- Obama Uses Bush Secrecy, Says His Admin, Not Courts, Control Access to Classified Material.
For the second time this week, the Obama administration has gone to court in San Francisco to argue for secrecy in defending a terrorism policy crafted under George W. Bush - in this case, wiretapping that President Obama denounced as a candidate.(more on the flip)
In papers filed Wednesday night, the new Justice Department asked a federal judge to suspend action on a suit challenging the wiretapping program, arguing that proceedings would jeopardize national security. Government lawyers also said the administration, not the courts, controls access to classified material at the heart of the case.
In combative tones, the lawyers told Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker that they would ask a federal appeals court to put the case on hold unless he acts by 3 p.m. today.Political News
...The new Justice Department filing, which elaborated on arguments by the same lawyers under the Bush administration, addressed only the need to freeze the lawsuit and keep information secret and did not discuss the legality of the surveillance program. But if the department's position is upheld, Al-Haramain's suit will be dismissed.
Department spokesman Charles Miller confirmed that the brief represented the views of the new administration and its attorney general.
- Stimulus Bill Has Tighter Restrictions on Executive Pay Than $500,000 cap earlier proposed.
The stimulus package Congress was poised to pass tonight imposes new restrictions on executive compensation that could erase multimillion dollar pay packages on Wall Street.
The bill, which President Barack Obama is expected to sign into law Monday, limits bonuses of executives at all financial institutions receiving government funds to no more than a third of their total annual compensation. The bonuses must be paid in company stock that can only be redeemed once the government investment has been repaid.
- 20 members of Congress establish populist caucus for middle class economic issues.
The middle class is the economic engine of America, but too often in Washington, the needs of the middle class are ignored,” said Filner, whose 51st Congressional district includes southern portions of East County as well as the South Bay. “During these tough times, we need a renewed focus on strengthening the middle class and improving the lives of working families. That’s why I’m proud to be a founding member of the Populist Caucus. This group of Democrats will work together to find common ground on policies that create good-paying jobs, make healthcare more affordable for all, and put middle class families first again.
- Bush Aide, O’Reill: Leahy Truth Commission Is ‘Terribly Dangerous’ Idea, Possibly ‘Deadly’.
Marc Thiessen, Bush’s former chief speechwriter, agreed. Not only would the investigations be hypocritcal, he said, but worse, they would be “terribly dangerous” because they would expose the “facts” of the U.S.’s interrogation techniques to Osama bin Laden.
He also emphasized that the people Leahy might investigate “aren’t torturers, they’re heroes.” “They should be getting a parade on Pennsylvania Avenue,” he added
- Conyers: No More Delays For Rove On US Attorneys Testimony.
House Judiciary chair John Conyers has sent a letter to Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, enclosing a subpoena for Rove to appear before the committee February 23. That date had already been agreed to in a prior exchange of letters late last month.
In today's letter issuing the subpoena, Conyers informs Luskin that he won't agree to the requested second delay. Conyers writes:
“Given Mr. Rove's public statements that he does not intend to comply with the subpoena, I am puzzled as to why Mr. Rove needs a mutually convenient date to fail to appear.”
Conyers also writes that he can't accept Luskin's request to have Rove's testimony be limited to the matter of the Don Siegelman case, meaning he would stay mum on the US Attorneys firings.
- Investigation looks into political pressure in bailout distribution.
A special inspector at the Treasury Department is auditing the Troubled Asset Relief Program after reports that members of Congress exerted pressure and that banks actively lobbied for the money.
When the department launched the banking rescue plan last fall, it set up a process for awarding the massive sums of money outside of public view and with criteria that were not disclosed, even to Congress.
...Within months, reports began to surface that banks were actively lobbying for the funds and that members of Congress were exerting their influence on Treasury officials to give money to specific banks.
- Americans favor probe of 'war on terror' excesses.
Two-thirds of Americans favor investigating whether the George W. Bush administration overstepped legal boundaries in its "war on terror," according to a poll released Thursday by USA Today and Gallup.
A majority of respondents said a probe should be launched into allegations that the Bush team used torture to interrogate terror suspects.
Investigators also should look into the former president's program of wiretapping US citizens without first securing court-issued warrants, respondents said.
- GOP lawmakers tout projects in the stimulus bill they opposed.
Republicans echoed their party line over and over during the debate: "This bill is loaded with wasteful deficit spending on the majority's favorite government programs," as Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., put it.
But Mica wasn't alone in touting what he saw as the bill's virtues. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, also had nice things to say in a press release.
Young boasted that he "won a victory for the Alaska Native contracting program and other Alaska small business owners last night in H.R. 1, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act."
One provision would have made it harder for minority businesses to win contracts, and Young explained that he "worked with members on the other side of the aisle to make the case for these programs, and was able to get the provision pulled from the bill."
- California predicted to get $26 billion from stimulus bill.
The latest estimate is from a group called the Federal Funds Information for States, which tracks federal spending for the states.
House Democrats said the bill will also provide a tax cut of up to $800 for 12.4 million California workers and their families. And it's expected to send at least $4 billion to the state to help pay for infrastructure improvements.
- Hardened Obama plans new fights for “New Deal” plans.
For Obama’s next act, the program is the same as he has been planning for months: New Deal-style plans to rescue struggling homeowners and rewrite regulations on the financial markets, plus a budget proposal that lays the groundwork for sweeping health care reform.
But the strategy to promote these items is getting an emergency overhaul. Obama plans to travel more and campaign more in an effort to pressure lawmakers with public support, rather than worrying about whether he can win over Republican votes in Congress. Officials suggested that the new, more partisan tone Obama embraced last week in his speech before House Democrats at their retreat and continued at his news conference Monday was what he should have been doing all along.
- Dems target right-wing talk radio with call for bringing back the “Fairness Doctrine”.
More and more Democrats in Congress are calling for action that Republicans warn could muzzle right-wing talk radio.
Representative Maurice Hinchey, a Democrat from New York is the latest to say he wants to bring back the "Fairness Doctrine," a federal regulation scrapped in 1987 that would require broadcasters to present opposing views on public issues.
- Blackwater hides under new name of Xe.
The decision comes as part of an ongoing rebranding effort that grew more urgent following a September 2007 shooting in Iraq that left at least a dozen civilians dead. ... Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell said the company made the name change largely because of changes in its focus, but acknowledged the need for the company to shake its past in Iraq.
- "Diaper Dave" Vitter Says Obama Adopts Judicial Standards of a "Dictatorship".
Addressing the DC lawyers chapter of the conservative legal group, the Federalist Society, Vitter got right down to red meat. After quoting comments from President Obama suggesting that he'd like his judicial nominees to be able to empathize with the downtrodden, Vitter declared that demanding empathy in a judge was something you'd expect in a "dictatorship." How empathy equates with repressive rule, Vitter didn't really explain, except to say that it had little to do with ensuring checks and balances on an imperial government.
- Female Suicide Bomber Kills 40 In Iraq -- Victims Are Mostly Women And Children In Third-Straight Day Of Attacks Targeting Shiites.
A female suicide bomber Friday struck a tent filled with women and children resting during a Shiite pilgrimage south of Baghdad, killing 40 people and wounding about 80 in the deadliest of three straight days of attacks against Shiite worshippers.
- US Military Equipment and Computers Ending up in Pakistan Markets.
In the age of computerized high-tech warfare, it is not just American hardware available on the black market. Now there is also vital technology and information up for grabs and -- as military officials here and in the U.S. fear -- leaking into the wrong hands in this region where the Taliban and elements of Al Qaeda have a known presence.
I was recently able to purchase a U.S. military laptop for $650 from a small kiosk... .
The laptop, which has clear U.S. military markings and serial numbers, contained restricted U.S. military information, as well as software for military platforms, the identities of numerous military personnel and information about weaknesses and flaws in American military vehicles being employed in the war in Afghanistan.
- Feinstein leaks predator drones flown from base in Pakistan, disclosure likely to complicate joint campaign against Taliban militants.
A senior U.S. lawmaker said Thursday that unmanned CIA Predator aircraft operating in Pakistan are flown from an airbase inside that country, a revelation likely to embarrass the Pakistani government and complicate its counterterrorism collaboration with the United States.
The basing of the pilotless aircraft in Pakistan suggests a much deeper relationship with the United States on counterterrorism matters than has been publicly acknowledged. Such an arrangement would be at odds with protests lodged by officials in Islamabad and could inflame anti-American sentiment in the country.
- Pentagon role in CIA's secret jails.
THREE human rights groups have obtained documents that confirm US Department of Defence involvement in the CIA's "ghost" detention program, and the existence of secret prisons at Bagram air base in Afghanistan and in Iraq.
...The groups said these documents confirm the existence of secret prisons at Bagram and in Iraq; affirm the Defence Department's co-operation with the CIA's "ghost" detention program; and show one case where Defence sought to delay the release of Guantanamo prisoners who were scheduled to be sent home by a month and a half in order to avoid bad press.
- US envoy in Kabul to map out surge - President Obama expected to decide on size of troop reinforcements for Afghanistan in 'the next few days'.
The total Western military presence in Afghanistan stands at 70,000 and most other Nato countries are reluctant to commit significant numbers of further troops to the conflict. Britain is likely to send another 3,000 troops in time for the Afghan elections in August and Italy will says it will add another 500. However, countries such as Germany, which has a force of about 4,500 in the north, are unlikely to add more. There is, indeed, a feeling in some Nato countries in Europe that there is already too much emphasis on the military option and too little on civil factors, and that the American decision to merge their counter-terrorist mission, Operation Enduring Freedom, with Nato's Isaf (International Security Assistance Force) is a mistake.
- Stray dogs being killed in Baghdad.
The shotgun blast rips into the stray dog's midsection, sending it tumbling over and over. Agonizing yelps echo through the streets as it tries to reach and bite at the gaping wound. Minutes later, the dog is dead.
A few miles away, a puppy eats a piece of poisoned meat. Its body starts to twitch and spasm as the toxins kick in. It dies within 15 minutes.
The two strays were among the thousands that roam the streets of Baghdad. Authorities have been killing them since November, trying to prevent the spread of disease and attacks on residents.
The Baghdad dog-culling program comprises two vets, a council official and a police officer armed with a shotgun. The vets distribute bits of meat poisoned with strychnine. If the poison doesn't kill the dogs, the police officer steps in with the shotgun.
- China to create database of blacklisted local journalists.
It said reporters who violate the rules or laws will have their press cards taken away. "Their names will be entered into the list and they will be restricted from news reporting or editing work."
The national database is among a series of regulations being proposed to boost government supervision of news coverage, Li said. Among them are tightened reviews for press credentials as well as standardized qualifications for newspaper and magazine editors.
- Hamas murder campaign in Gaza exposed – Regime killed and tortured others as 'collaborators' with Israel in war's aftermath.
Amnesty International said Hamas forces and militias were involved in a "campaign of abductions, deliberate and unlawful killings, torture and death threats against those they accuse of 'collaborating' with Israel, as well as opponents and critics". It said at least two dozen men had been shot by Hamas since the end of December and "scores of others" shot in the legs, kneecapped or beaten.Amnesty gave detailed accounts of some of the cases and said there was "incontrovertible evidence" that Hamas security forces and militia were "responsible for grave human rights abuses". Hamas officials have admitted hunting for suspected collaborators, but they have denied this campaign of attacks.
- Obama & Blair on Different Pages - Intel Estimate Muddied Iran's Nuclear Intent.
President Barack Obama and Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair did not appear to be on the same page this week when they talked about Iran's nuclear intentions. Obama referred in his news conference to Iran's "development of a nuclear weapon or their pursuit of a nuclear weapon", but Blair said "we do not know whether Iran currently intends to develop nuclear weapons".
Both statements are a reflection of the confusion left by the November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran over Tehran's intentions regarding nuclear weapons. That estimate was immediately attacked by the right and disowned by the George W. Bush administration because it revealed that Iran had halted work on nuclear weapons in 2003.
- Financial Crisis Called Top Security Threat to U.S..
Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair told Congress yesterday that instability in countries around the world caused by the current global economic crisis, rather than terrorism, is the primary near-term security threat to the United States.
...Blair said the most immediate fallout from the worldwide economic decline for the United States will be "allies and friends not being able to fully meet their defense and humanitarian obligations." He also saw the prospect of possible refugee flows from the Caribbean to the United States and a questioning of American economic and financial leadership in the world.
But Blair also raised the specter of the "high levels of violent extremism" in the turmoil of the 1920s and 1930s along with "regime-threatening instability" if the economic crisis persists over a one-to-two-year period.
- Large U.S. banks on brink of insolvency, experts say.
Some of the large banks in the United States, according to economists and other finance experts, are like dead men walking.
A sober assessment of the growing mountain of losses from bad bets, measured in today's marketplace, would overwhelm the value of the banks' assets, they say. The banks, in their view, are insolvent.
- White House may move to buy bad mortgages.
The White House is considering a proposal to head off potentially millions more home foreclosures by using federal funds to buy up at-risk loans and then refinance them with more affordable terms.
- Citi, J.P. Morgan Chase Agree to Foreclosure Moratorium.
Lawmakers in a congressional hearing earlier this week asked the executives of some of the nation's largest banks to institute a moratorium on foreclosures until the details of a revamped government bailout effort are announced.
- Peanut Corp. of America files for bankruptcy.
The company linked to a national salmonella outbreak, Peanut Corp. of America, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy Friday in federal court in Lynchburg,Va., court documents show.
The outbreak so far has sickened more than 630 people and may have caused the deaths of nine people. It has has led to one of the largest product recalls in the nation’s history, with more than 2,000 products recalled thus far, according to the FDA.
Legal experts said the bankruptcy may alter the landscape of lawsuits and liability involving the company, already the subject of damage claims in federal and state courts, but it will not protect them against salmonella litigation.
- Study: American famlies are poorer today than they were in 2001.
Paul Krugman points out a finding from the latest Survey of Consumer Finances, showing that, adjusted for inflation, “families are poorer now than they were in 2001.” The gains made in net worth between 2004 and 2007 have all been erased by collapsing stock and housing prices, the study finds. Krugman notes that it is just the latest proof of the disastrous effects of the housing bubble.
- On Darwin’s Birthday, Only 4 in 10 Believe in Evolution.
A new Gallup Poll shows that only 39% of Americans say they "believe in the theory of evolution," while a quarter say they do not believe in the theory, and another 36% don't have an opinion either way. These attitudes are strongly related to education and, to an even greater degree, religiosity.
Civil Rights News
- Judges plead guilty in kickback scheme to jail juveniles for profit.
The lead plaintiff is Florence Wallace, whose 14-year-old daughter Bernadine was charged with terroristic threats after getting into an argument on MySpace. The lawsuit said the teenager was not advised of her right to an attorney and was pressured to plead guilty. She was taken from Ciavarella's courtroom in shackles and spent time in PA Child Care and at a youth wilderness camp.
As a result of the judges' corruption, parents were forced to pay for the "wrongful incarceration" of their children, the suit said. Some parents had their wages garnished, public assistance benefits taken and social security benefits seized.
- Homeless kids lack school to call home.
Chicago Public Schools officials say an increasing number of students are losing their homes, becoming casualties of the economic downturn.
The number of homeless students has risen dramatically in the last year. From July 1 to Dec. 31, the district counted 9,698. That's 23.5 percent more than the 7,851 for the same period in 2007. By the end of the school year, the district is expecting to top last year's record of 10,642 students, said Patricia Rivera, director of the district's homeless education program.
- State not ready for 'climate refugees - Scientists warn of “Great Depression” migration, sickness.
It's a term we should get used to, researchers warned on Thursday, predicting a flood of new residents driven north by heat waves, fires and other calamitous effects of global warming.
With one speaker raising the specter of a new migration on the scale of the Great Depression, state and county officials admitted they have barely started getting ready.
The warnings came at a conference of planners, scientists and government officials drilling into the results of a study released this week examining what Washington faces -- for our food supply, our forests, our drinking-water supplies and public health, among other fronts -- as the globe warms in coming decades.
- Bleak forecast on fishery stocks.
The world's fish stocks will soon suffer major upheaval due to climate change, scientists have warned.
Changing ocean temperatures and currents will force thousands of species to migrate polewards, including cod, herring, plaice and prawns.
- Big Science Role Is Seen in Global Warming Cure.
Steven Chu, the new secretary of energy, said Wednesday that solving the world’s energy and environment problems would require Nobel-level breakthroughs in three areas: electric batteries, solar power and the development of new crops that can be turned into fuel.
Dr. Chu said a “revolution” in science and technology would be required if the world is to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and curb the emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases linked to global warming.
- 'CO2 reduction treaties useless'.
The Institution of Mechanical Engineers report says we have to accept the world could change dramatically.
It also says we should start planning our major infrastructure now to accommodate more extreme weather events and sea level rises.
- 'Crazy ideas ' to fight global warming revealed by scientists. (video at link)
Covering Greenland in blankets to stop the ice sheets melting, "tree bombs" to regenerate forests and sending a giant sunshade into space are just some of the ideas being proposed by scientists to save the planet from global warming.
[idea #4 of the 8]: 4. Raining forests
Consultant environmental engineer Mark Hodges believes forests could be generated by dropping "tree bombs" from a plane. The seedlings are dropped in a wax canister full of fertiliser that explodes when it hits the ground and grows into a tree. The method has already been used to regenerate mangrove forest in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina.
- Hog power – turning livestock waste into energy to save farm and perhaps the planet.
Manure from his hogs drains as a slurry into a giant vat. It is stirred and warmed. A virtually odorless liquid - ideal for fertilizing surrounding fields that, in turn, feed more pigs - emerges from the giant digester.
The real beauty, though, comes in the methane fumes that rise off the muck. They are funneled to a tractor engine and used to power a generator. Suddenly his electrical utility is writing checks to him.
- Irish minister bans climate change adverts.
An advertising campaign urging people to help tackle climate change has been banned by Northern Ireland's Environment minister because he does not believe humans are the main cause of global warming.
Sammy Wilson said the ads suggested that turning off a television rather than putting it on standby could help save the planet, a notion he described as "patent nonsense".
- Penguins in peril as climate change forces marathon food search.
Penguins from the largest colony on mainland South America are being forced to swim the equivalent of two marathons farther to find food because of the effects of climate change.
The survival of the Magellanic penguin colony at Punta Tombo, on the Atlantic coast of Argentina, is being threatened by the increasing distances the birds must travel to feed themselves and their chicks, research has shown.
- The ‘holy grail’ of biofuels now in sight.
Long-promised cellulosic ethanol is in modest production, but hurdles remain.
With one foot planted in a pile of corn cobs, Mark Stowers explains how agricultural waste, transformed into ethanol, will turbocharge the US economy, boost its energy security, and help save the planet, too.
[T]he research director for POET, the nation’s largest ethanolmaker ... says that despite bad economic news and major obstacles, cellulosic’s time is near. Other scientists agree.
Human Rights News
- Unredacted documents reveal prisoners tortured to death and human rights groups accuse Pentagon of running secret prisons, cooperating with CIA "ghost detention" program.
The American Civil Liberties Union has released previously classified excerpts of a government report on harsh interrogation techniques used in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. These previously unreported pages detail repeated use of "abusive" behavior, even to the point of prisoner deaths.
...The ACLU's release comes on the same day as a major FOIA document dump by three other leading human rights groups: Documents which reveal the Pentagon ran secret prisons in Bagram and Iraq, that it cooperated with the CIA's "ghost detention" program and that Defense personnel delayed a prisoner's release to avoid bad press.
- Thai PM admits boat people pushed out to sea.
Thailand's prime minister suspects there were "some instances" in which Thai authorities pushed Myanmar's Rohingya boat people out to sea, a frank admittance of a practice drawing worldwide condemnation.
A recent CNN investigation found evidence of the Thai army towing an apparent boatload of 190 Rohingya refugees out to sea, prompting Thai authorities to launch an investigation.
And a group of the refugees rescued by Indonesian authorities last week told harrowing tales of being captured, beaten and abandoned at sea by the Thai military.
- Shock as Tanzania teachers caned.
The Tanzania Teachers' Union is taking legal action after 19 primary school teachers were given the cane.
The teachers were caned by a police officer in front of their pupils after an investigation into poor exam results at three schools.
The report blamed teachers for being late or not showing up for work and not teaching the official syllabus.
- Female FBI officer 'tortured Mumbai terror attacks suspect with sex'.
A female FBI officer tortured a suspect in the Mumbai terrorist attacks by performing a sex act on him during interrogation, it has been claimed.
In the papers, he claims that three foreigners, including the woman, sexually abused him, causing him "severe itching and wounds" on his body, including his genitals.
Mr Ansari, a devout Muslim, claims this amounts to torture because it is against his religion, The Sun newspaper has reported.
A court in the Indian city ordered medical checks on "wounds on his private parts and all over his body."
- Zoos offer Valentines love tips from the animal kingdom.
This Valentine's weekend some American zoos are offering an adults-only opportunity to discover animals' amorous antics, and perhaps pick up a few tips.
For $US75 per person, including bubbly and brunch, a Philadelphia Zoo is providing a three-hour romantic tour, dubbed "Lovin' on the Wild Side".
The tour is for over 21s only and, sadly, it is not guaranteed that every visitor will get lucky.
But with a bit of luck, Warner said, guests might see an array of unusual overtures.
- Living near trees 'makes people live longer and feel happier'.
They believe that living close to parks and other green spaces is "essential to our physical, psychological and social well-being".
"Nature calms people and it also helps them psychologically rejuvenate. They are better able to handle challenges which come their way," said Prof Frances Kuo, from the University of Illinois, who led a review of studies into the effects of trees and parklands.
The research also shows that people have happier relationships and perform better in tests when they live in tree-filled neighbourhoods.
Other studies showed that health levels could be "predicted by the amount of green space within a one-mile radius".
- 'Arctic unicorns' in icy display. (video at link)
Remarkable footage of elusive narwhal has been captured.
A BBC team used aerial cameras to film the creatures during their epic summer migration, as they navigated through cracks in the melting Arctic sea ice.
They believe the footage, which forms part of the BBC Natural History Unit's new series Nature's Great Events, is the first of its kind.
Narwhal are sometimes called "Arctic unicorns" because of the long, spiral tusk that protrudes from their jaws.
The appendages can reach more than 2m (7ft) in length; scientists believe males use them to attract potential mates.