The Common Good

Blog Posts By Duane Shank

Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 31 weeks ago
Quote of the day. "I believe people who are impoverished and can''t afford a lawyer deserve one. If we can''t provide that, then what kind of society do we really have?" Al Flora, Luzerne County, Penna., chief public defender, on the consequence of budget cuts leaving his office overwhelmed with cases. (USA Today)  
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 31 weeks ago
Eight Members of Congress sent a letter to the president yesterday, requesting a complete report on the legal basis for the targeted killings by the drone program. The letter noted a 2012 GAO study saying that 75 countries and “certain terrorist organizations” now have drones. With this growing reality, the letter said:“We are growing increasingly concerned that there is a risk that our country’s ‘global war’ doctrine will further corrode the foundations of the international framework for protection of human rights.”The letter was organized by Rep. Barbara Lee, Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Peace and Security Task Force, who said in a press release: “It is far past time that the White House openly discuss the drones program. The President has full rein to protect the United States as Commander in Chief, but Congress has a vital oversight role in this issue, and we cannot shy away from those responsibilities. We have to protect the checks and balances that are at the heart of our democracy.”You can read the full text of the letter HERE. 
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 31 weeks ago
As the College of Cardinals begins its conclave today in Rome to select the next Pope, I find myself intensely interested in the outcome. Since I am an Anabaptist, a child of the “radical” Reformation, I’ve spent some time reflecting on why that is so.First, the Roman Catholic Church is an unbroken link to the first century Roman church for all Christians, no matter our denomination. Before the so-called “Great Schism” between the eastern and western church in 1054, the Christian church led from Rome was THE primary Christian church. No matter if we are Eastern or Western Christians, no matter how Protestant or Anabaptist some of us are, the Church of Rome is still in some way our Mother church.Second, it remains the largest Christian tradition in the world.
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 31 weeks ago
 Quote of the day. “I’ve got to defend my children, and yours, and do what’s right to save lives. Obesity kills. There’s no question it kills.” Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, after a state judge struck down his initiative to limit large sugary drinks. (New York Times)
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 32 weeks ago
Sen. Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster last week against the administration’s drone policy brought a long-simmering debate to a full public boil. Although some have criticized him for “grandstanding,” the Kentucky Republican did all of us a favor. Issues and questions that had been raised primarily by progressive bloggers and peace groups are now in full public view and debate in the mainstream media.The New York Times carried front page stories both days this weekend. On Saturday, it highlighted the growing opposition to drones from across the political spectrum, writing that Sen. Paul’s filibuster had hit a “bipartisan nerve,” and:“… animated a surprisingly diverse swath of political interests that includes mainstream civil liberties groups, Republican and Democratic lawmakers, conservative research groups, liberal activists and right-wing conspiracy theorists.”
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 32 weeks ago
Quote of the Day. "This is a momentous occasion when perhaps the will of God isn''t entirely clear to many of us. So I ask you for your prayers to help the Holy Spirit be present among us, to open our hearts and our minds to what is the will of God for his people throughout the world." Cardinal Francis George of Chicago on the opening of the conclave to select a new pope. (Chicago Tribune)
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 32 weeks ago
The first reported drone strike in nearly a month is said to have happened Sunday morning in the North Waziristan tribal region of Pakistan. According to The New York Times:“Two people suspected of being militants were killed Sunday morning in the volatile North Waziristan tribal region by what Pakistani and Taliban officials said was a drone strike. … Two Pakistani officials, one in Peshawar and another in the tribal belt, said that missiles fired from a drone operated by the C.I.A. hit the two people in the village of Degan, about 20 miles from Miram Shah, the main town in North Waziristan.”The Long War Journal added:  “The CIA-operated, remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired two missiles at a pair of "militants" as they were riding horses in the village of Degan in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan. The two militants and their horses are reported to have been killed.”  
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 32 weeks ago
Quote of the day. "What they are looking for is Jesus Christ with an MBA." Thomas Reese, a Jesuit scholar and author of "Inside the Vatican," on the challenge facing Catholic cardinals in selecting a new pope. (Reuters)
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 32 weeks ago
Sen. Rand Paul took the floor of the U.S. Senate Wednesday morning and announced that he was filibustering the nomination of John Brennan as CIA Director. As he began, reported The Washington Post, he said:“I will speak until I can no longer speak. I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court.”Twelve hours and 52 minutes later, Paul yielded the floor and the Senate adjourned.
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 32 weeks ago
Quote of the day. "When everyone started carrying their own communication and telecommunications on their bodies, the boundaries between work and life collapsed." Rick Segal, president of a global ad agency, on the effect of smartphones and tablets on workers. (USA Today) 1. Rand Paul filibusters over U.S. drone hits. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul staged the longest talking filibuster in recent Senate memory from Wednesday into early Thursday, railing with his colleagues for more than 12 hours against what they called the danger of drone strikes to U.S. citizens on American soil. (Politico) 2. Administration debates stretching 9/11 law to go after new al-Qaeda offshoots. A new generation of al-Qaeda offshoots is forcing the Obama administration to examine whether the legal basis for its targeted killing program can be extended to militant groups with little or no connection to the organization responsible for the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. (Washington Post) 3. Senate committee starting votes on curbing guns. President Barack Obama's prospects for winning near-universal background checks for gun purchases seemed shaky as the Senate Judiciary Committee prepared for Congress' first votes on curbing firearms since December's horrific shootings at a Connecticut elementary school. (Associated Press) 4. House G.O.P. plans a budget that retains tax increases and Medicare cuts. House Republicans will preserve Medicare cuts that their presidential nominee loudly denounced last year and accept tax increases they sternly opposed just months ago in a new tax-and-spending blueprint that would bring the federal budget into balance by 2023. (New York Times) 5. With positions to fill, employers wait for perfection. American employers have a variety of job vacancies, piles of cash, and countless well-qualified candidates. But despite a slowly improving economy, many companies remain reluctant to actually hire, stringing job applicants along for weeks or months before they make a decision. (New York Times) 6. North Korea ramps up nuclear rhetoric. North Korea has ramped up rhetoric ahead of a U.N. vote on sanctions in response to its nuclear test. Accusing the U.S. of pushing to start a war, it vowed to exercise its right to launch a pre-emptive nuclear attack against its aggressors. (BBC) 7. U.S. seeks better ties with Venezuela, but says they may not come soon. The Obama administration is treading carefully in response to the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, extending an olive branch while warning there may not be any early improvement in relations between the two countries. (Washington Post) 8. Afghan dynamics altering U.S. efforts to wind down war. U.S. efforts to wind down the 12-year war are being altered by local politics and an increasingly assertive Karzai, who in recent weeks has issued orders to limit coalition airstrikes and bring under Afghan control the various unofficial militias recruited by coalition forces.  (Chicago Tribune/Los Angeles Times) 9. Egypt court suspends April elections. The Cairo Administrative Court said the electoral law promulgated by President Mohammed Morsi needed to be reviewed by the Supreme Constitutional Court. (BBC) 10. Syria rebels urged to release UN peacekeepers. Armed fighters linked to the Syrian opposition have detained about 21 U.N. peacekeepers in the increasingly volatile zone separating Israeli and Syrian troops on the Golan Heights. (Al Jazeera)
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 32 weeks ago
Quote of the day. “I try to live within my means, but sometimes you just can’t.” Crystal Dupont, 25, of Houston, one of about 3.6 million Americans earning at or below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. (NBC News)
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 32 weeks ago
The Federal Aviation Administration is scheduled to begin issuing commercial drone permits in 2015, allowing for a massive use of domestic drones. But according to Reuters, It’s already happening.“They hover over Hollywood film sets and professional sports events. They track wildfires in Colorado, survey Kansas farm crops and vineyards in California. They inspect miles of industrial pipeline and monitor wildlife, river temperatures and volcanic activity.“They also locate marijuana fields, reconstruct crime scenes and spot illegal immigrants breaching U.S. borders.“Tens of thousands of domestic drones are zipping through U.S. skies, often flouting tight federal restrictions on drone use that require even the police and the military to get special permits.”We live in a world where privacy barely exists. Almost everything about each of us in monitored – what we buy, which websites we visit, where we go. And the coming of the drone age will only accelerate that reality.
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 32 weeks ago
Quote of the day. “Arizona's elected leaders should stop wasting the public's time, money, and patience trying to pass and enforce unfair laws.” Betty Guardado, Phoenix, Ariz., secretary-treasurer of Unite Here Local 631, after a three-judge appellate panel unanimously upheld an injunction preventing the state from enforcing a part of SB 1070 that would prohibit motorists from stopping traffic to solicit day laborers. (Chicago Tribune) 1. GOP seeks to smooth roughest cuts. Even as the military would bear a $43 billion cut over just seven months, the new GOP measure released Monday would give the Pentagon much-needed funding for readiness. It would also ease the pain felt by critical agencies like the FBI and the Border Patrol. (Associated Press) 2. Republicans fear fallout of cuts to health programs. Anxiety is rising among House Republicans about a strategy of appeasement toward fiscal hard-liners that could require them to embrace not only the sequester but also sharp new cuts to federal health and retirement programs. (Washington Post) 3. Cabinet picks could take on climate policy. President Obama on Monday named two people to his cabinet who will be charged with making good on his threat to use the powers of the executive branch to tackle climate change and energy policy if Congress does not act quickly. (New York Times) 4. Bipartisan group of senators reaches deal on gun trafficking. A bipartisan group of senators has reached a deal on a bill that would make it a federal crime to buy a gun for someone who isn't legally allowed to own one. (NBC News) 5. Obama pushing to diversify federal judiciary amid GOP delays. The new wave of nominations is part of an effort by Obama to cement a legacy that long outlives his presidency and makes the court system more closely resemble the changing society it governs. (Washington Post) 6. Cardinals move toward selection of new pope. The cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church moved deliberately but inexorably on Tuesday toward the selection of a new pope after the resignation of Benedict XVI, meeting for a third time for discussions and to hear speeches — both inspirational and informational. (New York Times) 7. Early Kenyatta lead over Odinga in Kenya election. Kenyans are awaiting results in their country's presidential election, after millions cast their votes on Monday. With over a third of polling stations reporting, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta held an early lead over his main rival, PM Raila Odinga. (BBC) 8. Saudis, IAEA, voice doubt over Tehran's intentions. The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency charged Iran Monday with using delaying tactics to put off inspection of a key military research site — just hours after Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister told Secretary of State John Kerry that Iran’s only interest in nuclear talks is “further negotiation” to give its nuclear program more time. (Christian Science Monitor) 9.  N. Korea vows to cancel Korean War cease-fire. North Korea vowed Tuesday to cancel the 1953 cease-fire that ended the Korean War, citing a U.S.-led push for punishing U.N. sanctions over its recent nuclear test and ongoing U.S.-South Korean joint military drills. (Associated Press) 10. Dozens of Syrian troops killed in Iraq ambush. Armed men from Syria have carried out an ambush in western Iraq killing 48 unarmed Syrian soldiers and nine Iraqi guards, the Iraqi defence ministry said. (Al Jazeera)
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 33 weeks ago
Quote of the day. "I think what I did today should have been done a longtime ago. It needed to be done. It needed to be spoken because we have to live with the truth, and it is the truth." Kevin Murphy, police chief of Montgomery Ala. on why he apologized to Rep. John Lewis for the police failure to protect Freedom Riders during a trip to Montgomery in 1961. (NBC News)
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 33 weeks ago
Quote of the day. "This is so important to me because I admired those women with their incredible fighting spirit. This is an area that you don't hear much about. We know very little about the role of women in the flight for freedom." Doris Wilkinson, professor emeritus at the University of Kentucky, on an exhibit she created: Warriors in the Shadows: Women of the Underground Railroad. (McClatchy News) 1. Congress heads out as the sequester blows in. One day before automatic spending cuts were due to hit the Pentagon and other federal agencies, Congress on Thursday abandoned efforts to avert the reductions and left town for the weekend. The sequester is here, and policymakers have no plans to end it. (Washington Post) 2. House renews Violence Against Women Act. The House on Thursday gave final approval to a renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, sending a bipartisan Senate measure to President Obama after a House plan endorsed by conservatives was defeated. (New York Times) 3. Senate postpones deliberations on gun bills. Senators working on legislation to curb gun violence postponed consideration of the measures for at least a week, a move that gives a bipartisan group working on a plan to expand the nation’s gun background check system more time to reach an agreement. (Washington Post) 4. Americans had a right to know 'true cost of war.' Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of the biggest unauthorized disclosure of state secrets in U.S. history, has pleaded guilty to being the source of the leak, telling a military court that he passed the information to a whistleblowing website because he believed the American people had a right to know the "true costs of war." (Guardian) 5. Incarceration rates for Blacks have fallen sharply. Incarceration rates for black Americans dropped sharply from 2000 to 2009, especially for women, while the rate of imprisonment for whites and Hispanics rose over the same decade. (New York Times) 6.  Pope Benedict XVI leaves the Vatican. The Swiss Guards vanished into the palace to change out of their colorful garb, their responsibility to protect the pope over for the moment. The papal apartment in the Vatican was sealed. Pope Benedict XVI's retirement had taken effect, propelling the Roman Catholic Church into a highly unusual and uncertain interregnum. (Chicago Tribune/Los Angeles Times) 7. Japan to begin restarting idled nuclear plants. Japan will begin restarting its idled nuclear plants after new safety guidelines are in place later this year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday, moving to ensure a stable energy supply despite public safety concerns after the Fukushima disaster. (New York Times) 8. Iran sees chance to improve ties with U.S. Iran's foreign minister said he sees a chance to improve ties with the United States, despite a longrunning standoff with major powers over his country's disputed nuclear program. (Reuters) 9. Rebel cooperation in Syrian town shows challenge of isolating Islamists. Sophisticated new weapons now in the hands of rebels in north-central Syria underscore how difficult it will be, once more lethal aid begins to arrive, to keep those weapons from Islamist extremists who’ve become key to rebel military advances throughout the country. (McClatchy News) 10. Eurozone unemployment hits 11.9 percent. The rate of unemployment in the eurozone rose to a fresh record high in January, official figures show. (BBC)
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 33 weeks ago
The House Judiciary Committee yesterday held one of the first public hearings on U.S. drone strikes, with Democratic and Republican members expressing concern about the secret program. Reuters reports:“The public congressional hearing on "drone-kill policy" was noteworthy: government officials refrained for years from even uttering the word "drone" when talking about the use of armed, pilotless aircraft because such operations were classified.“But in the past year, the White House has sought more publicly to present its justifications for drone strikes, through comments by officials like Obama counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, who has been nominated to become CIA director.”
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 33 weeks ago
Quote of the day. “We lose a piece of history every time we lose one of those guys. The reality of it is, we’re about to lose all these folks.”  Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Museum, on the passing of a generation of African American ballplayers. (Kansas City Star/McClatchy News) 1. Supreme Court conservatives express skepticism over voting law provision. The Supreme Court’s conservative majority strongly suggested Wednesday that a key portion of the landmark legislation protecting minority voting rights is no longer justified and that the time has come for Southern states to be freed from special federal oversight. (Washington Post) 2. Sequester votes expected to fail. Washington’s Great Sequester pregame show ends in the Senate on Thursday with Republicans still divided over how to disarm the doomsday budget machine they built in the previous Congress with Democrats and President Barack Obama. (Politico) 3. Democratic governors fear gun reform moment has passed. Now that expanded background checks seem to be the only initiative that may pass Congress, the most powerful bloc of gun-control proponents in the country is conceding that the gripping sense of outrage following the Sandy Hook massacre has ebbed. (Politico) 4. Civil rights icon Rosa Parks given a place of honor in the U.S. Capitol. Civil rights activist Rosa Parks’ nine-foot bronze statue was unveiled in a ceremony Wednesday that included remarks from President Barack Obama and leaders of Congress, echoing words of her determination and legacy for the future. (McClatchy News) 5. America must not 'dictate' to world. Decorated Vietnam veteran Chuck Hagel was sworn in as U.S. defense secretary on Wednesday after a bruising Senate confirmation battle, promising to renew old U.S. alliances and forge new ones without attempting to "dictate" to the world. (Reuters) 6. Trauma sets female veterans adrift back home. Even as the Pentagon lifts the ban on women in combat roles, returning servicewomen are facing a battlefield of a different kind: they are now the fastest growing segment of the homeless population. (New York Times) 7. $60 million in new aid to Syria opposition. The Obama administration said Thursday that it will provide the Syrian opposition with an additional $60 million in assistance and — in a significant policy shift — will for the first time provide nonlethal aid like food and medical supplies to rebels battling to oust President Bashar Assad. (Associated Press) 8. Two Palestinians held in Israeli jail end hunger strike. Two Palestinian held in an Israeli jail without trial have ended their hunger strike, Israeli officials said. …Two others, Samer Issawi and Ayman Sharawna, are still on hunger strike and are being treated in hospital. (BBC) 9. Fresh violence threatens DR Congo peace deal. Less than a week after the Democratic Republic of Congo and neighboring African nations signed a peace accord to hold off hostilties, a fresh wave of violence has erupted in the central African nation. (Al Jazeera) 10. Haiti launches 10-year plan to eradicate cholera. The Haitian government's $2.2 billion 10-year plan to eradicate cholera was launched on Wednesday against the backdrop of the United Nation's rejection of a legal claim from more than 5,000 victims. (Guardian)
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 33 weeks ago
While the U.S. continues to debate whether the president has legal authority to order the drone killing of American citizens, it seems the British have found their answer to the question. According to The Independent:“The Government has secretly ramped up a controversial programme that strips people of their British citizenship on national security grounds – with two of the men subsequently killed by American drone attacks.“An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism for The Independent has established that since 2010, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, has revoked the passports of 16 individuals, many of whom are alleged to have had links to militant or terrorist groups.”
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 33 weeks ago
Quote of the day. "To love the church means also to have the courage to take difficult, painful decisions, always keeping the good of the church in mind, not oneself." Pope Benedict XVI in his farewell speech in St. Peter’s Square. (Associated Press)
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 33 weeks ago
Quote of the day. "We don't come into the world alone. We shouldn't leave it alone." Kate Hopkins, Louisville KY, on why she attends burial services for paupers who die without family or friends. (Associated Press)
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 34 weeks ago
Yesterday on MSNBC’s Up w/ Chris Hayes, former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in an interview that when he took that position, he was told not to discuss the government’s secret drone program or even acknowledge its existence. According to Gibbs:“When I went through the process of becoming press secretary, one of the first things they told me was, ‘You’re not even to acknowledge the drone program. You’re not even to discuss that it exists.'” He added:“Here’s what’s inherently crazy about that proposition: you’re being asked a question based on reporting of a program that exists. So you’re the official government spokesperson acting as if the entire program … pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”At this point, after a leaked Justice Department memo, the John Brennan hearings, several ongoing U.N. negotiations, and coverage by most major news organizations, any denial of a drone program is laughable. It does exist, it is not a secret, and it is regularly killing people in several countries. 
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 34 weeks ago
Quote of the day. "You may not have actually done something wrong by the law of war, but by your own humanity you feel that it's wrong." Elspeth Ritchie, former psychiatry consultant to the Army surgeon general, now chief clinical officer at the District of Columbia's Department of Mental Health, on veterans suffering "moral injuries" — wounds from having done something, or failed to stop something, that violates their moral code. (Associated Press)
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 34 weeks ago
With a short note to the Congressional leadership, President Barack Obama announced last week that a total of 100 U.S. troops are now in Niger to “provide support for intelligence collection and will also facilitate intelligence sharing with French forces conducting operations in Mali.”The Washington Post reported:“A U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to provide details about military operations, said that the 40 troops who arrived in Niger on Wednesday were almost all Air Force personnel and that their mission was to support drone flights.“The official said drone flights were “imminent” but declined to say whether unarmed, unmanned Predator aircraft had arrived in Niger or how many would be deployed there.”The Predator drones will be unarmed and carry out surveillance missions. But The Post noted that theadministration had not ruled out arming the Predators with missiles in the future.
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 34 weeks ago
 Quote of the day. "Mass shootings … are the tragedies that capture the public''s attention. But every day, 33 Americans are being killed, mostly with handguns and distressingly often, by a family member or intimate partner." Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. (USA Today)
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 34 weeks ago
Quote of the day. "The need is increasing, people don't realize [that]. They think the war is over and there's no servicemembers in the hospital, so there's no more need. But it's our long-term cases that need help forever, and now the returning vets that we find have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and TBI (traumatic brain injury); and many, many, many suicidal situations, which is just a crisis." Susan Rocco, eastern-region case director for the military charity Semper Fi Fund. (USA Today) 1. G.O.P. resists Obama's push for tax rise to head off cuts. House Republicans, shrugging off rising pressure from President Obama, are resolutely opposing new tax increases to head off $85 billion in across-the-board spending reductions, all but ensuring the cuts will go into force March 1 and probably remain in place for months, if not longer. (New York Times) 2. VAWA reauthorization will be taken up by House Republican leaders. House Republican leaders are ready to move forward on legislation reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act as soon as next week, a GOP source familiar with the plans told The Huffington Post. (Huffington Post) 3. Fla. Gov. Scott supports Medicaid expansion. Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday he supports expanding Medicaid and funneling billions of federal dollars to Florida, a significant policy reversal that could bring health care coverage to 1 million additional Floridians. (Miami Herald/McClatchy) 4. Some citizens detained at immigration officials' request. Local law enforcement officials detained more than 800 U.S. citizens at the request of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement over a four-year period, according to an analysis of ICE statistics released by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse on Wednesday. (Chicago Tribune/Los Angeles Times) 5. Closing education achievement gap: blue-ribbon panel offers blueprint. Better teacher training, accessible early-childhood education, and school-finance reform are key components to closing the achievement gap between minority and white students, says a report. (Christian Science Monitor) 6. Activist investors put climate-change issue up for vote at PNC. Activist investors have succeeded for the first time in placing a shareholder resolution on the risks of greenhouse-gas emissions up for a vote at a major bank, a step toward making climate change an important consideration for corporations. (Los Angeles Times/McClatchy) 7. U.S. senator says 4,700 killed in drone strikes. A U.S. senator has said that an estimated 4,700 people have been killed in America's secretive drone war, the first time a government official has offered a total number of fatalities caused by nearly a decade of drone strikes, local media reported. (Al Jazeera/AFP) 8. Chinese plan to kill drug lord with drone highlights military advances. China considered using a drone strike in a mountainous region of Southeast Asia to kill a Myanmar drug lord wanted in the murders of 13 Chinese sailors, but decided instead to capture him alive, according to an influential state-run newspaper. (New York Times) 9. Taliban vow to keep targeting Afghan officials. The Taliban vowed Thursday to target government employees and other Afghan civilians they consider linked to the U.S.-led coalition despite a warning from the United Nations that such killings may violate international law. (Associated Press) 10. Syrian opposition says Assad cannot be part of deal. The opposition Syrian National Coalition is willing to negotiate a peace deal under U.S. and Russian auspices to end the country's civil war but President Bashar al-Assad cannot be a party to any settlement, a communique drafted for an opposition meeting says. (Reuters)
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 34 weeks ago
The U.N. mission in Afghanistan released its annual report on civilian casualties in Afghanistan on Tuesday, finding a decrease from 2011. According to the Guardian, the U.N. also reported that 506 weapons were fired by drones in 2012, compared with 294 in 2011. Five cases resulted in civilian casualties, with 16 deaths and three wounded. Although drone attacks have become controversial in Pakistan, the Guardian writes: “They have not been a prominent issue in Afghanistan, however. While drone attacks have occurred, they have largely been in support of ground troops during operations and have not been singled out by President Hamid Karzai's administration in its campaign against international air strikes.“The steep rise in the number of weapons fired from unmanned aerial aircraft – the formal term for drones – raises the possibility that may change as US forces become more dependent on such attacks to fight al-Qaida and other insurgents as combat missions are due to end by the end of 2014.”
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 34 weeks ago
Quote of the day. "Typically, over the last couple of decades, when Americans moved, they moved to improve their lives. This is the shock: For the first time, Americans are moving for downward economic mobility. Either they lost their house or can't afford where they're renting currently or needed to save money.” Michael Stoll, chairman of UCLA's public policy department and author of a new report on changes in American society. (USA Today) 1. With cutbacks days away, Obama tries to pressure G.O.P. Days away from another fiscal crisis and with Congress on vacation, President Obama began marshaling the powers of the presidency on Tuesday to try to shame Republicans into a compromise that could avoid further self-inflicted job losses and damage to the fragile recovery. (New York Times) 2. Choices loom for Obama on climate change. President Barack Obama is talking about climate change like it was 2009. The president, who rarely uttered the words "climate change" or "global warming" during the second half of his first term and during the re-election campaign, has re-inserted it boldly back into his lexicon. (Associated Press) 3. Justices to hear appeal of individual donation limits. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to consider taking another step toward dismantling campaign finance laws, potentially freeing wealthy donors to give as much as they want in any election cycle and raising the possibility that it could overturn limits that apply to individual candidates as well. (Los Angeles Times) 4. Obama reaches out to Republican senators on immigration. Facing criticism for failing to reach out to Republicans negotiating an immigration overhaul, President Obama placed phone calls Tuesday afternoon to three GOP senators involved in an eight-member bipartisan group working on the issue. (Washington Post) 5. U.S. Catholics urge cardinal to skip papal vote. A U.S. Catholic group has called for an American cardinal accused of covering up sexual abuse by priests not to take part in electing a new pope, saying he would taint the new pontiff with the same scandal that dogged Pope Benedict XVI. (Al Jazeera) 6. Georgia inmate granted stay of execution 30 minutes before lethal injection. Warren Hill, an intellectually disabled prisoner, had been spared the death chamber just 30 minutes before he was due to die by lethal injection in Georgia despite a U.S. supreme court ban on executions of people with learning difficulties. (Guardian) 7. U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan rose sharply last year. The number of U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan rose sharply last year compared with 2011, the United Nations said Tuesday. The increase was a sign that drones are taking a greater role as Americans try to streamline the fight against insurgents while preparing to withdraw combat forces in less than two years. (Guardian) 8. Palestinians in prisons refuse meals in protest. Hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails refused meals on Tuesday in solidarity with four hunger-striking detainees, and supporters held protests in the West Bank, as the Palestinians sought to pressure Israel before President Obama’s visit to the region next month. (New York Times) 9. Greeks strike, march in protest against austerity. Tens of thousands of anti-austerity demonstrators took to the streets of Athens on Wednesday as unions staged a general strike to protest government spending cuts and tax hikes, which some predict will push unemployment to an alarming 30 percent. (Associated Press) 10. Russia warns of 'mutual destruction' in Syria. Russia has urged the warring sides in Syria to halt their almost two-year conflict and start talks, warning that both sides risk "mutual destruction." Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, said on Wednesday that Moscow was working to encourage dialogue between the rebels and the regime of president Bashar al-Assad. (Al Jazeera)
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 34 weeks ago
Quote of the day. “It’s incredibly important for people to understand that women’s wages are key definers of a family’s economic life. For the health of families, communities, and the state, it is imperative that women are paid fairly for their labor.”  Victoria Budson, executive director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard University’s Kennedy School, on a new study showing working wives now account for 47 percent of household earnings, up from 38 percent in 1988, while husband’s contributions have dropped to 53 percent. (Boston Globe) 1. Obama to press GOP on averting sequester. Facing yet another fiscal deadline, President Barack Obama is urging congressional Republicans to accept more tax revenue in order to avert looming, across-the-board budget cuts due to take effect in less than two weeks. (Associated Press) 2. Pro-gun lawmakers are open to limits on size of magazines. A growing number of lawmakers say they see a distinct difference between limits on magazine sizes, which they would support, and an assault weapons ban, which they would not. (New York Times) 3. As immigration vote looms, some southern Democrats get queasy. Immigration isn’t a touchy subject just for many Republicans. Southern and moderate Democrats also may be a bit skittish about the idea of granting a path to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants. (McClatchy News) 4. House approves storm aid for religious institutions. The House of Representatives has overwhelmingly approved legislation that would allow the use of federal money to rebuild churches and synagogues damaged by Hurricane Sandy, despite concern that such aid could violate the doctrine of separation of church and state. (New York Times) 5. Younger vets still struggle as jobs scene improves. The unemployment rate for veterans between 18 and 24 exceeded 20 percent last year. It was also in double digits for those 25-34. The unemployment rate for both age groups was higher than for their nonveteran peers and much higher than the national average. (Associated Press) 6. Taliban targeting Afghan women and government workers. Civilian casualties decreased in Afghanistan for the first time in six years in 2012, the United Nations has announced. But targeted killings by insurgents — particularly of women, girls, and government employees — climbed compared with the previous year. (Guardian) 7. Obama could revisit arming Syria rebels as Assad holds firm. With conditions continuing to deteriorate, officials could reopen the debate over providing weapons to select members of the resistance in an effort to break the impasse in Syria. The question is whether a wary Mr. Obama, surrounded by a new national security team, would come to a different conclusion. (New York Times) 8. Iranian-backed militant group in Iraq is recasting itself as a political player.  The Iranian-backed Shiite group responsible for most of the attacks against U.S. forces in the final years of the Iraq war is busily reinventing itself as a political organization in ways that could enhance Iran’s influence in post-American Iraq — and perhaps beyond. (Washington Post) 9. South African activist forms party to take on ANC. Mamphela Ramphele, an anti-apartheid activist and co-founder of South Africa's Black Conscious Movement, has announced the formation of a new political party to take on the 101-year-old African National Congress (ANC) of Nelson Mandela. (Al Jazeera) 10. How U.S. military plans to carry out Obama's 'pivot to Asia.' A U.S. policy shift toward Asia means a greater role for the Navy. Even pre-''pivot to Asia,'' it already stationed half its ships in the region, and it is developing a new ''afloat forward staging base'' in the Pacific. (Christian Science Monitor)
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 34 weeks ago
Dennis Sadowski at Catholic News Service has a good summary of the moral and ethical concerns about drone warfare from a workshop at the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering. One participant, Charles Camosy, assistant professor of Christian ethics at Fordham University, suggested that it should be viewed as a pro-life issue:"It involves violence and violent killing. It involves the killing of the innocent in a way that doesn't follow the church's teaching. It's an exercise of raw violent power in a way that I think should get pro-lifers really, really upset," Camosy explained to CNS.“Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International, suggested that drones have led to 'a battlefield without borders.' "We have a global battlefield, which completely undercuts any possibility of talking about just war. There are no boundaries on this thing," she said.”As the drone debate continues, it should go deeper into these concerns rather than only discussing legalities.     
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 34 weeks ago
While we have been focusing on drones as weapons of war – killing by drone – controversy over the domestic use of drones is also growing. Police forces across the U.S. have become enamored by surveillance drones that can be used in law enforcement. But that has led to a rise in local governments beginning to strictly regulate their use or banning them. The New York Times reports on these efforts:“To me, it’s Big Brother in the sky,” said Dave Norris, a city councilman in Charlottesville, Va., which this month became the first city in the country to restrict the use of drones. “I don’t mean to sound conspiratorial about it, but these drones are coming, and we need to put some safeguards in place so they are not abused.” … Last week, the Seattle Police Department agreed to return its two still-unused drones to the manufacturer after Mayor Michael McGinn answered public protests by banning their use.”Some states have adopted moratoriums on drones pending further study, others are considering proposals that would require search warrants for their use. It is heartening that the objections are coming before drones are flying over all of us, rather than attempting to stop them when it is already too late.
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 35 weeks ago
The U.S. killing by drones in countries other than war zones is run by the CIA. This leads to the secrecy of the program, one of its controversial aspects. Now, according to Ken Dilanian in the Los Angeles Times, it may change. “Facing growing pressure to lift the veil of secrecy around targeted killings overseas, the Obama administration is considering shifting more of the CIA's covert drone program to the Pentagon, which operates under legal guidelines that could allow for more public disclosure in some cases. John Brennan, whom President Obama has nominated to run the CIA, favors moving the bulk of drone killing operations to the military, current and former U.S. officials say.” Some think this would result in less secrecy, as the Pentagon has already acknowledged its use of drones. Others think it would prove more difficult in causing problems for nations that secretly host U.S. drone bases. Whatever the perceived problems may be, if a change leads to a more open and accountable program, it’s a good thing.
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 35 weeks ago
Quote of the day. “All I ever wanted to see was a movement of people to stop climate change and now I’ve seen it.” Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, speaking to an estimated 35,000 people in Washington, DC protesting the Keystone XL pipeline. (Politico) 1. Obama offering immigration plan as backup. The White House is downplaying its draft proposal as merely a backup plan if lawmakers don't come up with an immigration overhaul of their own. It won't be necessary, Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike are telling the Obama administration. (Associated Press) 2. States worry about rate shock during shift to new health law. Less than a year before Americans will be required to have insurance under President Obama's healthcare law, many of its backers are growing increasingly anxious that premiums could jump, driven up by the legislation itself. (Los Angeles Times) 3. Gun shops running short of ammo. Gun shops are running low on ammunition from a run by customers fearful of potential gun-control legislation, according to gun retailers and customers. (USA Today) 4. Voting Rights Act challenged as cure the South has outgrown. An Alabama county contends that a main provision of the law that requires it to get permission before making changes that affect voting, has outlived its purpose of protecting minorities. (New York Times) 5. Fiscal trouble ahead for most future retirees. For the first time since the New Deal, a majority of Americans are headed toward a retirement in which they will be financially worse off than their parents, jeopardizing a long era of improved living standards for the nation’s elderly, according to a growing consensus of new research. (Washington Post) 6. NATO can work within Afghan air strike ban. The top American commander in Afghanistan said Sunday that he believes the U.S.-led NATO coalition can operate effectively despite the Afghan president's decision to ban Afghan security forces from requesting air strikes in residential areas. (Guardian/AP) 7. Renewed push for Afghans to make peace with Taliban. Frozen for months last year as another fighting season raged in Afghanistan, and as election-year politics consumed American attention, diplomats and political leaders from eight countries are now mounting the most concerted campaign to date to bring the Afghan government and its Taliban foes together to negotiate a peace deal. (New York Times) 8. UN: Both sides committing war crimes in Syria. Syrians in "leadership positions" who may be responsible for war crimes have been identified, along with units accused of perpetrating them, U.N. investigators say. Both government forces and armed rebels are committing war crimes, including killings and torture, spreading terror among civilians in a nearly two-year-old conflict. (Al Jazeera) 9. Shia Hazaras refuse to bury Pakistan bomb dead. Ethnic Hazara women in the Pakistani city of Quetta are refusing to bury the bodies of scores of people killed by a huge bomb in a Shia commercial area. Shia Muslim Hazaras are furious at what they see as a lack of protection from local and national forces. (BBC) 10. As Africa rises, Europe loses grip on Catholic power base. After the resignation of Pope Benedict, African and Latin American cardinals could emerge as candidates to succeed him. Catholicism's European power base is under threat and the election of a new pope could be a historic moment for the church. (Guardian)
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 35 weeks ago
Quote of the day. "The pressure of One Billion Rising is forcing these people to have to say they''re going to do something about it. … I think we all know that we''ve reached a moment where it has to stop." Eve Ensler, whose V-Day organization led One Billion Rising yesterday, with thousands of events in 205 countries to end violence against women and girls. (Associated Press)
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 35 weeks ago
Military medals have historically been given for exceptional bravery in combat. But the Defense Department has announced a new medal – for flying a drone.  A servicemember can now sit at a screen in the United States with a joystick and earn a “Distinguished Warfare Medal.” Army Times reports,“The Pentagon is creating a new high-level military medal that will recognize drone pilots and, in a controversial twist, giving it added clout by placing it above some traditional combat valor medals in the military’s 'order of precedence.'“The Distinguished Warfare Medal will be awarded to pilots of unmanned aircraft, offensive cyber war experts or others who are directly involved in combat operations but who are not physically in theater and facing the physical risks that warfare historically entails.”
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 35 weeks ago
As the drone debate continues, the Senate Intelligence Committee is delaying a confirmation vote on John Brennan as CIA Director. Brennan most recently was President Obama’s counter-terrorism advisor, and in that capacity the administration’s point person on drones. The Washington Post reports:“A Senate confirmation vote on John O. Brennan as CIA director has been postponed for at least two weeks as lawmakers step up pressure on the Obama administration to provide more information about its drone campaign against terrorism suspects.“In particular, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that she is seeking seven Justice Department memos related to the administration’s targeted killing program, in addition to four the committee has been allowed to view.”
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 35 weeks ago
From the Senate staff to the 2008 campaign to the White House, Joshua DuBois has been President Obama’s top faith advisor. Last week, DuBois resigned as the director of the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. On CNN Belief Blog, he shares reflections on his journey and what is ahead – writing a book, launching a new social enterprise, teaching and speaking. DuBois concludes:“As a committed African-American Pentecostal, I never thought I could become such dear friends with so many in the faith community – Christians and Muslims, Hindus and Jews, conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats – who care first about God, and second about their neighbors, and seek to live this care out into the world. I would hope to honor those friendships, continue to serve this good president, and let my life and work be a song of worship in the exciting days ahead.”
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 35 weeks ago
Like former Sen. Chuck Hagel, Richard Lugar is a moderate-to-conservative Midwest Republican. Lugar was defeated in a primary election last year by a tea party candidate, and this week gave his first public speech since leaving office in January. According to the Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette, he spoke of the out of control partisanship that now controls Washington politics, specifically noting  the “politicization of national security policy” in the debate over Hagel’s nomination as Secretary of Defense. “Hagel’s “main transgression is that he is a Republican who has questioned policies that are sacred among most conservative senators,” Lugar said. “These include whether the surge in Iraq was worth the lives lost, whether the current high levels of defense expenditures make strategic sense, whether nuclear forces can be reduced further and whether there are non-military options in dealing with Iran.”
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 35 weeks ago
Quote of the day. “I would like a pope who has had direct experience working with a diversity of people and who understands the joys and challenges of ordinary Catholics trying to live the Gospel in the midst of chaotic family lives and stressful job situations.” Sister Florence Deacon, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, on what she hopes for in the next pope.  (The Daily Beast) 1. Activists arrested at White House protesting Keystone pipeline. But that controversial project — which ranks as one of the top climate decisions the president will have to make this year — took center stage Wednesday as 48 activists engaged in civil disobedience at the gates of the White House. (Washington Post) 2. Border security 'never stronger,' Napolitano tells senators. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who sits at the center of the nation's immigration debate, pushed back Wednesday against congressional demands to tighten border security further before creating a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. (Los Angeles Times) 3. Senate Democrats try to force Hagel vote. Accusing Republicans of a new level of obstruction, Senate Democrats moved on Wednesday to force a vote on President Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense. (New York Times) 4. Senators delay a vote on Brennan. A Senate confirmation vote on John O. Brennan as CIA director has been postponed for at least two weeks as lawmakers step up pressure on the Obama administration to provide more information about its drone campaign against terrorism suspects. (Washington Post) 5. In U.S., big strides in reducing domestic violence. The rate of partner-to-partner violence dropped 64 percent between 1994 and 2010, a Justice Department report has found. The trend, almost unnoticed, stems from a broad shift in attitude toward domestic violence.  (Christian Science Monitor) 6. 100th self-immolation reported inside Tibet. A former Tibetan Buddhist monk protested Chinese rule by killing himself through self-immolation this month, becoming the 100th person to do so inside Chinese-governed Tibet, according to reports on Wednesday by Tibet advocacy groups. (New York Times) 7. Agencies warn Congress not to use humanitarian aid as tool against Assad. Humanitarian groups are lobbying hard against a proposal by several U.S. senators that would turn over the delivery of millions of dollars in U.S. aid to a Syrian opposition council that’s criticized as too weak and too political to handle the responsibility. (McClatchy News) 8. Anger is growing among Iraq's Sunnis. In recent weeks, Sunnis by the thousands have carried out a campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience, closing off the main roads to Fallouja and Ramadi in the west and mounting demonstrations in Samarra, Baghdad, and Mosul. (Chicago Tribune/Los Angeles Times) 9. Journalism under attack across the globe imperils press freedom. An unprecedented rise in the number of journalists killed and imprisoned in the past year, coupled with restrictive legislation and state censorship, is jeopardising independent reporting in many countries, according to a report issued today. (Guardian) 10. Analysis: Arabs mired in messy transitions two years after heady uprisings. Gritty political transitions are under way in nations where "revolution" has triumphed, ushering in contests over power, identity, and religion, continued economic and social malaise, new opportunities for Islamist radicals, lawlessness, and a surge in sexual violence against women that has gained publicity. (Reuters)
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 35 weeks ago
Quote of the day. “Even though older people are less likely to be homeless than other people because they have more of a safety net, because there are more and more older people in general, we are going to have more and more elderly people vulnerable to homelessness.” Nan Roman, president and chief executive of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, on the growing number of elderly people who are homeless. (Wichita Eagle/McClatchy News)
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 35 weeks ago
Quote of the day. "This is a population that's hidden. They're forgotten about. They're out of sight, out of mind." Erika Kelly, assistant vice president for policy and legislation, Meals On Wheels Association of America, on the elderly poor the organization serves as it faces budget cuts through sequestration. (USA Today) 1. 5 things to watch for in the State of the Union.  The president views the speech as finishing a thought that began with the Inauguration, aides say, with a deeper focus on job creation and the economy but no shortage of attention to the controversial social issues that top his to-do list. (Politico) 2. In Afghanistan pullout, Pentagon favors phased reduction over 3 years. The Pentagon is pushing a plan that would keep about 8,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan once the NATO military mission there ends in 2014 but significantly shrink the contingent over the following two years, according to senior U.S. government officials and military officers. (Washington Post) 3. As cuts loom, the political forecast is mostly hostile. After days of private strategy sessions, Republicans and Democrats are poised this week for the same kind of ugly partisan combat over spending and taxes that’s spawned fiscal chaos and sent Congress’ approval ratings plunging. (McClatchy News) 4. Rising voice of gun ownership is female. In the debate over firearms regulations, the voices of gun owners have largely been those of men. But at firing ranges across the country, a growing number of women are learning to use firearms and honing their skills. (New York Times) 5. Q & A on Benedict's bombshell. When you're talking about a church with more than 2,000 years of history, you don't get a chance to use terms such as "uncharted waters" very often, but that's precisely where Catholicism finds itself in the wake of Benedict XVI's bombshell announcement that he plans to resign Feb. 28. (National Catholic Reporter) 6. A turbulent tenure for a quiet scholar. If written words alone could keep the church on course, Benedict would likely be viewed as a solid success. … But when it came to the major challenges facing the church in the real world, Benedict often appeared to carom from one crisis to the next. (New York Times) 7. North Korea conducts third controversial nuke test. Defying U.N. warnings, North Korea on Tuesday conducted its third nuclear test in the remote, snowy northeast, taking a crucial step toward its goal of building a bomb small enough to be fitted on a missile capable of striking the United States. (Associated Press) 8. Militant threats test role of a Pentagon command in Africa. Created five years ago to focus on training the armed forces of dozens of African nations and strengthening social, political and economic programs, the Pentagon’s Africa Command now finds itself on a more urgent mission: confronting a new generation of Islamist militants who are testing the United States’ resolve to fight terrorism without being drawn into a major conflict. (New York Times) 9. Iran converts uranium to fuel, easing bomb fears. Iran acknowledged on Tuesday that it was converting some of its higher-grade enriched uranium into reactor fuel, a move that could help to prevent a dispute with the West over its nuclear program hitting a crisis in mid-2013. (Reuters) 10. Mali 'hesitant' over U.N. peace force. The government of Mali is "hesitant" over the deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping force, a senior U.N. official says. (BBC)
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 36 weeks ago
Quote of the day. "After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths due to an advanced age are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry."Pope Benedict XVI, announcing his plans to resign the papacy on February 28. (Associated Press)
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 36 weeks ago
The day after the hearing on John Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA, U.S. drones were back in action over Pakistan. An attack on Friday in the border tribal region killed seven suspected militants. NBC News reports:“Seven people were killed and six others injured in a U.S. drone attack in Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal region on Friday evening, Pakistani security officials said. The officials and tribal sources said the drone fired six missiles and pounded two separate mud-built houses in the Babar area of the Ladha subdivision in the South Waziristan tribal region.”Other reports with different details nclude DAWN, Al Jazeera, and the Associated Press.
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 36 weeks ago
America’s killing by drone program finally became frontpage news this week with the leak of a memo arguing the legality of targeting U.S. citizens suspected of being al Qaeda leaders. But the debate remains too small. Whether the president has the legal authority to order the killing of U.S. citizens is certainly an important question, but there are more fundamental issues not being given as much scrutiny. Some were touched on in the confirmation hearing of John Brennan, but much remains unanswered.Beginning under President George W. Bush, and escalating under President Barack Obama, the United States is currently using armed drones in four countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia), has used them in two others (Iraq and Libya), and is considering using them in northern Africa. Why should we oppose this means of warfare?Perhaps the most important reason is this. For those of us who follow Jesus, the Prince of Peace, killing other people, whoever they are, by whatever means, violates his teachings.  An endless cycle of violence is not the solution to our world’s problems; we should rather actively seek peace. We cannot expect nations to live by the ethic of Jesus, as John Howard Yoder reminded us. We can, however, expect them to live by law, the standards they have set to restrain the worst of violence. From that perspective, here are some reasons for opposing drone attacks.
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 36 weeks ago
Quote of the day. "I do worry sometimes that as soon as we leave the prayer breakfast, everything we''ve been talking about the whole time at the prayer breakfast seems to be forgotten on the same day as the prayer breakfast. You''d like to think the shelf life wasn''t so short. I go back to the Oval Office and I start watching the cable news networks and it''s like we didn''t pray." President Barack Obama speaking to the National Prayer Breakfast. (Politico) 1. Lawmakers consider regulating drone strikes. CIA Director-designate John Brennan''s vigorous defense of drone strikes to kill terror suspects — even American citizens — overseas is causing key lawmakers to consider lifting secrecy from what has become an important weapon in the fight against al-Qaida. (Associated Press) 2. Immigration advocates begin lobbying campaign. Immigration advocates, backed by the White House, have begun a nationwide lobbying campaign, including rallies in more than a dozen cities and a planned demonstration on the Mall. (Washington Post) 3. Senators seek deal on gun-sale background checks. A bipartisan quartet of senators, including two National Rifle Association members and two with "F" ratings from the potent firearms lobby, are quietly trying to find a compromise on expanding the requirement for gun-sale background checks. (Associated Press) 4. White House director of faith-based office is leaving his post. President Obama announced on Thursday morning at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington that Joshua DuBois, the young pastor he appointed four years ago to lead the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, would step down on Friday. (New York Times) 5. Obama administration embraces major new cut in nuclear weapons. Senior Obama administration officials have agreed that the number of nuclear warheads the U.S. military deploys could be cut by at least a third without harming national security, according to those involved in the deliberations.  (McClatchy News) 6. Keystone XL: pressure on Kerry ahead of meeting with Canada counterpart. The U.S. secretary of state, John Kerry, steps into America''s biggest environmental controversy on Friday in his first meeting with a foreign minister since his swearing in. (Guardian) 7. Senate hearing draws out a rift in U.S. policy on Syria. Deep divisions in the Obama administration over rising violence in Syria spilled into public view for the first time in a blunt exchange between Senator John McCain of Arizona and the leaders of the Pentagon. (New York Times) 8. Iranians brace for hard times as U.S. imposes new round of sanctions. The U.S. imposed its newest round of sanctions on February 6, with the aim of blocking Iran''s ability to trade its oil for gold and precious metals, and blacklist financial, shipping and communications companies. Already feeling the strain, Iranians are bracing for more hard times. (Guardian) 9. Syrian troops battle rebels around Damascus. Heavy fighting is continuing around the Syrian capital, as government forces try to halt a rebel advance. Activists said clashes continued in Jobar district in Damascus on Friday amid rocket shelling by government forces on the eastern district and nearby neighborhoods. (Al Jazeera) 10. UN says bribe payments soar in Afghanistan. A new United Nations report on corruption in Afghanistan has found that $3.9bn, twice the nation''s domestic revenue, was paid in bribes in 2012. (Al Jazeera)
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 36 weeks ago
Quote of the day. “If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea.” Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, defending Brooklyn College’s decision to co-sponsor a panel discussion about a movement that calls for economic boycotts and sanctions against Israel. (New York Times)  1. Senators, Brennan brace for CIA hearings showdown. Obama’s nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan, will address what role the targeted killings of terrorists, either by using drone strikes or other means, have played and should play in national security policy. (NBC News) 2. Congress to see memo backing drone attacks on Americans. The White House on Wednesday directed the Justice Department to release to the two Congressional Intelligence Committees classified documents discussing the legal justification for killing, by drone strikes and other means, American citizens abroad who are considered terrorists. (New York Times) 3. Democrats seek to stave off $1 trillion in cuts. With at least one million jobs on the line, Senate Democrats on Wednesday said they were closing in on legislation to temporarily head off nearly $1 trillion in cuts that were already affecting Pentagon decision-making and could force significant reductions in staffing and services across the government. (New York Times) 4. Long-term jobless folks' outlook brightens. The prospects of the nation's most beleaguered workers — the long-term unemployed — are improving. The number of Americans out of work at least six months fell to 4.7 million in January, down from 5.5 million a year ago and the lowest since June 2009. (USA Today) 5. United States could fall short of its 2020 climate goal. The United States is not on track to meet its international commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, according to an analysis released Wednesday by the World Resources Institute. (Washington Post) 6. For U.S. leader in Afghan war, much time making peace. After 19 months in Afghanistan, Gen. John R. Allen, the commander of American and coalition forces here, is leaving a war that has become as much about damage control and crisis diplomacy as fighting the Taliban. (New York Times) 7. Iran's supreme leader rejects direct talks with U.S. Iran's supreme leader Thursday strongly rejected proposals for direct talks with the United States, effectively quashing suggestions for a breakthrough one-on-one dialogue on the nuclear standoff and potentially other issues.  (Associated Press) 8. Tunisia political crisis deepens after assassination. The killing of anti-Islamist politician Chokri Belaid sparked violent protests. The prime minister then announced plans for a new, technocratic government. But the ruling Islamist party Ennahda rejected the move. (BBC) 9. Syria capital Damascus sees heavy fighting. Fierce fighting broke out in the Syrian capital, Damascus, as rebels attacked forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, witnesses and rebels said. Much of the violence was centered around the Jobar district and a key junction on the Damascus ring road. (BBC) 10. Indian investors are forcing Ethiopians off their land. Ethiopia's leasing of 600,000 hectares (1.5m acres) of prime farmland to Indian companies has led to intimidation, repression, detentions, rapes, beatings, environmental destruction, and the imprisonment of journalists and political objectors. (Guardian)
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 36 weeks ago
The publication on Monday of a previously secret Justice Department memo attempting to legally justify the killing of American citizens has opened the door for front-page questions about the entire drone program.     
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 36 weeks ago
Quote of the day. “It is my great hope that I’ll be a great justice, and that I’ll write opinions that will last the ages.  But that doesn’t always happen. More importantly, it’s only one measure of meaning in life. To me, the more important one is my values and my impact on people who feel inspired in any way by me.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in an interview at a recent book signing. (New York Times) 1. President Obama calls for short-term fix to avert automatic spending cuts. President Obama on Tuesday urged Congressto head off deep automatic spending cuts set to hit the Pentagon and other federal agencies on March 1 and replace them, at least for a few months, with a new debt-reduction package that includes fresh tax revenue. (Washington Post) 2. House G.O.P. open to residency for illegal immigrants. House Republicans on Tuesday staked out what they cast as a middle-ground option in the debate over immigration, pushing an approach that could include legal residency but not a path to citizenship — as their Democratic counterparts favor — for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country. (New York Times) 3. Immigration's latest ally: Christian right. The usual suspects pushing immigration reform have a new ally in the fight this time — the religious right. Christian conservatives, who stayed on the sidelines in 2006 or opposed reform outright, have sprung into action for the cause. (Politico) 4. Senate Dems face dilemma over push for assault-weapons ban. Senate Democrats are facing a major dilemma on how hard they should push for an assault weapons ban, a sensitive topic for vulnerable centrists who are running for reelection next year. (The Hill) 5. Lost votes, problem ballots, long waits? Flaws are widespread. The flaws in the American election system are deep and widespread, extending beyond isolated voting issues in a few locations and flaring up in states rich and poor, according to a major new study from the Pew Charitable Trusts. (New York Times) 6. Brennan nomination exposes criticism on targeted killings and secret Saudi base. President Obama’s plan to install his counterterrorism adviser as director of the CIA has opened the administration to new scrutiny over the targeted-killing policies it has fought to keep hidden from the public, as well as the existence of a previously secret drone base in Saudi Arabia. (Washington Post) 7. Top Tunisian opposition leader shot dead. A top Tunisian opposition figure, Shokri Belaid, leader of the left-leaning opposition Democratic Patriots party, has been shot dead as he was leaving his home. … Belaid had been critical of Tunisia's leadership, especially the Islamic party Annahda that dominates the government. (Al Jazeera) 8. Iran's Ahmadinejad seeks strategic axis with Egypt. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on the first visit to Cairo by an Iranian leader in more than three decades, called for a strategic alliance with Egypt and said he had offered the cash-strapped Arab state a loan, but drew a cool response. (Reuters) 9. World powers back U.N. force in Mali. African and other world powers have thrown their support behind a proposal that would see the United Nations deploy a peacekeeping force to Mali, taking over responsibilities from a similar African force. (Al Jazeera) 10. Although splintered, al-Qaeda finds new life in unstable areas. Pushed to the brink of collapse in its traditional strongholds, al-Qaeda has staged an unlikely but limited recovery over the past year through affiliates that have taken root in chaotic environments awash in weapons and beyond the reach of the U.S. military and CIA drones.  (Washington Post)
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 36 weeks ago
Editor's Note: DRONE WATCH follows daily developments about drone strikes and policy concerning the highly controversial usage of drones. To keep up to date, follow our Quick Read blog HERE.One of the most hotly contested points of the administration’s drone policy is its claim to have legal justification for killing U.S. citizens. Now we have their rationale for that claim. Michael Isikoff, National Investigative Correspondent for NBC News, published on Monday a memo he says was given to members of the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees in June.The “Department of Justice White Paper” outlines certain conditions for an attack. An “informed, high-level official of the U.S. government” must determine that the targeted U.S. citizen is a “senior, operational leader of al-Qa’ida or an associated force,” poses “an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States,” “capture is infeasible,” and the attack is conducted in a way consistent with “law of war principles.”  In those conditions, the memo says, “a targeted killing of a U.S. citizen who has joined al-Qa’ida or its associated forces would be lawful under U.S. and international law.”
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 36 weeks ago
Quote of the day. “Men, women, children have all prayed for me. And because of these prayers, God has given me this new life. This is a second life. I want to serve the people.” Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani teenager shot in the head last October, in her first interview, saying she intends to continue campaigning for girls’ education. (McClatchy News) 1. Obama hails Minneapolis gun efforts. President Obama brought his battle against gun violence to Minneapolis on Monday, praising the city for its efforts to reduce youth gunplay to an audience that included survivors of Minnesota gun tragedies. (Minneapolis Star-Tribune) 2. House GOP seeks path on immigration. The House Judiciary Committee meets Tuesday on immigration reform, and Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) wants everyone to be clear it isn’t to talk about the Senate proposal. Rather, it is the first of several hearings for members to hear about current immigration policy and then find out where they stand. (Politico) 3. Violence act returns in test of Republicans' appeal to women. Restarting a politically tinged debate, the Senate voted 85 to 8 on Monday evening to take up a renewal of the Violence Against Women Act. (New York Times) 4. Republican, Democratic lawmakers will meet separately on budget cuts. Lawmakers for both major political parties will huddle separately behind closed doors starting Tuesday, plotting strategy for the coming fight over how to prevent deep, across-the-board automatic federal spending cuts scheduled to begin on March 1. (McClatchy News) 5. Lawyers seek to limit New York police surveillance of Muslims. Civil rights lawyers filed papers in federal court Monday seeking to prohibit the New York Police Department's surveillance of Muslim communities when there is no evidence that they are linked to terrorism or other illegal activities. (CNN) 6. John Kerry takes the helm at State. New Secretary of State John F. Kerry is signaling an early push to rekindle Middle East peace talks, making lengthy telephone calls to the Israeli and Palestinian leaders even before starting work at the State Department on Monday. (Washington Post) 7. Justice Department memo reveals legal case for drone strikes on Americans. A confidential Justice Department memo concludes that the U.S. government can order the killing of American citizens if they are believed to be “senior operational leaders” of al-Qaida or “an associated force” — even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S. (NBC News) 8. Report says 54 countries helped C.I.A. after 9/11. Some 54 countries helped facilitate the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret detention, rendition and interrogation program in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to a new human rights report that documents broad international involvement in the American campaign against Al Qaeda. (New York Times) 9. Iran's Ahmadinejad on historic visit to Cairo. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad discussed the crisis in Syria with his Egyptian counterpart Tuesday in the first visit by an Iranian leader to Cairo in more than three decades, marking a historic departure from years of frigid ties between the regional heavyweights. (Associated Press) 10. South Korea warns against North Korea nuclear test. South Korea's unification minister has warned that North Korea's proposed third round of nuclear testing will be a major threat to the region. (Al Jazeera)
Posted by Duane Shank 1 year 37 weeks ago
Quote of the day. “These manuscripts, they are not just for us in Timbuktu. They belong to all of humanity. It is our duty to save them.” Ali Imam Ben Essayouti, leader of a 14th-century mosque in Timbuktu, on saving 8,000 historical manuscripts from Islamic extremists. (New York Times) 1. Birth control rule altered to allay religious objections. The Obama administration on Friday proposed yet another compromise to address strenuous objections from religious organizations about a policy requiring health insurance plans to provide free contraceptives, but the change did not end the political furor or legal fight over the issue. (New York Times) 2. In immigration debate, same-sex marriage comes to the fore. President Obama is aiming to grant same-sex couples such as Oliveira and his American husband, Tim Coco, equal immigration rights as their heterosexual counterparts. The proposal could allow up to 40,000 foreign nationals in same-sex relationships to apply for legal residency and, potentially, U.S. citizenship. (Washington Post) 3. States set to spend again. A healthy jump in tax collections is letting states spend money on things they haven't been able to afford since the recession struck five years ago. Big spending turnarounds are underway this year in education, tourism promotion and worker pay. (USA Today) 4. Republican energy plan calls for more drilling, nothing to rein in greenhouse gases. The Senate’s top Republican on energy issues, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, has crafted a blueprint for U.S. energy policy that calls for increased drilling while opposing laws to cap greenhouse gases that are blamed for global warming. (McClatchy News) 5. Tech, telecom giants take sides as FCC proposes large public WiFi networks.  The federal government wants to create super WiFi networks across the nation, so powerful and broad in reach that consumers could use them to make calls or surf the Internet without paying a cellphone bill every month. (Washington Post) 6. Justin Welby takes over as Archbishop of Canterbury. The new Archbishop of Canterbury has been confirmed into the role in a legal ceremony at St Paul's Cathedral. (BBC) 7. U.S. attempts to restart peace talks with the Taliban. As the Obama administration nears a decision on the pace of U.S. combat troop withdrawals from Afghanistan between now and the end of 2014, jump-starting reconciliation has become a key element of its exit strategy. (Washington Post) 8. Iran open to 'fair' nuclear talks with U.S. Iran is ready for direct talks with the United States on its nuclear program as long as Washington has "fair and real intentions," said Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi. (Al Jazeera) 9. India president backs rape laws. India's president has approved harsher punishment for rapists, including the death penalty, after the gang rape of a student sparked demands for tougher laws. (BBC) 10. Under Egypt's political unrest seethes the rising anger of the poor. At the heart of the discontent is public anger over the battered economy, specifically the president's failure to improve the lives of millions of people like Abdelaziz who voted for him last year. (Chicago Tribune/Los Angeles Times)