Monthly Archives: February 2009

Obama to Seek New Assault Weapons Ban

Previous Ban Expired in 2004 During the Bush Administration

ABC News | Feb 25, 2009

By JASON RYAN

The Obama administration will seek to reinstate the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 during the Bush administration, Attorney General Eric Holder said today.

“As President Obama indicated during the campaign, there are just a few gun-related changes that we would like to make, and among them would be to reinstitute the ban on the sale of assault weapons,” Holder told reporters.

Holder said that putting the ban back in place would not only be a positive move by the United States, it would help cut down on the flow of guns going across the border into Mexico, which is struggling with heavy violence among drug cartels along the border.

“I think that will have a positive impact in Mexico, at a minimum.” Holder said at a news conference on the arrest of more than 700 people in a drug enforcement crackdown on Mexican drug cartels operating in the U.S.

Mexican government officials have complained that the availability of sophisticated guns from the United States have emboldened drug traffickers to fight over access routes into the U.S.

A State Department travel warning issued Feb. 20, 2009, reflected government concerns about the violence.

“Some recent Mexican army and police confrontations with drug cartels have resembled small-unit combat, with cartels employing automatic weapons and grenades,” the warning said. “Large firefights have taken place in many towns and cities across Mexico, but most recently in northern Mexico, including Tijuana, Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juarez.”

At the news conference today, Holder described his discussions with his Mexican counterpart about the recent spike in violence.

“I met yesterday with Attorney General Medina Mora of Mexico, and we discussed the unprecedented levels of violence his country is facing because of their enforcement efforts,” he said.

Holder declined to offer any time frame for the reimplementation of the assault weapons ban, however.

“It’s something, as I said, that the president talked about during the campaign,” he said. “There are obviously a number of things that are — that have been taking up a substantial amount of his time, and so, I’m not sure exactly what the sequencing will be.”

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Guantanamo abuses worse since Obama took office

Reuters | Feb 26, 2009

By Luke Baker

LONDON (Reuters) – Abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay has worsened sharply since President Barack Obama took office as prison guards “get their kicks in” before the camp is closed, according to a lawyer who represents detainees.

Abuses began to pick up in December after Obama was elected, human rights lawyer Ahmed Ghappour told Reuters. He cited beatings, the dislocation of limbs, spraying of pepper spray into closed cells, applying pepper spray to toilet paper and over-forcefeeding detainees who are on hunger strike.

The Pentagon said on Monday that it had received renewed reports of prisoner abuse during a recent review of conditions at Guantanamo, but had concluded that all prisoners were being kept in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.

“According to my clients, there has been a ramping up in abuse since President Obama was inaugurated,” said Ghappour, a British-American lawyer with Reprieve, a legal charity that represents 31 detainees at Guantanamo.

“If one was to use one’s imagination, (one) could say that these traumatized, and for lack of a better word barbaric, guards were just basically trying to get their kicks in right now for fear that they won’t be able to later,” he said.

“Certainly in my experience there have been many, many more reported incidents of abuse since the inauguration,” added Ghappour, who has visited Guantanamo six times since late September and based his comments on his own observations and conversations with both prisoners and guards.

He stressed the mistreatment did not appear to be directed from above, but was an initiative undertaken by frustrated U.S. army and navy jailers on the ground. It did not seem to be a reaction against the election of Obama, a Democrat who has pledged to close the prison camp within a year, but rather a realization that there was little time remaining before the last 241 detainees, all Muslim, are released.

“It’s ‘hey, let’s have our fun while we can,'” said Ghappour, who helped secure the release this week of Binyam Mohamed, a British resident freed from Guantanamo Bay after more than four years in detention without trial or charge.

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Climate change not caused by humans and warming has ceased say Japanese scientists

Climate science is ‘ancient astrology’, claims report

The Register | Feb 25, 2009

By Andrew Orlowski

Japanese scientists have made a dramatic break with the UN and Western-backed hypothesis of climate change in a new report from its Energy Commission.

Three of the five researchers disagree with the UN’s IPCC view that recent warming is primarily the consequence of man-made industrial emissions of greenhouse gases. Remarkably, the subtle and nuanced language typical in such reports has been set aside.

One of the five contributors compares computer climate modelling to ancient astrology. Others castigate the paucity of the US ground temperature data set used to support the hypothesis, and declare that the unambiguous warming trend from the mid-part of the 20th Century has ceased.

Related

Oops. We overlooked 193,000 square miles of ice

The report by Japan Society of Energy and Resources (JSER) is astonishing rebuke to international pressure, and a vote of confidence in Japan’s native marine and astronomical research. Publicly-funded science in the West uniformly backs the hypothesis that industrial influence is primarily responsible for climate change, although fissures have appeared recently. Only one of the five top Japanese scientists commissioned here concurs with the man-made global warming hypothesis.

JSER is the academic society representing scientists from the energy and resource fields, and acts as a government advisory panel. The report appeared last month but has received curiously little attention. So The Register commissioned a translation of the document – the first to appear in the West in any form. Below you’ll find some of the key findings – but first, a summary.

Summary

Three of the five leading scientists contend that recent climate change is driven by natural cycles, not human industrial activity, as political activists argue.

Kanya Kusano is Program Director and Group Leader for the Earth Simulator at the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science & Technology (JAMSTEC). He focuses on the immaturity of simulation work cited in support of the theory of anthropogenic climate change. Using undiplomatic language, Kusano compares them to ancient astrology. After listing many faults, and the IPCC’s own conclusion that natural causes of climate are poorly understood, Kusano concludes:

“[The IPCC’s] conclusion that from now on atmospheric temperatures are likely to show a continuous, monotonic increase, should be perceived as an unprovable hypothesis,” he writes.

Shunichi Akasofu, head of the International Arctic Research Center in Alaska, has expressed criticism of the theory before. Akasofu uses historical data to challenge the claim that very recent temperatures represent an anomaly:

“We should be cautious, IPCC’s theory that atmospheric temperature has risen since 2000 in correspondence with CO2 is nothing but a hypothesis. ”

Akasofu calls the post-2000 warming trend hypothetical. His harshest words are reserved for advocates who give conjecture the authority of fact.

“Before anyone noticed, this hypothesis has been substituted for truth… The opinion that great disaster will really happen must be broken.”

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Neo-Nazis plotting ‘Fourth Reich’ in Germany

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A skinhead supporter of the rightwing German National Democratic Party, NPD  Photo: AP

A defector from Germany’s hard-core neo-Nazi party the NPD has painted a chilling picture of the rise of new Hitler worshippers and their plans to build the “Fourth Reich”.

Telegraph | Feb 26, 2009

By Allan Hall in Berlin

Uwe Luthardt was a senior member of the NPD but quit to inform on the party which Germany tried unsuccessfully to ban several years ago.

He told of weapons stores and how members greet each other with “Heil Hitler” salutes, sing the banned songs of the Third Reich and relish the idea of a new Holocaust against the Jews.

Last year neo-Nazi attacks in Germany reached an all-time high and authorities are battling to stop youngsters from being attracted to the politics of the right – particularly now that Germany is in a deep recession and jobs are being lost by the thousands every day.

Luthardt, a former board member of the party, said he was threatened that he could “disappear” if he informed on its inner workings.

“Someone who just quits usually gets a lot of problems, and can find himself waking up in intensive care,” he said.

“It wasn’t really my world. When you went along to evening meetings, you saw all the shaven heads, and a black sun or other Nazi symbols tattooed on arms. They usually just boozed or were abusive. If there’s no opponent around, they just fight among themselves.

“Many have an IQ close to my shoe size. Most of them are simply failures: failed pupils, people who dropped out of school or their apprenticeships, alcoholics that can’t find a foothold anywhere else, thugs. But every local organisation has three to five men who don’t have criminal records. They’re the ones sent to face the press or man information stands.

“I joined because I wanted to do something for Germany, I wasn’t interest in a Greater Germany. And suddenly everyone was saying we’ll take back Silesia in Poland and then we’ll give the communists a thrashing.”

He said old Nazis living in South America still donate to the party and other funds come from the staging of skinhead-music concerts.

He went on: “The simple aim is the restoration of the Reich in which a new storm trooper organisation takes revenge on anyone who disagrees with them.

“In Jena in East Germany in the NPD HQ there are a load of SS pictures in the cellar. And there’s a room with weapons.

“‘Let’s kick out all the foreigners, then the Germans will have jobs again’ – that’s the basic concept the NPD talks about. They only refer to freight trains when no one from outside is listening.” That is a chilling reference to the murder of the six million Jews of Europe during the Third Reich, most of whom were transported to extermination centres in railway cattle cars.

“They want the Jews and the foreigners to be transported away once more once they’ve taken over the country again. Internally there’s very plain speaking. And the singing of the Horst Wessel song – the anthem of the original Nazi party – is also very popular.

“But there are internal documents which clearly state how everyone should behave in public. Anything to do with the Third Reich is especially sensitive.

“The dream is of the German Reich. They’re totally convinced that they’ll win an election one day and that things will really get going.

Everyone can imagine what would happen then.”

Pope warns of a new eugenics based on physical perfection and functionality


Reuters | Feb 21, 2009

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Benedict said on Saturday there were worrying signs of a new type of eugenics based on perfection and physical beauty.

“Certainly, the eugenistic and racial ideologies that in the past humiliated man and provoked immense suffering are not being proposed again, but a new mentality is creeping in that tends to justify a different consideration of life and personal dignity,” the pope said in a speech to the Pontifical Academy for Life.

“So it tends to privilege the capacity to operate, efficiency, perfection and physical beauty at the expense of other types of existence considered unworthy.”

Eugenics is a belief in the possibility of improving the human race by weeding out those with what are considered undesirable traits and encouraging procreation by those with desirable traits.

The pope also spoke out against reducing humans to an object of “experimental manipulation” and allowing biotechnology to “surrender to the will of the strongest.”

Pope Benedict has condemned genetic engineering and other scientific practices that allow people to select so-called “designer babies” by screening them for defects.

The Vatican considers pre-implantation diagnosis of embryos to avoid genetic defects or select for qualities like gender morally unacceptable. It is also against genetic enhancement for purposes other than medical treatment.

Barack Obama unveils staggering $3.55 trillion dollar budget

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U.S. President Barack Obama (R) announces his administration’s proposed Financial Year 2010 federal budget outline with Vice President Joe Biden in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building February 26, 2009 in Washington, DC. Obama sent the $3 trillion-plus outline to Congress with requests for the ability to spend an additional $250 billion for financial industry rescue efforts on top of the $700 billion already authorized. The budget is projected to leave the federal government with a $1.75 trillion deficit.

President Barack Obama has unveiled a staggering $3.55 trillion (£2.44 trillion) budget, costing each American taxpayer the equivalent of $25, 573.

Telegraph | Feb 26, 2009

By Toby Harnden in Washington

Announcing a radical change of course in economic policy, Mr Obama proposed a $634 billion reform of the health care system to cover millions more people.

The White House conceded that the proposed budget would balloon the annual federal deficit to $1.75 trillion – or more than 12.3 per cent of the US Gross Domestic Product, the highest level since 1945.

Mr Obama’s bold plan represents the biggest shift in the American political landscape since President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” reforms after 1964 and almost equals in the scale of its ambition President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” of the 1930s.

In introducing huge new spending plans for health, education and energy, Mr Obama insisted he would be able to bring down the annual deficit to $533bn by 2013 and would fund the expansion of government by increasing taxes on the wealthy, cutting defence funding and eliminating waste.

Additional revenue would also come from a new programme of selling carbon credits to manufacturers as part of a cap-and-trade plan designed to slow climate change.

Unveiling a document entitled “A New Era of Responsibility”, Mr Obama sought to present his plans as a matter of good housekeeping. “There are times when you can afford to redecorate your house and there are times when you have to focus on rebuilding its foundation,” he said.

Republicans lashed the budget plan as a return to liberal “tax-and-spend” policies, signalling a major battle on Capitol Hill to get the budget passed.

Representative Mike Pence, a Republican leader in the House of Representatives, said: “The American people know we cannot tax, spend and borrow our way back to a healthy economy.”

Several cast doubt on whether Mr Obama could fulfil his pledge during his speech to Congress on Tuesday not to raise taxes for any but the wealthiest Americans. “If you make less than $250,000 a year, you will not see your taxes increase,” he said on Capitol Hill. “Not by one dime.”

Mr Obama sought to lay much of the blame for the current recession on his predecessor George W. Bush “Having inherited a trillion-dollar deficit that will take a long time for us to close, we need to focus on what we need to move the economy forward, not on what’s nice to have,” he said.

Mr Obama’s 10-year plan projects the deficit falling to $1.17 trillion in 2010 and then down to Mr. Obama’s goal of $533 billion in 2013 but then increasing again to $712 billion by 2019.

He said he would be responsible for a $2 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade, three quarters of which comes from lower expenses in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But his forecasts are based on optimistic assumptions that the global recession will end by next year and quickly produce stronger growth than in the past decade.

With the $787 billion economic stimulus package passed into law last week shovelling cash into the struggling economy, the Obama administration’s first forecast since taking office predicted that the economy will shrink 1.2 per cent in 2009 before growing again by 3.2 per cent in 2010.

Economists surveyed by the Blue Chip Economic Indicators newsletter just before the stimulus plan was approved. They forecast economic output would contract 1.9 per cent in 2009 before growing 2.1 per cent next year.

If the $3.552 billion budget is divided between all 138,893,908 American taxpayers – the 2007 US Internal Revenue System figure, the latest available – then it will each one $25, 573.48.

Fluoride to be added to drinking water despite majority opposition

Fluoride is to be added to the water supply of 200,000 people in Hampshire in order to reduce tooth decay in children after local health bosses voted through the move.

Seven out of ten people in the area were opposed to fluoridation, but the South Central Strategic Health Authority (SHA) made the decision using powers under the Water Act 2003 to demand water companies add the chemical.

Telegraph | Feb 26, 2009

by Rebecca Smith, Medical Editor

Around five-and-a-half million people have drunk water with added fluoride for several decades in Britain and experts say it helps fight tooth decay in the population.

After a three month consultation that move was agreed by Southampton City Primary Care Trust (PCT) where four in every 10 children have a filling by the time they start school.

Other areas that do not already have fluoride are expected to follow.

Five-year old children from Southampton have over twice as many teeth affected by decay as those from South Birmingham, where the water is fluoridated, and around three times more than those from South Staffordshire where there is also fluoride in the water.

But campaigners opposed to the decision said fluoride could be a risk to health and adding it to tap water amounts to mass medication of the population.

During the consultation seven out of 10 people in the area who responded were opposed to fluoridation.

The South Central Strategic Health Authority (SHA) made the decision using powers under the Water Act 2003 to demand water companies add the chemical.

It will now enable the PCT to go ahead and ask Southern Water to act, probably by 2010.

Dr Andrew Mortimore, Public Health Director, added: “The safety and effectiveness of water fluoridation has been confirmed by a large number of respected health organisations, research from existing schemes which have been running for 60 years in the UK and worldwide, and the advice from internationally-respected local experts.”

Peter Robinson, Professor of Dental Public Health, University of Sheffield, said: “The very best evidence indicates that adding tiny amounts of fluoride to drinking water reduces the amount of tooth decay in children by about a third.”

Professor Damien Walmsley, Scientific Adviser at the British Dental Association said: “The BDA commends South Central’s decision as we believe that fluoridation is a safe and effective method of reducing dental decay and oral health inequalities.

“We look forward to the day when we see fewer children in Southampton having to endure the pain and discomfort of decayed teeth or the trauma of having a tooth extracted as a result of adopting this initiative.”