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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Members of U.S. platoon in Afghanistan accused of killing civilians for sport

Members of U.S. platoon in Afghanistan accused of killing civilians for sport
AT JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, WASH. The U.S. soldiers hatched a plan as simple as it was savage: to randomly target and kill an Afghan civilian, and to get away with it.
For weeks, according to Army charging documents, rogue members of a platoon from the 5th Stryker Combat Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, floated the idea. Then, one day last winter, a solitary Afghan man approached them in the village of La Mohammed Kalay. The "kill team" activated the plan.
One soldier created a ruse that they were under attack, tossing a fragmentary grenade on the ground. Then others opened fire.
According to charging documents, the unprovoked, fatal attack on Jan. 15 was the start of a months-long shooting spree against Afghan civilians that resulted in some of the grisliest allegations against American soldiers since the U.S. invasion in 2001. Members of the platoon have been charged with dismembering and photographing corpses, as well as hoarding a skull and other human bones.
The subsequent investigation has raised accusations about whether the military ignored warnings that the out-of-control soldiers were committing atrocities. The father of one soldier said he repeatedly tried to alert the Army after his son told him about the first killing, only to be rebuffed.
Two more slayings would follow. Military documents allege that five members of the unit staged a total of three murders in Kandahar province between January and May. Seven other soldiers have been charged with crimes related to the case, including hashish use, attempts to impede the investigation and a retaliatory gang assault on a private who blew the whistle.
Army officials have not disclosed a motive for the killings and macabre behavior. Nor have they explained how the attacks could have persisted without attracting scrutiny. They declined to comment on the case beyond the charges that have been filed, citing the ongoing investigation.
But a review of military court documents and interviews with people familiar with the investigation suggest the killings were committed essentially for sport by soldiers who had a fondness for hashish and alcohol.

General Motors tests electric Chevrolet Cruzes in South Korea | | Detroit Free Press

General Motors tests electric Chevrolet Cruzes in South Korea | | Detroit Free Press
General Motors is testing electric Chevrolet Cruzes in Seoul, South Korea.
GM said today it expected the fleet to launch at the end of October. The automaker currently has no plans to bring the electric Cruzes to the U.S., where the gasoline-powered Cruze launched this month, spokesman Kevin Kelly said.
Early testing showed the electric Cruzes, developed in less than a year, have up to a 100-mile range. Unlike the Chevrolet Volt due this fall in the U.S., they have no range-extending, gasoline-powered engine.
The cars can charge in 8 to 10 hours via a 220-volt outlet. GM is testing ways to charge them more quickly.
GM said it will launch other electric-vehicle test fleets in other non-cities outside the U.S. later this year.

Bloomberg Pushes Moderates in National Races -

Bloomberg Pushes Moderates in National Races -
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — In an election year when anger and mistrust have upended races across the country, toppling moderates and elevating white-hot partisans, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is trying to pull politics back to the middle, injecting himself into marquee contests and helping candidates fend off the Tea Party.
New York’s billionaire mayor, whose flurry of activity is stirring a new round of speculation about his presidential ambitions, is supporting Republicans, Democrats and independents who he says are not bound by rigid ideology and are capable of compromise, qualities he says he fears have become alarmingly rare in American politics.
Next month, Mr. Bloomberg will travel to California to campaign for Meg Whitman, the eBay entrepreneur and Republican running for governor on a platform of corporate-style accountability and fiscal prudence. He visited Rhode Island on Thursday to champion Lincoln D. Chafee, a Republican turned independent who is locked in a three-way battle for the governor’s office.
And, in perhaps the mayor’s most direct confrontation with a Tea Party candidacy, he will host a fund-raiser at his Manhattan town house for Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader facing an unexpectedly forceful challenge from Sharron E. Angle, a political neophyte backed by Sarah Palin.
In his first extensive interview with a newspaper in several years, Mr. Bloomberg outlined his plans, which will include raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for candidates and represent his greatest involvement in a national election since he entered public life a decade ago.
Mr. Bloomberg described the Tea Party movement as a fad, comparing it to the short-lived burst of support for Ross Perot in 1992. The mayor suggested that the fury it had unleashed was not a foundation for leadership.
“Look, people are angry,” he said. “Their anger is understandable. Washington isn’t working. Government seems to be paralyzed and unable to solve all of our problems.”
“Anger, however, is not a government strategy,” he said. “It’s not a way to govern.”
Mr. Bloomberg said he wanted to see more of the cooperation once displayed by Senators Orrin G. Hatch and Edward M. Kennedy.
He said that while he would not have voted for either of them (“one because he’s too liberal for me, one because he’s too conservative for me”), Mr. Bloomberg added, “These two guys who went into the Senate together and were the closest of personal friends for 40 years, they were everything that democracy says a senator should be.”
Bloomberg's strong support of the downtown Manhattan Islamic community center may be seen as part of his positioning himself in the center, attempting to syphon away moderate votes from Obama in 2012 and centrist voters turned off by the Republican parties recent pandering to right wing extremist and bigots.
John H. Armwood

Turmoil In France Largely Due To Economy : NPR

Turmoil In France Largely Due To Economy : NPR

France is in turmoil. The government is at loggerheads with the unions over raising the retirement age, the country seems to be in denial about the need for austerity measures, and President Nicolas Sarkozy's popularity rating has plummeted. Eleanor Beardsley joins guest host Robert Smith from Marseilles.

Poverty Rates In America

Friday, September 17, 2010

Couple Accused of Passing Nuclear Arms Secrets -

Couple Accused of Passing Nuclear Arms Secrets -
A physicist and his wife, who both once worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, were arrested Friday and charged with a criminal conspiracy to help Venezuela build an atom bomb.
The arrests of P. Leonardo Mascheroni and Marjorie Roxby Mascheroni and a 22-count indictment came after a sting operation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 2008 to 2009. A raid on the couple’s home in Los Alamos last October hauled away cameras, computers and hundreds of files.
“If I were a real spy,” Dr. Mascheroni told a reporter at the time, declaring his innocence, “I would have left the country a long time ago.”
After their arrests on Friday, the couple appeared in federal court in Albuquerque. They were charged with handing over secret weapons information to an F.B.I. agent posing as a Venezuelan spy. The government did not accuse the Venezuelan government, or anyone working for it, of seeking weapons secrets.
Venezuela has begun exploring for uranium, but its president, Hugo Chávez, has denied interest in developing nuclear arms.
The defendants, if convicted of all the charges, face potential life sentences in prison. Dr. Mascheroni worked for Los Alamos, the nuclear laboratory, from 1979 to 1988, and his wife from 1981 until the raid on their home last year.

John H. Armwood Weekly Newa Podcast Friday September 17, 2010

This podcast is for the week ending Friday September 17, 2010.  The Archive of my previous News Podcasts is found here

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Recession Raises Poverty Rate to a 15-Year High -

Recession Raises Poverty Rate to a 15-Year High -
The percentage of Americans struggling below the poverty line in 2009 was the highest it has been in 15 years, the Census Bureau reported Thursday, and interviews with poverty experts and aid groups said the increase appeared to be continuing this year.
With the country in its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, four million additional Americans found themselves in poverty in 2009, with the total reaching 44 million, or one in seven residents. Millions more were surviving only because of expanded unemployment insurance and other assistance.
And the numbers could have climbed higher: One way embattled Americans have gotten by is sharing homes with siblings, parents or even nonrelatives, sometimes resulting in overused couches and frayed nerves but holding down the rise in the national poverty rate, according to the report.
The share of residents in poverty climbed to 14.3 percent in 2009, the highest level recorded since 1994. The rise was steepest for children, with one in five affected, the bureau said.
The report provides the most detailed picture yet of the impact of the recession and unemployment on incomes, especially at the bottom of the scale. It also indicated that the temporary increases in aid provided in last year’s stimulus bill eased the burdens on millions of families.
For a single adult in 2009, the poverty line was $10,830 in pretax cash income; for a family of four, $22,050.
Given the depth of the recession, some economists had expected an even larger jump in the poor.
“A lot of people would have been worse off if they didn’t have someone to move in with,” said Timothy M. Smeeding, director of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Rangel Holds Early Lead -

Charles B. RangelImage via WikipediaRangel Holds Early Lead -
Representative Charles B. Rangel, the battle-scarred Democratic incumbent facing numerous ethics charges, captured his party’s nomination on Tuesday after a nasty six-way primary battle in which his opponents sharply questioned his fitness to serve.
The victory makes it virtually certain that Mr. Rangel, a legendary figure in city and state politics, will win the November general election in his overwhelmingly Democratic Congressional district in Upper Manhattan.
With 59 percent of the vote counted, Mr. Rangel had 53 percent, trailed by his chief rival, Adam Clayton Powell IV, with 25 percent.
Hours before the results were tallied, Mr. Rangel made an early appearance at 9:45 p.m. to address his supporters. In front of a modest yet enthusiastic crowd of around 200, Mr. Rangel was greeted by chants of, “Char-lie! Char-lie!”
Flanked by Robert M. Morgenthau, the former Manhattan district attorney, and John C. Liu, the New York City comptroller (whom Mr. Rangel first introduced as “John Choo” and then tried to correct himself by saying “Bob Liu”), Mr. Rangel hinted at his recent admonishment by the House ethics committee.
“Tonight we’re not celebrating but reaffirming the American process, which is the papers don’t elect the officials,” he said. “My heart is beating so fast right now not because of the terrible accusations and allegations, it beats fast from coming from a community where my friends and voters say, ‘Hey, we’ll make the decisions.’ ”
The last time Mr. Rangel faced a serious primary challenge was in 1994, when he defeated Mr. Powell, who was then a councilman, 61 percent to 33 percent. He has otherwise cruised to re-election.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Paladino Beats Lazio in New York Republican Primary for Governor -

Paladino Beats Lazio in New York Republican Primary for Governor -

Carl P. Paladino, a wealthy Buffalo businessman and political neophyte, won a stunning victory over his rival, former Representative Rick A. Lazio, in New York’s Republican gubernatorial primary on Tuesday night.

The victory for Mr. Paladino, whose agitating campaign strategy and attacks against Albany earned him a late surge in the polls, marked the second major triumph on Tuesday night for the Tea Party movement, which backed the businessman against Mr. Lazio, a dyed-in-the-wool Republican mainstay. And it underscored the deep divisions among the conservative electorate as the G.O.P. hopes to make inroads nationwide this fall.

In another sign of anti-establishment fervor, the state Senate majority leader, Pedro Espada Jr., who is facing civil corruption charges, conceded his race in the Bronx to a Democratic rival, Gustavo Rivera, who had been backed by unions, donors, and elected officials across the state.

Just months ago, Mr. Paladino appeared to be out of the race, banished from the Republican ballot by party leaders at their convention. But he began a grass-roots petition drive and started holding whipped-up rallies around the state, where his mixture of white-hot anger and blunt attacks on Albany gained traction. Far-right conservatives, deficit hawks, and New Yorkers who identified with the Tea Party rallied behind him, even as the state’s Republican leadership continued to dismiss his chances.
Another ignorant Republican bigot wins a Republican primary!

John H. Armwood

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Wrongfully deported American back home - U.S. news - Immigration: A Nation Divided -

Wrongfully deported American back home - U.S. news - Immigration: A Nation Divided -
A Texas-born U.S. citizen who was detained, questioned and deported to Matamoros, Mexico, in the middle of the night has been allowed to re-enter the United States, ending a nearly three-month ordeal.
Luis Alberto Delgado, 19, was carrying his American birth certificate, Social Security card and Texas ID when he was pulled over in a routine traffic stop on June 17, according to Houston immigration lawyer Isaias Torres, who represented him in his legal battle for repatriation.
A South Texas sheriff’s deputy who apparently believed the documents were not authentic handed Delgado over to U.S. border agents. After eight hours of questioning, Torres said, Delgado felt pressured to sign a document agreeing to voluntary removal from the country and waiving his right to a lawyer. The Border Patrol then drove Delgado to Matamoros and left him, he said.
He was finally able to return home over the weekend, Torres said.
This is an example of what the rising tide of American bigotry is doing.
John H. Armwood

What Happened To The Oil From The Gulf Oil Spill?

Insurgent Republican Wins in Delaware -

Insurgent Republican Wins in Delaware -
The Tea Party movement scored another victory on Tuesday, helping to propel a dissident Republican, Christine O’Donnell, to a stunning upset win over Representative Michael N. Castle in the race for the United States Senate nomination in Delaware.
Mr. Castle, a moderate Republican who served two terms as governor and has been reliably winning elections for the last four decades, became the latest establishment Republican casualty of the primary election season. Republican leaders said the victory by Ms. O’Donnell complicated the party’s chances of winning control of the Senate.
A fight for the Republican Senate nomination in New Hampshire also was underway, with the state’s former attorney general, Kelly Ayotte, who earned the endorsement of Ms. Palin, working fight back a strong challenge from Ovide Lamontagne, who called himself the most conservative candidate in the race.
The contests on Tuesday, which also included races in New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Rhode Island and Wisconsin, came at the end of a seven-month string of primaries. The results highlighted anxiety and unrest in every corner of the country, with seven incumbent members of Congress already having been defeated in their primary bids for re-election.

Justice Department Files Lawsuit Alleging Religious Discrimination Against the City of Walnut, California

Seal of the United States Department of JusticeImage via WikipediaJustice Department Files Lawsuit Alleging Religious Discrimination Against the City of Walnut, California
WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced today that it has filed a lawsuit against the city of Walnut, Calif., alleging that the city violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), when, in 2008, it denied a conditional use permit to the Chung Tai Zen Center so that it could build and operate a Buddhist house of worship at property it then owned in the city.
The lawsuit, filed today in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleges that until it denied the Zen Center’s application in January 2008, the city had not rejected any application for a conditional use permit to build, expand or operate a house of worship since at least 1980. The complaint further alleges that the city treated the Zen Center differently than similarly situated religious and non-religious facilities. For example, the complaint alleges that in August 2008, the city approved a conditional use permit for a Catholic church that, when completed, will be larger than the Zen Center’s proposed facility. The complaint also alleges that between 1998 and 2003, the city built a civic center complex two blocks from Zen Center’s former location in Walnut.
"Religious freedom is among our most cherished rights, and our nation’s laws prohibit cities and towns from discriminating based on religion when they make zoning decisions related to houses of worship," said Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division. "No faith should be singled out for inferior treatment when it seeks to build a house of worship in compliance with local zoning laws."
The government’s complaint seeks a court order declaring that the actions of the city with respect to the Zen Center violated RLUIPA and an injunction to prohibit the city from discriminating against the Zen Center and other religious entities and institutions that seek to operate in Walnut.
"Upholding the constitutional rights of all Americans is one of the most important objectives of the Department of Justice and this office," said André Birotte, U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California. "We are committed to combating religious discrimination and promoting religious liberty for all people, regardless of their faith or religious denomination. The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 is an important tool in protecting individuals and houses of worship from discriminatory and unduly burdensome zoning regulations."
RLUIPA, enacted in 2000, prohibits religious discrimination in land use and zoning decisions. Persons who believe that they been subjected to religious discrimination in land use or zoning may contact the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division at 1-800-896-7743. Additional information about the Justice Department’s efforts to combat religious discrimination may be found at
The complaint is an allegation of unlawful conduct. The allegations must be proven in federal court.

The rise of religious bigotry in America continues.

John H. Armwood

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Arizona Immigration Law Architects Turn Sights On 14th Amendment, Birthright Citizenship

Arizona Immigration Law Architects Turn Sights On 14th Amendment, Birthright Citizenship
Two of the legislative brains behind Arizona's controversial SB 1070 immigration law are now seeking to draft a bill that would cut down 14th Amendment protections, including perhaps the guarantee of birthright citizenship, provided to the children of illegal immigrants.
State Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, and Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, both sponsors of the state's recently passed strict immigration law, are spearheading a new effort to create legislation that, according to the Arizona Republic, "targets the children, possibly by adding notation on their state birth certificates that would identify them as children of illegal immigrants."
Though the final details have not been hammered out, and the Arizona Republic reports that any such bill would not be proposed until at least January, both Pearce and Kavanagh appear confident that the current dynamic of state and national politics makes it a promising time for the passage of such a measure.
If passed, however, the state of Arizona could be tempting additional lawsuits from the federal government, which has already mounted multiple legal challenges against SB 1070.
According to the Arizona Republic:
States have oversight over birth certificates and, to an extent, over who can receive state services, but citizenship is a federal issue. Creating different birth certificates, or giving different people different levels of access to state services based on information on birth certificates, would open the state to federal lawsuits. The lawsuits could argue that the state is pre-empting federal authority and violating federal laws that say all citizens are due equal protection.
But that might be exactly where the architects want their current plans to lead. According to Rep. Kavanagh, the ultimate goal of the legislation would be to get the Supreme Court to reconsider the current interpretation of the 14th Amendment, which allows for any child born in the United States to be given American citizenship.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

100 Years Of Mahler's 'Symphony Of A Thousand' : NPR

Dress rehearsal for the premiere of Mahler's 8...Image via Wikipedia100 Years Of Mahler's 'Symphony Of A Thousand' : NPR

I love this piece of music. 

John H. Armwood

Black Male Grad Rates: Despair, And A Ray Of Hope : NPR

Black Male Grad Rates: Despair, And A Ray Of Hope : NPR
In the past few weeks, more than 400,000 young black men entered American high schools as freshmen. Four years from now, fewer than half of them will get diplomas.
That's according to a new study from the Schott Foundation for Public Education. It found that only 47 percent of black male students entering high school in 2003 graduated in 2008. For white males, the graduation rate was 78 percent.
Not Necessarily Black And White
Detroit had one of the worst black male graduation rates for any city: 27 percent. But the graduation rate for young white men was even worse, at 19 percent.
Jackson says those number prove that a lack of resources affects everyone — not just one racial group.
"What makes it a race and ethnicity issue is that more black males are in poorly resourced schools and have less access to the types of resources needed to learn," Jackson says.
The Trend Can Be Reversed
There's hope in the story of New Jersey. In 2003, black male students there were graduating at a rate of 48 percent. Just five years later, that rate soared to 75 percent.
Jackson attributes New Jersey's turnaround to the changes made because of a court case, Abbott v. Burke. Parents sued, and a judge found the state spent less in schools with two-thirds African American enrollment. He ordered the state to spend the same across the board.
Jackson says the state decided to fund areas that education experts have shown to be effective, such as early childhood education and hiring high-quality teachers.
"And in there, we know there is a need for extended-day learning," Jackson says, "perhaps even year-round schooling for those who are behind to recover."

Nelson Mandela 'felt betrayed by Tony Blair over decision to join Iraq invasion' | World news | The Guardian

President Bill Clinton with Nelson Mandela, Ju...Image via WikipediaNelson Mandela 'felt betrayed by Tony Blair over decision to join Iraq invasion' | World news | The Guardian
Furious phone call to cabinet minister in protest at military action
Nelson Mandela felt so betrayed by Tony Blair's decision to join the US-led invasion of Iraq that he launched a fiery tirade against him in a phone call to a cabinet minister, it emerged today.
Peter Hain, a lifelong anti-apartheid campaigner who knows the ex-South African president well, said Mandela was "breathing fire" down the line in protest at the 2003 military action.
The trenchant criticisms were made in a formal call to the minister's office, not in a private capacity, and Blair was informed of what had been said, Hain added. The details are revealed in Hain's new biography of Mandela.
"He rang me up when I was a Cabinet minister in 2003, after the invasion," he told the Press Association. "He said: 'A big mistake, Peter, a very big mistake. It is wrong. Why is Tony doing this after all his support for Africa? This will cause huge damage internationally.'
"I had never heard Nelson Mandela so angry and frustrated. He clearly felt very, very strongly that the decision that the prime minister had taken – and that I as a member of the cabinet had been party to – was fundamentally wrong, and he told me it would destroy all the good things that Tony Blair and we, as a government, had done in progressive policy terms across the world."

British servicemen suspected of murdering Iraqi civilians | UK news | The Guardian

British servicemen suspected of murdering Iraqi civilians | UK news | The Guardian
Exclusive: Soldiers and airmen are suspected of killing significant number of civilians, but have not been put on trial
Ian Cobain, Sunday 12 September 2010 16.17 BST
Said Shabram, who drowned after British soldiers allegedly pushed him from a jetty into the Shatt al-Arab waterway near Basra.
British soldiers and airmen are suspected of being responsible for the murder and manslaughter of a number of Iraqi civilians in addition to the high-profile case of Baha Mousa, defence officials have admitted.
The victims include a man who was allegedly kicked to death on board an RAF helicopter, another who was shot by a soldier of the Black Watch after being involved in a traffic incident, and a 19-year-old who drowned after allegedly being pushed into a river by soldiers serving with the Royal Engineers.
Military police recommended that some of the alleged killers be put on trial for murder and manslaughter, but military prosecutors declined to do so after concluding that there was no realistic prospect of convictions. The Ministry of Defence and the Service Prosecuting Authority (SPA) have repeatedly declined to offer detailed explanations for those decisions. The MoD has also been reluctant to offer anything other than sketchy details of some of the investigations.
In the case of the man said to have been kicked to death aboard an RAF helicopter by troops of the RAF Regiment, the MoD has admitted that the allegation was investigated by RAF police, who decided not to conduct any postmortem examination of the body. After the case was referred to the RAF's most senior prosecutor, a decision was taken not to bring charges, apparently because the cause of death remained unknown. MoD officials are refusing to say whether any of the alleged killers were ever interviewed as part of the investigation. They did admit, however, that the British military has made no attempt to contact the man's family since his death.