Daily Archives: January 27, 2013

John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and Rand Paul remind Americans that 9/11 remains a dominant political theme

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Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) questions Senator John Kerry (Not Pictured) during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Kerry’s nomination to be secretary of state, on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 24, 2013. Gary Cameron / Reuters

NBC News | Jan 26, 2013

By Tom Curry

The attack of Sept. 11, 2001, has been so pervasive a theme in American politics in the years since that at times we scarcely notice its influence even though it explains so much of what came after that day.

Sometimes almost forgotten, 9/11 is an experience some Americans may recall only when they travel and must undergo screening from a select few of the army of 45,000 screeners that was created by the actions of 19 suicidal hijackers.

So it was remarkable that three times in the space of two Senate hearings on Wednesday and Thursday, the 9/11 attack percolated through the discussion.

Testifying Thursday morning at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to be secretary of state, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., voiced his regret that one effect of that fateful day has been to make people abroad see American policy simply in terms of killing individual al Qaida leaders and pre-empting terrorist threats.

America’s foreign policy must not be “defined by drones and deployments alone,” Kerry warned. “We cannot allow the extraordinary good we do to save and change lives to be eclipsed entirely by the (counterterrorism) role we have had to play since September 11th, a role that was thrust upon us.”

A day before, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in her testimony about the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, used the 2001 attack to make the case for continued robust American involvement in North Africa.

She warned of the risks of a 9/11-style attack from the group Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

“People say to me all the time, well, AQIM hasn’t attacked the United States. Well, before 9/11, 2001, we hadn’t been attacked on our homeland since, I guess, the War of 1812 and Pearl Harbor. So you can’t say, well, because they haven’t done something they’re not going to do it,” she said.

But a bit later Clinton came under assault from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who used 9/11 as his rhetorical theme.

“Ultimately with your leaving (the State Department), you accept the culpability for the worst tragedy since 9/11, and I really mean that,” Paul told Clinton. Democrats on the committee recoiled in anger at what they saw as a cheap exploitation of 9/11.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., told Clinton, “I think if some people on this committee want to call the tragedy in Benghazi the worst since 9/11, it misunderstands the nature of 4,000 Americans-plus lost over 10 years of war in Iraq, fought under false pretenses. It was fought under false pretenses, but it was also fought, I think, because we had a misunderstanding of what we could do and what we could manage in that region for what was under our control.”

Murphy, first elected to the House in 2006 as part of the voter backlash against the Iraq war, didn’t mention that Clinton herself, serving in the Senate in 2002, voted for the congressional resolution authorizing President George W. Bush to invade Iraq.

Her vote was one liability during her bid for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination – a liability which Barack Obama, a state senator when Congress voted on the Iraq invasion, didn’t have.

The 9/11 attack created the political environment which made possible, and perhaps even inevitable, the congressional vote authorizing Bush to use military force against Iraq.

In his Oct. 7, 2002, speech making the case for using force, Bush repeatedly invoked 9/11. To those American who wondered “why do we need to confront it (the threat of Saddam Hussein) now?” Bush said, “There’s a reason. We have experienced the horror of Sept. 11. We have seen that those who hate America are willing to crash airplanes into buildings full of innocent people.” And America’s enemies would be eager “to use a biological or chemical, or a nuclear weapon.”

Four days later, the Senate voted for the Iraq war authorization, with Kerry, Clinton and then-Sen. Joe Biden among the 77 voting for it.

Just as Murphy had argued at Wednesday’s Senate hearing that Iraq was “fought under false pretenses,” so, too, Democrats back in 2004 argued that Kerry, Clinton, Biden, then-Sen. Chuck Hagel and the other members of Congress who’d voted for the Iraq war resolution had been deceived.

But some antiwar Democrats argued that – deception or not – their party could never beat Bush in 2004 with a candidate who was compromised by having voted for the Iraq war resolution.

It’s impossible to know the answer to that question – would Howard Dean or Sen. Bob Graham (who voted “no” on the Iraq war resolution) have defeated Bush in 2004?

We do know that Bush held his party’s 2004 convention in New York City, a target of the 9/11 attack and defeated Kerry in the election.

His second term was an unhappy one for many reasons, but it was Bush – not Kerry – who got to the fill the next two vacancies on the Supreme Court.

And 9/11’s effect is also still directly felt in the current wrestling over fiscal policy. As Obama and congressional leaders try to figure out how to pay for ever-growing entitlement programs and reduce budget deficits, Republicans in Congress, but many Democrats, too, are reluctant to significantly reduce a $630 billion Defense Department budget that grew massively in the years after Sept. 11, 2001.

Newtown residents join gun control march in Washington

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People walk from the U.S. Capitol to the Washington Monument in Washington, Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, during a march on Washington for gun control. Susan Walsh / AP

NBC News | Jan 26, 2013

By Becky Bratu

Residents of Newtown, Conn., the scene of a school massacre in which 20 children and six adults were killed last month, joined thousands of people gathered on the National Mall in Washington on Saturday for a march supporting gun control.

Similar organized demonstrations were planned in support of gun control in about a dozen other places across the United States, according to organizers.

In addition to the 100 people who traveled together from Newtown, organizers told The Associated Press participants from New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia would join the demonstration.

Alongside Mayor Vincent Gray, a crowd that stretched for about two blocks marched down Constitution Avenue toward the Washington Monument, where speakers called for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition. Some of the demonstrators held signs that read “We Are Sandy Hook.”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan addressed the crowd, saying he and President Barack Obama would work to enact gun control policies, the AP reported.

“This is about trying to create a climate in which our children can grow up free of fear,” he said, according to the AP.

“We must act, we must act, we must act,” Duncan said.

According to the AP, demonstrators held signs that read “Ban Assault Weapons Now,” “Stop NRA” and “Gun Control Now.” Other signs carried the names of victims of gun violence.

The silent march is organized by Molly Smith, artistic director of Washington’s Arena Stage, and her partner.

“With the drum roll, the consistency of the mass murders and the shock of it, it is always something that is moving and devastating to me. And then, it’s as if I move on,” Smith told the AP. “And in this moment, I can’t move on. I can’t move on.

“I think it’s because it was children, babies,” she told the AP. “I was horrified by it.”

The event is co-sponsored by One Million Moms for Gun Control, an independent organization that is also responsible for similar demonstrations in cities such as San Francisco, Chicago and Austin, Texas.

The Newtown massacre has reignited the debate over firearms in the United States, and last week Obama laid out a series of measures intended to curb gun violence, most significantly proposals to limit the size of ammunition magazines, ban assault weapons and require universal background checks on firearm purchases. That plan won little praise from Republicans.

Earlier this month, New York lawmakers approved the toughest gun control law in the nation, expanding the state’s existing assault weapons ban and addressing gun ownership by those with mental illnesses.

Are police handing out traffic tickets to meet quotas? Looks that way

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According to local resident Phil Palter, there can be up to five cops writing tickets on a Saturday afternoon at St. Pauls Square in Toronto.

“There’s certainly nothing to do with protecting the citizen…”

CTV | Jan. 26, 2013

It’s hard to argue against a traffic ticket that involves public safety. But if you’re frustrated after getting a ticket for some minor violation, you’re not alone.

In times past, a police officer would often give you a warning and send you on your way.

Not anymore.

These days, it seems, nobody gets a second chance. A hefty ticket is the order of the day.

It’s happening in cities across Canada, but Winnipeg appears to be the worst.

Police there issued 57,000 tickets in 2011. In 2012, city hall asked the police to increase their revenue from tickets by $1.4 million.

Critics say police officers are under pressure to issue a certain number of tickets.

“I think most officers would be happy to provide a discretionary warning,” said Mike Sutherland, head of the Winnipeg Police Association. “The difficulty comes when there are significant work place consequences imposed on officers if they fail to hand out a certain number of tickets in a prescribed period of time.”

Most of us would call that a quota, but police management and city bureaucrats are reluctant to use the “Q” word. Mike Sutherland isn’t buying it.

“It can be called by a variety of different names,” he said. “It can be called an objective, or an expectation. Those sorts of terminology are used to disguise the fact that it simply is a quota.”

With so much time devoted to handing out tickets, you might conclude that Winnipeg is a sleepy place where the crime rate is low and police have little else to do.

Not so.

This city of 700,000 people has the dubious distinction of being the murder capital of Canada.

It also has the highest rate of violent crime and robbery in the country.

You would think that all overtime pay for police would be spent fighting those crimes.

But that’s not happening.

“In this city they ask them to come in and work extra days to just do traffic enforcement,” said Len Eastoe, a former police officer who now fights traffic tickets. “So we’re paying them a 10-hour overtime shift to just do traffic enforcement, when in fact our city is plagued with a lot of other serious crime.”

With so much emphasis on traffic enforcement, Sutherland worries that the people of Winnipeg are losing respect for the police.

“If the traffic enforcement situation becomes more focused on revenue and inappropriately focused on revenue as opposed to public safety, then I think it undermines to some degree the public confidence and the relationships that we’re trying to build.”

That public sentiment is echoed across Canada in other cities.

“I think that they should be going after people who are real criminals and spending their time a little more wisely,” said one driver outside a traffic court in Toronto.

The Toronto police issued a statement to W5 saying, “The Toronto Police Service does not have a traffic ticket quota for its officers.”

Which makes you wonder what attracts officers to a quiet street in the centre of Toronto called St Pauls Square?

“There’s certainly nothing to do with protecting the citizen,” said Phil Palter, a resident of the area. “There’s no businesses on that street. You don’t have robbery. You don’t have possibility of accidents of people being run over. You don’t have speeding.”

All there is on St Pauls is a right hand turn to access the street from Bloor, one of Toronto’s busiest thoroughfares. The turn is legal during the day, restricted at night, but it’s not allowed anytime on Saturday and Sunday. And on weekends, the police are there, stopping drivers and handing out tickets.

“You can have up to five cops sitting there on a Saturday afternoon,” said Palter. “It’s so bizarre. And that’s why so many people have complained about it.”

And not just in Toronto. Drivers in other major cities complain about what they believe are quotas imposed to raise revenue for cash-strapped municipal governments. But so far it the issue hasn’t spread wide enough to come to the attention of The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.

“So far it hasn’t,” said Jim Chu, Vancouver’s Chief of Police and President of the national association for 2013. “But if it was [happening] that would not be a good thing. Because you’re tying enforcement, using the powers of the state to making money and that’s not the purpose for why we’re out there. We’re out there to keep the streets safe, not to make money.”

In other words, the reason police are out there is to serve and protect, not collect.

Freezing cold grips much of the country

cbsnews.com | Jan 26, 2013

en_0126_brown_620x414(CBS News) NEW YORK – We’re still a week away from Groundhog Day, but in much of the country, people don’t need any help figuring out winter will be with them a while longer. They can feel it on their frozen faces. Again on Saturday night, temperatures are dropping below normal in much of the country. And there’s more snow and ice to come.

At a volunteer tent on New York’s Staten Island, Donna Graziano is helping Superstorm Sandy victims battle snow and bitter cold.

“These people are living on their second floors, have no first floor, have no means of cooking,” she said. “Some don’t have any heat. And the ones that have heat is going right through the walls.”

The blustery mix of snow and ice Friday made driving conditions treacherous across the Northeast, Midwest and South.

Welcome to Icelandia, an ice-coated version of Alaska

British icebreaker rescues cruise ship in Antarctica

In Knox County, Tennessee, a fire truck skidded off the road, crushing state trooper Michael Slagl and his vehicle. Slagl had suffered a heart attack and slid off the road. The fire truck coming to his aid skidded in the same place. Slagl died.

Video: Frigid weather batters Northern, Eastern U.S.

In Lexington, Kentucky, black ice and slippery roads caused another fire truck to flip on its side. Three firefighters were sent to the hospital.

It’s been a week of arctic air that has left much of the nation in an icy grip. In Vermont, it was 20 degrees below zero with a frostier wind chill, and in Minnesota, some parts of the state dropped to 30 below. In New York City, temperatures remained below freezing all week.

How serious is this cold weather? “It’s pretty serious,” said Dr. Jeffrey Rabrich, the medical director of emergency medicine at St. Luke’s Hospital. “You can get confusion, dizziness, people can pass out,” he said. “Your heart could even stop if your temperature gets low enough.”

Donna Graziano said the dangerously cold weather won’t stop her from making sure that Sandy victims have hot meals and a place to get warm.

“It gives a place for the residents to come, sit down like a human being, and eat,” she said.

Meanwhile, another major ice storm will bring freezing rain, sleet, and snow to the Midwest Saturday night and eventually move into the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Forecasters warn there could be widespread power outages and icy roads.