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December 3, 2008

Ex-U.S. official cites Pakistani training for India attackers

A former Defense Department official said Wednesday that American intelligence agencies had determined that former officers from Pakistan's Army and its Inter-Services Intelligence agency helped train the Mumbai attackers, reported the New York Times.
However, the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said no specific links had been uncovered yet between the attackers and the Pakistani government.
His disclosure came as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Indian leaders in New Delhi and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff with Pakistani leaders in Islamabad. The meetings were part of a two-pronged effort to pressure Pakistan to fully cooperate in effort to find those responsible for the attacks in Mumbai last week.
Also on Wednesday a "fully functional" bomb was found and defused at a major Mumbai train station, Mumbai authorities said. The discovery raised questions about why authorities had failed to find the bombs earlier.
Tens of thousands of people marched Wednesday through Mumbai, mourning the deaths of at least 173 people and protesting the failures of Indian politicians and security services to protect citizens.
Rice said that Pakistan had a "special responsibility" to cooperate with India and help prevent future attacks. She also warned India against hasty reactions that would cause what she called "unintended consequences."
“The response of the Pakistani government should be one of cooperation and of action,? she said at an evening news conference in New Delhi with Indian official Pranab Mukherjee. “Any response needs to be judged by its effectiveness in prevention and also by not creating other unintended consequences or difficulties.?
Mukherjee said his government was convinced that the attackers and their “controllers? came from Pakistan. He said he had conveyed to Rice “the feeling of anger and deep outrage in India? and said that his government was prepared to act “with all the means at our disposal? to protect Indian territory and citizens.

November 18, 2008

Texas grand jury indicts Cheney, Gonzales

According to Willacy County Distract Attorney Juan Angel Guerra a grand jury in south Texas indicted Vice President Dick Cheney and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez on separate charges related to alleged prisoner abuse in federal detention centers, reported CNN Tuesday.
Willacy County is on the Southern tip of Texas, on the United States-Mexico border.
Also being charged in the indictment is Texas Democratic state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr.. Michael R. Cowen, an attorney for Lucio, issued a statement calling Guerra a "one man circus."
Cowen said in a statement, "In the March 2008 Democratic Primary, 70 percent of the Willacy County voters elected to remove Juan Guerra as Willacy County District Attorney. Now with only a few weeks left in his term, Mr. Guerra has again chosen to misuse his position in an attempt to seek revenge on those who he sees as political enemies."
"The vice president has not received an indictment," Cheney spokeswoman Megan Mitchell said.
According to the Associated Press, the indictment stems from Cheney's investment in the Vanguard Group, an investment management company that is reported to have interests in the prison companies in charge of the detention centers involved.
The Associated Press also reported Gonzalez halted an investigation into abuse at the detention centers while he was attorney general.

November 16, 2008

Iraqi cabinet approves security pact with U.S.

The Iraqi cabinet voted Sunday approving the security agreement that sets the conditions for the American's continued presence in Iraq from Jan. 1 through 2011, reported the New York Times.
All but one of the 28 cabinet ministers who attended the two-and-a-half hour session voted for the agreements, sending it to Parliament for consideration. This is seen as a huge relief for the United States which has been in intense negotiations with the Iraqi government for nearly a year.
The United Nations Security Council resolution allows U.S. troops to operate in Iraq until Dec. 31, 2011. After this date, forces of the U.S.-led coalition would have no legal mandate to operate.
“This is the best available alternative,? the Iraqi government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, said shortly after the vote. “We have always said this is not a perfect solution for the Iraqi side and it is not a perfect solution for the American side. But it is a procedure which was forced by circumstances and necessity.
This is the time after the progress in the security situation to transfer the security file to the Iraqi side, step by step.?
The agreement's overwhelming support is a good indicator of whether the agreement will pass in Parliament, which has not yet announced the date of its vote but is scheduled to go into recess on Nov. 24.
The United States had wanted the pact concluded by midsummer, but gave significant concessions. Iraqi officials said minor tweaks were being made as recently as last week.
Under the agreement, U.S. soldiers are still guaranteed immunity except in cases of serious felonies committed while off duty outside their bases.
“We welcome the cabinet's approval of the agreement today,? said a spokesperson from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. “This is an important and positive step.?

November 7, 2008

Obama seeks solutions to the economic crisis

President-elect Barack Obama called on Friday for the Bush administration and Congress to form an economic-stimulus package, reported the New York Times.
Obama also pledged on Friday to confront the country's economic crisis "head on" once he is sworn in on Jan. 20.
"I do not underestimate the enormity of the tasks that lies ahead," Obama said in his first news conference since his victory over Senator John McCain on Tuesday. He said he is certain that "some difficult choices" will have to be made.
The news conference was held immediately after Obama, Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and newly named chief of staff, Representative Rahm Emanuel, met with the transition's economic advisory board.
The government reported that the nation's economy lost another 240,000 jobs in October, sending the unemployment rate to 6.5 percent from 6.1 percent, the highest level since 1994.
Obama said that he and his advisers would try to find ways to help the struggling automobile industry, and he hoped to see enactment of an economic-stimulus package either before or soon after Inauguration Day.
General Motors reported a loss of $4.2 billion in the third quarter, a decline of 13 percent from the same period last year.
Obama also thanked President Bush for his warm remarks upon his election and pledged to do nothing between now and Jan. 20 to undercut the outgoing president.
“We only have one president at a time,? Obama said.

November 2, 2008

Obama's infomercial is big success in ratings

An infomercial produced by the Obama campaign was a big success in ratings Wednesday, proving to be more popular than the final game of the World Series and last season's finale of "American Idol," reported the New York Times.
Obama's 30-minute commercial, which played on seven networks, broadcast and cable, was seen by 33.55 million viewers, according to figures released by Nielsen Media Research.
On the three broadcast networks that carried the infomercial, the audience totaled more than 25 million, surpassing the number for the last World Series game on Fox, which averaged 19.8 million viewers.
The special was also broadcast on Univision, and three cable networks, MSNBC, BET and TV One.
On CBS, the infomercial was seen by about 8.6 million viewers, a number that topped the show CBS usually runs on Wednesday night at 8, “Old Christine,? which averages about 7.2 million.
The Obama campaign bought the half hour slot on MSNBC at the last minute because ABC decided to stick with its hourlong show, "Pushing Daisies." MSNBC improved by more than 50 percent over usual audience totals. “Pushing Daisies? attracted only 6.7 million viewers, falling short to the numbers for each of the broadcast networks that carried the infomercial.
The only networks with slightly lower totals than average were Fox, which has an especially strong show on Wednesdays at 8, “Bones,? and Univision, the Spanish-language network, which offers telenovelas.
The last significant paid political program in a presidential election, Ross Perot's purchase on three networks on Nov, 4, 1996, had an audience total of 22.7 million.

October 25, 2008

Oil prices continue to drop

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries announced a 1.5 million barrel a day production cut, giving more spending money to recession-worried consumers, reported Time Friday.
"Falling worldwide demand, especially in emerging markets, is the reason that the oil market made road kill of OPEC's production cut. Oil dropped yet again to $64 a barrel — its lowest level in more than a year." (Time)
Oil demand in the U.S. has dropped 10 percent in just a few weeks, continuing the year long trend.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Americans drove 15 billion fewer miles in August, or 5.6 percent less than they did the year before. The DOT said that this is the largest ever year-to-year decline recorded in a single month.
Over the past 10 months, Americans have driven 78 billion fewer miles than they did in the same 10 months in the previous year.
"The sales of big gas-guzzling vehicles have collapsed. If we see that kind of change it becomes a much longer term issue with long-term demand destruction," said Julian Lee, senior energy analyst with the Center for Global Energy Studies in London.
According to Ed Leamer, director of the UCLA's Anderson Forecast, the current price slide could drop another $200-to-$250 billion into consumers' pockets.
Ken Medlock, an Energy Fellow at the Baker Institute at Rice University in Houston said that because the U.S. is out of its peak summer driving season, there is not too much incentive to significantly increase driving even though gas prices are down.

October 14, 2008

Nebraska lawmakers plan to fix Safe Haven law

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, a mother drove 12 hours from Detroit to leave her 13-year-old son at an Omaha hospital under the Safe Haven law, reported KETV Monday.
The 13-year-old was dropped off at Creighton University Medical Center early Monday morning, according to the Nebraska DHHS. The boy has been placed in an emergency shelter.
Nebraska's Safe Haven Law allows children as old as 18 to be abandoned without prosecution of the parents.
Todd Landry of the DHHS said the mother probably found out about Nebraska's unique law through media reports over the past few weeks about abandoned children.
Nebraska lawmakers are now considering calling a special session to fix the law to prevent the abandonment of more out-of-state children.
The DHHS is working with Michigan officials and the Douglas County attorney's office to resolve the situation involving the 13-year-old boy.
This is the 10th use of the law and the 18th child left at a Nebraska hospital under the law since Sept. 13. The boy is the second out-of-state child to be dropped off at a Nebraska hospital.

October 10, 2008

Connecticut legalizes same sex-marriage

The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled Friday that same-sex couples have the right to marry, reversing a ruling that concluded that civil unions legalized three years ago offered the same rights as marriage, reported The New York Times.
The 4-3 ruling made Connecticut the third state in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriage, following California, which legalized gay marriage in May 2008, and Massachusetts in 2004.
The Connecticut Legislature passed civil union legislation in 2005, but the eight gay and lesbian couples who were the plaintiffs argued that the civil union law had an unequal status for homosexuals that did not not grant them the same rights and protections as marriage.
Senior lawyer at Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, Bennett Klein, said, "Today is really a great day for equality in Connecticut. Today's decision really fulfills the hopes and dreams of gay and lesbian couples in Connecticut to live as full and equal citizens."
Opponents of same-sex marriage called for continued steps for a constitutional ban of gay marriage. "It's an outrage, but it's not unexpected. We thought all along the court would unsurp the democratic process and force same-sex marriage on Connecticut," said executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, Peter Wolfgang.
Justice Richard N. Palmer, who voted in the majority opinion wrote that the court found that the "segregation of heterosexual and homosexual couples into separate institutions constitutes a cognizable harm."
The court also found that “the state had failed to provide sufficient justification for excluding same-sex couples from the institution of marriage.?

September 30, 2008

U.S. airstrike in Pakistani village, sources say

Two Pakistani military sources told CNN that U.S. military forces launched airstrikes on a Pakistani village early Wednesday.
The reported strikes occurred about 1 a.m. in a village in North Waziristan, a region in northwest Pakistan near the Afghanistan border.
The Pakistani military sources said that U.S. military launched three missiles that struck at least one home. The sources had no information on casualties or injuries.
This is a controversial issue since President Bush approved U.S. incursions in Pakistan without Islamabad approval in July.
Reuters reported, "A U.S. pilotless drone fired two missiles at a house in northwest Pakistan killing five people, Pakistani intelligence agency officials said Wednesday."
Two intelligence agency officials told Reuters that the missiles were fired at a house near the town of Mir Ali in North Waziristan, an area known to be a sanctuary Pakistani Taliban and foreign militants near the Afghan border.
"We have reports of five dead including foreign militants," said one of the officers, reported Reuters.

September 26, 2008

Bush says bailout plan will pass

BBC News reported Friday that President George W. Bush said that legislators will "rise to the occasion" to pass the $700 billion proposal to rescue U.S. financial institutions.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that Congress will remain in session until an agreement on the proposal is reached. However, some Republicans are not ready to settle with the plan.
Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat Representative and chairman of the House Financial Committee, told BBC News "I am convinced that by Sunday we will have an agreement that people will understand on this, on this Bill."
Bush said that the disagreements on certain aspects of the plan stalled the bill's approval, but all agree that something substantial needs to be done to save Wall Street.
Reid said that "the insertion of presidential politics has not been helpful, it's been harmful," adding that Republican presidential candidate John McCain had not been clear with his financial rescue position.
McCain had earlier announced that he would not take part in the presidential debate with Barack Obama until a bailout plan was reached, but said on Friday that he would be participating.
BBC News reported that bailout discussion in Congress on Thursday ended in a "shouting match." U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson was reported being seen literally down on one knee, begging Democratic House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi to help push the passing of the bailout plan.

September 21, 2008

$700 billion proposal in bailout plan

The Bush administration Sunday said that Congress must act quickly to approve the $700 billion proposal to rescue financial institutions, reported The Associated Press.
The proposal would buy bad mortgage debt in order to unfreeze the U.S. credit markets.
Congressional leaders endorsed much of the proposal while saying that the proposal should be expanded to help those on Main Street as well as Wall Street financial firms who have lost billions in bad investments. However, the proposal is expected to pass within the next few days.
During the greatest loss on Wall Street since the Great Depression, the U.S. government has taken over the country's two biggest mortgage companies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the biggest insurance company, American International Group Inc.
The recent proposal may cost $1 trillion, the plan would take $700 billion of the bad loans off of the books of financial firms, allowing companies to resume normal lending operations.
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said that there was no alternative plan of action for the federal government and that he believes other major countries will take similar actions to protect their financial systems.
NPR reported, "The department also asked Congress to raise the national debt ceiling to $11.3 trillion from $10.6 trillion to cover the plan."

September 14, 2008

Rescue efforts in Texas after Hurricane Ike

After extensive flooding and damage, emergency officials struggled Sunday to carry out rescue efforts across Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, reported The New York Times.
Along the Gulf Coast, rescue workers looked for some of the 140,000 Texans who refused orders to evacuate and were then stranded. The Associated Press reported that Hurricane Ike claimed the lives of five people in Texas, as well as two people in Louisiana and one in Arkansas. 1,948 rescues were conducted during the hurricane, including 394 rescues by air.
As of Sunday afternoon, at least 2.8 million Texans were without power, forcing the Houston Police Department to announce a weeklong curfew from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m.
Head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, R. David Paulison, said in an interview with CNN on Sunday, "We’re asking people just to be patient. Don’t be in a hurry. If you’re in a safe place, whether a shelter or hotel or motel, or staying with friends and family, just stay right there.?
Gavelston Island received some of the most destruction in Texas where at least three bodies have been discovered. On Sunday, Gov. Rick Perry urged residents not to return to the island.
“If you are not on the island, do not make any attempt to try to come back onto the island until the local officials have told you that it is O.K..,? Mr. Perry said. “That is a very, very important piece of information that we want to drive home,? The New York Times reported.