Guess Who Leads the Bribery World?
The USA is the most corrupt country in the world and I have 10,000 posts that point heavily to that fact…

US sheriff ‘targeted Hispanics’ December 16, 2011

Joe Arpaio is said to have helped shape the US debate over illegal immigration

A lawman known for his tough stance on immigration has routinely discriminated against Hispanics, according to a federal investigation.

A US Department of Justice report found Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s office had flouted US civil rights laws by racially profiling Hispanics.

Violations included unlawful arrest and detention, discriminatory jail practices and denial of services.

It comes as the Supreme Court reviews Arizona’s tough immigration law.

Sheriff Arpaio has styled himself as America’s toughest sheriff, and has been known to jail inmates in tents and dress them in pink underwear.

The justice department investigation into the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) was launched during the administration of President George W Bush.

Published on Thursday, its report requires the office to reform its practices or lose millions of dollars in federal funding.

Continue reading the main story

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Arpaio’s own actions have helped nurture the sheriff’s office culture of bias”

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Thomas Perez
Department of Justice

The sheriff has until 4 January to say whether he will comply, or the federal government says it will sue him.

The justice department report says that in Maricopa County, Hispanics are four to nine times more likely to be pulled over by the police.

The sheriff’s office also treats all Hispanics as though they are in the country illegally, says the report.

It highlights how language barriers have been exploited by the sheriff’s deputies in the county jail.

Inmates with limited English were put in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours per day.

They were also locked in their jail cells for up to 72 hours for failing to understand commands in English.

The report cited a wide use by officers of racial slurs in emails and when speaking to inmates.

Sheriff Arpaio shot to national stature with his policy of putting prisoners in pink underwear

The justice department has said it is still investigating complaints of use of excessive force against Hispanics; sexual assault cases that were not properly investigated; and whether a “culture of bias” has deterred residents from reporting crimes.

The report links the malpractice to the sheriff himself.

“Arpaio’s own actions have helped nurture MCSO’s culture of bias,” Thomas Perez, head of the justice department’s civil rights division said.

“We found discriminatory policing that was deeply rooted in the culture of the department – a culture that breeds a systemic disregard for basic constitutional protections.”

He added that the justice department’s expert on racial profiling said this was the most serious case he had come across.

Republican presidential candidates have sought Sheriff Arpaio’s endorsement to boost their campaigns.

This year, the lawman backed Texas Governor Rick Perry, who denounced Thursday’s findings as politically motivated.

A federal grand jury has also, separately, been investigating abuse-of-power allegations at the sheriff’s office and especially within his anti-public corruption squad.

Meanwhile, legislation from Arizona that aims to crack down on illegal immigration is pending before the Supreme Court.

The law would enable police to demand proof of citizenship from those they stop or detain, and to arrest suspected illegal immigrants without a warrant.

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Bradley Manning deserves a medal | Glenn Greenwald December 15, 2011

After 17 months of pre-trial imprisonment, Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old US army private and accused WikiLeaks source, is finally going to see the inside of a courtroom. This Friday, on an army base in Maryland, the preliminary stage of his military trial will start.

He is accused of leaking to the whistleblowing site hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, war reports, and the now infamous 2007 video showing a US Apache helicopter in Baghdad gunning down civilians and a Reuters journalist. Though it is Manning who is nominally on trial, these proceedings reveal the US government’s fixation with extreme secrecy, covering up its own crimes, and intimidating future whistleblowers.

Since his arrest last May in Iraq, Manning has been treated as one of America’s most dastardly traitors. He faces more than 30 charges, including one – “aiding the enemy” – that carries the death penalty (prosecutors will recommend life in prison, but military judges retain discretion to sentence him to die).

The sadistic conditions to which he was subjected for 10 months – intense solitary confinement, at one point having his clothing seized and being forced to stand nude for inspection – became an international scandal for a US president who flamboyantly vowed to end detainee abuse. Amnesty International condemned these conditions as “inhumane”; PJ Crowley, a US state department spokesman, was forced to resign after denouncing Manning’s treatment. Such conduct has been repeatedly cited by the US as human rights violations when engaged in by other countries.

The UN’s special rapporteur on torture has complained that his investigation is being obstructed by the refusal of Obama officials to permit unmonitored visits with Manning. (Even the Bush administration granted access to the International Red Cross at Guantánamo.) Such treatment is all the more remarkable in light of what Manning actually did, and did not do, if the charges are true. For these leaks have achieved enormous good and little harm.

From the start, US claims about the damage done have been wildly exaggerated, even outright false. After the release of the Afghanistan war logs, officials accused WikiLeaks of having “blood on their hands”, only to admit weeks later that they were unaware of a single case of anyone being harmed. That remains true today.

Even Robert Gates, the Pentagon chief, mocked alarmism over the diplomatic cables leak as “significantly overwrought”, dismissing its impact as “fairly modest”. Manning’s lawyer is seeking internal government documents that, he insists, concluded there was no meaningful harm to US diplomatic relations from the release of any documents. None of the leaked documents were classified at the highest level of secrecy – top secret – but rather bore only low-level classification.

By contrast, the leaks Manning allegedly engineered have generated enormous benefits: precisely the benefits Manning, if the allegations against him are true, sought to achieve. According to chat logs purportedly between Manning and the informant who turned him in, the private decided to leak these documents after he became disillusioned with the Iraq war. He described how reading classified documents made him, for the first time, aware of the breadth of the corruption and violence committed by his country and allies.

He explained that he wanted the world to know what he had learned: “I want people to see the truth … regardless of who they are … because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.” When asked by the informant why he did not sell the documents to a foreign government for profit, Manning replied that he wanted the information to be publicly known in order to trigger “worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms”.

There can be no doubt that these vital goals have been achieved. When WikiLeaks was awarded Australia’s most prestigious journalism award last month, the awarding foundation described how these disclosures created “more scoops in a year than most journalists could imagine in a lifetime”.

By exposing some of the worst atrocities committed by US forces in Iraq, the documents prevented the Iraqi government from agreeing to ongoing legal immunity for US forces, and thus helped bring about the end of the war. Even Bill Keller, the former New York Times executive editor and a harsh WikiLeaks critic, credits the release of the cables with shedding light on the corruption of Tunisia’s ruling family and thus helping spark the Arab spring.

In sum, the documentsManning is alleged to have released revealed overwhelming deceit, corruption and illegality by the world’s most powerful political actors. And this is why he has been so harshly treated and punished.

Despite pledging to usher in “the most transparent administration in history”, President Obama has been obsessed with prosecuting whistleblowers; his justice department has prosecuted more of them for “espionage” than all prior administrations combined.

The oppressive treatment of Manning is designed to create a climate of fear, to send a signal to those who in the future discover serious wrongdoing committed in secret by the US: if you’re thinking about exposing what you’ve learned, look at what we did to Manning and think twice. The real crimes exposed by this episode are those committed by the prosecuting parties, not the accused. For what he is alleged to have given the world, Manning deserves gratitude and a medal, not a life in prison.

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Undercover police spied on protesters at Occupy LA December 12, 2011

Undercover police officers infiltrated Occupy LA’s tent city last month to spy on people suspected of stockpiling human waste and crude weapons for resisting an eventual eviction, police and city government sources have said.

Authorities said the covert surveillance was not aimed at anti-Wall Street activists exercising their constitutional right to freedom of expression but at those they considered anti-government extremists bent on violence.

The revelation came as police arrested dozens of people during a raid of an Occupy San Francisco encampment outside the Federal Reserve building early on Sunday.

San Francisco police Officer Albie Esparza says that at approximately 4am officers arrested about 55 people for illegal lodging.

Esparza says that before police moved in on the encampment, demonstrators had been warned on an hourly basis over a 24-hour period that they were subject to arrest.

The arrests come after at least 85 people were arrested on Wednesday when police cleared a separate Occupy encampment in nearby Justin Herman Plaza.

Civil liberties campaigners said they were troubled by the infiltration of peaceful demonstrations, although the Los Angeles police department’s undercover efforts were not unique.

“We had reports that there were individuals advocating violence against police and taking steps to commit violence,” a senior LAPD source said. “In that vein we investigated that. What we didn’t do was spy or monitor or interact with those engaged with First Amendment activities.”

Authorities also used security cameras mounted outside City Hall, where the camp was located, and monitored publicly available Internet chatter and video on social networking sites, sources said.

Evidence gathered through the surveillance led to more than 40 arrests for drug use, public intoxication and other offences in the weeks before police shut down the camp on 30 November, the senior police official said.

That official and most other sources spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity because of department policy barring police from publicly discussing undercover operations.

Elise Whitaker, an Occupy LA organiser, said she was not surprised to hear police sent undercover officers into the camp but that such surveillance proved unwarranted because the demonstration was peaceful.

“I’m not thrilled about it,” she said. “It’s demeaning to the movement. It suggests that we are not who we say we are. It suggests that they don’t trust us.”

Occupy LA was not alone. According to the New York Times, New York police also sent plainclothes officers into Zuccotti Park in Manhattan to gather intelligence on protesters there.

At its peak, officials said, there were some 2,000 people and more than 500 tents at the Los Angeles camp.

City officials had allowed the camp to remain open even as other cities forced the removal of similar compounds. But mounting complaints of sanitation problems, property damage, drugs and the presence of children prompted Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to finally order the tent city closed.

In the end, nearly 300 Los Angeles demonstrators were arrested the night police raided the camp, nearly all for defying orders to leave, but there was little violence.

Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson said while the LAPD’s covert actions may raise questions about intrusions on civil liberties, police officers in or out of uniform have the same right to be in a public space as anyone else.

There was nothing to suggest the LAPD’s surveillance violated Fourth Amendment safeguards against unreasonable searches and seizures, she added.

“It’s always worrisome, of course, when you’re doing undercover operations but sometimes it’s necessary,” Levenson said. “It’s completely expected for safety reasons, if nothing else. They wanted to know what they were going to confront.”

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US politics live: Eric Holder faces ‘Fast and Furious’ questions in Congress December 8, 2011

1.20pm: Virginia Tech is in lock-down after shots were heard near the campus:

Virginia Tech says a police officer has been shot, and a possible second victim has been reported at a parking lot near the campus.

Authorities are seeking a suspect.

A campus-wide alert tells students and faculty to stay inside and lock doors.

Virginia Tech, as most people will recall, was the site of the tragic shooting of 32 students and staff members by a student on the campus in 2007.

1.15pm: Erick Erickson, the influential conservative Republican and co-founder of RedState, says that the Republican presidential nomination may go to the floor of the Republican National Convention in Tampa next year:

I think it is time to move beyond wishful thinking and take seriously the idea of having a brokered convention with someone other than the current crop of candidates becoming the nominee.

Erickson is not a nut – and this is a sidelight in a longer piece he has written on the state of the GOP race. And my view that there is some wishful thinking going on there. But Erickson isn’t alone among Republicans in saying this.

1.01pm: The morning-after pill decision mentioned earlier has been the subject of considerable controversy, with the American Academy of Pediatrics calling Sebelius’ decision to keep the pill on sale behind pharamcy counters “medically inexplicable”.

AP reports:

Pediatricians say the morning-after pill is safe — containing a high dose of the same female hormone that’s in regular birth control pills — especially compared to some existing over-the-counter medicines.

“I don’t think 11-year-olds go into Rite Aid and buy anything,” much less a single pill that costs about $50, added fellow AAP member Dr Cora Breuner, a professor of pediatric and adolescent medicine at the University of Washington.

With all due respect to Dr Breuner, at my local branch of [national drugstore chain], a bright 11-year-old could probably get a job behind the counter.

12.43pm: At Eric Holder’s hearing, the attorney general says there is a suspect in the killing of US border agent Brian Terry – thought to have been killed by a gun obtained from the botched Fast and Furious operation – but that he can’t speak any further because a court has sealed the matter.

12.36pm: At Obama’s mini press conference, the subject of the “Plan B” morning-after pill came up, and the decision by the Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius to keep the drug behind pharmacy counters rather than on open shelves.

In response to a question, Obama says Sebelius was concerned a 10-year-old could get the medication, which could be dangerous. “Most parents would probably feel the same way,” Obama said.

The morning-after pill will still be available without a prescription to those 17 and older who can prove their age.

12.30pm: Some massive grandstanding going on by Darryl Issa, complete with props – a set of boxes showing the information he has received from a gun-dealer compared with a solitary box showing the information he received from the Justice Department.

I’m not quite sure what his point is but it looks good on television. Well, C-Span 3.

Sample quote from Issa: “When he comes before us saying he will clean house, no house has been cleaned.”

12.22pm: The Christian Science Monitor has an excellent overview of the position Eric Holder finds himself in over Fast and Furious and the chorus of Republicans calling for his resignation.

It also notes this:

While the White House has remained relatively quiet on Fast and Furious, other Democrats have come to Holder’s defense, saying Republican calls for resignation are clearly partisan, in part because they’ve largely ignored a smaller-scale gun-walking program, “Operation Wide Receiver,” implemented during the Bush administration. However, that program, unlike Fast and Furious, was a joint operation with Mexican authorities.

12.10pm: Back to Eric Holder, who is being grilled, baked and roasted by Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee over the failure of Fast and Furious.

Earlier, Republican congressman Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin told Holder:

If we don’t get to the bottom of this – and that requires your assistance on that – there is only one alternative that Congress has, and it’s called impeachment, where our subpoena powers are plenary and there can’t be any type of a legal immunity or privilege that can be asserted on that.

Now, you know, I’ve done more impeachments than anybody else in the history of the country. It is an expensive and messy affair. And I don’t want to go this far.

A rare moment of humour happened shortly after, from veteran Democrat John Conyers: “I merely wanted to clear the record with Jim Sensenbrenner. I’ve had far more impeachment experience than he has.”

12.04pm: And there’s this news: Iran’s state television appears to be showing video of the top secret US RQ-170 Sentinel drone that crash-landed inside Iran last week.

If the video is legitimate, the drone looks like it is intact.

12 noon: Asked about his vow to cut short his holiday until the payroll tax holiday is extended, Obama says he will delay his vacation to Hawaii until Congress acts: “I will not ask anybody to do something I’m not willing to do myself.”

With grim humour he looks at the assembled journalists and says: “Maybe we’ll have a white Christmas here in Washington.” Someone groans softly in the background.

11.56am: Obama is asked about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and what he means when he says he’s looking at all the options:

Obama: All options means I’m not taking any options off the table.

Reporter: Can you tell us what those options might be?

Obama: No.

Obama does go on to say that the US has imposed the toughest level of sanctions against Iran of any administration, and that Iran can either be isolated or “act responsibly”.

11.53am: On the European debt crisis, Obama says “obviously I am very concerned about what’s happening in Europe”. He says that he has repeatedly spoken to European leaders such as Merkel and Sarkozy, and the only question is political will:

It’s not as if we’re talking about some improvished country … this is Europe, with some of the wealthiest countries on earth.

Obama goes on to say:

We’re going to do everything we can to push them in a good direction on this … if we see Europe tank, that obviously could have a big impact on our ability to create jobs.

11.49am: Obama says he is still committed to appointing Richard Cordray as head of the Consumer Finance Protection Board – and won’t rule out a recess appointment (a constitutional device that allows the president to circumvent congressional approval):

Why wouldn’t we want somebody just to make sure people are being treated fairly? Especially when not only is a family affected but our whole economy is affected.

We have Republicans in Congress who appear to have entirely forgotten how we got into this mess.

The bottom line, according to Obama, “is we’re going to look at all our options. My hope is the Republicans come to their senses.”

11.42am: Speaking from the White House briefing room, President Obama says there was no reason for the Senate to block Richard Cordray’s nomination: “This makes absolutely no sense.”

Obama is now taking questions – and the first one is on the accusations by Republican presidential candidates that he has guilty of “appeasement” of Israel’s enemies.

Here’s Obama’s pithy response:

Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top al-Qaida leaders who have been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement. Or whoever is left out there, ask them about that.

Hard to argue with that.

11.20am: More Congressional gridlock: the Senate blocks the nomination of Richard Cordray as head of the new consumer watchdog, the Consumer Finance Protection Board. Despite winning the vote 53 to 45 Cordray’s nomination failed to clear the 60 votes required for cloture, in effect filibustering the nomination:

Republicans said they had three demands. One was for a five-member board to oversee the agency. Another was for “safety and soundness” checks of the agency’s decision-making. And they wanted the agency’s funding to be approved by Congress rather than have its budget approved by the Federal Reserve.

President Obama is to speak on the subject shortly.

11.13am: In attempt to derail the Newt Gingrich bandwagon, the Romney campaign sent out two surrogates this morning to attack his record – a sign that the GOP fight is getting more brutal, as the Los Angeles Times reports.

Former Missouri Senator Jim Talent – who served under Gingrich when he was Speaker of the House in the mid-1990s – and a Romney supporter, appeared at a press conference:

The speaker’s running as a reliable and trusted conservative leader. And what we’re here to say, with reluctance, but clearly, is that he’s not a reliable and trusted conservative leader because he’s not a reliable or trustworthy leader.

Former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu laced into Gingrich for his remarks about the Medicare proposals of Republican congressman Paul Ryan earlier this year:

For Newt Gingrich, in an effort of self-aggrandizement, to come out and throw a clever phrase that had no other purpose than to try and make him sound a little smarter than the conservative Republican leadership, to undercut Paul Ryan is the most self-serving, anti-conservative thing one can imagine happening.

That’s reference to Gingrich calling Ryan’s plans “right-wing social engineering”.

Things are heating up nicely.

11.41am: The committee is now going into recess to allow members to vote.

10.40am: Darryl Issa, the Republican chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is next up to take a swing at Holder:

My committee just next door was systemically lied to by your own representatives. There is a high likelihood individual was deliberately duped, but he was duped by people who still work for you today, still work for you today.

The president has said he has full confidence in this attorney general. I have no confidence in a president who has full confidence in an attorney general who has in fact not terminated or dealt with the individuals, including key lieutenants who from the very beginning had some knowledge and long before Brian Terry was gunned down knew enough to stop this programme.

10.37am: Lamar Smith, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is quickly on the attack, telling Eric Holder:

I am disappointed in the department’s repeated refusal to cooperate with this committee’s oversight request.

This lack of cooperation is evident in the department’s handling of inquiries related to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Operation Fast and Furious and the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010. And inconsistent statements from department officials about who knew what and when have only raised more concerns.

10.32am: Perhaps forlornly, Eric Holder says investigators should avoid soring political pints. That ship has sailed, I’m afraid.

Holder also attempts to address the death of US law enforcement officer Brian Terry – who may have been killed by a gun smuggled as part of the Fast and Furious operation:

Nearly one year ago, working to protect his fellow citizens, US Customs and Border Protection agent Brian Terry was violently murdered in Arizona. We all should feel outrage about his death, and – as I have communicated directly to Agent Terry’s family – we are dedicated to pursuing justice on his behalf.

The Department is also working to answer questions that the Terry family has raised, including whether and how firearms connected to Fast and Furious could end up with Mexican drug cartels.

10.29am: More from Holder – who warns that the guns lost during Fast and Furious will be found for “years to come”:

Although the Department has taken steps to ensure that such tactics are never used again, it is an unfortunate reality that we will continue to feel the effects of this flawed operation for years to come. Guns lost during this operation will continue to show up at crime scenes on both sides of the border.

In other words, Fast and Furious will be a running sore for the administration.

Holder attempts to put the figures into the context of the huge flow of arms from the US to Mexico:

As we work to identify where errors occurred and to ensure that these mistakes never happen again, we must not lose sight of the critical challenge this flawed operation has highlighted: the battle to stop the flow of guns to Mexico. Of the nearly 94,000 guns that have been recovered and traced in Mexico in the last five years, more than 64,000 were sourced to the United States. In the last five years, the trafficking of firearms across our Southwest Border has contributed to approximately 40,000 deaths.

10.20am: Eric Holder is now before the committee – you can follow it live via C-Span 3 – and in his opening remarks describes the failure of Fast and Furious as “inexcusable”.

Holder told the committee that “addressing the unacceptable rate of illegal firearms trafficking from the United States to Mexico” led to the disasterous policy:

Unfortunately, in the pursuit of that laudable goal unacceptable tactics were adopted as a part of Operation Fast and Furious. As I have repeatedly stated, allowing guns to walk – whether in this Administration or in the prior one – is wholly unacceptable. The use of this misguided tactic is inexcusable. And it must never happen again.

Police on the streets of Monterrey, Mexico. Photograph: Tomas Bravo/Reuters

10.11am: By way of background on the influence of US-sourced guns in Mexico’s drug war, the Guardian’s Chris McGreal has just visited Texas and published this investigation:

It’s a war sustained by a merry-go-round. The cartels use the money paid by Americans for drugs to buy weapons at US guns stores, which are then shipped across the frontier, often using the same vehicles and routes used to smuggle more narcotics north. The weapons are used by the cartels to protect narcotics production in their battle with the Mexican police and army, and smuggle drugs north.

Good morning: US Attorney General Eric Holder appears before the House Judiciary Committee to answer questions over the government’s failed operation known as Fast and Furious, a gunning-running sting that led to weapons being passed in the hands of Mexico’s drug cartels.

It’s a complex subject but Republicans in the House of Representatives have been investigating the Justice Department and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and how the Mexican cartels ended up with hundreds of firearms as a result.

Here’s the background:

Two years ago, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives launched a “gun walking” operation that permitted several gun shops in Arizona to sell a total of more than 2,000 semi-automatic weapons destined for drug cartels with the intention of tracking the guns and busting the smuggling operations.

But the agents carrying out Operation Fast and Furious lost track of about 1,400 of the guns – some of which were later identified as being used in killings in Mexico and other attacks, including an incident in which a Mexican military helicopter was shot down. Two of the weapons were also recovered after a gun battle in Arizona last year in which a US border patrol agent, Brian Terry, was killed.

Now Holder appears before the House Judiciary Committee to be grilled once more on who knew what and when.

Elsewhere, the Republican presidential hopefuls are out and about, with more polling evidence of Newt Gingrich surging in the polls – and the Mitt Romney campaign organising a firm response this morning, rolling out some heavyweight surrogates to attack Gingrich’s record and shore up Romney’s base in New Hampshire, site of the first presidential primary on 10 January.

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Randy Babbitt, US aviation chief, resigns over drink driving charge December 7, 2011

Randy Babbitt, the chief of America’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), resigned on Tuesday over a drunken driving charge.

Babbitt, 65, had been placed on a leave of absence as officials pondered how to handle the fallout from the weekend arrest of a man who is arguably the world’s most senior air safety regulator.

He was charged with driving while intoxicated after a patrol officer allegedly saw him driving on the wrong side of the street and pulled him over at approximately10.30pm on Saturday in Fairfax City, a suburb of Washington DC.

Babbitt, who lives in nearby Reston, Virginia, was halfway through a five-year term at the FAA, which is part of the US transportation department.

He apparently delayed telling administration officials about the arrest. White House spokesman Jay Carney said Barack Obama and transportation department officials learned of the incident on Monday afternoon.

However, a statement issued on Tuesday by Babbit said that his resignation had been accepted by US transportation secretary Ray LaHood.

“Serving as FAA administrator has been an absolute honor and the highlight of my professional career. But I am unwilling to let anything cast a shadow on the outstanding work done 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by my colleagues at the FAA,” Babbitt said.

Babbitt was a former airline captain and internationally recognised expert in aviation and labour relations when Barack Obamaasked him in 2009 to head the FAA, which has nearly 40,000 employees.

He was a pilot for the now-defunct Eastern Airlines for 25 years and had served as president of the Air Line Pilots Association. As head of Alpa in 1990s, Babbitt championed the “one level of safety” initiative implemented in 1995 to improve safety standards across the airline industry.

Babbitt took over at the FAA when it was reeling from the exposure of widespread safety gaps in regional airlines.

Transportation secretary LaHood has aggressively campaigned against drunken driving and is now working with police and safety advocates on an annual Christmas holiday crackdown.

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Gay rights must be criterion for US aid allocations, instructs Obama

President Barack Obama has instructed officials to consider how countries treat their gay and lesbian populations when making decisions about allocating foreign aid.

In the first US government strategy to deal with human rights abuses against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens abroad, a presidential memorandum issued on Tuesday instructs agencies to use foreign aid to promote such rights.

Gay and lesbian lobby groups have reported an increase in human rights abuses across Africa and parts of the Middle East.

Obama is among international leaders who have condemned a bill proposed in Uganda that would make some homosexual acts a crime punishable by death. The Ugandan parliament recently reopened debate on the bill, which had been abandoned after an international outcry.

In a speech in Geneva to mark international human rights day, secretary of state Hillary Clinton backed the presidential directive. “I am not saying that gay people can’t or don’t commit crimes,” she said. “They can and they do. Just like straight people. And when they do, they should be held accountable. But it should never be a crime to be gay.”

Clinton has called for greater protection of sexual minorities and the safety of those seeking asylum. In June, she welcomed a UN resolution on equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation.

Clinton compared the struggle for gay equality to difficult passages toward women’s rights and racial equality, and said a country’s cultural or religious traditions are no excuse for discrimination. “Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights,” she said.

Among US measures, the state department will lead a group to direct agencies to provide a “swift and meaningful” response to serious incidents that threaten the human rights of LGBT people abroad, Obama said. Agencies are directed to combat the criminalisation of LGBT status or conduct abroad, protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, and engage international organisations in the fight against such discrimination. Agencies are instructed to report on progress within 180 days.

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney argued gay rights should not be a test for US engagement abroad. “I will be looking at foreign aid, whether it meets our national security interests and, number two, whether these nations are friends of ours and are willing to be friendly with us in ways when it matters the most,” he said on Fox News.

The Texas governor, Rick Perry, went further. “Promoting special rights for gays in foreign countries is not in America’s interests and not worth a dime of taxpayers’ money,” a Perry campaign statement said.

It was unclear whether those countries that target and discriminate against gay and lesbians would have their funding cut.

The latest state department report cites countries including US allies such as Saudi Arabia as having human rights issues over treatment of homosexuals.

The UN Human Rights Council passed the resolution on equal rights for all by a narrow margin, despite strong objections from African and Muslim countries.

While the US, the EU and Brazil backed the effort, the move drew strong criticism from Russia, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, and Pakistan, among others.

In October this year, USAID made an announcement that it “strongly encourages” businesses contracted with USAID to go beyond mandatory non-discrimination protections, to prohibit job bias for LGBT employees and other workers.

Among the top 10 countries granted economic and military assistance from the US, according to USAID, are Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Egypt Pakistan, Sudan, West Bank/Gaza, Ethiopia, Kenya and Columbia.

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Federal Aviation Administration suspends chief over drunken driving December 6, 2011

Randy Babbitt, the chief of America’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), has been suspended after his arrest on charges of drunken driving.

Babbitt has been placed on a leave of absence as officials decide how to handle the situation involving a man who is arguably the world’s most senior air safety regulator.

Babbitt, 65, was charged with driving while intoxicated after a patrol officer allegedly saw him driving on the wrong side of the street and pulled him over about 10.30pm on Saturday in Fairfax City, a suburb of Washington DC. Babbitt lives in nearby Reston, Virginia.

Officials were in “discussions with legal counsel about administrator [Randy] Babbitt’s employment status”, according to a statement from the office of Ray LaHood, the US transportation secretary.

The FAA is part of the US transportation department. Babbitt is halfway through a five-year term.

Babbitt apparently delayed telling administration officials about the arrest. White House spokesman Jay Carney said Barack Obama and transportation department officials learned of the arrest on Monday afternoon.

LaHood has aggressively campaigned against drunken driving and is working with police agencies and safety advocates on an annual Christmas holiday crackdown.

Babbitt was a former airline captain and internationally recognised expert in aviation and labour relations when the president asked him in 2009 to head the FAA, which has nearly 40,000 employees. He was a pilot for the now-defunct Eastern Airlines for 25 years and had served as president of the Air Line Pilots Association. As head of Alpa in 1990s, Babbitt championed the “one level of safety” initiative implemented in 1995 to improve safety standards across the airline industry.

Babbitt took over at the FAA when it was reeling from the exposure of widespread safety gaps in regional airlines. The problems were revealed by a National Transportation Safety Board investigation of the February 2009 crash of a regional airliner near Buffalo, New York, that killed 50 people.

Babbitt and LaHood promised to immediately implement a series of safety initiatives. At Babbitt’s urging airlines adopted a series of voluntary safety measures. But safety advocates say voluntary measures are not enough.

The biggest crisis of Babbitt’s FAA tenure came to light in April when nine air traffic controllers were allegedly caught sleeping on the job or were unresponsive to radio calls while on duty over a period of several weeks. The head of the FAA’s Air Traffic Organisation was forced to resign during the ensuing uproar. Some controllers were caught watching action films when they were supposed to be monitoring flights.

In one of the most high-profile incidents, a plane carrying Michelle Obama, the first lady, came too close to a military jet and had to abort its landing.

As the FAA’s top official, Babbitt has the final say in disciplinary proceedings involving controllers who violate the agency’s drug and alcohol regulations.

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Egypt to free three US students November 25, 2011

Images of the three students were broadcast on Egyptian national television

A court in Egypt has ordered the release of three US students accused of taking part in the protests in Cairo, officials there say.

Derrick Sweeney and Gregory Porter, both 19, and Luke Gates, 21, were accused of throwing petrol bombs at the security forces in Tahrir Square.

Mr Sweeney’s mother told US media she was “absolutely elated” by her son’s release.

The US state department said it was trying to confirm they would be freed.

The three students, whose photos were shown on Egyptian national television on Tuesday, are at the American University in Cairo on a study-abroad programme.

Continue reading the main story

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I’m sure that he’ll put a life-lesson learning experience into a positive story”

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Joy Sweeney
Mother of detained student

Mr Sweeney’s mother, Joy, earlier told the Associated Press news agency his release was the best gift on Thursday’s Thanksgiving holiday in the US.

“I was elated. I was absolutely elated,” she said of the moment she learned he was to be freed. “I can’t wait to give him a huge hug and tell him how much I love him.”

She added: “I’m sure that he’ll put a life-lesson learning experience into a positive story.”

Ms Sweeney added that she hoped her son would leave Egypt on Friday.

Firebomb allegations

The teenager worked as an intern earlier this year for Missouri congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer.

The representative’s spokesman, Paul Sloca, said Mr Luetkemeyer was “extremely pleased that he’s safe and coming home, especially on Thanksgiving”.

A spokesman for the US state department said on Thursday: “As we work to independently confirm reports regarding the potential release of three US citizens detained in Egypt, we remain in contact with them and their families, providing appropriate consular assistance.

“We appreciate the ongoing expeditious consideration of this case by the Egyptian authorities.”

According to the Egyptian interior ministry, when arrested the students had been throwing firebombs at police from the roof of a university building overlooking Tahrir Square.

They had a bag allegedly containing a water bottle filled with petrol, the Egyptian official agency MENA reported.

On Wednesday, the Egyptian prosecutor general ordered the three to be detained for four days.

Mr Sweeney is from Jefferson City, Missouri, and studies at Georgetown University; Mr Gates, of Bloomington, Indiana, studies at Indiana University; and Mr Porter, from Glenside, Pennsylvania, attends Drexel University.

Dozens of people have died during days of protest in Cairo.

The demonstrators are demanding an end to military rule and a swift transition to civilian authority.

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Destruction of Occupy Wall Street ‘People’s Library’ draws ire November 24, 2011

When police seized an estimated 5,000 books from Occupy Wall Street‘s “People’s Library” during the eviction of the camp at Zuccotti Park on 15 November, it drew condemnation from a host of writers and organisations, including the American Library Association and author Salman Rushdie.

The staff of Michael Bloomberg, the New York mayor who ordered the eviction, attempted to defuse the row by promising that property from Zuccotti Park “including the OWS library” was safely stored at a sanitation department garage and could be collected.

But when the librarians arrived to survey what remained of the books, some signed copies given by authors, including one donated the previous day by Philip Levine, the US poet laureate, they found “it was clear the books had been treated as trash”, they said.

At an emotional press conference on Wednesday, the librarians laid the torn and damaged books they were able to recover from the garage on a table taking up much of a cramped room in an office block in Madison Avenue.

It was a sorry sight. Only 1,273 books – a third of the stock – were returned to them, they said, and around a third of those were damaged beyond repair. Only about 800 are still usable. About 2,900 books are still unaccounted for.

The librarians, authors and supporters spoke of the loss of what had become a potent symbol of the Occupy movement and called on Bloomberg to restore the library and a public space in which people can use it.

Norman Seigel, the former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union and civil rights attorney who chaired the meeting, said he was not aware of any other instance where a city or state had destroyed a library.

“History informs us that when books are burned there is almost immediately or subsequently universal condemnation of that act. Here, the Bloomberg adminstration lost, damaged and possibly destroyed books. That is wrong.”

Seigel described the library as an impressive catalogue of books, including titles such as Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Othello, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, the autobiography of Andrew Carnegie and even Bloomberg’s own work, “Bloomberg on Bloomberg”.

Seigel called on the mayor to replace “every single book” and to provide a space for a library. He said: “Bloomberg’s administration needs to acknowledge that wrong has been committed and that should never happen again in this great city. We also want space for the People’s Library.”

One by one, the activists involved in building the library spoke of what it meant for the movement.

Mandy Hink, a professional librarian said: “I poured my heart and soul into this library. The heart of this movement is ideas and literature and sharing. The destruction of the library is an attempt to silence and destroy our movement. What type of people are we if we can’t create a public space where we can share books and ideas with each other?”

Daniel Norton, a student in library science from the University of Maine at Augusta, said the library was “the creation of a community through a conversation and sharing ideas.”

He accused Bloomberg of a “crusade to destroy a conversation” where people came to engage with each other.

William Scott, a professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, a univeristy where Bloomberg studied and has a hall named after him, said: “This man threw away so many precious books. They embodied all the values that we struggle to defend in our country.”

Scott, who is spending his sabbatical with Occupy, has told of how during the raid, he watched as Stephen Boyer, a poet and OWS librarian, read poems aloud from the Occupy Wall street poetry anthology to the riot police.

Writing in the Nation, Scott said: “As they pushed us away from the park with shields, fists, billy clubs and tear gas, I stood next to Stephen and watched while he yelled poetry at the top of his lungs into the oncoming army of riot police. Then, something incredible happened. Several of the police leaned in closer to hear the poetry. They lifted their helmet shields slightly to catch the words Stephen was shouting out to them, even while their fellow cops continued to stampede us.”

He recounted how the next day, an officer who had been guarding the entrance to Zuccotti Park said he was touched by the poetry and moved at how they cared enough about books to risk arrest to defend them.

Books were not the only items destroyed in the raid. One activist said she had never seen a computer come out of the sanitaion department that was not destroyed.

Gideon Oliver, a lawyer form the New York chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, described the destruction of the library as “illegal and unconscionable” and said they were looking into ways it might be addressed.

Watch video of the NYPD and Dept. of Sanitation destroying the OWS People’s Library tent and throwing away all the books.

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Justice department sues Utah over immigration law November 23, 2011

The US justice department has filed a lawsuit challenging Utah‘s immigration enforcement law, arguing that it usurps federal authority and could potentially lead to the harassment and detention of American citizens and authorised visitors.

“The federal government has the ultimate authority to enforce federal immigration laws and the constitution does not permit a patchwork of local immigration policies,” justice department officials said in a statement. “A state setting its own immigration policy interferes with the federal government’s enforcement efforts.”

The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday in Salt Lake City’s US district court after months of negotiations between justice department attorneys, Utah attorney general Mark Shurtleff and the state’s elected leaders.

Justice officials said they plan to continue those discussions despite the lawsuit.

Even with the federal intervention, state officials remained confident the law would eventually be sustained.

“The legislature worked diligently to craft a law that would pass constitutional muster,” said Ally Isom, spokeswoman for Governor Gary Herbert. “We hope the courts do the right thing.”

The Utah law, signed by Herbert in March, requires people to prove their citizenship if they’re arrested for serious crimes ranging from certain drug offences to murder. It also gives police discretion to check citizenship on traffic infractions and other lesser offences.

Civil rights groups filed a lawsuit earlier this year, and a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order in May against the law.

A hearing on that lawsuit is scheduled for 2 December.

Linton Joaquin, general counsel with the National Immigration Law Centre (NILC), said that hearing may be delayed because of the federal lawsuit. The NILC, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, is handling the original lawsuit against the state.

The federal lawsuit “reinforced the claims we’ve been making all along,” Joaquin said. “The Utah law is preempted by federal law and is unconstitutional.”

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US condemns Egypt’s military rulers amid exasperation among protesters

The US has sharply stepped up criticism of Egypt‘s military rulers as Washington grapples once again with how to deal with an authoritarian ally in Cairo responsible for a bloody crackdown against people demanding democratic rights.

After days of refusing to directly blame the Egyptian security forces for the deaths of at least 36 people protesting against the ruling army council’s attempts to draw out the transition to civilian rule, and even after that to retain political powers for the military, the US state department finally pointed the finger on Tuesday.

“We condemn the excessive force used by the police,” said spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. “We strongly urge the Egyptian government to exercise maximum restraint, to discipline its forces and to protect the universal rights of all Egyptians to peacefully express themselves.”

The US condemnation came amid growing exasperation among protesters in Cairo at equivocal statements from the state department and the White House – which is deciding policy on Egypt – that avoided direct criticism of the military. Many were further angered by the discovery that the tear gas canisters fired against them were manufactured in the US.

Washington’s ambiguous approach echoes its indecision during the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak in February, and reflects an array of competing interests that have once again left the administration hesitant and grappling for direction in dealing with an authoritarian ally.

The Obama administration has regarded the Egyptian military as the cornerstone of a controlled transition to civilian rule since Mubarak was forced out after 30 years in power. The US was not unsympathetic to the Egyptian military’s attempts to ensure it maintains a degree of control long after the transition to civilian rule, not least because the army’s manoeuvres were principally at the expense of the Islamist political parties. Analysts say the US regards stability in Egypt as particularly important, in part because of the necessity of maintaining Cairo’s cold peace with Israel.

But the army’s evident attempts to delay the political transition, and to put itself above civilian accountability afterwards, is generating the very unrest the US was trying to avoid. It also undermines Washington’s claims to support democratic transitions in the Arab world.

Marina Ottaway, director of the Middle East programme at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said the US administration now faces the same dilemma it faced in January when the protests began against Mubarak’s rule.

“There is a government in power that the US largely supports. The US was rather pleased with the role of the military originally in the sense that it saw it as a guarantee of stability in a situation in which it did not have any contacts with all the new political forces,” she said. “The role of the military was welcomed by the US government the same as previously the US always accepted the role of Mubarak as a source of stability. Now they’re facing the same dilemma that the government that they have supported is being challenged and they have to decide at which point they are going to start issuing different messages to it. I don’t think they have quite decided.”

Nuland welcomed the Egyptian military’s announcement on Tuesday that next week’s parliamentary elections would be held on time, and that the transition to a fully elected government and a new president would be completed by July. Comments by state department officials suggest the US still strongly favours the military overseeing the transition to democracy, rather than an immediate shift to an appointed civilian administration that Washington fears will be less stable.

But at least some administration officials are wary of the military council, which has at times proved to be as repressive as when it was serving Mubarak’s dictatorship.

Earlier this month, Hillary Clinton made reference to Egypt in a warning against the US backing what are perceived to be stable sympathetic regimes at the cost of democratic reform.

“We do work with many different governments to pursue our interests and to keep Americans safe – and certainly not all of them are democracies,” she told the National Democratic Institute.

“But as the fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt made clear, the enduring cooperation we seek will be difficult to sustain without democratic legitimacy and public consent. We cannot have one set of policies to advance security in the here-and-now and another to promote democracy in a long run that never quite arrives.”.

The administration has come under pressure from the Working Group on Egypt, a group of Middle East analysts offering advice to the administration, which has repeatedly warned that the military rulers in Cairo are stalling on democratic change. It called for Congress to set firm conditions to the US’s $1.3bn annual aid to Egypt, including requiring that the Obama administration certify that Egypt has held free and fair elections. The White House has resisted any such pressure.

Ottaway said the problem for the US administration is that if it attempts to pull the rug from under the regime it does not have a fallback option as it did in February.

“What you have had between the United States and Egypt is a convergence so that essentially the US accepted the Mubarak regime the way it was, the same way it accepted the military regime as it was, as long as Egypt kept its side of the deal with Israel and Egypt remained relatively stable,” she said.

“When Mubarak became incapable of maintaining stability, the US government abandoned him. But they had the military to fall back on. This time I don’t think there’s much to fall back on. I think the options for the US are pretty bad.”

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Natalie Wood case: witness feared for life November 21, 2011

A potential witness in the reopened investigation into the death of Hollywood actor Natalie Wood claims to have been told to keep quiet if she “valued her life” in the days following the incident almost 30 years ago.

Stockbroker Marilyn Wayne’s yacht was moored 50 yards from the boat on which Wood had been partying with husband Robert Wagner and friend Christopher Walken off Catalina island near Los Angeles. She says her family has never been interviewed by police.

“I had a ‘client box’ designed for clients to drop off their messages through a slot in the front,” said Wayne in a statement. “Three days after Natalie died, I found a scribbled message on a torn piece of paper in my box that read, ‘If you value your life, keep quiet about what you know’.”

“I immediately suspected it was related to Wood’s death because that’s all anyone had been talking about. I was disturbed and even told an attorney about the threat.”

Wayne said she and her family heard cries coming from the water on the night of the incident.

“A woman’s voice, crying for help from drowning awakened [my husband] and he awakened me,” she said in her statement. “‘Help me, someone please help me, I’m drowning’ we heard repeatedly. Alarmed, I called out to my son, who also heard the cries, and looked at his new digital watch: it was just minutes after 11pm.”

The Waynes called harbour patrol but did not get an answer. The cries continued for 15 minutes, before the family heard a man’s voice, “slurred and in an aggravated tone”, saying something to the effect of: “Oh, hold on, we’re coming to get you.” The cries then subsided.

Wayne’s comments emerged a few days after a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County sheriff’s department said officials were reopening the case following the discovery of possible new evidence. Dennis Davern, who captained the yacht on the night of 29 November 1981, says he failed to give a full account of the night in his original statement. He now claims Wood and Wagner quarrelled prior to her death .

Meanwhile, Walken has contracted a lawyer to represent him in connection with the case: Mathew Rosengart, a former federal prosecutor turned litigation specialist at Los Angeles firm Greenberg Traurig. The sheriff’s department has stated that neither the Oscar-winning actor nor Wagner, one-time star of the TV show Hart to Hart, is a suspect in Wood’s death.

Wood’s sister Lana appeared on the Piers Morgan Tonight show on Friday to discuss Davern’s intervention . “He’s been trying to say something for quite a number of years,” she said. “He used to call me quite frequently, about 10 years after Natalie passed, and tell me bits and pieces in a very agitated manner – very upset, crying – that there was more to it than he said, and how guilty he felt.”

She continued: “I know that the sheriff’s department, the homicide division, is taking this all very seriously. I think what’s important is not what I think happened or someone else thinks happened, I think it’s important to get to the bottom of what actually did happen. And I think that’s what they should be allowed to do. Only RJ [Robert Wagner] and Natalie know, and only one of them can speak.”

Davern has written a book about the death of Wood, called Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour, with journalist Marti Rulli. He says he was told not to use the boat’s search light following Wood’s disappearance. At the time the coroner ruled the actor’s death to be an accident.

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16 Detroit police officers leave shift in apparent protest November 19, 2011

November 19, 2011

by legitgov


16 Detroit police officers leave shift in apparent protest 18 Nov 2011 Sixteen Detroit police officers assigned to the afternoon shift at the Northeastern District didn’t complete their shift Friday as a part of an apparent protest over Mayor Dave Bing’s proposed 10 percent pay cuts. Chief Ralph Godbee Jr. said he’s going to have his internal affairs department investigate, but believes it is a “concerted effort isolated to one shift at one district.” Bing’s proposals called for givebacks of $40 million from city workers — including police and fire employees — as well as outsourcing services and major concessions from the city’s unions. [General Strike: November 28, 2011! --The only thing we have left is our labor. This is what we must withhold. Posted by Extend your Thanksgiving weekend by refusing the austerity measures to be imposed on the vast majority by the corporate, military and financial oligarchy! General Strike, Monday, November 28, 2011!]

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Natalie Wood case reopened after new evidence emerges

At the time, they called it the curse of Rebel Without a Cause: Natalie Wood’s principal co-stars in that seminal film of 1950s teenage rebellion – James Dean and Sal Mineo – had both met untimely deaths, Dean in a car crash and Mineo murdered. On 29 November 1981, it was Wood’s turn.

The triple Oscar nominee, who played Maria in West Side Story and turned Warren Beatty’s young head in Splendor in the Grass, fell overboard and drowned after a drunken party on the yacht she owned with her husband, Robert Wagner. She was 43.

The incident awakened the armchair Agatha Christie in many newspaper pundits and gossipmongers. Was it significant, they wondered, that Wagner and their guest that evening, the actor Christopher Walken, had argued bitterly? Had either man made enough of an effort to find her after she went missing? How to explain the bruising on her face and arms if not by concluding some sort of foul play was involved?

At the time, the coroner’s office ruled that Wood’s death was an accident. The chief medical examiner for LA County, Thomas T Noguchi – who previously performed postmortems on Marilyn Monroe, Bobby Kennedy and Sharon Tate – concluded that Wood had been drinking heavily and almost certainly fell overboard while wrestling with a dinghy.

Still, the fascination with that night has never quite ebbed for chroniclers of Hollywood’s dark side, and now it has come back into the open, with the announcement that the Los Angeles sheriff’s department is re-examining the case.

The official interest was apparently triggered by Dennis Davern, the boat’s skipper, who told NBC’s Today show on Friday that he believed Wagner to have been responsible for his wife’s death. Davern said he had lied in the past about what had happened and felt he could give investigators enough to treat the incident as a possible homicide.

“Was the fight between Natalie Wood and her husband, Robert Wagner, what ultimately led to her death?” Davern was asked.

“Yes,” he replied.

“How so?”

“Like I said, that’s going to be up to the investigators to decide.”

Davern is a controversial figure, who has sought to refocus interest in the Natalie Wood story in the past. In a Vanity Fair article on the subject in 2000, he claimed Wood and Wagner fought in their cabin before she vanished. In a book co-authored by Davern and published last year, the captain recounted a conversation between Wagner and Walken in which the former allegedly shouted: “What do you want to do, fuck my wife? Is that what you want?”

Some observers pointed out the approaching 30th anniversary of Wood’s death and wondered if Davern’s revelations were just promotion for his book.

“Never trust an eyewitness whose memory gets better over time, especially when he has a book to sell,” said Laurie Levenson, a professor at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and a seasoned observer of celebrity-related legal cases. “The chances are zero to none that you are going to see any indictments coming out of this.”

There were questions, too, about the motives of the sheriff’s department, which is in trouble over alleged mistreatment of inmates at the main county jail and evidence of supervisors covering for the violence committed by sheriff’s deputies, and might welcome a change in media focus, said Levenson.

The sheriff, Lee Baca, has acknowledged he deserves to have his “butt whipped” for failing to rein in the problem. Federal prosecutors are investigating further, the man in charge of the LASD Men’s Central Jail has been put on administrative leave, and Baca is facing calls for his resignation.

Levenson said the sheriff’s department was sure to welcome the change in media focus, although she also didn’t think that taking another look at the Natalie Wood case could do much harm. “I find the timing of this fairly suspicious,” she said. “But it doesn’t mean much to reopen an investigation.”

At a news conference, the sheriff’s department was clearly keeping its distance from Davern’s allegations, saying that Wagner was not a suspect in Wood’s death. Lieutenant John Corina said his department had new information from a number of unnamed sources justifying the reopening of the case, but he did not specify who they were.

Wagner said he had heard nothing other than he had gleaned from the media.

A tart statement from his spokesman said: “Although no one in the Wagner family has heard from the LA county sheriff’s department about this matter, they fully support the efforts of the [department] and trust they will evaluate whether any new information relating to the death of Natalie Wood Wagner is valid, and that it comes from a credible source or sources other than those simply trying to profit from the 30-year anniversary of her tragic death.”

Walken, who was co-starring with Wood in the film Brainstorm at the time of her death, was not available for comment.

Wagner has previously written that he blamed himself for his wife’s death. In his 2008 autobiography, Wagner said he, Wood and Walken had been drinking at a restaurant and on the boat on the night his wife disappeared. Wood went to the master cabin during an argument between her husband and Walken. The last time Wagner saw her, she was doing her hair and she shut the bathroom door on him.

Despite various theories about what led Wood to the water, which she feared, he wrote, “nobody knows” how she had fallen in.

“There are only two possibilities: either she was trying to get away from the argument, or she was trying to tie the dinghy. But the bottom line is that nobody knows exactly what happened.”

Later in the book, Wagner wrote: “Did I blame myself? If I had been there, I could have done something. But I wasn’t there. I didn’t see her.”

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Penn State names David Joyner as athletic department head November 17, 2011

Penn State has named as acting head of its athletic department a member of the university board that forced out the previous athletic director, Tim Curley, after Curley was charged with covering up a child sex abuse scandal.

The university said David M Joyner, a graduate of the school and a member of its board of trustees, would assume responsibility for the university’s athletic department, which has been rocked by the allegations against a former assistant football coach.

Jerry Sandusky, a former defensive co-ordinator with the football team and once considered a likely successor to legendary coach Joe Paterno, was arrested two weeks ago, and faces charges that he sexually abused eight young boys over a 15-year period.

In the wake of the allegations, former athletic director Tim Curley was charged with failing to tell police about the alleged abuse, and was forced to step down.

Paterno and former university president Graham Spanier, who also knew about the allegations, were fired, although they have not been charged with any crime.

Joyner received his bachelor’s degree in science from Penn State in 1972 and his master’s from Penn State’s College of Medicine in 1976.

Joyner, who wrestled and played football when he was a student at Penn, has specialised in sports medicine and worked as head physician to the US teams at the 1992 Olympic Winter Games, the 1991 World University Games and the 1989 United States Olympic Festival, the school said.

Penn State said on Wednesday that Sandusky, who is free on a $100,000 unsecured bond, is “not welcome” on campus, though the university so far has no legal recourse to keep him away.

In her bail ruling, Judge Leslie Dutchot ordered Sandusky not to have any contact with minors, witnesses or alleged victims.

The ruling placed no restrictions on travel. Sandusky’s lawyer, Joe Amendola, advised Sandusky and his wife to take a trip to clear his head, he told CNN.

Sandusky, who retired from Penn State in 1999 and receives a pension from Pennsylvania, is free to return to campus, something school officials are powerless to stop.

“Our legal counsel informed Jerry Sandusky that he is not welcome on our campus,” Penn State spokeswoman AnneMarie Mountz said in an email to Reuters on Wednesday.

A grand jury report detailing the accusations said that graduate assistant Mike McQueary witnessed Sandusky assaulting a boy in the showers of the football building on campus in 2002.

Sandusky professed his innocence on Monday, saying he is not a peadophile, but admitting that he showered with young boys.

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US politics: da goods in da box | Editorial November 12, 2011

Those who wish to serve the American people in the republic’s highest office embark on an almost medieval series of trials of character and endurance. They must avoid the political equivalents of the slough of despair, the sucking bog of emotionalism, the dreaded stupidity tree, the equally dreaded pit which awaits the overly clever, the dungeon of sexist blunders and other Pythonesque terrors on their way to the castle in which languishes the enchanted princess, otherwise known as their party’s nomination for president. It is a harsh business: one misstep, one ill-chosen word, one witness to earlier misdeeds can bring you down and, often, not just down but out.

The intricate arabesque the successful candidate must trace can resemble that of a skier zigzagging down a slope dotted with barrels of nitroglycerine. The process has a farcical dimension, and sometimes induces a state of almost catatonic caution in the candidates. But it is pretty good at weeding out people who ought not to be the president of the United States, and the way the Republican field is now narrowing is heartening. Michele Bachmann’s early star has fallen, while this week Rick Perry oopsed his way to likely oblivion when he couldn’t remember a major government department he had proposed abolishing.

Oddly enough, given Texas’s oil history, this was the department of energy. As Perry subsides into the scenery, so Herman Cain is flailing because of allegations of sexual harassment. Even though these have so far not damaged him as much as was expected, there seems to be a growing understanding among voters that the United States of America is not a pizza, or even a pizza company. To riff on the jingle from the Godfather’s restaurant chain he once ran, da goods may not be in da box.

Then there is Newt Gingrich, who has had so many incarnations in American politics he could be a figure in one of his own alternate history books. He has a new support group, entitled Time for Newt, and has been gaining ground, yet wherever he goes he is accompanied by the faint rattle of skeletons in the closet.

So, for the moment, the finger points to Mitt Romney. To date there is nothing much against him except that 30 years ago he strapped his dog to the roof of the car when he and his family went on holiday to Canada. Nothing much, that is, except his constantly changing positions on a variety of important political issues. Yet, while he is undoubtedly a devious man, he is also a serious politician running a serious campaign. If he became president many Americans would be unhappy, but they wouldn’t be scared that they had put a fruitcake into the White House. This is important because the Republican tilt toward saner choices, if that is what it is, is taking place in a new context. It is not just the Occupy movement which suggests that American public opinion may have finally begun to focus on questions of inequality and class, with the old hot-button issues of the American culture wars fading in importance.

Voters this week rejected an anti-abortion proposal in Mississippi; struck down, by a large majority, a law restricting the collective bargaining rights of public employees in Ohio; and restored same-day registration at the polls in Maine. They also got rid of an Arizona senator who had pursued anti-immigrant legislation.The results in these and other votes represent not so much a victory for the Democrats as a victory for common sense. If it was not Mark Twain who said that the trouble about common sense is that it is not so common, he certainly did say: “Really, what we want now is … a law against insanity.” Americans are not about to pass such a law, but they are beginning to look askance at extreme legislation. As the columnist Gail Collins put it this week: “From sea to shining sea, there was a very strong anti-nutcase tenor to the results.” Amen to that.

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Canada-US pipeline decision delay November 11, 2011

Protesters circled the White House on Sunday, demanding Keystone XL be scrapped

The Obama administration is to reassess the route of a controversial Canada-US oil pipeline, delaying a decision on the project by up to 18 months.

Studying a new route for Keystone XL is now expected to push the final decision past the 2012 presidential election.

The state department’s handling of the $7bn (£4.4bn) project is already under review for alleged wrongdoing.

The 1,600-mile (2,700km) pipeline would run from Canada to the Texas coast.

The state department is handling public consultations on the project as the pipeline would cross the US border with Canada. In a statement Thursday, the department said it would take a “in-depth assessment of potential alternative routes in Nebraska”.

Stiff opposition has come from Nebraska and environmental groups as the pipeline’s route was originally planned through the state’s Sand Hills regions – which contains a major aquifer.

A new route review “could be completed as early as the first quarter of 2013″, the department said in a statement.

Correspondents say the delay will spare US President Barack Obama the need to make a politically sensitive decision – that will be closely watched by environmental groups and the oil industry – during a presidential election year.

Trumping oil?

In a statement, Mr Obama said he supported seeking “additional information” about the Keystone XL Pipeline proposal.

“We should take the time to ensure that all questions are properly addressed and all the potential impacts are properly understood.”

The decision comes after Nebraska’s legislature passed a measure on Wednesday that would require state approval of any route before TransCanada, the developer, could begin construction.

Environmental groups have used the Keystone XL review process to pressure Mr Obama on what they say is his lack of action on climate change issues and criticised the route of the project.

Republicans and oil industry groups have already said that delaying or cancelling the project would both cost new jobs and harm prospects for US energy independence.

Environmental groups hailed Thursday’s decision. “The president’s decision also means that our property, water and agricultural lands cannot be stripped from us without a fight,” said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Meanwhile, Canadian Oil Minister Joe Oliver said a US decision to delay or cancel the pipeline would not stop oil sands development in the province of Alberta.

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MPs in freedom of information call for release of files on secret rendition November 10, 2011

Intelligence documents showing how British officials were involved in the secret rendition of UK residents to Guantánamo Bay and other jails – where they say they were abused and tortured – must be disclosed, an information tribunal was told on Thursday.

“Government statements denying UK involvement in rendition have been shown to be false by subsequent statements and court decisions,” said lawyers for the all-party parliamentary group on extraordinary rendition. Andrew Tyrie, Conservative MP for Chichester and the group’s chairman, referred to inaccurate statements to the Commons by former Labour ministers, notably Jack Straw. Years later, and only after persistent questioning from some backbench MPs and journalists, government assurances were shown to be false, the tribunal heard.

In just two examples, the government had to admit that the British Indian Ocean territory of Diego Garcia had been used by the US in CIA rendition flights and British soldiers had handed over to the US two men who were subsequently incarcerated in the notorious prison in Bagram, Afghanistan, Tyrie said.

After what he called the government’s initial evasive replies, Tyrie said he was approached by “someone in a very senior level in the Foreign Office”. The official suggested Tyrie should continue asking questions about Britain’s role in US rendition flights, the MP added.

Disclosure of the documents would “help to restore confidence”. The credibility of the security services and the Foreign Office was at stake, Tyrie said.

Tyrie’s parliamentary group is challenging the refusal of the FO, backed for the most part by the information commissioner, Christopher Graham, to release documents relating to three issues:

• The rendition and ill-treatment of the UK resident and Guantánamo detainee Binyam Mohamed;

• How the FO allegedly requested John Bellinger, then US state department legal adviser, to say that Washington opposed the disclosure of CIA intelligence about Mohamed which was passed on to MI5 and MI6;

• What Britain’s security and intelligence agencies told the CIA about Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna, two UK residents seized in Gambia in 2002, and flown to Afghanistan and then to Guantánamo Bay.

Guardian journalist Ian Cobain told the tribunal that a pattern of allegation and denial followed by later acknowledgement that the allegations may have had substance after all “has been repeated several times over the last six years”.

After referring to a number of Guardian reports, Cobain added: “Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, those who held office during the relevant periods continue to deny any responsibility for the UK’s complicity in extraordinary rendition and torture.”

Lawyers for the FO argue that the documents relate to issues of national security and therefore are completely exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. Jonathan Sinclair, head of the FO’s intelligence policy department, said he could only discuss in secret session the question of whether Bellinger was solicited by Britain to object to CIA information from being disclosed in an English court hearing of the Mohamad case.

The hearing before the information tribunal, chaired by Mr Justice Angel, continues.

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Republican downplays TV meltdown

Rick Perry could not remember the third government department he plans to abolish if elected president – Footage courtesy of

Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry has admitted “he stepped in it” in Wednesday night’s television debate when he was unable to remember the third federal department he would cut.

But as media commentators wondered if his campaign could survive such a blunder, the Texas governor insisted he would not quit the White House race.

“This ain’t a day for quitting nothing,” he said.

Mr Perry was briefly the frontrunner after he entered the race in August.

His implosion came during a debate in the state of Michigan with his seven rivals for the Republican nomination to challenge Barack Obama for the White House in 2012.

Spin-room admission

Mr Perry fluffed his lines, finding himself unable to name all three federal departments he would eliminate if he became president – one of his key policies.

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Perry is surely dead in the water after his prime time humiliation”

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Leading contender Mitt Romney intervened and suggested the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“EPA, there you go,” Mr Perry said, before acknowledging that was not it.

One of the CNBC debate hosts asked: “You can’t name the third one?”

Mr Perry said: “The third agency of government I would… I would do away with, the education, uh the… uh commerce… and, let’s see. I can’t. The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops.”

The answer he was looking for, he told moderators later, was the Department of Energy.

In the “spin room” after the debate, Mr Perry told a crowd of journalists: “I’m glad I had my boots on because I really stepped in it tonight.”

Mr Perry did the round of early morning talk shows on Thursday in an effort to stem any fallout from the incident.

“There were so many federal agencies that come to mind, that I want to get rid of, that the energy department would not come out,” he said in an interview for ABC’s Good Morning America.

His campaign sent an email out to his supporters asking: “What part of the Federal Government would you like to forget about the most?” His website now asks supporters to vote for one.

Perry aides also sought to downplay Wednesday night’s cringe-inducing memory lapse.

“We had a stumble of style and not substance,” insisted Ray Sullivan, Perry’s top communications adviser. “He still named two more agencies than this president [would eliminate].”

The Texas governor had already been trying to put behind him previous shaky debate performances which were blamed for him falling into the second tier of candidates.

Mr Perry has been striving to prove in recent weeks that he is still a credible challenger to former Massachusetts Governor Romney, by rolling out detailed policy proposals.

Audience jeers moderators

The Texas governor raised more money than Mr Romney in the third quarter and has been campaigning hard in Iowa, which holds the first in a series of state contests to pick the Republican nominee.

Rick Perry: “There is not a perfect candidate … and I’m proof positive of that every day”

But Mr Perry found himself dogged by suggestions that he had been drinking or taking drugs when he gave an animated speech in New Hampshire.

It went viral online and inspired a parody by NBC’s Saturday Night Live show, prompting Mr Perry to deny that he had been under the influence of any substance.

Mr Romney has already been helped by the allegations of sexual harassment that are distracting the campaign of another rival, Herman Cain.

Moderators were booed by the audience during Wednesday’s debate when they asked Mr Cain to defend his character in the light of the claims of improper behaviour.

He was applauded as he restated that the allegations were false and accused the news media of “character assassination”.

Mr Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich were named as the winners of Wednesday’s debate, in a snap poll by the Detroit Free Press newspaper.

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Rick Perry forgets which agency he wants to scrap in Republican debate disaster

Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry‘s campaign is facing meltdown after one of the most humiliating debate performances in recent US political history.

His chances of securing the Republican nomination slipped after one painful minute in which he could not recall the name of a government department he is planning to kill off.

Perry reeled off two of the three departments he wants to axe, but could not remember the third. Some Perry supporters declared his campaign over and suggested he head back to Texas to focus on his job as governor.

Perry, conscious of the damage he has done to his chances, came out to face the media in the spin-room immediately afterwards rather than leaving it, as is normal, to his press staff.  “I’m sure glad I had my boots on because I sure stepped in it out there,” he said.

The Republican presidential debate in Rochester, Michigan, had been predicted to be dominated by the sexual allegations against one of his rivals, Herman Cain. Instead Cain escaped unscathed and all the focus was on Perry’s gaffe.

Perry’s moment of embarrassment came when he was asked about one of the main planks of his policy for cutting federal spending, the elimination of three departments.

“It’s three agencies of government when I get there that are gone: commerce, education, and the uh … what’s the third one, there? Let’s see.” He went on to say: “The third one. I can’t.” He made it worse by adding: “Oops.”

Fifteen minutes later he attempted to undo the damage, saying: “By the way that was the department of energy I was reaching for a while ago.”  But it was too late.

Although he has millions of dollars in campaign funds accumulated it will be hard for him to recover.  A Perry donor sent a tweet to the Washington Post: “Perry campaign is over. Time to go home.”

Larry Sabato, profesor of politics at the University of Virginia, tweeted too almost immediately on seeing Perry stumble. “To my memory Perry’s forgetfulness is the most devastating moment of any modern primary.”

Perry’s brain freeze, reminiscent of some of the awkwardness associated with George Bush, was shown live on television nationwide and will be shown repeatedly over the next few days.

He was already struggling in the polls, having dropped from frontrunner status to single-digit figures. He alienated many Republicans when he described as heartless anyone who did not agree with his relatively liberal approach to the children of illegal immigrants.

He had been talking before this debate about pulling out of future ones, an acknowledgment that he is a poor performer.

Cain, asked afterwards if Perry was finished, was charitable. “I would not say that. The American people can be very forgiving,” he told NBC, which hosted the debate.

Cain acknowledged the last 10 days had been rough as he faced allegations from four women of sexual harassment.  Although the debate bad been billed as primarily about economics, one of the journalists on the panel asked him about the allegations.

The mainly Republican audience booed the journalist for raising the issue and applauded Cain when he complained of being tried in the court of public opinion.

There were further boos from the audience when the journalist asked Mitt Romney, the former government of Massachusetts, about the allegations. He sidestepped the question, to applause from the audience.

Romney gave another confident, calm performance that will have cemented his frontrunner status. With Cain facing the sex allegations and Perry’s campaign in deep trouble Romney’s chances of securing the nomination increased on Wednesday night.

Although  there is resistance to him among rightwingers, he is doing much better and is more relaxed than he was in 2008 when he lost out in the race for the nomination to John McCain.

The former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is at present in third place in the polls and could face scrutiny over his role as a consultant to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the organisations that provided the mortgages to those with poor credit ratings, precipitating the economic slump.

The organisations hired consultants and lobbyists to avoid federal regulation.
During the debate Gingrich claimed he had warned Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac against giving out such mortgages. He received $300,000 in 2006 for his consultancy role.

The other candidates on the stage failed to make any significant impression.

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