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BREAKING: Police arrest Tupelo, Miss. man in ricin case

(Photo: Lauren Wood / Reuters)

A Tupelo, Miss. man has been arrested in connection with the ricin-laced letters sent to President Obama and a U.S. senator, police said Saturday.

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An undated classroom photo of Martin Richard, the youngest victim in the Boston Marathon bombings, shows him holding up a handwritten sign that reads “No more hurting people.  Peace.”  The photo was posted to Facebook by a friend of Martin’s teacher.  He did not survive; his mother and sister were injured in the blasts.  (Via

While only around 40 percent of children in Chicago are black are Latino, 90 percent of children whose schools will be shuttered are black or Latino.


Burma: Rohingya Muslims Face Humanitarian Crisis

The Burmese government is systematically restricting humanitarian aid and imposing discriminatory policies on Rohingya Muslims in Arakan State. The government should permit unfettered access to humanitarian agencies to provide assistance to Muslim populations, end segregated areas, and put forward a plan for those displaced to return to their homes.

© 2012 Reuters


Obama recognizes Sandy Hook educators with second-highest civilian honor

(Photo: Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Family members of the six adults killed in the Newtown, Conn., school shooting were at the White House Friday as President Barack Obama bestowed the nation’s second-highest civilian honor on their fallen relatives.

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President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Speaker John Boehner at #SOTU speech. #2013SOTU #stateoftheunion #Obama #barackobama #JoeBiden #JohnBoehner #instapolitics #Biden


Five names are emerging:

  • Cardinal Angelo Scola, Archbishop of Milan
  • Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, Archbishop of Genoa
  • Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Canadian-born former Archbishop of Quebec
  • Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture
  • Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, head of the Vatican’s office for the Eastern Catholics

Read up on them:

WASHINGTON — The House Ethics Committee said Wednesday it will continue an investigation of Illinois Republican Rep. Aaron Schock over allegations he solicited donations of more than $5,000 per donor to a super political action committee. The committee also said it’s continuing a probe of whether a trip New York Democrat Bill Owens took to Taiwan was arranged by lobbyists for the country’s government.

Both cases had been referred to the House committee by the Office of Congressional Ethics, a separate, outside ethics office. The House committee announced its decision to continue looking into each case on Wednesday, while releasing OCE’s report on both cases.

In a statement, the ethics committee said that in both cases merely “conducting further review … does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the committee.” The committee also said it would refrain from further comment pending completion of initial reviews.

Both Schock and Owens said they expect to be exonerated by the House committee.

Schock’s case involves an allegation he asked House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., to contribute $25,000 from his leadership PAC to a super PAC that backed Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., in a House primary against Rep. Don Manzullo. Kinzinger won the March 2012 primary. Redistricting following the 2010 census put the two congressmen in the same and the primary.

According to the OCE report, the Super PAC backing Kinzinger, the Campaign for Primary Accountability, received a minimum of $115,000 that came from “efforts of Rep. Schock and his campaign committee.”

Schock told investigators that he never requested the $25,000 from Cantor. According to the OCE report, Cantor told investigators that Schock had asked him if he would give the $25,000 donation to back Kinzinger. Cantor said he then gave money from his committee to the super PAC backing Kinziger in the primary.

The case involving Owens relates to a December 2011 trip he and his wife took to Taiwan. Owens and his wife were invited by the Chinese Culture University of Taiwan. But the trip may have been arranged by lobbyists for the country. Lawmakers are prohibited from taking trips that are paid for by lobbyists.

Owens said he expected the investigation would clear him of wrongdoing.

H/T: Huffington Post

LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy resigned abruptly Saturday in a scandal involving thousands of calls to four women on his state-issued cellphone, including one woman who said she had a romantic relationship with the politician.

Gov. Dave Heineman announced Sheehy’s resignation in a hastily called news conference Saturday morning. Sheehy, a Republican, had been considered the front-runner in the 2014 gubernatorial race and had been endorsed by Heineman.

"As public officials, we are rightly held to a higher standard," Heineman said. "I had trusted him, and that trust was broken."

Sheehy resigned after questions were raised about the cellphone calls with four women, none of whom were his wife, who filed for divorce last year. The calls, made over the last four years, were first reported by the Omaha World-Herald, which had made a public records request for Sheehy’s phone records.

Records released Saturday by the governor’s office show Sheehy made thousands of late-night phone calls to the women. He spoke with some of the women numerous times a day in conversations that lasted anywhere from a few minutes to more than an hour, according to the records.

Sheehy was the mayor of Hastings before Heineman selected him as his running mate. They were elected by a record margin to their first full term in 2006 and re-elected in 2010.

Asked for his reaction Saturday, Heineman said, “I’ve got a knot in my stomach. I’m deeply disappointed.”

Heineman said he doubted Sheehy would run for the governor’s office now.

"And no, I would not support him under the circumstances," Heineman said.

Sheehy did not appear at the news conference, and his state-issued cellphone was disconnected. A phone call to Sheehy’s office went unanswered, and a message was not immediately returned.

Last July, Sheehy’s wife, Connie Sheehy, filed for divorce after nearly 29 years of marriage. Her divorce filing stated the “marriage of the parties is irretrievably broken.”

Heineman said he will begin the process Monday of looking for a new lieutenant governor.

If something were to happen to Heineman before he selects a new lieutenant governor, Republican Speaker of the Legislature Greg Adams would ascend to the governor’s post.

Sheehy’s announcement shakes up an already turbulent 2014 governor’s race. Another Republican candidate, former Nebraska Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood, entered the race briefly but withdrew in December after his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. State Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont, a Republican, has also said he is leaning toward running.

Several Democrats have signaled an interest in running, including University of Nebraska Regent Chuck Hassebrook and Nebraska state Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha. In recent weeks, party activists have also approached state Sen. Annette Dubas, of Fullerton.

"We’re going to have a very strong candidate in 2014," said Vince Powers, chairman of the Nebraska Democratic Party. "This doesn’t change anything, other than it really demonstrates that when you have one party in power for too long, arrogance and corruption and scandal follow it. It doesn’t matter if it’s Democrats in power or Republicans in power."

h/t: Huffington Post


Teen slain after performing at inaugural: ‘Happiest day of her life and then she’s gone’

(Photos Courtesy of the Pendleton family)

She was a “walking angel” with a “heart of gold” and performing at President Obama’s inauguration last week was “the happiest day of her life.” The shooting death of 15-year-old Chicagoan Hadiya Pendleton, a marching-band majorette with big dreams, has sparked grief and outrage across the country. 

Learn more about Hadiya

(via nbcnews)

LAS VEGAS — Declaring that America’s immigration system is broken, President Obama on Tuesday called for a process to allow millions of illegal immigrants in the country to apply for citizenship, and he warned that he would send his own bill to Congress if lawmakers deadlock on a new Senate proposal.

In his first trip outside Washington since beginning his second term, Obama added to momentum on Capitol Hill in favor of an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, setting forth the principles for a top second-term priority — and perhaps the one most likely to be accomplished.

“We need Congress to act on a comprehensive approach that finally deals with the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are in this country right now,” Obama said.

“Now’s the time,” he said repeatedly.

At a public high school in a state with a population that is 27 percent Hispanic, Obama outlined the steps illegal immigrants could take to apply for citizenship. They would register, submit biometric data, pass background checks and pay fees before gaining a provisional legal status. After gaining a “provisional legacy status” and learning English, the immigrants would wait in line for existing immigration backlogs to clear before applying for permanent residency and citizenship.

“There will be no uncertainty about their ability to become U.S. citizens if they meet these eligibility criteria,” according to a White House briefing document.

While welcoming a newly announced Senate plan, Obama ventured beyond it in several respects. He said a framework for comprehensive immigration reform that was announced by a bipartisan group of senatorsMonday is “very much in line with the principles I’ve proposed and campaigned on for the last few years.”

But he warned that if lawmakers are unable to agree on legislation, “I will send up a bill based on my proposals and insist that they vote on it right away.”

Obama’s principles largely mirror the work that a bipartisan Senate group seeking to overhaul immigration laws released Monday.

“The good news is that — for the first time in many years — Republicans and Democrats seem ready to tackle this problem together,” Obama said. “Members of both parties, in both chambers, are actively working on a solution.”

He said the Senate group’s proposal is “very much in line with the principles I’ve proposed and campaigned on for the last few years. At this moment, it looks like there’s a genuine desire to get this done soon. And that’s very encouraging.”

But the two approaches differ, with the president proposing an unconditional pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. The Senate plan links such a process to additional steps to enforce border security.

But it was the proposal for easing immigration restrictions that were sure to garner the most attention. The proposal seeks to expedite applications from immigrants who are family members of existing residents or citizens.

For the first time, it would allow citizens and permanent residents to seek a visa for a same-sex partner.

To help recruit science and engineering professionals to stay in the country, Obama’s proposal would offer green cards to people who have received master’s degrees or doctorates from American universities in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics and have also obtained employment in the United States.

H/T: WaPo

For the vast majority of readers who tune into Israel every so often but are not obsessive about it, the country’s election on Tuesday appears to have delivered a rare moment of mild encouragement. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, deservedly cast as a peace rejectionist, has been weakened and the overall right-wing bloc unexpectedly lost seats, creating the narrowest margin of victory of the right over the non-right of 61–59 (down from 65–55 in the previous Knesset), when polls had predicted the margin to grow further (although describing the split this way is not a helpful guide, of which more later).

Moderate Israel has also found itself a new champion in the staggering success of newbie centrist party leader Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid (There Is a Future) party claimed nineteen seats. If one counts Labor as being left (despite its protestations to the contrary), then the Meretz-Labor left camp has scored an impressive revival, from sixteen to twenty-one seats. By this accounting, Israel’s rightward march appears to have been stalled, at least for the time being, itself quite a feat given Israeli demographic trends (higher ultra-Orthodox and national-religious birthrates) and the debilitating disunity among the non-rightist opposition, which failed to agree on an alternative candidate to Netanyahu in this election.

This is where a pause from breathless optimism (or a read of Max Blumenthal’s take on the election) is very much in order. First of all, the right may have shrunk slightly, but the remaining and significant cohort has veered appreciably rightward. Far more of the Knesset’s now forty-three Zionist-right MKs take an overtly anti-democratic approach toward Israel’s non-Jewish minority and dissenting voices, prioritize settlement expansion and support annexation of a large part or all of the occupied territories. These views are represented in both the much-enlarged national religious Jewish Home party, led by Naftali Bennett, and within the Likud faction itself.

More important still, it is the Zionist right that will form the next government and be a clear majority of Netanyahu’s next coalition—yes, that Netanyahu. He will still be PM. But if the Zionist right is again not a majority and has lost seats, and the non-right beats the right by forty-eight seats to forty-three, why is it that a non-right government is so inconceivable?

At this point, a word of explanation is required regarding Israel’s political camps. In addition to the Zionist right and the non-right, the remaining seats needed to form a governing majority are split between the other two blocs in Israeli politics: the ultra-Orthodox, or Haredim (Knesset seats: eighteen), and the largely Palestinian Arab parties (eleven).

The ultra-Orthodox parties (Shas and United Torah Judaism) make for more natural partners of the Zionist right—a discourse of universal rights is alien to them, certainly as applied to Palestinians, and they are socially very conservative. But the ultra-Orthodox can also switch sides. Their economic outlook more approximates that of the left—they see a role for government and social safety nets, and their greatest focus is financial benefits and allowances and a degree of autonomy for their own community (for instance, running their own education system). Anyone willing to pay that price is a potential ally. The ultra-Urthodox parties are also, strictly speaking, not Zionist. Their interpretation of Jewish law makes for an uneasy relationship with the idea of a sovereign Jewish state in pre-messianic times; this is partly why their rabbinical leaders vehemently oppose military service for their community. Other than a (not unproblematic) tendency toward intolerance and racism, and the fact that the two largest settlements (Betar Ilit and Modi’in Ilit) provide cheap housing near Jerusalem for the ultra-Orthodox, ideologically they are not really part of the settlements and Greater Israel camp. Territorial pragmatism and peace overtures have been justified by Haredi rabbinical authorities in the past—mostly predicated on the command to save lives and even on the need to avoid confrontation with the world—and there’s no reason why they couldn’t do so in the future.

From the perspective of centrist Zionist Israeli Jews, the non-Zionism of Israel’s Palestinian citizens is apparently much harder to accept than the non-Zionism of the ultra-Orthodox. Yair Lapid, the new face of moderate Israel, used his first post-election appearance in front of the TV cameras to rule out forming any kind of parliamentary bloc with the Arab parties, even one that might put him in the prime minister’s seat. This reality of exclusion also helps suppress Palestinian voter turnout (up to 15 percent lower than turnout among Israeli Jews), another factor that, if it were to change, could add a handful of seats to the non-right camp.

Rabin was indeed the last Israeli prime minister to achieve overall progress with the Palestinian leadership (then led by Yasir Arafat’s PLO) and to advance equality for the Palestinian citizens of Israel—and his premiership was the last time Israel was governed from the center-left. Rabin led by forming a blocking alliance with the non-Zionist Palestinian parties and a governing coalition with the non-Zionist ultra-Orthodox of Shas. It was Rabin’s government, of course, that produced the 1993 Oslo Accords with the PLO. There have been negotiations since then, but never a government of the non-right that produced and implemented peace deals (the Lebanon and Gaza withdrawals, under Ehud Barak in 2000 and Ariel Sharon in 2005, respectively, were both unilateral); that governed without a strong pro-settler coalition presence; that avoided bouts of war and harsh military escalations; and that addressed domestic inequality in a serious way.

First, the ideological change. The fact that other than the small and proudly leftist (and growing) Meretz party, the non-right parties (Yesh Atid, Labor, Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua and the now-shrunken Kadima, led by Shaul Mofaz) all insist on defining themselves as center parties, not left, and have ruled out adopting a new branding—progressive or liberal or democratic—already hints at the problem. The Zionist center too often sounds and acts like a less vicious, more huggable version of the Zionist right, bereft of its own vision or beliefs, still undemocratic for its non-Jewish citizens, and still indulgent of settlements, occupation and injustices vis-à-vis the Palestinians beyond the Green Line. It should not be surprising, for example, that Kadima MKs supported anti-democratic legislation in the outgoing Knesset.

And finally, one cannot absolve the United States, Europe and other outside powers from their responsibility for having pursued policies that indulge Israeli violations of international law and that fuel Israeli escapism. Handwringing in Western capitals about continued pro-settlement Israeli policies is an evasion. Alongside the failures of the Israeli non-right, the other key reason the right has been winning the argument in Israel is because there have been no negative consequences for the steady expansion of Israel’s grip on the West Bank and East Jerusalem. If Yair Lapid—and the large centrist, urban-based middle-class sector that he represents—is to make the switch and escapist Israel is to wake up, it will be the result of smart and targeted international pressure and the fear of international isolation. Western signals of impunity and indulgence toward the occupation are the oxygen of escapism, and the off-switch for that oxygen needs to be found rather urgently.

H/T: Daniel Levy at The Nation

President #BarackObama getting sworn in by #scotus Chief Justice #JohnRoberts at #Inauguration2013. #inaug2013 #Inauguration #POTUS #fourmoreyears #eightyearsofexcellence #BHO #PBO #Obama