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Families sent wrong Marine packages December 14, 2011

Washington (CNN) — Some Marine Corps families, mourning a son or daughter killed in action, received an unexpected surprise for the holidays: an ornament of the Purple Heart, a letter addressed to their fallen hero and even information about athletic reconditioning.

The Marine Corps was apologizing Tuesday for sending the packages to families of the fallen instead of the Marines wounded in action but still alive.

“There are no words to express how very sorry we are for the hurt such a mistake has caused the families of our fallen warriors,” said Col. John L. Mayer, commanding officer of the Marines Wounded Warrior Regiment. “We always strive to honor the sacrifices these Marines, sailors and their families gave to this country.”

Mayer, alerted to the problem when families began phoning in Monday, said there was no excuse for what happened.

“We accept full responsibility for this error and are moving quickly to reach out to the families we have affected,” he said in a statement. “This initiative was meant to thank combat-wounded Marines and sailors for their service.”

Mayer is calling some of the families who telephoned after they received the packages in error and all will receive a letter of apology.

More than 9,000 were sent out, but 1,150 went out to families of the Marines who had died.


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Purple Heart ornaments sent to wrong families

Washington (CNN) — Some Marine Corps families, mourning a son or daughter killed in action, received an unexpected surprise for the holidays: an ornament of the Purple Heart, a letter addressed to their fallen hero and even information about athletic reconditioning.

The Marine Corps was apologizing Tuesday for sending the packages to families of the fallen instead of the Marines wounded in action but still alive.

“There are no words to express how very sorry we are for the hurt such a mistake has caused the families of our fallen warriors,” said Col. John L. Mayer, commanding officer of the Marines Wounded Warrior Regiment. “We always strive to honor the sacrifices these Marines, sailors and their families gave to this country.”

Mayer, alerted to the problem when families began phoning in Monday, said there was no excuse for what happened.

“We accept full responsibility for this error and are moving quickly to reach out to the families we have affected,” he said in a statement. “This initiative was meant to thank combat-wounded Marines and sailors for their service.”

Mayer is calling some of the families who telephoned after they received the packages in error and all will receive a letter of apology.

More than 9,000 were sent out, but 1,150 went out to families of the Marines who had died.


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Durban talks: how Connie Hedegaard got countries to agree on climate deal December 11, 2011

Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s climate chief, has been hailed the hero of the Durban meeting that reached an unexpectedly solid outcome in the early hours of Sunday .

“She is very, very good and we are very lucky to have her,” says Chris Huhne, the UK energy and climate change secretary. “She held everything together in a very impressive manner – a class act.”

Hedegaard, below, once the youngest person elected to the Danish parliament, was the architect of the EU plan to gather developed and developing economies together for the first time in a legally binding agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions. A deal was struck that met nearly all of the EU’s aims, satisfied most developing countries and even brought the US on board.

In doing so, Hedegaard saved the UN process of negotiations, which without a deal at Durban would have fallen apart. Hedegaard’s manoeuvring also forced China to acknowledge that it will take on commitments on an equal legal footing to developed countries.

“You could hear the shifting of tectonic plates,” said one diplomat. “This is hugely important not just for the climate talks but in geopolitical terms.”

Key to her success was the hardline attitude Hedegaard adopted. Developing countries, including China, have long insisted that the 1997 Kyoto protocol should be extended when its current targets run out in 2012. EU member states are virtually the only countries willing to do so. But while some member states wanted to offer the extension as a matter of course, Hedegaard had other ideas – it would only be agreed if developing countries also signed up to her roadmap.

That would entail committing to curb emissions on the same legally binding footing as the rich world, as an acknowledgement that the distinctions between developed and emerging economies have changed since 1997, when the Kyoto protocol was drawn up. This also made it possible for the US to join in, because America had insisted it will only join up to any agreement on the basis of such legal parity.Hedegaard knows about negotiations failing – as Denmark’s environment minister since 2004, she was the host and president of the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit.

There she witnessed, excruciatingly, at firsthand the embarrassment of the EU at the hands of the US and the BASIC countries – Brazil, South Africa, India and China — when President Obama took his counterparts behind the scenes to forge a deal on emissions that left out the EU. European and UN officials were left visibly flummoxed as Obama announced his deal to the media. That deal was instantly denounced as weak, because countries had not agreed that it was legally enforceable, and the summit ended in scenes of chaos and acrimony.

Durban was Hedegaard’s chance to raise a new phoenix from the ashes of the Copenhagen conflagration. And she was determined to do so.

At stake was the whole process of United Nations climate negotiations. The Kyoto protocol was signed in 1997 by all countries, including the US. But the Clinton administration was unable to put it put before Congress because opposition to it was so strong. Since then, the UN talks have been in trouble. Without the active participation of the US – now the second biggest emitter – they could not succeed.

Hedegaard’s roadmap was crafted in the back offices of the European commission, and she embarked on private meetings with ministers in big and small countries. In October, she had it rubber-stamped by the EU member states.

Despite the battering she received in the conference – from Indian and Chinese ministers, who attacked the EU for trying to strongarm them — she held her nerve. Up to the last moment, negotiators for other countries were briefing that the EU would cave in, and concede that an agreement was not possible. But in the final minutes, the EU agreed a phrase that it said would ensure future commitments were binding. – they would take the form of “an agreed outcome with legal force”.

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Is Batman the hero that Occupy protesters need? | Stephen Kelly October 27, 2011

He’s the hero that Gotham deserves, but is he the hero that Occupy Wall Street needs? This weekend, following speculation that Christopher Nolan is going to use the protests as a backdrop for scenes in The Dark Knight Rises, the movement could play host to a caped crusader who’s both friend and foe. And if it does turns out to be false (Entertainment Weekly rebutted the rumours earlier this week), then it’s a missed opportunity.

Of course, cynical clever-clogs who sneer at protesters for owning iPhones and drinking Starbucks will no doubt see the irony of it all: a $250m film about a billionaire that is being made by the very system some want to destroy. But that’s not the point here; Batman is one of the most politically complex fictional characters there has ever been. By his very nature and ideals, he is not only more relevant to the Occupy Wall Street protests than its current anarchist veneer of V for Vendetta, but also holds up a mirror to its uneasy reality. Such is the beauty and the beast of subversive popular culture.

For, while you cannot deny the revolutionary backbone of V and the ability of his masks to lazily signify automatic rebellion, he is not the hero we need right now. Batman, on the other hand, is a hero rooted in our reality – one set in a fictional city beset by economic deprivation and grotesque greed. His main animus, if not his methods, is defined by the ideals of philanthropy and a simplistic sense of justice: a selfless billionaire by day who strives to protect the defenceless people of Gotham by night – the 1% fighting for the 99%. In Frank Miller’s fantastic comic, Year One, the character crashes a dinner party of a corrupt elite and issues the following warning: “You have eaten well. You’ve eaten Gotham’s wealth. Its spirit. Your feast is nearly over.”

Yet Batman’s entire nature as a fictional “force for good’” also raises various issues in relation to the Occupy movement. For the hero operates under the guise that to succeed in real change, you have to become more than a man – you have to become a symbol, an idea, something for people to rally behind. To quote the supposed last words of Che Guevara: “I know you’ve come to kill me. Shoot – you are only going to kill a man.” The Occupy movement – beyond the notion of occupation – lacks such concrete direction. It is leaderless, faceless and without a clear objective. Protesting against corporate greed is one thing, hoping to destroy the western capitalist system is just silly. This is another grim reality that Batman offers us: for any hope of actual impact against the obscenities of 1% greed, the Occupy movement must be prepared to work with them for change.

Of course, despite his heroic portrayal, Batman is politically dubious. His ideals stem from rightwing values; the American “dream” of not only getting off your own backside to get stuff done, but also to do whatever it takes to succeed. There were even unsettling theories that The Dark Knight – with its scenes of extraordinary rendition, intrusive surveillance technology and references to the Joker as a “terrorist” – was an analogy for the Bush administration’s approach to the “war on terror”. Last year Slavoj Žižek wrote an article for the London Review of Books where he discusses the similarities between its ending and the outrage of the US governments towards WikiLeaks: the concept of a “noble lies” which preserve the status quo.

That’s the danger of using pop culture icons as shortcuts for our own political values – we can use them to hold a mirror up to our world but we can’t ask them to live in it. If we could, we may have sent up the Bat-Signal long ago.

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Zurana Horton was a hero – she just didn’t look like one | Teresa Wiltz October 26, 2011

At first blush, it’s the kind of story made for the insta-news cycle of 21st-century media: a mother picking up her kid up from school in Brooklyn spots a rooftop sniper, throws herself into the line of fire to protect a group of schoolkids and, while saving them, is shot and killed herself.

Most likely, if Zurana Horton were white and blonde, she would have been catapulted to the top of the news, her short and tragic story the stuff of People magazine covers and breathless segments on the Today show. After all, we’re a society obsessed with the stories of pretty white women and girls who come up missing or dead. Witness the endless coverage over Natalee Holloway, or Caylee Anthony, or the scary story du jour: missing baby Lisa.

But Horton, who was 34, was neither white nor blonde nor particularly photogenic: the first published picture of her was a blurry shot where large sunglasses obscured most of her smiling face. Nor did she have the kind of squeaky-clean narrative that fits easily into the feel-good story mould. She was poor, unmarried and the mother of 13; she lived in Brownsville, one of Brooklyn’s most notorious neighbourhoods. And she was black. On Monday, police charged three youths with the shooting.

Instead of being heralded for her bravery, Horton’s life is currently being held up for scrutiny and debate in the blogosphere. A typical post – Laurence Scott, a commenter on Global Grind, writes: “13 kids and pregnant and living in public housing. WOW. Rome is burning.” Meanwhile, on the New York Daily News site, commenters attack her – and each other – with ferocity. “I wonder how much of my tax money, both NY and federal, is going to go to supporting those 13 kids for the next several decades,” writes one commenter. “Hero? She would have been a hero if she had stopped at 2, at least to the rest of society that now has to pay for their welfare, education, Medicaid, food stamps.”

On The Root, an African-American website published by the Washington Post (full disclosure: I am the site’s senior editor), some took the “blame the victim” route. Writes WandaDoesIt: “Where it is OK for unmarred [sic] women to have 13 fatherless children can pretty much expect to have boys and young men shooting up the place … It is so tragic, but we can’t disconnect how she died from how she lived.” Then there’s BLKSeaGoat, who writes: “Her death was sad and the act heroic, but given the demographics of the neighborhood, coupled with the fact that she was working on her 13th [sic] child, can anyone honestly belive [sic] that this outcome wasn’t to be expected?”

Early reports that Horton was pregnant when she was killed didn’t help matters (according to the Daily News, the medical examiner on the case disputed those reports). The image of a black woman living in the projects and working on baby No 14 conjures old, hoary stereotypes of the fecund “welfare queen” vilified by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, who liked to talk about how the welfare queen had 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 social security cards, and collected benefits for “four nonexisting deceased husbands”, scamming the welfare system out of “over $150,000″.

As it turns out, Reagan’s queen didn’t exist; it is believed that he based his story on news reports at the time of a woman with two aliases who bilked the government out of $8,000. But fictional or not, she lives on in the psyche of the American public, her spectre hovering over news stories about a blameless Brooklyn mom who just happened to be at the right – and wrong – place at the right and wrong time.

There’s nothing like the internet to highlight just how far we haven’t come in this allegedly “post-racial” era of ours. Race is such a lightning rod, still, and the relative anonymity of the wild, wild web seems to unleash the worst in many of us. More often than not, our racial anxieties get played out in the comments sections. It’s interesting to note that Horton’s personal history came under attack from commenters of all races – black, white and other. Horton’s story becomes a kind of racial Rorschach blot, with everyone projecting his or her own fears and biases on to her tragedy.

Our willingness to judge Zurana Horton and find her wanting says a lot more about us than it does about this one heroic woman’s life.

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