Archive for ‘USA’


Sign Of The Times


Circumcision Ban Making The Cut In SF

San Francisco voters, fresh off their victorious efforts to ban Happy Meals at McDonald’s, are likely to vote this year on outlawing circumcision on any male under the age of 18, according to San Francisco resident and self-described human rights activist Lloyd Schofield who is spearheading the ballot initiative.

If enacted, the law would assess a fine of up to $1,000 and possible jail-time for someone who performs a circumcision.

According to the World Health Organization, 75 percent of American males are circumcised in infancy.

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The Never-Ending Blame Game


Obama Seeking New Mideast Approach

President Obama is challenging his administration to formulate a new Middle East policy that emphasizes political and economic reforms to bolster US allies now threatened by the protest movements sweeping the region.

Administration officials say Obama is urging beleaguered governments to enact reforms that would satisfy the popular craving for change while preserving valuable partnerships on crucial US interests, from oil security to counter-terrorism and containing Iran.

With those allied governments under pressure from their citizens, the US is confronting the likelihood of having diminished influence over whatever political order emerges. But a greater risk is that Washington could be seen as trying to prop up crumbling regimes and could alienate the rising pro-democracy leaders.

Diplomats say it would be difficult for the president to openly call for sweeping political change in such key countries as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Jordan, which are run by royal families allied with the West. Direct criticism of longstanding, friendly monarchs could be seen as an abandonment and encourage even more protests.

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Jonathan Pollard: Israel Should Butt Out

By Frank Anderson, former CIA Chief Officer for Near East and South Asia

In January, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a letter to President Obama asking for the early release of Jonathan Jay Pollard, who was convicted of spying for Israel and sentenced to life in prison in 1987. The United States has steadfastly refused requests for Pollard’s release; it has every reason to continue that policy.

The Pollard clemency pleas are partly based on the close relationship between Israel and the United States. Under this theory, spying for Israel was not serious because it was on behalf of an ally and a friendly government, rather than an enemy of America.

But espionage on behalf of any foreign power is a serious crime for which there are severe punishments. It is a deed that should “shock the conscience” and evoke strong condemnation.

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US Home Prices Could Fall Another 25%

Real estate prices declined in nearly every city and region of the US in December, according to the Case-Shiller Home Price Index, pushing US home prices back down to near their lowest levels since the crash began.

The Case-Shiller Home Price Index is within a percentage point of the 2009 low, with 11 of the 20 cities surveyed showing home prices below the lows of the 2009 trough.

As of the fourth quarter of 2010, “average home prices across the United States are at similar levels to what they were in the first quarter of 2003,” according to the report.

While some analysts believe that the worst is behind American homeowners, others are becoming increasingly concerned that so-called “double-dip” scenario market has definitively begun.

This week, Yale economist Robert Shiller, the co-creator of the Case-Shiller Home Price Index and who predicted the looming housing crash in 2006, noted in an interview with CNBC that “price[s] may go down substantially.” In a subsequent conference call, Shiller defined “substantially” as being in the 15% – 25% range.


Reid: End The Happy Endings In Vegas

Despite his state’s highest-in-the-nation 14.5% unemployment rate, Nevada’s Senator Harry Reid has decided it’s time for the state to end the practice of legalized prostitution and close the state’s 28 legal brothels.

“The time has come for us to outlaw prostitution,” Reid said in a speech to the Nevada legislature this week. It was one of the few lines he delivered that received no applause from lawmakers.

Contacted by reporters afterwards, Dennis Hof, owner of the Moonlight Bunny Ranch, said “Harry Reid will have to pry the cathouse keys from my cold, dead hands.”

Reid, a Mormon, learned to swim as a child at a whorehouse in his hometown of Searchlight, Nevada.


Impressive Children, Impressive Protector

A US soldier protecting Afghan children attending school.
(click for full size)


Battle For Wisconsin


Mom Charged In Dismembering Daughter

Zahra Baker’s stepmother, Elisa Baker, was officially indicted in the murder of the disabled North Carolina child on Monday.

The 10-year-old Zahra, a cancer survivor who lost her leg at age 5 and her hearing in both ears, garnered nationwide attention after she was reported missing in October. Her decapitated and dismembered body was found a month later. The little girl’s head has not been recovered.

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Some Israelis See The Danger In US Veto

Thank You, Obama, For Showing The Israeli Left Your True Colors by Akiva Eldar (for Ha’aretz)

The decision by 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Barack Obama, to veto a resolution urging Israel to refrain from activities deemed subversive to peace efforts represents a victory of domestic politics over foreign policy in the world’s leading superpower. The lame excuse that denunciation of construction in the settlements would harm “the peace process” constitutes a victory of opportunism over morality.

Just two weeks ago, during the demonstration in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that the United States honors “the universal right of all persons to live in freedom.” Even Israel’s former prime minister, Ehud Olmert, a graduate of the “nationalist camp,” argues in his book that settlements violate human rights, the quality of life and freedom of movement of the Palestinians.

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US Official Arrested In Pakistan Is CIA

An American jailed in Pakistan for the fatal shooting of two armed men was secretly working for the CIA and scouting a neighborhood when he was arrested, a disclosure that is likely to further frustrate US efforts to free the man and strain relations between the US and Pakistan.

Raymond Davis, 36, had been working as a CIA security contractor and living in a Lahore safe house. Davis shot the men in what he described as an attempted armed robbery as they approached him on a motorcycle. A third Pakistani, a bystander, died when a car rushing to help Davis struck him. Davis was carrying a Glock handgun, a pocket telescope and papers with different identifications.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration insisted anew Monday that Davis had diplomatic immunity and must be set free.

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Pirates Seize Yacht & 4 Americans

[Ed. Note: Regretfully, this post has been updated here.]

Somali pirates operating off the coast of Oman have hijacked a yacht carrying an American couple sailing around the world.

Jean and Scott Adam – along with two other unidentified Americans – were attacked by Somalia pirates in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Oman.

The couple, belongs to a yacht club in Marina Del Rey, California.

The couple had been maintaining an online diary of their journey, which can be accessed here.

The U.S. Navy is actively tracking the yacht with four Americans on board that was hijacked by pirates and was reported to be headed for the Somali coast.

ABC News reported that a Defense Department official said the monitoring includes at least one warship and some helicopters trailing the yacht as it makes its way from Yemen to Somalia.

In a separate incident, a British couple, Paul and Rachel Chandler, were held by pirates for more than 300 days before being freed.


Political Jeopardy


Judge Found Guilty In ‘Kids-For-Cash’

A federal jury in Pennsylvania on Friday found former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella Jr. guilty in the infamous “kids-for-cash scheme,” in which he and another judge received kickbacks of up to $2.8 million for putting juveniles into detention centers owned by friends.

Children as young as 10 were jailed and at least one killed himself as a result of harsh sentences that ruined their lives. A child’s guilt or innocence rarely, if ever, was considered by the judges.

Ciavarella left the bench in disgrace two years ago after the allegations came to light and is expected to be jailed for at least 13 years. But instead of being caged immediately he was allowed to walk out of court – right into a barrage of abuse from the mother of an all-star wrestler who committed suicide after he sent him to jail. Edward Kenzakoski, 17 was never the same after being jailed for a first-time minor drug offense, his mother Sandy Fonzo raged.

“Do you remember my son? Do you remember my son? He was an all-star wrestler and he’s gone,” she screamed. “He shot himself in the heart. You scumbag, you ruined my fucking life.” Fonzo continued yelling as she was moved away, “I’d like him to go to hell and rot there forever.”

Following the verdict, Assistant US Attorney Gordon Zubrod said the court system during the time of Ciavarella and the other judge, Michael Conahan, was a “criminal enterprise.”

In 2009, both judges were offered plea agreements that would have resulted in 87 months in prison but those offers were nullified by US District Judge Edwin Kosik, who deemed them insufficient. Kosik presided over the Ciavarella case.

More than 70 juveniles and their families have filed a class-action lawsuit against the two former judges claiming they “used kids as commodities that could be traded for cash.”

The judges did little to hide their activities. Detention centers were notified of the number of incoming juveniles to expect each day – prior to the juvenile hearings to determine guilt or innocence. Records showed that the average length of a juvenile hearing in their courtrooms was under two minutes per juvenile.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has thrown out thousands of juvenile convictions issued by Ciavarella, saying he disregarded the constitutional rights of the defendants.

In the video below, Sandy Fonzo, whose son committed suicide, screams at former judge Mark Ciavarella after he’s found guilty in the “kids-for-cash” scheme (profanity).
Vodpod videos no longer available.


US Vetoes UN Resolution On Settlements

The Obama administration on Friday cast its first ever veto in the UN Security Council, blocking a Palestinian-backed draft resolution that denounced Israel’s settlement policy as an illegal obstacle to peace efforts in the Middle East.

The US vote killed a resolution that enjoyed the backing of the 14 other members of the UN Security Council and isolated the United States on a crucial Middle East matter at a time of political upheaval in the region.

The US action also ended an urgent last-minute diplomatic campaign, involving conversations between President Obama and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, to convince the Palestinians to drop their resolution in favor of a milder statement rebuking Israel for constructing new settlements in seized Arab lands.

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US To Support UN Anti-Settlement Vote

Ed. Note: Feb. 19, 2011: Foreign Policy Magazine sucks.

Foreign Policy magazine is reporting that the US has informed Arab governments that it will support a UN Security Council statement reaffirming that the 15-nation body “does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity,” a move aimed at avoiding the prospect of having to veto a stronger Palestinian resolution calling the settlements illegal.

The US position signaled a willingness to break with Israel and join others in the council in sending a strong message to its key ally to stop its construction of new settlements.

In the US-backed draft statement, the Security Council “expresses its strong opposition to any unilateral actions by any party, which cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognized by the international community, and reaffirms that it does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, which is a serious obstacle to the peace process.” The statement also condemns “all forms of violence, including rocket fire from Gaza, and stresses the need for calm and security for both peoples.”

Complete article via Foreign Policy


Income Disparity In US Continues

Middle-class incomes have been stagnant for at least a generation, while the wealthiest tier has surged ahead at lighting speed.

In 1988, the income of an average American taxpayer was $33,400, adjusted for inflation. Fast forward 20 years, and not much had changed: The average income was still just $33,000 in 2008, according to IRS data.

Meanwhile, the richest 1% of Americans – those making $380,000 or more – have seen their incomes grow 33% over the last 20 years.

Experts point to some of the usual suspects – like technology and globalization – to explain the widening gap between the haves and have-nots.

But there’s more to the story.

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