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Obama's 'Beast' of a car revealed

Thursday, January 15, 2009


By Rajini Vaidyanathan
BBC News


It looks like something out of a James Bond film.

But the presidential seal on the side marks this hulking limo out as something not even the superspy will be able to get his hands on.

These are the first pictures of the new armoured limousine which will be used to ferry Barack Obama around.

Nicknamed "The Beast", the Cadillac will make its debut on 20 January, as part of the inaugural parade.

It is traditional to show presidential cars off for the first time in this way.

'State of the art'

The Secret Service said the 2009 limo would provide it with a "valuable asset" in providing its occupant with the highest level of protection.

As expected, they are not giving too much away about the car, but Nicholas Trotta, their Assistant Director for the Office of Protective Operations is quoted in their news release:

"Although many of the vehicle's security enhancements cannot be discussed, it is safe to say that this car's security and coded communications systems make it the most technologically advanced protection vehicle in the world."...(Click for remainder).

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New admission over legal advice on Iraq invasion

Government fails to provide proof that the former attorney general was not pressured to change his initial opinion that 2003 invasion could be illegal

Photograph: Matt Dunham/AP

By Chris Ames
Guardian UK


Fresh questions over the legality of the Iraq war were raised today after the government admitted it could not substantiate its claim that Lord Goldsmith had changed his mind over the legal basis for the invasion before a highly controversial meeting with two of Tony Blair's closest allies.

The admission has revived allegations that the former attorney general was pressured to revise his opinion that an invasion could be illegal without an explicit UN resolution.

Opposition MPs have renewed calls for a full Iraq inquiry in light of the new information.

The revelation comes ahead of a ruling on whether the government should publish minutes of two prewar cabinet meetings at which Goldsmith's advice was discussed.

Two weeks before the invasion, in March 2003, Goldsmith gave Blair a detailed legal opinion that doubted its legality.

Six days later, on 13 March, Goldsmith met Lord Falconer, then a junior minister, and Sally (now Lady) Morgan from Blair's office.

On 17 March, he published a single-page parliamentary answer, asserting that the war would be legal on the basis of existing UN resolutions.

In 2006 Richard Thomas, the information commissioner, ordered the government to disclose details of the process by which Goldsmith had come to his revised conclusion.

However, rather than requiring the publication of actual documents, Thomas allowed the government to publish a narrative account and include material that was not based on documentary evidence....(Click for remainder).

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Chávez Reopens Oil Bids to West as Prices Plunge

By Simon Romero
The New York Times


CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chávez, buffeted by falling oil prices that threaten to damage his efforts to establish a Socialist-inspired state, is quietly courting Western oil companies once again.

Until recently, Mr. Chávez had pushed foreign oil companies here into a corner by nationalizing their oil fields, raiding their offices with tax authorities and imposing a series of royalties increases.

But faced with the plunge in prices and a decline in domestic production, senior officials have begun soliciting bids from some of the largest Western oil companies in recent weeks — including Chevron, Royal Dutch/Shell and Total of France — promising them access to some of the world’s largest petroleum reserves, according to energy executives and industry consultants here.

Their willingness to even consider investing in Venezuela reflects the scarcity of projects open to foreign companies in other top oil nations, particularly in the Middle East.

But the shift also shows how the global financial crisis is hampering Mr. Chávez’s ideological agenda and demanding his pragmatic side. At stake are no less than Venezuela’s economic stability and the sustainability of his rule. With oil prices so low, the longstanding problems plaguing Petróleos de Venezuela, the national oil company that helps keep the country afloat, have become much harder to ignore....(Click for remainder).

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US told not to vote for Gaza resolution

Since when does the Israeli Prime Minister dictate US foreign policy? This whole situation has moved from the strange to the truly macabre.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says he had told the US president not to vote in favor of the recent United Nations resolution on Gaza.

By Press TV

"I told him (George W. Bush) the United States could not vote in favor. It cannot vote in favor of such a resolution. He immediately called the secretary of state and told her not to vote in favor," said Olmert on Monday.

Last Thursday, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1860, calling for an immediate ceasefire between Hamas and Israeli forces and an immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza. The US was the only country to abstain; fourteen of the 15 council members voted in favor of the resolution.

According to Olmert, Bush had ordered Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to abstain. Rice is among officials who had helped arrange the resolution.

"In the night between Thursday and Friday, when the secretary of state wanted to lead the vote on a ceasefire at the Security Council, we did not want her to vote in favor," Olmert said in a speech in the southern town of Ashkelon.

"I said 'get me President Bush on the phone'. They said he was in the middle of giving a speech in Philadelphia. I said I did not care. 'I need to talk to him now'. He got off the podium and spoke to me," he added.

World nations have condemned the Israeli military campaign in Gaza. The Bush administration, however, blames Hamas, saying the group provoked Tel Aviv by firing rockets into Israel....(Click for remainder).

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Memo to Obama: Moving Forward Doesn't Mean You Can't Also Look Back

By Arianna Huffington
Huffington Post


In one week, the U.S. Constitution will be front and center as Barack Obama solemnly swears to "preserve, protect, and defend" it. Given all that has happened over the last eight years, that oath is not nearly as pro-forma as it used to be.

During his final press conference yesterday, President Bush said that when it came time "to protect the homeland" he "wouldn't worry about popularity." He would "worry about the Constitution of the United States." It wasn't clear, as it hasn't been for most of his time in office, whether his concern was directed at upholding the document or circumventing it.

So as the Obama Years are about to begin, one of the questions facing the new president is what will he do about the transgressions of the Bush Years? Will his promise to protect and defend the Constitution include an investigation into the assaults on it perpetrated by members of the Bush administration?

On change.gov, the website of the Obama transition team, there is a section where people can submit questions and readers can vote on the questions they most want the incoming administration to answer. The top question last week, receiving over 23,000 votes, came from Bob Fertik of democrats.com:

"Will you appoint a Special Prosecutor (ideally Patrick Fitzgerald) to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping?"

Instead of having Obama respond to Fertik's question, change.gov posted an earlier reply from Joe Biden who had said, "President-elect Obama and I are not sitting thinking about the past... I think we should be looking forward, not backwards."

Picking up the dropped ball on Sunday, George Stephanopoulos directly asked Obama Fertik's question ("the most popular question on your own website")....(Click for remainder).

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Court Grants National Security Archive Motion to Search White House Computers and Preserve E-mails

By David Swanson
After Downing Street


On the eve of transition, federal judge orders outgoing White House staff to surrender electronic media containing e-mails

Washington, D.C., January 14, 2009 – The United States District Court for the District of Columbia today granted the National Security Archive’s emergency motion for an extended preservation order to protect missing White House e-mails. With the transition from the Bush Administration to the Obama Administration taking place in six days, and all the records of the Bush White House scheduled for a physical transfer to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) on that same day, the Court has directed the Executive Office of the President (EOP) to search all its computer work stations and has ordered EOP employees to surrender any media in their possession that may contain e-mails from March 2003 to October 2005.

“There is nothing like a deadline to clarify the issues,” said Archive Director Tom Blanton. “In six days the Bush Executive Office of the President will be gone and without this order, their records may disappear with them. The White House will complain about the last minute challenge, but this is a records crisis of the White House's own making.”

Counsel for the Archive, Sheila Shadmand from Jones Day made clear: “The White House has been on notice since we filed our lawsuit a year and a half ago that they would have to retrieve and preserve their e-mail. Instead of coming clean and telling the public what they have been doing to solve the crisis, they refused to say anything. At this point, it is critical to preserve evidence that can help get to the bottom of the problem and prevent it from happening again.”

Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola has scheduled an emergency status conference today at 2 p.m. to consider additional measures that may be necessary to protect the records during the transition. (Courtroom 6 of the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse)

The Archive filed its emergency motion for an extended preservation order on March 11, 2008. After considering the objections of the White House, Magistrate Judge Facciola issued two reports, on April 24 and July 29, 2008, recommending that District Judge Henry H. Kennedy issue an order requiring search, surrender and preservation of the computer workstations and external media devices, such as CDs, DVDs, memory sticks, and external hard drives. Today’s order adopts those reports and recommendations, granting in part the Archive’s emergency motion....(Click for remainder).

National Security Archive

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Gaza In Crisis 2008

This video describes in pictures and words the shocking details of Israels deliberate ravaging of Palestinian life and society in Gaza. Its purpose is to call attention to the plight of a people under siege, which so far has been chillingly ignored by governments and the world media unwilling to call Israel to account for its criminal execution of the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians from their own land. The video was created by Sonja Karkar for Australians for Palestine on 9 December 2008 using images captured by various courageous photographers on the ground in Gaza, and the haunting sounds of Sada (Echo), composed and played on the oud by Ahmad Al-Khatib. See, http://www.australiansforpalestine.com

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Senate Dems to hold three vote edge on most panels

A family of nine is among the latest Palestinian civilian casualties as the fighting continues.

By Ibrahim Barzak, Kim Sengupta, Geoffrey Lean and David Randall report
The Independent UK


Israeli forces yesterday pounded dozens of targets in the Gaza Strip and dropped leaflets warning of an escalation in attacks, as southern Israel came under renewed Palestinian rocket fire. Last night, as flames and smoke rose over Gaza City, speculation grew that Israel was about to launch the so-called third stage of its offensive: the forcible entry into Gaza City by thousands of troops.

In response, Hamas said that the Gaza offensive had "killed the last chance for settlement and negotiation with Israel". Earlier yesterday, Israeli aircraft attacked more than 40 targets throughout Gaza, striking 10 rocket-launching sites, weapons-storage facilities, smuggling tunnels, an anti-aircraft missile launcher and gunmen. And civilians. In the day's bloodiest incident, an Israeli tank shell landed outside a home in the northern Gaza town of Jabaliya, killing nine people as they sat in their garden. They were all from the same clan, and, said health administrator Adham Hakim, their bodies were so mangled they were brought to hospital in the boot of a civilian car. Two were women and two were children.

This wretched pair will be added to the nearly 300 Gaza children who have been killed by Israeli fire. In the perversely disproportionate mathematics of this conflict, 13 Israelis have been killed – four of them by militant rockets. According to the Hamas-run Palestinian health ministry, the overall death toll now exceeds 800, more than a third of them children. The United Nations corroborates this, a report two days ago from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs putting the number of children killed at 265. The Israelis respond that Hamas often uses schools and homes, and therefore are the ones bringing down fire on Gaza's children. Last week, an Israeli attack outside a UN school killed nearly 40 people. Israel and Palestinian witnesses said militants carried out an attack from the area moments earlier. But it is Israeli fire, Israeli weapons and Israeli military that do the aiming – and Palestinian women and children being killed at a rate that is sickening world opinion, if not yet world leaders....(Click for remainder).

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Sutley appears at confirmation hearing

By The Associated Press via 365Gay.com


(Washington) Lisa Jackson, President-elect Barack Obama’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, pledged Wednesday that decisions at the agency will be based on science and the law and not politics.

Jackson’s opening statement at her Senate confirmation hearing was the clearest signal yet that the Obama administration plans to take the agency in a different direction. The Bush administration at times ignored the advice of scientific experts on decisions ranging from global warming to air pollution.

“Science must be the backbone of what EPA does,” said Jackson. “EPA’s addressing of scientific decisions should reflect the expert judgment of the agency’s career scientists.”

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works is also considering the nomination of Nancy Sutley, Obama’s choice to chair the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Sutley also vowed to rely on science as she helped to “move the nation to greater reliance on clean energy and increase energy security.”

Senators are expected to press both candidates for details on how the incoming administration plans to tackle global warming and water pollution. They also could be asked whether they plan to redo Bush administration rules that Senate Democrats say have weakened environmental protections.

Obama has called for legislation to curb the gas emissions blamed for global warming. But it is unclear whether he will pursue a new law first or use existing statutes to more quickly address the problem. He could immediately grant states like California the right to regulate emissions from automobile tailpipes, or trigger controls under the Clean Air Act....(Click for remainder).

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Miliband regrets 'war on terror'

The idea of a "war on terror" is a "mistake", putting too much emphasis on military force, Foreign Secretary David Miliband has said.

By BBC

Writing in the Guardian, Mr Miliband said the idea had unified disparate "terrorist groups" against the West.

He said the right response to the threat was to champion law and human rights - not subordinate it.

Mr Miliband is due to repeat the views in a speech later in Mumbai, India, the scene of attacks by gunmen last year.

Mr Miliband's warning comes five days before the end of US President George Bush's administration, which has led the so-called "war on terror".

The foreign secretary wrote that since 9/11 the phrase "war on terror" had "defined the terrain" when it came to tackling terrorism and that although it had merit, "ultimately, the notion is misleading and mistaken".

The phrase was first used by President Bush in an address to a joint session of Congress on 20 September 2001, in the aftermath of the attacks on New York and Washington.

Mr Miliband wrote that the phrase was all-encompassing and "gave the impression of a unified, transnational enemy, embodied in the figure of Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda" when the situation was far more complex....(Click for remainder).

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Christian Cross Does Not Honor All Deceased Veterans, Americans United Tells Federal Appeals Court

San Diego Religious Symbol's Display On Public Land Violates Constitution, Church-State Watchdog Group Argues

By Americans United for the Separation of Church and State

The Christian cross is not an appropriate symbol to memorialize deceased veterans of many different faith perspectives and should not be displayed on government property, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has told a federal appeals court.

Americans United and other religious and civil liberties groups today asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a lower court’s ruling holding that the Mt. Soledad cross in San Diego is a secular war memorial.

“American service personnel come from many different faiths and some follow no spiritual path at all,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “It is disrespectful to our deceased veterans to use the symbol of only one faith to memorialize them all.

“As a Christian minister, I know the cross has great meaning for many Christians,” Lynn continued, “but it is simply not an appropriate marker for non-Christians.”

Litigation over the 43-foot-tall Mt. Soledad cross has been under way for nearly 20 years. Several federal courts have ruled against its display on city property. In an effort to save the cross, the federal government acquired the land underneath the cross in 2006.

Legal action proceeded against the federal government’s ownership of the towering religious symbol. In July of 2008, U.S. District Judge Larry Alan Burns ruled that the cross “communicates the primarily non-religious messages of military service, death and sacrifice” and can remain on public property.

In their friend-of-the-court brief filed today, Americans United and other groups dispute that conclusion....(Click for remainder).

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