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Rick Perry! No, really, Rick Perry! | Ana Marie Cox November 12, 2011

Saturday’s debate, intended to focus on foreign policy, seems unlikely to be the launching ground for a Rick Perry comeback … but I think it could be.

For one thing, his Wednesday gaffe sets the bar so ridiculously low that all he needs to do is speak in complete sentences and many voters will be satisfied with his ability to “act presidential” (another bar that been set historically low). What’s more, a good debate performance – complete sentences plus internally coherent (as opposed to actually feasible) policy statements – could set the stage for Perry to build back, slowly but surely, the kind of polling numbers he had before he actually became a candidate.

I may turn out to be the last pundit standing on the Perry train, but I’ve made myself comfortable and am willing to ride to the end of the station: Perry still represents the most plausible “not-Romney” nominee among the GOP candidates. His mistakes have not damaged his “not-Romney-ness”, and, if anything, they’ve enhanced it: he’s like us! And his recovery from this last verbal bobble has been so graceful that it might make voters forget earlier stumbles.

It’s hard to make a positive case for Perry, of course. (Even his advisers’ first argument is that Romney “has a ceiling”.) He doesn’t have Cain’s acontextual charisma or Newt’s professorial cool, but he also doesn’t have the kind of lady troubles (and implausible ideas for governance) that both of those not-Romneys do. And the media’s post-debate pile-on has generated sympathy, not distaste. It might also have simply reminded some people that Perry exists.

Current conventional wisdom has it that whoever is at the top of the not-Romney bubble at the moment of the Iowa caucuses will be Romney’s strongest competition. But I think voters are more savvy than that. I think that Romney’s strongest competition is the not-Romney candidate who can convince the voters that he could beat Obama; Cain’s and Newt’s baggage are almost impossible to overcome, whereas Perry has yet to show that he can’t.

(The other candidate who has the on-paper ability to beat Obama is Huntsman. But let’s be real.)

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Keystone XL pipeline: US government set to pursue new oil sands route November 10, 2011

The Obama administration was preparing to bow to public pressure on Thursday and look into a new route for a pipeline that would pump tar sands crude oil across the American heartland.

The announcement on the Keystone XL pipeline, expected soon, follows emotional scenes in Nebraska this week from landowners desperate to stop the project.

It spares Barack Obama from having to make a decision on such a polarising issue before next year’s elections.

Environment groups that were briefed by State Department officials said the review would seek to move the pipeline away from environmentally sensitive portions of Nebraska, where the opposition to the project had been fierce.

The review could take between a year and 18 months, which would postpone a decision beyond next year’s elections.

It could also force TransCanada, the pipeline company, to scrap the $7bn project to pump crude oil from the Alberta tar sands across six states to refineries on the Texas coast.

“You can’t just erase a line on a map and draw one somewhere else,” Shawn Howard, a TransCanada spokesman told the Guardian before the announcement. “We have said that it would put the project in very serious doubt.”

The pipeline, which would pump crude from the Alberta tar sands across six US states to refineries on the Texas coast, had been awaiting approval from the State Department, which has authority over projects crossing the border.

But environmental groups had framed the pipeline decision as a personal test of Obama’s green credentials, holding a two-week sit-in and bringing thousands of protesters to the White House to demand that he stop the project.

Emotions were running even higher in Nebraska, where the state legislature was forced into a special session this week to try to find remedies for distraught farmers and ranchers, who feared a pipeline leak would destroy their livelihoods.

The pipeline route originally approved by the State Department would cross an important aquifer, which supplies irrigation and ground water to a third of the American midwest.

It also crossed an iconic region known as the Sand Hills, home of Nebraska cowboys.

Opponents of the pipeline had argued that the State Department, in its environmental review of the project, had failed to take account of the risks of pumping corrosive tar over such sensitive terrain.

They also accused the State Department of bias and a conflict of interest after it hired a contractor – that listed TransCanada as a major client on its website – to conduct the environmental review.

Obama addressed those concerns last week, flying in a reporter from a Nebraska television stateion for an interview.

“We need to make sure that we have energy security and aren’t just relying on Middle East sources.,” he told KETV television. “But there’s a way of doing that and still making sure that the health and safety of the American people and folks in Nebraska are protected, and that’s how I’ll be measuring these recommendations when they come to me.”

The State Department agreed this week to an independent investigation of its handling of the decisions on the pipeline.

Supporters of the project argued just as forcefully that the pipeline would lessen America’s dependence on Middle East oil, and would create jobs.

And it put Obama at odds with America’s neighbour and biggest trading partner: Canada. Canadian leaders have made regular trips to Washington to lobby for the $7bn project.

Alberta’s premier, Alison Redford, was due on another lobbying mission next week.

They have also warned that a decision to further delay, or block, the pipeline would just ship more tar sands oil to China.

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Canada-US pipeline ‘faces delay’

Protesters circled the White House on Sunday, demanding the project be scrapped

The Obama administration will reassess the route of a Canada-US oil pipeline, in a move likely to delay a decision on the controversial project past the 2012 election, officials have told US media.

Studying a new route for Keystone XL could take between 12 to 18 months.

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

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

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

Protesters circled the White House on Sunday, demanding the project be scrapped.

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BP to end clean-up operations in Gulf oil spill November 9, 2011

BP will officially be off the hook for any deposits of oil that wash up on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico – unless they can be traced directly to the Macondo well, it emerged on Tuesday.

Under a plan approved by the Coast Guard on 2 November, the oil company will end active clean-up operations and now focus on restoring the areas damaged by last year’s oil disaster.

The plan, which was obtained by the Associated Press, sets out a protocol for determining which areas of the Gulf still need to be cleaned, and when BP’s responsibility for that would end.

The plan “provides the mechanisms for ceasing active clean-up operations”, AP said.

It went on to suggest the biggest effort would be reserved for the most popular, heavily visited beaches. More oil would be tolerated on remote beaches. BP will be responsible for cleaning up thick oil in marshes – unless officials decide it is best to let nature do its work.

The agency quoted coast guard officials saying the plan represented an important milestone in restoring the Gulf. BP has set aside about $1bn for restoration.

The Obama Administration has been indicating for some time that the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, which began on 20 April 2010 with an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that killed 11 workers, was moving into a second phase.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Obama Administration rolled out a new five-year plan for selling offshore drilling leases.

The proposal was a radically scaled back version of Obama’s earlier plans for offshore drilling – put forward just a few weeks before the Deepwater Horizon blow-out – that would have opened up the Arctic and Atlantic coasts for drilling.

Oil companies will still be able to apply for leases in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and in two new unexplored areas off the northern coast of Alaska.

But the Administration put the Atlantic and Pacific coasts off-limits.

“It will have an emphasis in the Gulf of Mexico,” the interior secretary, Ken Salazar, told a meeting. “We see robust oil and gas development in the Gulf of Mexico.”

A number of commentators described the plan as an attempt to please two implacable enemies: the oil industry and the environmental movement.

But the proposals came under heavy criticism from both sides. Oil companies said the plan did not go far enough. Environmental groups were angry that Obama was opening up pristine Arctic waters to drilling.

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California’s medical marijuana outlets threatened in government crackdown November 8, 2011

The Obama administration is heading towards an ugly confrontation with California‘s medical marijuana dispensaries after the federal government ordered dozens of outlets to close by Saturday or face an immediate crackdown.

Growers and sellers of marijuana for medicinal use say the threats amount to a betrayal of campaign promises made by Obama in 2008, and that they fear a nationwide attempt to destroy the burgeoning industry. Partly encouraged by Obama’s campaign messages that he would not use federal force against practitioners complying with state laws, dispensaries have spread over the past two years across 16 states, including Arizona, New Jersey, Delaware and Maine as well as Washington DC, with a combined annual turnover of up to $100bn.

California, which permitted medical marijuana in a referendum in 1996, is by far the leader in the field, with some reports suggesting it has more dispensaries than Starbucks coffee houses. Nobody knows precise figures, given the still murky nature of the business, but there are thought to be more than a million Californians who are registered with doctors for growing and consuming cannabis, and hundreds of thousands more across the country.

The Obama administration has steadily toughened its approach over the past two years, arguing that medical marijuana has become a front for illegal distribution of the drug. This summer it sent out letters to several towns in states across America, including California, which have passed their own independent regulations permitting the medical use of the drug. Prosecutors pointed out that cannabis remained illegal under federal law and warned the municipalities, from Montana to Rhode Island, not to allow cultivation on their land.

Then, on 7 October, federal prosecutors held a press conference in which they announced they were extending their threatened action to landlords who provided rental space to dispensaries, giving them 45 days to send their tenants packing or face the consequences. For many of those outlets, the deadline runs out on Saturday.

“This is a clear case of the federal government overreaching itself,” said Morgan Fox of the Washington-based Marijuana Policy Project. “It goes against what Obama said many times in his presidential campaign, so either he has lost control of the Department of Justice or he is betraying his election promises.”

It is not known how far the federal authorities intend to go in enforcing their threats; the sight of Swat teams going in to smash dispensaries used at least in part by seriously ill patients may not produce the most sympathetic headlines in the more liberal towns and cities of California. But already the chill has spread, and several outlets are understood to have shut their doors or been evicted by landlords.

Kris Hermes of Americans for Safe Access, ASA, the largest pro-medical marijuana group in the country, said the Obama administration was being substantially more aggressive on this issue than its Bush predecessor. “We are seeing a new vitality in the attacks against medical marijuana and that’s extremely troubling. Political will in this country is changing, and its about time the administration caught up with it.”

A recent Gallup poll found that for the first time since records began, more than a half of Americans were in favour of legalising all marijuana use.

ASA has filed a lawsuit that accuses the department of justice of violating the 10th amendment of the constitution, which devolves any power not specifically delegated to the federal government to the states.

Further lawsuits have been launched across California pressing for a temporary restraining order on the federal authorities to prevent raids happening after the 45-day time limit is reached.

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White House: there is no evidence that aliens exist

The White House has said it has no evidence that extraterrestrial creatures exist.

Barack Obama’s administration made the declaration on Monday in response to feedback on its website, which allows people to submit petitions to which officials must respond if enough people sign.

In this case, more than 5,000 people signed a petition demanding that the White House disclose the government’s knowledge of extraterrestrial beings. More than 12,000 signed another petition seeking formal acknowledgment of an extraterrestrial presence engaging with the human race.

In response, Phil Larson of the White House office of science and technology policy wrote that the US government has no evidence that life exists outside Earth, or that an extraterrestrial presence has contacted any member of the human race.

“In addition, there is no credible information to suggest that any evidence is being hidden from the public’s eye,” Larson wrote.

However, he did not close the door entirely on a close encounter of an alien kind, noting that many scientists and mathematicians believe the chances are high that there is life somewhere among the “trillions and trillions of stars in the universe” – although the chances that humans might make contact with non-humans are remote.

It is not the first petition to force the White House to engage on a somewhat offbeat topic since the “We the People” web page was inaugurated in September. Various petitions demanding the legalisation of marijuana have gathered more than 100,000 names, to which the White House has responded that marijuana is associated with addiction, respiratory disease and cognitive impairment, and legalising it would not be the answer.

The administration has also addressed topics including gay marriage and student loan debt.

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Herman Cain ignores the PR rulebook in race for White House November 6, 2011

Link to this video

Herman Cain dates the start of his presidential ambitions to a few minutes before 10 o’clock on the evening of 22 January 1999. His first grandchild, Celena, had just been born and as he held her in his arms he was moved by a sense of calling.

He wrote a poem about the experience called Little Faces, signing it The Hermanator:

For a moment, I didn’t know who I was or where,

I could only think of her and so happy to be there.

Born into the world with all the other little faces,

What will we do, to make it a better place?

It’s clear that whatever else Cain does in the next few months, he should stay away from rhyming verse. But that’s just about the only thing that’s clear about Herman Cain. In all other regards, he’s shaping up to be one of the most unpredictable and baffling candidates in the history of American presidential races.

Those qualities have been on full display this week with the eruption of sexual harassment allegations against him. The accusations date back to the 1990s when Cain was head of the National Restaurant Association. Three women, all unnamed former employees, are now known to have complained about inappropriate behaviour that allegedly included invitations back to his hotel room. Two of the women received confidential settlements.

True to form, Cain has dealt with the allegations in a way that is the complete opposite of the crisis PR rulebook. Politico gave him 10 days to respond to their questions, yet when the website broke the story on Sunday night he responded as though it was the first he’d heard about the accusations. In the media hurricane that followed, he began by denying any knowledge of a “settlement”, then memories slowly returned.

“I was able to gradually recall more and more details about what happened 12 years ago,” he told the cable news channel HLN, including what he now called a “separation agreement” with the women. He said one of the women had been paid two or three months salary in the deal – though we now know it was a full year’s remuneration of about $35,000 and $45,000 respectively.

According to the rulebook, mistake number one is to eke out your account of what happened, thus prolonging the media storm. Mistake number two is to change your story, making you look duplicitous. And mistake number three – which he’s also fallen into royally this week – is to blame other people: in Cain’s case his female accuser whose work he snarkily said had not been “up to par”, the press and, most provocatively, his rival in the presidential competition Rick Perry.

“We live in an era when what you say during a crisis is often more important than what you did to cause it in the first place,” says Michael Wissot, a senior strategist with the political consultancy Luntz Global who advised John McCain in his presidential runs in 2000 and 2008. “All this finger-pointing by Cain has merely extended the crisis and got him engaged in petty politics, which is dangerous because the one thing that set him apart was that he was not engaged in petty politics.”

Or rather, not engaged in politics, period. The single most extraordinary part of the Cain story is that he is a frontrunner in the race for the Republican nomination without ever having held public office. His formal electoral record so far stretches to an attempt in 2004 to enter Georgia’s state senate in which he didn’t even get past the primaries.

“Historically, there’s no precedent,” says Larry Sabato, at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “There’s a reason that parties don’t nominate people without experience in office and that’s because they don’t react well under a crisis – as we’re seeing this week.”

Another puzzle is that Cain came from the sort of background that you’d expect would have directed him more towards the Democratic or labour movement than the Republicans. As he says in his new book This Is Herman Cain: “I grew up po’, which is even worse than being poor.”

His great-great-grandparents were slaves and his father still worked the fields as a young man before branching out to become a chauffeur. His mother was a maid. Cain was born in Memphis and grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, under segregation. He remembers being mischievous – a key trait even as a child – sipping water from the white as well as coloured fountains, and being surprised that they tasted the same.

His identity as a black American came not just from negative experiences of racism but also through positive role models. His university years were spent at Morehouse College, an all-male, all-black institution in Atlanta.

But cutting against that collective identity was the driving ambition of Cain the individualist, or the “CEO of self” to use his own catchphrase. He now derides the overwhelming affiliation of African Americans with the Democratic party as a form of “brainwashing”.

From a young age Cain saw himself as on his own trajectory, free of societal norms. He set his American dream on earning a salary of $20,000 – which he soon surpassed as he rose up the corporate ladder, culminating with his appointment as chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza.

Cain makes a lot on the campaign trail of his time at the fast-food chain, regularly telling supporters: “We turned it around with commonsense principles, and we can turn the country around the same way.”

Up to a point. The company did not go into bankruptcy, it is true, largely because Cain slashed costs and sacked up to 400 workers. But nor did it do roaring trade, remaining a relatively marginal player in the pizza market.

Still, his style of slash-and-burn economics does carry real appeal to the Tea Party-fuelled base of the Republican party. It was Tea Partiers who propelled Cain into politics. In 2005 he did a stint as a motivational speaker for Americans for Prosperity, the right-wing network founded and funded by the oil billionaires, the Koch brothers. Most of Cain’s current campaign team, including Mark Block, the adviser who appeared in a recent political advert in which he smokes a cigarette, came from Americans for Prosperity and share the Kochs’s and the Tea Party movement’s anti-government and anti-tax principles.

“I was thinking Tea Parties before Tea Parties was cool,” Cain once said.

He’s carried those Tea Party credentials with him on to the campaign trail, using them to win over the ranks of right-wing conservatives who are disaffected with the establishment Republican elite.

In the first few months of his candidacy he remained obscure but his impressive performance on the televised Republican debates catapulted his poll ratings. For a candidate who has been vague about policies, the one that stands out is a “9-9-9″ regressive tax policy that abolishes personal income, corporate, estate and other taxes and replaces them with a flat 9% tax on retail sales, 9% individual income tax and 9% business tax to the almost certain detriment of poorer families and benefit of the super rich.

As Jeff Jorgensen, who was one of the first to endorse Cain in the key caucus state of Iowa, puts it: “The fact that he’s not a politician is the biggest factor for me. Politicians got us to this point and it’s not politicians who will get us out of it.”

As Jorgensen suggests, what Cain is not is almost more important than what he is. Crucially, he’s not Mitt Romney, the other Republican frontrunner who angers the right-wing Tea Party movement because he’s too moderate. And he’s certainly not Barack Obama, who he castigates as a “socialist”, though he does have the benefit in some conservatives’ eyes of also being black.

“He’s actually blacker than Obama, Obama’s mother was white,” said Timothy Johnson, founder of the Frederick Douglass Foundation, a network of black conservatives.

By capturing the imagination of a roiled Republican base, Cain has already gone much further than anyone expected. The latest polls put him in the lead, well ahead of Romney, though the full fallout of this week’s shenanigans has yet to be felt.

Wissot says that Luntz Global’s polling data shows Cain performing strongly in several key early states, notably Iowa and South Carolina. “If Cain can weather the sexual harassment allegations and continue to fight off Perry for ownership of the title of Tea Party darling, then he has a chance of winning the nomination.”

But there’s a long way to go yet. A final puzzle is that Cain has virtually no campaign infrastructure in any of those states and his financial war-chest is so small compared to Romney’s or Perry’s that some commentators have wondered whether Cain’s efforts amount to nothing more than an elaborate scheme to sell his book.

As a sign perhaps that things are about to get a little more serious, Cain has reportedly now hired a crisis PR firm. Better late than never. But surely this is not the last of the surprises we’ll enjoy on Cain’s bewildering journey towards the White House.

Key dates in the battle for the presidency

9 November The next national TV debate between the Republican candidates. Will Cain look like damaged goods, or will it be his chance to put this week’s troubles behind him?

10 December The first of three TV debates between the candidates to be staged in Iowa ahead of the crucial opening caucus there.

3 January 2012 And they’re off! The first contest of the nomination process begins with the Iowa caucus in America’s corn-growing heartland. Polls currently show Cain and Romney equal frontrunners

10 January The focus swings to New Hampshire where Romney is way out in front. He will hope that commanding victory here will propel him on to Super Tuesday

21 January On to South Carolina. A big one for Cain this, partly because of its large black population and partly because of its strong Baptist community which suits Cain, who is a pastor in an Atlanta church

6 March Super Tuesday this time round won’t be quite as definitive as in previous presidential years, because fewer states are taking part. But it will still help to separate the sheep from the goats

3 October Denver, Colorado. The first of three televised face-offs between Barack Obama and the Republican nominee (there will also be one vice-presidential debate). A chance to deliver body blows either way

6 November The big day. Will the Republican nominee succeed in doing what Ronald Reagan did to Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton did to the elder George Bush?

The decision will lie with 538 electors drawn from the 50 states.

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US removes Afghanistan commander Peter Fuller for criticising Karzai November 5, 2011

Major General Peter Fuller, a top US commander in Afghanistan, has been relieved of his duties after criticising the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.

General John Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), relieved Fuller as deputy commander of the effort to train Afghan security forces after Fuller told Politico that Afghan leaders were “isolated from reality”, a US defence official said.

Pentagon spokesman George Little had said on Friday that defence secretary Leon Panetta was aware of the remarks and Fuller had been speaking for himself, not the US defence department.

“The secretary has full trust and confidence in General Allen’s judgment with respect to his decision in this case,” Little said in response to Allen’s decision to relieve Fuller of his duties.

Speaking in a Politico interview that ran on Thursday, Fuller depicted Afghan officials as detached and unappreciative of American sacrifices and financial contributions to Afghanistan after 10 years of war.

The interview painted Fuller as critical of Karzai’s recent comments suggesting Afghanistan would side with Pakistan if it went to war with the United States.

“Why don’t you just poke me in the eye with a needle! You’ve got to be kidding me – I’m sorry, we just gave you $11.6bn and now you’re telling me, ‘I don’t really care?’”

The interview quoted Fuller as saying Afghanistan did not recognise the sacrifice in “treasure and blood” the US was making for its security.

In July 2010 Barack Obama fired General Stanley McChrystal, then commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, over remarks he and his aides made in an explosive Rolling Stone magazine article that disparaged the president and other civilian leaders.

While Fuller’s job was far less senior than McChrystal’s, the training of Afghan security forces has become more and more central to Nato’s mission in Afghanistan as foreign forces gradually seek to put Afghan soldiers and police in charge of security.

Afghan security forces are far more numerous than they were and better skilled, but they still have inadequate fighting skills, poor equipment and widespread illiteracy.

While Obama plans to remove the 33,000 extra troops he sent following a 2009 review of Afghan war strategy, security conditions remain troubling. The United Nations says violence is at its worst level since the war began in 2001.

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Rick Perry’s Wild West | Ana Marie Cox October 25, 2011

Perry’s birtherish response to the statement that Obama is a US citizen is the part of last weekend’s Parade interview that’s gotten the most attention out of what is an altogether unlikely dialogue:

You don’t believe [the Obama birth certificate that has] been released?
I don’t know. I had dinner with Donald Trump the other night.

That came up.

And he said?
He doesn’t think it’s real.

To judge from his hair, I’m not sure how Trump has any authority to judge what looks “real.” (For that matter, I’m not sure how someone who’s filed for corporate bankruptcy four times seems like a great choice to lead on national economic policy.)

The rest of the article is less inflammatory but often just as rattling. He jogs carrying a gun. He listens to Pink Floyd. (I like to imagine him carrying a gun while jogging and listening to Pink Floyd.) His favorite movie is “Immortal Beloved,” a quasi-biopic about Beethoven (INTELLECTUAL ELITIST ALERT.) Oh, and this might explain his debate performances:

Okay. Here’s an easy one.
Great. Blue.

Oh, I thought you were going to ask my favorite color.

But don’t mistake any of these answers for nails in the coffin of his candidacy. Over the weekend, The Page reported that Perry hired two more GOP veteran campaign staffers – putting to work just some of the $17m he’s raised. We are a long way from hearing last from him; hopefully will hold more Gary Oldman references.

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Relief, joy at Fort Bliss after announcement of Iraq withdrawal October 23, 2011

El Paso, Texas (CNN) — Since 1848, Fort Bliss has been where U.S. soldiers toil, train and sweat under the strong Southwest sun before departing for battlegrounds around the world.

It has also been where their loved ones grieve upon hearing the worst possible news from the war front — including in 52 cases over eight years of fighting in Iraq.

Such heart-wrenching returns from that Middle Eastern nation will soon become history. President Barack Obama announced Friday that the vast majority of the more than 39,000 U.S. troops now stationed in Iraq, including about 3,500 from Fort Bliss, “will definitely be home for the holidays.”

The decision set off shrieks and tears of joy among family members of the deployed troops.

“Everybody was yelling and screaming and clapping and crying,” recalled Denise Young, whose husband, John, deployed in July. “It was very emotional.”

Extreme highs and lows are nothing new for military spouses like Young, who is the daughter of a 28-year Marine. Her husband — a medic for the 4th Brigade of the 1st Armored Division, which is based at Fort Bliss — has been in the military for five years.

Young said there are plenty of headaches and heartache for her and the couple’s children every time her husband sets off for such countries as Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of it stems from suddenly becoming a single parent, and then there’s the looming nightmare of possibly never seeing her husband alive again.

“It’s always a worry,” Young said. “You just have to take it one day at a time.”

Like Young, Brooke Trapnell expected the day she could finally breathe — when her husband, Tyrone, was finally back in her arms — would come in July. That would have marked 12 months after the husband was first deployed to Iraq.

Trapnell said the separation has been difficult. The rest of her family is 2,000 miles away in Pennsylvania, and she found herself forced to become “the man and the woman of the house” when problems, like a broken toilet, arose.

She believes Obama’s decision is the right one. The decision came after talks with the Iraqis about extending the U.S. troop presence broke down over the key issue of legal immunity for American military personnel. The campaign has claimed more than 4,400 American lives and has cost upwards of $700 billion, according to the Department of Defense.

“It’s been too long,” Trapnell said.

Morgan Herrera doesn’t think her husband, Leonardo, should return to Iraq, either. He is a petroleum specialist who deployed for the first time in August, less than a month after arriving at Fort Bliss, which covers roughly 1.1 million acres of land in southern Texas and New Mexico.

“It’s been eight years, so I feel like it’s about time,” she said of the Iraq war.

Herrera added she is “ecstatic” that her husband should be home in time to celebrate his 21st birthday, and she is eager to cook him his favorite meal of pork chops.

But she and other Fort Bliss families know, too, that while their loved ones may not head back to Iraq, that does not mean they won’t face more danger.

While thousands of personnel from the army base are now in Iraq, more — about 5,000 — are in Afghanistan.

Even as her mind races at “a million miles an hour” in anticipation of her husband’s imminent return, Young said she’s trying not to lose the perspective that comes with life as a military spouse.

“It’s the army,” Young said. “You don’t know what tomorrow is going to hold. You just do the best you can.”

Trapnell said that she’s heard some Fort Bliss troops might go from Iraq to Kuwait and eventually end up in Afghanistan. But she said that, for now, she is trying to enjoy the fact that her husband will be home, and cannot bring herself to consider yet that he may be in harm’s way again, this time in Afghanistan.

“That’s not an option in my mind,” she said.

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Barack Obama on Gaddafi’s death: ‘the dark shadow of tyranny has been lifted’ – video October 21, 2011

US president, in a statment in the White House Rose Garden, said the death of Muammar Gaddafi marks a ‘long and painful chapter’ for the Libyan people

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Deportation reviews set to start October 20, 2011

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Obama administration soon will begin its systematic review of the approximately 300,000 pending deportation cases, separating “high priority” cases involving criminals it wants to deport from “low priority” cases it will drop, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told Congress Wednesday.

The effort marks another point in an evolution of immigration enforcement away from the worksite raids of the Bush administration and towards deportations of illegal immigrants in prisons and jails.

Napolitano said a group of Homeland Security and Justice Department officials will begin a small “pilot” review of immigration cases in “two or three” weeks, and hopes to rapidly expand its efforts.

Under the policy announced last year, federal immigration officials will place the highest priority on deporting illegal immigrants who pose a danger to public safety and national security, while “administratively closing” other cases, taking into consideration a list of factors. Those factors include the person’s length of time in the United States, whether the immigrant arrived as a child, served in the military and has a spouse, child or parent who is a U.S. citizen.

DHS officials say the new policy, which gives immigration officials “prosecutorial discretion,” is similar to policies of previous administrations, and is a “common sense” approach to immigration enforcement.

But critics have blasted the policy, say that by “administratively closing” cases, the Obama administration is giving “amnesty” to illegal immigrants.

The policy is “alarming, especially for those of us who firmly believe in the rule of law,” Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said Wednesday.

Grassley said much is unknown about the policy, including whether illegal immigrants with criminal convictions will be eligible to stay in the country, and what will happen to undocumented immigrants whose cases are closed.

“We want answers. We want transparency and accountability. We want to be part of the process,” Grassley said.

In a recent speech, Napolitano said critics ignore the fact the number of deportations has increased during the Obama administration, and that the composition of that number has “fundamentally changed.” The ranks of deported people “consist of more convicted criminals, recent border crossers, egregious immigration law violators and immigration fugitives than ever before,” she said.

Of the 396,906 individuals removed from the U.S. in fiscal 2011, nearly 55 percent had been convicted of felonies or misdemeanors. That’s an 89 percent increase of criminals from three years ago, DHS said.

Napolitano said DHS has eliminated worksite raids, saying they “did nothing to enhance public safety.” Instead, the Obama administration has focused on prosecuting employers who violate employment laws, she said.

Napolitano said the department’s focus on criminal illegal immigrants is better than “the ad hoc approach where non-criminal aliens are more likely to be removed than criminals.”

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Obama sends military advisers to central Africa October 15, 2011

October 15, 2011

by legitgov


Obama sends military advisers to central Africa 14 Oct 2011 President Barack Obama said on Friday he was sending about 100 U.S. troops to central Africa to help and advise government forces battling Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army rebels. Obama made clear the troops would serve as trainers and advisers in efforts to hunt rebel leader Joseph Kony and would not engage in combat except in self-defense. In a letter to Congress, Obama said the first U.S. forces arrived in Uganda on Wednesday and would be deployed to South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo “subject to the approval of each respective host nation.”

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Obama sends 100 troops to combat LRA in Uganda

President Barack Obama said Friday he is dispatching roughly 100 US troops to central Africa to help battle the Lord’s Resistance Army, which the administration accuses of a campaign of murder, rape and kidnapping children that spans two decades.

In a letter to Congress, Obama said the troops will act as advisers in efforts to hunt down rebel leader Joseph Kony but will not engage in combat except in self-defence. Pentagon officials said the bulk of the US contingent will be special operations troops, who will provide security and combat training to African units.

The White House said the first troops arrived in Uganda on Wednesday. Ultimately, they will also deploy in South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Congo.

Long considered one of Africa’s most brutal rebel groups, the Lord’s Resistance Army began its attacks in Uganda more than 20 years ago but has been pushing westward.

The administration and human rights groups say its atrocities have left thousands dead and have put as many as 300,000 Africans to flight. They have charged the group with seizing children to bolster its ranks of soldiers and sometimes forcing them to become sex slaves.

Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court under a 2005 warrant for crimes against humanity in his native Uganda.

Obama’s announcement came in low-key fashion — a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, in which he said the deployment “furthers U.S. national security interests and foreign policy and will be a significant contribution toward counter-LRA efforts in central Africa.”

The deployment drew support from Sen. James Inhofe, a Republican who has visited the region.

“I have witnessed firsthand the devastation caused by the LRA, and this will help end Kony’s heinous acts that have created a human rights crisis in Africa,” he said in a statement. “I have been fervently involved in trying to prevent further abductions and murders of Ugandan children, and today’s action offers hope that the end of the LRA is in sight.”

But Obama’s letter stressed the limited nature of the deployment.

“Our forces will provide information, advice and assistance to select partner nation forces,” it said. “Although the US forces are combat-equipped, they will … not themselves engage LRA forces unless necessary for self-defense.”

Most of the troops will deploy to regional capitals to work with government officials and military commanders on countering the rebels and protecting civilians, Pentagon officials said.

State Department officials portrayed the deployment as part of a larger strategy to combat the group that dates to the Bush administration but also includes legislation passed by Congress this year.

Victoria Nuland, a department spokeswoman, said the US troops will aid in “pursuing the LRA and seeking to bring top commanders to justice.” The broader effort includes encouraging rebel fighters to defect, disarm and return to their homes, she said.

The administration briefed human rights activists ahead of the announcement, and their officials were encouraged.

“These advisers can make a positive difference on the ground by keeping civilians safe and improving military operations to apprehend the LRA’s top commanders,” said Paul Ronan, director of the group Advocacy at Resolve.

Col. Felix Kulayigye, Uganda’s military spokesman, said of the troops: “We are aware that they are coming. We are happy about it. We look forward to working with them and eliminating Kony and his fighters.”

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US hits Greek anarchist group with terrorism sanctions October 14, 2011

October 13, 2011

by legitgov


US hits Greek anarchist group with terrorism sanctions 13 Oct 2011 The Obama administration has added a Greek anarchist group to a terrorism blacklist that subjects the organization and its members to U.S. financial sanctions. The State Department said Thursday it had placed the Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei, or SPF, on its list of specially designated terrorists, a move that freezes any assets the group may have in U.S. jurisdictions and bars Americans from giving it any material support. It said the group, which first emerged in 2008, had targeted civilians corpora-terrorists and government officials in a number of countries, including Greece, in an attempt to spread its ideology.

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Keystone XL approval would be Barack Obama’s ‘biggest environmental failure’ October 6, 2011

Allowing the construction of a 1,711-mile pipeline carrying oil from Canada’s tar sand fields to the Gulf of Mexico would be the biggest environmental failure of Barack Obama‘s presidency, according to leading US environmental activist Bill McKibben.

In an interview with the Guardian ahead of his keynote speech at this weekend’s Schumacher conference in Bristol, McKibben said giving the green light to the Keystone XL pipeline would be a bigger personal mistake than Obama’s efforts at the doomed Copenhagen summit in 2009, or the failed attempt to get any climate legislation through Congress, because the president has the authority to stop it himself and is not hamstrung by the blocking efforts of other politicians or diplomats. The final State Department hearing into the pipeline is due to be heard on Friday, with a decision expected from Obama by the end of the year. Protesters, including McKibben, intend to hold a rally outside the hearing on Friday to mark their opposition.

McKibben, who was arrested but released without charge after spending three days in prison in August following an anti-pipeline protest in Washington DC, said he now intends to organise a human chain of protesters that will encircle the White House on 6 November. He stopped short, though, of urging people not to vote for Obama in next year’s presidential elections: “I don’t even think that’s the issue really. Most hardcore environmentalists probably aren’t going to go and vote for [the Republican presidential candidate] Rick Perry. The problem is that they won’t be out there building the surge behind the president that got him elected in the first place. Presidents get elected, at some level, by movements of people deciding that there’s something good here. And that’s what people did in 2008 with Obama. It almost feels as if this pipeline thing is one of the last chances he has to rekindle even a small part of that.”

McKibben said he and his fellow protesters were now in a “fight” with the fossil fuel industry to stop the pipeline and, more widely, address climate change: “In a fair fight, we would have won this battle long ago because the science is clear and most people have a sincere desire to build a different kind of world that will work best for their kids. But the battle is not being fought on science, but on money. There is an enormous interest within the fossil-fuel industry to prevent change for even a few more years while they wrack up records profits. It’s the biggest obstacle we face.”

Asked whether Perry, a vocal climate sceptic, might actually help to raise awareness of climate change, McKibben agreed: “I think he’s already started to expose the folly of his position. There was some recent polling that showed the number of people worried about global warming increased slightly and one of the explanations was that having Perry in the TV debates was just causing normal, rational Americans to think that if these people think that global warming is nuts then there must actually be something to it.”

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‘Monday Night Football’ intro pulled after Hank Williams Jr. comments October 4, 2011

(CNN) — For the first time in years, “Monday Night Football” viewers did not hear Hank Williams Jr.’s intro “Are You Ready for Some Football?” after ESPN pulled the song from the broadcast following remarks Williams made about President Barack Obama.

In an appearance on Fox News’ “Fox and Friends” Monday morning, Williams referred to a June golf game with Obama and House Speaker John Boehner on the same team, against Vice President Joe Biden and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, as “one of the biggest political mistakes ever.”

Asked what he didn’t like about it, Williams said, “Come on. That’d be like (Adolf) Hitler playing golf with (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu. Not hardly.”

In a statement Monday, ESPN said that while Williams “is not an ESPN employee, we recognize that he is closely linked to our company through the open to “Monday Night Football.” We are extremely disappointed with his comments and as a result we have decided to pull the open from tonight’s telecast.”

In a statement issued through a representative, Williams, son of legendary country singer Hank Williams, acknowledged his analogy was “extreme — but it was to make a point.”

“Some of us have strong opinions and are often misunderstood,” the country singer said. “… I was simply trying to explain how stupid it seemed to me — how ludicrous that pairing was. They’re polar opposites, and it made no sense. They don’t see eye-to-eye and never will.”

Williams, however, said he has “always respected the office of the president.”

Still, he noted, “Every time the media brings up the tea party, it’s painted as racist and extremists — but there’s never a backlash, no outrage to those comparisons … Working-class people are hurting — and it doesn’t seem like anybody cares. When both sides are high-fiving it on the ninth hole when everybody else is without a job — it makes a whole lot of us angry. Something has to change. The policies have to change.”

CNN’s Denise Quan contributed to this report.

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US Congress blocks £128m in aid for Palestinians October 1, 2011

The Palestinian Authority has accused the US of “collective punishment”, after the US Congress blocked $200m (£128m) in aid in response to President Mahmoud Abbas’ bid for UN statehood.

The decision to freeze the payments was reportedly made by three congressional committees on 18 August, before Abbas’ planned bid for statehood recognition at the UN the following month.

The funds, intended for food aid, health care, and infrastructure projects, were supposed to have been transferred within the US financial year, which ends today. The Obama administration is reportedly negotiating with congressional leaders to unlock the aid.

“It is another kind of collective punishment which is going to harm the needs of the public without making any positive contribution,” Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib told the Independent.

“It is ironic to be punished for going to the United Nations.”

USAid has already started scaling back its aid operations in the West Bank and Gaza, and there are fears it may be forced to end all humanitarian work and distribution of financial support to the Palestinian Authority by January.

There are also fears the move could lead to a security crisis in the Palestinian territories.

“Security co-operation with the Palestinians is excellent at the moment and we do not want to jeopardise that,” a senior Israeli military official official told the Independent.

Republican Gary Ackerman, member of the House sub-committee on the Middle East and South Asia, told a meeting of representatives and leaders of Jewish organisations outside the UN headquarters on Monday that “there may need to be a total cut-off of all aid to the Palestinians for pursuing this course of action which is very dangerous and ill advised.”

Former president Bill Clinton recently warned Congress to leave the issue of aid to the Obama administration. He said: “Everybody knows the US Congress is the most pro-Israel parliamentary body in the world. They don’t have to demonstrate that.”

A UN security council panel on admitting new members to the UN met to discuss the Palestinian bid for the first time on Friday. After the meeting, Lebanese UN ambassador Nawaf Salam said the committee unanimously agreed to hold further meetings next week.

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White House Confident of Supreme Court Win on Healthcare September 29, 2011

The Obama administration’s quick appeal to the Supreme Court in defense of its signature healthcare law clearly displays White House confidence that it will ultimately prevail in the case, experts say. Whether that confidence is well-placed, though, remains a matter of opinion.

Yesterday, the Department of Justice and the White House announced that the government is asking the Supreme Court to take up the case from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled in August that the Affordable Care Act’s mandate requiring all Americans to buy insurance or face a fee is unconstitutional, though could be separated from the overall law. Earlier Wednesday, the government’s adversaries in the case—a coalition of 26 states as well as the National Federation of Independent Business—also filed with the high court, asking for a complete invalidation of the law. But the administration is determined the law will survive. “We know the Affordable Care Act is constitutional,” White House senior adviser Stephanie Cutter blogged Wednesday. “We are confident the Supreme Court will agree.”

[Check out a roundup of political cartoons on healthcare policy.]

The government could have dragged its feet in appealing to the Supreme Court—the final deadline to file was actually November, and it also could have asked for a full court review from the 11th Circuit since the case was decided by a three-judge panel (though the conservative court was unlikely to return a better verdict)—but experts say filing now displays the administration’s assurance, and any delay tactics might have been exploited by Republicans as cowardly. “If you don’t think you have a winning hand, then sometimes it makes sense to see if the landscape changes,” says Ian Millhiser, a constitutional and judiciary analyst with the left-leaning Center for American Progress. “They clearly think, if they are going to pull the trigger now, that they stand to gain from pulling the trigger.”

Tom Goldstein, the publisher of SCOTUSblog who has argued 22 cases before the Supreme Court, says filing now indicates the administration wants the case heard this term. “The technical deadline to file the petition was November, but the practical deadline if you want to get a case heard this term was much sooner,” he says, adding that he believes the Supreme Court will announce sometime around Thanksgiving that it will hear the case. “The point wasn’t that they had a deadline to ask the Supreme Court; they had a deadline to ask the Supreme Court if they were going to get a ruling.”

[See a slide show of 10 ways the GOP can take down Obamacare.]

Goldstein adds that the main reason for pursuing quick action is most likely a common-sense one: The government needs an answer. “Delay was just going to make it too hard as a practical matter,” he says. “They just need an answer so [the Department of Health and Human Services] in particular knows whether it should be issuing regulations, and whether people should be getting ready or not.”

This development means, however, that a ruling would come amid presidential election fever, a gamble for the administration since the controversial law will be a key political issue with plenty of media coverage, either way the high court rules. If the law—considered Obama’s landmark accomplishment by supporters—is struck down, Republicans would probably consider it a huge, motivating win, potentially demoralizing the president’s base. However, Republicans could suffer politically from taking away popular provisions of the law, like free preventive care and allowing kids to stay on parents’ insurance plans until age 26. If the law is upheld, Obama will probably look stronger, but vehement opponents of the law might see that ruling as a rallying cry to once again push for congressional repeal—and to get out the vote for repeal-friendly Republicans running for Senate.

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Justice Dept. asks Supreme Court to review health-care law

September 28, 2011

by legitgov


Justice Dept. asks Supreme Court to review health-care law 28 Sep 2011 The Obama administration Wednesday asked the Supreme Court to settle the constitutional question over the 2010 health-care law this term, meaning that the decision will probably come next summer in the thick of the presidential campaign. The Justice Department asked the justices to review the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta, which is the only appeals court to say Congress exceeded its power in passing the law. The law [aka insurance cartel giveaway] requires almost every American to have health insurance.

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