"Am I therefore become your enemy,because I TELL YOU THE TRUTH...?"
(Galatians 4:16)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Israel Military Says Gaza Rocket Hits South

JERUSALEM-Israel's military says a rocket fired from Gaza in violation of an informal truce has struck an Israeli communal farm.The military says one car was set ablaze and several others were damaged by shrapnel.No injuries were reported.Israel unilaterally halted a blistering, three-week Gaza operation on Jan. 18.Hamas announced later that day that it would hold its fire.But the two sides have not agreed on a formal cease-fire.Egypt is trying to mediate such an agreement.Militants have sporadically fired rockets into Israel since declaring their cease-fire.They also killed one soldier in a border bombing attack.Israeli troops have killed three Palestinians in border shootings.Gaza officials have identified them as farmers.
As in the days of Noah...

Is Kyrgyz NATO base closure a done deal?

Russia Rattles Sabres in Obama's Direction

Russia may face a grim economic downturn but one would scarcely think so to judge by the sound of sabre-rattling emerging from the Kremlin. Unless, of course, it is intended as a domestic distraction from the gathering gloom.The double-act of Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin has come up with a series of security initiatives that seem designed to provoke, or at least irritate, the new administration in Washington.Without even waiting to hear how President Barack Obama intends to conduct his relations with Moscow-something that Joe Biden, his vice-president, may well address on Saturday at the annual Munich Security Conference-the Russian leaders have thrown down the gauntlet.First, they leaked details of naval and air bases to be established on the shores of the Black Sea in the breakaway Georgian province of Abkhazia,whose independence is recognised by Moscow alone. Then they signed an air defence treaty with the former Soviet republic of Belarus, apparently paving the way for an anti-missile defence system to counter one planned by the previous US administration across the border in Poland. Moscow appears to have persuaded the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan to oust the US from its air base at Manas, outside Bishkek, in exchange for $2bn (€1.6bn, £1.4bn) in loans, and $150m in financial aid.Russia and the former Soviet republics of Armenia,Belarus,Kazakhstan,Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – the so-called Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) – have agreed to form a “rapid reaction force” which is intended to be just as good as the equivalent force operated by the Nato alliance, according to President Medvedev.Outside analysts are sceptical whether any of these moves amounts to a particularly effective military gesture but they are certainly intended to suggest that Russia is not rushing to embrace the new US administration.The air defence deal with Belarus is on a par with Mr Medvedev’s announcement, on the day Mr Obama was elected, that Russian Iskander missiles would be sited in the Kaliningrad enclave to counter the US missile defence system. It appears to negate a subsequent conciliatory gesture from Moscow, saying those missiles would not be deployed if the US also held back.As for the Abkhaz naval base, it may be intended as an insurance policy for the day when, or if, Russia is forced to vacate the existing base for its Black Sea fleet at Sevastopol in the Crimea, which is leased from Ukraine until 2017.Oksana Antonenko, senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London,believes all the actions are part of a pattern,intended to provoke a US reaction, and give Russia more bargaining chips in negotiating a new relationship with Washington.“In Russia there has never been any euphoria about Obama as there has been in the rest of Europe,”she says.“Russia is still very mistrustful of the US, and Putin profoundly so.“But there is an overwhelming view in Moscow now that the Americans are in decline and will be forced to negotiate with Russia from a position of weakness.They seem to expect all the concessions to come from Obama.It is very unrealistic.” The response from Washington has been muted. Russia is simply not a high priority for the new president. Western analysts believe Russia’s production of Iskander missiles is not enough to base any significant numbers in Belarus as well as on its southern borders. As for the rapid reaction force, it is regarded with wry amusement in Brussels. None of Russia’s would-be allies wants to be used as a pawn in some muscle-flexing contest with Washington. Even Abkhazia is unhappy about becoming a vast military base for its neighbour.So perhaps the entire operation is for domestic purposes. That way it might at least make sense.
By Quentin Peel

As in the days of Noah...

Ecuador's president orders U.S. official to leave...

QUITO-Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa ordered a U.S. Embassy official expelled on Saturday after accusing him of interfering in the country's affairs, a move that will test ties with Washington. Correa, a leftist, has generally kept good relations with the United States as his socialist allies in Bolivia and Venezuela often clash with Washington over what they say is U.S. "imperialism" in Latin America."Foreign minister, give this gentleman 48 hours to pack up his suitcases and get out of the country," Correa said during his weekly media address. "We're not going to let anyone treat us as if we were a colony here."A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Quito said the official already left Ecuador last month as part of a regular staff rotation."We hope to continue cooperation with Ecuador," spokeswoman Marta Youth said. She did not comment on Correa's charges.Correa said U.S. official Armando Astorga had abruptly ended a financing agreement with local police after authorities rejected his attempts to handpick officers he wanted to manage the U.S. aid projects."Mr. Astorga, keep your dirty money. We don't need it. We have dignity in this country," Correa said."Ecuador doesn't need charity from anyone. "The United States is Ecuador's main trading partner and the destination for much of its petroleum and banana exports.Correa, a U.S.-trained economist who faces re-election in April, has bolstered his strong popularity in the past by taking a tough stance against what he deems to be interference from neighboring governments or multinational companies.There has been tension with Washington since Correa vowed not to renew a lease ending this year on a coastal air base used by U.S. forces for counter-narcotics missions.Correa said on Saturday he would allow U.S. Coast Guard planes to land there if needed, but only if Ecuador was allowed to approve of the pilots. The former college professor is known for his quick temper, ejecting a journalist from a live interview and ordering the arrests of people he charged had hurled insults or made offensive gestures at his presidential motorcade. Correa has been tough on foreign companies by repeatedly threatening to expel them over contractual disagreements or legal disputes. Last year, he kicked out Brazilian building firm Odebrecht and sent troops to seize its projects in Ecuador.Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a standard-bearer for anti-U.S. sentiment, last year expelled the U.S. ambassador to Caracas and Bolivian President Evo Morales kicked out the U.S. envoy in September after accusing him of fanning civil unrest.
(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Alonso Soto; Editing by John O'Callaghan)
As in the days of Noah...

Biden to Iran:"United States Will Talk,but Is Ready to Act"

MUNICH-Vice President Biden delivered a clear message to Iran, saying Saturday the U.S. was willing to talk, but will act to isolate and pressure Tehran if it does not abandon its nuclear ambitions and support for terrorism.In a sweeping speech to international leaders and security experts here, Biden said the U.S. will strive to act preventively to avoid having to choose between the risks of war and the dangers of inaction.But he held out the option that the U.S. could take pre-emptive action against Iran if necessary to stop crisis before they start. The U.S., he said, will "continue to develop missile defenses to counter a growing Iranian capability, provided the technology is proven and it is cost effective."At the same time, he said that if Tehran gives up its nuclear program and stops backing terrorists, there will be meaningful incentives."We will draw upon all the elements of our power-military and diplomatic, intelligence and law enforcement, economic and cultural-to stop crises from occurring before they are in front of us," Biden told the gathering in his 25 minute address.During much of the morning Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani was in the room, but it was unclear if he was there as Biden spoke. There is no indication yet that the two men will meet during the conference.Biden's speech laid out for the first time to an international audience the Obama administration's foreign policy tenets, and emphasized diplomacy and cooperation. He also warned allies that they will be expected to share the burdens of fighting extremists and bolstering weaker governments and poor nations."America will do more, that's the good news," said Biden. "But the bad news is American will ask for more from our partners."While President Barack Obama has said the U.S. is ready for direct talks with Iran, Biden's comments made it clear the U.S. is not willing to completely discard the stick, despite early warnings from Tehran. His comments came a day after Larijani sternly declared that the Obama administration must admit past wrongs before there can be reconciliation."The old carrot and stick policy must be discarded," he said, alluding to Western threats and offers of rewards to coax Iran to give up nuclear activities the West views as threatening. "This is a golden opportunity for the United States."Tehran insists its nuclear aims are peaceful. The former U.S. administration refused one-on-one negotiations with Tehran on the issue unless it made significant nuclear concessions beforehand.Reaching out to close another rift, Biden said it's time to repair relations between the U.S. and Russia.He said NATO and Russia should cooperate to defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda. But he warned that the U.S. will continue to have differences with Moscow, including opposition to its efforts to carve out independent states in Georgia.Biden's comments come just days after Kyrgyzstan announced it will shut down American access to the Manas air base, which the U.S. uses to resupply troops in Afghanistan.The decision came when Kyrgyzstan's president was visiting Moscow, hours after securing more than $2 billion in loans and aid from Russia.As part of his effort to spread responsibility, Biden told the leaders that the U.S. needs their help in taking the detainees now held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.He repeated Obama's vow that the U.S. will adhere to its values, not torture, and will close the detention center that has spurred such criticism from European allies.But he added that allies must work together to combat extremism, and one way other nations can help is to take responsibility for some of the suspected terrorists at Guantanamo.
As in the days of Noah..

Iran:"Sanctions Haven't Deterred Nuclear Program"

TEHRAN,Iran-Iran has achieved breakthroughs in nuclear and space technology despite international sanctions against it, the country's top leader said Saturday.Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told military commanders that instead of weakening Iran, sanctions by the U.S., the U.N. and others have forced it to become more self-reliant, leading to greater strides by Iranian scientists and to technological advancements unseen in the country's history.Iranian leaders often boast of technological advancements as they seek to assure their people that sanctions and isolation have not hurt the country, even as unemployment and inflation increase.Most recently, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced on Tuesday the launch of Iran's first domestically produced satellite. He faces a tough re-election battle this year, not least because of the economic woes brought on by falling oil prices and sanctions.The United States imposed sanctions against Iran soon after its 1979 Islamic revolution, which toppled the U.S.-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and brought hard-line clerics to power. The sanctions banned the export of any dual-use technology, including nuclear, space and missile equipment. Over the years, Washington has tightened sanctions against any investment in Iran.Since 2006, Iran has also been under U.N. Security Council sanctions, applied to its nuclear and missile industries, for refusing to halt uranium enrichment, a technology that can be used to produce fuel for nuclear power plants or the material for atomic bombs.The United States and some of its allies have accused Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons. Iran has denied the charge, saying its nuclear program is geared towards generating electricity, not weapons production.Iran says it has achieved proficiency in the entire nuclear fuel cycle-from extracting uranium ore to enriching it-and says it has 5,000 centrifuges operating in its Natanz uranium enrichment plant in central Iran.On Monday night, Iran sent its first domestically made satellite-called the Omid, or hope in Farsi-into orbit using an Iranian-built satellite-carrier rocket. Analysts described it as a key step for an ambitious space program that worries the U.S. and other world powers because the same rocket technology used to launch satellites can also deliver warheads."It was from the depth of various kinds of sanctions imposed on Iran for years that the Omid satellite came into existence and was sent into orbit," state television quoted Khamenei as saying."And it was out of all restrictions imposed against the Iranian nation that (Iran) achieved uranium enrichment technology, which is in the hands of few powerful countries," Khamenei was quoted by the television as saying.Among Iran's other scientific boasts, it says it cloned a sheep in 2006.Iran has also built small passenger planes, though it lacks spare parts for its fleet of bigger U.S.- and European-made commercial aircraft. It also exports luxury cars.Iranian political analyst Saeed Leylaz said Iran's defense industry has also made strides despite international sanctions.Prior to the revolution, "Iran was a net importer of weapons," Leylaz said. "Sanctions forced Iran to produce its defense requirements domestically. Now, it's even an exporter of weapons."In July 2003, the Revolutionary Guards were equipped with the Shahab, or Shooting Star, a medium-range missile that can carry a nuclear warhead and reach Israel and various U.S. military bases in the region. Since then, it has tested several missiles with a range of 1,240 miles.Iran says it has developed solid fuel technology in producing missiles, a major breakthrough that increases accuracy.
As in the days of Noah....

Biden Seeks to Mend Fences on European Visit

Speaking at an international security conference in Germany, Vice President Joe Biden repeated President Barack Obama's vow that the U.S. will adhere to its values and not torture, and will close the detention center...

Iran: USA must rethink policies for reconciliation...

MUNICH-Iran sternly dismissed decades of U.S. policies targeting Tehran and declared Friday that the new American administration had to admit past wrongs before it could hope for reconciliation. The comments by Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani at an international security conference in Munich appeared to be the most detailed outline yet of Tehran's expectations from President Barack Obama's administration. "The old carrot and stick policy must be discarded," he said, alluding to Western threats and offers of rewards to coax Iran to give up nuclear activities the West views as threatening. "This is a golden opportunity for the United States."Obama has said the U.S. is ready for direct talks with Iran in efforts to overcome concerns that its nuclear program could be used to develop atomic weapons. Tehran denies that and insists its aims are peaceful. The former U.S. administration refused one-on-one negotiations with Tehran on the issue unless it made significant nuclear concessions beforehand.There was no immediate U.S. reaction to Larijani's comments...
By GEORGE JAHN and DAVID RISING--Associated Press Writers
As in the days of Noah...

Obama Talks Up Stimulus in Weekly Address

Obama Holds Emotional Meeting With Families of USS Cole Victims on Gitmo Policy

WASHINGTON-President Barack Obama held an emotional meeting Friday with relatives of victims of the bombing of the USS Cole and the Sept. 11 attacks who are still waiting for justice to be served years after the deadly acts of terrorism. Obama promised the roughly 40 family members who attended that the meeting would be the first of many.Some of the victims' relatives said they welcomed Obama's gesture.Still, they aren't entirely convinced that his decision to close the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, facility, where terrorism suspects are being detained, and halt legal action on their cases is the right thing to do.Obama has expressed concerns about the fact that detainees have been held for years without trial. He has signed an executive order to close the facility within a year while the administration reviews other options for seeing that the detainees get their day in court. Retired Navy Cmdr. Kirk S. Lippold, commanding officer of the Cole at the time of the Oct. 12, 2000, bombing,said he was disappointed when he first learned of the decision and remained skeptical.He also faulted Obama for not consulting the families ahead of time."In principle, his reason for closing it may be good," Lippold, a defense adviser to Military Families United, told reporters after the hourlong meeting.Lippold said Obama's stance is "well-intentioned, but the problem I have remains that we still don't have any procedures" for what will become of the terror suspects after the detention center is closed.Lippold was commander of the USS Cole when al-Qaida suicide bombers struck as it sat in a port in Yemen, killing 17 U.S. sailors.The White House said Obama made clear at the meeting, held next door at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, that his most important responsibility is keeping the American people safe.He also explained why he thinks closing the Guantanamo facility will make the country safer and "help ensure that those who are guilty receive swift and certain justice within a legal framework that is durable, and that helps America fight terrorism more effectively around the world."The meeting took place a day after a senior Pentagon judge dropped charges against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, an al-Qaida suspect held at Guantanamo and accused of masterminding the USS Cole bombing. New charges against al-Nashiri could be brought later, and he will remain in custody for the time being.A legal move late Thursday by Susan J. Crawford, the top legal authority for military trials at Guantanamo, marked the last active war crimes case there.The Obama administration is reviewing the system to make sure the 245 suspects remaining there are given international and U.S. legal rights.That review largely will determine whether the terror suspects should be tried in U.S. courts or released to other countries.The White House said the meeting was the first the USS Cole victims have had with a president.Lippold said the meeting was very emotional, and that the discussion largely focused on how to deal with the detainees, the impact of the decision on trials and what it would mean to the U.S. image abroad.He said he expected the families would be asked for input after the 120-day review period."I'm looking forward to working with them as we have never had an opportunity as families to help shape policy when it comes to keeping our nation safe," Lippold said.John Clodfelter, an Air Force veteran who lost his son, Kenneth, on the USS Cole, said he went into the meeting with a negative attitude."I didn't vote for the man," he said, still emotional hours after the meeting."But...the way he conducts himself, the way he talks, you can't help but believe him."Clodfelter also expressed frustration with the lack of a trial for al-Nashiri eight years after the attack."We should have already had this man tried and executed if that's what the case is," he said. "I can't imagine an American that's in one of our prisons for eight years without anything being done for him."Sally Regenhard, who lost her son, Christian, during the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on New York's World Trade Center, said the families had a good experience with Obama."He said that he's going to make sure that justice is done regarding the terrorists," she said in a telephone interview. "And we'll have an open line of communication with the White House regarding the family members. That's revolutionary.""He assured us that he wants the same things that we want," Regenhard added.

As in the days of Noah...

Obama Puts Brakes on Afghan Surge

President Obama has demanded that defense chiefs review their strategy in Afghanistan before going ahead with a troop surge, the Sunday Times reported.There is concern among senior Democrats that the military is preparing to send up to 30,000 extra troops without a coherent plan or exit strategy. The Pentagon was set to announce the deployment of 17,000 extra soldiers and marines last week but Defense Secretary Robert Gates postponed the decision after questions from Obama.The president was concerned by a lack of strategy at his first meeting with Gates and the U.S. joint chiefs of staff last month in "the tank," the secure conference room in the Pentagon.He asked:"What's the endgame?" and did not receive a convincing answer.Obama promised an extra 7,000-10,000 troops during the election campaign but the military has inflated its demands.Leading Democrats fear Afghanistan could become Obama's "Vietnam quagmire."
Click here to read the full story from the Sunday Times.
As in the days of Noah...


Congress Is Divided Over Competing Stimulus Bills

Specter: Stimulus deal 'best we can do'

Obama thanks Collins, Snowe, Specter for 'patriotism'

As in the days of Noah....

New 'Fairness Doctrine' seen as threat to Christian radio:Would Gospel need to be 'balanced' with Islamic, atheist programming?

WASHINGTON-As the National Religious Broadcasters convened today in Nashville, an ominous shroud cast by political chatter about the reimposition of the so-called "Fairness Doctrine" in the nation's capital hung over the gathering.NRB President Frank Wright(picture left) said he sees the move as a credible threat under a Democrat-dominated Congress and with President Obama in the White House."And we have a personal concern," Wright told Broadcasting & Cable."The only radio station that ever lost its license under the fairness doctrine regime was a Christian radio station in Red Lion, Pa. We are only responding now to the statements the Democrats themselves are making." Representing 1,400 organizations, including large ministries and TV and radio stations, NRB said it is "girding itself for a major battle over broadcasting freedoms," and was prepared to go to court, lobby Congress, or take its message to the public."We have talked before about many of these issues, but now, with the shift in the political landscape, I think these same things have a much higher probability of being enacted or at least having legislation and hearings and debates, and on the regulation side at the FCC," said Wright.He said the new political climate doesn't just threaten broadcasters, but even churches that have no broadcast outlet."The fairness doctrine has a tremendous potential for constraining free speech, but hate crimes (legislation) has the potential of criminalizing it," he said."In the short run, the fairness doctrine has the immediate threat of being applied to Christian broadcasters and to the church in a very deleterious way. Hate crimes legislation, if that is enacted, will evolve over time and bleed over into speech and have a negative effect, but not right away. The fairness doctrine will have a negative impact the day it is implemented."He said he expects religious broadcasters, largely Christian, to be particularly hard hit because of the doctrine's requirement for so-called "balance." If an opposing view must be found for every matter of controversy, Christian broadcasters could find themselves in the unenviable and untenable position of seeking out other religious viewpoints – Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist or atheist – to counter what ministers of the Gospel say on the air."I have had a number of conversations with NRB members who operated under the old 'Fairness Doctrine' regime," he said. "What happens is there is a chilling of free speech because the license-holder tends to take off the air the programmer whose content is deemed to be controversial."This weekend's meeting will offer up ideas about fighting back the prospects of government-controlled speech on the airwaves."I don't want to tip our hands on strategy except to say that if the approach taken by the administration is an FCC approach, we believe we can bring enough pressure to bear on the commission at the point of enactment to bring enough heat to get them to see the light, so to speak," he said. "I don't think we can stop it in the House or Senate."Just last week another Democratic U.S. senator went on record as supporting the reinstatement of the so-called "Fairness Doctrine," adding, "I feel like that's gonna happen..."
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As in the days of Noah...

Obama's Stimulus to Ban Religious Worship:'This isn't like a convenient oversight,this is intentional'

President Obama's proposed economic stimulus plan makes a deliberate-and unconstitutional-attempt to censor religious speech and worship on school campuses across the nation, according to a lawyer who argued related cases before the U.S. Supreme Court 20 years ago and won them all."This isn't like a convenient oversight.This is intentional.This legislation pokes its finger in the eyes of people who hold religious beliefs," Jay Sekulow, chief of the American Center for Law and Justice, told WND today.His was the organization that decades ago argued on behalf of speech freedom on school campuses, winning repeatedly at the U.S. Supreme Court. Since then, the 2001 Good News Club v. Milford Central School District decision was added, clarifying that restricting religious speech within the context of public shared-use facilities is unconstitutional.The problem in the proposed stimulus bill comes from a provision that states: "PROHIBITED USES OF FUNDS.-No funds awarded under this section may be used for-(C) modernization, renovation, or repair of facilities - (i) used for sectarian instruction, religious worship, or a school or department of divinity; or (ii) in which a substantial portion of the functions of the facilities are subsumed in a religious mission."The wording that specifically targets religious speech already has been approved by the majority Democrats in the U.S. House-all GOP members opposed it. In the Senate, Jim DeMint, R-S.C., proposed an amendment to eliminate it, but again majority Democrats decided to keep the provision targeting religious instruction and activities. Critics argued schools would accept any money offered, then impose a ban on religious events.DeMint warned organizations such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Campus Crusade for Christ, Catholic Student Ministries, Hillel and other religious groups would face new bans on access to public facilities that would not apply to other organizations."This is a direct attack on students of faith, and I'm outraged Democrats are using an economic stimulus bill to promote discrimination," DeMint said. "Democrats should be ashamed of themselves for siding with the ACLU over millions of students of faith."DeMint's comments have been posted online and also are embedded here:

"These students simply want equal access to public facilities, which is their constitutional right. This hostility toward religion must end. Those who voted to for this discrimination are standing in the schoolhouse door to deny people of faith from entering any campus building renovated by this bill," said DeMint.The senator said the stimulus bill now becomes an "ACLU stimulus" that has the goal of triggering lawsuits "designed to intimidate religious organizations across the nation.""This language is so vague, it's not clear if students can even pray in a dorm room renovated with this funding since that is a form of 'religious worship.' If this provision remains in the bill, it will have a chilling effect on students of faith in America," he said.DeMint cited Obama's statement at the National Prayer Breakfast this week that faith "can promote a greater good for all of us.""This provision is an assault against both. It's un-American and it's unconstitutional. Intolerant and it's intolerable," DeMint said.The ban on religious organizations is linked to the $3.5 billion intended for "renovation of public or private college and university facilities."The ACLJ, which focuses on constitutional law, said the provision "has nothing to do with economic stimulus and everything to do with religious discrimination.""The thing is I litigated these cases on these exact issues 20 years ago," Sekulow told WND. "Not only did we win, two of the decisions were unanimous and the other was 8-1."We're seeing a rollback to the 1970s regarding church-state relations," he said. "That's what is troubling. It is a complete rollback that now institutionalizes discrimination through targeting religion."Sekulow said he already is drafting a complaint that will challenge the constitutionality of the provision, to be used if it isn't removed.He said under current court precedents, it will be a open-and-shut victory.However, he also warned that the problem is the damage that can be done within the probable four years it would take to get the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court and what that court would look like at that point.Under Obama, he said, "there will be an ideology shift." New appointments to the bench by Obama, he said, would be "much more left of where Justices (Ruth Bader) Ginsburg and (Stephen) Breyer are." On an online forums page, readers were incensed.
--"Here comes the assault against Christian churches … Looks like he's trying to see how much damage he can do in the briefest period of time."
--"Obama is the most dangerous man of our times, period. He will seek to overturn everything our nation was built upon, personal freedom, capitalism, even the rock of faith. And he will seek to do it from within, openly, overtly and boldly. Will Christians now respond to this dangerous man in a strong, unified way? Or will Obama succeed in destroying the
fabric of the greatest nation in human history?".
--"He's just following the Saul Alinsky rule (in his book, Rules for Radicals) to 'clothe everything you do in morality' because this is what most effectively fools the 'middle class' into agreeing with what you want to do."
By Bob Unruh

Obama Hits the Road to Promote Stimulus

Battle Brews Over 2010 Census

A political battle has erupted over next year's census with Republican lawmakers protesting President Obama's decision to take a bigger role in supervising the process.The Census Bureau director, who reports to the commerce secretary, now also will keep the White House directly in the loop.The White House says it is following a historical precedent and that this simply shows that the census is a priority for the president. But Republicans say it looks like a political power grab."The United States census should remain independent of politics," House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said. "It should not be directed by political operatives working out of the White House.""I'm very concerned," Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., told FOX News. "The Census Bureau has worked for decades to get rid of the cronyism and the partisan politics that had permeated that agency."And they have done it by bringing professionalism to the agency and making certain that individuals that came there went through a very thorough process. Anytime there is an administration that will tamper with that, this is a concern to anyone."Blackburn, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, says the committee will hold hearings to investigate the change.The census count is supposed to be a non-partisan process. But it also helps to determine how congressional lines are drawn. And it shows the demographic changes of the nation of the past 10 years, which could shift billions of dollars in federal funding for things like schools and roads and job training.Some Republicans suspect this could be a move by the White House to gerrymander those political boundaries so they benefit Democratic candidates. The move comes after some advocates worried that Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., Obama's nominee for commerce secretary, wouldn't push hard for a count of Hispanics and other minorities in the census.Boehner said the White House oversight "appears to be motivated by politics" because Gregg has been picked by Obama to take over the Commerce Department.But Obama officials insist they're simply returning to the model used under President Clinton."I think the historical precedent of this is there's a director of the census that works for the secretary of commerce, the president and also works closely with the White House to ensure a timely and accurate count," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.The Clinton and Bush administrations had different ways of dealing with the census. The Clinton administration placed a panel of experts at the Census Bureau in charge of adjusting data for people the census missed or double-counted. Clinton officials said it would insulate the decision from political pressure.The Bush administration changed those regulations before that panel ruled on the 2000 results, leaving it up to the commerce secretary to oversee the bureau's work.
FOX News' Caroline Shively contributed to this report.
As in the days of Noah....

Feb. 6: Wall Street Shrugs Off Jan. Job Losses

Deal Announced on Stimulus; Weekend Vote Likely

With job losses soaring nationwide, Senate Democrats reached agreement with a small group of Republicans on an economic stimulus measure at the heart of President Obama's plan for combatting the worst recession in decades...

Act fast on stimulus,Obama urges lawmakers:Senate to vote Tuesday, but then negotiations with House begin

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., talks Friday at the Capitol about the compromise stimulus proposal, joined by Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
WASHINGTON-With a successful Senate vote on his economic stimulus bill in sight, President Barack Obama warned on Saturday that quick action was needed to avoid catastrophe and blamed Republican policies for pushing the country into crisis.In a deal aimed at recruiting a few Republicans, Senate Democrats agreed late on Friday to trim spending proposals and support tax cuts in a $827 billion bill that was to go to a vote on Tuesday.They rolled back an earlier $937 billion proposal by culling what critics, mostly Republicans, called billions of dollars in unwarranted spending. Senators continued debating the proposal at a special session Saturday.
Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives, predicted Obama would have a finished product to sign by mid-February.Obama praised the group of moderate senators from both political parties for coming up with the deal."Democrats and Republicans came together in the Senate and responded appropriately to the urgency this moment demands," he said Saturday in his weekly radio address."In the midst of our greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, the American people were hoping that Congress would begin to confront the great challenges we face. That was, after all, what last November's election was all about."Obama poured scorn on Republican critics who said the stimulus bill lacked enough tax cutting measures and pointed his finger at the polices of his Republican predecessor George W. Bush."We can't expect relief from the tired old theories that, in eight short years, doubled the national debt, threw our economy into a tailspin, and led us into this mess in the first place," Obama said."We can't rely on a losing formula that offers only tax cuts as the answer to all our problems while ignoring our fundamental economic challenges."
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GOP's Steele Attacks Dems on Stimulus Plan

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele uses the party's weekly radio address to criticize Democrats and the president's stimulus plan, saying lots of money in it is going to the wrong place...

Obama Urges Passage of Economic Bill to Save Jobs

WASHINGTON-With the Senate moving toward a tenuous compromise on the White House's economic stimulus plan, President Obama hammered at the urgent need to pass a bill that will jump-start the struggling economy and put people back to work."Americans across this country are struggling, and they are watching to see if we're equal to the task before us. Let's show them that we are. And let's do whatever it takes to keep the promise of America alive in our time," Obama said Saturday in his weekly radio and Internet address.Obama made an aggressive push for House and Senate lawmakers to work quickly to resolve their differences in an economic bill whose pricetag has swung from $720 billion upward toward a trillion dollars.The new president had hoped to sign economic legislation on his first day in office, but instead has spent his first three weeks in office wrangling with a reluctant Congress-including fellow Democrats-to heed his leadership.Obama inched closer to a completed economic bill, as lawmakers sought to put their own stamp on the legislation.The House-without a single Republican vote-passed an $819 billion bill that gave many moderates pause for its size and scope.Senate leaders went to work paring down that bill, working late into Friday to produce a $780 billion version. A vote on the measure could come as soon as Monday.Most Republicans still looked at the bill skeptically, with only two publicly signing onto the proposal.Sen. John McCain, Obama's Republican opponent in last November's election, mocked the bill and said lawmakers could call it many things, "but 'bipartisan' is not one of them."Obama and his advisers have grown more assertive in recent days, reminding Democrats that voters gave them the White House, the House and the Senate to bring change, not partisan gamesmanship."In the midst of our greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, the American people were hoping that Congress would begin to confront the great challenges we face," Obama said in the address, released before he made his first trip to Camp David, the presidential retreat in the Maryland mountains."That was, after all, what last November's election was all about."Republicans characterized Obama's rhetoric as arrogant."Democrats have controlled both branches of government for less than a month. And you have to wonder if all that power has gone to their heads," Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said in the GOP's weekly address. "For the last two weeks, they've been trying to force a massive spending bill through Congress under the guise of economic relief."...
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MSNBC's Matthews to Obama:"Explain Stimulus"

Chris Matthews is rooting for Barack Obama to get his so-called stimulus package passed so much he offered him advice on how to sell it, on Thursday night's Hardball, and cautioned him if he doesn't succeed in that sales job he'll "let us down." Matthews advised:"He has to explain how the stimulus package works. If he doesn't do it tonight, he's gotta do it Monday night on television-that press conference. He's got to explain to us how spending almost a billion dollars is gonna turn the economic engine of this country on. And how it's gonna create millions of new jobs. He better show us, or he'll let us down."[This item, by the MRC's Geoffrey Dickens, was posted Thursday evening on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]Matthews, the former Jimmy Carter speechwriter,{{{SIGH....}}}} offered the following piece of advice to Obama on the February 5 edition of Hardball:"Here's my belief. I think Presidents have to be clear, they have to make people understand exactly what they're doing. Like when the guy comes to fix something in your house.He has to tell you what he's doing or she's doing.It works that way. You want to know what they're doing down in the basement.You don't just want things to work. You want to know what they're doing in that car.When they give you the bill you want them to tell you what they fixed in the car.Function!He has to explain how the stimulus package works.If he doesn't do it tonight, he's gotta do it Monday night on television-that press conference. He's got to explain to us how spending almost a billion dollars is gonna turn the economic engine of this country on. And how it's gonna create millions of new jobs. He better show us, or he'll let us down."

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Lawmakers Scrambling for Finish Line on Massive Stimulus Bill

It wasn't pretty-a White House spokesman likened it to sausage making-but all the public debate and backroom negotiations among lawmakers has led to an expected vote on the economic stimulus bill Monday.But the process isn't over yet.Even though Democrats control the Senate with a 58-vote majority bolstered by the elections, they still need 60 votes to shut down debate from Republicans and advance the bill to a final vote on Tuesday, as President Obama is urging them to do. And even if the Senate passes the bill, the Senate and House negotiators will have to work out differences between the bills approved by the two bodies.Officials put the cost of the Senate package at $827 billion, which combines massive spending, tax cuts and incentives that both the administration and the majority in Congress hope will stimulate the economy into recovery.Critics have mockingly referred to the plan as a "spendulus" bill, saying it spends too much money on programs that won't stimulate the economy.The bill includes the president's tax cut of up to $1,000 for working couples-even if they earn too little to pay income taxes, though the White House has noted that low-income families also pay withholding taxes for Social Security and Medicare. Also included in the Senate bill are tax breaks for homebuyers and people buying new cars. Much of the new spending would be for victims of the recession, in the form of unemployment compensation, health care and food stamps.After the final vote, lawmakers from both chambers will try to reconcile the two versions of the bills for a final package to be sent to the president."As a result of the Senate action, we are closer to moving to a conference committee that will finalize legislation President Obama will sign," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a written statement Friday night. "Despite differences between the House and Senate versions, Congress is committed to sending the president legislation to create or save over 3 million jobs and begin to put our country back on the road to recovery."But it may not be that simple....
FOX News' Trish Turner and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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McCain blasts Obama

Sen. John McCain took his most direct shot at President Barack Obama since the presidential campaign on Friday morning, using a Senate floor speech to criticize the president for mocking the Republican concerns over the massive economic stimulus package.In a fiery speech Thursday night before House Democrats, Obama rejected the GOP’s characterization that the stimulus package was merely another spending bill. “What do you think a stimulus is? That’s the whole point.No, seriously, that’s the point,”Obama said at the retreat in Williamsburg, Va. On Friday morning, McCain fought back.“The whole point, Mr. President, is to enact tax cuts and spending measures that truly stimulate the economy,”McCain said. “There are billions and tens of billions of dollars in this bill which will have no effect within three,four,five or more years,or ever.Or ever.” The back and forth is more reminiscent of the sharp attacks the two men exchanged on the campaign trail rather than Obama’s hope of moving past partisanship in Washington.And it comes as McCain has positioned himself to becoming a leading opponent of the Senate Democratic plan, which may cost more than $920 billion if major cuts are not made. McCain’s criticism comes after a significant period of d├ętente between the two campaign rivals and a direct effort by Obama to woo McCain and get him involved in policy negotiations. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), still a strong surrogate for McCain, told Politico that he believed Obama was "AWOL" on bipartisan negotiations on the stimulus, further showing the discontent on the GOP side of the aisle.Obama and Democratic leaders say the GOP is pinpointing a handful of smaller items in the bill to undermine a large package designed to stimulate consumer spending and create jobs through an array of programs, including new infrastructure projects. “Here’s the point I’m making. This package is not going to be absolutely perfect, and you can nit and you can pick,” Obama said Thursday. “That’s the game we all play here. What I’m saying is we can’t afford to play that game. We’ve got to pull together.” But McCain targeted an array of programs that he said were not needed in an emergency economic recovery package. “$50 million in funding for the National Endowment for the Arts-all of us are for the arts,” McCain said. “Tell me how that creates any significant number of jobs? After-school snack program is probably a good idea. Do we really want to spend $726 million on it?”With Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) recovering from brain cancer and the Minnesota Senate race still unresolved, Democrats have 57 seats and need to keep their caucus unified while pulling support from three GOP senators to pass the bill as soon as Friday evening. McCain rejected that strategy and said Democrats should not call the measure “bipartisan” if only a handful of Republicans support it. “You can call it an agreement, but you cannot call it a bipartisan agreement,” McCain said....
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In Stimulus Debate,Obama Drifts Into Campaign Mode

President Obama is facing growing questions about his tone and the effectiveness of his leadership after he spent Thursday night mocking his political rivals and accusing them of playing games with the economic stimulus.In an off-the-cuff moment during his speech to House Democrats at a retreat in Virginia, the president ribbed Republicans, including former rival John McCain, who call the recovery package a "spending bill.""So then you get the argument, 'well, this is not a stimulus bill, this is a spending bill.' What do you think a stimulus is? That's the whole point," Obama said to laughter.Conservatives are complaining that while Obama held a set of good-faith bipartisan meetings with congressional leaders in January, now he's reverted to campaign mode in a bid to muscle the more than $900 billion package through Congress.Obama said Friday it is "inexcusable and irresponsible" to delay passage of the recovery plan."He reduced himself from being president of all the American people to being the partisan leader of the left," former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich said of Obama's Thursday night speech. "The first month of your presidency is not a very good time to give a campaign speech."Senate Democratic leaders are scrambling to pick off the bare minimum of votes needed to pull the contentious spending package across the finish line. Republicans and some Democrats are still concerned about the size of the more than $900 billion package and want to pare it down considerably, though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wants a vote by late Friday afternoon.Obama, who cultivated the image of a post-partisan leader, has been hitting campaign themes in recent days, accusing Republicans in media interviews, an op-ed in The Washington Post and public speeches of reverting to the failed policies of tax cuts. He referenced his own political capital Thursday night and Friday."They did not choose more of the same in November, "Obama said Friday."They sent us here to make change."He dismissed what he called "phony arguments and petty politics"Thursday."You can nit and you can pick and, you know, that's the game we all play here. We know how to play that game. What I'm saying is now we can't afford to play that game. We've got to pull together," Obama said.But those who are negotiating a compromise measure do not consider their meetings a political ploy....
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Obama:Voters "Sent Us Here to Bring Change"

During a House Democrats' retreat in Williamsburg, Va., President Barack Obama urged the passage of his economic stimulus plan saying that while he welcomed debate over policy, the time to act is now...

At Dem Retreat,a Partisan Love Fest

WILLIAMSBURG,Va.-A fired-up Barack Obama ditched his TelePrompter to rally House Democrats and rip Republican opponents of his recovery package Thursday night-at one point openly mocking the GOP for failing to follow through on promises of bipartisanship.In what was the most pointedly partisan speech of his young presidency, Obama rejected Republican arguments that massive spending in the $819 billion stimulus bill that passed the House should be replaced by a new round of massive tax cuts. “I welcome this debate, but we are not going to get relief by turning back to the same policies that for the last eight years doubled the national debt and threw our economy into a tailspin,”said President Obama-sounding more like Candidate Obama than at any time since he took the oath of office less than a month ago.Obama, speaking to about 200 House Democrats at their annual retreat at the Kingsmill Resort and Spa, dismissed Republican attacks against the massive spending in the stimulus."What do you think a stimulus is?"Obama asked incredulously."It’s spending-that's the whole point! Seriously.” Stabbing hard at Republicans who once aligned themselves with his predecessor, Obama made it clear that the problems he seeks to address with his recovery plan weren’t ones of his making.
“When you start hearing arguments, on the cable chatter, just understand a couple of things,” he said. “No. 1, when they say, ‘Well, why are we spending $800 billion when we’ve got this huge deficit?’-first of all, I found this deficit when I showed up, No. 1.“I found this national debt, doubled, wrapped in a big bow waiting for me as I stepped into the Oval Office."After his remarks, Obama, clearly caught up in the moment, made the party get-together feel even more like a campaign rally with his signature call-and-response chant.“Fired up?” he asked the Democratic lawmakers.“Ready to go!”a group of them shouted back.In his speech, Obama went on to contrast the kind words of House and Senate Republican leaders with their increasingly strident opposition to the stimulus package.“We were complimented by Republicans saying,‘This is a balanced package...we’re pleasantly surprised,’” he said. “Suddenly, what was a ‘balanced package’ is suddenly out of balance.”As the Senate deliberated in Washington – and packed it in for the night without finalizing a deal — Obama brushed pressed House Democrats to finalize the bill "without delay" when it emerged from the upper chamber."Let's think big right now," the president urged House Democrats. "Let's not think small." Obama’s words bore only a vague resemblance to the prepared remarks the White House distributed to reporters as he began to speak.House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said Obama appeared to ditch his TelePrompter about a third of the way through the speech...
By Glenn Thrush, Patrick O'Connor
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Stealing the Stimulus

When are earmarks not earmarks? When Congressional Democrats add them to New Deal-style legislation.According to Democrats, “there are no earmarks” in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the massive $1.1 trillion stimulus bill under debate in the Senate this week.In fact, there is little except earmarks in the pork-laden legislation the Obama administration is marketing to skeptical Americans as the urgent cure for the country’s ailing economy.As things now stand, less than 10 percent of the stimulus bill’s proposed projects could be expected to generate real economic uplift, mostly through tax credits and infrastructure funds. On the other hand, more than 90 percent of the bill would channel taxpayer funds to “special-interest earmarks,” state-level bailouts, and “permanent spending” increases for what will in effect be social engineering by the federal government.Pork abounds in the bill. For instance, there is $88 million for a new Coast Guard polar icebreaker, $13 billion to repair and weatherize public housing, $2.25 billion for national parks, and $1 billion for the National Railway Passenger Corp. (Amtrak), which hasn't earned one red cent since its original 1971 government rescue from Penn Central's ashes. And that’s just the beginning.The Senate bill greatly expands welfare spending. There are $13.3 billion earmarked to raise health insurance for unemployed workers, $27.1 billion for increased unemployment benefits, and $11.1 billion for “Other Unemployment Compensation.” Another $20 billion will go to raise maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assurance Program benefits (i.e., food stamps).Elsewhere, the bill looks like a Trojan Horse for Barack Obama’s campaign plan to foster a national “green economy.” To that end, there is $18.5 billion set aside for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, another $2.4 billion for demonstrations of how to safely remove atmospheric greenhouse gas, $2 billion for a Matoon, Ill. FutureGen near-zero emission power plant, and $600 million for federal government employee hybrid vehicles.Despite its grand billing as a national life preserver– House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a telling demonstration of what Democrats once called “the politics of fear,” had earlier warned that “five hundred million” Americans would loose their job each month if the stimulus package were not passed – the bill increasingly is becoming liberal politics by other means. All in all, the bill packs in $136 billion for unproven ideas to create 32 new open-ended federal programs-most of which failed close inspection in earlier Congressional sessions.While the bill will vastly increase the federal government’s reach, it is noteworthy that the government has never profitably managed a single enterprise. A by-no-means-exhaustive list of government failures might include mortgage giants Fanny Mae Freddie Mac,the mismanaged Federal Reserve Bank and US Postal Service, and the insolvent Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid systems. They're all bankrupt, as are 40 of the 50 states, each of which is now begging for handouts from a federal government effectively just as bankrupt. As pundit David Coughlin asks, “Why do we think the people who caused these problems are able to fix them ...?”The stimulus bill amounts to a major opportunity missed.Bankruptcy-not a government bailout-is often the road back to solvency.Consider that six major airlines-including United, Delta, Northwest, and Continental -all filed for Chapter 11 and emerged with real hopes for profit. Such large and small steel companies as National Steel, Bethlehem Steel, Wheeling-Pittsburgh, Kaiser, Bayou, Weirton Steel, and many others have leveraged Chapter 11 to emerge as stand-alone companies – or to sell a leaner version of themselves to competitors. Pacific Gas & Electric and Kmart are healthy again, too, following their Chapter 11 filings.No surprise, then, that over 100 economists are petitioning the Senate against the stimulus and 200 oppose financial bailouts in general. The public seems to agree. Support for the Senate stimulus plan has plummeted to just 37%, according to Rasmussen. Cooler heads are even starting to prevail in the Senate. President Obama called “centrist” Maine Sen. Susan Collins to the White House this week to discuss cutting the plan's price tag to $700 billion, and to focus on tax cuts and spending to specifically generate jobs. That means spending of dubious simulative potential-$780 million to prepare for a flu pandemic, for example – may soon be trimmed from the bill.Still, it's too bad that no one has managed to convince President Obama to eliminate the idea of “stimulus” spending all together. The U.S. already has squandered nearly $1 trillion in bailouts, to no avail. We got here “by spending and investing money that didn't exist,” notes Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn.As a good physician, Coburn wisely prescribes treating the disease, not its symptoms. The generic term for raising holdings in a tanking stock is “doubling down.” But great investors only do that for successful companies. The stimulus bill is something else entirely. If the Senate passes this “stimulus,” it would merely be doubling down on legislative pork. In the end, not even calling such proposals “job-creating investments” can disguise the fact that the bill won’t actually create jobs.
By Alyssa A. Lappen
Alyssa A. Lappen is a former Senior Fellow of the American Center for Democracy, former Senior Editor of Institutional Investor, Working Woman and Corporate Finance, and former Associate Editor of Forbes. Her website is http://www.alyssaalappen.org/.
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Lawmakers in 20 states move to reclaim sovereignty:Obama's $1 trillion deficit-spending 'stimulus plan' seen as last straw

NEW YORK-As the Obama administration attempts to push through Congress a nearly $1 trillion deficit spending plan that is weighted heavily toward advancing typically Democratic-supported social welfare programs, a rebellion against the growing dominance of federal control is beginning to spread at the state level.So far, eight states have introduced resolutions declaring state sovereignty under the Ninth and Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, including Arizona, Hawaii, Montana, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Washington.Analysts expect that in addition, another 20 states may see similar measures introduced this year, including Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Nevada,Maine and Pennsylvania. "What we are trying to do is to get the U.S. Congress out of the state's business," Oklahoma Republican state Sen. Randy Brogdon (picture left)told WND. "Congress is completely out of line spending trillions of dollars over the last 10 years putting the nation into a debt crisis like we've never seen before," Brogdon said,arguing that the Obama stimulus plan is the last straw taxing state patience in the brewing sovereignty dispute."This particular 111th Congress is the biggest bunch of over-reachers and underachievers we've ever had in Congress," he said."A sixth-grader should realize you can't borrow money to pay off your debt,and that is the Obama administration's answer for a stimulus package," he added.The Ninth Amendment reads,"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."The Tenth Amendment specifically provides,"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."Brogdon, the lead sponsor of the Oklahoma state senate version of the sovereignty bill, has been a strong opponent of extending the plan to build a four-football-fields-wide Trans-Texas Corridor parallel to Interstate-35 to Oklahoma, as WND reported.
Rollback federal authority
The various sovereignty measures moving through state legislatures are designed to reassert state authority through a rollback of federal authority under the powers enumerated in the Constitution, with the states assuming the governance of the non-enumerated powers,as required by the Tenth Amendment. The state sovereignty measures, aimed largely at the perceived fiscal irresponsibility of Congress in the administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, have gained momentum with the $1 trillion deficit-spending economic stimulus package the Obama administration is currently pushing through Congress.Particularly disturbing to many state legislators are the increasing number of "unfunded mandates" that have proliferated in social welfare programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, in which bills passed by Congress dictate policy to the states without providing funding.In addition, the various state resolutions include discussion of a wide range of policy areas, including the regulation of firearms sales (Montana) and the demand to issue drivers licenses with technology to embed personal information under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative and the Real ID Act (Michigan)....
By Jerome R Corsi
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Friday, February 6, 2009

Israel allows vital plasma into Gaza

UN to Probe Hamas for Use of Children

The United Nations is ready to address Hamas's use of children as human shields during last month's IDF offensive in Gaza, the UN special representative for children and armed conflict told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday."We have not yet dealt directly with the human shield issue, but we will now mention it in our reports," Radhika Coomaraswamy said in an exclusive interview following a four-day visit to the region."It is still very difficult for us to say that it was actually happening and we still need to conduct a full investigation into what exactly took place... but we are not denying that it happened; it is absolutely possible that Hamas was using its civilians as human shields," she said.However,Coomaraswamy said that the UN's policy not to meet with leading members of the Hamas government-because it was officially considered a terrorist organization-seriously hampered all types of humanitarian relief work in the Gaza Strip."It makes all our humanitarian jobs very difficult, because we cannot meet with Hamas at a political level," said Coomaraswamy, who this week met with high-level Israeli and Palestinian Authority officials, including PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, as well as with many children in both Gaza and Ashkelon to hear about the conflict from a more personal angle.Coomaraswamy, who was appointed to her position three years ago and reports directly to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said the work of UN aid agencies and other relief efforts over the past two and a half weeks since the fighting stopped meant that "basic humanitarian needs are being met" in Gaza.However,"the children are still in urgent need of assistance, including the restoration of basic services and the immediate reconstruction of schools and hospitals," she said in a press statement later on Thursday."UNRWA says that in order to avoid a crisis it needs roughly 400 aid trucks a day, but at the moment only about 130-140 trucks are allowed in to meet with humanitarian needs," she told the Post.In her press release, the UN representative also reiterated calls by the international community for Israel to open all its Gaza crossings "for regular, sufficient and facilitated humanitarian access.""The amount and kinds of supplies allowed into Gaza must be significantly expanded for any real improvement to occur," Coomaraswamy wrote, emphasizing that "humanitarian agencies must not be hampered in assisting the population and their workers authorized easy access into Gaza."She also stated that "Hamas must respect that humanitarian aid cannot be diverted."Speaking to the Post, Coomaraswamy said that "some parts of Gaza have been completely destroyed.""Many of the children I met there vividly described very troubling experiences. Besides their material needs, I think there is a much traumatized population that needs help," she said.The situation in Gaza is still "very raw because it's only been two weeks," she said, adding that many of the children she met there on Tuesday were "obviously very angry at Israel, but they have been guided that way by their parents and others.""My sense in Gaza is that after this conflict there seems to be greater identification with Hamas," she said.However, she stressed, "my observations are based on only a one-day tripto the area, and many times children surprise us."The most surprising reaction from a child was during her visit to Ashkelon on Wednesday, Coomaraswamy said."The scale [of trauma and destruction] is nothing like in Gaza, but that does not take away from the fact that a lot of the children we met there expressed to me a great deal of fear," she said. "We met a lot of children who were so traumatized that they did not even want to go to school." However,"While their speeches were quite tough at first, when I asked them if they were interested in meeting Palestinian children, the response was unbelievable.They said, 'Yes, of course we want to meet with them and play with them or hear their stories.' It was a response from the heart," Coomaraswamy said."I believe that if we can reconstruct Gaza as quickly as possible then there will be able to be some hope for the future," she said. "Even though they bear the brunt of the conflict, children remain strong advocates for peace.""Every child has the right to live in safety and security. Children from the region have suffered enough. They deserve a better future," she said.

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JUSTICE DENIED...?:Obama Still "at Work"....

OBAMA AT WORK:USS Cole bombings charges dropped

Israel deports Gaza aid ship crew

The eighteen crew members from a Lebanese cargo ship that was intercepted and commandeered by the navy on Thursday after the vessel tried to break the Gaza sea blockade were deported from Israel on Friday morning. Three of them-two Indian nationals and one Briton-were taken to Ben Gurion Airport, while the remainder of the crew, from Lebanon and Syria, were transferred to their countries via the Kuneitra border terminal.On Thursday night, the IDF coordinator of military activities in the Palestinian territories ordered the transfer to Gaza of some 1,000 units of donated blood that was carried on the ship in order to ease the humanitarian situation in the Strip.The blood was transferred via the Erez border crossing.IDF spokesman Peter Lerner said that the rest of the supplies on board were being examined and would also be sent to Gaza.The Togo-flagged Tali left Lebanon on Tuesday,carrying some 60 tons of water,food and medicine,as well as 18 people,including Syrian and Lebanese nationals. On Wednesday, the navy contacted the ship and told the captain that it would not be allowed to enter the Gaza Strip. The captain told the navy that the vessel would sail to El-Arish in Egypt. On Thursday morning, though, after the ship was already in Egyptian waters, it tried to break the blockade and sail into Gaza. The navy again contacted the ship and warned it to turn around. "They told us that they're determined to get to Gaza and that they do not plan to stop," explained a senior naval officer involved in the operation. "We told them that we plan to stop them if they break the blockade. They explained that they don't plan to stop. They continued, and we stopped them."Naval commandos took control of the vessel and ordered the captain to sail into the Ashdod Port. The passengers were transferred to police custody. During the takeover, the officer said, the soldiers encountered light resistance, and shots were fired in the air during the operation.No weaponry was discovered on the vessel. Reporters from Arab TV stations Al-Jadeed and Al-Jazeera who were aboard the Tali claimed the soldiers had fired at the ship before boarding it and beaten those on board.Among the passengers was 86-year-old Greek Catholic priest Hillarion Capucci, who, while serving as an archbishop in Jerusalem, was convicted in 1974 by an Israeli court for using his diplomatic status to smuggle arms to Palestinian terrorists. The Syrian-born Capucci was jailed but released three years later at the intervention of the Vatican and deported.Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora strongly condemned "the blatant attack" on the ship and said he held Israel responsible for the safety of the ship and its passengers."This Israeli aggression is not surprising," he said. "Israel, which commits massacres against innocent civilians in Lebanon and Gaza, will not stop at committing an aggression in front of the world against a ship carrying humanitarian aid."At the United Nations, Lebanese diplomat Caroline Ziade urgently appealed to members of the 15-nation Security Council and to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, saying her government "calls on the international community to press Israel to immediately release the ship" and let it deliver tons of medicine, food and toys."My government condemns the Israeli actions and considers them a blatant and flagrant breach to international law and international humanitarian law," she wrote.A Syrian Foreign Ministry statement sharply condemned what it called Israel's act of "maritime piracy."
Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.

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