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The USA is the most corrupt country in the world and I have 10,000 posts that point heavily to that fact…

Occupy Oakland: Iraq war veteran in critical condition after police clashes October 26, 2011

An Iraq war veteran has a fractured skull and brain swelling after allegedly being hit by a police projectile.

Scott Olsen is in a “critical condition” in Highland hospital in Oakland, a hospital spokesman confirmed.

Olsen, 24, suffered the head injury during protests in Oakland on Tuesday evening. More than 15 people were arrested after a crowd gathered to demonstrate against the police operation to clear two Occupy Oakland camps in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Jay Finneburgh, a photographer who was covering the protest, published pictures of Olsen lying on the ground.

“This poor guy was right behind me when he was hit in the head with a police projectile. He went down hard and did not get up,” Finneburgh wrote.

Olsen was taken to Highland by fellow protesters.

The Guardian spoke to people with Olsen at the hospital. Adele Carpenter, who knows Olsen through his involvement with anti-war groups, said she arrived at the hospital at 11pm on Tuesday night.

Carpenter said she was told by a doctor at the hospital that Olsen had a skull fracture and was in a “serious but stable” condition. She said he had been sedated and was unconscious.

“I’m just absolutely devastated that someone who did two tours of Iraq and came home safely is now lying in a US hospital because of the domestic police force,” Carpenter said.

Olsen had only moved to Oakland in July, Carpenter said. He is a member of Veterans for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War, and met Carpenter through her work with the civilian soldier alliance.

Keith Shannon, who served with Olsen in Iraq, arrived at the hospital after protesters contacted him through Facebook. He confirmed Olsen had a fractured skull, and said he had been told by a doctor Olsen also had brain swelling.

A neurosurgeon was due to assess Olsen to determine if he needed surgery, Shannon said.

“It’s really hard,” Shannon said. “I really wish I had gone out with him instead of staying home last night.”

Shannon, who is also 24, said he had seen the video footage showing Olsen lying on the floor as a police officer throws an explosive device near him.

“It’s terrible to go over to Iraq twice and come back injured, and then get injured by the police that are supposed to be protecting us,” he said.

He said Olsen had served two tours of Iraq, in 2006 and 2007. Olsen was in 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines with Shannon before leaving the military in 2010.

He moved to the San Francisco area in July and works for Opswat, a software company, living with Shannon in Daly City, just south of San Francisco.

Shannon said Olsen was hit in the head by a tear gas canister or smoke canister shot by a police officer. He said Olsen had a curved scar on his forehead consistent with a canister.

Protesters who had accompanied Olsen to Highland hospital got in touch with Shannon through Facebook, after Olsen said he lived with someone called “Keith”. Shannon said he was told Olsen was unable to say his surname.

Olsen is originally from Wisconsin and some of his family were planning to fly out to California to be with him, Shannon said.

Video footage published to YouTube shows Olsen lying prone on the ground infront of a line of police. Around 10 people gather around him in an apparent attempt to provide aid, before a police officer throws an explosive device into their midst, scattering the group. Footage captured after the explosion, which appears to be from a flash bang grenade, shows Olsen being carried away by a group of people.

Oakland police confirmed at a press conference that they used tear gas and baton rounds, but said they did not use flash bang grenades. Police could not be immediately reached for comment.

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Afghanistan would side with Pakistan in war with US, says Hamid Karzai October 23, 2011

The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has said he would side with Pakistan in the event of war with the US in a surprising political twist that is likely to disconcert his western allies.

“If there is war between Pakistan and America, we will stand by Pakistan,” Karzai said in a television interview. He put his hand on his heart and described Pakistan as a “brother” country.

The statement was widely interpreted as a rhetorical flourish rather than a significant offer of defence co-operation. Despite recent tension between Pakistan and the US, open warfare is a remote possibility.

Karzai – who is scrambling to ensure his political future in advance of the US military drawdown in 2014 – needs Pakistani help to bring the Taliban to peace talks. In the event of any conflict, his army, which is wholly dependent on US money and training, would be in no position to back Pakistan.

Nevertheless, the interview with Geo, Pakistan’s largest network, was at stark variance with the tone set during a visit to the region by Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, and David Petraeus, the CIA director, days earlier.

In Kabul, Clinton bluntly warned Pakistan that the US would act unilaterally if Islamabad failed to crack down on the Taliban-linked Haqqani network inside its North Waziristan sanctuary.

She then flew to Islamabad to deliver the message in person during a four-hour meeting with Pakistan’s top generals, calling on them to bring the Haqqanis to the negotiating table, kill the group’s leadership or pave the way for the US to do so.

Karzai’s interview with Geo was aired barely 24 hours after Clinton left the region. He said Afghanistan owed Pakistan a great debt for sheltering millions of refugees over the past three decades, and stressed that his foreign policy would not be dictated by any outside power.

“Anybody that attacks Pakistan, Afghanistan will stand with Pakistan,” he said. “Afghanistan will never betray their brother.”

Karzai has wildly swung away from, and then closer to, Pakistan over the past 18 months as efforts to draw the Taliban into peace talks have gained momentum.

First he welcomed the Pakistani military chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, and the ISI spy chief, General Shuja Pasha, to talks in Kabul. But then this month he flew to New Delhi to sign a “strategic partnership” with India that strengthened trade and security ties between the two countries but infuriated Pakistan, where it was seen as a fresh sign of Afghan perfidy.

Karzai is trying to strike a delicate balance between reaching a peace deal and managing stringent criticism from non-Pashtun groups and their political representatives, who accuse him of drawing too close to Pakistan.

The latest comments reignited that criticism, as evidenced in lively debates on Afghan television talkshows on Sunday.

Karzai has appeared increasingly isolated since the killing of his powerful half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai and peace envoy Burhanuddin Rabbani.

Analysts say Pakistani policy is driven by a desire to ensure that its arch-rival India does not enjoy political or military support from Kabul.

Pakistan’s military and ISI spy service have offered to facilitate talks with the Taliban but cannot become a guarantor to their success, an official told the Dawn newspaper. “Pakistan must not be blamed in case of failure of attempts [by the US] for reconciliation with the Taliban as it does not spoon-feed them,” the official said.

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Jobs vowed to ‘destroy’ Android October 22, 2011

The relationship between Steve Jobs and Google chairman Eric Schmidt soured over Android

Steve Jobs said he wanted to destroy Android and would spend all of Apple’s money and his dying breath if that is what it took to do so.

The full extent of his animosity towards Google’s mobile operating system is revealed in a forthcoming authorised biography.

Mr Jobs told author Walter Isaacson that he viewed Android’s similarity to iOS as “grand theft”.

Apple is suing several smartphone makers which use the Android software.

According to extracts of Mr Isaacson’s book, obtained by the Associated Press, Mr Jobs said: “I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.”

He is also quoted as saying: “I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion [£25bn] in the bank, to right this wrong.”

Sour times

Apple enjoyed a close relationship with Google prior to the launch of the Android system. Google products, including maps and search formed a key part of the iPhone’s ecosystem.

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.”

End Quote
Steve Jobs
Apple co-founder

At that time, Google’s chief executive, now chairman, Eric Schmidt also sat on the board of Apple.

However, relations began to sour when Google unveiled Android in November 2007, 10 months after the iPhone first appeared.

In subsequent years, Apple rejected a number of Google programs from its App store, forcing the company to create less-integrated web app versions.

Android has subsequently enjoyed rapid adoption and now accounts for around 48% of global smartphone shipments, compared to 19% for Apple.

But its growth has not gone uncontested. Apple has waged an aggressive proxy-war against Android, suing a number of the hardware manufacturers which have adopted it for their tablets and smartphones.

Motorola was one of the first to be targeted, although it is Samsung that has borne the brunt of Mr Jobs’ ire.

The South Korean firm is currently banned from selling its Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Australia and Germany because of a combination of patent infringements and “look and feel” similarities. A smartphone ban is also pending in the Netherlands.

Samsung is counter-suing Apple for infringing, it claims, several wireless technology patents which it holds the rights to.

Defence mechanism

Patents blogger Florian Mueller, who has been following the court cases closely, said Apple would be conscious of its past, where other companies exploited some of its early ideas.

“If Apple doesn’t want the iPhone and iPad to be marginalised the way it happened to the Macintosh at the hands of the Wintel duopoly, it has to use the full force of its intellectual property to fend off the commoditization threat that Android represents,” he told BBC News.

Mr Mueller – who has previously undertaken consulting work commissioned by Microsoft – was also critical of Eric Schmidt’s dual role at the time: “The fact that Eric Schmidt stayed on Apple’s board while he was preparing an iOS clone was an inexcusable betrayal of Steve Jobs’ trust.”

Mr Schmidt resigned from the Apple board in August 2009. He was later quoted by Bloomberg as saying: “I was on the board until I couldn’t stay on the board anymore.”

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Obama: All US Troops Out of Iraq by Year End

President Barack Obama announced on Friday that all U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of this year. The announcement came after months of negotiations with the Iraqi government on extending a U.S. troop presence there.

In a video conference with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Obama said he reaffirmed that the United States keeps its commitments, while Maliki spoke of the Iraqi people’s determination to forge their own future.

The president said he had fulfilled a pledge he made as a presidential candidate to bring the Iraq war to a responsible end.

“Today I can report that as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over,” said Obama.

He declared a formal end to the U.S. combat mission in Iraq last year. From a high of about 165,000 troops five years ago, about 39,000 troops remain. A U.S.-Iraqi agreement in 2008 set December 31 of this year as the date for complete withdrawal.

Between 2003 and this year, nearly 4,500 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq with some 32,000 wounded. Iraqi civilian deaths from years of sectarian conflict exceed 100,000, much higher by other estimates. At least 10,000 Iraqi soldiers also were killed in this conflict.

The U.S. and Iraq negotiated over a possible extension of the U.S. military presence, amid concerns about undermining progress as Iraqi forces assumed full security responsibilities.

Obama said the two countries now move to “a normal relationship,” with U.S. civilians and diplomats in the lead, and discussions continuing about training and equipping of Iraqi forces.

White House officials said Iraqi forces have shown themselves to be increasingly competent and capable. Officials estimate that 4,000 to 5,000 private contractors will be providing security for U.S. diplomats and other personnel.

Though the White House notes that violence in Iraq has decreased 10 fold since a high point in the middle of the last decade, bombings and other attacks have continued on an almost daily basis.   

Obama said Iraq still faces some tough days to come.

“There will be some difficult days ahead for Iraq, and the United States will continue to have an interest in an Iraq that is stable, secure and self-reliant,” said the president.

The president made a point of saying the U.S. insists that other nations respect Iraq’s sovereignty, seen as a reference to concerns about expanded Iranian influence in Iraq.   

Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough, who recently was in Iraq, said the U.S. is confident in the ability of a sovereign Iraq to stand up for itself.

“We don’t have concerns about our ability to make sure the Iraqis can exercise the kind of sovereignty that they want,” said McDonough.

Democrats in Congress issued statements praising Obama for fulfilling his pledge to bring a long and difficult conflict to an end.  

Republican House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner praised American troops, and the leadership of both President Obama and President George W. Bush for freeing Iraq from “a vicious tyrant” and ending a violent terrorist insurgency.

But Boehner said he remains concerned that a full withdrawal could jeopardize security gains.

Republican Senator John McCain called the decision a harmful and sad setback for the United States, saying it will be viewed as a strategic victory for U.S. enemies in the Middle East, especially Iran’s government.

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N Korea and US agree on war dead

The search for US Korean war dead stopped because of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions

The United States has reached agreement with North Korea to resume searching for the remains of American soldiers killed during the Korean War after a six-year halt.

The US said searches would start again next year in an area north of the North Korean capital Pyongyang.

Recovery operations stopped amid tension over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

Between 1996 and 2005, remains have been found of more than 200 Americans.

US teams are due to start recovery efforts next year in an area around 100km (60 miles) north of Pyongyang where more than 2,000 soldiers and marines are believed to have gone missing during the 1950-53 war, the US Department of Defense said.

The US insisted that accounting for missing soldiers is “a stand-alone humanitarian matter, not tied to any other issue between the two countries”.

The department said it had concluded arrangements with North Korea that will “ensure the effectiveness and safety” of teams heading into the isolated and impoverished country.

Stalled talks

North Korea said last month it would restart talks, and officials met in the Thai capital Bangkok for three days.

The move comes amid some signs the two sides are looking to re-engage.

US and North Korean negotiators plan to meet in Geneva next week to discuss reviving stalled international talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear programme.

The two sides last met in July, in New York, to discuss a resumption of the six-party talks, which also include South Korea, Japan, Russia and China.

The talks broke down in April 2009, just before Pyongyang carried out its second nuclear test.

Just under 8,000 US service personnel remain classified as missing more than half a century after the Korean War, which ended in a truce.

But work was called off in 2005 as ties between the two nations deteriorated, with North Korea conducting its first nuclear test a year later.

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Mitt Romney’s Mormonism: a truly American faith | Andrew Brown October 9, 2011

Mormonism is detested by some American evangelicals because it is “not Christianity” – but perhaps more because it is the first, great, truly American religion. It is founded on claims that no outsider can take seriously, but validated by one of the greatest epics of the settlement of the west, and secured by prosperity and tithing.

Mormonism is clearly derived from Christianity: the book of Mormon is written in a god-awful pastiche of the prose of the authorised version of the Bible, and it was revealed to the world in 1830 in the most fervently pious region of a fervently Christian country: the region of New York state known to itinerant preachers as “the burned over district” because the fires of revivalism had crossed and recrossed it so often.

Before the Mormons, American popular Christianity was still recognisably a form of English puritanism. The Methodists and the Baptists both had their origins in England, and both had taken over a very English understanding of history. According to this myth, the Protestant British were playing the same part in contemporary history as Israel had done in the Old Testament. They were God’s chosen people, threatened by enemies all around, but delivered by God when they were faithful to him. The defeat of the Spanish Armada and its scattering in a storm known as “the protestant wind” was of the same order as the deliverance of Israel from the Babylonian captivity had been.

This myth crossed the Atlantic almost unchanged and, even after the war of independence, persisted with a slight change of cast: America was now God’s chosen country, and the British empire was the wicked and decadent pharaoh or caesar from whom it must be rescued. That is the theological explanation for why the villains in Hollywood always have British accents. But it also very powerful in mainstream US politics: it is where the idea comes from that God has a special purpose for America.

The book of Mormon radically outbids that. Supposedly dictated by an angel to the quasi-literate prophet Joseph Smith, and written on tablets of gold that no one but Smith ever saw, and which he translated from an unknown language with the help of a magic stone, it contains a vast and detailed prehistory of America. According to this scripture, America was settled by the lost tribes of Israel and visited by Jesus Christ. The message here is that America was not the “new Israel”, but that it had always been as much a part of God’s purpose, and as much a theatre of his action, as Israel had been.

This was a doctrine extraordinarily attractive to immigrants, and to those who were left out under the old dispensation. In 1846, after Joseph Smith was lynched in prison by a mob, his successor, Brigham Young, one of the most remarkable men of the 19th century, led the survivors westward to Utah, through the most terrible hardships, and founded Salt Lake City. They made the desert bloom. A high proportion of these heroic emigrants had been recruited by Mormon missionaries in Lancashire.

Throughout the 19th century, the Mormons were very clearly a cult. They are even the sinister villains of one of the Sherlock Holmes novels, A Study in Scarlet.

Much of the hostility was centred on their sex lives. The practice of polygamy had been revealed as permissible to Joseph Smith by a forgiving God after his wife caught him with a serving girl; it was disturbing to orthodox Christian sentiment. It was one of the factors in an armed standoff with the federal government in 1858, known as the Utah war. As late as 1903, when the Mormon Reed Smoot was elected as senator from Utah, Congress held three years of hearings to determine whether he should be allowed to take his seat; in the end, a simple majority of the Senate voted to expel him, but not the two thirds required.

In the course of the 20th century, the Mormons, however, became mainstream. This has little to do with theology. What marks a cult out is not its beliefs, but its distance from the surrounding society.

Modern public Mormons are almost parodically conformist and technocratic. The public image of Mitt Romney is not of a man who holds strange beliefs that he will act on if elected, but the opposite – a man who has no principles whatsoever, and almost no personality. Abstinent, frugal, hard-working and rich, the Mormons have moved from the fringe of American life to its centre – not least because their religion is so intensely American. Whether or not it’s crazy, it has worked.

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Assange, Jemima Khan lead Afghanistan protest in London


October 9, 2011

by legitgov

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Assange, Jemima Khan lead Afghanistan protest in London 08 Oct 2011 WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and socialite Jemima Khan led a protest in London Saturday against the war in Afghanistan, 10 years after the United States and Britain went to war against the Taliban. Organisers the Stop The War Coalition claimed 5,000 people attended the protest in central London’s historic Trafalgar Square. Assange, who is currently under strict bail conditions as he fights extradition from Britain to Sweden on charges of rape, compared journalists and soldiers to war criminals.

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10 years of war: Afghans speak out October 7, 2011

It has been 10 years since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan that ousted the Taliban but plunged the country into a gruelling insurgency. Here are five Afghans’ impressions of how things have changed, for better or worse

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Secret U.S. memo sanctioned killing of American citizen Aulaqi October 1, 2011


September 30, 2011

by legitgov

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Secret U.S. memo sanctioned killing of American citizen Aulaqi –’What constitutes due process in this case is a due process in war.’ 30 Sep 2011 The Justice Department wrote a secret memorandum authorizing the lethal targeting of Anwar al-Aulaqi, the American-born radical cleric who was killed by a U.S. drone strike Friday, according to administration officials. The document was produced following a review of the legal issues raised by striking a U.S. citizen and involved senior lawyers from across the administration. There was no dissent about the legality of killing Aulaqi, the officials said. “What constitutes due process in this case is a due process in war,” said one of the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss closely held deliberations within the administration.

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3 US-led soldiers killed in Afghan war September 30, 2011


September 29, 2011

by legitgov

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3 US-led soldiers killed in Afghan war 29 Sep 2011 Three soldiers serving with the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have been killed in a roadside bomb attack in southern Afghanistan. The three soldiers died in an explosion in south Afghanistan on Thursday, the Associated Press cited a brief statement released by the Western military contingent.

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The Social Contract

It was, of course, nothing of the sort. On the contrary, it’s people like Mr. Ryan, who want to exempt the very rich from bearing any of the burden of making our finances sustainable, who are waging class war.

As background, it helps to know what has been happening to incomes over the past three decades. Detailed estimates from the Congressional Budget Office — which only go up to 2005, but the basic picture surely hasn’t changed — show that between 1979 and 2005 the inflation-adjusted income of families in the middle of the income distribution rose 21 percent. That’s growth, but it’s slow, especially compared with the 100 percent rise in median income over a generation after World War II.

Meanwhile, over the same period, the income of the very rich, the top 100th of 1 percent of the income distribution, rose by 480 percent. No, that isn’t a misprint. In 2005 dollars, the average annual income of that group rose from $4.2 million to $24.3 million.

So do the wealthy look to you like the victims of class warfare?

To be fair, there is argument about the extent to which government policy was responsible for the spectacular disparity in income growth. What we know for sure, however, is that policy has consistently tilted to the advantage of the wealthy as opposed to the middle class.

Some of the most important aspects of that tilt involved such things as the sustained attack on organized labor and financial deregulation, which created huge fortunes even as it paved the way for economic disaster. For today, however, let’s focus just on taxes.

The budget office’s numbers show that the federal tax burden has fallen for all income classes, which itself runs counter to the rhetoric you hear from the usual suspects. But that burden has fallen much more, as a percentage of income, for the wealthy. Partly this reflects big cuts in top income tax rates, but, beyond that, there has been a major shift of taxation away from wealth and toward work: tax rates on corporate profits, capital gains and dividends have all fallen, while the payroll tax — the main tax paid by most workers — has gone up.

And one consequence of the shift of taxation away from wealth and toward work is the creation of many situations in which — just as Warren Buffett and Mr. Obama say — people with multimillion-dollar incomes, who typically derive much of that income from capital gains and other sources that face low taxes, end up paying a lower overall tax rate than middle-class workers. And we’re not talking about a few exceptional cases.

According to new estimates by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, one-fourth of those with incomes of more than $1 million a year pay income and payroll tax of 12.6 percent of their income or less, putting their tax burden below that of many in the middle class.

Now, I know how the right will respond to these facts: with misleading statistics and dubious moral claims.

On one side, we have the claim that the rising share of taxes paid by the rich shows that their burden is rising, not falling. To point out the obvious, the rich are paying more taxes because they’re much richer than they used to be. When middle-class incomes barely grow while the incomes of the wealthiest rise by a factor of six, how could the tax share of the rich not go up, even if their tax rate is falling?

On the other side, we have the claim that the rich have the right to keep their money — which misses the point that all of us live in and benefit from being part of a larger society.

Elizabeth Warren, the financial reformer who is now running for the United States Senate in Massachusetts, recently made some eloquent remarks to this effect that are, rightly, getting a lot of attention. “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody,” she declared, pointing out that the rich can only get rich thanks to the “social contract” that provides a decent, functioning society in which they can prosper.

Which brings us back to those cries of “class warfare.”

Republicans claim to be deeply worried by budget deficits. Indeed, Mr. Ryan has called the deficit an “existential threat” to America. Yet they are insisting that the wealthy — who presumably have as much of a stake as everyone else in the nation’s future — should not be called upon to play any role in warding off that existential threat.

Well, that amounts to a demand that a small number of very lucky people be exempted from the social contract that applies to everyone else. And that, in case you’re wondering, is what real class warfare looks like.

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US soldier jailed for seven years over murders of Afghan civilians September 24, 2011

A US soldier has been sentenced to seven years in prison for his role in the murders of Afghan civilians last year.

Pvt 1st Class Andrew Holmes, 21, was among five soldiers charged over the “thrill killings” of the three civilians during patrols in Kandahar. The murders have been described as among the most serious war crimes charges to emerge from the Afghanistan war.

Holmes, from Boise, Idaho, confessed in court to firing a heavy machine gun at a boy from 15 feet away, after his co-defendant threw a grenade at him.

He was accused of directly participating in the first killing and initially charged with premeditated murder among other charges.

But in a deal with prosecutors, Holmes pleaded guilty to murder by an inherently dangerous act, as well as possessing a finger bone from his victim and smoking hashish.

Judge Lt Col Kwasi Hawks sentenced him on Friday to seven years in jail, saying there was no excuse for the murder.

“You aimed a fully loaded squad automatic weapon at [a] child that stood 15 feet away,” he said.

However, Hawks also told the defendant, “I hope and I believe you will have a long and productive life, and I believe a happy life.”

Holmes told the judge he wanted the “opportunity to be a son, a brother, a nephew”.

His family cried as his sentence was given.

The soldiers, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Seattle, were arrested in Afghanistan last year after prosecutors said they killed the three men for sport in January, February and May of 2010.

Prosecutors say that in addition to the murders by the group, formerly known as the 5th Stryker Brigade but renamed the 2nd Stryker Brigade, some of the defendants kept body parts severed from the corpses and photos as war trophies.

Holmes’ sentence came one day after he changed his plea to guilty in a deal with army prosecutors.

Holmes will receive credit for the 499 days he has already been behind bars and could leave prison early on good behaviour, it was reported.

He will receive a dishonorable discharge after serving his sentence, said army spokesman Joe Kubistek. Holmes will also forfeit his army pay.

During the closing argument in his case, prosecutor Major Rob Stelle showed a large photo of Holmes standing over his victim.

“It was callous, reckless indifference, a depraved heart,” he said of the killing.

“The accused had a choice. He pulled the trigger and ended that man’s life.”

Holmes’ lawyer, Dan Conway, argued his client was a 19-year-old soldier placed in a difficult situation.

Drug use was said to be rampant in the army unit.

One soldier who blew the whistle on hash smoking by his comrades was beaten up and threatened in retaliation.

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Reno air show crash causes ‘mass casualties’ September 17, 2011

A second world war era fighter plane plunged into the grandstands of a popular air race event in Reno on Friday afternoon, in what a spokesman for the event described as a “mass casualty situation”.

Three people were confirmed dead and more than 50 injured in the crash at the Reno Air Races, after a pilot appeared to lose control and his plane veered into a box area in front of the grandstand at around 4.30pm. A medical officer said many of the critically injured were considered to have life-threatening injuries.

A witness described the crash as “absolute carnage”. In an interview with KTVU-TV in San Francisco, Tanya Breining said: “It looked like more than a bomb exploded”. Other witnesses described a horrific scene strewn with body parts and smoking debris.

Reno Air Races president Mike Houghton said that the pilot, Jimmy Leeward of Ocala, Florida, was among the dead.

Leeward’s plane was a vintage P-51 Mustang called Galloping Ghost. Leeward, 74, was a renowned stunt and racing pilot and owner of the Leeward Air Ranch Racing Team. He had flown more than 120 races, according to his website.

A spokeswoman for the Regional Emergency Medical Service Authority said that emergency crews took 56 injury victims to three hospitals. She said that an unconfirmed number of other people were transported to hospital in private vehicles.

Of the 56, the spokeswoman said that at the time of transport, 15 were considered in critical condition, and 13 were in serious condition with potentially life-threatening injuries.

The National Air Championship Air Races draws thousands of people every year in September to watch various military and civilian planes race.

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada issued a statement saying he was “deeply saddened” by the crash.

“My thoughts are with the families of those who have lost their lives and with those who were wounded in this horrific tragedy,” he said. “I am so grateful to our first responders for their swift action and will continue to monitor this situation as it develops.”

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Arguably by Christopher Hitchens – review September 16, 2011

There are, at a rough count, 36 references to George Orwell in this voluminous collection of Christopher Hitchens‘s journalism from the past decade. Hitchens has good claims to be Orwell’s successor, and he would certainly agree with his hero’s argument, in “Politics and the English Language“, that bad politics leads to bad language, that a writer adhering to “the worst follies of orthodoxy” will end up writing badly.

  1. Arguably

  2. by

    Christopher Hitchens


  3. Buy it from the Guardian bookshop
  1. Tell us what you think: Star-rate and review this book

Which raises, of course, the case of Hitchens himself. The period in which these articles and essays were written (mostly for Vanity Fair, the Atlantic and Slate) is pre-eminently that in which Hitchens, one of anglophone journalism’s great sceptics, aligned himself with arguably the most mendacious government to hold power in a democracy, the neoconservative clique around George W Bush. Hitchens warns in one of them against oversimplifying the political trajectory of another of his heroes, Saul Bellow, as “that from quasi-Trotskyist to full-blown ‘neocon’”. The plea is entered, one suspects, equally on his own behalf. Without resorting to caricature, however, it is clear that Hitchens embraced the neocon project of defining the world through the “war on terror”. It is also clear to all but the true believers that that project was saturated in deceit, self-delusion and a language whose aim, as Orwell would have put it, was not to express, but rather to prevent and conceal, thought.

By Orwell’s laws, therefore, this book ought to contain the sad evidence of the decrepitude of Hitchens’s once-magnificent prose. Unhappily for the Orwellian, but happily for the reader, it mostly does not. There are many sad moments when thought has withered into vacuity or bombast, moments in which we can see what Hitchens might have become – just another purveyor of American super-patriotic orthodoxies. But they serve in the end to define a fate that, somehow, he eludes.

The pleasures the reader feels at this escape are in proportion to the horrors of Hitchens at his worst. Let us consider just two of the fatuities. In a piece from 2007, when one might have expected post-9/11 rage to have been tempered by the experience of the war in Iraq, Hitchens writes of how Anglo-American co-operation defeated three great threats: “German Wilhelmine imperialism in 1918, the Nazi-Fascist Axis in 1945, and international communism in 1989.” Then comes a sentence so shocking it is hard to believe that a man of Hitchens’s intellect not only wrote it but agreed to republish it between hard covers: “The world now faces a barbarism that is no less menacing than its three predecessors – and may even be more so.” This fourth threat is “bin-Ladenism”. The claim that al‑Qaida “may even be more” menacing to humanity than the Nazis or Stalin shows what Hitchens elsewhere calls “the way in which mania feeds upon itself and becomes hysterical”.

Worse, because it is less obviously bonkers, is a passage in the same essay in which Hitchens makes a shameful concession to Enoch Powell’s fulminations against immigration: “If he had stressed religion rather than race, he might have been seen as prescient.” In other words, Powell’s apocalyptic visions of the consequences of immigration might have been accurate had he identified Islam as the enemy. Hitchens must know that this is the line now taken by the English Defence League and most of the European far right: we don’t hate blacks, we’re just trying to stop the Muslims taking over. He has chosen to republish it anyway.

In each of these cases, the deterioration of style that Orwell would recognise is all too evident. The combination of creepily evasive syntax (“may even be”, “might have been seen”) with huge but unargued claims makes for bad writing as well as bad politics. And these examples, though extreme, are not mere lapses of concentration attributable to the frantic pace of Hitchens’s Stakhanovite production. Much of the overstatement can be explained by the way in which Hitchens uses an apparently simple word: “our”. Whenever it appears, the collectivity to which it refers is the US. This involves an inherent overstretch, that of a quintessentially English writer insisting on his new American identity. Hitchens writes, as he mentions in a fine essay on Harry Potter, as “one who actually did once go to boarding school by steam train”. With his head full of Wodehouse, Orwell, Kipling and Conan Doyle, his insistence on being American is thus bound to become shrill. He found in the “war on terror” a context in which he could dress himself in the stars and stripes and insist that they are his swaddling robes.

But this need, in turn, is rooted in something bigger – an odd, and utterly English, nostalgia for the sweep and scale of empire. Hitchens is (like Orwell) in many ways a late-blooming liberal imperial intellectual – critical of empire, of course, but grateful, nonetheless, for its breadth and drama. He thus embraces the idea of the “Anglosphere”, a nostalgic conflation in which the old empire is reconfigured as an imagined community of anglophones, among whom the Americans are merely the new top dogs. It is a profoundly silly notion: when Hitchens writes of Britain as “the motherland of the English-speaking peoples”, he forgets those of us (a mere few hundred million, admittedly) who speak English but have no ancestral connection to Britain.

Yet, for all these follies, Hitchens has not turned into a superior version of a Fox News blusterer. He mentions in one essay that he has a very rare blood type. It must be one that produces the most extraordinary of literary antibodies, able to fight off the germs of political hyperbole. Three saving graces combine to rescue Hitchens’s status as the most readable journalist of his times.

The first is that Hitchens is a reporter as well as an opinion-monger, and a brave, supremely evocative reporter at that. He can recall what he has seen with coruscating vividness and urgency, fusing precise detail with polemical passion, as in a brilliant and terrible essay on the continuing effects of the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam. Crucially, he is too good a reporter to suppress realities that hurt his own case. Thus an optimistic report on Afghanistan from 2004 has a coda in a devastating critique of the farcical 2009 elections which admits the possibility that the western intervention may become “a humiliating debacle”. Instead of arguing the niceties of what constitutes torture, he has himself subjected to water-boarding and names it for what it is: torture.

Hitchens’s second guardian angel is his disdain for all guardian angels. A good neocon is supposed to attack Islamic fundamentalism while keeping quiet about the Christian variety. Hitchens has too much pride to play this game. He is an equal opportunities debunker of religious cant, who won’t shut up about the deism of the Founding Fathers and can’t banish the thought that naked proselytism in the US army might mean a holy war “where we will not be able to say that only the other side is dogmatic and fanatical”.

Finally, there is the style. Orwell suggested that just as bad politics produces bad language, things might also work the other way around – good English might be proof against the follies of orthodoxy. Hitchens may have imbibed some of the old follies of imperial England, but he received as compensation the tough, pure classical prose honed by its best public intellectuals. Reading, for example, his elegant debunking of John Updike is like watching a nerveless surgeon perform a complete disemboweling by means of keyhole surgery. And whatever pretensions to majesty that Prince Charles may have had are left in shreds by Hitchens’s description of his tendency to surround himself with “every moon-faced spoon-bender, shrub-flatterer and water diviner within range”. His astringent wit, deftly wielded erudition and allergy to dullness make Hitchens mercifully unfit for some of the political company he has kept. He emerges here not as a soul lost to linguistic sin, but as a great journalist fallen, for a while, among neocons.

Fintan Toole’s most recent book is Enough is Enough: How to Build a New Republic (Faber)

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Analysis: U.S.-India Trade Talks Focus on Trade Barriers July 1, 2011

Although the U.S.-India economic relationship has grown significantly in recent years, economic barriers continue to prevent U.S. investment in several lucrative sectors.

U.S. Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner and Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee met in Washington this week to discuss trade and economic investment opportunities between the United States and India in the second meeting under the U.S.-India Economic and Financial Partnership. The Indian economy grew 8.5% in 2010 and American corporations are eager to expand their business reach to the Indian marketplace of nearly 1.2 billion people.

Geithner urged India to implement substantive economic reforms, particularly in the finance sector, to enable the United States and India to fully realize the “enormous potential” of the bilateral economic relationship. Mukherjee lauded the rapid growth of trade between Washington and New Delhi in recent years and acknowledged the need for the easing of trade barriers

Analysis

Despite the robust rhetoric welcoming expanded foreign investment, significant barriers remain to additional U.S. investment in several Indian sectors including banking, education, and legal services. India’s ruling Congress Party has been beset by a wave of corruption scandals that have weakened its ability to pass much needed economic reforms to lessen trade and investment barriers.

India desperately needs foreign investment to develop and expand a national infrastructure that is woefully inadequate to support its continued economic growth. New Delhi is likely to move incrementally toward further economic reforms with an eye toward easing restrictions that will allow foreign investment for infrastructure improvements.

Carolyn Leddy held senior positions with the U.S. Department of State and the National Security Council under the George W. Bush administration. She was a 2009-2010 Council on Foreign Relations-Hitachi Ltd. International Affairs Fellow in Japan and Visiting Fellow at the National Institute for Defense Studies in Tokyo.

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$1B in Unwanted Coins Languish in Federal Reserve

The United States Federal Reserve’s coffers are bulging with $1 billion worth of unwanted $1 coins that cost $300 million to produce, and it could produce a billion more $1 coins by 2016, according to an investigation by National Public Radio (NPR).

The Fed’s three attempts to popularize the use of $1 coins dates to the Susan B. Anthony coin that went into circulation starting in 1979, and again in 1999.

The Sacagawea dollar started circulating in 2000, and is still being produced.

The U.S. began production of presidential $1 coins in 2007, with the face of an individual president gracing each series released quarterly, starting with George Washington (the current series bears the likeness of Ulysses S. Grant).

NPR quotes a 2010 Federal Reserve report to Congress that said the coins are languishing in vaults “with no perceivable benefit to the taxpayer,” and that they’re being returned by banks in increasing amounts.

“We have no reason to expect demand to improve,” said the report. “We also note that a 2008 Harris poll found that more than three-fourths of people questioned continue to prefer the $1 note.”

One benefit of the coins is that they last longer than bills, the Fed has long maintained. A study by the Government Accountability Office suggests that $5.5 billion could be saved over 30 years by switching exclusively to $1 coins over bills.

The trick is to get the public to switch over to the coins, which some suggest is politically impossible.

Former Delaware Republican Rep. Mike Castle, who sponsored the bill for the production of the presidential coins, told NPR that “politically it’s not something the members want to deal with, so it’s just very hard to get something like that done.”

“It’s ridiculous to have this kind of over-inventory pile up,” Castle continued. “I might actually make some phone calls myself as a result of reading these reports and learning more about what this problem appears to be.”

While there’s a certain logic to completing the series of presidential coins, it also seems outlandish to produce something no one wants, suggested former Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D.

“Is the nation waiting with bated breath for us to get to the Calvin Coolidge coin?” he wondered. “No! Maybe we should call a halt to this whole thing.”

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Synagogue Bomb Plotters Sentenced to 25 Years in Prison

Three men convicted of plotting to blow up New York synagogues and to fire heat-seeking missiles at U.S. military planes were sentenced to 25 years in prison.

U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon in Manhattan handed down punishments today against James Cromitie, 45, Onta Williams, 35, and David Williams, 30, who were found guilty in October of crimes including conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction against the U.S. A fourth defendant, Laguerre Payen, had his sentencing postponed pending a psychiatric evaluation.

McMahon called Cromitie and his co-defendants “thugs for hire,” adding that “I am nonetheless convinced a sentence of 25 years, a quarter of century behind bars, is sufficient to punish you for what happened and what didn’t happen.”

The men were accused of planning to bomb the Riverdale Temple, a Reform synagogue in the Bronx section of New York, and the nearby Riverdale Jewish Center, an Orthodox synagogue, in May 2009. They also sought heat-seeking missiles to fire at aircraft at the Stewart Air National Guard base in Newburgh, New York, the U.S. said.

Prosecutors sought life sentences for the three men, saying they were career criminals and willing participants in a plot organized by a government informant, Shahed Hussain, who was posing as a member of the Pakistani terrorist organization Laiksh-e-Mohammad.

‘Little Respect’

“They have shown little respect for the law throughout their adult lives,” the U.S. said in a sentencing memorandum dated June 8. “This investigation revealed what their rap sheets never could: that these defendants were among the handful of people in the country who would actually agree to join forces with a terrorist to bomb synagogues.”

The defense argued that the men were the victims of entrapment, lured into the plan by a paid government informant who gave them money for rent, food and car fare, and who promised them $250,000 in cash, a BMW, vacations in Puerto Rico and a barbershop.

The case is U.S. v. Cromitie, 09-cr-00558, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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John Lennon Was a Closet Republican, Claims Assistant

The man who was an icon for peace and radicalism and full to the brim with songs in protest of American imperialism, the Cold War, and military violence was — in fact — not a liberal. John Lennon was a closet Republican in his final days, according to the former Beatle’s personal assistant.

John Lennon

Fred Seaman, who worked alongside Lennon from 1979 until his death at the end of 1980, also said that at the time of his death Lennon felt a little embarrassed by his radical past, reports the Toronto Sun.

“He was a very different person back in 1979 and ’80 than he’d been when he wrote ‘Imagine.’ By 1979 he looked back on that guy and was embarrassed by that guy’s naiveté,” Seaman tells filmmaker Seth Swirsky in the new documentary series “Beatles Stories.”

Later in life, Lennon became a Ronald Reagan fan who found sport in arguing with left-wing radicals reflective of his younger self. Seaman recalls Lennon having “some really brutal arguments” with his uncle, who was a self-declared communist.

Seaman says, “John, basically, made it very clear that if he were an American he would vote for Reagan because he was really sour on (Democrat) Jimmy Carter.

“He’d met Reagan back, I think, in the ’70s at some sporting event . . . Reagan was the guy who had ordered the National Guard, I believe, to go after the young [peace] demonstrators in Berkeley, so I think that John maybe forgot about that . . . He did express support for Reagan, which shocked me.”

“Beatles Stories,” screening at film festivals across the nation, proclaims itself “a Beatle fan’s ultimate journey.” Indeed, Seaman’s comments reveal information about the pop legend even the ultimate fan doesn’t know.

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DREAM Act Could Stall in Maryland

A petition drive by Maryland GOP lawmakers to halt the state’s version of the DREAM Act appears to have succeeded in getting the measure on the November 2012 ballot. However, court challenges over online signature gathering methods could be on the way, The Washington Post reports.

The Maryland law granted in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants at state colleges and universities, a move that could cost the state $40,000 per student for a four-year education.

Critics of the measure plan to turn in 100,000 signatures this week.

State election officials have already certified the approximately 56,000 needed to suspend the law and put it on the ballot. The measure was to take effect Friday, according to the Post.

“People want to enforce immigration law, not skirt around it,” Republican delegate Neil Parrott said. “This was a highly divisive bill with bipartisan opposition that barely passed. It’s important to allow the residents of Maryland to have the final say.”

The law is the first to be decided by Maryland voters in 20 years. An abortion rights measure went before the voters in 1992 and was affirmed. Regardless, legal challenges are expected in the DREAM Act petition drive as organizers built and used an online tool to gather tens of thousands of signatures.

The online tool prints out a voter’s name and information exactly as it is listed in registration records and the voter then needs only to sign a print out of the petition and mail it to the campaign. State Board of Elections officials note that more than a third of the signatures already validated were generated using the online tool, the Post reported.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland has already asked the elections board to look into the online tool.

In a letter sent last month, the ACLU said the method could not only “determine the fate of the DREAM Act petition effort, but could also dramatically change the petition process in Maryland going forward, opening many more state and local laws to petition challenges in the future.”

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American prisons are going private June 30, 2011

Most Americans are unaware that private prisons in the country are on the rise. Is there a reason behind this trend that isn’t going reported though?

Ana Kasparian of The Young Turks says that private prisons are thriving in America right now because of the profits they are generating, which most people are unaware of. Millions of dollars are going into lobbying for the institutions, and as more and more states relinquish their duties of running prisons, the private sector is reaping the benefits and pumping the profits back to the corporate entities that are backing them.

“Whenever a prison system is privatized,” says Kasparian, “the number one thing they’ll want to do is profit.” She recalls a case of a Pennsylvania judge who replaced all county detention centers for juveniles with privatized ones, who thus paid off the judge under the table. While that was only one case that leaked to the media, this is happening elsewhere across America.

Kasparian notes that, though many lawmakers are becoming more and more opposed to the decades-long “War on Drugs,” legislation is only becoming more stricter, so that prisons will soon be brimming with remote offenders. “The War on Drugs is an absolute failure (but) why are p[politicians ignoring that?” she asks. “Because they know that private prisons are fattening up their pockets…and making huge profits.”

“Pretty soon,” she says, “we are going to spend time in prison because of minor offenses.”

“There needs to be limits,” says Kasparian. “When it comes to corporations, it is never-ending. They get what they want because they have the money.”

As lobbyists continue to push for a transition to privatization, Kasparian says a political revolution needs to happen before everyone is behind bars for ridiculous laws. Corporations are the root of every single problem in the US, she says, and as corporations begin to take foot of the prison system, the problem is only worsening.

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