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 on: Today at 09:11 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad

1st dog-adoption telethon helps lots of homeless hounds

More than 4 million people tuned in to “Cause for Paws: An All-Star Dog Spectacular,” which was co-hosted by actresses Hilary Swank and Jane Lynch, and aired on donated time from the Fox Network.

The Associated Press
Karleigh Vroman / The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — More than 4,400 people filed adoption papers for homeless dogs during what was billed as the first all-star dog-adoption telethon, producers say.

“If only half of those result in adoptions, that would be huge,” director Michael Levitt said.

Seventy dogs from rescues across the country were featured on the two-hour Thanksgiving night telecast, a show the producer sees becoming a fixture.

More than 4 million people tuned in to the show, which was co-hosted by actresses Hilary Swank and Jane Lynch, and aired on donated time from the Fox Network.

Besides the permanent homes offered, 250 people signed up as foster parents for homeless dogs, Levitt said.

Swank said for her, the magic of “Cause for Paws: An All-Star Dog Spectacular” was “watching the dream of saving hundreds of dogs turn into the reality that became thousands as the awareness was raised of the severe homeless-pet problem.”

She added the show was the best holiday gift she could receive.

“Knowing that lives were saved as people opened their hearts and homes to new four-legged family members warms my heart and touches my soul more than you can imagine,” Swank said.

Levitt said the goal was to educate people in an entertaining way and show them the joy that comes from rescuing animals.

“There was one amazing comment after another posted on social media, including people who posted pictures of dogs they went out and rescued because of the show,” the director said.

Singer-actress Miley Cyrus confirmed just three days before the show that she would be there, Levitt said. She agreed to do a segment on pit bulls, writing her own copy and doing her own research. It was a side of Cyrus some people have never seen, he said.

The director said he couldn’t imagine that there wouldn’t be more telethons because this one was so successful.

Viewers also donated more than $200,000 during the telethon that will be distributed to eligible rescues.

Some of the rescues represented on the telethon reported getting an additional 15,000 hits on their websites in the days after the telethon.

 on: Today at 08:34 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Hi Skywalker,

"Is it correct to see Mars as the flame, fuelled by Pluto the gas then? And crude oil correlates to Neptune or Pluto?"


Mars would correlate to the 'spark' that allows for the 'potential' of the flame that exists within the fuel that correlates to Pluto. When that spark thus produces the potential of the flame the flame, of itself, would correlate to Mars. Crude oil correlates to Pluto, Scorpio, and the 8th House.

God Bless, Rad

 on: Today at 08:27 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Obama Defends Actions on Cuba and Promises Some Compromise With Congress

DEC. 19, 2014

President Obama on Friday said his decision to restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba creates an opportunity for change.

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Friday rejected criticism that he should not have reopened American relations with Cuba because of the nation’s human rights record, saying the historic thaw would give the United States more sway over the Cuban government.

“I share the concerns of dissidents there and human rights activists that this is still a regime that represses its people,” Mr. Obama said at a wide-ranging news conference after a period of extraordinary domestic and foreign policy changes at the White House.

But even as he acknowledged that Cuba might take actions the United States opposes, Mr. Obama said, “The whole point of normalizing relations is that it gives us a greater opportunity to have influence with that government.”

“Change is going to come to Cuba,” he said. “It has to.”

It was the first time Mr. Obama had taken questions from reporters since his announcement on Wednesday that he would move to normalize relations with Cuba, establishing an embassy in Havana and relaxing trade and financial restrictions that have been in place for a half-century.

He also scolded Sony Pictures for pulling back the movie “The Interview” after a cyberattack for which the White House is blaming North Korea. “I think they made a mistake,” he said.

As in previous years, the president used his annual late-December news conference to make the case that his policies had helped the economy and burnished the United States’ reputation around the world. “We’ve set the stage for this American moment,” he said, “and I’m going to spend every minute of my last two years making sure that we seize it.”

Mr. Obama was upbeat in the nearly hourlong exchange with the news media, in which he called only on women. It was his last public event before departing Friday for a vacation with his family in Hawaii.

He said he had shown that he could tackle steep challenges, including the fight against the Islamic State militant group, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and a mass migration of unaccompanied minors from Central America across the border.

Mr. Obama vowed to seek compromise with Republicans in Congress where possible, such as on a tax overhaul and rebuilding infrastructure, but pledged to veto efforts to roll back his health care law and financial regulations.

He also indicated that he had no intention of pulling back on his executive measures to circumvent Congress, which he has used in recent weeks to take sweeping unilateral action on immigration, re-establish diplomatic and commercial ties with Cuba and strike a climate agreement with China.

“I intend to continue to do what I’ve been doing,” he said, “which is where I see a big problem and the opportunity to help the American people, and it is within my lawful authority to provide that help, I’m going to do it.”

Still, the president acknowledged that he would have to work with Congress on contentious issues, including lifting the 54-year-old American trade embargo against Cuba. “We cannot unilaterally bring down the embargo,” he said, although his administration is undertaking a major effort to loosen key elements.

“Ultimately, we need to go ahead and pull down the embargo, which I think has been self-defeating in advancing the aims that we’re interested in,” he said. “But I don’t anticipate that that happens right away.”

While he said he had no plans to visit Cuba in the near term, he recounted friendly moments during a telephone call this week with President Raúl Castro. He said the two had joked about being long-winded and about Fidel Castro, Raúl’s brother.

After Mr. Obama apologized for speaking for so long during the call, he said, Mr. Castro told him, “You’re still a young man, and you have still the chance to break Fidel’s record: He once spoke seven hours straight.”

Then, Mr. Obama added, the Cuban president proceeded to speak for twice as long as he had.

Closer to home, Mr. Obama told reporters he was eager to compromise with the new Republican-controlled Congress, including on revamping the nation’s tax system, which he said he would push to make simpler and fairer.

“I want to work with this new Congress to get things done,” the president said. “We’re going to disagree on some things, but there are going to be areas of agreement, and we’ve got to be able to make that happen, and that’s going to involve compromise once in a while.”

Mr. Obama said he would push to change rules that allow “corporate inversions,” when American companies move their headquarters “on paper” to another country in order to avoid taxes.

He reminded Republicans that they would also have to consider his priorities. “In order for their initiatives to become law, I’m going to have to sign off,” he said, “and that means they have to take into account the issues that I care about, just as I’m going to take into account the issues that they care about.”

Mr. Obama refused to say what he would do if Congress tried to force his hand on approving the Keystone XL pipeline, saying only, “I’ll see what they do.”

But he played down the advantages of the pipeline and said he wanted to make sure it would not accelerate climate change.

“There’s been this tendency to really hype this thing as some magic formula to what ails the U.S. economy, and it’s hard to see on paper where exactly they’re getting that information,” he said.

Mr. Obama said he would seek to carry out quickly the recommendations of a task force he named this week on law enforcement and race relations, some of them by executive order and some by legislation.

The public conversation set off by the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of white police officers in places like Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island is healthy, he said, adding that he was willing to take on big problems.

“My presidency is entering the fourth quarter,” Mr. Obama said. “Interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter, and I’m looking forward to it.”


Obama Makes History As First President To Only Take Questions From Women At Press Conference

By: Jason Easley
Friday, December, 19th, 2014, 4:25 pm      

Today, President Obama became the first president in US history to only take questions from women at a White House press conference.

TVNewser provided a rundown of who the president took questions from,

    The first question went to Carrie Budoff Brown of Politico, who asked about cyber attacks.
    The second question goes to Cheryl Bolen of Bloomberg. Up third, Julie Pace from the AP asked about Cuba and whether or not North Korea was acting with another country. The fourth question goes to Lesley Clark of McClatchy Newspapers. “World news Tonight” anchor David Muir just received a shout out from the president.

    The fifth question goes to Roberta Rampton of Reuters. Colleen McCain Nelson was up next, asking about executive actions. Juliet Eilperin gets the next question, asking about the Keystone pipeline. April Ryan of Urban Radio Networks gets the last question, asking about the “state of black America.”

Obama joked at the beginning of the press conference that he was selecting his questioners based on a naughty and nice list, so it appears that all the men in the White House Press Corps were naughty this year.

Zeke Miller of Time talked to the White House to see if this had ever been done before at a press conference:

    There are no definitive records of questioners in previous administrations, but everyone at the WH is pretty sure this is historic.

    — Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) December 19, 2014

The White House issued a statement on the questioner list:

    .@PressSec statement on questioner list:

    — Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) December 19, 2014

This wasn’t a staged “women only” press conference. It was a normal press conference that the president used to strike a blow for gender equality in journalism. The truth is that journalism/blogs/political websites remain dominated by men. There are very few political websites that are owned, operated and run by women.

President Obama has advocated rights and equality since before he became president. The presidency has never had a stronger champion on issues of rights and equal pay for equal work than President Obama. What Obama has been advocating aren’t “women’s issues.” They are American issues that are based on the concepts of fairness and equality.

The president deserves praise for not just talking the talk. He walked the walk, and this time the entitled Beltway testosterone club got a taste of what life is like on the other side of the tracks.

Click to watch the full press conference:


Obama’s New Muscular Approach Boosts Democrats While Painting Republicans Into A Corner

By: Jason Easley
Friday, December, 19th, 2014, 9:46 am      

President Obama’s decision to use executive actions immediately after the election sent the spirits of those in his party surging, while splitting his Republican opposition before they could take power.

According to The Hill, the flurry of executive action is part of a broader strategy, “The last month has provided a glimpse of how President Obama plans to maintain his relevance in Washington while facing lame-duck status and a Republican House and Senate. Wednesday’s surprise announcement that the U.S. was seeking to normalize relations with Cuba was the latest example of a new, muscular approach on executive action that has highlighted how Obama can enact change without Congress, while enlivening a dispirited liberal base.”

With two moves, Obama wiped away any bad feelings among the Democratic base that were leftover from the outcome of the 2014 election. President Obama revived and refocused his party by providing a clear agenda and acting on it. Democrats who have spent years caught in the quagmire of Republican obstruction and gridlock are overjoyed to see their agenda moving forward.

The president has also made sure that the incoming Republican congressional majority will not enjoy a honeymoon period. Obama’s actions have reopened a deep divide among Republicans. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had to promise to pick a fight with the president over his immigration executive orders in early 2015 in order to get enough support to avoid a government shutdown.

This was not how Republicans thought it was going to work. McConnell promised his supporters that when became Majority Leader he was going to break Obama and force the president to do his bidding. The exact opposite has happened. The president has demonstrated his ability to fracture the Republican congressional caucus in order to create divides that Democrats can exploit.

It is being reported that Obama feels liberated by no longer having to protect the Democratic majority in the Senate, “Obama feels liberated, aides say, and sees the recent flurry of aggressive executive action and deal-making as a pivot for him to spend his final two years in office being more the president he always wanted to be.”

A liberated Obama is bad news for Boehner and McConnell. With the government funded through September 2015, the president has taken away the Republican Party’s main weapon against him. The government shutdown has all but evaporated, which means that there is precious little that Republicans can do to stop this president.

President Obama is sending strong signals that he is going to be spending the final two years of his presidency making full use of the powers of his office. Republicans thought they could stop Obama by winning the Senate, but they will soon realize that their victory has empowered him.


Panel to Advise Against Penalty for C.I.A.’s Computer Search

DEC. 19, 2014

WASHINGTON — A panel investigating the Central Intelligence Agency’s search of a computer network used by staff members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who were looking into the C.I.A.’s use of torture will recommend against punishing anyone involved in the episode, according to current and former government officials.

The panel will make that recommendation after the five C.I.A. officials who were singled out by the agency’s inspector general this year for improperly ordering and carrying out the computer searches staunchly defended their actions, saying that they were lawful and in some cases done at the behest of John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director.

While effectively rejecting the most significant conclusions of the inspector general’s report, the panel, appointed by Mr. Brennan and composed of three C.I.A. officers and two members from outside the agency, is still expected to criticize agency missteps that contributed to the fight with Congress.

But its decision not to recommend anyone for disciplinary action is likely to anger members of the Intelligence Committee, who have accused the C.I.A. of trampling on the independence of Congress and interfering with its investigation of agency wrongdoing. The computer searches occurred late last year while the committee was finishing an excoriating report on the agency’s detention and interrogation program.

The computer search raised questions about the separation of powers and caused one of the most public rifts in years between the nation’s intelligence agencies and the Senate oversight panel, which conducts most of its business in secret. It led to an unusually heated and public rebuke by Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who is the committee’s chairwoman.

Three C.I.A. technology officers and two lawyers had faced possible punishment. In their defense, some pointed to documents — including notes of a phone call with Mr. Brennan — that they said indicated that the director supported their actions, according to interviews with a half dozen current and former government officials and others briefed on the case.

The panel’s chairman is Evan Bayh, a Democratic former senator from Indiana who served on the Intelligence Committee. Its other outside member is Robert F. Bauer, who served as White House counsel during President Obama’s first term.

The panel’s specific conclusions are still being finalized, and it could be weeks before they present a report to the C.I.A. But officials said that the five agency employees had been informed that the panel would recommend that they not be disciplined.

The results of such investigations, known as accountability boards, are not normally released. But given the public nature of the dispute, it is expected that some of the conclusions will eventually become public.

“The process is ongoing,” said Dean Boyd, the C.I.A. spokesman. “We haven’t seen what it says, so it’s impossible to comment on it.”

When the controversy over the search erupted, Mr. Brennan offered a vigorous defense of his agency. He later apologized after the C.I.A.’s inspector general concluded that the agency had improperly monitored the committee’s activities. The inspector general also found that C.I.A. officers had read the emails of agency investigators and sent a criminal referral to the Justice Department based on false information.

Mr. Brennan has enraged senators by refusing to answer questions posed by the Intelligence Committee about who at the C.I.A. authorized the computer intrusion. Doing so, he said, could compromise the accountability board’s investigation.

“What did he know? When did he know it? What did he order?” said Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who is a member of the Intelligence Committee, said in an interview last week. “They haven’t answered those basic questions.”

The computer controversy erupted last December amid a dispute between the C.I.A. and committee Democrats and staff members over the conclusions of the torture report, which was released last week. As it does today, the C.I.A. disputed the report’s findings that brutal interrogation tactics yielded no crucial intelligence to prevent terrorist attacks. During a committee hearing, Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, revealed the existence of a previously unknown internal C.I.A. report that he said backed up the committee’s findings.

“If this is true,” Mr. Udall said, “this raises fundamental questions about why a review the C.I.A. conducted internally years ago — and never provided to the committee — is so different from the C.I.A.’s formal response to the committee study.”

By then, agency officials had already suspected that committee investigators had found the internal review, which was ordered in 2009 by Leon E. Panetta, then the C.I.A. director, and has come to be known as the “Panetta review.” Working for years from the basement of a C.I.A. facility in North Virginia, Senate investigators reviewed millions of digital files related to the interrogation program. But the Panetta review was not supposed to be one of them, and agency officials suspected that Senate investigators had somehow gained access to parts of the C.I.A.’s computer network they had been prohibited from searching.

C.I.A. officers searched their logs to see if they had inadvertently given the Panetta review to the Senate. When they determined they had not, officials brought the matter to Mr. Brennan, who authorized what he has called “a limited review” to figure out if Senate staff members had obtained the documents.

The inspector general’s report included details of a conversation last December, when Mr. Brennan called the home of one of the C.I.A. lawyers under investigation. According to two people with knowledge of the inspector general’s findings, the lawyer wrote a memorandum about the conversation that said Mr. Brennan told him he needed to get to the bottom of the matter.

Much of the dispute between the Senate and the C.I.A. revolves around what rules governed the computer system used by Senate investigators as they wrote their report. The C.I.A. made the documents available to the investigators and created a search function that allowed them to locate documents based on key words. The rules for accessing the network were established in a series of memos and letters, not one formal document.


St. Louis prosecutor McCulloch says he knew ‘Witness 40′ lied to Ferguson grand jury

Arturo Garcia
19 Dec 2014 at 18:25 ET      

St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch said on Friday that he let witnesses who were lying testify before the grand jury that chose not to indict a Ferguson, Missouri police officer for shooting and killing 18-year-old Michael Brown, Buzzfeed reported.

“There were people who came in and, yes, absolutely lied under oath,” McCulloch told KTRS-AM host McGraw Milhaven. “Some lied to the FBI. Even though they’re not under oath, that’s another potential offense — a federal offense. I thought it was much more important to present the entire picture.”

McCulloch explained that he decided to let “anyone who claimed to have witnessed anything” testify before the jurors, out of the belief that he would be criticized no matter how he approached the possible prosecution of Officer Darren Wilson, who Brown following a confrontation this past August.

He also admitted that the testimony of “Witness 40,” identified in a grand jury transcript as 45-year-old Sandra McElroy, lacked credibility.

“This lady clearly wasn’t present when this occurred,” McCulloch said. “She recounted a statement that was right out of the newspaper about Wilson’s actions, and right down the line with Wilson’s actions. Even though I’m sure she was nowhere near the place.”

Buzzfeed reported that there was no indication that McCulloch’s office instructed the grand jury to consider the credibility of any specific witness. His office has already been criticized for not immediately telling the jurors that a state statute giving officers more leeway on use of deadly force had been found unconstitutional. McCulloch himself has also been accused of being biased toward police.

According to the Associated Press, the interview aired amid a demand by state Rep. Karla May (D) that McCulloch be investigated by a bipartisan committee of state lawmakers.

The committee is already looking into why Gov. Jay Nixon (D) did not send the National Guard into Ferguson on Nov. 24 to help stop unrest and property damage in the city immediately following McCulloch’s announcement that Wilson would not be brought to trial.

“Many St. Louis-area residents believe — and there is at least some evidence to suggest — that Mr. McCulloch manipulated the grand jury process from the beginning to ensure that Officer Wilson would not be indicted,” May said in a letter to the committee’s chairperson, state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R).

Brown’s death sparked demonstrations accusing police of regularly using excessive force. The protests intensified last month, after the jury decided not to indict Wilson, and took on more momentum after another grand jury in Staten Island, New York, declined to charge NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the choking death of Eric Garner.

“If I didn’t put those witnesses on, then we’d be discussing now why I didn’t put those witnesses on,” McCulloch said on Friday. “Even though their statements were not accurate. So my determination was to put everybody on and let the grand jurors assess their credibility, which they did.”


Lawmaker wants investigation of St. Louis prosecutor

A Missouri lawmaker is calling for an investigation of St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch, saying he "manipulated" the grand jury in the Ferguson case. McCulloch said in a radio interview on Friday that some witnesses obviously lied to the grand jury.

Associated Press


A Missouri lawmaker is calling for an investigation of St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch, saying he "manipulated" the grand jury in the Ferguson case. McCulloch said in a radio interview on Friday that some witnesses obviously lied to the grand jury.

State Rep. Karla May is pushing for a state investigation, saying she believes McCulloch helped sway the grand jury into the decision not to indict Ferguson officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was black and unarmed.

McCulloch, who convened the grand jury in August, was interviewed Friday by KTRS Radio in St. Louis. It was his first interview since he announced the grand jury decision on Nov. 24.

"Clearly some were not telling the truth," McCulloch said.

He made reference to one woman who claimed to have seen the shooting. McCulloch said she "clearly wasn't present. She recounted a story right out of the newspaper" that backed up Wilson's version of events, he said.

McCulloch did not return messages left with his office by The Associated Press on Friday seeking comment about May's allegations, and whether he would pursue perjury charges against any witnesses who may have lied.

The shooting by a white police officer on Aug. 9 spurred significant unrest, both in August and immediately after the grand jury decision was announced. Twelve Ferguson-area businesses, along with police cars, were burned on Nov. 24, and several other businesses were damaged.

In the radio interview, McCulloch also defended the decision to make the announcement at night, saying it was best for schools and allowed business owners time to decide whether to open the next day.

A joint House and Senate committee is already investigating why Gov. Jay Nixon did not use National Guard troops in Ferguson on Nov. 24. May, a St. Louis Democrat, sent a letter Thursday to committee chairman Sen. Kurt Schaefer, urging that the investigation expand to look at whether McCulloch committed prosecutorial misconduct.

"Many St. Louis-area residents believe -- and there is at least some evidence to suggest -- that Mr. McCulloch manipulated the grand jury process from the beginning to ensure that Officer Wilson would not be indicted," May wrote.

She said in an interview that McCulloch should have removed himself from the case at the outset.

"I don't believe he followed proper procedures when he presented evidence to the grand jury," May said. "To me, he was working for the defendant in this case and not the victim."

Critics had called for McCulloch to either step aside or for Nixon to appoint a special prosecutor, citing concerns about whether McCulloch could fairly oversee the case. McCulloch's father was a police officer killed in the line of duty by a black assailant in the 1960s.

McCulloch said immediately after the announcement that the jury of nine whites and three blacks met on 25 separate days over three months, hearing more than 70 hours of testimony from about 60 witnesses, including three medical examiners and experts on blood, toxicology and firearms and other issues. He said he assigned prosecutors in his office to present evidence, rather than himself, because he was "fully aware of unfounded but growing concern that the investigation might not be fair."

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III and others expressed anger that of the hundreds of National Guard troops dispatched to the St. Louis region on Nov. 24, none were in Ferguson as the announcement was made.

No timetable has been set for the legislative committee's investigation, and it wasn't clear if the committee would consider investigating McCulloch. A message left with Schaefer was not immediately returned.


Dick Cheney's 'Queen Of Torture'

By John Amato December 19, 2014 1:00 pm -

The Senate torture report revealed the women at the forefront of the CIA's operation, who inflicted pain, lied to Congress and sent US operatives on a wild goose chase in Montana.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney had a lot to say on Meet The Press last Sunday about his love affair with torture as he responded to the newly released Senate Torture Report, but the New Yorker's Jane Mayer dug deeper into the report along with NBC News and found a very scary women at the heart of it all and who she dubbed:

The Unidentified Queen of Torture

    The NBC News investigative reporter Matthew Cole has pieced together a remarkable story revealing that a single senior officer, who is still in a position of high authority over counterterrorism at the C.I.A.—a woman who he does not name—appears to have been a source of years’ worth of terrible judgment, with tragic consequences for the United States. Her story runs through the entire report. She dropped the ball when the C.I.A. was given information that might very well have prevented the 9/11 attacks; she gleefully participated in torture sessions afterward; she misinterpreted intelligence in such a way that it sent the C.I.A. on an absurd chase for Al Qaeda sleeper cells in Montana. And then she falsely told congressional overseers that the torture worked.

Click to watch a clip from 'Zero Dark Thirty':

She's no stranger to movie audiences around the world as she was the inspiration for Zero Dark Thirty's heroine. The movie painted her as a Bin Laden expert and the only person dogged enough to find him, but that is more fiction than anything else as we now learn. As her blood lust for torture grew, she sent U.S. operatives on a wild goose chase in Montana to find African American Muslim AQ terrorists that was nothing more than confirmed lies told by KSM so she would stop torturing him. You have to read this to believe it.

    As NBC recounts, this egregious chapter was apparently only the first in a long tale, in which the same C.I.A. official became a driving force in the use of waterboarding and other sadistic interrogation techniques that were later described by President Obama as “torture.” She personally partook in the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 attacks, at a black site in Poland. According to the Senate report, she sent a bubbly cable back to C.I.A. headquarters in 2003, anticipating the pain they planned to inflict on K.S.M. in an attempt to get him to confirm a report from another detainee, about a plot to use African-American Muslims training in Afghanistan for future terrorist attacks. “i love the Black American Muslim at AQ camps in Afghanuistan (sic). … Mukie (K.S.M.) is going to be hatin’ life on this one,” she wrote, according to the report. But, as NBC notes, she misconstrued the intelligence gathered from the other detainee. Somehow, the C.I.A. mistakenly believed that African-American Muslim terrorists were already in the United States.  

    The intelligence officials evidently pressed K.S.M. so hard to confirm this, under such physical duress, that he eventually did, even though it was false—leading U.S. officials on a wild-goose chase for black Muslim Al Qaeda operatives in Montana. According to the report, the same woman oversaw the extraction of this false lead, as well as the months-long rendition and gruesome interrogation of another detainee whose detention was a case of mistaken identity. Later, in 2007, she accompanied then C.I.A. director Michael Hayden to brief Congress, where she insisted forcefully that the torture program had been a tremendous and indispensable success.

Oh, yea. torture works real well. Instead of locking her up in jail as a war criminal herself, she earned a promotion to the rank of General.

    Instead, however, she has been promoted to the rank of a general in the military, most recently working as the head of the C.I.A.’s global-jihad unit. In that perch, she oversees the targeting of terror suspects around the world.

This is horrifying on some many levels and explains many things for which Dick Cheney and all his torture apologists would gladly do all over again.


Should Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld & CIA Officials Be Tried for Torture? War Crimes Case Filed in Germany


A human rights group in Berlin, Germany, has filed a criminal complaint against the architects of the George W. Bush administration’s torture program. The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights has accused former Bush administration officials, including CIA Director George Tenet and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, of war crimes, and called for an immediate investigation by a German prosecutor. The move follows the release of a Senate report on CIA torture which includes the case of a German citizen, Khalid El-Masri, who was captured by CIA agents in 2004 due to mistaken identity and tortured at a secret prison in Afghanistan. So far, no one involved in the CIA torture program has been charged with a crime — except the whistleblower John Kiriakou, who exposed it. We speak to Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and chairman of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, and longtime defense attorney Martin Garbus.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: A human rights group in Berlin, Germany, has filed a criminal complaint against the architects of the George W. Bush administration’s torture program. The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights has accused former Bush administration officials, including CIA Director George Tenet and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, of war crimes, and called for an immediate investigation by a German prosecutor. The move follows the release of a Senate report on CIA torture, which includes the case of a German citizen, Khalid El-Masri, who was captured by CIA agents in 2004 due to mistaken identity and tortured at a secret prison in Afghanistan. So far, no one involved in the CIA torture program has been charged with a crime—except the whistleblower John Kiriakou, who exposed it.

AMY GOODMAN: In a statement earlier this week, Wolfgang Kaleck, general secretary of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, said, "By investigating members of the Bush administration, Germany can help to ensure that those responsible for abduction, abuse and illegal detention do not go unpunished," unquote.

Meanwhile, President Obama is standing by his long-standing refusal to investigate or prosecute Bush administration officials for the torture program. In a statement, he called on the nation not to, quote, "refight old arguments." As Obama continues to reject a criminal probe of Bush-era torture, former Vice President Dick Cheney has said he would do it all again. Cheney spoke to NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday.

    DICK CHENEY: With respect to trying to define that as torture, I come back to the proposition torture was what the al-Qaeda terrorists did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11. There is no comparison between that and what we did with respect to enhanced interrogation. ... It worked. It worked now. For 13 years we’ve avoided another mass casualty attack against the United States. We did capture bin Laden. We did capture an awful lot of the senior guys of al-Qaeda who were responsible for that attack on 9/11. I’d do it again in a minute.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Cheney’s claim that he would approve torture again highlights a key question: Are top officials above the law, and will the impunity of today lead to more abuses in the future? The question spans a wide chain of command from Cheney, President Bush and other White House officials, who kickstarted the torture program after 9/11; to the lawyers in the Justice Department, who drafted the memos providing legal cover; to the CIA officials, who implemented the abuses and misled Congress and the public; and to the military psychologists, who helped devise the techniques inflicted on prisoners at U.S. military prisons and secret black sites across the globe.


Bernie Sanders Pushes Back Hard Against The GOP Plan To Cut Social Security and Medicare

By: Jason Easley
Friday, December, 19th, 2014, 7:03 pm      

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is pushing back hard against a Paul Ryan inspired Republican idea to cut both Social Security and Medicare next year.

In a statement Sen. Sanders (I-VT) responded to House Republicans who are already pushing for cuts in Medicare and Social Security, “At a time when poverty among seniors is increasing, and millions of elderly Americans lack sufficient income to buy the medicine or food they need, it would be a moral outrage for Congress to cut Social Security. In fact, instead of cutting Social Security benefits, we should be expanding them….I will also fight the Republican effort to end Medicare as we know it and convert it into a voucher program.”

Sanders was responding to comments by incoming House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) that he will pursue cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Price’s blueprint is the Ryan budget which calls for $129 billion in cuts to Medicare.

What is being set up for 2015 is a fascinating battle between Bernie Sanders and Paul Ryan. With Sanders being elevated to the top Democratic seat on the Senate Budget Committee, the Vermont Independent will be in a position to challenge any cuts to Medicare and Social Security that the Republicans propose.

In 2012, Sen. Sanders called Rep. Ryan (R-WI) a class warrior for the wealthy, “I think clearly what Ryan is about is continuing the Republican effort to engage in class warfare. Who in their right minds could support a proposal which says more tax breaks for the wealthiest people and yet we’ll cut Medicare and Medicaid in drastic form.”

Earlier in 2014, Sanders called the Ryan budget vulgar and obscene, “The problem with the Ryan Budget is that it is so vulgar, so obscene, so out of touch with what the American people want and need that it is literally hard to believe, hard to believe. The richest people in this country are doing phenomenally well. The Ryan budget substantially lowers taxes for millionaires and billionaires. Working families and low-income people are struggling. The Ryan budget makes savage cuts in nutrition programs, in education and healthcare. It does exactly the opposite of what the American people need, and what the American people want, and as you indicated, this is a continuation of the war against the middle class and working families that the Republican Party has been mounting and fighting for a number of years now.”

It appears that Harry Reid promoted Sanders to the budget committee for the purpose of taking on Paul Ryan and the other Ayn Rand followers who are dreaming of killing beloved and needed social programs. The promotion Sanders to Budget Committee was the beginning of a nightmare for Republicans.

Republicans can dream of cuts to Medicare and Social Security, but the fact is that Bernie Sanders and the Democrats will continue to stand in their way.


Bernie Sanders Calls Out Congress For Bailing Out Wall St But Not Helping Working People

By: Jason Easley
Thursday, December, 18th, 2014, 8:46 pm      

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) delivered some harsh truth to his fellow members of Congress on MSNBC when he said, “If this country could bail out the crooks on Wall Street who destroyed the economy surely, the federal government can help the working people who are absolutely dependent on these pensions.”

Sen. Sanders talked about what a bad deal the gutting of pension funding in government funding bill was for workers who are depending on those pensions. Sanders said, “If this country could bail out the crooks on Wall Street who destroyed the economy surely, the federal government can help the working people who are absolutely dependent on these pensions. We can not continue a situation where we have austerity for the elderly and for working families, and 95% of all new income goes to the top 1%. I am a member of that committee. I am going to stay on this issue. We’ve gotta reverse what that bill did.”

Working people are being squeezed daily so that the people at the top can take 95% of all new income. It is blatant hypocrisy for the same members of Congress who supported hundreds of billions of dollars in permanent tax cuts for corporations to turn around and support a bill that cuts pension benefits for people who are already tired.

What the Congress did was not only unfair, it was also cruel. Workers who were promised those pensions saw that promise evaporate with two congressional votes. Sen. Sanders is one of the few members of the Senate who speaks out for working people. Congress has been bought and paid for by those who are writing the checks that are funding reelection campaigns.

The reason Sen. Sanders is an attractive potential presidential candidate for liberals and progressives is that he is the only candidate that is expressing interest in running for the presidency who is willing to take on Wall Street and the billionaires while advocating for workers, the middle class, veterans, seniors, and children.

The idea that government should be taking actions that help regular people is treated as radical in our modern political climate, but what Sanders is suggesting is the way that government used to be run. Bernie Sanders is the voice of sanity in a growing sea of special interest crazy.

The hypocrisy is stinging, but the American people need to understand that much of their government is no longer working for them.

 on: Today at 08:10 AM 
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The Christian Science Monitor

NASA's Kepler finds 'Super-Earth' 180 light-years away

In a milestone for the spacecraft, Kepler detected its first extra-solar planet since being resurrected by NASA. The planet has 12 times Earth's mass and is about 20,000 miles across.

By Pete Spotts, Staff writer December 19, 2014   

This artist's rendering provided by NASA shows the Kepler space telescope. The Kepler discovered its first extra-solar planet after being resurrected by the space agency. (NASA/AP/File)   

NASA's Kepler spacecraft, once the world's first census-taker for planets orbiting other stars, has detected the first extra-solar planet of its encore career as an astrophysics observatory.

The planet, dubbed HIP 116454b, orbits a star 180 light-years away in the constellation Pisces. The "Super-Earth" has about 12 times Earth's mass and is about 20,000 miles across. It orbits a mere 8.4 million miles from its host star, which is smaller and cooler than the sun. Initial estimates of the planet's density suggest it either is a water world or a mini-Neptune with an extended atmosphere, according to the team announcing the discovery.

It's a milestone for the spacecraft, whose initial assignment was to stare at a patch of the sky near the constellation Cygnus and monitor some 170,000 stars for regular, subtle variations in light that would signal an eclipsing planet. A major portion of its new assignment is to continue the hunt for planet candidates, including Earth-mass planets, but much closer to Earth. These would become targets for follow-up studies by the James Webb Space Telescope, currently slated for launch in October 2018.

“Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Kepler has been reborn and is continuing to make discoveries. Even better, the planet it found is ripe for follow-up studies,” said Andrew Vanderburg, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. Mr. Vanderburg is a doctoral student at Harvard University and the lead author of a paper that has been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal describing the results.

But extra-solar planets are not the only targets the repurposed craft has on its agenda. The primary goal for Kepler version 1.0 was to survey the stars in its field of view for extra-solar planets in order to estimate the number of Earth-mass planets orbiting sun-like stars at earth-like distances. Version 2.0 has Kepler serving as a unique multi-purpose orbiting observatory – one that can stare relentlessly at one patch of the sky for months.

"There are a lot of things you can do with this repurposed Kepler mission" because it now is scanning a swath of the sky all along the ecliptic – the path the sun and planets appear to take as they move against the backdrop of stars dotting the celestial sphere, says Brad Schaefer, an astrophysicist at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

Kepler's original mission aimed to answer a profound question about the number of potential Earths in the galaxy, Dr. Schaefer says. But it now "has so many targets, it can pick and choose," allowing it to address a much broader set of astronomical questions, he says.

Repurposing came about after Kepler lost the use of two of its four reaction wheels, devices critical to sustaining the precision pointing the craft needed to conduct its extra-solar-planet census. Kepler needed that precision because it detected planets by measuring subtle changes in starlight imparted by a eclipsing, or transiting, planet. This precision also helped researchers tell the difference between a true transiting planet and other phenomenon on the host star or in its neighborhood that could be mistaken for a planet's transit.

Other than the problem with the reaction wheels, Kepler was healthy. But the degraded pointing left it with an uncertain future. That changed when engineers found a way to use radiation pressure from sunlight, in concert with the remaining reaction wheels, to restore some of the craft's pointing precision. The improvement was good enough for a range of potential observations involving objects or events at distances ranging from inside the solar system to beyond the galaxy.

For instance, Schaefer and his wife, Martha Schaefer, a planetary geologist at LSU, have been working for years to figure out what's up with Neptune's moon Nereid – "in several ways the weirdest of all the moons in the solar system," the two noted in their proposal for observing time with Kepler.

Nereid, one of 14 moons Neptune hosts, orbits the planet once every 360 days and has the most oblong orbit of any moon in the solar system, perhaps an inner moon that was nearly ejected from the system. Disparate observations the duo have taken using ground-based telescopes between 1987 and 2008 suggests that the moon brightens at irregular intervals, ranging from hours to weeks.

Researchers have offered several explanations for the episodic brightening, but no one has been able to observe Nereid nonstop over several cycles of brightening and dimming. Kepler is aptly suited for that.

Their observing run is underway during an observing cycle that began Nov. 14 and will end Feb. 3, 2015.

With observations coming in every minute for one 20-day stretch during this time, "Kepler will be able to do what my wife and I have spent 400 nights on ground-based telescopes doing," Schaefer says.

Theirs is one of 116 projects Kepler is feeding during the current observing run. These involve topics ranging from to hunting for extra-solar planets to studying the behavior of various types of flaring stars and using red giant stars to help uncover the history of the galaxy.

Since Neptune is passing through the craft's field of view during this run, it's a popular object.

Another team is hunting for Neptune quakes, which would show up as variations in light the planet reflects from the sun. Observations of Jupiter and Saturn have yielded evidence for planet quakes. If Kepler can detect these on Neptune, the signals, in principle, could allow researchers to uncover fresh details about the structure of the planet's interior from a mere 2.8 billion miles away.

Yet another team aims to hunt for rings outside the boundary of Neptune's six known rings – something that is speculative and might not rise to a level of importance that would earn time on ground-based telescopes. Rings around the outer planets yields clues about how the planets formed and may yield insights on the structure of a significant number of Neptune-class planets Kepler uncovered during its first incarnation, according to the team of Hungarian researchers that proposed the project.

"It's an inventive idea," Schaefer says. "The odds of having a far outer ring like that are probably pretty low. But you don't know until you look."

 on: Today at 08:06 AM 
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Wipe Out: History's Most Mysterious Extinctions

Joseph Castro, LiveScience Contributor 

Mysterious Wipe-Outs

<p>What do the dinosaurs, the dodo bird and the Tasmanian tiger all have in common? They're all extinct. Countless species have come and gone in the history of our planet, some leaving more of a mark than others. Sometimes the cause of a species' extinction is unknown. To understand and explain these deaths, scientists often work with numerous hypotheses and constantly hunt for more data to unravel the mysteries.</p> <p>From the fearsome megalodon to the awkward elephant bird, here are some of history's most puzzling extinctions.</p>

Rocky Mountain Locust

<p>When thinking about extinctions, dinosaurs, dodos and other large creatures typically come to mind. But insects can also disappear — and in a relatively short amount of time, too. Between 1873 and 1877, huge swarms of the Rocky Mountain locust (Melanoplus spretus) reportedly caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage as they ravaged crops throughout the Midwestern United States. Less than 30 years later they were extinct.</p> <p>So what happened? Many theories point to large-scale environmental changes, such as the disappearance of the buffalo and their locust-breeding wallow habitats. But evidence suggests that innumerable locust eggs may have succumbed to plowing and irrigation used by the very farmers the insects terrorized. Some scientists think that the lack of genetic variation may have added to the locusts' troubles.</p>


<p>Between 28 million and 1.5 million years ago, megalodon ruled Earth&#39;s oceans. This terrifyingly large shark, which dined on giant whales with its 7-inch-long (18 cm) teeth, reached a maximum length of over 60 feet and weighed as much as 100 tons. For comparison, great white sharks &mdash; megalodon&#39;s closest living relative &mdash; rarely reach the 20-foot (6 m) mark.</p> <p>So what could cause a monster at the top of the food chain to sputter out of existence? Theories abound. One idea posits that megalodon couldn&#39;t handle the oceanic cooling and sea level drops that came with the ice ages of the late Pliocene and early Pleistocene epochs. On the other hand, another explanation ties the shark&#39;s demise to the disappearance of the giant whales it fed on.</p>

Woolly Mammoth

<p>For 250,000 years, the woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) enjoyed an expansive range that covered parts of North America, Europe and Asia. A small population survived on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean until 3700 years ago, while the rest of the hairy giants disappeared from their Siberian habitat some 10,000 years ago.</p> <p>A long-standing theory proposes that early humans hunted the woolly mammoth to extinction. On the other hand, some scientists believe a global shift toward freezing temperatures did the beasts in. But perhaps no single culprit should be blamed. A study detailed online June 12, 2012, in the journal Nature Communications claims that a combination of factorscontributed to the mammoth&#39;s downfall.</p>

Broad-Faced Potoroo

<p>After Europeans settled Australia a few hundred years ago, the country suffered many species&#39; extinctions. Some creatures declined due to land-clearing practices; others suffered because of the predatory red fox, which was initially introduced to Australia in the mid-1800s for hunting purposes. However, the broad-faced potoroo (Potorous platyops) appears to have taken a severe hit before the settlers arrived &mdash; an unusual occurrence among recently extinct Australian species.</p> <p>Researchers collected the last few specimens of the broad-faced potoroo &mdash; a marsupial less than 10 inches long around 1875. It&#39;s unknown how long the animals survived after that. It&#39;s also not clear what finally pushed the marsupials over the edge, but studies suggest predation by feral cats, which likely made it to the continent by way of Dutch shipwrecks in the 17 century, played a large role. [Marsupial Gallery: A Pouchful of Cute]</p>

Atelopus longirostris

<p>Atelopus longirostriswas a toad native to the humid forests of northern Ecuador. A. longirostris &mdash; named so for it&#39;s long snout &mdash;&nbsp;has not been recorded since 1989.</p> <p>The cause of the amphibian&#39;s extinction has not been determined, but scientists think chytridiomycosiswas certainly involved. In recent years, the disease chytridiomycosis, which is caused by the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, has become world famous as a frog killer, boasting a 100 percent mortality rate for some amphibian species. Researchers think A. longirostris may have had to contend with climate change and habitat loss, in addition to the deadly disease.</p>

Elephant Bird

<p>The dodo may be the poster child for species extinction, but it&#39;s not the only flightless bird to bite the dust. Enter the elephant bird. Elephant birds &mdash;&nbsp;Madagascar natives consisting of at least four different species &mdash; are among the world&#39;s most massive birds. They were a towering 10 feet (3 m) tall and nearly 1,000 pounds, or 454 kilograms. (Note: male ostriches grow up to only 9 feet, or 2.7 m, tall.) Written records suggest the birds were around till at least the 17th century, and researchers think they were likely fully extinct by the early 18th century. &nbsp;</p> <p>There are two main theories explaining the elephant birds&#39; demise, both of which involve humans. Some researchers believe the birds fell to habitat loss and people stealing their eggs, which were 150 times the volume of a hen&rsquo;s egg. Others think diseases carried over from settlers&#39; chickens may have devastated the elephant bird populations.</p> <p>(Editor's Note: This entry was updated to correct the metric conversion for the bird's height.)</p>


<p>No countdown about species extinctions is complete without mention of our hominid brethren, the Neanderthals. Why Neanderthals went extinct some 30,000 years ago is one of anthropology&#39;s greatest debates. At one point, scientists favored the idea that a &quot;volcanic winter&quot; &mdash;&nbsp;caused by a super-eruption combined with a sharp cold spell &mdash;&nbsp;killed the Neanderthals, who were unable to adapt to the climate change. But new research rules out the catastrophe hypothesis.</p> <p>The real Neanderthal killers, then, were likely anatomically modern humans. Even still, there&#39;s no singular explanation. Could early humans have committed genocide? Maybe they just outcompeted Neanderthals? Or perhaps contact with other hominids introduced pathogens Neanderthals couldn&#39;t fight? And then there&#39;s the most romantic hypothesis (which actually has some genetic evidence to back it up): Neanderthals interbred with early humansAnd that somehow led to their demise.</p>

 on: Today at 08:01 AM 
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Wolves, bears, lynxes rebounding in Europe

Despite the continent's high population density, large carnivores are staging a comeback in Europe, researchers say.

By Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience December 19, 2014
The Christian Science Monitor   

Despite having half the land area of the contiguous United States and double the population density, Europe is home to twice as many wolves as the U.S.

A new study finds that Europe's other large carnivores are experiencing a resurgence in their numbers, too — and mostly in nonprotected areas where the animals coexist alongside humans. The success is owed to cross-border cooperation, strong regulations and a public attitude that brings wildlife into the fold with human society, rather than banishing it to the wilderness, according to study leader Guillaume Chapron, a professor at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences' Grimsö Wildlife Research Station.

In Europe, "we don't have unspoiled, untouched areas," Chapron told Live Science. "But what is interesting is, that does not mean we do not have carnivores. Au contraire; we have many carnivores."
Europe's carnivores bounce back

Chapron and his colleagues pulled together data from all over Europe — excluding Russia, Ukraine and Belarus — on the population numbers of brown bears (Ursus arctos), Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx), wolverines (Gulo gulo) and gray wolves (Canis lupus). Their results, published today (Dec. 18) in the journal Science, reveal that large carnivores in Europe are doing very well.

With the exception of Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, every European country in the study has a permanent and reproducing population of at least one of the four large carnivores, the researchers reported. The continent is home to 17,000 brown bears in 10 populations spread over 22 countries. There are 9,000 lynx in 11 populations in 23 countries. Wolves are thriving, with more than 12,000 individuals found in 10 populations in 28 countries.

Wolverines can live only in the cold climates of Scandinavia, so Norway, Sweden and Finland are the only countries in the study that host all four of Europe's major large carnivore species. There are two populations of wolverines in Europe, with an estimated total of 1,250 individuals. (However, wolverines do face threats from climate change, due to their cold-dependent lifestyles.)

Some small populations of carnivores are in decline across Europe, the researchers noted, but none of the large to medium populations are suffering.

Attitudes toward the wild

What makes this success so surprising is that these wolves, bears, lynx and wolverines are surviving largely outside of protected areas.

"Maybe the wolf is your black bear," Chapron said, explaining European attitudes toward the animal. In the United States, he said, wolves are seen as animals that can't coexist with humans, whereas black bears are generally tolerated in residential areas, with locals making accommodations such as bear-proof trash cans.

Chapron acknowledged that there are clashes in Europe between carnivores and people, particularly around livestock farming. Traditional strategies — such as employing livestock-guarding dogs or shepherds, or corralling livestock in pens at night — help ease carnivore attacks on valuable livestock, and compensating farmers for losses can also help mitigate problems, he said.

"There is a need to keep the conflict at a low intensity," Chapron said.

Chapron also credited the Habitats Directive, a set of conservation regulations that protects species and habitat types across national borders, for keeping carnivores from decline and extinction.

"We have found a recipe that works," he said.

Whether a similar recipe could work in the United States depends on public attitudes. However, the European model clearly shows that large carnivores can coexist with people in places Americans tend to find unimaginable, Chapron said. In 2011, a male gray wolf traveled from Oregon to California, becoming the first wolf in the state since 1924. (He later trotted back across the border to Oregon, and fathered pups.)

The appearance of the wolf triggered debate over how to manage the return of wolves in California. That is a matter of public policy, but Chapron pointed out that there is a fast-growing wolf population in Germany and Poland, where roads are as dense as anywhere in the world.

"If people from California decide to have wolves," he said, "then the European model clearly shows that you can have plenty of wolves in California."

 on: Today at 07:57 AM 
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Israeli aircraft bomb Hamas base in Gaza Strip after militants fired rocket

Israeli defence force says there were no casualties from bombing, the first since conflict ended in August

The Guardian, Saturday 20 December 2014   

Israeli aircraft bombed a Hamas militant base in the Gaza Strip on Friday for the first time since the end of a war in the territory.

The bombs struck in the Khan Younis area in the southern Gaza Strip. Local hospital officials said there were no casualties.

The army said the move was in response to a rocket that militants launched earlier in the day, which landed in a field in southern Israel and did not cause casualties.

“The IDF (military) will not permit any attempt to undermine the security and jeopardise the wellbeing of the civilians of Israel. The Hamas terrorist organization is responsible and accountable for today’s attack against Israel,” military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said in a statement.

Two previous cases of militant rockets landing in Israel have been recorded but there was no retaliation to them.

Israel launched its Gaza offensive on 8 July with the declared aim of halting cross-border rocket salvoes by Hamas. The fighting was ended by an Egyptian-brokered truce on 26 August.

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in seven weeks of fighting, according to the Gaza health ministry. Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were killed.

In a separate incident on Friday, four Palestinian protesters were shot in the legs by Israeli troops after they ignored warnings to keep away from the border fence between the coastal territory and the Jewish state, the military and Gaza medical officials said.

 on: Today at 07:55 AM 
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U.N. Reports October Atrocities by South Sudan Rebels

by Naharnet Newsdesk 20 December 2014, 11:46

South Sudan rebels killed, raped and kidnapped civilians during an attack in October, leaving at least 11 dead, the United Nations said in a report.

Fighters backing former vice president Riek Machar attacked the oil-rich town of Bentiu near the border with Sudan on October 29 and "killed at least 11 civilians and committed other serious human rights abuses," said the report, received by Agence France Presse on Saturday.

The U.N. Mission in South Sudan also said it had "received testimony from multiple sources alleging that opposition forces abducted and raped female residents of Bentiu after government troops withdrew from some parts of the city during the afternoon of 29 October 2014."

"According to several witnesses, two women and a six-month-old baby were killed in their homes by opposition forces," said the report, compiled after an investigation by the U.N. mission's human rights division.

 "According to its preliminary findings (opposition) forces committed gross human rights abuses and serious violations of international humanitarian law which may amount to war crimes."

Bentiu has been hotly contested between the two sides and its control has changed hands several times.

After briefly wresting control of the city in April, Machar's forces killed hundreds of residents, according to the United Nations. People were even slaughtered in mosques and hospitals, it said.

The town is now nearly deserted, and some 44,000 people are sheltering at the U.N. base in the South Sudan capital Juba.

Fighting broke out in South Sudan, the world's youngest nation, in December 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused his sacked deputy Riek Machar of attempting a coup.

The fighting in Juba set off a cycle of retaliatory massacres across large swathes of the country, pushing it to the brink of famine.

The International Crisis Group estimates that at least 50,000 people have been killed, while some diplomats suggest the death toll could be double that figure.

Peace talks aimed at ending South Sudan's civil war resumed in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa on Thursday, with mediators making a fresh appeal for an end to a "year of horror and tragedy".

Source: Agence France Presse

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African Leaders Call on U.N. for Intervention in Libya

by Naharnet Newsdesk 19 December 2014, 19:04

Leaders in the sub-Saharan Sahel region of Africa called Friday on the United Nations to organize an international force "to neutralize the armed groups" sowing chaos in Libya.

The call came at the end of a regional summit on the "Nouakchott Process," named for an initiative launched in Mauritania's capital in March 2013 to boost security cooperation among 11 participating states.

In a statement, the leaders of Chad, Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso called on the United Nations Security Council to "set up an international force to neutralize armed groups, assist with national reconciliation and put in place stable democratic institutions," in Libya. The plan would be carried out in consultation with the African Union, they said.

Host President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz told reporters: "The elected bodies, notably the Libyan Parliament, need force to put in place their programs."

Libya has been overwhelmed by chaos since the fall of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, with the country led by two parliaments and governments -- one Islamist and the other recognized by the international community -- fighting for power.

The summit, whose theme was "a space made for secure for global development," was the first since Algeria, Burkian Faso, Chad, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal signed up to the process.

Abdel Aziz, who also currently chairs the African Union, told his peers along with the other delegates, of a shared determination to carry out "a merciless fight against terrorism and organized crime."

Across the broad Sahel region, threats range from Boko Haram jihadists in northern Nigeria, said by local officials to have kidnapped at least 185 villagers in a latest large-scale raid on Sunday, to the Islamists driven out of Mali's key northern towns by the French army last year and now holed up in the desert.

Source: Agence France Presse

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Somber Mood in Nigeria's Chibok for first Christmas since Abductions

by Naharnet Newsdesk 19 December 2014, 17:59

The northeast Nigeria town of Chibok used to fill up before Christmas as people returned home to visit their families, but with the 219 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram still missing, few feel like celebrating this year.

Nigerians were forced to recall the April 14 mass abduction in Chibok this week, following news that another 185 people, mostly women and children, were seized in the nearby town of Gumsuri in another attack blamed on the Islamists.

"In a normal situation, by this time Chibok would have been bubbling with people trooping in to spend the holidays with families...buying livestock, food and new clothing for the holy celebration," said Ayuba Chibok, whose niece is among the hostages.

"Nothing like that is happening right now," he told AFP.

Chibok falls in Borno state, the epicenter of Boko Haram's five-year uprising which has killed more than 13,000 people and forced an estimated 1.5 million others from their homes.

While northern Nigeria is majority Muslim, communities in southern Borno like Chibok have a large Christian population, which some say made it an attractive target for the insurgents, who seized the girls from a school the night before final exams.

"Christmas has always been exciting for our people," said Bogo Bitrus, head of the local elders groups.

People will still go to church next week, he added, but only to ask "for God's intervention in the rescue of the girls."

Boko Haram's leader Abubakar Shekau, who boasted about the kidnappings in a video filled with wild-eyed rantings, said all the hostages have converted to Islam and been "married off."

A month after the girls were seized, President Goodluck Jonathan told global leaders at a World Economic Forum meeting in Abuja that the attack would mark the beginning of the end of terrorism in Nigeria.

Violence has worsened dramatically since and Boko Haram has also seized large swathes of territory, proclaiming a caliphate in areas it controls, and raising questions about the feasibility of holding national election set for February 14.

Experts doubted that Nigeria's military had the ability to defeat Boko Haram through force and called for a soft power approach, but some had hoped it would be possible to prevent a repeat of the mass kidnapping seen in Chibok.

The attack in Gumsuri, which is on the road that leads to Chibok, began after dusk on Sunday, with heavily armed gunmen throwing petrol bombs into buildings and destroying more than half the town.

The local vigilante force, which had repelled past Islamist attacks, was overwhelmed by the onslaught that killed at least 32 people.

The hostages were carted away on trucks towards the Sambisa Forest, an insurgent stronghold where the Chibok girls were also reportedly held before being split into groups.

The Chibok abductions ultimately became a source of global outrage, backed by the Twitter campaign #BringBackOurGirls which drew support from the likes of U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama and Angelina Jolie.

But in Nigeria, the initial reaction was muted, as loyalists of President Jonathan suggested reports of the attack had been inflated to embarrass the ruling party.

Human rights lawyer Jiti Ogunye noted that the day after Gumsuri abductions became public three of Nigeria's main newspapers chose other stories as their lead item and commented on the lack of outrage or surprise on television and radio.

"This kind of resignation or accommodation is very dangerous," he said, voicing fear for the future of a nation where "people have come to the conclusion that government can't stop...185 people from being kidnapped."

Despite a promise from Jonathan that security in Chibok would be reinforced following the abductions, Boko Haram briefly seized the town last month.

It was retaken in a joint operation by the military and local hunters days later.

Ayuba Chibok reminded that aside from the hostage crisis, many forget that the town has been destroyed by violence and haunted by the threat of further attacks, with locals sleeping in the bush when words spreads the Boko Haram fighters are nearby.

He said that even if people wanted to return to Chibok this Christmas, they may have nowhere to celebrate, as "many of the homes have been destroyed."

Source: Agence France Presse

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