Monthly Archives: January 2013

What’s Up: January 25, 2012?

· OBAMA’S LOFTY INAUGURAL IDEALS RUN INTO REALITY

President Barack Obama’s lofty ideals from his inaugural address ran smack into reality Tuesday on the first working day of his second term.

Twenty-four hours after Obama pledged to tackle climate change and called for gays and lesbians to be treated equally under the law, the White House struggled to back up his sweeping rhetoric with specifics, raising questions about how much political muscle he’ll put behind both issues.

Republicans were already signaling their unhappiness with Obama’s agenda.

“The era of liberalism is back,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. “If the president pursues that kind of agenda, obviously it’s not designed to bring us together.”

Obama, standing before hundreds of thousands of people on the National Mall, had vowed to “respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”

But in the White House briefing room a day later, Obama spokesman Jay Carney said he couldn’t speculate about future actions. He said that while climate change was a priority for the president, “it is not a singular priority.”

On gay rights, the president had declared that the nation’s journey is “not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

But Carney said the president was speaking about his personal views and would not take federal action on same-sex marriage, which he continues to see as a state issue.

Even with his last election behind him, Obama has politics to weigh as he considers just how much effort he’ll put into pursuing climate change legislation and a gay rights agenda. Both issues are backed by the president’s liberal base but opposed by many Republicans and conservative Democrats.

Obama already is asking lawmakers for a lot as he starts his second term. He needs their votes to increase the nation’s borrowing limit and approve billions of dollars to keep the government running. And he has pledged to pursue stricter gun legislation and comprehensive immigration reform quickly this year, neither of which can pass Congress without some GOP votes.

For environmental groups and gay rights supporters, Obama’s inaugural address provided fresh hope for progress on issues that were stumbling blocks for Obama in his first term.

While the Congress passed legislation backed by Obama to reduce carbon emissions from vehicles, his efforts to pass a cap-and-trade bill failed on Capitol Hill due to bipartisan opposition. And despite Obama’s many actions to bolster gay rights in his first term – including repealing the military’s ban on openly gay service members – his reluctance to back gay marriage frustrated many of his liberal supporters until he ultimately voiced his support for same-sex unions last year.

Supporters of both issues say Obama will quickly have opportunities to demonstrate his commitment to their causes in his second term.

The Supreme Court will soon take up Proposition 8, a California’s ban on same-sex marriage, a case that could give the justices the chance to rule on whether gay Americans have the same constitutional right to marry as heterosexuals.

Opponents of the ban have called on the Obama administration to file an amicus, or friend-of-the-court, brief to overturn the measure.

“We view the president’s filing of an amicus brief in this case as the next natural step to his inaugural remarks,” said Fred Sainz, vice president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay rights groups. “His call for equal justice under the law for gay and lesbian Americans including in their committed relationships is the centerpiece of the argument against Proposition 8.”

The White House has so far refused to take a position on the Supreme Court case.

For environmental groups, Obama’s next best chance to make good on his inaugural address is a looming decision on the Keystone XL pipeline running from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

Obama blocked the pipeline last year, citing uncertainty over the project’s route through environmentally sensitive land in Nebraska. But on Tuesday, the state’s Republican governor, Dave Heineman, gave his approval to a revised route for the pipeline, a widely anticipated move that nonetheless added to the political pressure for the Obama administration to approve or reject the new route without delay.

“If we are going to get serious about climate change, opening the spigot to a pipeline that will export up to 830,000 barrels of the dirtiest oil on the planet to foreign markets stands as a bad idea,” said Anthony Swift of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Republicans and many business groups say the pipeline project would help achieve energy independence.

The State Department, which has federal jurisdiction over the $7 billion pipeline because it begins in Canada, said Tuesday that it would not be able to conclude its review during the first quarter of the year.

White House officials sought to look beyond Keystone, with aides saying Tuesday that the president may also pursue executive actions to fulfill his pledge to tackle climate change. Story Continued:

· Jarrett: Obama Isn’t Going to Debate Government’s Role, ‘Progress Is Compelled by Action Right Now’

Compares Obama to Lincoln –

Valerie Jarrett, a close advisor to President Barack Obama, said yesterday on CNN that the president is not going to debate the role of government. Instead, she said, “progress is compelled by action right now.”

“The message that I think everyone heard during the campaign is one that he really embedded in his speech today. And he talked about it a lot, he talked about what he wanted to accomplish in his second term, what he thought was doable, where he wanted to push the envelope. And it was a very personal speech to him,” Jarrett said of Obama’s Second Inaugural Address. “You could feel the passion. He delivered it, I think, extremely well, because every single word was one that he just embraced completely. And I think part of what he said was, is that you can’t — progress isn’t compelled by solving those century-long debates about the role of government, progress is compelled by action right now. And he feels that sense of urgency that he felt four years ago. He’s so proud of his record, but he’s so humbled by the fact that the American people him reelected him for a second term and because this is his last term, this is the end of his political career, he wants to make sure that every single day counts, and that we think about equality and opportunity.”

Jarrett went to agree with the CNN reporter’s description of Obama’s writing process — “he kind of turns around phrases like a musician, writing music in his head.”

And Obama’s advisor went on to compare the current president with Abraham Lincoln. “I think you can’t compare the Civil War to what we’re going through,” she said. “But we’ve been through a really tough time in our country. And seeing how Lincoln had to work so hard just to make the progress that he did, how he never gave up, and how resilient he was, and [how] he tried a whole range of different strategies. And I think obviously that resonated with the president. And so it kind of reaffirmed what he already knew, which is you have to be resilient. you have to be determined. And you can’t lose your focus, you can’t get distracted by short-term political interests.” Story Continued and to watch the video:

– This woman feels that Obama is a deity. It is obvious that she is a Democrat and not a Republican.

· Jill Kelley Says Paula Broadwell Tried to ‘Blackmail’ Her

The woman dragged into the Petraeus scandal tells Howard Kurtz that her life is now a nightmare. She says she didn’t press charges against Paula Broadwell and never exchanged 30,000 emails with a top general.

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Kelley says she was “terrified” late last summer when he told her about the email. In that note and the barrage that followed, “there was blackmail, extortion, threats,” Kelley told me in her first interview since the David Petraeus scandal erupted, breaking a silence of nearly three months.

These emails, as Kelley would later learn along with the rest of the world, were from Paula Broadwell, whose affair with Petraeus triggered his resignation as CIA director. But the writer was so ambiguous, says Kelley, that “I didn’t even know it was a female.”

Contradicting virtually every published account of the saga, Kelley indicates that the anonymous emails did not warn her to stay away from Petraeus, as is commonly assumed. And yet the press depicted the two of them as “romantic rivals. Think how bizarre that is,” Kelley says.

One person close to Kelley says the tone of the notes grew increasingly severe and, without being explicit, threatening. She declined to show me the emails, which another source described as fewer than 10 in number.

Did Kelley come to suspect that Broadwell was behind the dark messages?

“I never met Paula in my life,” Kelley says. At the time, Kelley says, she didn’t even know Broadwell had just published a glowing biography of Petraeus.

It seems evident that Broadwell had grown jealous about what she perceived as Kelley’s close relationship with Petraeus; at one awards ceremony, he kissed her on the cheek. But Kelley will not speculate about Broadwell’s motivation.

Kelley’s complaint to the FBI set in motion a chain of events that culminated days after the November election with Petraeus, the architect of U.S. war strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, acknowledging the affair with Broadwell and leaving the Obama administration.

‘As the scandal heightened, the media spun the affair as a ‘romantic rivalry’ between Kelley and Broadwell.’

Kelley, 37, would find herself the subject of fevered speculation that she was carrying on with Gen. John Allen, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, which she flatly denies. Allen also has denied wrongdoing.

Kelley bristles at those eye-catching media reports that she and Allen exchanged as many as 30,000 emails, calling the figure “outrageous.” While Kelley will not provide an estimate, she says she believes the emails totaled in the hundreds.

What has been lost in the lurid and sometimes mocking coverage is the toll the scandal has taken on Kelley, her husband, and their three young children.

The weekend after the story broke, Kelley was celebrating her daughter’s seventh birthday when she gazed out the window at the mess her life had become.

“It was devastating,” Kelley told me. “To have your privacy invaded is truly—there are no words to describe it. Instead of enjoying a family birthday party, I had paparazzi storming my front lawn, pushing down the door. There are no words to describe the panic and fear at that moment.”

But Kelley has many words to describe what happened to her, and they come pouring out in a torrent during a two-hour interview in Washington, her hands tightly clasped, her voice by turns angry and exasperated and confused by the enormity of her ordeal. Her dark eyes flashed when she was upset, and she paused occasionally to smooth her mane of shoulder-length black hair.

Federal prosecutors declined last month to file charges against Broadwell over the emails. What has not been reported is that the case was closed after Kelley was asked whether she wanted to press charges and declined. The final decision is always up to prosecutors, but Kelley would have been the chief witness.

Kelley says she was concerned about the impact of a potential criminal case on her friends and their families. “I just wanted to let them move on with their lives and not have to relive it,” she says.

Dee Dee Myers, Broadwell’s spokeswoman, says “the Justice Department thoroughly looked at this and declined to prosecute.” That decision, says Myers, “makes a pretty bold statement about the content of the emails…People can make their own judgments based on that.”

Concerned about journalists near her house last November, Jill Kelley called the police and invoked her ‘diplomatic’ status.

It is obvious from Kelley’s tone and her body language that she is furious with Broadwell. While she will not discuss the details of the Broadwell emails, Kelley doesn’t miss a beat in declaring: “I knew I was being stalked.” In alerting an acquaintance at the FBI, she says, “I did what anybody else would have done when they were feeling threatened, to go seek protection from somebody I could trust.” (The story soared on the titillation index with reports that the agent, Fred Humphries, had sent Kelley a shirtless photo. But she says it was a joke—Humphries is posing with two dummies—and was sent to many people, including his wife.)

Kelley adamantly refuses to characterize her feelings toward Broadwell, an academic and former Army officer. But she does not discourage a comparison of her plight to that of Nancy Kerrigan, the figure skater who had to withdraw from a national championship in 1994 after being clubbed in the knee with a tire iron. That, of course, would put Broadwell in the role of Tonya Harding, who helped cover up the attack.

Part of Kelley’s ire is directed at the media for reporting what she says are lies and half-truths about her. She made it clear in her emotional interview that she fervently wants to erase her public image as, to use the phrase that has dogged her, the Other Other Woman.

“As much as I appreciate that they want to be the first one to come out with a headline, regardless of whether they did any fact-checking, they have to consider the impact they have on our life and our children’s lives,” she says. “Just because it’s repeated doesn’t make it true. It was living a nightmare.”

People she never met, including a hairdresser who claimed her as a customer, were quoted as friends of hers, Kelley says.

She sounds naïve at times about the way the modern media machine functions, baffled as to why she is deemed newsworthy at all. She is frustrated that even her Wikipedia page has had basic errors of fact, such as her date of birth.

But while some news organizations rushed to paint an unflattering portrait of Kelley, her long silence—on the advice of a previous publicist—left journalists with little access to firsthand information. Her new spokesman, Gene Grabowski of the Washington firm Levick, has a different approach.

Kelley has a natural ease and a certain exotic flair. She was born in Lebanon, which her parents fled when she and her twin sister, Natalie Khawam, were 1-year olds.

In recent years, Kelley has become a kind of social ambassador in the military community in Tampa, where the U.S. Central Command is based. She threw lavish parties and hobnobbed with top officials at nearby MacDill Air Force Base.

When Petraeus moved to Tampa to head CentCom in 2010, Kelley threw a dinner for him at her home, including such guests as Charlie Crist, then Florida’s governor. She and Petraeus became “family friends,” says Kelley, and she developed a friendly relationship with Petraeus’s wife, Holly.

Kelley says she met John Allen when she and Petraeus hosted a surprise birthday party for Holly, and Allen, who served as Petraeus’s deputy, was on the invite list.

Asked to describe her relationship with Allen, Kelley says: “We’re friends, good friends. His wife and me are good friends. Our children are friends.”

That friendship continued by email when Allen was sent to Kabul. The general’s promotion to be commander of NATO forces is on hold while investigators examine the email traffic between him and Kelley.

These emails have been described by some unnamed government officials as flirtatious and potentially inappropriate. But Kelley told me they were so innocent that they were sent and received under an account she shares with her husband because she lacks her own email address. She also says Allen’s wife was often copied on the notes.

“It was pretty straightforward,” Kelley says.

‘Howard Kurtz talks to CNN’s Soledad O’Brien about his exclusive Jill Kelley interview.’

She does not find it unusual that both Allen and Petraeus wrote letters to the court on behalf of her sister Natalie in a case in which her twin is trying to regain custody of a child from her estranged husband. Natalie moved in with her family after the split, says Kelley, and developed her own friendship with the generals.

The spotlight also has fallen on Kelley’s financial difficulties. She says that when the family faced litigation over credit-card debts, it stemmed from a decision to let an investment property go into foreclosure in a down market after they evicted the tenant.

The press “made it look like I’m throwing parties yet I’m broke, made it look like we’re deadbeats,” Kelley says. “It’s offensive.”

She is similarly perturbed over reports that roughly half of the $160,000 raised for her cancer research charity went to meals, entertaining, and other expenses. Kelley says no outside money was raised and that she and her husband were the sole donors.

Another embarrassment surfaced when New York businessman Adam Victor was quoted as saying that Kelley had asked for an $80 million commission if she used her influence to help him obtain a massive energy contract with South Korea. She “tried to sell herself as something she was not,” Victor told CNN. Kelley, who met Victor at last summer’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, held the honorary title of “special consul” to the South Korean foreign ministry.

Kelley says Victor approached her, that they had two meetings, and that she discontinued the talks. A 2 percent fee was discussed but nothing more specific, as Kelley recalls it.

She invoked her title in calls to 911 when mobs of reporters and photographers staked out her home. “I am an honorary consul general, so I have inviolability,” Kelley told a 911 dispatcher in one call. “They should not be able to cross my property. I don’t know if you want to get diplomatic protection involved as well?”

South Korea stripped Kelley of the honorary title and its $2,500 stipend after the Victor episode became public.

As with many ordinary people pushed into the media vortex, Kelley is a bit disoriented as she tries to reclaim her old life. She even seems to have lost control of her photographic image, as most stories and television segments use shots of her in a form-fitting cocktail dress walking to her car. Kelley never released any family pictures, until now.

She is worried about the impact of the harsh coverage on her husband: “It’s obviously been very difficult for him. He’s an honorable guy.” (I had briefly met Scott Kelley, a cancer surgeon with a reserved manner, but he did not want to join the interview.)

What does she want people to know about Jill Kelley? “I’m a dedicated mother, a loving wife. We have a very happy, close family. I support the troops. I take pride in feeding the homeless in our community.” She pauses.

“This whole situation is just very sad.” Story Continued:

· Clinton appears before Congress over Benghazi attack

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, testifying Wednesday in a Senate hearing that was politically charged and at times emotional, defended the Obama administration’s response to last year’s deadly assault on a diplomatic post in Libya and challenged Republican lawmakers to focus on meaningful ways to make diplomats safe instead of engaging in partisan attacks.

Four months after the assault, Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee made clear that they hold Clinton personally responsible for the attacks that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, at a diplomatic outpost and nearby CIA annex in Benghazi. Clinton said she took responsibility, but she argued that the exact trigger for the terrorist attack — be it a protest that boiled over, as the administration wrongly suggested at first, or “guys out for a walk one night” — no longer matters.

The Pentagon has cleared the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan of wrongdoing after an investigation.

“What difference, at this point, does it make?” Clinton asked during a testy exchange with one Republican. “It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again.”

Clinton’s long-awaited testimony, her last on Capitol Hill as America’s top diplomat, reflected the enduring divide over the administration’s response to the Sept. 11-12 attacks in Benghazi, and over whether more could have been done to prevent them.

For Clinton, still widely seen as a contender for the Democratic nomination for president, the appearance also carried both personal and political weight. The Benghazi attacks have posed one of the most difficult challenges she has faced in her four years as secretary of state.

At one point Wednesday, Clinton’s voice broke as she described receiving the caskets of the slain Americans at Joint Base Andrews a few days after the attacks.

“For me, this is not just a matter of policy. It’s personal,” she told the Senate committee, choking up. “I stood next to President Obama as the Marines carried those flag-draped caskets off the plane at Andrews. I put my arms around the mothers and fathers, the sisters and brothers, the sons and daughters, and the wives left alone to raise their children.”

It was an uncharacteristic display of emotion for Clinton, who is usually collected and reserved in public.

In one of her last duties as America’s top diplomat, Clinton went to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to testify before committees of both houses of Congress and answer questions about the Benghazi attacks, which killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans and exposed lapses in judgment and security at the State Department.

After testifying for about 2 1/2 hours before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the morning, Clinton appeared in the afternoon before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Rep. Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.), chairman of the House panel, noted that questions have arisen about funding for State Department security — appropriations that must be approved by Congress. In an opening statement, he asked whether more money would have made a difference in Libya, given what he said were “systemic failures” by the State Department. Story Continued:

· Joe Biden ‘intoxicated’ by 2016 run

Joe Biden summoned more than 200 Democratic insiders to the vice presidential residence Sunday night to chat about the 2012 triumph — but many walked away convinced his rising 2016 ambitions were the real intent of the long, intimate night.

“I took a look at who was there,” said longtime New Hampshire State Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, “and said to myself, ‘There’s no question he’s thinking about the future.’ ”

He’s right. Biden, according to a number of advisers and Democrats who have spoken to him in recent months, wants to run, or at least be well positioned to run, if and when he decides to pull the trigger. Biden has expressed a clear sense of urgency, convinced the Democratic field will be defined quickly — and that it might very well come down to a private chat with Hillary Clinton about who should finish what Barack Obama started.

“He’s intoxicated by the idea, and it’s impossible not to be intoxicated by the idea,” said a Democrat close to the White House. And the intoxication is hardly new. Officials working on the Obama-Biden campaign last year were struck by how the vice president always seemed to have one eye on a run, including aggressively courting the president’s donors. Obama aides at times had to actively steer Biden to places where he was needed — like Pennsylvania — because he kept asking to be deployed to Iowa, New Hampshire and other early states.

“He wasn’t just doing fundraising the campaign assigned to him,” said a campaign adviser. “He was inviting people to the mansion to hang out and have dinner.” Biden was way more into the donors than Obama was. “He embraced it with a tirelessness and a gusto that even the president didn’t,” another campaign official said.

There are a number of reasons Biden might take a pass. To be blunt, he’s old. Biden is 70 now and would be 74 if he ran and won. He’s also old news in politics. The guy has been in Washington for almost two generations and hardly signals freshness or political vitality. He’s also run for president twice before and didn’t miss by inches either time; he bombed.

(More importantly, Joe Biden is not Hillary. She is a rock star with higher favorable ratings and the capacity to clear the field if she goes all-in. She is also a she — and Democrats are eager to elect the first women after electing the first African-American. Story Continued:

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· Obama’s Fourth Year in Office Ties as Most Polarized Ever

· Seventy-six-point gap in party ratings of Obama ties Bush in 2004-2005

PRINCETON, NJ — During his fourth year in office, an average of 86% of Democrats and 10% of Republicans approved of the job Barack Obama did as president. That 76-percentage-point gap ties George W. Bush’s fourth year as the most polarized years in Gallup records.

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The list of most polarized years makes it clear that Obama’s highly polarized ratings may be as much a reflection of the era in which he is governing as on Obama himself. The last nine presidential years — the final five for Bush and Obama’s first four — all rank in the top 10. Thus, it appears that highly polarized ratings are becoming the norm, as Americans aligned with both parties are apparently not looking much beyond the president’s party affiliation to evaluate the job he is doing.

Obama’s record polarization last year also is owing to the electoral cycle. For most elected presidents, their fourth year in office — the year all sought re-election — was the most polarized year of their presidency. The election year likely causes Americans to view the president in more partisan terms, given his involvement in campaigning that year as well as the presence of an active opponent from the other party who is trying to defeat him. The lone exception to the pattern is Dwight Eisenhower, whose sixth year in office was his most polarized.

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Obama on Pace to Be Most Polarizing President Yet

The average party gap in ratings of President Obama during the four years of his presidency is 70 percentage points. If that average holds, it would surpass Bush’s record 61-point average polarization during his eight-year presidency by a considerable margin. Bush also finished his presidency with a significantly larger party gap in job approval ratings than the previous leader, Bill Clinton (55 points).

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The trend toward increasingly partisan evaluations of presidents over time is also evident in the fact that no president before Ronald Reagan had more than a 41-point party gap in approval ratings, but four of the last five presidents (the exception is George H.W. Bush) have had better-than 50-point divisions in approval ratings by party.

Implications

Both Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush, have made overtures toward bringing Americans together. The reality is that under both of their presidencies, Americans have been more politically divided than ever before. It is not clear how much of that is due to their governing styles and how much is just a reflection on how Americans approach politics and the presidency these days.

Regardless of the causes, the more polarized political environment certainly creates challenges for governing, as the president’s ability to use the bully pulpit may be limited if a substantial minority of the population will ostensibly not support him almost regardless of what he proposes.

Given divided control of government, it may be especially important for the president and other government leaders to inspire Americans to pressure their representatives in Congress to act. And to move forward with legislation to address the nation’s biggest issues, Americans and their elected representatives must be willing to both listen to the proposals of those in the other party and to accept compromise. Story Continued:

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What’s Up: January 23, 2012?

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· ‘Strongest evidence yet to there being life on Mars’

· Martian rocks from a crater hit by a meteorite may contain the strongest evidence yet that there is life on Mars.

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Prof John Parnell, 55, has co-written a theory with Dr Joseph Michalski, a planetary geologist at the Natural History Museum that suggests they have discovered the best signs of life in the huge McLaughlin Crater on the surface of Mars.

The document, published today in Nature Geoscience journal, describes how they assessed the crater, created by a meteorite which smashed into the surface of Mars, flinging up rocks from miles below.

The rocks appear to be made up of clays and minerals which have been altered by water – the essential element to support life.

Speaking from his laboratory at the University of Aberdeen, geochemist Prof Parnell said: “We could be so close to discovering if there is, or was, life on Mars.

“We know from studies that a substantial proportion of all life on Earth is also in the subsurface and by studying the McLaughlin Crater we can see similar conditions beneath the surface of Mars thanks to observations on the rocks brought up by the meteorite strike.

“There can be no life on the surface of Mars because it is bathed in radiation and it’s completely frozen. However, life in the sub surface would be protected from that.

“And there is no reason why there isn’t bacteria or other microbes that were or still are living in the small cracks well below the surface of Mars.

“One of the other things we have discussed in our paper is that this bacteria could be living off hydrogen, which is exactly the same as what microbes beneath the surface of the Earth are doing too.

“Unfortunately, we won’t find any evidence of animals as the most complex life you might get in the sub surface would be fungi.

“But fungi aren’t even that far removed from plants and animals, so I think you could say that life on Mars could be complex, but small.”

Prof Parnell reckons that although the next mission to Mars will have a drill to examine possibilities of life beneath the surface of Mars, he says his new study suggests looking around the edges of craters would be easier and more beneficial.

He said: “What we’re really doing is emphasizing that if we are going to explore for life on Mars, we need to go beneath the surface. So we need to find an approach beneath the surface.

“One approach to do that might be to drill and indeed the next European mission to Mars will have a drill on it, but that will only go down about two meters.

“And although drilling two meters on Earth would be a fantastic technological achievement, it’s only really scratching the surface.

“So the alternative is to use what nature has done for us and that’s why we are particularly interested in the McLaughlin Crater that we have investigated in our paper.

“Because when a meteor lands, it excavates a big hole in the ground and throws rocks from the bottom of the hole outside the crater to where we could conceivably go and sample them.”

And while the craters on Mars may uncover secrets about the planet’s possibility of supporting life, Prof Parnell also revealed the results could show us how life on Earth began.

He said: “It’s very easy to draw parallels between what Mars looks like and what the early Earth might have looked like, because the rocks on Earth that we see now have been recycled a lot in ways that they have not been recycled on Mars.

“Mars has not had things like erosion and shifting of mountain ranges to destroy vital evidence from the past.

“So studying meteorite craters of Mars may well actually give us an indication to how life on Earth began.

“Although we all live on the surface of Earth, life did not originate here, but actually in the sub surface.

“It was only when life had taken hold below the surface that it gradually expanded and came up to the surface.

“In fact, there’s so much life below the surface of our planet that we are actually the unusual ones living above it.” Story Continued:

· McConnell vows to block gun control measures

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, bracing for a challenge in the 2014 elections, promised Saturday to try to block President Barack Obama’s gun-violence initiatives in a taped telephone recording sent across Kentucky.

“President Obama and his team are doing everything in their power to restrict your Constitutional right to keep and bear arms,” McConnell said in the recording. “Their efforts to restrict your rights, invading your personal privacy and overstepping their bounds with executive orders, is just plain wrong.”

Jesse Benton, McConnell’s campaign manager, said the call went out to “several hundred-thousand gun owners and hunters across the state.”

It came the same day that “Guns across America” rallies were held in state capitals across the country, including Frankfort, where participants cradling guns jeered Obama’s plans to clamp down on assault weapons and stiffen background checks.

Obama laid out his gun proposals Wednesday in response to the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six school employees dead.

The proposals came from a work group headed by Vice President Joe Biden and called for a variety of measures, including outlawing the sale of assault-style rifles, prohibiting gun magazines with more than 10 rounds and requiring that everyone who purchases a gun pass a background check.

Some of the measures would require congressional approval, while Obama signed 23 executive orders to put other provisions in place.

“Know that I will be doing everything in my power as Senate Republican leader, fighting tooth and nail, to protect your Second Amendment rights, so that law-abiding citizens such as yourself can properly and adequately protect yourself, your family, and your country,” McConnell, R-Ky., said in the phone call.

At the Commerce Lexington’s Public Policy Luncheon on Friday, McConnell avoided the issue of gun control, focusing instead on the national debt, his role in fiscal-cliff negotiations and his recent trip to Afghanistan, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported.

He didn’t take questions from reporters after the speech.

Republicans have largely opposed the measures, and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, also of Kentucky, said he would file legislation this week to seeking to nullify Obama’s executive orders because he said they stray into the area of “legislation.”

Paul also advocated for allowing school teachers and principals who have concealed-carry permits to take guns into the classroom to protect students.

Currently, McConnell has no re-election opposition, but some members of the tea party are searching for a quality opponent to challenge McConnell in the GOP primary, while Democrats are trying to recruit a candidate who can challenge Paul in the November 2014 election. Story Continued:

· West faces ‘decades’ of conflict in N Africa – David Cameron has raised the spectre of Britain being sucked into the fight against terrorists in north Africa for “decades” after the Algerian hostage crisis ended with more than 20 dead.

The UK prime minister said on Sunday that the growing threat of Islamist militants in the Sahel region of Africa required “a response that is about years, even decades, rather than months”.

He compared the situation with that in Afghanistan, saying: “What we face is an extremist, Islamist, violent al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group, just as we had to deal with in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

British officials said the government’s response to threats in countries such as Algeria and Mali, where the UK is supporting French efforts to expel Islamist rebels, would mainly focus on attempts to strengthen governments and promote dialogue. But they added that British troops could be forced to take direct action against the growing threat of Islamist militants.

Algerian officials warned that the initial casualty figure of 23 hostages and 32 militants was likely to rise while local newspapers quoting unnamed security forces said up to 30 bodies have been found at the sprawling gas complex which was being combed for explosives.

Ten Japanese and five Norwegians were among those unaccounted for at the plant, which is operated by the UK’s BP, Statoil of Norway and Algeria’s Sonatrach.

The first British fatality has been named by the Foreign Office as Paul Thomas Morgan, aged 46. It was unclear which company Mr Morgan had been working for.

Mr Cameron said the UK must “work with others to defeat the terrorists and to close down the ungoverned space where they thrive with all the means that we have”. He said the threat would “require a response that is about years, even decades, rather than months, and . . . that is patient, that is painstaking, that is tough but also intelligent”.

He said he would use Britain’s chairmanship of the G8 this year to ensure that the issue is “right at the top of the agenda”.

In line with other western leaders, Mr Cameron refrained from criticising the Algerian authorities who mounted a final military assault on the facility on Saturday two days after their helicopters shelled vehicles in which the attackers had loaded hostages, causing many deaths. He did not repeat the “disappointment” he expressed on Friday over the decision to launch an attack on the hostage takers without his prior knowledge.

Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister said: “It’s easy to say that this or that should have been done. The Algerian authorities took a decision and the toll is very high but I am a bit bothered . . . when the impression is given that the Algerians are open to question. They had to deal with terrorists.”

Algerian officials said the army decided to storm the gas facility only when it became clear the militants had killed the remaining seven hostages they held and were planning to blow up the site.

François Hollande, French president, said Algeria’s tactics were “the most adapted response to the crisis” and that there could be no negotiations with terrorists.

An escaped British worker, Alan Wright, told ITV News said he and his colleagues hid in an office when they heard sustained gunfire. They stuck pieces of paper to the windows of the room so the militants could not see inside and after about 24 hours, his Algerian colleagues decided to attempt an escape. Disguising him as a local worker, they cut a hole in the perimeter fence and ran into the desert where they came across members of the Algerian military.

The kidnappers calling themselves “Those Who Sign In Blood’’ – part of an al-Qaeda splinter group led by the veteran jihadist, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, initially claimed the attack was in retaliation for France’s military campaign in Mali.

They reiterated this claim on Sunday, according to the Mauritanian news website Sahara Media. It cited a video, showing Mr Belmokhtar saying: “We in al-Qaeda announce this blessed operation,” adding: “We are ready to negotiate with the west and the Algerian government provided they stop their bombing of Mali’s Muslims.”

Sahara Media did not display the video itself on its site and it was not immediately possible to verify the information. Story Continued:

· First Term: Americans Collecting Disability Increased 1,385,418—Now 1 for Each 13 Full-Time Workers

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During President Barack Obama’s first term, the number of Americans collecting federal disability insurance increased by 1,385,418 to a record 8,827,795.

As a result, there is now one person collecting disability in this county for every 13 people working full-time. Forty-two years ago, in December 1968, there were 51 people working full-time in this country for each person collecting disability.

In January 2009, the month Obama was inaugurated, there were 7,442,377 Americans collecting federal disability insurance, according to the Social Security Administration. By December 2012, the latest month reported, there were 8,827,795 collecting disability, an increase of 1,385,418. With 115,868,000 people working full-time in December, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there was 1 person collecting disability for every 13 people working full-time.

In the comparable period of George W. Bush’s first term—January 2001 through December 2004—the number of people taking disability went from 5,052,895 to 6,197,664, an increase: 1,144,769.

In the comparable period of George W. Bush’s second term–January 2005 through December 2008–the number of people taking disability went from 6,219,666 to 7,427,203, an increase of 1,207,537.

Back in January 2001, there was one person collecting disability for every 23 full-time workers; by December 2004 there was one person collecting disability for every 19 full-time workers; and by December 2008, there was one person collecting disability for every 16 full-time workers.

Forty-two years ago, in December 1968, 1,295,428 Americans collected disability and 65,630,000 worked full-time. Thus, at that time, there were about 51 Americans working full-time for each person collecting disability. Story Continued:

· The Long Road Forward: Obama’s Second-Term Challenges

Just because you beat Mitt Romney — and John McCain before him — doesn’t mean you’re a great president or even a particularly good one.

President Barack Obama has proved to be brilliant at digital organizing and winning elections. But his presidency so far has been less than meets the eye.

He has yet to improve the lives and lot of average Americans; to erect the edifices of health care and banking reform; to enact immigration reform or implement strong new environmental rules; to set a consistent course for our role in the world; or to soothe the corrosive tone of public life in Washington.

Still, the public hasn’t abandoned him; he won a convincing victory last November, after all. A new Huffington Post/YouGov poll shows voters modestly hopeful about his chances of being more successful this time around; a combined 64 percent of those polled say they think he will accomplish as much or more in the second term than he did in the first term.

And, given the haplessness of his Republican foes, Obama is in an unusually strong position to deliver on the potential of his second term — but only if he has the will and wherewithal to turn ballot-box victory into real-life results.

That’s the bottom line of an in-depth survey by The Huffington Post of the problems and prospects facing the president as he prepares to place his hand on two Bibles next Monday: the one Abraham Lincoln used in 1861, and the “traveling” one Martin Luther King, Jr., kept at his side.

Today we launch a series of stories giving you results of that survey: 20 reported pieces during the next week, 14 from the U.S. and six from overseas; pairs of expert blog posts published with each domestic story; HuffPost Live video interviews with reporters; and poll data from HuffPost/YouGov.

Drudges on the right see the president as a malignant and unstoppable force out to utterly transform America. But our reporters found something less apocalyptic. Obama actually has been less daring than he could have been, less systematic than he should have been, and more focused on short-term politics than his lofty, man-of-big-ideas image would suggest.

We start with the middle class, in whose name the president has, fitfully, dedicated his presidency. There is no question that the president helped save the global system of trade and credit from collapse — a collapse that would have ruined us all, middle class included. Also, as his aides regularly point out, the promise of more widely available health care, subsidized by taxpayers, can make up for some of the downdraft in job and wages.

But reporters Dave Jamieson and Arthur Delaney found that the American middle class — the cultural and economic mainstay of the country — is under more pressure than ever, and in some ways farther behind than it was when Obama took office in 2009. Our reporters look at the administration’s claims of progress, and its modest targeted plans for a second term, and ask whether he is eager or able to do more.

It’s a central question — if not the central question — of the Obama presidency.

In the days ahead, we will look at other urgent topics: poverty, education reform, foreign affairs, military tactics, bank regulation, the environment, immigration, the black community, drug policy, health care, Obama’s partisan political legacy, his willingness (or lack thereof) to change the tone in Washington and the prospects (or lack thereof) for a grand budget bargain.

We find that Obama has miles to travel on most of these issues. His electoral victories (winning two terms by more than 50 percent of the popular vote each time) place him in the company of presidents like Andrew Jackson, Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. Obama is in the winner’s circle, but not yet the “transformational figure” circle.

For most reelected presidents, power fades quickly. That may not be true in Obama’s case. Laws he passed in his first term can be implemented without going back to a nettlesome Congress. The world economy could be poised for a new round of growth. His Republican foes are in retreat and disarray. He can back them into a corner or woo them one-by one, as he did recently on the “fiscal cliff.” He was a novice at Washington and at the give-and-take of politics four years ago. Now he has a feel for the game.

The deeper question is whether he will be shrewd, persistent and tough enough to turn great promise into true greatness. His critics are of course skeptical. The American people are skeptical, too. A HuffPost/YouGov poll shows that only 37 percent of the American people predict that Obama will be a “great or above average” president. Other polls show that voters still think by a wide margin that the country is on the “wrong track.”

But Obama has defied expectations before. And if he can meet the challenges we explore starting today, he will do so again — and honor the memory of Lincoln and King in a fashion far more profound than a hand on a Bible. Story Continued:

· Obama gut-busting lunch menu tops 3,000 calories

The ceremonial lunch President Obama and his former congressional colleagues are eating Monday tops out at 3,000 calories, according to a website that has tallied up the luxurious menu of lobster, bison and apple pie.

HealthyFoodRecipe.net posted the full menu, complete with its calorie count, and said it was “unsatisfactory” to see such an unhealthy spread, given first lady Michelle Obama’s push for healthier eating.

She has come under fire for the high-calorie counts of some of the state dinners she’s hosted at the White House, but other nutritionists have given her a pass, saying indulging on special occasions is perfectly fine. Inaugurations, which come every four years, are about as special as occasions get.

The first course is lobster tails in a New England clam chowder sauce. The second course is bison with a red potato horseradish cake. The dessert is apple pie with sour cream ice cream.

The chef preparing all of this is Shannon Shaffer, who also prepared the 2009 luncheon.

The menu was determined by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugurals Ceremonies, which is chaired by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. Mr. Schumer’s home town of New York already requires all fast-food chains to post calorie counts.

And soon the rest of the country will have to follow suit. Mr. Obama’s health law includes that same requirement.

Some of those restaurants have objected. Pizza chains said they’ll have to post extensive signs with thousands of combinations of ingredients to meet the requirements. Story Continued:

· Panetta: US has to ‘fight back’ against al Qaeda after three Americans killed

The terrorist attack in Algeria that left three Americans and 34 other hostages dead shows that al Qaeda is “committed to creating terror” no matter where its members are located and that America has “got to fight back,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Monday.

“I’m glad we were able to get some rescued, but we did lose three Americans,” Panetta told a small group of reporters Monday as he left the inaugural lunch at the Capitol. “That just tells us al Qaeda is committed to creating terror wherever they are, and we’ve got to fight back.”

He said the militant groups have shown a capacity to rebound even after being pushed out of safe havens.

Panetta’s comments reflected a speech he gave in November in which he said the end is not near in the U.S. fight against al Qaeda.

He noted that U.S. forces had made key gains against the terror group in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere, but said it was now seeking new footholds in places like Mali, where the United States has aided a French campaign against Islamist militants.

Panetta described al Qaeda like an adapting cancer.

“We have slowed the primary cancer, but we know that the cancer has also metastasized to other parts of the global body,” he said.

The hostage crisis began Wednesday when an offshoot of al Qaeda’s North African affiliate, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, stormed a remote natural-gas facility near the Libyan border. The three American hostages killed when Algerian forces intervened were identified Monday by the State Department as Victor Lynn Lovelady, Gordon Lee Rowan and Frederick Buttaccio.

“We extend our deepest condolences to their families and friends,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement. “Out of respect for the families’ privacy, we have no further comment. We are also aware of seven U.S. citizens who survived the attack. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further information to provide.

“As the president said, the blame for this tragedy rests with the terrorists who carried it out, and the United States condemns their actions in the strongest possible terms. We will continue to work closely with the government of Algeria to gain a fuller understanding of the terrorist attack of last week and how we can work together moving forward to combat such threats in the future.”

Some foreign governments, including Japan and Great Britain, have complained of being kept out of the loop as Algerian forces prepared to raid the compound. The White House so far has refrained from criticizing Algeria, a key counterterrorism ally.

“The blame for this tragedy rests with the terrorists who carried it out, and the United States condemns their actions in the strongest possible terms,” Obama said in a statement Saturday. “We have been in constant contact with Algerian officials and stand ready to provide whatever assistance they need in the aftermath of this attack.” Story Continued:

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Filed under Biking, Left - Off Base, Politics from Just Right of Center - I want Balance!, Right - too Religous for me

What’s Up: January 21, 2012?

 

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· Cheesecake Factory pasta on list of caloric “food porn”

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A Cheesecake Factory pasta dish with more than 3,000 calories – or more than a day and a half of the recommended caloric intake for an average adult – is among the headliners on this year’s Xtreme Eating list of the most unhealthy dishes at U.S. chain restaurants.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer-focused nonprofit group that promotes healthier eating, compiles an annual list of “food porn” to alert consumers to menu items with eye-popping levels of calories, saturated fat, sugar and/or sodium.

“You’d think that the size of their profits depended on their increasing the size of your pants,” CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson said of the industry’s Xtreme Eating winners. The list was released on Wednesday.

CSPI for years has used the “awards” to raise awareness and drum up support for calorie disclosure on restaurant menus – something that larger chains soon will be required to do under the U.S. health reform law.

The Cheesecake Factory’s Bistro Shrimp Pasta, made with a butter and cream sauce and topped with battered, fried shrimp, has 3,120 calories and 89 grams of saturated fat and 1,090 milligrams of sodium, said CSPI, which said it confirmed nutritional data with companies on the list.

Cheesecake Factory said that dish has 3,020 calories, 79 grams of saturated fat and 1,076 milligrams of sodium.

Typical adults are advised to consume no more than 20 grams of saturated fat and 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day.

“It’s like eating three orders of Olive Garden’s Lasagna Classico plus an order of tiramisu for dinner,” CSPI said. Some in the food and beverage industries have dubbed the Washington-based group the “food police.”

More than one-third of Americans are obese, and about 10 percent of the nation’s healthcare bill is tied to obesity-related diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and hypertension, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The nation’s food and beverage industries are under increasing pressure from consumer, health and parents’ groups to offer more healthy alternatives.

Restaurant companies say it is their job to give consumers choices. Many, including Cheesecake Factory, have lower-calorie sections on their menus alongside the indulgent offerings.

Cheesecake Factory is known for its ample portions and wide array of cheesecakes – many of which weigh in at around 1,000 calories per slice.

It makes regular showings on the Xtreme Eating list, but since August 2011 has promoted its “SkinnyLicious” menu of entrees with 590 or fewer calories, including salmon rolls and a pear and endive salad.

Jayne Hurley, CSPI’s senior nutritionist and an author of this year’s Xtreme Eating report, said such lower-calorie items should be re-categorized as “normal” rather than “diet.”

“It’s the steady stream of high-calorie foods that sabotage your diet not just for the day, but for the entire week,” Hurley said.

“The Cheesecake Factory has always been about choices. Many of our guests come in and want to celebrate and not be concerned with calories,” Donald Evans, the company’s chief marketing officer, said in a statement.

Evans also said Cheesecake Factory diners often share their dishes or take home leftovers.

Other Xtreme Eating winners for 2013 include:

– Johnny Rockets’ Bacon Cheddar Double Hamburger with 1,770 calories, 50 grams of saturated fat and 2,380 milligrams of sodium. For comparison, three Quarter Pounders with Cheese from McDonald’s have 1,570 calories.

– Cheesecake Factory’s Crispy Chicken Costoletta with 2,610 calories, 89 grams of saturated fat and 2,720 milligrams of sodium. CSPI said an entire 12-piece bucket of KFC Original Recipe fried chicken has about the same number of calories but less than half the saturated fat. Cheesecake Factory told Reuters that dish has 2,560 calories, 86 grams of saturated fat and 2,767 milligrams of sodium.

– Smoothie King’s Peanut Power Plus Grape Smoothie, which includes peanut butter, banana, sugar and grape juice. A 40-ounce, large size of that drink has 1,460 calories and 22 teaspoons of added sugar plus 29 teaspoons of naturally occurring sugar.

The U.S. government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that women consume no more than six teaspoons of added sugars per day and that men consume no more than nine.

– Chocolate Zuccotto Cake from Maggiano’s Little Italy. One slice weighs nearly one pound and has 1,820 calories, 62 grams of saturated fat and 26 teaspoons of added sugar – or 15 Hostess Ho Hos, CSPI said. Story Continued:

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· ALGERIA: 32 MILITANTS KILLED, WITH 23 HOSTAGES

In a bloody finale, Algerian special forces stormed a natural gas complex in the Sahara desert on Saturday to end a standoff with Islamist extremists that left at least 23 hostages dead and killed all 32 militants involved, the Algerian government said.

With few details emerging from the remote site in eastern Algeria, it was unclear whether anyone was rescued in the final operation, but the number of hostages killed on Saturday – seven – was how many the militants had said that morning they still had. The government described the toll as provisional and some foreigners remained unaccounted for.

The siege at Ain Amenas transfixed the world after radical Islamists linked to al-Qaida stormed the complex, which contained hundreds of plant workers from all over the world, then held them hostage surrounded by the Algerian military and its attack helicopters for four tense days that were punctuated with gun battles and dramatic tales of escape.

Algeria’s response to the crisis was typical of its history in confronting terrorists, favoring military action over negotiation, which caused an international outcry from countries worried about their citizens. Algerian military forces twice assaulted the two areas where the hostages were being held with minimal apparent mediation – first on Thursday, then on Saturday.

“To avoid a bloody turn of events in response to the extreme danger of the situation, the army’s special forces launched an intervention with efficiency and professionalism to neutralize the terrorist groups that were first trying to flee with the hostages and then blow up the gas facilities,” Algeria’s Interior Ministry said in a statement about the standoff.

Immediately after the assault, French President Francois Hollande gave his backing to Algeria’s tough tactics, saying they were “the most adapted response to the crisis.”

“There could be no negotiations” with terrorists, the French media quoted him as saying in the central French city of Tulle.

Hollande said the hostages were “shamefully murdered” by their captors, and he linked the event to France’s military operation against al-Qaida-backed rebels in neighboring Mali. “If there was any need to justify our action against terrorism, we would have here, again, an additional argument,” he said.

President Barack Obama said in a statement Saturday that the U.S. stood ready to provide whatever assistance was needed in the wake of the attack.

“This attack is another reminder of the threat posed by al-Qaida and other violent extremist groups in North Africa. In the coming days, we will remain in close touch with the Government of Algeria to gain a fuller understanding of what took place so that we can work together to prevent tragedies like this in the future,” the statement said.

In New York, the U.N. Security Council issued a statement condemning the militants’ terrorist attack and said all perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of such “reprehensible acts” must be brought to justice.

In the final assault, the remaining band of militants killed the hostages before 11 of them were in turn cut down by the Special Forces, Algeria’s state news agency said. The military launched its Saturday assault to prevent a fire started by the extremists from engulfing the complex and blowing it up, the report added.

A total of 685 Algerian and 107 foreigner workers were freed over the course of the four-day standoff, the ministry statement said, adding that the group of militants that attacked the remote Saharan natural gas complex consisted of 32 men of various nationalities, including three Algerians and explosives experts.

The military also said it confiscated heavy machine guns, rocket launchers, missiles and grenades attached to suicide belts.

Sonatrach, the Algerian state oil company running the Ain Amenas site along with BP and Norway’s Statoil, said the entire refinery had been mined with explosives, and that the process of clearing it out is now under way.

Algeria has fought its own Islamist rebellion since the 1990s, elements of which later declared allegiance to al-Qaida and then set up new groups in the poorly patrolled wastes of the Sahara along the borders of Niger, Mali, Algeria and Libya, where they flourished.

The standoff has put the spotlight on these al-Qaida-linked groups that roam these remote areas, threatening vital infrastructure and energy interests. The militants initially said their operation was intended to stop a French attack on Islamist militants in neighboring Mali – though they later said it was two months in the planning, long before the French intervention.

The militants, who came from a Mali-based al-Qaida splinter group run by an Algerian, attacked the plant Wednesday morning. Armed with heavy machine guns and rocket launchers in four-wheel drive vehicles, they fell on a pair of buses taking foreign workers to the airport. The buses’ military escort drove off the attackers in a blaze of gunfire that sent bullets zinging over the heads of crouching workers. A Briton and an Algerian – probably a security guard – were killed.

The militants then turned to the vast gas complex, divided between the workers’ living quarters and the refinery itself, and seized hostages, the Algerian government said. The gas flowing to the site was cut off.

Saturday’s government statement said the militants came across the border from “neighboring countries,” while the militants said they came from Niger, hundreds of miles (kilometers) to the south.

On Thursday, Algerian helicopters kicked off the military’s first assault on the complex by opening fire on a convoy carrying both kidnappers and their hostages to stop them from escaping, resulting in many deaths, according to witnesses.

The accounts of hostages who escaped the standoff showed they faced dangers from both the kidnappers and the military.

Ruben Andrada, 49, a Filipino civil engineer who works as one of the project management staff for the Japanese company JGC Corp., described how he and his colleagues were used as human shields by the kidnappers, which did little to deter the Algerian military.

On Thursday, about 35 hostages guarded by 15 militants were loaded into seven SUVs in a convoy to move them from the housing complex to the refinery, Andrada said. The militants placed “an explosive cord” around their necks and were told it would detonate if they tried to run away, he said.

“When we left the compound, there was shooting all around,” Andrada said, as Algerian helicopters attacked with guns and missiles. “I closed my eyes. We were going around in the desert. To me, I left it all to fate.”

Andrada’s vehicle overturned allowing him and a few others to escape. He sustained cuts and bruises and was grazed by a bullet on his right elbow. He later saw the blasted remains of other vehicles, and the severed leg of one of the gunmen.

The site of the gas plant spreads out over several hectares (acres) and includes a housing complex and the processing site, about a mile (1.6 kilometers) apart, making it especially complicated for the Algerians to secure the site and likely contributed to the lengthy standoff.

“It’s a big and complex site. It’s a huge place with a lot of people there and a lot of hiding places for hostages and terrorists,” said Col. Richard Kemp, a retired commander of British forces who had dealt with hostage rescues in Iraq and Afghanistan. “These are experienced terrorists holding the hostages.”

While the Algerian government has only admitted to 23 hostages dead so far, the militants claimed through the Mauritanian news website ANI that the helicopter attack alone killed 35 hostages.

One American, a Texan – Frederick Buttaccio from the Houston suburb of Katy – is among the dead.

President Barack Obama said in a statement Saturday that the U.S. stood ready to provide whatever assistance was needed in the wake of the attack.

“This attack is another reminder of the threat posed by al-Qaida and other violent extremist groups in North Africa. In the coming days, we will remain in close touch with the Government of Algeria to gain a fuller understanding of what took place so that we can work together to prevent tragedies like this in the future,” the statement said.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Saturday that a Frenchman killed, Yann Desjeux, was a former member of the French Special Forces and part of the security team. The remaining three French nationals who were at the plant are now free, the Foreign Ministry said.

The British government said Saturday it is trying to determine the fate of six people from Britain who are either dead or unaccounted for.

Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain said, “There is no justification for taking innocent life in this way. Our determination is stronger than ever to work with allies right around the world to root out and defeat this terrorist scourge and those who encourage it.”

The Norwegian government said there were five Norwegians unaccounted for.

Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta said Saturday one Romanian hostage was killed in the course of the siege, while the Malaysian government said two of its citizens were still missing.

The attack by the Masked Brigade, founded by Algerian militant Moktar Belmoktar, had been in the works for two months, a member of the brigade told the ANI news outlet. He said militants targeted Algeria because they expected the country to support the international effort to root out extremists in neighboring Mali and it was carried out by a special commando unit, “Those Who Signed in Blood,” tasked with attacking nations supporting intervention in Mali.

The kidnappers focused on the foreign workers, largely leaving alone the hundreds of Algerian workers who were briefly held hostage before being released or escaping.

Several of them arrived haggard-looking on a late-night flight into Algiers on Friday and described how the militants stormed the living quarters and immediately separated out the foreigners.

Mohamed, a 37-year-old nurse who like the others wouldn’t allow his last name to be used for fear of trouble for himself or his family, said at least five people were shot to death, their bodies still in front of the infirmary when he left Thursday night.

Chabane, an Algerian who worked in food services, said he bolted out the window and was hiding when he heard the militants speaking among themselves with Libyan, Egyptian and Tunisian accents. At one point, he said, they caught a Briton.

“They threatened him until he called out in English to his friends, telling them, `Come out, come out. They’re not going to kill you. They’re looking for the Americans,'” Chabane said.

“A few minutes later, they blew him away.” Story Continued:

· LAPD conduct investigation after cop gives cyclist ticket ‘for arguing with me’

An LAPD officer’s conduct is being investigated after a YouTube video of him ticketing a bicyclist who told him he was blocking the bike path went viral. The cyclist’s ticket has since been canceled.

In the 10-minute clip, a cyclist turns on his helmet camera and records the interaction on the Venice Beach bike path, which drew a handful of onlookers who protested that the cyclist had done nothing wrong and that the officer needed to address serious crime in Venice.

The bicyclist, who identifies himself at 34-year-old Chris Jackson of Venice, posted the video after Thanksgiving weekend, when he was ticketed for speeding after telling a motorcycle officer he was blocking the popular bike-only path.

On Friday, Detective Gus Villanueva of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Media Relations Section said that the “ticket had been canceled in the interest of justice.” The department is conducing a personnel investigation into the conduct of the officer involved and would not comment further, Villanueva said.

In the video, Jackson states that he had passed the officer’s motorcycle and complained that the vehicle was blocking traffic. The officer, identified only by his surname, Gracey, pulled him over shortly after, according to the description of the video, which was posted by user AnarchisticGringo.

Several minutes of back-and-forth with Gracey follow, during which Jackson argues with the officer that he hasn’t broken a law by crossing the path’s dotted yellow line, and points out other cyclists riding on the wrong side, and pedestrians illegally walking on the bike path.

He tilts his camera down to show the red-and-white beach cruiser he is riding — a bicycle designed for stability and a slow, easy ride.

The officer finally settles on giving Jackson a ticket under California Vehicle Code 22350, the Basic Speed Law.

“Listen to me, sir. The reason why I’m going to write you for unsafe speed is because you are arguing with me,” Gracey says. “This is a catch-all, 22350. Because you’re riding on the wrong side of the back path, you’re looking at me, and you’re complaining because my emergency vehicle is on the bike path. And that’s unsafe speed. Looking in the wrong direction, traveling in the wrong way, that’s unsafe.”

During the interaction, a small group of onlookers gathers around Gracey and Jackson.

Read more stories on NBCLosAngeles.com

“This isn’t the kind of police work that we need help with here,” states another cyclist who stops to opine. “People are getting robbed. I got robbed about a month ago … We’d love to have you out here protecting us, not harassing us.”

Jackson states that he will contest the ticket.

The code under which it was issued appears to apply vehicles traveling on a highway, so it’s not clear if it applies to bicycles on a Class I bike path such as the beachside one in Venice.

The video was highlighted by the community blog Yo! Venice! on Thursday and reposted and analyzed by the popular bike blog Biking in LA on Friday.

Jackson was due in court Friday, according to the video.

The LAPD’s Villanueva said earlier Friday that he was not yet familiar with the video and had no comment at that time. A phone message left for the LAPD West Traffic Division’s bicycle liaison sergeant was not returned.  Story Continued and to watch the video:

· Change Comes: After 4 Years, Friends See Shifts in the Obamas

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Barack and Michelle Obama have spent more than a thousand days on display before the nation’s eyes, but the personal changes they have undergone can be hard to detect.

The first lady, Michelle Obama, greeted her husband after introducing him at a campaign event in Iowa last year. Those who know the Obamas say they can see a number of small shifts in the president and the first lady since they walked the inaugural parade route four years ago.

Up close, though, those who know the Obamas say they can see an accumulation of small shifts in the president and the first lady since they walked the inaugural parade route four years ago. The man who wanted to change the nature of Washington now warns job candidates that it is hard to get anything done there. Not so long ago, he told others that he did not need a presidential library, a tribute to himself costing hundreds of millions of dollars. Now a former aide, Susan Sher, is quietly eyeing possibilities for him in Chicago.

The first lady who wanted to forge connections with her new city found that even viewing the cherry blossoms required a hat, sunglasses and wheedling the Secret Service. In a demonstration of how difficult it can be for any president or first lady to sustain relationships, Mrs. Obama stopped taking on girls in a mentorship program she founded because of concerns that other teenagers would envy the lucky advisees, according to an aide.

When the president returned from consoling families of teachers and children killed in the Newtown, Conn., massacre — he wept as they handed him photos and told him stories of victim after victim — aides could see in his face the toll of absorbing the nation’s traumas. “This is what I do,” Mr. Obama told them.

“This position has perhaps cost him more on a personal, and even energic, level than most of his predecessors, because he was most entirely an outsider,” observed the playwright Tony Kushner, a supporter who recently dined with Mr. Obama to discuss the film “Lincoln,” for which Mr. Kushner wrote the screenplay.

The Obamas have gained and lost in their four years in the White House, becoming seasoned professionals instead of newcomers, more conventional, with a contracted sense of possibility. They are steady characters, not given to serial self-reinvention. Yet in interviews, current and former White House and campaign aides, donors and friends from Chicago said they could see how the president and the first lady had been affected by their roles.

Describing them, they used phrases like: more confident but more scarred. More isolated. Less hesitant about directing staff members, whether butlers or highest-level advisers. Gratified by re-election, which the Obamas view as sweet vindication, and bloodier-minded when it comes to beating Republicans. And Mr. Obama has learned that his presidency will be shaped by unanticipated events — “locusts,” one former aide called them, for the way they swarm without warning.

Mr. Obama never wanted to be an ordinary politician — there was a time when Mrs. Obama could barely use that noun to describe her husband — and his advisers resist the idea that he has succumbed to standard Washington practice. Some donors and aides give an “if only” laugh at the idea that the couple now follows political ritual more closely: this is a president who still has not had Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton to dinner but holds lunches to discuss moral philosophy with the fellow Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel.

“He thinks about destiny in human terms,” Mr. Wiesel said in an interview.

Still, others say the Obamas have become more relaxed schmoozers, more at ease with the porous line between the political and social, more willing to reveal themselves. They have recently begun inviting more outsiders into their private living quarters, including Mr. Kushner, Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis at the “Lincoln” dinner. At a dinner in late November to thank top campaign fund-raisers, the first couple was like a bride and groom, bantering and traveling from table to table to accept congratulations and good wishes for the years ahead, making sly jokes that guests would not repeat for publication.

Even Mr. Obama’s speech has changed a bit, close observers say. Though he still disdains Washington, he often sounds less like a disapproving outsider and more like a participant. One former aide was startled to hear Mr. Obama use “impact” as a verb, a particular tendency in the capital. Another longtime adviser said he was struck during the 2011 debt ceiling negotiations when Mr. Obama grew offended that House Speaker John A. Boehner did not return his multiple phone calls. The old Barack Obama would have thought the who-calls-whom protocol was stupid, the adviser said, but “the world that he inhabits now is the world of inside-the-Beltway maneuvering.”  Story Continued:

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What’s Up: January 18, 2012?

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· Cruz: Obama ‘High on His Own Power’

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Republican senator Ted Cruz of Texas said Thursday that Barack Obama is “high on his own power” with regard to the president’s announced efforts on gun control. Speaking on Laura Ingraham’s radio talk show, Cruz, who was just elected to the Senate last November, said “this is a president who has drunk the Kool-Aid.”

“He is feeling right now high on his own power, and he is pushing on every front, on guns,” Cruz said. “And I think it’s really sad to see the president of the United States exploiting the murder of children and using it to push his own extreme, anti-gun agenda. I think what the president is proposing and the gun control proposals that are coming from Democrats in the Senate are, number one, unconstitutional, and number two, they don’t work. They’re bad policy.”

Cruz told Ingraham that he does not believe Obama will be successful in passing gun control legislation and that the political ramifications of pursuing such laws could be bad for Democrats.

“I think he’s going to pay a serious political price, and I think the price that’s going to be paid on this is going to manifest in Senate races in 2014, in some red states,” Cruz said. “And there have got to be some Democrats who are up for reelection in 2014 who are very, very nervous right now that President Obama is picking this fight.” Story Continued:

· Additions to be made to gun laws for law enforcement

NEW YORK (WABC) — It appears someone forgot to exempt police officers from the ban of ammunition clips with more than 7 bullets in New York State’s new gun control law.

It’s a big oversight that apparently happened in the haste by the Cuomo Administration to get a tough package of gun-control measures signed into law.

On Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the sweeping gun measure, the nation’s toughest. It includes a ban on the possession of high-capacity magazines.

Specifically, magazines with more than 7 rounds will be illegal under the new law.

The problem as the statute is currently written does NOT exempt law enforcement officers.

The NYPD, the State Police and virtually every law enforcement agency in the state carry 9-milli-meter guns, which have a 15-round capacity.

Unless an exemption is added by the time the law takes effect in March, police would technically be in violation of the new gun measure.

Within the last hour, the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association President released a statement saying, “The PBA is actively working to enact changes to this law that will provide the appropriate exemptions from the law for active and retired law enforcement officers.”

State Senator Eric Adams, a former NYPD Captain, told us he’s going to push for an amendment next week to exempt police officers from the high-capacity magazine ban. In his words, “You can’t give more ammo to the criminals”

A spokesman for the Governor’s office called us to say, “We are still working out some details of the law and the exemption will be included.” Story Continued:

· Vulnerable Senate Democrats balk at Obama’s gun control measures

Some vulnerable Senate Democrats are balking at President Obama’s new push on gun control, reflecting he tough position many will be in if Congress takes up major firearms legislation.

Shortly after Obama unveiled the details of his policy, a number of Democrats from conservative, heavily rural states who are up for reelection in 2014 indicated they’re likely to oppose the measures.

The responses indicate how tough it will be for any legislation to move through Congress — and how tricky an issue it is for some rural-state Democrats facing reelection.

Here’s a rundown of what some of those Democrats had to say about the proposals:

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that he’s not eager to pass new gun control legislation.

“I think they’ve got a long haul here … There are some of us who just fundamentally believe in a Second Amendment right,” he said. “To be frank, I feel like it’s going to be hard for any of these pieces of legislation to pass at this point.”

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) told a local television station that he opposed the proposals.

“While I appreciate the president’s efforts to keep Americans safe, I believe the place to start is to enforce the laws on the books. That being said, I will continue to look for areas of common ground, including funding for law enforcement in schools, implementing tracking systems for the mentally ill and criminals, and addressing violence in the media. Most importantly, I will be talking with my constituents in Arkansas as I vote on these issues in the future,” Pryor said.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) indicated he was hesitant about supporting new legislation.

“Enforcing the laws we already have on the books is good first step, and it’s clear more needs to be done to address access to mental health care,” he said in a Wednesday statement. “Before passing new laws, we need a thoughtful debate that respects responsible, law-abiding gun owners in Montana instead of a one-size-fits all directives from Washington.”

Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) said on Tuesday, before the proposals came out, that he didn’t want to see a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

“We in South Dakota have far fewer problems with guns than they do in New York or New Jersey, and it makes common sense to not have one size fits all,” he said in a Tuesday news conference in South Dakota. “I believe in the Second Amendment, and I’m a hunter myself, but I think something should be done — but what, I don’t know.”

Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) was cautious regarding whether or not she supported the proposals, though she said she would look at the proposals with “an open mind.”

“We need to ensure that there are laws in place to prevent a tragedy like Sandy Hook from ever happening again. First and foremost, that will require a serious commonsense debate in Congress that looks at access to guns, access to mental health care and violent video games,” she said in a statement to The Hill. “While respecting the rights of responsible gun owners, I am committed to working with my Republican and Democratic colleagues toward a comprehensive approach that ensures our communities are safe.

“As I have said, I will look at any proposal with an open mind, including the President’s proposals to make schools safer and grant law enforcement additional tools to prosecute gun crime,” she continued.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) similarly didn’t take a concrete stance on Obama’s proposals, though she sounded slightly more open to new legislation.

“My record of support for the Second Amendment is strong. In Louisiana and many places across the country, hunting, target shooting and gun collecting are time-honored sports and popular hobbies,” she said in a statement to reporters after Obama rolled out his proposals.

“That said, last month’s tragedy in Newtown, Conn., has become all too familiar. We must find a way to balance our Second Amendment rights with the challenges of mental illness, criminal behavior and the safety of our schools and communities. We must also enforce the rules already on the books. Even some of the most respected law enforcement leaders in our country are calling for commonsense reforms because of this terrible violence in our communities.”

“This isn’t a Republican or a Democratic issue,” she continued. “It’s an American issue. And the American people expect us to come together and act. The safety of our children, our communities and our nation depend on it. I look forward to reviewing the proposals put forth by the administration and will give them my serious consideration as they are brought for debate in the Senate.”

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who hails from a left-leaning but heavily rural state, said during a meeting in Minnesota that he supported some of the measures but didn’t immediately weigh in on Obama’s calls for an assault weapons ban. Franken staffers later pointed out that he’s long supported renewing the assault weapons ban.

“I think most people agree that you don’t need 30 rounds to bring down a deer,” Franken said about Obama’s proposal to limit the size of ammunition magazines. Story Continued:

· Bob Schieffer Likens Obama ‘Taking on the Gun Lobby’ to Hunt for Bin Laden, ‘Defeating the Nazis’

Bob Schieffer somehow topped Chris Matthews during CBS News’s special coverage of President Obama’s gun control press conference on Wednesday, as he became the worst caricature of a foaming-at-the-mouth cheerleader for the chief executive. Schieffer lauded “one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard him [Obama] deliver”, and compared Obama’s new gun control agenda to Lyndon Johnson’s push for civil rights legislation in the 1960s.

The CBS veteran even went so far to liken the President’s cause to the ten-year hunt for 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden and the difficult endeavor of winning World War II http://available%20here;%20video%20below%20the%20jump:

BOB SCHIEFFER: Let’s remember: there was considerable opposition when Lyndon Johnson went to the Congress and presented some of the most comprehensive civil rights legislation in the history of this country. Most people told him he couldn’t get it done, but he figured out a way to do it. And that’s what Barack Obama is going to have to do…what happened in Newtown was probably the worst day in this country’s history since 9/11. We found Osama bin Laden. We tracked him down. We changed the way that we dealt with that problem. Surely, finding Osama bin Laden; surely, passing civil rights legislation, as Lyndon Johnson was able to do; and before that, surely, defeating the Nazis, was a much more formidable task than taking on the gun lobby.

Schieffer then lobbied for the Democratic politician to do everything in his power to get stricter gun control passed, as bluntly outlined the apparent stakes for the country:

SCHIEFFER: This is a turning point in this country, and the President is going to have to do more than just make a speech about it. This is one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard him deliver, but it’s going to take more than that from the White House. He’s going to have to get his hands dirty. He’s going to have to get in there and – and work this problem until he gets it done. But unless we figure out a way to make sure that something like Newtown never happens again, we’re not the country that we once were. I think we still are. I think there’s hope. I think something’s going to happen here.

Exactly a month earlier, the Face the Nation host unleashed on the gun control issue during the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre. During a December 16, 2012 panel discussion, he claimed, “If [shooter Adam Lanza] had had an Arab name, people would be going nuts about what we ought to do right now.”

One wonders how Schieffer is going to top himself the next time he opens his mouth on gun control. Story Continued:

· Mumbai attack group aid man given 14 years in prison

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A Chicago businessman who aided an Islamic militant group blamed for the Mumbai attack in 2008 has been sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Tahawwur Rana was convicted in 2011 of providing material support for the Pakistani group, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

The 52-year-old was also charged with helping plan an aborted plot to behead staff at a Danish newspaper.

But he was cleared of a role in the Mumbai attack, when more than 160 people were killed by gunmen.

Rana’s lawyer, Patrick Blegen, argued for a more lenient sentence than the maximum of 30 years, saying the Pakistani-born Canadian did not present a future risk.

“Judge, he is a good man and he got sucked into something, but there’s no risk that he’s going to do it again, none,” Mr Blegen said.

Prosecutor Daniel Collins argued for a tough punishment to deter others.

“There’s not much worse than mass murder of this scale,” he said of the Danish newspaper plot.

Star witness

Correspondents say the trial gave a rare glimpse into the workings of LeT, which India blames for the Mumbai attacks.

At the centre of the trial was testimony by the government’s star witness, David Headley, once Rana’s close friend.

US-Pakistani Headley had previously pleaded guilty to laying the groundwork for the Mumbai attacks and helping plot the attack against the Danish paper.

During the trial, prosecutors argued that Rana had allowed Headley to open an office of his Chicago-based immigration services firm in Mumbai, which Headley then used as cover to scout sites for the attacks.

The prosecutors also said that Rana had allowed Headley to pose as a representative of his firm in order to gain access to newspaper offices by feigning interest in purchasing advertising space.

Rana’s defence team argued that he had been manipulated and misled by Headley, an old friend from their days in a Pakistani military school.

At the opening of the trial, Headley also testified that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency had provided military and moral support to LeT.

Pakistan has denied the allegations. Story Continued:

· First lady celebrates 49th birthday with dramatic new ‘do!

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For her 49th birthday on Thursday, First Lady Michelle Obama launched a new Twitter account and revealed a dramatic new hairstyle!

In the second tweet sent from her brand new @FLOTUS account (which stands for, naturally, First Lady of the United States), Mrs. Obama posted a photo with Inaugural citizen co-chair David Hall ahead of the MLK Day of Service Saturday — and unveiled a set of bangs.

The National Day of Service, Mrs. Obama shared in an email to TODAY.com, is her “favorite event of inauguration weekend,” when people from across the country volunteer in their communities in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Previously, her official Twitter handle was @michelleobama, which was run by an arm of the president’s re-election team. The @FLOTUS account is run by the first lady’s staff, but when she sends a tweet herself, she’ll sign it with her initials, -mo.

The first tweet sent by the account explained the strategy:

FLOTUS

@FLOTUS

The @FLOTUS Office is now on @twitter & will post updates & pics. When it’s her, she’ll sign -mo. PS: RT to wish Mrs. Obama a #HappyBirthday

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The President’s official Twitter account also joined in on Thursday to wish his wife a happy birthday, posting a montage of their adorable moments together.

He hasn’t yet weighed in on the bangs. Story Continued:

– I hate to spoil the woman’s fun with her new do. But who really cares? PdC

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What’s Up: January 16, 2012?

· The Hula Hoop Theory of History – by MORRIS BERMAN

Above all, no zeal. – Talleyrand

There is a curious rhythm to human affairs, or perhaps more specifically, to Western history. Some movement or idea comes along, and everyone gets swept up in its wake. This is it, then; this is the Answer we’ve been looking for. All of those previous answers were wrong; now, at long last, we’re on the right track. In the fullness of time, of course, this shiny new idea loses its luster, betrays us, or even results in the death of millions. So apparently, we were deceived. But wait: here’s the true new idea, the one we should have followed all along. This is the Answer we’ve been looking for. Etc..

The American writer, Eric Hoffer, described this syndrome roughly sixty years ago in a book that also generated a lot of zeal (for a short time, anyway), The True Believer. People convert quite easily, observed Hoffer; they switch from one ism to another, from Catholicism to Marxism to whatever is next on the horizon. The belief system runs its course, then another one takes its place. What is significant is the energy involved, not the particular target, which could be anything, really. For what drives this engine is the need for psychological reassurance, for Meaning with a capital M–a comprehensive system of belief that explains everything. There is a feeling, largely unacknowledged, that without this we are lost; that life would have no purpose, and history no meaning; that both (as Shakespeare put it) would amount to little more than a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

I call this the Hula Hoop Theory of History, but one could also label it the Pet Rock Theory, or any other craze that grabs our attention for a week or a century. It has a lot in common with the skeptical thinking of the sixteenth-century philosopher Montaigne, who had a great influence on Eric Hoffer, among others. In his Essays, Montaigne pointed out that the new sciences of Copernicus and Paracelsus claimed that the ancient sciences of Aristotle and Ptolemy were false. But how long, he argued, before some future scientist comes along, and says the same thing about Copernicus and Paracelsus? Do we ever really know the truth once and for all?

One might also call this the Drunken Sailor Theory of History, I suppose. Reflecting on the first flush of the French Revolution, William Wordsworth wrote: “Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive.” After Robespierre, the Terror, and the rivers of blood that flowed through the streets of Paris, however, a sober Talleyrand could only comment that what the human race needed, above anything else, was to stay clear of zeal. The path from bliss to barbarism may not be linear, but it does seem to be fairly common, historically speaking.

The latest treatise in the Montaigne-Hoffer school of history is that of the British scholar John Gray, Black Mass. Gray draws liberally on the work of the American historian Carl Becker, whose Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers (1932) has never been surpassed as an analysis of modernity. Becker claimed that the notion of redemption that lay at the heart of Christianity was recast by the philosophers of the French Enlightenment in terms of progress, or secular salvation. Enlightenment utopianism, in a word, was the transformation of Christian eschatology into the belief in the perfectibility of man–heaven on earth, as it were. This would be the Second Coming, the defeat of ignorance and evil (= sin) by means of reliable knowledge, science and technology in particular.

In Gray’s view, the modern “secular fundamentalisms”–Jacobinism, Bolshevism, Fascism, and most recently, globalization–followed directly from this transformation. The result has been satanic–a black or inverted mass (i.e., one recited backwards)–in that these pseudo-religions have all caused a world of harm. The one idea common to all of them is that progress and perfectibility are within our grasp, and can be attained through an historical process whereby true knowledge will defeat ignorance (evil). Thus the world, and our psyches, are saved, no less in the modern secular world than they were claimed to be in the medieval Christian one, because history itself is imbued with Meaning.

Sad to say, the first three of these secular religions proved, in the fullness of time, not to be the Answer but rather the God that failed; and globalization (Thomas Friedman and his devotees notwithstanding) is in the process of going the same route, revealing itself to be a “false dawn.” Of course, says Gray, once globalization and neoliberalism are finally exposed for what they are, and take their proper place on the scrap heap of history, it will hardly be the case that we shall abandon notions of progress, utopia, and Meaning in history. Not a chance. We in the West will have to find another hula hoop, another pet rock, because as a Christian civilization we are simply unable to live without the myth of redemption. Hence, he concludes, the “cycle of order and anarchy will never end.” The tragedy is that we “prefer the romance of a meaningless quest to coping with difficulties that can never be finally overcome.” Hence, “the violence of faith looks set to shape the coming century.”

At the present time, it’s not clear what the next hula hoop will be; but I’m not sure it matters all that much. If the Montaigne-Hoffer-Gray school of historical analysis is correct, what is certain is that there will be no derailing the zeal in advance, no stopping the next ideological-religious binge at the second martini, so to speak. The word “some” has very little meaning in the world of secular fundamentalism; for us, it’s all or nothing. “Man cannot make a worm,” wrote Montaigne, “yet he will make gods by the dozen.”

For it is all a kind of shamanism, in a way, an attempt to become whole through magic. We are all broken, after all; that is why the promise of redemption has such a powerful hold on us. “I am he who puts together,” declared one Mazatec shaman, some years ago. It finally comes down to a (misguided) attempt at healing, which is reinforced by tribal practice (commonly known as groupthink). I recall attending a conference on postmodernism in the 1990s and being struck by how similar the lectures were, in form, to those of Communist Party members of the 1930s. The “holy names” were different–one cited de Man and Derrida instead of Marx and Lenin–but the glazed eyes and the mantra-like repetition of politically approved phrases were very much the same. Truth be told, I have observed the same hypnotic behavior at all types of academic conferences, from feminism to computer science. You watch, you listen, and you wonder: When will we finally wake up? And you know the horrible truth: never. In effect, we shall continue to erect statues to Napoleon, but never, or rarely, to Montaigne. This much is clear.

Which brings me to what I consider the bottom line, namely the structure of the brain. The frontal lobes, the large neocortex that governs rational thinking and logical processes, is a relative latecomer on the scene, in evolutionary terms. The limbic system, which is the center of impulse and emotion, has been around much longer. The conflict between the two is perhaps best illustrated by the case of the alcoholic sitting at a bar, staring at a frosty stein of beer in front of him. The neocortex says No; the limbic system says Go. Statistically, most drunks die of alcohol poisoning or cirrhosis of the liver; very few escape from the siren song of the limbic brain. As Goethe once put it, “the world is not logical; it is psycho-logical.” And that is to put it quite mildly, it seems to me.

We will not escape the ravages of climate change; we shall not avoid the economic and ecological disasters that are integral to global capitalism; not be able to avert an oil crisis, an energy crisis, or a food and water crisis that will become extreme when the world population finally arrives at 10 or 11 billion, by mid-century. These things are not going to be resolved by reason, by the neocortex, no matter how many articles are published on these subjects in learned journals or popular magazines. And they certainly can’t be resolved by the limbic brain, whose function is indulgence, not restraint. Hence, it is a fair guess that we shall start doing things differently only when there is no other choice; and even then, we shall undoubtedly cast our efforts in the form of a shiny new and improved hula hoop, the belief system that will finally be the true one, after all of those false starts; the one we should have been following all along. What to call it? Catastrophism, perhaps. You can consider this the founding document. Story Continued:

· Andrea Mitchell On Obama Cabinet: Women In The White House ‘Are Not Happy’

Andrea Mitchell spoke out about President Obama’s cabinet nominations on Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” saying that women in the White House “are not happy” about his picks.

Obama has faced pressure over his selections in recent days, with critics blasting what they have described as a lack of diversity in his cabinet. His recent picks for prominent positions were all men, including John Kerry for secretary of state, Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense, John Brennan for CIA director and Jack Lew for secretary of treasury.

Newark mayor Cory Booker defended the president during “Meet the Press,” comparing the criticism against Obama to “swift boating.” He said that 50% of White House staff are women, and pointed to the fact that the president has more nominations to announce. He also said that a recent photograph showing Obama surrounded by male advisors was “disingenuous,” in light of that information.

Andrea Mitchell, NBC’s chief foreign affairs correspondent, hit back against those arguments. She said that the picture was an official White House photo. Despite the statistics, “at the highest level of the White House and in the cabinet, you have men and they are white men,” Mitchell said.

She said that there was a difference between nominating women to prominent positions and lower levels of the cabinet, and that men “were the predominant people” on Obama’s team.

“I’ve got to tell you, I wrote a story about this this week and I did not get one complaint,” Mitchell said. “I talked to several people inside the White House — women — and they said ‘No, we didn’t have any problem about what you wrote about this week.’ The women are not happy.”

The NBC News correspondent did a segment on the issue on her MSNBC show earlier this week. In December, Ambassador Susan Rice withdrew her name for consideration for secretary of state. At the time, Mitchell reported that women in the administration were “angry with the White House” and the president over the decision. Story Continued:

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· GOP congressman threatens impeachment if Obama uses executive action for gun control

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Texas Republican Rep. Steve Stockman threatened Monday afternoon that he would file articles of impeachment against President Barack Obama if he institutes gun control measures with an executive order.

Stockman warned that such executive orders would be “unconstitutional” and “infringe on our constitutionally-protected right to keep and bear arms.”

“I will seek to thwart this action by any means necessary, including but not limited to eliminating funding for implementation, defunding the White House, and even filing articles of impeachment,” Stockman said in a statement.

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At his press conference Monday, Obama floated the possibility of using executive action to enact policies aimed at reducing gun violence.

The freshman congressman, who served one term in Congress in the mid-1990s, further labeled the possibility “an existential threat to this nation” because, he said, the purpose of the Second Amendment is to allow the people to protect themselves from tyranny.

“Any proposal to abuse executive power and infringe upon gun rights must be repelled with the stiffest legislative force possible,” he added. “Under no circumstances whatsoever may the government take any action that disarms any peaceable person — much less without due process through an executive declaration without a vote of Congress or a ruling of a court.”

He concluded by claiming that an executive order would be not just “not just an attack on the Constitution,” but also an “attack on Americans.”

“If the president is allowed to suspend constitutional rights on his own personal whims, our free republic has effectively ceased to exist,” he said. Story Continued:

· N.Y. Assembly Speaker Silver: ‘We Are Going To Ban Assault Weapons’ – Among Aspects Of Law, Legislature Set To Limit Magazines To 7 Bullets From 10

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The New York State Legislature was poised Monday night to pass the first gun control measure following the Newtown school massacre. This as the vice president was set to unveil federal proposals to end gun violence on Tuesday.

Albany lawmakers have reportedly ironed out the kinks, allowing them to enact new gun control measures in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting.

“To basically eradicate assault weapons from our streets in New York as quickly as possible is something the people of this state want and it’s an important thing to do. It is an emergency,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer.

Sources told Kramer the deal worked out by the Legislature is wide ranging, but it starts with assault weapons.

“We are going to ban assault weapons. We are going to eliminate all of the loopholes that existed previously,” Silver said.

The new state legislation will:

* Limit ammunition clips to seven. It’s now 10

* Force gun owners to renew their licenses every five years

* Stiffen penalties for using a gun in the commission of a crime

* Stiffen penalties for bringing a gun on school property

* New restrictions on the assault weapons already owned by New Yorkers

“They will be basically not permitted to be transferred. They will be grandfathered in but not in terms of a transfer. There will be a registry,” Silver said.

The state agreement came a day before Vice President Joe Biden was set to give his gun control recommendations to the president. With the gun lobby at a fevered pitch, President Barack Obama said there will be some things he can do without congressional approve.

“I’m confident that there are some steps that we can take that don’t require legislation,” the president said Monday.

One of those steps, also sought by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, would have the president order the Justice Department to prosecute criminals who provide false information to buy a gun.

The mayor said that in 2010 there were 76,000 cases referred by the FBI to the Justice Department. Only 44 were prosecuted.

“This is a joke. It’s a sad joke, and it’s a lethal joke,” Bloomberg said.

It’s not clear whether the president will spend his political capital on seeking to re-impose the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. The gun lobby has vowed to defeat it in congress. And prominent Republicans, like Sen. John McCain, are opposed. Story Continued:

· Lance Armstrong Apologizes To Livestrong Staff Ahead Of Oprah Interview

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Lance Armstrong apologized to the staff at his Livestrong cancer foundation before heading to an interview with Oprah Winfrey, a person with direct knowledge of the meeting told The Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussion was private.

Stripped last year of his seven Tour de France titles because of doping charges, Armstrong addressed the staff Monday and said, “I’m sorry.” The person said the disgraced cyclist choked up and several employees cried during the session.

The person also said Armstrong apologized for letting the staff down and putting Livestrong at risk but he did not make a direct confession to the group about using banned drugs. He said he would try to restore the foundation’s reputation, and urged the group to continue fighting for the charity’s mission of helping cancer patients and their families.

After the meeting, Armstrong, his legal team and close advisers gathered at a downtown Austin hotel for the interview.

The cyclist will make a limited confession to Winfrey about his role as the head of a long-running scheme to dominate the Tour with the aid of performance-enhancing drugs, a person with knowledge of the situation has told the AP.

Winfrey and her crew had earlier said they would film the interview, to be broadcast Thursday, at his home but the location apparently changed to a hotel. Local and international news crews staked out positions in front of the cyclist’s Spanish-style villa before dawn, hoping to catch a glimpse of Winfrey or Armstrong.

Armstrong still managed to slip away for a run Monday morning despite the crowds gathering outside his house. He returned home by cutting through a neighbor’s yard and hopping a fence.

During a jog on Sunday, Armstrong talked to the AP for a few minutes saying, “I’m calm, I’m at ease and ready to speak candidly.” He declined to go into specifics.

Armstrong lost all seven Tour titles following a voluminous U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report that portrayed him as a ruthless competitor, willing to go to any lengths to win the prestigious race. USADA chief executive Travis Tygart labeled the doping regimen allegedly carried out by the U.S. Postal Service team that Armstrong once led, “The most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”

Yet Armstrong looked like just another runner getting in his roadwork when he talked to the AP, wearing a red jersey and black shorts, sunglasses and a white baseball cap pulled down to his eyes. Leaning into a reporter’s car on the shoulder of a busy Austin road, he seemed unfazed by the attention and the news crews that made stops at his home. He cracked a few jokes about all the reporters vying for his attention, then added, “but now I want to finish my run,” and took off down the road.

The interview with Winfrey will be Armstrong’s first public response to the USADA report. Armstrong is not expected to provide a detailed account about his involvement, nor address in depth many of the specific allegations in the more than 1,000-page USADA report.

In a text to the AP on Saturday, Armstrong said: “I told her (Winfrey) to go wherever she wants and I’ll answer the questions directly, honestly and candidly. That’s all I can say.”

After a federal investigation of the cyclist was dropped without charges being brought last year, USADA stepped in with an investigation of its own. The agency deposed 11 former teammates and accused Armstrong of masterminding a complex and brazen drug program that included steroids, blood boosters and a range of other performance-enhancers.

Once all the information was out and his reputation shattered, Armstrong defiantly tweeted a picture of himself on a couch at home with all seven of the yellow leader’s jerseys on display in frames behind him. But the preponderance of evidence in the USADA report and pending legal challenges on several fronts apparently forced him to change tactics after more a decade of denials.

He still faces legal problems.

Former teammate Floyd Landis, who was stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title for doping, has filed a federal whistle-blower lawsuit that accused Armstrong of defrauding the U.S. Postal Service. The Justice Department has yet to decide whether it will join the suit as a plaintiff.

The London-based Sunday Times also is suing Armstrong to recover about $500,000 it paid him to settle a libel lawsuit. On Sunday, the newspaper took out a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune, offering Winfrey suggestions for what questions to ask Armstrong. Dallas-based SCA Promotions, which tried to deny Armstrong a promised bonus for a Tour de France win, has threatened to bring yet another lawsuit seeking to recover more than $7.5 million an arbitration panel awarded the cyclist in that dispute.

The lawsuit most likely to be influenced by a confession might be the Sunday Times case. Potential perjury charges stemming from Armstrong’s sworn testimony in the 2005 arbitration fight would not apply because of the statute of limitations. Armstrong was not deposed during the federal investigation that was closed last year.

Many of his sponsors dropped Armstrong after the damning USADA report — at the cost of tens of millions of dollars — and soon after, he left the board of Livestrong, which he founded in 1997. Armstrong is still said to be worth about $100 million.

Livestrong might be one reason Armstrong has decided to come forward with an apology and limited confession. The charity supports cancer patients and still faces an image problem because of its association with Armstrong. He also may be hoping a confession would allow him to return to competition in the elite triathlon or running events he participated in after his cycling career.

World Anti-Doping Code rules state his lifetime ban cannot be reduced to less than eight years. WADA and U.S. Anti-Doping officials could agree to reduce the ban further depending on what information Armstrong provides and his level of cooperation. Story Continued:

· AP SOURCE: ARMSTRONG TELLS OPRAH HE DOPED

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Lance Armstrong confessed to Oprah Winfrey during an interview Monday that he used performance-enhancing drugs to win the Tour de France, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the interview is to be broadcast Thursday on Winfrey’s network.

Armstrong was stripped of all seven Tour titles last year following a voluminous U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report that portrayed him as a ruthless competitor, willing to go to any lengths to win the prestigious race.

USADA chief executive Travis Tygart labeled the doping regimen allegedly carried out by the U.S. Postal Service team that Armstrong once led, “The most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”

After a federal investigation of the cyclist was dropped without charges being brought last year, USADA stepped in with an investigation of its own. The agency deposed 11 former teammates and accused Armstrong of masterminding a complex and brazen drug program that included steroids, blood boosters and a range of other performance-enhancers.

A group of about 10 close friends and advisers to Armstrong left a downtown Austin hotel about three hours after they arrived Monday afternoon for the taping. Among them were Armstrong attorneys Tim Herman and Sean Breen, along with Bill Stapleton, Armstrong’s longtime agent, manager and business partner. All declined comment entering and exiting the session.

Soon afterward, Winfrey tweeted: “Just wrapped with (at)lancearmstrong More than 2 1/2 hours. He came READY!” She was scheduled to appear on “CBS This Morning” on Tuesday to discuss the interview.

In a text to the AP on Saturday, Armstrong said: “I told her (Winfrey) to go wherever she wants and I’ll answer the questions directly, honestly and candidly. That’s all I can say.”

Armstrong stopped at the Livestrong Foundation, which he founded, on his way to the interview and said, “I’m sorry” to staff members, some of whom broke down in tears. A person with knowledge of that session said Armstrong choked up and several employees cried during the session.

The person also said Armstrong apologized for letting the staff down and putting Livestrong at risk but he did not make a direct confession to using banned drugs. He said he would try to restore the foundation’s reputation, and urged the group to continue fighting for the charity’s mission of helping cancer patients and their families.

Armstrong spoke to a room full of about 100 staff members for about 20 minutes, expressing regret for everything the controversy has put them through, the person said. He told them how much the foundation means to him and that he considers the people who work there to be like members of his family. None of the people in the room challenged Armstrong over his long denials of doping.

Winfrey and her crew had earlier said they would film Monday’s session at Armstrong’s home. As a result, local and international news crews were encamped near the cyclist’s Spanish-style villa before dawn.

Armstrong still managed to slip away for a run despite the crowds outside his home. He returned by cutting through a neighbor’s yard and hopping a fence. Story Continued:

· Bloomberg urges Obama to defy Congress, implement gun control by executive action

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New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Monday told a group of John Hopkins students that President Obama ought to sidestep the wishes of Congress and order swift new executive gun control measures.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on Monday that President Obama should implement a series of gun control measures through executive action.

“There are steps that President Obama can take without congressional approval at any time he chooses with just one stroke of the pen,” Bloomberg told the mixed audience of students and scholars, speaking at the “Gun Policy Summit” at John Hopkins University.

Bloomberg’s remarks came hours before President Obama argued in a rare press conference that executive privileges afforded him the power to implement some federal gun control measures without the permission of Congress.

“My understanding is the Vice President is going to provide a range of steps that we can take to reduce gun violence,” President Obama told the White House Press Corps. “Some of them will require legislation, some of them I can accomplish through executive action.”

Since the Newtown Massacre late last year, the White House has eyed legal options for mandating comprehensive gun control as House Republican leadership has signaled reluctance to even allow such legislation to reach the floor.

Bloomberg also recommended to Vice President Biden a four tiered plan for strengthening existing weapons laws.

President Obama should make a recess appointment to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, direct the Department of Justice to prosecute convicted criminals caught providing false information during gun background checks, and order federal agencies to submit data to the national gun background check database, said Bloomberg.

Bloomberg also said Obama should direct his agencies to cease adherence to the “Tiahrt Amendment” a law which prevents local law enforcement agencies from full access to federal gun databases.

John Hopkins University dubbed Monday’s summit “the most extensive summit meeting ever of gun policy researchers.”

The statement added that its intended purpose is to gather “experts on gun policy and violence” to ultimately make policy recommendations aimed at reducing gun violence.

The summit kicked off Monday morning and will conclude late Tuesday afternoon. Story Continued:

· For first time in nearly seven years, Justice Clarence Thomas talks during court arguments

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Justice Clarence Thomas broke nearly seven years of silence during oral arguments on the Supreme Court on Monday.

The last time the famously reserved Thomas spoke up, George W. Bush was president, the iPhone was nothing but an internet rumor, and the U.S. economy seemingly had nowhere to go but up. But just before noon on Monday, Thomas uttered what appeared to be a lawyer joke.

During arguments in the Sixth Amendment case Boyer v. Louisiana, the justices were discussing the qualifications of the plaintiff’s counsel when Justice Antonin Scalia asked the assistant district attorney of Louisiana whether another lawyer was a Yale Law School graduate. He then spoke of a different lawyer in the case who graduated from Harvard Law.

“Son of a gun!,” Scalia, a Harvard Law graduate himself, remarked.

According to the official court transcript, Thomas then cut in.

But because there was so much laughter in the court, the transcriber was only able to note part of Thomas’ remarks:

“JUSTICE THOMAS: Well – he did not – (Laughter.)”

The assistant DA replied: “I would refute that, Justice Thomas.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor followed up with her tongue planted firmly in cheek, requesting the lawyer to “define constitutionally adequate counsel.”

“Is it anybody who’s graduated from Harvard and Yale?” she asked to more laughter.

People present in court understood Justice Thomas’ brief remark to be a joke at the Yale alumni’s expense, according to the New York Times.

Justice Thomas is a graduate of Yale Law and has, in the past, criticized the school for its affirmative action policy. However, he has more recently been supportive of his alma mater, speaking there on at least two separate occasions since 2011.

The last time Justice Thomas asked a question during oral arguments was on Feb. 22, 2006 in Holmes v. South Carolina, a due process case in which the high court unanimously reversed a state supreme court’s decision that refused to let a convicted murderer introduce new evidence that claimed to prove a third party was guilty of a crime.

Justice Thomas had said in the past that he simply did not like oral arguments and that is why he rarely asked questions. Story Continued:

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– However, there are many people in the country that do not agree that the above mentioned items were accomplishments. PdC

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· Joe Biden: White House eying 19 executive actions on guns

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The White House has identified 19 executive actions for President Barack Obama to move unilaterally on gun control, Vice President Joe Biden told a group of House Democrats on Monday, the administration’s first definitive statements about its response to last month’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Later this week, Obama will formally announce his proposals to reduce gun violence, which are expected to include renewal of the assault weapons ban, universal background checks and prohibition of high-capacity magazine clips. But Biden, who has been leading Obama’s task force on the response, spent two hours briefing a small group of sympathetic House Democrats on the road ahead in the latest White House outreach to invested groups.

The focus on executive orders is the result of the White House and other Democrats acknowledging the political difficulty of enacting any new gun legislation, a topic Biden did not address in Monday’s meeting.

The executive actions could include giving the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authority to conduct national research on guns, more aggressive enforcement of existing gun laws and pushing for wider sharing of existing gun databases among federal and state agencies, members of Congress in the meeting said.

“It was all focusing on enforcing existing law, administering things like improving the background database, things like that that do not involve a change in the law but enforcing and making sure that the present law is administered as well as possible,” said Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.).

The White House declined to comment on the details of what Obama will propose.

But Biden did indicate that the remains of the Obama campaign apparatus may be activated in the effort.

“He said that this has been a real focus on the policy and that the politics of this issue, that a strategy on the politics of the issue hasn’t been undertaken yet,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) told POLITICO. “He did remind us that the campaign infrastructure is still accessible.”

Biden did not address two of the more significant issues in the gun debate: the appointment of a permanent director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the role violent images in the entertainment industry play in the nation’s gun violence. Story Continued:

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· Obama to unveil broad gun plans Wednesday

President Obama will unveil a sweeping set of gun-control proposals at midday Wednesday, including an assault weapons ban, universal background checks and limits on the number of bullets that ammunition clips can hold, according to sources familiar with the plans.

The announcement, which press secretary Jay Carney said is scheduled for about 11:45 a.m. at the White House, is also expected to include a slate of up to 19 executive actions that the Obama administration can take on its own to attempt to limit gun violence.

In four years, how the world changed

The White House has invited key lawmakers as well as gun-control advocates to appear at Wednesday’s policy rollout, according to two officials who have been invited to the event.

Joining Obama and Vice President Biden for the announcement will be children from across the country who wrote Obama letters after last month’s elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Carney said.

Carney declined to provide details on the administration’s gun proposals, and he acknowledged that there are “limits” to what Obama can achieve through executive action alone.

“I will not get ahead of the president in terms of what his package of proposals will include,” he told reporters Tuesday. “I will simply note that the president has made clear that he intends to take a comprehensive approach.”

Regarding executive action, Carney said, “It is a simple fact that there are limits to what can be done within existing law, and Congress has to act on the kinds of measures we’ve already mentioned, because the power to do that is reserved by Congress.”

Obama said at a news conference Monday that he would present his gun proposals later in the week.

The moves signal that Obama intends to push ahead with an ambitious and controversial gun-safety agenda in the wake of the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, which killed 26 people, including 20 small children. The shootings, carried out by a lone gunman who also killed himself, have prompted a wave of demands for stricter gun-control laws at the state and federal levels.

“The issue is: Are there some sensible steps that we can take to make sure that somebody like the individual in Newtown can’t walk into a school and gun down a bunch of children in a — in a shockingly rapid fashion?” Obama said at Monday’s news conference. “And surely we can do something about that.”

The emerging set of White House proposals stem from a month-long review led by Biden, who has been meeting with advocates on both sides before making the recommendations that were delivered to Obama this week.

The recommendations — many of which Obama has endorsed — are expected to include a tougher version of the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004; a limit on the number of bullets that magazines can hold; background checks for gun shows and other “private sales”; better database tracking for weapons sales; and strengthening measures aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of those with severe mental health issues.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that most Americans support tough new measures to counter gun violence, including an assault weapons ban, mandatory background checks and other policies.

But the efforts will face political head winds on Capitol Hill, where the National Rifle Association and many lawmakers from both parties oppose any significant changes to gun laws.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said in a radio interview this week that an assault weapons ban cannot pass Congress because of opposition from House Republicans.

Obama and his aides have said they are aware of the political challenges but have decided to push ahead with changes that they view as necessary in the wake of Newtown. To put pressure on Congress, the White House is working with its allies on a broad public campaign aimed at shifting public opinion and providing political cover for lawmakers.

Lawmakers who met with Biden on Monday said that the vice president is aware of the steep political obstacles to gun-control measures but that the White House has decided to push ahead.

“I think there’s a commitment to do the big things,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.). “I also think that they’re realists, and in addition to doing the big things, they want to make sure that they do as many of the effective things that we can find some level of consensus on.”

Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) said: “I don’t think this is Joe Biden’s first rodeo. They are well aware of the high bar.”

The administration has also signaled that it intends to move aggressively on gun policy changes that do not require legislative approval. Obama on Monday pointed to federal data “on guns that fall into the hands of criminals and how to track that more effectively.”

“There may be some steps that we can take administratively as opposed to through legislation,” Obama said. Story Continued:

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Filed under Biking, Left - Off Base, Politics from Just Right of Center - I want Balance!, Right - too Religous for me

What’s Up: January 14, 2012?

To read the entire article click on the title or Story Continued. Enjoy as the world turns.

· Fed’s Plosser Says Stimulus May Backfire, Fuel Inflation

Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia President Charles Plosser said the central bank’s record stimulus risks a surge in inflation and may impair efforts by households to repair their finances.

“Attempts to increase economic ‘stimulus’ may not help speed up the process and may actually prolong it,” Plosser said in the text of a speech today in Somerset, New Jersey.

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Jan. 11 (Bloomberg) — Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia President Charles Plosser talks about Fed transparency and monetary policy, the federal debt and the outlook for economic growth. He speaks with Michael McKee in Somerset, New Jersey, on Bloomberg Television’s “Market Makers.” (Source: Bloomberg)

Policy makers are discussing how long they will keep buying mortgage bonds and Treasuries as part of efforts to boost growth and bring down a 7.8 percent unemployment rate. The Fed last month linked its interest-rate outlook to economic thresholds, saying borrowing costs will stay low “at least as long” as joblessness exceeds 6.5 percent and if projected inflation won’t go beyond 2.5 percent one or two years in the future.

“Efforts to drive real rates more negative or promises to keep rates low for a long time may have frustrated households’ efforts to rebuild their balance sheets without stimulating aggregate demand or consumption,” said Plosser, who doesn’t vote on monetary policy this year. He has repeatedly criticized Fed easing for risking higher inflation and jeopardizing the central bank’s credibility, and said the latest stimulus steps do little to boost growth.

Low interest rates reduce returns for savers and do little to encourage businesses to expand payrolls or invest in new ventures, Plosser said.

‘Highest Value’

“Monetary policy accommodation that lowers interest rates is unlikely to stimulate firms to hire and invest until a significant amount of the uncertainty has been resolved,” he said. “Firms have the resources to invest and hire, but they are uncertain as to how to put those resources to their highest valued use.”

An increase in the benchmark interest rate is “conceivable” in 2014, Plosser said to reporters after the speech. Such a move would be a year earlier than the 2015 date Fed officials had announced before switching to thresholds for unemployment and inflation.

The move away from dates is a “step forward” in Fed communications, though may invite “a fixation” on specific unemployment and inflation reports rather than a broader view of economic data, Plosser said. The Fed shouldn’t change the numerical thresholds, a change that would be “terribly confusing,” he said.

Market Distortions

The Fed is looking for evidence of distortions in financial markets that may stem from a lengthy period of low interest rates and asset purchases, the Philadelphia Fed chief said. Businesses need to be alert to accumulating too much risk from a potential rise in interest rates over time, he said.

Plosser also said he is encouraged by signs U.S manufacturing may pick up after a period of sluggish growth.

In response to audience questions, Plosser said he favored halting additional bond purchases because their benefits are “pretty meager” and “there are lots of risks” including disruptions in the economy.

“The more of these assets we have, the more complicated the exit strategy will be,” he said.

The Fed may need to slow or halt bond buying this year as the economy makes “modest progress,” Plosser said in a Bloomberg Television interview.

“Given where we are, I think I would not be surprised if we face the choice of having to rein in the purchases sometime during this year,” Plosser said in the broadcast interview.

Stocks Fell

U.S. stocks fell, after the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index advanced to a five-year high. The S&P 500 fell 0.1 percent to 1,470.99 at 11:57 a.m. New York time.

Plosser reiterated his view that unemployment will drop to near 7 percent by year’s end and the U.S. growth rate will pick up this year to about 3 percent, which he said was “at the high end” among Fed policy makers.

The U.S. economy may expand at a 2 percent pace in 2013 after a 2.3 percent gain last year, according to the median forecast among economists surveyed by Bloomberg News this month.

“Inflation expectations will be relatively stable and inflation will remain at moderate levels in the near term,” Plosser said. “However, with the very accommodative stance of monetary policy in place for more than four years now, we must guard against the medium- and longer-term risks of inflation.”

Inflation as measured by the personal consumption expenditures price index rose 1.4 percent in November from a year earlier. The Fed aims for price acceleration of 2 percent. Story Continued:

· Farrakhan on ‘Django Unchained’: ‘It’s Preparation for Race War’ –

In an interview with YourBlackWorld.net, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan interpreted the movie Django Unchained as “preparation for a race war.”

“To me, the movie had a purpose,” he said. “If a black man came out of that movie thinking like Django and white people came out of that movie seeing the slaughter of white people and they are armed to the teeth, it’s preparation for a race war. Story Continued and to watch video:

· Patriotic Group To Build Armed ‘Defensible’ Neighborhood Fortress

A group of like-minded patriots, bound together by pride in American exceptionalism, plan on building an armed community to protect their liberty.

The group, named Citadel, intends to purchase 2,000 to 3,000 acres for the project in western Idaho. The community will comprise of 3,500 to 7,000 families of patriotic Americans who “voluntarily choose to live together in accordance with Thomas Jefferson’s ideal of Rightful Liberty.”

According to the Citadel website, Rightful Liberty means that “neighbors keep their noses out of other neighbors’ business, that neighbors live and let live.”

Citadel explains that residents in the community will be bound by the following:

Patriotism

Pride in American Exceptionalism

Our proud history of Liberty as defined by our Founding Fathers, and

Physical preparedness to survive and prevail in the face of natural catastrophes –such as Hurricanes Sandy or Katrina — or man-made catastrophes such as a power grid failure or economic collapse.

Residents should also agree that being “prepared for the emergencies of life and being proficient with the American icon of Liberty — the Rifle — are prudent measures.”

Some of the benefits of the Citadel community include a safe, well-prepared, patriotic community where children will be educated in school, not indoctrinated.

The community will be protected by a perimeter wall that will be inaccessible to “tourists.” Each neighborhood within the community will have lower walls, dividing the town into defensible sections.

The website has a link to applications where prospective residents can sign up. According to Citadel, more than 200 families have completed applications, even before any land has been purchased.

While Citadel may sound wonderful to many who are reading this, the community has posted a warning on their home page:

“Marxists, Socialists, Liberals and Establishment Republicans will likely find that life in our community is incompatible with their existing ideology and preferred lifestyles.”

Citadel says that every patriot selected to live within the community “will voluntarily agree to follow the footsteps of our Founding Fathers by swearing to one another our lives, our fortunes and our Sacred Honor to defend one another and Liberty against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Story Continued:

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· Bin Laden death photos might not see the light of day

· Skeptical-sounding federal judges on Thursday considered whether the public can see pictures of terror mastermind Osama bin Laden, taken after he had been shot dead by U.S. Navy SEALs in a raid on his hideout two years ago.

The 52 pictures, some described as “graphic” and “gruesome” by a top CIA official, highlight a Freedom of Information Act fight that climaxes just as Hollywood’s version of bin Laden’s death hits movie theaters. But while Hollywood’s depiction has attracted both critical acclaim and political heat, and was accomplished with the CIA’s help, the real world pictures snapped by elite commandos seem destined to remain secret.

“They’re telling us it’s a risk . . . that Americans will die if we release these documents,” Judge Merrick Garland said Thursday, adding that “when the government tells us this is likely to lead to death, shouldn’t we defer to that (even) more than when they say it will result in the release of secret information?”

Judge Judith Rogers, who like Garland was appointed by a Democratic president, further cited “the concern that these images could be used as propaganda.” Echoing arguments made by Obama administration officials, Rogers suggested that the propaganda concern is aggravated by the late bin Laden’s prominence as al Qaida’s leader

“Almost anything associated with him is necessarily of concern,” Rogers said.

The explicit fears raised by two members of a three-judge appellate panel during oral argument provided a strong indication, though no guarantee, that the court will side with the Obama administration in keeping the bin Laden photos secret.

Rejecting the Freedom of Information Act bid from a legal advocacy group called Judicial Watch would add to the cloak already draped around other politically sensitive U.S. military and spy actions since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The Pentagon long sought to keep secret certain incendiary photos of U.S. soldiers abusing prisoners at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. An estimated 2,000 other prisoner abuse photos taken in Iraq and Afghanistan also have been withheld by the Obama administration. A former top CIA officer ordered the destruction of videotapes showing captured al Qaida leader Abu Zubaydah being interrogated under the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding.

The photos currently in question – which, theoretically, could include videotapes as well – depict a dead bin Laden at four distinct moments during and after the May 2, 2011, raid. Some pictures show him shortly after he was shot at close range by a member or members of the secret direct action unit known as SEAL Team Six.

“They depict the fatal bullet wound to (bin Laden’s) head and other similarly gruesome images of his corpse,” John Bennett, director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, stated in a 22-page declaration filed in 2011.

Other pictures or video show bin Laden’s corpse as the commando team flew by helicopter away from his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Some show bin Laden’s body being washed and tended by U.S. personnel, and some show his post-midnight burial in the North Arabian Sea by the crew of the USS Carl Vinson.

“The government fails to appreciate that these are various types of images,” Judicial Watch attorney Michael Bekesha stated Thursday, noting that some of the photos being sought show what the government itself refers to as a “dignified” burial service.

Bekesha argued, in part, that the Obama administration failed to individually specify how each of the 52 photographs or videotapes pertains to the kind of weapon system, intelligence operation or foreign relations activity that can properly be withheld under the Freedom of Information Act. Justice Department attorneys countered that officials provided sufficient specific detail and that, in any event, other priorities trump the public’s right of access to government information.

“Release of these materials could reasonably be expected to harm national security,” Justice Department attorney Robert Loeb argued Thursday.

As it happened, the 45-minute oral argument Thursday occurred only about one block away from the Washington museum where the Oscar-nominated Hollywood version of the bin Ladin raid, “Zero Dark Thirty,” received its D.C. premiere Tuesday night. Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has formally asked the CIA for all information provided to the filmmakers by agency officials.

The help provided by the CIA included detailed information about the floor plan of bin Laden’s compound, as well as meeting with the moviemakers, documents obtained by Judicial Watch under a separate FOIA request show.

“I can’t tell you how excited we all are . . . about the project,” the CIA’s then-public affairs director George Little wrote the screenwriter in a November 2011 e-mail. “It’s been a real pleasure to help facilitate things.” Story Continued:

· Robbery victim wants to thank Good Samaritans who came to his rescue

HOUSTON — A couple of strangers came to the rescue when a man was robbed at gunpoint. Now, the victim wants to say thank you to the Good Samaritans.

Police believe the criminal who was canvassing a neighborhood in the 2500 block of Wichita near Hermann Park had no idea what he was in for when he picked his target.

The victim in this case had just walked back to his car from a bar around the corner.

Kevin Dorsey says he hadn’t even closed his car door Thursday night when a man wearing all black and a ski mask put a gun to his chest. The man took Dorsey’s wallet, cell phone and car keys.

After he was robbed, Dorsey began running down the street and says two men in a Mercedes asked him what had happened.

Dorsey told them and they not only caught up with the suspect, but they started shooting at him.

The suspect fired back. In the end, the two witnesses turned vigilantes won and took down the bad guy.

“I don’t believe in guns,” said Dorsey. “I don’t own a gun. I’m totally at the mercy of my saviors. They obviously sent two angels to help me. These people protected me when I couldn’t protect myself.”

After the robber had been shot, police say he jumped over a fence and was attacked by a German Shepherd. That attack prevented him from getting away.

The suspect, identified as Christopher Hutchins, is being treated at Ben Taub Hospital. He’s expected to recover. Story Continued and to watch the video:

· Obama Will Seek Citizenship Path in One Fast Push

President Obama plans to push Congress to move quickly in the coming months on an ambitious overhaul of the immigration system that would include a path to citizenship for most of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, senior administration officials and lawmakers said last week.

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Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats will propose the changes in one comprehensive bill, the officials said, resisting efforts by some Republicans to break the overhaul into smaller pieces — separately addressing young illegal immigrants, migrant farmworkers or highly skilled foreigners — which might be easier for reluctant members of their party to accept.

The president and Democrats will also oppose measures that do not allow immigrants who gain legal status to become American citizens one day, the officials said.

Even while Mr. Obama has been focused on fiscal negotiations and gun control, overhauling immigration remains a priority for him this year, White House officials said. Top officials there have been quietly working on a broad proposal. Mr. Obama and lawmakers from both parties believe that the early months of his second term offer the best prospects for passing substantial legislation on the issue.

Mr. Obama is expected to lay out his plan in the coming weeks, perhaps in his State of the Union address early next month, administration officials said. The White House will argue that its solution for illegal immigrants is not an amnesty, as many critics insist, because it would include fines, the payment of back taxes and other hurdles for illegal immigrants who would obtain legal status, the officials said.

The president’s plan would also impose nationwide verification of legal status for all newly hired workers; add visas to relieve backlogs and allow highly skilled immigrants to stay; and create some form of guest-worker program to bring in low-wage immigrants in the future.

A bipartisan group of senators has also been meeting to write a comprehensive bill, with the goal of introducing legislation as early as March and holding a vote in the Senate before August. As a sign of the keen interest in starting action on immigration, White House officials and Democratic leaders in the Senate have been negotiating over which of them will first introduce a bill, Senate aides said.

“This is so important now to both parties that neither the fiscal cliff nor guns will get in the way,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, a Democrat who is a leader of the bipartisan discussions.

A similar attempt at bipartisan legislation early in Mr. Obama’s first term collapsed amid political divisions fueled by surging public wrath over illegal immigration in many states. But both supporters and opponents say conditions are significantly different now.

Memories of the results of the November election are still fresh here. Latinos, the nation’s fastest-growing electorate, turned out in record numbers and cast 71 percent of their ballots for Mr. Obama. Many Latinos said they were put off by Republicans’ harsh language and policies against illegal immigrants.

After the election, a host of Republicans, starting with Speaker John A. Boehner, said it was time for the party to find a more positive, practical approach to immigration. Many party leaders say electoral demographics are compelling them to move beyond policies based only on tough enforcement.

Supporters of comprehensive changes say that the elections were nothing less than a mandate in their favor, and that they are still optimistic that Mr. Obama is prepared to lead the fight.

“Republicans must demonstrate a reasoned approach to start to rebuild their relationship with Latino voters,” said Clarissa Martinez de Castro, the director of immigration policy at the National Council of La Raza, a Latino organization. “Democrats must demonstrate they can deliver on a promise.”

Since the election, Mr. Obama has repeatedly pledged to act on immigration this year. In his weekly radio address on Saturday, he again referred to the urgency of fixing the immigration system, saying it was one of the “difficult missions” the country must take on.

Parallel to the White House effort, Mr. Schumer and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Republican, have been meeting with a group of at least four other colleagues to write a bill. Republicans who have participated include John McCain of Arizona, who has supported comprehensive legislation in the past; Jeff Flake, also of Arizona, who is newly elected to the Senate; and Mike Lee of Utah. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida participated in one meeting last month.

Democrats in the meetings include Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat; Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado. Story Continued:

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What’s Up: January 11, 2012?

To read the entire article click on the title or Story Continued. Enjoy as the world turns.

· Here’s Obama’s Message to GOP by Appointing Lew Treasury Secretary

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President Barack Obama is sending a pointed message to Republicans by nominating Jack Lew as Treasury Secretary: I’m not backing down from this budget fight.

This is certainly a blow to any hope that Republicans might have had that Obama would flinch from his pledge not to negotiate over the debt ceiling. The president has said he will demand a clean bill raising the debt ceiling, unattached to any conditions or spending cuts.

To call Lew’s relationship with Capitol Hill Republicans strained would be an understatement. According to some on the Hill, there just is no relationship anymore.

“We do not even bother talking to him,” a staffer for a Republican senator said. (Read More: In Picking Lew, Obama Turns a Page at Treasury)

When Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell called Vice President Joe Biden as the deadline to cut a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff loomed, it was a sign of the tensions between the senator and Lew. McConnell had to create a new channel for negotiations because he could no longer go through the White House.

Several Republicans said Tuesday they don’t view Lew as a man interested in hearing GOP concerns. One aide called him “tone deaf” in understanding the compromises that Republicans could accept during high-stakes talks.

“No matter what you’re proposing or no matter what compromise you’re trying to forge, he comes at it from a position of, ‘Whatever you want, I have to be against,'” the GOP aide said. “It doesn’t advantage him in the negotiation, he doesn’t get a different policy outcome than he would otherwise. It just irritates people. … It’s as much personality as anything else.”

These tensions are not new. Lew alienated Republican lawmakers during the summer of 2011 when he was director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. According to Rich Miniter’s book Leading from Behind, House Speaker John Boehner complained during the 2011 debt ceiling negotiations that he simply could not negotiate with Lew. (Read More: No More Mr. Nice Guy: New Battles Ahead for Obama)

When he was OMB director, Jack Lew talked about the mechanics of budget cuts with CNBC.

“Whatever Boehner proposed, Lew would spurn in favor of his own, usually more complicated ideas. And Lew returned again and again to proposals Boehner had unambiguously refused. Lew had lost the trust of the House Republicans,” Miniter writes.

Noam Scheiber’s The Escape Artists tells the story of a meeting between Lew and Sen. Jon Kyl and fellow Republican Rep. Eric Cantor in the summer of 2011 to negotiate a deal to lift the debt ceiling. At one point Kyl and Cantor are clearly flustered at the stony resistance they are getting from Lew and Gene Sperling, the director of the National Economic Council.

“Let me get this right,” Kyl says to Lew and Sperling. “You are saying there are Medicare savings you think would be good policy. But you won’t do them unless we agree to raise taxes?”

CNBC’s Steve Liesman takes a look at what incoming Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will be left with once Timothy Geithner leaves. Also, Roger Altman, Evercore Partners chairman & founder, weighs in on the financial skills Lew brings to the cabinet position.

The answer from Sperling and Lew was “yes.” The negotiations quickly broke down.

There’s no doubt that Lew is highly experienced and has shown a high level of loyalty to Obama. As a long time public servant, he knows the ins and outs of the budget better than most people. But even if Lew is respected in Washington, he’s not a guy who is likely to be able to diminish the political acrimony.

If Obama wanted to appoint a man who could personify his no negotiation pledge, there would be no better pick than Lew. Story Continued:

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· Charlie Rangel hits Obama on diversity – Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) on Thursday called it “embarrassing as hell” that President Barack Obama is facing charges that his White House lacks diversity.

“It’s embarrassing as hell. We’ve been through all of this with [2012 GOP presidential nominee] Mitt Romney. And we were very hard with Mitt Romney with the women binder and a variety of things,” Rangel said on MSNBC. “And I kind of think there’s no excuse with the second term.”

The Obama administration has been criticized recently for not having enough diversity with its Cabinet appointees after The New York Times ran a photo of Obama meeting with senior advisers in the Oval Office, the vast majority of them white men. The White House responded by releasing its own photo, which showed a much more diverse crowd of Obama’s top advisers.

“The president values diversity, believes it’s important, because it enhances the quality of the pool of potential nominees for positions across the administration,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said at briefing Tuesday. “He believes that by looking broadly for candidates for offices that [it] ups the chances he’ll find the very best person for the job.”

Rangel said Obama could be suffering from the “Harvard problem.”

“If it’s the first term, you could see people got to know who is around that’s qualified in order to get this job, No. 1. I had thought, and maybe it’s so, that it could be the Harvard problem where people just know each other, trust each other and women and minorities don’t get a chance to rub elbows and their reputations and experience is not known,” Rangel said. Story Continued:

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· Obama: U.S. Has Fallen ‘Short of the Ideal’ in Afghanistan

In remarks with Afghan president Hamid Karzai at the White House this afternoon, President Barack Obama said the U.S. has fallen “short of the ideal” in Afghanistan:

“So, you know, I think that, have we achieved everything that some might have imagined us achieving in the best of scenarios? Probably not. You know, there’s a human enterprise, and you know, you fall short of the ideal,” said Obama.

The president went on to say that America has achieved some measure of success in Afghanistan, however. “Did we achieve our central goal? And have we been able, I think, to shape a strong relationship with a responsible Afghan government that is willing to cooperate with us to make sure that it is not a launching pad for future attacks against the United States? We have achieved that goal. We are in the process of achieving that goal. And for that, I think we have to thank our extraordinary military, intelligence and diplomatic teams, as well as the cooperation of the Afghan government and the Afghan people.” Story Continued and to watch video:

· Obama Signs Bill Giving Him Armed Protection For Life – While simultaneously launching effort to disarm the American people

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Despite launching a gun control agenda that threatens to disarm the American people, President Obama has signed a bill that would afford him armed Secret Service protection for life.

“The legislation, crafted by Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, rolls back a mid-1990s law that imposed a 10-year limit on Secret Service protection for former presidents. Bush would have been the first former commander in chief affected,” reports Yahoo News.

The new bill, which will cost American taxpayers millions of dollars, is a re-instatement of a 1965 law which will see presidents protected for life as well as their children up to age 16.

The irony of Obama seeking to surround himself with armed men for the rest of his life while simultaneously working to disarm the American people via a gun control agenda that is likely to be enforced via executive decree represents the height of hypocrisy.

But it’s not the first time that Obama has lauded the notion of responsible Americans using firearms to protect himself and his family while concurrently eviscerating that very same right for the American people.

During an ABC Nightline interview broadcast on December 26 yet recorded before the Sandy Hook shooting, Obama said one of the benefits of his re-election was the ability “to have men with guns around at all times,” in order to protect his daughters.

In addition, the school attended by Obama’s daughters in Washington D.C. has no less than 11 armed security guards on duty at all times, yet the idea of arming teachers and school officials to prevent school massacres has been dismissed by gun control advocates who want school campuses to remain “gun free zones” where victims are disarmed and shooters are free to carry out their rampage unimpeded.

The hypocrisy of gun control advocates who feverishly work to create victim disarmament yet surround themselves with armed men is rampant amongst the political class.

As we reported last month, despite in the same year calling for “Mr. and Mrs. America” to “turn in” their guns California Senator Dianne Feinstein, author of a draconian bill set to be introduced later this month that would treat gun owners like sex offenders, admitted to carrying a concealed weapon for her own protection after she was threatened by a terrorist group.

Other prominent gun control advocates such as Mayor Michael Bloomberg have also aggressively pushed to disarm Americans while themselves employing armed bodyguards at all times.

Michael Moore, another vehement proponent for gun control, also has armed bodyguards, one of whom was arrested for carrying an unlicensed weapon at New York’s JFK airport back in 2005.

A White House petition created at the end of last month calls for making the White House and all federal buildings gun free zones. “If the government believes gun free zones are a solution for citizens, the same standard should apply to government servants and employees,” states the petition, which currently has over 12,000 signatures. Story Continued:

· Obama Opposed Gun Ban Exception to Defend One’s Home

As a state senator in Illinois, President Obama opposed legislation providing an exception to handgun restrictions if the weapon was used in the defense of one’s home.

Obama’s vote would have maintained the status quo, which made it a violation of municipal gun ban law to use a firearm to save your own life in your own home. But the bill was passed anyway without his support.

The vote is a sign of how committed Obama may be to strict gun control measures.

The Illinois vote is hardly ancient history, having occurred in 2004 as Obama was running for election to the U.S. Senate. In opposing the measure, Obama lined up well to the left of the mainstream, as the Illinois Senate included 32 Democrats to 26 Republicans but approved the bill by an overwhelming margin and subsequently overrode a veto by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Obama did not participate in the veto override, which occurred in November 2004, likely after Obama had resigned his state Senate seat in order to prepare for his new role in the U.S. Senate.

The Illinois legislation was passed after a man who shot a burglar in his home was fined $750 by his town for disobeying its handgun ban. The absurdity and injustice of the situation doesn’t seem to have made much of an impression on Obama.

Just eight years earlier, in 1996, Obama answered “Yes” to a survey question asking whether he would support state legislation to “ban the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns.” The Obama 2008 presidential campaign claimed the form had been filled out by an aide who mischaracterized Obama’s position, even though Obama’s handwriting was found on survey. Story Continued:

· Reid to Obama: OK to skip Congress on debt ceiling

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other top Democrats are putting new pressure on the White House to circumvent Congress to boost the nation’s debt ceiling if no bipartisan agreement can be reached.

In a strongly worded letter to President Barack Obama obtained by POLITICO, Reid and his leadership team argue that failing to raise the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling would threaten the full faith and credit of the United States. Reid and Sens. Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer and Patty Murray asserted that Obama “must make clear that you will never allow our nation’s economy and reputation to be held hostage.”

“In the event that Republicans make good on their threat by failing to act, or by moving unilaterally to pass a debt limit extension only as part of an unbalanced or unreasonable legislation, we believe you must be willing to take any lawful steps to ensure that America does not break its promises and trigger a global economic crisis — without congressional approval, if necessary,” the Friday letter to Obama says.

The letter amounts to the most concerted push yet by Senate Democratic leaders for the White House to take unprecedented action to raise the debt ceiling given the bitter stalemate in Congress. After the messy debt ceiling fight from 2011, and the protracted fiscal cliff battle that extended until New Year’s Day, Obama has said he will not use the debt ceiling increase as a bargaining chip and will refuse to negotiate with GOP leaders on the issue.

But Republicans have demanded that dollar-for-dollar spending cuts must accompany any increase in the debt ceiling. And after agreeing to raise marginal income tax rates on high earners as part of the fiscal cliff deal, Republicans refuse to consider any new revenue as part of a debt-ceiling accord. Democrats say taxes must be part of any deal.

In addition, many conservative Republicans are not convinced that failure to lift the debt ceiling — which will be reached as early as next month — would constitute immediate default by the U.S. government. These Republicans believe that the U.S. government can continue to make interest payments to debt holders without defaulting.

“The fact that we continue hitting the debt ceiling is a symptom of Washington’s spending problem, and hitting the debt ceiling does not immediately trigger a default,” said Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), chairman of the powerful Republican Study Committee, in a statement on Thursday. “The Treasury Secretary has an obligation to preserve the credit rating of the United States and should pledge to continue making necessary interest payments to avoid default.”

Following the prolonged 2011 debt fight, the credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded U.S. debt, and analysts warn more downgrades could be possible, which could have dire consequences for the American and global economies.

Hill Democrats, for their part, are worried that they lack the leverage in the debt ceiling battle and stand to lose big in any deal cut between the White House and congressional Republicans. Story Continued:

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