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Saturday, July 03, 2010

The Chronic Goes Mainstream: California NAACP Backs Legalization of Marijuana

The Chronic Goes Mainstream: California NAACP Backs Legalization of Marijuana: "Branch resident says that weed arrests are a 'civil rights issue.'

The California branch of the NAACP is backing California's Proposition 19, a ballot initiative that would lead to the legalization of marijuana. Branch president Alice Huffman calls it 'A civil rights issue that has consistently stifled the upward mobility of young folks of color.' She added, 'This is not a war on the drug lords. This is a war against young men and women of color.' In each of the 25 largest counties in California, blacks are arrested for marijuana possession at double, triple and sometimes quadruple the rates of whites. In Los Angeles County, the arrest rate for blacks is 332 percent higher than the rate for whites, though Black people constitute less than 10 percent of the state population. To add insult to injury, federal government studies show that black youths use marijuana at lower rates than whites. The battle continues over the legalization of the sticky icky in California. And yet another example of why California is known as the wild, wild, West."

Gates Tightens Rules for Military and the Press -

Gates Tightens Rules for Military and the Press - "WASHINGTON — Nine days after a four-star general was relieved of command for comments made to Rolling Stone magazine, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates issued orders on Friday tightening the reins on officials dealing with the news media. More...

The memorandum requires top-level Pentagon and military leaders to notify the office of the Defense Department’s assistant secretary for public affairs “prior to interviews or any other means of media and public engagement with possible national or international implications.”

Just as the removal of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal from command in Afghanistan was viewed as President Obama’s reassertion of civilian control of the military, so Mr. Gates’s memo on “Interaction With the Media” was viewed as a reassertion by civilian public affairs specialists of control over the military’s contacts with the news media."

Friday, July 02, 2010

Oil Predicted To Hit Florida's Atlantic Coast, Not Gulf : NPR

Oil Predicted To Hit Florida's Atlantic Coast, Not Gulf : NPR

The federal government has issued its first long-term forecast for oil in the Gulf of Mexico. It projects where the oil will go during the summer, based on Gulf currents over the past 15 years. The report finds oil is much more likely to wash ashore on Florida's Atlantic coast than it is on the state's Gulf coast south of Tampa. More...

Obama calls out GOP on immigration - Los Angeles Times

Obama calls out GOP on immigration - Los Angeles Times

he president's remarks present a preview of the message the White House intends to highlight in the midterm election: Republicans' stubborn refusal to help solve national problems.
July 01, 2010|By Peter Nicholas and Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau
Reporting from Washington — In his first major speech on the issue since taking office, President Obama said Thursday that the U.S. immigration system "offends our most basic American values" and blamed Republican opposition for thwarting crucially needed change.

It was the third time in as many days that Obama singled out Republicans as an obstructionist force, blaming them in his earlier appearances for defending oil giant BP in the aftermath of the Gulf Coast oil spill and for opposing stronger financial regulatory legislation.

The president's remarks this week represented the clearest preview yet of the message the White House intends to highlight in this year's midterm election: Republicans' stubborn refusal to help solve national problems.

The theme appeared to galvanize many supporters of immigration legislation who were in the audience at American University for Obama's speech Thursday.

"I think it was a clarion call," said Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. "He implied, 'The ball is in your court.'"

Republicans shot back with a sizzling critique of the president's position, dismissing Obama's argument that the U.S.-Mexican border was more secure now than in years.

"Half a million people still illegally enter our country today, most through Arizona, and his administration has yet to lay out a strategy on how it intends to bring it under control," said Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.).

The immigration debate has been fueled by passage of an Arizona law that allows police to question those they suspect of being illegal immigrants after making an unlawful stop. The Obama administration is expected to announce soon that it will file a legal challenge to that law.

Speaking to religious and political activists Thursday, Obama recalled congressional steps toward immigration-restructuring under President George W. Bush, when a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers supported a comprehensive solution. More...

Thursday, July 01, 2010

BP plans to get rid of safety watchdog, sources say -

BP plans to get rid of safety watchdog, sources say -

Washington (CNN) -- BP has been trying to shut down an internal safety watchdog agency it set up under congressional pressure four years ago, according to sources close to the office and a leading congressman.

The Ombudsman Program was set up after a 2005 explosion at a BP refinery in Texas that killed 15 workers and a massive oil spill in Alaska the following year. Its chief, former federal judge Stanley Sporkin, would not comment for this story -- but a source inside his office told CNN, "I'm surprised we're still here."

The Washington-based office was set up to hear BP workers' safety concerns after investigations into the Texas City refinery explosion raised questions about whether employees feared retaliation for speaking up. Since then, 112 employees have filed complaints, and 35 of them have dealt with "system integrity or safety issues" that the office says are extremely serious.

But sources close to the office say BP doesn't like having independent investigators pursuing those complaints. A union representative told CNN that some workers who complained have faced retaliation. Jeanne Pascal, a former lawyer for the Environmental Protection Agency, agreed.

"They've been demoted, they've been terminated, they've also been blackballed," Pascal said.

BP spokesman Steve Rinehart said the company has a "zero-tolerance" policy toward retaliation and said it is unaware of any unresolved cases that violate that policy.

"Concerns raised internally or with the Ombudsman's office in respect to our operations are fully investigated and appropriate actions are implemented," he said in a statement supplied to CNN. He added, "If Ms. Pascal or others believe there are cases that have not been resolved appropriately, they can be raised through the ombudsman's office.

BP has promised Rep. Bart Stupak, the chairman of a congressional subcommittee investigating the April sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drill rig, that it will keep the watchdog office in place for another year. But Stupak said the head of BP's American subsidiary, Lamar McKay, told him earlier this year that the ombudsman's office was slated for elimination.

McKay had become the head of BP America in January 2009, more than a year before the the Deepwater Horizon disaster killed 11 workers and uncorked the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Stupak, D-Michigan, and other lawmakers met with McKay in January and March of that year.

"One of the first things Mr. McKay said was, 'I'm going to replace the ombudsman. I'm going to shut her down,' " Stupak told CNN. "He wasn't even on the job for more than a few weeks, maybe a month or two, and he wanted to shut down the ombudsman. We encouraged him not to do so."

Stupak said lawmakers were "shocked" that McKay would bring up the topic so soon.

"The logic was, 'Well, we will make things better,' " he said. "Well, I'm not sure."

BP has said it can do a good job investigating complaints through an established internal system -- without the ombudsman's office. But Pascal, who spent 26 years prosecuting polluters for the EPA, has called BP a "serial environmental criminal." She said BP repeatedly violates environmental laws, scoffs at safety regulations and treats U.S. government safety and pollution control officials as a mere nuisance.

The company paid record federal fines and pleaded guilty to a felony in connection with the Texas City explosion. It also pleaded guilty in 2007 to one count of criminally negligent discharge of oil, a misdemeanor, in Alaska. In 2009, the Justice Department filed a civil complaint alleging the company had violated clean air and water laws in Alaska.

That record indicates that BP considers safety "a secondary or tertiary concern," with no indication that will change, Pascal said.

"From my perspective, BP for a long time has been a company that is interested in profits first and foremost," she said. "Safety, health and the environment are subjugated to profit-making, and I do not think that has changed."

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Author Christopher Hitchens diagnosed with cancer | Books | The Guardian

Author Christopher Hitchens diagnosed with cancer | Books | The Guardian

Polemicist cancels book tour promoting autobiography and will undergo chemotherapy

Christopher Hitchens, 61, has been diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe for the Guardian
The author and polemicist Christopher Hitchens yesterday announced he was cutting short a promotional book tour in order to undergo chemotherapy treatment.

There were reports that the the British-born writer, who was a heavy smoker until giving up several years ago, had been diagnosed with cancer. More...

Aquino Is Sworn In as Leader of the Philippines -

Aquino Is Sworn In as Leader of the Philippines -

MANILA — Benigno S. Aquino III was sworn in as the 15th president of the Philippines on Wednesday and promised sweeping reforms that he said will improve the quality of life for the country.

Mr. Aquino, 50, takes over a country that saw much political turbulence in the nine years of the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. He reiterated a pledge to investigate allegations of corruption and abuses under her government, and promised to listen to ordinary Filipinos and to ensure that their welfare will be protected.

“You are the reason why today, the suffering of the people will end,” Mr. Aquino told a crowd estimated by police officials at half a million people.

“Here, on this day, ends the reign of a government that is indifferent to the complaints of the people,” Mr. Aquino said in his 21-minute speech. “There can be no reconciliation without justice.”

“Secretary de Lima, you have your marching orders. Begin the process of providing true and complete justice for all,” Mr. Aquino said, referring to Leila de Lima, the former chairman of the Commission on Human Rights whom he named justice secretary. Ms. De Lima is widely known in the Philippines for her independence in investigating human rights abuses.

Mr. Aquino had said that putting her at the Justice Department was crucial to his campaign to end corruption.

One day earlier, he Aquino announced that he would create a commission to investigate corruption scandals and allegations of human rights abuses under the Arroyo administration. More...
Benigno S. Aquino III is the son of former Philippine President Corazon C. Aquino.

John H. Armwood

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

GOP shrugs over Boehner comment - Jake Sherman and Simmi Aujla -

GOP shrugs over Boehner comment - Jake Sherman and Simmi Aujla -

Democrats are attacking House Minority Leader John Boehner for his comments to a Pittsburgh paper about how America is in “revolt” similar to 1776 and Wall Street reform is like “killing an ant” with a nuclear weapon.

Boehner also touched on the third rail of politics, claiming that Social Security should raise the retirement age to 70.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee issued a statement blasting Boehner, as did the Democratic National Committee and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Operatives are blasting his statements to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review all over the blogosphere. More...

Kagan Shifts on Disclosing Legal Views at Hearings -

Kagan Shifts on Disclosing Legal Views at Hearings -

WASHINGTON — At the opening of questioning in her Supreme Court confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Solicitor General Elena Kagan quickly backpedaled from her past call for nominees to speak more openly and in specific terms about their constitutional views.

Under questioning by the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, Ms. Kagan said she thought it would be inappropriate for her to talk about how she might rule on pending cases or cases “that might come before the court in the future” — or to answer questions that were “veiled” efforts to get at such issues.

Moreover, she said, she also now believed that “it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to talk about past cases” by essentially grading Supreme Court precedents, because those issues, too, might someday come again before the court. More...

BBC News - Taiwan and China to sign landmark trade pact

BBC News - Taiwan and China to sign landmark trade pact

China and Taiwan are due to sign a landmark trade pact, considered the most significant move in cross-Strait ties in 60 years.

The Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement (ECFA) - to be signed later in the Chinese city of Chongqing - will remove tariffs on hundreds of products.

It is likely to boost bilateral trade already totaling about $110bn (£73bn) a year.

About $80bn in goods flows to China, and $30bn to Taiwan.

The deal is seen to benefit export-reliant Taiwan the most economically. More...
It is amazing to watch the continued thawing of relations between China and Taiwan. Inter-strait relations were quite tense just a few years ago when Taiwan's pro-independence party was in power. Now with the Nationalist Party in power Sino Taiwanese relations are warming.

John H. Armwood

Monday, June 28, 2010

Justices Say Gun Rights Apply Locally -

Justices Say Gun Rights Apply Locally -

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court held Monday that the Constitution's Second Amendment restrains government's ability to significantly limit "the right to keep and bear arms," advancing a recent trend by the John Roberts-led bench to embrace gun rights.

By a narrow, 5-4 vote, the justices signaled, however, that less severe restrictions could survive legal challenges.

Writing for the court in a case involving restrictive laws in Chicago and one of its suburbs, Justice Samuel Alito said that the Second Amendment right "applies equally to the federal government and the states."

The court was split along familiar ideological lines, with five conservative-moderate justices in favor of gun rights and four liberals opposed. Chief Justice Roberts voted with the majority.

Two years ago, the court declared that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess guns, at least for purposes of self-defense in the home.

That ruling applied only to federal laws. It struck down a ban on handguns and a trigger lock requirement for other guns in the District of Columbia, a federal city with a unique legal standing. At the same time, the court was careful not to cast doubt on other regulations of firearms here.

Gun rights proponents almost immediately filed a federal lawsuit challenging gun control laws in Chicago and its suburb of Oak Park, Ill, where handguns have been banned for nearly 30 years. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence says those laws appear to be the last two remaining outright bans.

Lower federal courts upheld the two laws, noting that judges on those benches were bound by Supreme Court precedent and that it would be up to the high court justices to ultimately rule on the true reach of the Second Amendment.

The Supreme Court already has said that most of the guarantees in the Bill of Rights serve as a check on state and local, as well as federal, laws.

Monday's decision did not explicitly strike down the Chicago area laws, ordering a federal appeals court to reconsider its ruling. But it left little doubt that they would eventually fall.

Still, Alito noted that the declaration that the Second Amendment is fully binding on states and cities "limits (but by no means eliminates) their ability to devise solutions to social problems that suit local needs and values." More...
The United States is the only advanced democracy that allows its citizens such an easy and open access to firearms. If you travel or live overseas residents of other countries always raise the gun American gun possession issue coupled with questions about gun violence in the USA. While living in Korea, for over two years countless students told me that they feared coming to the United States, because of its reputation for gun violence.

My, wife, an immigrant from Malaysia, is very puzzled by what she considers American's ridiculous gun laws. "To much freedom", she always says. She has a point. Gun ownership is not necessarily the problem, but the widespread, availability of guns and the extraordinary level of gun possession in the U.S. is a problem. States and localities should have the right to regulate and restrict the ownership and possession of guns. It is a question of both public safety and public health. Handguns in particular are designed for one purpose, killing people. This is an obvious reality. It is easier in some states to buy a handgun than obtain a drivers license. This does not make sense. We tolerate an extraordinary level of gun violence in America. The current, conservative Supreme Court's overly broad reading of the Constitution's Second Amendment is a direct threat to American public health. The Second Amendment clearly stated that the purpose of its embedded right of gun ownership was to allow the states to have well regulated state militias.

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed"

That need for private citizens to carry weapons for the purpose of using them in their state miltia has long passed. The states now provide the arms for its militias (The State National Guard). It's time tor recognize this reality.

John H. Armwood

Robert Byrd, Respected Voice of the Senate, Dies at 92 - Obituary (Obit) -

Robert Byrd, Respected Voice of the Senate, Dies at 92 - Obituary (Obit) -

Robert C. Byrd, who used his record tenure as a United States senator to fight for the primacy of the legislative branch of government and to build a modern West Virginia with vast amounts of federal money, died at about 3 a.m. Monday, his office said. He was 92.

He had been in failing health for several years. More...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

BBC News - Bangladeshi police and protesters clash during strike

BBC News - Bangladeshi police and protesters clash during strike

Police and opposition protesters have clashed in the capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka, amid the country's first general strike for more than three years.

Police stopped marches and arrested about 200 people, officials say.

The strike was called by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its allies to highlight the government's "failures and excesses".

It is seen as the first significant challenge to PM Sheikh Hasina since she took office in January 2009. More...

U.S. Keeps Command of Military in Seoul -

U.S. Keeps Command of Military in Seoul -

TORONTO — In his strongest move against North Korea since the sinking of a South Korean warship, President Obama said Saturday that the United States would retain control of all military forces in the South during any conflict on the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea has been widely blamed for the attack on the ship in March that killed 46 sailors.

The announcement was an apparent attempt to signal to the North, which has long wanted American forces off the peninsula, that the United States would remain firmly in control of military operations if war were to break out.

The decision is somewhat symbolic; the United States was not slated to give up wartime control of South Korean troops until 2012, and the new deadline is just three years later. But it allowed Washington and Seoul to take some action after months of struggling for ways to punish the North — and try to deter it from further violence — without provoking the country’s erratic leader, Kim Jong-il, to launch new attacks. More...

Fresh Out Of Miracles, The U.S. Loses To Ghana : NPR

Fresh Out Of Miracles, The U.S. Loses To Ghana : NPR