ visceral on the issues that are cardinal to me.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/conservative-activists-scrambling-for-a-strategy-to-block-romney/2012/01/10/gIQAVFATpP_story.html

When Mitt Romney Came To Town — Full, Complete Version

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Real Difference Between Liberals and Conservatives

Iran 'Begins Enriching Uranium' at Underground Bunker

Iran has begun uranium enrichment at an underground site built to withstand possible air strikes, a leading hardline newspaper has reported.

The operations at the bunker-like Fordo facility south of Tehran, reported by the Kayhan newspaper, are small compared with Iran's main enrichment site. But the centrifuges are considered more efficient and are shielded from aerial surveillance and protected against air strikes by up to 90 metres of mountain rock.

Uranium enrichment is at the core of the international standoff over Iran's nuclear programme. The US and its allies fear that Iran could use its enrichment facilities to develop high-grade nuclear material for warheads. Iran claims it only wants nuclear reactors for energy and research.

The Kayhan, which is close to Iran's ruling clerics, said engineers had begun injecting uranium gas into sophisticated centrifuges at the Fordo facility near the city of Qom.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jan/09/iran-enriching-uranium-underground-bunker?newsfeed=true

Picasso Work Stolen

Two paintings were stolen early this morning from the National Gallery, the biggest art museum in Athens. At 4.52am, the alarm of the gallery went off and the guard, who had not realised that a theft was underway, reportedly saw an unknown man running away from the building.
 
A painting by Picasso was one of the two paintings stolen from the National Gallery in Athens in central Athens at dawn on Monday during a break-in, according to the Museum, while the second painting is believed to be a 1905 Mondrian, one of the two works by the artist in the Gallery's collection.
 
The thieves escaped undetected, raising questions about how well-guarded the National Gallery actually is.
 
The Picasso is a 1934 work that was presented as a gift to the Gallery in the 1940s by a French association.
 
Police said the perpetrator(s) entered the building from the back side, breaking in through a mezzanine balcony door that he/they demolished, headed into the interior of the building and removed the two paintings from their frames.
 
It has been reported by police that the perpetrator(s) attempted to steal a third painting, but abandoned the effort.
 
Police have taken footage from the museum's surveillance cameras for investigation.
 
Statements are expected by police and by the Museum's director Myrsini Lambraki-Plaka in the early afternoon.
 

The gallery contains mostly 19th and 20th century Greek painting, but had just wound up a display of its western European collections that include prints and etchings by German master Albrecht Duerer and Rembrandt van Rijn. It had been due to close Monday for a long period of extension and refurbishment. The value of the paintings is unknown but reports from Skai have suggested that value is substantial.

http://www.athensnews.gr/portal/1/52134

Iran Death Sentence for 'CIA spy' Amir Mirzai Hekmati

A US man of Iranian descent has been sentenced to death by a court in Tehran for spying for the CIA.

Amir Mirzai Hekmati was "sentenced to death for co-operating with a hostile nation, membership of the CIA and trying to implicate Iran in terrorism," semi-official Fars news agency said.

The 28-year-old's US-based family say he was in Iran visiting grandparents.

The sentence comes at a time of fresh tensions between Iran and the West over Tehran's nuclear programme.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Monday that further sanctions imposed by the West "will not have any impact on our nation".

"The Islamic establishment... knows firmly what it is doing and has chosen its path and will stay the course," he said in a speech broadcast on state television.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-16465820

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Obama Signs Defense Authorization Bill

Statement by the President on H.R. 1540:

Today I have signed into law H.R. 1540, the “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012.” I have signed the Act chiefly because it authorizes funding for the defense of the United States and its interests abroad, crucial services for service members and their families, and vital national security programs that must be renewed. In hundreds of separate sections totaling over 500 pages, the Act also contains critical Administration initiatives to control the spiraling health care costs of the Department of Defense (DoD), to develop counterterrorism initiatives abroad, to build the security capacity of key partners, to modernize the force, and to boost the efficiency and effectiveness of military operations worldwide.

The fact that I support this bill as a whole does not mean I agree with everything in it. In particular, I have signed this bill despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists. Over the last several years, my Administration has developed an effective, sustainable framework for the detention, interrogation and trial of suspected terrorists that allows us to maximize both our ability to collect intelligence and to incapacitate dangerous individuals in rapidly developing situations, and the results we have achieved are undeniable. Our success against al-Qa’ida and its affiliates and adherents has derived in significant measure from providing our counterterrorism professionals with the clarity and flexibility they need to adapt to changing circumstances and to utilize whichever authorities best protect the American people, and our accomplishments have respected the values that make our country an example for the world.

Against that record of success, some in Congress continue to insist upon restricting the options available to our counterterrorism professionals and interfering with the very operations that have kept us safe. My Administration has consistently opposed such measures. Ultimately, I decided to sign this bill not only because of the critically important services it provides for our forces and their families and the national security programs it authorizes, but also because the Congress revised provisions that otherwise would have jeopardized the safety, security, and liberty of the American people. Moving forward, my Administration will interpret and implement the provisions described below in a manner that best preserves the flexibility on which our safety depends and upholds the values on which this country was founded.

Section 1021 affirms the executive branch’s authority to detain persons covered by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) (Public Law 107-40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note). This section breaks no new ground and is unnecessary. The authority it describes was included in the 2001 AUMF, as recognized by the Supreme Court and confirmed through lower court decisions since then. Two critical limitations in section 1021 confirm that it solely codifies established authorities. First, under section 1021(d), the bill does not “limit or expand the authority of the President or the scope of the Authorization for Use of Military Force.” Second, under section 1021(e), the bill may not be construed to affect any “existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.” My Administration strongly supported the inclusion of these limitations in order to make clear beyond doubt that the legislation does nothing more than confirm authorities that the Federal courts have recognized as lawful under the 2001 AUMF. Moreover, I want to clarify that my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens. Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation. My Administration will interpret section 1021 in a manner that ensures that any detention it authorizes complies with the Constitution, the laws of war, and all other applicable law.

Section 1022 seeks to require military custody for a narrow category of non-citizen detainees who are “captured in the course of hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force.” This section is ill-conceived and will do nothing to improve the security of the United States. The executive branch already has the authority to detain in military custody those members of al-Qa’ida who are captured in the course of hostilities authorized by the AUMF, and as Commander in Chief I have directed the military to do so where appropriate. I reject any approach that would mandate military custody where law enforcement provides the best method of incapacitating a terrorist threat. While section 1022 is unnecessary and has the potential to create uncertainty, I have signed the bill because I believe that this section can be interpreted and applied in a manner that avoids undue harm to our current operations.

I have concluded that section 1022 provides the minimally acceptable amount of flexibility to protect national security. Specifically, I have signed this bill on the understanding that section 1022 provides the executive branch with broad authority to determine how best to implement it, and with the full and unencumbered ability to waive any military custody requirement, including the option of waiving appropriate categories of cases when doing so is in the national security interests of the United States. As my Administration has made clear, the only responsible way to combat the threat al-Qa’ida poses is to remain relentlessly practical, guided by the factual and legal complexities of each case and the relative strengths and weaknesses of each system. Otherwise, investigations could be compromised, our authorities to hold dangerous individuals could be jeopardized, and intelligence could be lost. I will not tolerate that result, and under no circumstances will my Administration accept or adhere to a rigid across-the-board requirement for military detention. I will therefore interpret and implement section 1022 in the manner that best preserves the same flexible approach that has served us so well for the past 3 years and that protects the ability of law enforcement professionals to obtain the evidence and cooperation they need to protect the Nation.

My Administration will design the implementation procedures authorized by section 1022(c) to provide the maximum measure of flexibility and clarity to our counterterrorism professionals permissible under law. And I will exercise all of my constitutional authorities as Chief Executive and Commander in Chief if those procedures fall short, including but not limited to seeking the revision or repeal of provisions should they prove to be unworkable.

Sections 1023-1025 needlessly interfere with the executive branch’s processes for reviewing the status of detainees. Going forward, consistent with congressional intent as detailed in the Conference Report, my Administration will interpret section 1024 as granting the Secretary of Defense broad discretion to determine what detainee status determinations in Afghanistan are subject to the requirements of this section.

Sections 1026-1028 continue unwise funding restrictions that curtail options available to the executive branch. Section 1027 renews the bar against using appropriated funds for fiscal year 2012 to transfer Guantanamo detainees into the United States for any purpose. I continue to oppose this provision, which intrudes upon critical executive branch authority to determine when and where to prosecute Guantanamo detainees, based on the facts and the circumstances of each case and our national security interests. For decades, Republican and Democratic administrations have successfully prosecuted hundreds of terrorists in Federal court. Those prosecutions are a legitimate, effective, and powerful tool in our efforts to protect the Nation. Removing that tool from the executive branch does not serve our national security. Moreover, this intrusion would, under certain circumstances, violate constitutional separation of powers principles.

Section 1028 modifies but fundamentally maintains unwarranted restrictions on the executive branch’s authority to transfer detainees to a foreign country. This hinders the executive’s ability to carry out its military, national security, and foreign relations activities and like section 1027, would, under certain circumstances, violate constitutional separation of powers principles. The executive branch must have the flexibility to act swiftly in conducting negotiations with foreign countries regarding the circumstances of detainee transfers. In the event that the statutory restrictions in sections 1027 and 1028 operate in a manner that violates constitutional separation of powers principles, my Administration will interpret them to avoid the constitutional conflict.

Section 1029 requires that the Attorney General consult with the Director of National Intelligence and Secretary of Defense prior to filing criminal charges against or seeking an indictment of certain individuals. I sign this based on the understanding that apart from detainees held by the military outside of the United States under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, the provision applies only to those individuals who have been determined to be covered persons under section 1022 before the Justice Department files charges or seeks an indictment. Notwithstanding that limitation, this provision represents an intrusion into the functions and prerogatives of the Department of Justice and offends the longstanding legal tradition that decisions regarding criminal prosecutions should be vested with the Attorney General free from outside interference. Moreover, section 1029 could impede flexibility and hinder exigent operational judgments in a manner that damages our security. My Administration will interpret and implement section 1029 in a manner that preserves the operational flexibility of our counterterrorism and law enforcement professionals, limits delays in the investigative process, ensures that critical executive branch functions are not inhibited, and preserves the integrity and independence of the Department of Justice.

Other provisions in this bill above could interfere with my constitutional foreign affairs powers. Section 1244 requires the President to submit a report to the Congress 60 days prior to sharing any U.S. classified ballistic missile defense information with Russia. Section 1244 further specifies that this report include a detailed description of the classified information to be provided. While my Administration intends to keep the Congress fully informed of the status of U.S. efforts to cooperate with the Russian Federation on ballistic missile defense, my Administration will also interpret and implement section 1244 in a manner that does not interfere with the President’s constitutional authority to conduct foreign affairs and avoids the undue disclosure of sensitive diplomatic communications. Other sections pose similar problems. Sections 1231, 1240, 1241, and 1242 could be read to require the disclosure of sensitive diplomatic communications and national security secrets; and sections 1235, 1242, and 1245 would interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations by directing the Executive to take certain positions in negotiations or discussions with foreign governments. Like section 1244, should any application of these provisions conflict with my constitutional authorities, I will treat the provisions as non-binding.

My Administration has worked tirelessly to reform or remove the provisions described above in order to facilitate the enactment of this vital legislation, but certain provisions remain concerning. My Administration will aggressively seek to mitigate those concerns through the design of implementation procedures and other authorities available to me as Chief Executive and Commander in Chief, will oppose any attempt to extend or expand them in the future, and will seek the repeal of any provisions that undermine the policies and values that have guided my Administration throughout my time in office.

BARACK OBAMA
THE WHITE HOUSE, December 31, 2011.