Daily Archives: January 11, 2013

Record cold kills 80 in Bangladesh

delhi
Indians gather around a bonfire to keep warm on a cold and foggy morning in New Delhi. (Manish Swarup, AP)

news24.com | Jan 10, 2013

Dhaka – A cold snap which saw temperatures drop on Thursday to their lowest point in Bangladesh’s post-independence history has killed around 80 people, officials said.

The weather office said the lowest temperature was recorded at 3ºC in the northern town of Syedpur and the Red Crescent said hospitals were packed with patients suffering respiratory illness.

delhi girl
A homeless Indian girl is wrapped in a blanket as she sleeps on the ground on a cold morning in New Delhi. (Kevin Frayer, AP)

Shah Alam, deputy head of the weather office, said the last time the temperature had dropped below 3ºC was in February 1968 when Bangladesh was still part of Pakistan.

“The temperature is the lowest in Bangladesh’s history,” he said.

Agartala experiences coldest day in 40 years

Kolkata at 9 degree Celsius experiences coldest day in over 100 years

man blanket
A man warms himself by a fire as another wraps himself up with a blanket to keep out the cold. (Saurabh Das, AP)

The Red Crescent Society said impoverished rural areas had been worst hit as many people could not afford warm clothing or heating.

“They are not prepared for such extreme weather. Many could not even go to work,” the society’s general-secretary Abu Bakar said.

bangledesh
More than 100 people have died of exposure as northern India deals with historically cold temperatures. (Dibyangshu Sarkar, AFP)

“According to the reports of our district offices and local administrations about 80 people have died due to cold-related diseases such as respiratory problems, pneumonia and cough,” Bakar added.

Bangladesh, which is a tropical country, normally sees temperatures fall to around 10ºC at this time of year.

The weather office said temperatures were expected to rise from Saturday.

Cold, cold, cold. Record-breaking bone-chilling sub-zero temperatures assault North India as Delhi shivers at 2.4 degrees Celsius

indiatoday.intoday.in | Jan 7, 2013

by Dinesh C. Sharma

delhi_winter-350_010713092341New Delhi – It was another chilly day for Delhiites as the mercury remained below normal level today. The minimum was recorded at 2.4 degrees Celsius, five degrees below normal.

Yesterday, the mercury dropped to the season’s lowest of 1.9 degrees Celsius, forcing people to stay indoors. Icy winds blew over the capital throughout the day yesterday. Markets and parks, which usually see more footfall on Sundays, wore a deserted look.

On Wednesday, the city witnessed the coldest day in 44 years when the maximum stood at 9.8 deg C.

The current spell of cold in the Capital has clocked multiple lows with the minimum temperature touching 1.9° Celsius on Sunday morning.

The bone-chilling cold forced Delhiites to remain indoors with markets and parks – which usually see a rise in footfall on Sundays – wearing a deserted look.

Besides the chill in the Capital, many parts of north India recorded sub-zero temperatures.

Weather scientists described the current situation as abnormal. “For five days in running, Delhi has seen both cold days and cold nights. The day temperature has been consistently below 13°. This is certainly abnormal,” Dr R.K. Jenamani, a scientist with the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), said.

January is usually considered the coldest month of Delhi winter, but the number of days with both the minimum and maximum temperatures remaining ‘below normal’ appears to be going up. In 1999, just two days in a row had seen both cold nights and cold days. The number of such days went up to three in 2003 and to four in 2010. In 2013, the number has already reached five.

Plunging mercury

Extremely low temperatures have been reported from all over the Indo-Gangetic plains.While Delhi shivered at the lowest of the season at 1.9°C on Sunday, Hisar in Haryana recorded -1.1° and Agra in Uttar Pradesh was at 0.5°C.

“These ever-dropping temperatures are because of weaker and lesser number of western disturbances. Usually this phenomenon helps in raising the mercury as it approaches,” Mahesh Palawat of SkyMet said.

Sunday’s was the lowest minimum temperature for January in the past five years in the city.In 2008, the minimum had plummeted to 1.9°C. The minimum on Sunday was 5° below normal and down from Saturday’s 2.9°C while the maximum was recorded at 11.8°C, 9° below normal. On Wednesday, the city witnessed the coldest day in 44 years when the maximum temperature plummeted to 9.8°C.

Dr Jenamani said the Sunday morning drop in temperature was because of early lifting of the dense fog cover around 3 am. He said the fog was likely to abate in many parts of the Indo-Gangetic plains over the next two days with the wind pattern changing. Both day and night temperature may rise slowly – by 2° or so – during the next three days, Chilled to the bone Capital shivers as it records season’s lowest temperature according to the IMD.

“A feeble western disturbance would affect the western Himalayan region from January 9,” the IMD said. It has forecast a slight increase in the temperature in the upcoming days. “The minimum temperature may go up a few notches in comparison to the current temperature.

The minimum may hover around 3°C on Monday and 4°C on Tuesday,” an IMD official said. The maximum temperature may stay close to 14°C on Tuesday and Wednesday, 15°C on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Sunday may record a maximum temperature of 16°C, the official added.

Florida Atlantic University professor stirs controversy by calling Newtown massacre a government operation

FAU Professor Calls Sandy Hook Massacre A Conspiracy

Sun Sentinel | Jan 7, 2013

By Mike Clary

A communication professor known for conspiracy theories has stirred controversy at Florida Atlantic University with claims that last month’s Newtown, Conn., school shootings did not happen as reported — or may not have happened at all.

Moreover, James Tracy asserts in radio interviews and on his memoryholeblog.com. that trained “crisis actors” may have been employed by the Obama administration in an effort to shape public opinion in favor of the event’s true purpose: gun control.

“As documents relating to the Sandy Hook shooting continue to be assessed and interpreted by independent researchers, there is a growing awareness that the media coverage of the massacre of 26 children and adults was intended primarily for public consumption to further larger political ends,” writes Tracy, a tenured associate professor of media history at FAU and a former union leader.

The Sandy Hook Massacre: Unanswered Questions and Missing Information

In another post, he says, “While it sounds like an outrageous claim, one is left to inquire whether the Sandy Hook shooting ever took place — at least in the way law enforcement authorities and the nation’s news media have described.”

FAU is distancing itself from Tracy’s views.

“James Tracy does not speak for the university. The website on which his post appeared is not affiliated with FAU in any way,” said media director Lisa Metcalf.

Tracy said he knows he has sparked controversy on campus. In one of his courses, called “Culture of Conspiracy,” Tracy said some students have expressed skepticism about his views.

“But I encourage that,” said Tracy, 47, a faculty member for 10 years. “I want to get students to look at events in a more critical way.”

In the Internet age, “We see more and more professors getting into trouble for what they’re posting on Facebook, or Tweeting,” said Gregory Scholtz, director of the department of academic freedom at the Association of University Professors. “And administrations are sensitive to bad publicity; they don’t like things that public might find obnoxious or reprehensible. But most reputable administrations stay above the fray and give latitude.”

Robert Shibley, an official with the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said Tracy is well within his rights of free speech, especially when teaching a course on conspiracy theory.

“The only way that a university would have a right to tone it down, or insist he stop talking about it, is if students come to him and say they find it disturbing,” said Shibley. “People are allowed to talk about things that are upsetting — for example, abortion.”

On Monday, the website Global Research posted a timeline written by Tracy which purports to show how federal and local police agencies, abetted by “major media,” conspired early in the Sandy Hook investigation to constuct a scenario pointing to Lanza as ” the sole agent of the massacre” when others may have been involved.

In one of his blog posts, “The Sandy Hook School Massacre: Unanswered Questions and Missing Information,” Tracy cites several sources for his skepticism, including lack of surveillance video or still images from the scene, the halting performance of the medical examiner at a news conference, timeline confusion, and how the accused shooter was able to fire so many shots in just minutes.

In an interview Monday, Tracy said “while it appears that people lost their lives” at Sandy Hook Elementary on Dec. 14, he is not ready to buy that a lone gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, entered the school and methodically shot 20 children and six adults before killing himself.

Lanza is also suspected of killing his mother at their Newtown home before arriving at the school.

Asked if he has been accused of promoting fringe theories, Tracy said, “I do get that sense, from emails and otherwise.”

Tracy said he believes the deaths at Sandy Hook may have resulted from a training exercise. “Was this to a certain degree constructed?” he said. “Was this a drill?

“Something most likely took place,” he said. “One is left with the impression that a real tragedy took place.”

But, he added, he has not seen bodies, or photos of bodies. “Overall, I’m saying the public needs more information to assess what took place. We don’t have that. And when the media and the public don’t have that, various sorts of ideas can arise.”

Tracy said also has doubts about the official version of the Kennedy assassination, the Oklahoma City bombing, the 9-11 terror attacks and the Aurora, Colo., theater murders.

“I describe myself as a scholar and public intellectual,” he said, “interested in going more deeply into controversial public events. Although some may see [my theories] as beyond the pale, I am doing what we should be doing as academics.”

Giffords gun control group wants $20 million for 2014 elections

giffords
Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Congressman Ron Barber (not pictured) leave the Pima County Recorder’s office after casting their ballots in downtown Tucson, Arizona November 5.  Reuters/Reuters

By David Ingram and Tim Gaynor

Reuters | Jan 10, 2013

WASHINGTON/PHOENIX (Reuters) – A new gun control group led by Gabrielle Giffords, the former U.S. congresswoman wounded in a Tucson shooting rampage, wants to raise $20 million for the 2014 congressional elections, matching the National Rifle Association’s spending in last November’s elections, the group’s treasurer said on Wednesday.

Giffords and her husband, former U.S. astronaut Mark Kelly, have turned to Houston trial lawyer and Democratic donor Steve Mostyn to act as treasurer. He gave $1 million of his own money to help kick start a campaign launched on Tuesday calling for what Giffords and Kelly describe as common-sense measures to curb gun violence.

The move marks the entry of the high-profile couple, both gun owners, into a heated national debate over gun control fueled by the massacre of 20 children and six teachers at a Connecticut elementary school last month.

“We’re just getting things started, but I’ve had conversations with a dozen other large political donors who have worked with me on other issues in the past, and I’ve had a good response,” Mostyn told Reuters.

Even if the group manages to meet its funding targets, it and other similar groups face a steep battle to change U.S. gun laws. The U.S. House of Representatives has a pro-gun rights majority and it’s too early to know if the outcry after the Connecticut shooting will lead to a shift in how they vote.

Vice President Joe Biden said on Wednesday the White House is determined to act quickly to curb gun violence and will explore all avenues – including executive orders that would not require approval by Congress.

Once a favorite cause of wealthy liberals from Hollywood to Manhattan, gun control has fallen out of favor in recent years, and Congress has not approved any major restrictions on gun ownership in nearly two decades.

But the tide might be turning. Billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent $3.3 million to help unseat a pro-gun Democratic U.S. representative from California, Joe Baca, even before the Connecticut massacre.

Giffords’ effort, Americans for Responsible Solutions, seeks to build on that momentum.

“We are going to provide support and backing for candidates in U.S. Congress and U.S. Senate races that are attacked by the NRA for taking moderate positions on common-sense gun safety issues,” Mostyn said. “We will also field candidates.”

The NRA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Giffords’ plans.

SUSTAINED NATIONAL ATTENTION

Other gun control groups, like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, report increased support since the Newtown shooting but have not usually put money into elections.

The largest U.S. lobby group for gun rights, the NRA spent $20 million in the 2012 election cycle, including on candidate contributions and its own advertising, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign data.

The NRA says it has 4 million members and its officials frequently frame gun control as an effort driven by elites, including wealthy individuals who live on the two U.S. coasts – a stereotype that a new super PAC might play into.

“The NRA does best in times of normal politics when most people are not paying much attention. But this could be a game-changing moment because of the sustained national attention being given to this issue,” said Robert Spitzer, a political science professor and gun policy expert at the State University of New York College at Cortland.

If Giffords succeeds in raising $20 million, it would dwarf the amount raised by gun control groups for the 2012 elections, said Kristin Goss, an associate professor of public policy at Duke University.

Arizona state Representative John Kavanagh, a Republican who backed a state law allowing non-felons to carry concealed guns without a permit, said the group’s fundraising target seemed high but noted it was an emotive issue that would draw donors.

“I think they’ll raise a lot of money. But if they’re trying to buck the Second Amendment, all the money in the world won’t accomplish that,” he said.

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the right of people to keep and bear arms.

$1.4 MLN ON FIRST DAY

Giffords’ involvement adds a new face to gun control efforts. She was shot in the head and nearly killed by a gunman in 2011 while meeting constituents outside an Arizona supermarket. She later left Congress to focus on her recovery.

“Gabby’s experience puts her in a very unique position,” former Giffords aide C.J. Karamargin said. “Her congressional career was built on the very premise of working with people who represented different points of view, and finding a way to bring them together to solve a problem.”

Mostyn, the treasurer, said he became involved in Giffords’ effort after receiving a phone call from her husband in the days after the Newtown school massacre.

“Mark called me and said, ‘I think it’s time we do something,'” Mostyn said. “I said, ‘We’ve stood by long enough.’ Having a 5-year-old little girl and looking at those pictures, I will tell you was a rather sobering moment for me.”

Mostyn said he and his wife donated $1 million to the “Super PAC,” a vehicle that allows donors to spend unlimited amounts to support or oppose political candidates. Giffords’ drive received $400,000 in smaller donations on its first day, he said.

The group hopes to raise “enough money to compete on an even-keel basis with the NRA on the cycle, which would be $16 to $20 million,” Mostyn said. It wants the money in time for party primaries next year, he said.

Mostyn declined to identify the donors, whom he said he had worked with previously on Priorities USA, the re-election Super PAC for President Barack Obama, and the House Majority PAC, for the House of the Representatives.

Mostyn, who made a fortune from personal injury lawsuits, said he and his wife have a gun range on their ranch, while Giffords and Kelly own firearms – cultural cues they hope will ward off any fears they want to ban all firearms or take other extreme measures.

Possible laws under debate would expand background checks, which are required only for retail gun sales; ban certain semi-automatic rifles; and restrict high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Obama signs law giving himself and George W. Bush lifetime armed Secret Service guards

20120601_BUSH_OBAMA
President Barack Obama on Thursday signed into a law a measure giving him, George W. Bush and future former presidents and their spouses lifetime Secret Service protection

Yahoo! News | Jan 10, 2013

By Olivier Knox

Former presidents have to give up rides on Air Force One. But now they don’t have to give up being shadowed by the armed-and-earpieced bodyguards of the Secret Service.

President Barack Obama on Thursday signed into a law a measure giving him, George W. Bush and future former presidents and their spouses lifetime Secret Service protection, the White House announced.

The legislation, crafted by Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, rolls back a mid-1990s law that imposed a 10-year limit on Secret Service protection for former presidents. Bush would have been the first former commander in chief affected.

At the time, lawmakers who supported the measure said it would save the government millions of dollars. They also argued that former presidents could hire private security firms (as Richard Nixon did after he decided to forgo Secret Service protection in 1985).

The bill had sailed through Congress with bipartisan support—it cleared the House of Representatives by voice vote in early December, and then it zipped through the Senate unopposed. The law also provides protection for former presidents’ kids until age 16. But “protection of a spouse shall terminate in the event of remarriage.”

The Secret Service started protecting presidents in 1901 after the assassination of William McKinley. In 1965, Congress passed a law authorizing the agency, which is now a part of the Department of Homeland Security, to protect former presidents for life.

White House considers funding for police in schools after Newtown

biden
Vice President Joe Biden says a consensus is emerging over proposals such as tightening background checks and banning high-capacity magazines. Biden says he will deliver recommendations to President Obama on steps to curb violence by Tuesday.

washingtonpost.com | Jan 10, 2013

By Philip Rucker

The Obama administration is considering a $50 million plan to fund hundreds of police officers in public schools, a leading Democratic senator said, part of a broad gun violence agenda that is likely to include a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips and universal background checks.

The school safety initiative would make federal dollars available to schools that want to hire police officers and install surveillance equipment, although it is not nearly as far-ranging as the National Rifle Association’s proposal for armed guards in every U.S. school.

The idea is gaining currency among some Democratic lawmakers, who see it as a potential area of common ground with Republicans who otherwise oppose stricter restrictions on firearms. Sen. Barbara Boxer, a liberal Democrat from California, said she presented the plan to Vice President Biden and that he was “very, very interested” and may include it in the policy recommendations he makes to President Obama.

“If a school district wants to have a community policing presence, I think it’s very important they have it,” Boxer said in an interview Thursday. “If they want uniformed officers, they can do it. If they want plainclothed officers, they can do it.”

But hope of finding an accord over gun laws dimmed considerably Thursday after the NRA lashed out publicly against what it called the administration’s “agenda to attack the Second Amendment” after meeting with Biden and senior White House officials.

Biden plans to present recommendations from the administration’s working group on gun violence to Obama next Tuesday. The vice president said Thursday that he sees an emerging consensus around “universal background checks” for all gun buyers and a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines. Obama, meanwhile, has said he also supports a ban on assault weapons.

The gun industry has long opposed these restrictions,and the NRA said after its 95-minute White House meeting that it would have nothing more to do with Biden’s task force, foreshadowing a partisan and emotionally charged fight over gun control.

“It is unfortunate that this administration continues to insist on pushing failed solutions to our nation’s most pressing problems,” the NRA said in a statement. “We will not allow law-abiding gun owners to be blamed for the acts of criminals and madmen.”

Biden met with other gun-owner groups as well as representatives of hunting and sporting organizations Thursday as he surveys interest groups in the wake of last month’s elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 children and six adults.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. met separately Thursday with major gun retailers, including Wal-Mart. Biden already has spoken with law enforcement leaders, gun violence victims and gun-safety groups and has had conference calls with governors and other state and local elected officials of both parties.

Biden said that, going into Thursday’s meetings, his task force heard repeatedly about the need to strengthen background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. He said the proposals would go beyond closing a loophole that exempts some private firearms sales, such as transactions at gun shows, from background checks.

Full Story

Obama gun plan may feature gun bans, universal federal background checks on all buyers

Vice President Joe Biden meets on gun violence with sport shooting and wildlife interest group representatives
Vice President Joe Biden meets with representatives of sport shooting and wildlife interest groups in Washington, part of his work on proposals to curb gun violence. (Saul Loeb, AFP/Getty Images / January 10, 2013)

Vice President Joe Biden, preparing recommendations for President Obama on curbing gun violence, mentions ‘universal background checks’ and bans on some weapons and components.

latimes.com | Jan 10, 2013

By Michael A. Memoli and Melanie Mason

WASHINGTON — Requiring all gun buyers to pass a federal background check could be a key part of a White House plan to combat mass shootings, Vice President Joe Biden indicated as he prepared to present recommendations to the president on Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Biden said he had found a “surprising recurrence of suggestions” for “universal background checks” in meetings with interest groups. Background checks are not required in private sales by unlicensed dealers, including transactions at gun shows.

Biden is expected to propose measures that President Obama could institute by executive action, as well as proposed laws, such as bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

The quick movement to roll out potential remedies to mitigate gun violence — ahead of schedule and just days before Obama and Biden are sworn into a second term — is a signal of the urgency the White House aims to project in developing a response to the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting, which led to the deaths of 20 young students and six staff members.

“The public wants us to act,” Biden said.

But the National Rifle Assn., which sent a representative to Biden’s meeting Thursday with gun organizations, issued a chilly statement, an indication of the challenge ahead.

“It is unfortunate that this administration continues to insist on pushing failed solutions to our nation’s most pressing problems,” the NRA statement said. “We will now take our commitment and meaningful contributions to members of Congress of both parties who are interested in having an honest conversation about what works — and what does not.”

The White House was circumspect, noting only that the meeting lasted more than an hour and a half and providing a photo of a table surrounded by stony faces.

Richard Feldman, president of the Independent Firearm Owners Assn., said that although there were some tense moments, “it was a conversation, not a lecture.”

Feldman, a former NRA official whose current group is more open to tighter gun laws, said he told administration officials, “If we focus on the gun, we miss the opportunity to zero in on the problem that unifies us, which is in whose hands are the guns.”

Since being tapped by Obama to head the White House response to the shooting, Biden and other administration officials have met with an array of groups, including mental health professionals, law enforcement and clergy. On Thursday, Biden also met with hunters, conservationists and entertainment industry officials. On Friday, he plans to meet with representatives from the video game industry.

Biden told reporters he expected to present his recommendations to Obama on Tuesday, well ahead of his end-of-the-month deadline. The White House has indicated that the president will then quickly “announce a concrete package of proposals he intends to push without delay.”

“I’m not sure we can guarantee this will never happen again, but as the president said, even if we can only save one life, it would make sense,” Biden said. “And I think we can do a great deal without in any way imposing on and impinging on the rights of the 2nd Amendment.”

Another recommendation, Biden said, could be to gather information on “what kind of weapons are used most to kill people” and “what kind of weapons are trafficked weapons.” Since the mid-1990s, Congress has restricted federal agencies’ research into gun violence.

Earlier this week, Biden indicated that his recommendations could include actions Obama can take without congressional approval. “We’re not going to get caught up in the notion that unless we can do everything, were going to do nothing,” he said.

Biden’s comments reflect the political reality in Congress. The House is controlled by Republicans who have been resistant to new gun restrictions. In the Senate, Democrats are shy of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster, and some of them face difficult reelections in 2014, when pro-gun groups could try to defeat them.

Actions are also possible at the state level.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he hopes his state will set the tone for new federal gun laws, and he vowed Wednesday to “enact the toughest assault weapon ban in the nation, period.”

“We must stop the madness, my friends,” the Democratic governor said, insisting that his proposal was not aimed at hunters and sportsmen. “I own a Remington shotgun. I’ve hunted. I’ve shot. That’s not what this is about. It is about ending the unnecessary risk of high-capacity assault rifles.”

Cuomo wants New York to ban online ammunition sales and ban high-capacity magazines; require background checks even on private weapons sales; and stiffen penalties for illegal weapons possession. He also called for laws to keep weapons away from the mentally ill.

Also Wednesday, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, promised “to make specific, actionable recommendations in the areas of school safety, mental health services and gun violence prevention.”

But he noted that state action had its limits. “This conversation must take place nationally. As long as weapons continue to travel up and down I-95, what is available for sale in Florida can have devastating consequences here in Connecticut,” he said.