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Cupcake Choco

Maryland school district restricts hugs, party invitations and cupcakes

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A county in Maryland is putting limits on some of the trappings of elementary school: Hugs from grown-ups are restricted, birthday-party invitations are banned, and no more bringing cupcakes for the whole class.

Parents who visit the 17 elementary schools in St. Mary's County are still allowed to hug their own children, just not other kids. Only parents registered as volunteers are allowed on the playground, and even then they can't push other people's kids on the swings.

"What's OK with some families is not OK with others," Kelly Hall, the district's executive director of elementary schools, told NBC News on Tuesday.

The guidelines come from a committee of parents and school administrators that started meeting last fall. They were put in place after the massacre last December in Newtown, Conn. District officials stress that they are not final, and say they want feedback from parents.

Pistol

Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper signs landmark gun-control bills

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© Brennan Linsley / AP file
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, left, serving as moderator in a debate on gun violence hosted by CELL, the Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab, listens as University of Colorado law professor and panelist David Kopel speaks against gun control legislation in Denver, Tuesday Feb. 19, 2013.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed landmark new gun laws on Wednesday expanding background checks on gun purchases and limiting the size of ammunition magazines, placing the traditionally firearm-friendly state among the handful to pass new restrictions in the wake of the shooting in Newtown, Conn.

The Democratic governor defended the legislation in a press conference on Wednesday. Hickenlooper said he had found widespread support among state residents for broadening background checks, and dismissed the idea that politicians had been pressured from outside the state.

"This didn't come from the White House," Hickenlooper said.

Hickenlooper's signature came the day after the head of Colorado's Department of Corrections, Tom Clements, was shot and killed in his home, apparently after he answered a ring at his front door, authorities said.

The state has been scarred by some of the deadliest incidents of mass gun violence in recent U.S. history, including the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School and the Aurora movie theater shooting that killed 12 last July. The state's gun control bills have gained national attention since they were first proposed, drawing the ire of those who oppose any new restrictions on gun purchases or ownership.

"We're all in shock here," state Senator Greg Brophy, a Republican, said on Wednesday. "It turns out this guy who everybody thought was a moderate Democrat is actually a gun-control governor."

USA

Reminding the people why they need U.S.: Bombs kill nearly 60 on Iraq invasion anniversary

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© REUTERS/Mohammed Ameen
Residents gather at the site of a car bomb attack in the AL-Mashtal district in Baghdad March 19, 2013.
More than a dozen car bombs and suicide blasts tore through Shi'ite Muslim districts in the Iraqi capital Baghdad and other areas on Tuesday, killing nearly 60 people on the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.

Sunni Islamist insurgents linked to al Qaeda are regaining ground in Iraq, invigorated by the war next door in Syria and have stepped up attacks on Shi'ite targets in an attempt to provoke a wider sectarian confrontation.

One car bomb exploded in a busy Baghdad market, three detonated in the Shi'ite district of Sadr City and another near the entrance of the heavily fortified Green Zone that sent a plume of dark smoke into the air alongside the River Tigris.

A suicide bomber in a truck attacked a police base in a Shi'ite town south of the capital, and another blew himself up inside a restaurant to target a police major in the northern city of Mosul.

"I was driving my taxi and suddenly I felt my car rocked. Smoke was all around. I saw two bodies on the ground. People were running and shouting everywhere," said Ali Radi, a taxi driver caught in one of the blasts in Baghdad's Sadr City.

Eye 1

The final lie of the Iraq War

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Ten years.

Two trillion dollars.

One hundred and ninety thousand lives.

And forty-two percent.

That's the percentage of Americans who do not believe the invasion, occupation and destruction of Iraq was a mistake. Even with what we knew then, it's hard to figure that anyone would still endorse the invasion. Given what we know now, it's a staggering and disheartening number.

But that's not the half of it.

A closer look at a 10th Anniversary Gallup poll shows a disturbing trend. In 2008, sixty-three percent of Americans believed the invasion was a mistake. Now, with even more perspective and more information and more carnage and a growing human rights mess in Iraq, the percentage of Americans who think the invasion was wrong has dropped to fifty-three percent.

Fifty-three.

Put bluntly, since Obama first took the White House, more Americans have decided that the war was, in fact, a good idea.

How is this possible?

Vader

Pentagon Papers lawyer on Obama, secrecy and press freedoms: 'worse than Nixon'

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© AP
Career First Amendment and transparency advocate James Goodale sounds the alarm about the current president

In 1971, when the New York Times decided to publish the Pentagon Papers leaked to it by Daniel Ellsberg, it knew it was triggering a major fight with the secrecy-obsessed Nixon administration. As expected, the Nixon administration sued the NYT in an attempt to ban it from publishing the documents, but the US Supreme Court, in a landmark decision for press freedom, ruled the prior restraint unconstitutional. The paper's general counsel at the time, James Goodale, said that he counseled the paper to publish despite "the more likely scenario that everyone feared was the fact that they could have gone to jail," and he subsequently became an outspoken defender of press freedoms. He now has a new book entitled "Fighting for the Press" in which he argues, as the Columbia Journalism Review puts it, that "Obama is worse for press freedom than former President Richard Nixon was."

CJR has an amazing interview with Goodale, some relevant excerpts from which relate to many topics written about here:

Let's talk about some of the challenges to press freedom now.
The biggest challenge to the press today is the threatened prosecution of WikiLeaks, and it's absolutely frightening. . . .

"The one case that is troublesome and is still out there as we speak is the case of James Risen, who was a journalist who was leaked national security information in respect to the warrantless wiretapping program, which was disclosed by The New York Times.

"He's won his case, but most people are going to be surprised if he can win it on appeal. It's been sitting on appeal for a year. Now what's going to happen - if the shoe drops and we're back to Judy Miller, it means Risen goes to jail. And if in fact it doesn't turn out that way and it turns out well, we'll have the question of whether the government will go to the Supreme Court and we will always have the question whether it will turn out well for the next Risen. And who's behind this one? Obama."

War Whore

Iraq War vet pens 'last letter' to Bush and Cheney accusing them of war crimes, "plunder" and "the murder of thousands of young Americans - my fellow veterans - whose future you stole."

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© Truthdig.com
Tomas Young
An Iraq War veteran who joined the U.S. Army two days after 9/11 has written a powerful open letter to former President George W. Bush and ex-Vice President Dick Cheney accusing them of war crimes, "plunder" and "the murder of thousands of young Americans - my fellow veterans - whose future you stole."

Tomas Young, who was shot and paralyzed during an insurgent attack in Sadr City in 2004, five days into his first deployment, penned the letter from his Kansas City, Mo., home, where he's under hospice care.
"I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney," Young wrote in the letter published on Truthdig.com. "I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power. I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done. You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans - my fellow veterans - whose future you stole."
The 33-year-old, who was the subject of Phil Donahue's 2007 documentary "Body of War," continued:
I joined the Army two days after the 9/11 attacks. I joined the Army because our country had been attacked. I wanted to strike back at those who had killed some 3,000 of my fellow citizens. I did not join the Army to go to Iraq, a country that had no part in the September 2001 attacks and did not pose a threat to its neighbors, much less to the United States. I did not join the Army to "liberate" Iraqis or to shut down mythical weapons-of-mass-destruction facilities or to implant what you cynically called "democracy" in Baghdad and the Middle East. I did not join the Army to rebuild Iraq, which at the time you told us could be paid for by Iraq's oil revenues.
Young believes he was injured fighting the wrong war:
I would not be writing this letter if I had been wounded fighting in Afghanistan against those forces that carried out the attacks of 9/11. Had I been wounded there I would still be miserable because of my physical deterioration and imminent death, but I would at least have the comfort of knowing that my injuries were a consequence of my own decision to defend the country I love. I would not have to lie in my bed, my body filled with painkillers, my life ebbing away, and deal with the fact that hundreds of thousands of human beings, including children, including myself, were sacrificed by you for little more than the greed of oil companies, for your alliance with the oil sheiks in Saudi Arabia, and your insane visions of empire.

Bad Guys

The FBI's anticipatory prosecution of Muslims to criminalize free speech

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© AP
US-born Hamid Hayat was sentenced to 24 years in prison for allegedly attending a terrorist training camp when he was 19
A court ruling in one of the most abusive prosecutions yet highlights the dangers posed by this familiar tactic

One of the major governmental abuses denounced by the 1976 final report of the Church Committee was the FBI's domestic counter intelligence programs (COINTELPRO). Under that program, the FBI targeted political groups and individuals it deemed subversive and dangerous - including civil rights activists (such as the NAACP and Martin Luther King), black nationalist movements, socialist and communist organizations, anti-war protesters, and various right-wing groups - and infiltrated them with agents who, among other things, attempted to manipulate members into agreeing to commit criminal acts so that the FBI could arrest and prosecute them. This program was exposed only because a left-wing group, the so-called "Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI", broke into an FBI office in Pennsylvania, stole the files relating to the program, and sent them to various newspapers.

What made the program so controversial was that the FBI was attempting to create and encourage crimes rather than find actual criminals - all in order to punish those whose constitutionally protected political activism the US government found threatening. As Noam Chomsky wrote in a comprehensive 1999 article on the program: "During these years, FBI provocateurs repeatedly urged and initiated violent acts, including forceful disruption of meetings and demonstrations on and off university campuses, attacks on police, bombings, and so on." Once the program was exposed, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover insisted that there was no centralized authority for it and that it had ended, while the Church Committee's final report made clear just how illegal and threatening it was:

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War Whore

Who did you rape in the war, daddy?

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© Photo courtesy Everett Collection
An American soldier at a Viet Cong base camp
A Question for Veterans that Needs Answering

On August 31, 1969, a rape was committed in Vietnam. Maybe numerous rapes were committed there that day, but this was a rare one involving American GIs that actually made its way into the military justice system.

And that wasn't the only thing that set it apart.

War is obscene. I mean that in every sense of the word. Some veterans will tell you that you can't know war if you haven't served in one, if you haven't seen combat. These are often the same guys who won't tell you the truths that they know about war and who never think to blame themselves in any way for our collective ignorance.

The truth is, you actually can know a lot about war without fighting in one. It just isn't the sort of knowledge that's easy to come by.

There are more than 30,000 books on the Vietnam War in print. There are volumes on the decision-making of Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, grand biographies of Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, rafts of memoirs by American soldiers -- some staggeringly well-written, many not -- and plenty of disposable paperbacks about snipers, medics, and field Marines. I can tell you from experience that if you read a few dozen of the best of them, you can get a fairly good idea about what that war was really like. Maybe not perfect knowledge, but a reasonable picture anyway. Or you can read several hundred of the middling-to-poor books and, if you pay special attention to the few real truths buried in all the run-of-the-mill war stories, you'll still get some feeling for war American-style.

Heart - Black

Blocking medicine to Iran

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© Ellen Weinstein
Patients in Iran are dying of treatable diseases because of shortages in life-saving medicines. The past year has been nothing short of catastrophic for the Iranian health-care sector: Imports from American and European drug makers in 2012 were down by an estimated 30 percent since 2011, and they continue to fall.

Over the past three months, I led a group of independent business consultants with expertise in Iran to evaluate the problem. After conducting extensive interviews in Tehran and Dubai with Iranian importers and manufacturers of pharmaceuticals and medical equipment and their Western counterparts, we concluded that even though in theory the sanctions regime imposed on Iran by the United States and the European Union is supposed to allow humanitarian trade, in reality it impairs the delivery of drugs and medical equipment to Iran.

Although the Iranian government deserves firm criticism for incompetence in handling the crisis, poor allocation of scarce foreign currency resources and failing to crack down on corrupt practices, the main culprit are the U.S. and European sanctions that regulate financial transactions with Iran.

Red Flag

Family says New Jersey overreacted to boy's gun photo

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© AP Photo/Shawn Moore
This undated photo provided by Shawn Moore shows his son Josh, 10, holding a rifle his father gave him for his 11th birthday, at their home in Carneys Point, N.J. The Moore family claims this photo, posted on Facebook, led the state’s child welfare agency to the family’s house, Friday, March 15, 2013, demanding to be let inside to inspect their guns.
The ruddy-cheeked, camouflage-clad boy in the photo smiles out from behind a pair of glasses, proudly holding a gun his father gave him as a present for his upcoming 11th birthday.

The weapon in the photo, posted by his dad on Facebook, resembles a military-style assault rifle but, his father says, is actually just a .22-caliber copy. And that, the family believes, is why child welfare case workers and police officers visited the home in Carneys Point last Friday and asked to see his guns.

New Jersey's Department of Children and Families declined to comment specifically on the case but says it often follows up on tips. The family and an attorney say father Shawn Moore's Second Amendment rights to bear arms were threatened in a state that already has some of the nation's strictest gun laws and is considering strengthening them after December's schoolhouse massacre in Connecticut.

In this case, the family believes someone called New Jersey's anonymous child abuse hotline.

Shawn Moore said he gave his son Josh the gun as a present to use on hunting trips. The elder Moore was at a friend's house when his wife called, saying state child welfare investigators, along with four local police officers, were at the house, asking to inspect the family's guns.