Obama’s Gitmo Regulations Slammed by Supporters

President Obama ended a two-year ban on military commission trials for detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention center Monday in the latest sign that he may not be able to shutter the prison in Cuba any time soon. President Obama’s new executive order on the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is producing disappointment from the administration’s liberal supporters and “I-told-you-so” catcalls from its more conservative critics. Nominal supporters say the resumption of military trials — and the re-affirmation of indefinite detentions for certain prisoners — create what the American Civil Liberties Union calls “a troubling ‘new normal.'” For an administration that hates to be compared to its predecessor, the morning brought some frustrating headlines. A Washington Post column says “Obama’s new Gitmo policy is a lot like Bush’s old policy.” Obama made the closure of Gitmo a major part of his 2008 campaign pitch, and he suspended military trials there his first week in office.

Wisconsin Governor Offers Unions a Compromise

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has offered to keep certain collective bargaining rights in place for state workers in a proposed compromise aimed at ending a nearly three-week standoff with absent Senate Democrats, according to e-mails released Tuesday by his office. The e-mails show a softened stance in Walker’s talks with the 14 Democrats who fled to Illinois to block a vote on his original proposal that would strip nearly all collective bargaining rights for public workers and force concessions amounting to an average 8% pay cut. Under the compromise floated by Walker and detailed in the e-mails, workers would be able to continue bargaining over their salaries with no limit, a change from his original plan that banned negotiated salary increases beyond inflation. He also proposed compromises allowing collective bargaining to stay in place on mandatory overtime, performance bonuses, hazardous duty pay and classroom size for teachers. Increased contributions for health insurance and pension, projected to save the state $330 million by mid-2013, would remain.

NPR President Schiller Resigns over Tea Party Comment

National Public Radio CEO Vivian Schiller has resigned, the radio network announced Wednesday. The announcement comes a day after a hidden-camera video was released showing a senior NPR executive criticizing the Tea Party  as “racist.” Ron Schiller, no relation to Vivian Schiller, issued an apology Tuesday night and said his already-announced resignation would be effective immediately. NPR condemned the comments, but the company announced Wednesday that the Board of Directors accepted Schiller’s resignation, “effective immediately.” The resignation follows several previous incidents of discriminatory remarks and suspicious terminations.

Christian Parents Jailed in Germany

In Germany, several parents have been jailed for keeping their children from attending sex-education programs at school. Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) legal counsel Roger Kiska tells OneNewsNow that the German school system has made it mandatory for nine- and ten-year-olds to participate in the programs, including an interactive play. “The purpose of the play, they say, is to prevent abuse,” says Kiska, “but what they’re teaching is that if it feels good, do it.” According to the attorney, many Christian parents objected to the programs’ content. “They believed that under international law and [under] German law, they had every right to remove their children from those classes and instill in their children their own Christian beliefs about sexuality and love and marriage and chastity — and for this, ten parents have been sent to jail.”

Hispanics Change Responses on Race in 2010 Census

Hispanics from states with large and established Latino populations increasingly identified themselves by race — most chose white — rather than the murky “Some Other Race” that many picked a decade before, a USA TODAY analysis of 2010 Census data finds. It is a sign that the fastest-growing and largest minority population in the United States is adjusting to the way Americans categorize race, some demographers say. If anything, it’s an indication that they are at least figuring out that the government doesn’t recognize “Hispanic” as a race, but as an ethnicity. “I don’t know if it’s assimilation or just learning,” says Jeffrey Passel, a demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center. Census forms ask people who identify themselves as Hispanic to also check what race they are. There are Hispanic whites, Hispanic blacks, Hispanic Asians and so on. Those who don’t identify with existing race categories have to pick “Some Other Race.” In 2000, about 42% of Latinos adopted that option, and almost every one of the 15.3 million who picked that “other” category was Hispanic.

California Growth Stalls

The state that spurred a migration from the rest of the country and the world for 150 years experienced its slowest growth since the Great Depression this past decade, new 2010 Census data show. High unemployment, record home foreclosures and declines in industries such as construction and technology have put the brakes on the economy. Joblessness in the state was 12.5% in December, compared with 9% nationwide. California’s demographic makeup showed dramatic changes since 2000 as the Hispanic and Asian populations rose and the white share of the state count fell to 40%, just two in five residents. Gains by Hispanics did not keep pace with the 1990s rate: up 28% vs. 43%. Still, Hispanics are 38% of the state’s population. The Asian population rose 31% to 4.8 million — 13% of the state. Non-Hispanic whites declined 5.4%. The black population declined just under 1%, its first drop ever in the state.

21 Pennsylvania Priests Suspended Over Sex Abuse

The Philadelphia archdiocese suspended 21 Roman Catholic priests Tuesday who were named as child molestation suspects in a scathing grand jury report released last month. The priests have been removed from ministry while their cases are reviewed. The two-year grand jury investigation into priest abuse in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia resulted in charges against two priests, a former priest and a Catholic school teacher who are accused of raping young boys. And in an unprecedented move in the U.S., a former high-ranking church official was accused of transferring problem priests to new parishes without warning anyone of prior sex-abuse complaints. The grand jury named 37 priests who remained in active ministry despite credible allegations of sexual abuse.

  • The unique and unbiblical Catholic requirement of celibacy for priests is the primary underlying cause. Other Christian denominations don’t have this problem anywhere near the same degree.

Wyoming Beset by Big-City Problem: Smog

Wyoming, famous for its crisp mountain air and breathtaking, far-as-the-eye-can-see vistas, is looking a lot like smoggy Los Angeles these days because of a boom in natural gas drilling. Folks who live near the gas fields in the western part of this outdoorsy state are complaining of watery eyes, shortness of breath and bloody noses because of ozone levels that have exceeded what people in L.A. and other major cities wheeze through on their worst pollution days. Gas drilling is going strong, and as a result, so is the Cowboy State’s economy. Wyoming enjoys one of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates, 6.4%. And while many other states are running up monumental deficits, lawmakers are projecting a budget surplus of more than $1 billion over the coming year in this state of a half-million people. Still, in the Upper Green River Basin, where at least one daycare center called off outdoor recess and state officials have urged the elderly to avoid strenuous outdoor activity, some wonder if they’ve made a bargain with the devil.

30% of Under-30s Text & Drive

Car crashes are the leading cause of teen deaths. Nearly 5,500 people in the U.S. were killed in distracted driving accidents in 2009. And according to a poll LaHood released, 63% of drivers under 30 acknowledge using a handheld phone while behind the wheel. 30% say they’ve sent text messages while driving. “Distracted driving has become a deadly epidemic on America’s roads, and teens are especially vulnerable because of their inexperience behind the wheel and, often, peer pressure,” Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said. A brochure that lists six steps parents can take, including setting a good example and setting and enforcing ground rules, is available online and will be distributed to schools and volunteer groups; a public service announcement has been produced and is being sent to TV stations nationwide; and a video meant to be played in retail stores including Wal-Mart could be seen by as many as 100 million people, LaHood said.

Traffic Congestion Up by 11% in Metro Areas

Traffic congestion in the USA’s 100 biggest metropolitan areas increased by 11% last year and should only get worse as the economy improves and more people get behind the wheel to get to work, according to a report out Tuesday by a firm that tracks congestion. The report finds that 70 of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas saw increased congestion last year compared with 2009, and 41 saw congestion that exceeded their 2006 levels. Traffic congestion in the USA peaked in 2007, reflecting a 21% increase in miles driven from 1995 to 2007. Even a rise in gasoline prices — which topped $3.50 a gallon this week nationally on average — isn’t likely to ease congestion soon, the report says. Its findings are supported by a new report from the federal government showing Americans drove 3 trillion miles last year, the most since 2007

States Slash $1.8 billion in Mental Health Spending

Since 2009, state legislatures have cut $1.8 billion in non-Medicaid mental health spending, according to a report released today by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Vital services cut include community- and hospital-based psychiatric care, inpatient housing and access to medications for tens of thousands of adults and children living with serious mental illnesses, the report says. Deeper cuts are projected for 2011 and 2012. One in 17 Americans lives with a serious psychological disorder such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder, according to the report. About one in 10 children live with a serious disorder. The report adds that the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., in Tucson has put the spotlight on the public mental health system. One important lesson learned, he says: “Get people into treatment when they need it,” urges Michael Fitzpatrick, executive director of the alliance.

Economic News

Gasoline prices across the nation rose 34 cents a gallon on average the past two weeks, prompting some analysts to fret that pump prices could soon hit the $4-a-gallon psychological barrier and stall the USA’s nascent economic recovery. Gasoline is averaging $3.52 nationally for a gallon of regular, with prices over $4 in California and elsewhere. Automakers and dealers are starting to see an uptick in sales of their most-fuel-efficient vehicles, including hybrids and electrics.

Fueled by concern about strife in the Middle East, the safe-haven appeal of silver helped push its price up 1.5% Monday to $35.86 an ounce — which flirted with its highest level in 31 years. The price of silver is up 113% since the end of 2009.

Europe’s government debt crisis has flared up again as Portugal had to pay 50% more to raise cash Wednesday than it had to just six months ago. Investor tensions grew after the Portuguese government revealed it is paying 5.99% interest on two-year bonds to raise euro1 billion ($1.4 billion). That was way above the 4% demanded at the last similar auction in September. The major concern in the markets is that a March 25 summit of EU leaders in Brussels will not yield the “comprehensive solution” to the debt crisis that has been trumpeted. There’s also a realization that higher borrowing costs will make it far more difficult for countries like Greece and Portugal to grow themselves out of the debt mire.

Libya

Moammar Gadhafi said in an interview broadcast Wednesday that Libyans would fight back if Western nations impose a no-fly zone to prevent the regime from using its air force to bomb government opponents staging a rebellion. He said imposing the restrictions would prove the West’s real intention was to seize his country’s oil wealth. Gadhafi was responding to U.S. and British plans for action against his regime, including imposing a no-fly zone to prevent Gadhafi’s warplanes from striking rebels.

Forces loyal to the Libyan leader have been fighting rebels in the east as well as in a handful of towns close to the capital Tripoli, where he has regained total control. As Russian-made jets dropped more bombs on the city of Ras Lanouf, rebel leaders in their stronghold to the east of Benghazi were retrenching. While the airstrikes were not causing major damage to the city or rebel positions, they have seemingly halted the advance of the young and disorganized anti-government forces to the stronghold of Gadhafi in Tripoli. Soldiers loyal to Gadhafi have blocked some 30,000 migrant workers from fleeing into Tunisia and forced many to return to work in the Libyan capital.

Egypt

Security and hospital officials say Muslim-Christian clashes in the Egyptian capital Cairo killed 11 people and wounded more than 90. They said the clashes took place late Tuesday night and lasted several hours. The clashes began when several thousand Christians protested against the burning last week of a church in a Cairo suburb by a Muslim mob following a deadly clash between Muslims and Christians over a love affair between a Muslim and a Christian. The Christian protesters on Tuesday blocked a vital highway, burning tires and pelting cars with rocks. An angry crowd of Muslims set upon the Christians and the two sides fought pitched battles for about four hours. The six killed were believed to be mostly Christians who died of gunshot wounds.

Egypt’s military rulers on Monday swore in a new Cabinet that includes new faces in key ministries, responding to protesters’ demands that the new government be free of stalwarts of ousted President Hosni Mubarak. The new Cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, a U.S.-educated civil engineer, is expected to be met with the approval of the pro-reform groups that led the 18-day uprising that forced Mubarak to step down on Feb. 11. The caretaker government’s main job and challenge will be to help steer the country through reforms and toward free elections.

Tunisia

A Tunisian court has dissolved the party of longtime autocratic President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who was ousted in a popular revolt. The court in the capital Tunis formally announced the end of the Constitutional Democratic Rally, or RCD, on Wednesday. Pro-democracy activists have demanded the party’s dismantling since Ben Ali was ousted after weeks of protests Jan. 14. The protests led to uprisings across the Arab world.

Ivory Coast

Hundreds of marching women converged Tuesday near the bloodstained pavement where soldiers fatally shot seven unarmed female protesters last week in an attack that has prompted a wave of criticism from around the world. Many of the organizers of the deadly demonstration stayed home Tuesday fearing reprisal by security forces. But hundreds of others took to the streets in defiance on International Women’s Day to express their disgust at the regime of strongman Laurent Gbagbo. Gbagbo has refused to cede power even though the country’s election commission declared opposition leader Alassane Ouattara the winner of the Nov. 28 vote. Nearly 400 people have already been killed, most of them civilians who voted for Ouattara.

Afghanistan

U.S.-led military forces have captured or killed more than 900 Taliban leaders in the past 10 months, making it harder for the insurgency to maintain its offensive capabilities, according to the U.S. military in Afghanistan. The decapitation of leadership comes amid stepped-up raids by U.S. special operations units in Afghanistan. The raids have netted insurgent leaders, weapons and drugs used to finance actions against coalition forces, NATO says. Some experts say it remains to be seen how much damage the raids have done to the Taliban’s fighting ability.

Pakistan

A suicide bomber attacked a funeral attended by anti-Taliban militiamen in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, killing at least 36 mourners and wounding more than 100 others. The blast took place close to the city of Peshawar, not far from the tribally administered regions that border Afghanistan where militants are at their strongest. The area is home to several tribal armies that battle the Taliban and receive government support for doing so. Like elsewhere in the northwest, the militias have been relentlessly targeted by the insurgents.

The Taliban detonated a car bomb in Pakistan’s third-largest city on Tuesday, killing 20 and wounding more than 100 people in an attack they said targeted the offices of the country’s main intelligence agency. The militants are based in the tribal regions close to Afghanistan, but have been able to tap into extremist networks in the country’s heartland of Punjab and strike there with regularity over the last three years. Police said the offices of a “sensitive” security agency were nearby but were not damaged in the attack. The remote-controlled bomb devastated a gas station and an office of Pakistan’s state airline in the industrial city.

Iran

The head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiay Amano, confirmed this week that he has received new information that Teheran’s renegade nuclear program has a military dimension, adding that Iran’s lack of cooperation with the IAEA is causing great suspicion, although he stopped short of outright accusing Iran of building atomic weapons.

Following the arrival of two Iranian warships in Latakia, Syria after their passage through the Suez Canal, Iran and Syria have signed a deal that will allow Iran to build a permanent naval base at the Syrian port. In addition to providing a Mediterranean home for Iran’s navy, the deal provides for a weapons depot for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, housing and base facilities for incoming troops, and logistical support for submarines.

India

Hindu extremists have attacked Koya tribal Christians at least 15 times since Dec. 8, 2010, Christian leaders said. Compass Direct News reports that the attacks occured in remote villages in Orissa state. In the latest attack, about 60 assailants beat two Christians until one fell unconscious. Women and children have also been injured in the attacks on churches. Christians have suffered midnight raids on prayer meetings in which they have been beaten, he said, resulting in some Christians fleeing their homes and going into hiding. At least four families have left their village and not returned due to extremist warnings. “There is great fear among the people because of the threats they received from the extremists,” Pastor Purusu said. “Persecution against the Christians has become a daily occurrence in the area.”

Columbia

Assailants kidnapped at least 23 local oil contractors working for Canada’s Talisman Energy Inc. on Monday in a remote part of Colombia’s southeastern jungle. The Colombian workers were abducted from an oil camp in the municipality of Cumaribo, about 300 miles east of the capital, Bogota. The area is accessible only by helicopter. It is not yet known who or why the contractors were abducted, but they may have been Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia guerrillas, who are present in the area.

Mexico

Gunmen swarmed a convoy transporting two prisoners in northern Mexico, shredding three police vehicles with bullets and killing seven officers and one inmate, prosecutors said Monday. Six officers and the second inmate were wounded. Attackers traveling in about 20 vehicles caught the police convoy in a crossfire Sunday near the city of Guasave, Sinaloa state, A note left at the scene said the beheadings were revenge for the killing of a man who was shot dead during an attempted kidnapping. Federal police, meanwhile, said a newly captured leader of the Zetas drug cartel revealed it has a non-aggression pact with three other gangs — the Juarez, Beltran Leyva and Arellano Felix organizations. The Zetas, once a group of assassins who have become a potent gang in their own right, are currently waging a viscous turf war in northeastern Mexico with their former employers, the Gulf cartel.

A 20-year-old woman who made international headlines when she accepted the job as police chief in a violent Mexican border town was fired Monday for apparently abandoning her post after receiving death threats. Marisol Valles Garcia was given permission to travel to the United States last week for personal matters but failed to return to Praxedis. Local news media have reported that Valles Garcia was seeking asylum in the United States.

China

Breaking a seven-year moratorium, Chinese officials plan to dam the nation’s last free-flowing river in a remote canyon that is home to almost as many species of plants as in the whole of the USA and shrink a fish refuge on the Yangtze River to make room for another dam. China says a renewal of hydropower projects is needed to reduce the country’s carbon emissions, which are No. 1 in the world largely because of a reliance on “soft” coal for power. Soft coal is of poorer quality than the coal used for power in the USA and has a higher sulfur content. Environmental groups say China and state-owned power enterprises are using the issue of carbon emissions as an excuse to revive plans for dozens of hydroelectric projects for industrial purposes opposed by villagers in remote river basins.

Earthquakes

A magnitude 7.2 earthquake hit northeastern Japan on Wednesday, shaking buildings hundreds of miles away in Tokyo and prompting the country’s meteorological agency to issue a tsunami warning for the coast. There were no immediate reports of significant damage or injuries. The meteorological agency said the quake hit at 11:45 a.m. local time Wednesday and was centered about 90 miles off the northeastern coast — about 270 miles northeast of Tokyo — at a depth of about 6.2 miles. A 24-inch tsunami reached the coastal town of Ofunato, in Iwate prefecture, shortly after noon.

Wildfires

A brush fire near Silver City, New Mexico, has burned as many as 15 buildings and forced authorities to evacuate a neighborhood threatened by flames, according to the state forestry department. Winds gusting up to 50 mph spread the fire from 50 acres early Monday to over 1,800 acres (about 3 square miles) by Wednesday. Authorities evacuated a neighborhood in Silver City, about 230 miles south of Albuquerque. High winds had prevented firefighters from calling in water-dropping helicopters or planes until Wednesday morning

Weather

The National Weather Service says three tornadoes have touched down in southeastern Louisiana, injuring one person, damaging a house, destroying a trailer, as well as knocking down trees.. The tornadoes developed in a line of severe thunderstorms that moved across the region Wednesday morning ahead of a cold front.

Residents of the mid-Atlantic region are keeping a wary eye on rivers and creeks as heavy rainfall approaches. The National Weather Service has already posted a flood watch for parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland from Thursday morning through Friday morning. Flooding has already closed roads and forced evacuations in New Jersey. The water may not subside before the next storm.

A fierce winter storm blanketed northern New England and upstate New York with up to 30 inches of snow Monday, while western Connecticut was deluged with so much rain that parts of homes and cars floated down a swollen river. The storm helped push the winter of 2010-11 up the record list. Even before the snow stopped, it became the fourth-snowiest winter on record in Burlington, at 121.4 inches. Parts of upstate New York are buried under more than 2 feet of heavy snow, with freezing rain, sleet and 30 mph winds added to the mix, closing scores of schools and knocking out power to more than 40,000 customers.

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