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Bad Guys

Iran puts five Christians on trial for their faith

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Five Iranian Christian converts who were detained late last year will reportedly begin trial in Iran's Revolutionary Court this week, according to a human rights group following the case.

The five men were among seven arrested in October when security forces raided an underground house church in the city of Shiraz during a prayer session. They will be tried at the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz's Fars Province on charges of disturbing public order, evangelizing, threatening national security and engaging in Internet activity that threatens the government, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a religious persecution watchdog group.

"Judging from recent cases, it is likely that, at the very least, those detained may face lengthy prison sentences," said CSW spokesperson Kiri Kankhwende.

Wolf

Psychopaths in power: After watering down financial reform, ex-Senator Scott Brown joins Goldman Sachs' lobbying firm

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Scott Brown, one of the Borgs
During his nearly three years in the U.S. Senate, Scott Brown (R-MA) frequently came to the aid of the financial sector - watering down the Dodd-Frank bill and working to weaken it after its passage - and accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign cash from the industry. Now, the man Forbes Magazine called one of "Wall Street's Favorite Congressmen" will use those connections as counsel for Nixon Peabody, an international law and lobbying firm.

The Boston Globe noted Monday that while Brown himself will not be a lobbyist - Senators may not lobby their former colleagues for the first two years after leaving office, under the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 - "he will be leaning heavily on his Washington contacts to drum up business for the firm." The position will also allow him "to begin cashing in on his contacts with the financial services industry, which he helped oversee in the Senate."

Cult

No pope elected on conclave's 1st day

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© world.time.com
Black smoke billows from the Sistine Chapel chimney on Tuesday.
Cardinals set to hold next vote on Wednesday morning.

Black smoke rose into the evening sky over the Vatican as a conclave of cardinals failed to select a new pope on its first vote Tuesday.

The conclave of 115 cardinals gathered in the sealed Sistine Chapel to cast ballots for who should lead the Roman Catholic Church. Who the cardinals voted for is unknown - but the black smoke means that no cardinal received two-thirds of the votes necessary.

Thousands gathered in St. Peter's Square to watch the results, but trickled quietly out of Vatican City shortly after the black smoke rose around 8 p.m. local time (3 p.m. ET).

The conclave will not vote again until Wednesday morning.

Brazilian tourist Bruno Smania was one of thousands who braved the damp weather in St. Peter's Square.

"It's a historic moment for me and for the world. I will be here all the time, waiting for the white smoke," Smania told the CBC's Karen Pauls.

Smania joined a group of Brazilians, some with their country's flags around their necks, hoping that Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer may become the church's leader.

Together, the group chanted "The pope from Brazil! The pope from Brazil!"

Tourists Cecilia Afione and Fernando Otero from Argentina missed the black smoke, but say they'll be back at the Vatican tomorrow.

"It's important to be here because the pope is the maximum authority," Afione said.


Comment: A new pope won't save the sinking ship


Bad Guys

George P. Bush running for Texas land Commissioner

P Bush
© Associated Press
Austin - George Prescott Bush filed the official paperwork Tuesday to run for Texas land commissioner next year, hoping to use a little-known but powerful post to continue his family's political dynasty in one of the country's most-conservative states.

A Spanish-speaking attorney and consultant based in Fort Worth, Bush is considered a rising star among conservative Hispanics, and his political pedigree is hard to match. He is the grandson of former President George H.W. Bush, the nephew of former President George W. Bush and the son of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush - himself often mentioned as a 2016 presidential hopeful.

Bush unveiled a new campaign website with a "George P. Bush for Land Commissioner" logo and featuring a three-minute video in which he says, "Texas is an exceptional state because we as Texans are exceptional."

In the video, Bush describes spending recent months traveling the state and having hundreds of conversations with Texans - but says he kept returning to the advice of his grandmother, former first lady Barbara Bush, whom he calls "Ganny." Bush says she taught him the importance of public service.

Pistol

California seizes guns from owners - and it might become a national model

Guns
© AFP Photo/David McNew
Steel workers look over a pile confiscated illegal weapons in Rancho Cucamonga, California.
In California, the government is already coming for the guns.

Notwithstanding the Second Amendment, rules and regulations across the United States outline certain restrictions for who can legally possess a firearm. In the state of California, factors such as a felony conviction or a history of mental health issues mean roughly 20,000 gun owners are holding onto their firearms illegally. Slowly but surely, though, Golden State police officers are prying them away. There's more, though: backers of the program suggest this becomes a nation-wide practice, and are asking the White House to help make it happen.

"Very, very few states have an archive of firearm owners like we have," Garen Wintemute of the Violence Prevention Research Program tells Bloomberg News. Wintemute helped set up a program on the West Coast that monitors not just licensed gun owners but also watches for any red flags that could be raised after admittance to a mental health institute or a quick stint in the slammer.

Wintemute says that as many as 200,000 people across the United States may no longer be qualified to own firearms, and in California they are making sure that number drops day by day. In one example cited in this week's Bloomberg report, journalists recall a recent scene where nine California Justice Department agents equipped with 40-caliber Glock pistols and outfitted in bulletproof vests knocked on a suburban residence, requested to speak to a certain gun owner and then walked away with whatever arsenal they could apprehend.

USA

Judge approves use of 'truth serum' on accused Aurora shooter James Holmes

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Under the influence, but who's administering the drugs?
Legal experts question use of 'narcoanalytic interview' to settle question of Holmes's legal insanity at time of theater shooting

Legal and medical experts are questioning the decision of a judge in Colorado to allow James Holmes, the suspected gunman in the Aurora cinema shooting, to be tested with a "truth serum" should he plead not guilty by reason of insanity.

Judge William Sylvester ruled that in the event of Holmes pleading insanity his prosecutors would be permitted to interrogate him while he is under the influence of a medical drug designed to loosen him up and get him to talk. The idea would be that such a "narcoanalytic interview" would be used to confirm whether or not he had been legally insane when he embarked on his shooting spree on 20 July last year.

The precise identity of the drug that would be used has not been released, other than a statement that it would be "medically appropriate", but it would most likely be a short-acting barbiturate such as sodium amytal.

Comment: "It's hard to see what the value of this procedure would be"

Well, an obvious value would be to continue to manipulate Holmes via the use of drugs, as has clearly been done since he was discovered in a semi-catatonic state inside his car on the night of the shooting. That is to say, he didn't exactly look like someone who had just finished a shooting spree. Then there was the problem of the second gas mask (other than the one on Holmes' head) that was found about 100 yards from his car. Hmmm......


Bad Guys

Judge enters not guilty plea for Holmes after defense stalls on insanity move

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© Photo: RJ Sangosti, AP
James Holmes sits with defense attorney Tamara Brady during his arraignment in district court in Centennial, Colo., on Tuesday.
When the judge explained that the decision means the earliest a trial could start is August, victims and their families in the courtroom groaned.

After defense attorneys for accused Aurora theater shooter James Holmes said they still are unready to enter a plea in the case, the judge in the case entered a plea of "not guilty" in his behalf, creating a new delay in process.

When the judge explained that the decision means the earliest a trial could start is August, victims and their families in the courtroom groaned.

The judge says Holmes can change his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity later, if he chooses.

If convicted, Holmes could be executed or spend the rest of his life in prison.

Holmes appeared in court with a bushy beard and hair, but said nothing.


Comment: Clearly the authorities are intent on keeping James Holmes from saying anything at all, lest he reveal anything out of line regarding the theater shooting narrative.


Stormtrooper

Bahrain convicts 2 police officers for torture death of protester

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© AFP Photo
Shiite Bahraini protestors clash with security forces following a protest to mark the second anniversary of an uprising in the Sunni-ruled kingdom of Bahrain, on February 14, 2013 in the village of Sanabis, West of the capital Manama
Two Bahraini police officers were sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted of torturing a Shiite protester to death. Three others were acquitted for "failing to report the crime," a judicial source said.

The two policemen were convicted of "torturing to death Ali al-Saqr," who was arrested during the February 2011 uprising, the source told AFP.

Saqr died on April 9, 2011, from "hypovolemic shock resulting from several traumas," according to a report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Investigation (BICI), an international panel that investigated the events that unfolded during March and April of that year.

All five officers were found not guilty for the murder of another protester, Zakeriya Asheeri, who also died in 2011 while in detention.

"For the 4th time in 3 months a police officer [is] acquitted for killing a civilian. #bahrain culture of impunity," Said Yousif Almuhafda, the head of the monitoring section at the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

Eye 2

Victim of U.S. military sexual assault 'scared' after conviction overturned

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© AP
Lt General Craig Franklin, who dismissed charges against a lieutenant colonel convicted of sexual assault.
Decision to wipe clean the conviction of air force commander will be reviewed by the Pentagon, US defense secretary says

A victim of military sexual assault whose attacker's conviction was wiped clean by his US air force commander has said she is "shocked and scared" by the decision, in her first detailed comments since the decision.

The woman, a physician's assistant, was sexually assaulted by Lt Colonel James Wilkerson, 44, the 31st Fighter Wing inspector general, as she lay sleeping, a military jury concluded in November.

But last month Lt General Craig Franklin, commander of the Third Air Force based at Ramstein in Germany, exercised his discretion under the Uniform Code on Military Justice and concluded that the entire body of evidence was insufficient to meet the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. As the "convening authority", Franklin, who did not interview the victim, was not required to provide further explanation for his ruling and his disposition is final.

The decision to dismiss charges against a fighter pilot described by officials as an "air-force superstar" has come under mounting criticism from lobby groups and lawmakers.

Stormtrooper

Concerns grow as local police look more and more like the military

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© OregonDOT/Creative Commons
With an influx in federal cash from Department of Homeland Security grants, local police departments nationwide have been outfitting their officers with armored vehicles, surveillance drones, and sophisticated weaponry.

The over $34 billion in grants has given rise to a growing concern that some police officers are looking less like civil servants, and more like soldiers on the front lines in Afghanistan.

"We do know that in 2011, a half-billion dollars of surplus military equipment went to police departments," John Chasnoff, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union, told CBS St. Louis. "We have concerns that the lines between the two [police and military] is starting to blur."