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Philadelphia votes to close 23 schools after protests, arrests

© Screenshot via NewsWorks.org
A protester outside the School Reform Commission meeting in Philadelphia, where officials voted Thursday evening to close 23 of the city's public schools.
The School Reform Commission voted Thursday night to close 10 percent of Philadelphia's public schools, in a decision that sparked a rally that resulted in 19 arrests.

The decision was made after police arrested 19 protesters, including Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, charging them with disorderly conduct. Over 500 protesters blocked Broad Street in front of the School District of Philadelphia Headquarters.

After three hours of debate the state-run School Reform Commission voted to shutter 23 out of 27 schools up for closure. Commission chairman Pedro Ramos said the closings were "excruciating, difficult and emotional for all of us," but that they helped to restore financial stability.

The closings were opposed by all but one of the 32 people who spoke at the meeting. "The process by which the Philadelphia School District decided on school closures was flawed and must be rejected," said State Representative W. Curtis Thomas.
Snakes in Suits

Obama not bluffing over Iran military threat, Biden tells Aipac

© Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Joe Biden also said the US remained committed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Vice-president tells Aipac that military option remains on the table for Obama to prevent Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon

Barack Obama's threats to use military force to prevent Iran securing a nuclear weapon are more than idle bluffs, vice-president Joe Biden told the biggest pro-Israeli lobbying group Aipac on Monday.

Biden said that while the US preferred a diplomatic solution to the standoff with Iran, a military option remained on the table.

"The president of the United States cannot, and does not, bluff. President Barack Obama is not bluffing," Biden told the audience in Washington.

Israel is seeking assurances of support from the US, should it decide to launch air strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities.

There has been scepticism about Obama's commitment to a military option against Iran, given the administration's general unwillingness to be drawn into new conflicts after the experience of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Some observers feel that Obama's threat is aimed purely at putting pressure on Iran to resolve the standoff diplomatically and not embark on another conflict.

Angry Italian priest burns photo of Pope Benedict XVI during services

Church chiefs in Italy have launched an investigation after an Italian priest set fire to a photograph of former Pope Benedict XVI in front of dozens of stunned worshippers. Father Andrea Maggi, 67, ignited the picture during a sermon, saying that Benedict had "abandoned" the Catholic Church.

He then went on to compare him, to Costa Concordia captain Francesco Schettino, who was been accused of fleeing his post and leaving passengers on the stranded cruise ship. Father Andrea, a priest for more than 40 years, told the packed service at Santo Stefano church in Castelvittorio near Imperia: "I'm doing this because he has not been a Pope, he has abandoned us.

A shepherd never leaves his flock." Parishioners including children, looked on amazed as the picture of Benedict, who resigned last week after eight years as Pontiff was enveloped in flames before the priest let it drop to the ground and burn itself out.

Postal Service 'welcome kit' raises questions; White House now cites Privacy Act

© Nick Ut
People wait in line at the U.S. Postal Service Airport station in Los Angeles on Dec. 19, 2011.
The White House has secretly questioned the U.S. Postal Service about whether its change of address "welcome kit" program used by tens of millions of Americans violates the federal Privacy Act.

Despite telling The Washington Times that it had no such records, the White House Office of Management and Budget made inquiries into the Postal Service's MoversSource program, which is managed under a 10-year, exclusive contract with Pitney Bowes Inc. subsidiary Imagitas, according to internal emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

The federal Privacy Act bars agencies from selling or renting personal information, including names and addresses. Through Imagitas, the Postal Service uses information it collects from people who filled out change-of-address forms to send an official-looking MoversGuide welcome kit filled mostly with advertising and coupons from companies selling cellphones, insurance, home security, mattresses and lots of other move-related products and services.

The Postal Service and Imagitas split the ad revenue. Both say their arrangement is perfectly legal.

Feds keep hiring with sequesters in place: 400 jobs posted on first day back

© AP
Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican
The sequester cuts are now officially in place, but many government agencies appear to be hiring freely anyway.

The U.S. Forest Service on Monday posted help-wanted ads for a few good men and women to work as "recreation aides" this summer, the Internal Revenue Service advertised for an office secretary in Maryland, the U.S. Mint wanted 24 people to help press coins, and the Agriculture Department said it needs three "insect production workers" to help grow bollworms in Phoenix.

Monday marked the first regular workday under sequestration, and federal agencies posted more than 400 job ads by 6 p.m.

At a time when nearly all of those agencies are contemplating furloughs, the help-wanted ads raised questions about how agencies should decide between saving through attrition or letting people go.

"Every position you don't fill that isn't absolutely necessary is one less person that needs to be furloughed," said Steve Ellis, vice president at Taxpayers for Common Sense - though he said some positions that people leave need to be filled in order to meet agencies' core missions.

More sequester pain: White House cancels tours

© Charles Dharapak
A Marine sentry stands guard at the White House on Jan. 1, 2013, indicating that President Obama is working in the West Wing
The White House announced Tuesday that it was canceling all public tours of the president's home because of the sequester spending cuts.

"Due to staffing reductions resulting from sequestration, we regret to inform you that White House Tours will be canceled effective Saturday, March 9, 2013 until further notice. Unfortunately, we will not be able to reschedule affected tours," the White House said in an email.
Christmas Tree

UN: Colorado, Washington legal pot violates drug treaties

© M. Spencer Green
In this photo taken Feb. 14, 2013, Peter Bensinger, a former Drug Enforcement Administration chief under Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, speaks at a news conference in Chicago. Bensinger is one of eight former DEA chiefs that say the federal government needs to act now or it might lose the chance to nullify Colorado and Washington's laws legalizing recreational marijuana use. They plan to issue joint statements Tuesday, March 5, 2013, saying the Obama administration has reacted too slowly and should immediately sue to force the states to rescind the legislation.
A United Nations-based drug agency urged the United States government on Tuesday to challenge the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Colorado and Washington, saying the state laws violate international drug treaties.

The International Narcotics Control Board made its appeal in an annual drug report. It called on Washington, D.C., to act to "ensure full compliance with the international drug control treaties on its entire territory."

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said last week that he was in the last stages of reviewing the Colorado and Washington state laws. Holder said he was examining policy options and international implications of the issue. Marijuana is illegal under federal law.

TSA sealed $50-million sequester-eve deal to buy new uniforms

© AP
The impending sequester did not prevent the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) from acting in late February to seal a $50-million deal to purchase new uniforms for its agents--uniforms that will be partly manufactured in Mexico.

Soon after this new investment in TSA uniforms, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano warned Americans that the lines are already lengthening at airports due to the sequester.

"We are already seeing the effect on the ports of entry, the big airports for example," Napolitano told Politico on Monday. "Some of them had very long lines this weekend."

"Look people, I don't mean to scare, I mean to inform," Napolitiano said."If you're traveling, get to the airport earlier than you otherwise would. There's only so much we can do with personnel and please don't yell at the customs officers, the TSA officers. They aren't responsible for sequester."

'Freedom' license plate banned in Washington D.C.

Several vanity plates touting slogans and political causes have been banned in the nation's capital, including "FREEDOM," "TAXKLLR" and "OBAMA."

A document obtained by government watchdog GovernmentAttic.org through the Freedom of Information Act shows over 68 pages of banned vanity plates under Washington, D.C. law. The banned plates range everywhere from supporting the local baseball team to espousing libertarian values.

Mother Teresa: Sadistic religious fanatic guilty of medical malpractice

Mother Teresa: Fanatic, fundamentalist and fraud
© facebook
Mother Teresa was a sadistic religious fanatic who took pleasure in the suffering of others, and denied appropriate medical care to the sick and dying, according to a recently released study.

The study, published by Canadian researchers in the journal of studies in religion and sciences called Religieuses, claims that Mother Teresa was "anything but a saint." The study reports Teresa was generous with her prayers but miserly with her foundation's millions when it came to alleviating the suffering of the sick and the poor.

Researchers report Mother Teresa saw beauty in suffering, and was far more willing to pray for those in her care rather than provide practical medical treatment. In addition to her medical malpractice and her perverse and sadistic enjoyment of the suffering of others, the study also raises questions about Teresa's financial mismanagement of large sums of money, and her friendship with unsavory and immoral world leaders.

Yet despite serious questions about Teresa's character, motivation and methods, as well as concerns about her suspicious financial dealings and contacts, the Vatican engaged in a well orchestrated public relations campaign to manufacture a Catholic hero, even going so far as to take the unprecedented step to forgo the usual five-year waiting period before her beatification, the first step on the path to sainthood.