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The ominous U.S. presence in northwest Africa

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Ominously but unsurprisingly, the U.S. military's Africa Command wants to increase its footprint in northwest Africa. What began as low-profile assistance to France's campaign to wrest control of northern Mali (a former colony) from unwelcome jihadists could end up becoming something more.

The Washington Post reports that Africom "is preparing to establish a drone base in northwest Africa [probably Niger] so that it can increase surveillance missions on the local affiliate of Al Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups that American and other Western officials say pose a growing menace to the region." But before that word "surveillance" can bring a sigh of relief, the Post adds, "For now, officials say they envision flying only unarmed surveillance drones from the base, though they have not ruled out conducting missile strikes at some point if the threat worsens."

Meanwhile Bloomberg, citing American military officials, says Niger and the U.S. government have "reached an agreement allowing American military personnel to be stationed in the West African country and enabling them to take on Islamist militants in neighboring Mali, according to U.S. officials.... No decision has been made to station the drones."

The irony is that surveillance drones could become the reason the "threat worsens," and could provide the pretext to use drones armed with Hellfire missiles - the same kind used over 400 times in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, killing hundreds of noncombatants. Moving from surveillance to lethal strikes would be a boost for jihadist recruiters.

War Whore

Chameleon Chuck: How Hagel's views have changed

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They say there are no atheists in foxholes, and while the Senate Armed Services Committee is hardly a war zone, it is proving to be the scene of a battlefield conversion for Chuck Hagel.

Obama's nominee for secretary of defense, who has spent the past eight years an avowed critic of what he saw as the wasteful militarism of the last Republican president, sounded at his confirmation hearing in Thursday like a tried-and-true neoconservative. He assured his former Senate colleagues that when it comes to Iran, "all options are on the table." "My policy is one of prevention, and not containment," Hagel said. This is quite a different tone for a man who said only a few years ago that he supported "unconditional and comprehensive talks" with the Islamic Republic.


Eye 2

Obama on track to deport a record 2 million people by 2014

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If this rate continues, this administration will deport as many people as were from 1892 to 1997 combined.

At current rates, deportations enforced under the Obama presidency are set to hit 2 million by 2014 according to a new report from the University of California-Merced. Findings highlight that, if current deportation rates continue, nearly as many people will have been deported under this administration than during the entirety of years between 1892 and 1997. These are striking statistics to consider while Congress debates the president's commitment to immigration enforcement.

The report notes that under Obama, the deportation of convicted criminals has been a focus and a point of pride for the administration. However, as immigrant justice advocates have often stressed, the report points out that "many of these criminal deportees are deported after a minor criminal conviction":
In 2011, 188,382 people were deported on criminal grounds. Nearly a quarter were deported after a drug conviction, another 23% for traffic crimes, and one in five for immigration crimes. The DHS does not get very specific about these convictions, but we do know that drug crimes include marijuana possession; traffic crimes include speeding; and immigration crimes include illegal entry and re-entry.

It is likely that large numbers of people apprehended through the Criminal Alien Program are minor drug offenders and immigration offenders. Additionally, it is likely that the Criminal Alien Program is tearing apart families. One study found that, on average, people deported after being convicted of a crime had lived 14 years in the United States.

Snakes in Suits

Senator Menendez accused of soliciting underage prostitutes

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© AFP Photo / Saul Loeb
US Senator Robert Menendez
A letter allegedly written by a Dominican woman claims that Sen. Bob Menendez had sexual relations with prostitutes, attended sex parties, and may have even slept with minors.

In an e-mail written nine months ago but published Jan. 31 by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a young Dominican woman claims she slept with 59-year-old Menendez at a number of sex parties organized in the Dominican Republic by his campaign donor, Dr. Salomon Melgen. She claims she had sex with the senator "three times at least" in 2009.

"The first one in February, and then in May and June. I recall his visit in June so well because that month was my 17th birthday," allegedly wrote the prostitute.

"That senator also likes the youngest and newest girls," the woman added. "In the beginning he seemed so serious, because he never spoke to anyone, but he is just like the others and has just about the same tastes as the doctor, very refined. I think they were taking us more often to get us checked [medically] because of him."

Those who translated the letter from Spanish to English say the writing indicates that the woman could be very young and unsophisticated and may indeed have been a minor when she started engaging in sexual intercourse with Menendez.

Sheriff

Report: Oakland PD pointed firearms at a sleeping baby

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A new report by the federal monitor overseeing the Oakland Police Department officers pointed their weapons at a sleeping baby while executing a search warrant.

"Two officers pointed their firearms at a sleeping 19-month-old child who, of course, posed no immediate threat to the officers or others," said the Jan. 30 report by Robert Warsaw. "The crime being investigated, according to the reports, involved a misdemeanor offense."

The report marked a decrease in the level of compliance with the department's Negotiated Settlement Agreement for the second consecutive quarter, the East Bay Express reported, and it came a week after Mayor Jean Quan touted the hiring of former New York and Los Angeles Police Commissioner William Bratton as a consultant, an expenditure of $250,000 by saying, "Sometimes, you need an outside eye."

Bulb

Military expands mental health counseling in Afghanistan to soldiers over 'classified Skype'

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© Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Kirk Hilbrecht, Kentucky Guard Public Affairs Officer
Bagram airbase has 40-strong team of psychologists and others on hand, though stigma of such care in the military remains

The US military in Afghanistan has slowly been building up ways to help troops who are scattered across a harsh, hostile country which is almost as big as Texas, with little privacy and poor communications.

The network ranges from a basic "classified Skype" videophone system that gives all but the most isolated soldiers access to a psychologist at any time, to the last-ditch option for extreme cases, a Medevac plane to take any soldier assessed as suicidal or homicidal straight out of the country.

In between is a network of professionals and support centres that aim to stop troops needing to take that flight, or - even worse - never making it.

"I was at the point of blowing my head off," said 23-year-old Sidney in a "war fighter restoration centre" on the sprawling Bagram airbase, 30 miles north of Kabul, where he spent several days after a near breakdown that was sparked by his wife asking for a divorce.

"I lost 30lb in three weeks, I wasn't sleeping, I was ringing my wife five times a day," he said.

Cult

Catholic League's Bill Donohue: 'Being gay' actually 'a bonus for humans'

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Catholic League President Bill Donohue saw something in the news this week that tweaked him a little, and in response he ended up writing something rather odd: "Being gay is not only a bonus for humans these days, it is a definite plus for dogs as well."

The head-turning sentence came at the end of his reaction to a story about a dog who was abandoned in Tennessee because his owner said he was "gay."

As the animal waited to be euthanized, a third party group called Jackson TN Euthanasia published an online ad that explained why the dog was dropped off. It went viral in the media, and a woman named Stephanie Fryns decided to adopt the dog and name him "Elton," according to ABC News.

What would otherwise be an uplifting story about a dog's redemption after being tossed aside by an intolerant human struck Donohue as a sort of "moral of the story" moment.

Dominoes

Will Israel's attack on Syria trigger a retaliation from Assad and Hezbollah?

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© Pan African News Wire
Israel conducted an airstrike in the outskirts of Damascus, deep into Syria's territory on Wednesday, January 30. The attack is in violation of Syria's sovereignty, and it was confirmed by an anonymous source in the United States government. There are conflicting reports concerning the target of the strike. According to the US source, it was a military convoy on its way to Lebanon with anti-aircraft weapons; but according to the Syrian army, the target of the Israeli attack was a "weapons research center." On Thursday, Israel's government remained silent on the attack, neither denying nor confirming it. Israel's actions, however, could have some grave consequences in expanding Syria's civil war into a regional conflict involving at first Lebanon, but also potentially Iraq. Could this be a way for the Jewish state to provoke Assad, and Iran's ally Hezbollah, into a retaliation to justify another invasion of Lebanon?

Megaphone

Poverty and progress: Comparing the U.S. and Venezuela

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What does it mean to be "Third World" in 2013? If we are to take the traditional definition of the term, then "Third World" refers to those (non-white) countries that struggle to attain high levels of economic development and which, for the most part, are reduced to the periphery of the global economy. However, since the onset of the economic crisis beginning in 2007-2008, many of the economic problems of those traditionally poor countries have become ever more apparent in the so-called developed world. Socio-economic maladies such as extreme poverty, hunger, and unemployment have skyrocketed in advanced capitalist countries like the United States, while politicians and the media continue to trumpet the mirage of an economic recovery. Naturally, one must ask for whom this is a recovery...for the poor or for Wall St? Moreover, it has forced the world to examine what progress looks like. One way of doing so is to analyze what the statistics tell us about the United States versus Venezuela. In so doing, one begins to get a much clearer picture, free from the distortions of media and politicians alike, of just how much progress has been made in the Bolivarian Revolution while the situation of the poor and working classes in the US continues to deteriorate.

What Is Poverty?

Before one can reach any definitive conclusions about poverty in the US and Venezuela, it is essential to first establish the stark difference in the way in which poverty is measured in the two countries. With respect to the US, poverty is measured purely by household income, with a certain threshold known as the "poverty line" determined by the Census Bureau. This measurement, based on a purely arbitrary delineation between poverty and "non-poverty", is the one by which many make determinations about the state of the poor in the US. As should be self-evident, this system of analyzing poverty ignores the obvious fact that there is little tangible difference between the lives of those slightly over and slightly under the poverty line in that both live in a constant state of privation. Moreover, as increasing inflation, decreasing wages and other factors continue to impact the purchasing power and actual lives of the poor, the poverty line becomes even more problematic.

In contrast, the Venezuelan government has a distinctly different set of measurements to determine true poverty including: access to education, access to clean drinking water, access to adequate housing, and other factors.[i] Essentially then, in Venezuela, poverty is not a measure of income, but of quality of life. By measuring poverty in this way, the Venezuelan government provides a far more comprehensive picture of the socio-economic situation in the country. It is important to note also that, unlike in the United States, poverty statistics in Venezuela are one of the primary driving forces behind the formation of government policy. While in the US, poverty has become a dirty word (as evidenced by the subject's total absence from last year's presidential debates), Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution have made it the centerpiece of public policy in all aspects.

Info

Washington State Representative introduces groundbreaking GMO bill

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© Activist Post
Washington state recently made national news after the "Label It Wa" grassroots campaign successfully collected and submitted over 350,000 signatures in order to get "I-522 The People's Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act" on the 2013 ballot. This bill would require genetically engineered food in the state to be labeled.

Also in Washington, San Juan County residents and farmers passed Initiative Measure No. 2012-4 to ban the growth of genetically modified organisms. Now, Republican Representative Cary Condotta has stepped up and introduced House Bill 1407, which aims to remove the bureaucratic red tape, allowing local legislative authorities to regulate genetically modified organisms from foods to seeds as they see fit, instead of relying on the state to take action.

"When we saw San Juan do this, we thought it was great, so we see this on a different path than I-522 but we made sure to put a provision in HB 1407 that none of it would override I-522, so if the labeling bill passes all food will still be labeled state wide still, this just gives the local level even more control," explained Rep Condotta.