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Berlusconi accuses judges of 'feminist' bias over divorce deal

© Photograph: Remo Casilli/REUTERSFormer Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, speaking on La7 television, accused Milan courts of 'feminist, communist' bias over his divorce from his second wife, Veronica Lario.
Milan judges reject former prime minister's 'persecution' claim over €36m alimony settlement to ex-wife Veronica Lario.

Senior judges in Milan issued a stern rebuke to Silvio Berlusconi on Wednesday after the former Italian prime minister tried to blame his huge alimony payments on the biased views of "feminist, communist" magistrates.

In the latest skirmish between the billionaire media magnate and the judiciary, the heads of the Milan tribunal and court of appeal issued a curt statement saying they "firmly rejected any insinuation of partiality" on the part of the magistrates who drew up the three-time premier's divorce settlement, which he claims amounts to €200,000 (£163,000) a day.

Livia Pomodoro and Giovanni Canzio added that their colleagues were "diligent professionals", and called on politicians to avoid making "any expression of derision" that could cause the public to think otherwise.


Ethics group questions who picked up tab for lawmaker lunches

The House members' dining room is a lovely space. Cloth napkins, good service, and while the food's not exactly haute cuisine, the room is nice for lunches with colleagues, constituents or, problematically, campaign donors.

Members of Congress frequently eat meals there that they list in federal filings as "campaign" or "political" expenses, apparently counter to House rules barring them from conducting their campaign business on House property, according to an upcoming report. That rule - the same one that sends lawmakers scurrying from their offices to nearby rental spaces to make fundraising calls - is designed to keep taxpayer-funded official business separate from the dirtier matter of pursuing reelection.

But according to a report by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, it appears that lawmakers may frequently mix the two over repasts in the members' dining room. A dozen current and former House members described meals there in filings with the Federal Election Commission covering the last two election cycles as "campaign"or "political," CREW found.


The Syria Endgame: Strategic Stage in the Pentagon's Covert War on Iran

Syria army sniper
© Alessio Romenzi/TIMEA Free Syrian Army sniper position in al-Qsair, Syria, on Feb. 9, 2012
Since the kindling of the conflict inside Syria in 2011, it was recognized, by friend and foe alike, that the events in that country were tied to a game plan that ultimately targets Iran, Syria's number one ally. [1] De-linking Syria from Iran and unhinging the Resistance Bloc that Damascus and Tehran have formed has been one of the objectives of the foreign-supported anti-government militias inside Syria. Such a schism between Damascus and Tehran would change the Middle East's strategic balance in favour of the US and Israel.

If this cannot be accomplished, however, then crippling Syria to effectively prevent it from providing Iran any form of diplomatic, political, economic, and military support in the face of common threats has been a primary objective. Preventing any continued cooperation between the two republics has been a strategic goal. This includes preventing the Iran-Iraq-Syria energy terminal from being built and ending the military pact between the two partners.


WikiLeaks case likened to Civil War espionage

Bradley Manning
© unknownPfc. Bradley Manning
Fort Meade - The defense says military prosecutors are drawing comparisons between an Army private's alleged leak of classified documents to Civil War-era cases involving coded messages in newspapers.

The argument emerged Tuesday during a pretrial hearing at Fort Meade for Pfc. Bradley Manning. The hearing continues Wednesday.

The issue is whether Manning's motive is relevant to a charge he aided the enemy by sending reams of classified documents to the secret-sharing website WikiLeaks. The government contends Manning knew, or should have known, that the information would be seen by al-Qaida.

Defense attorney David Coombs said Tuesday that prosecutors are citing Civil War-era cases concerning soldiers who placed coded messages in newspaper ads.

Coombs says Manning's alleged offenses are more akin to providing government documents to a newspaper.


U.S. mulls over pulling out all its troops from Afghanistan after 2014

US troops, Afghanistan
© Reuters/Susan WalshUS troops in Kandahar, Afghanistan
A complete pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan after the 2014 deadline is one of the options that the Obama administration is considering, the White House said in a briefing on Tuesday ahead of a meeting between leaders of the two countries later this week.

The centerpiece of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's visit to Washington will be meetings on Friday at the White House, where he and his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama can discuss the changes in Afghanistan and how the United States can work with the country in the future.

Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes said during a phone-in news conference that the U.S. would continue drawing down the number of its troops in Afghanistan through this year and next. Around 68,000 American soldiers are in Afghanistan today. The United States "will not plateau" at that number through 2014, he said, but would continue the gradual drawdown.

Depending on the situation on the ground, Rhodes said, there could conceivably be no American forces in the country in 2015. All aspects are under discussion, he added.

The U.S. is helping train Afghan soldiers and police, and the country's forces already have assumed much of the security burden, he noted. "We want to have an Afghan partner that is capable of standing on its own with our support and denying safe haven [to terrorists] and having the ability to take the lead for its own security," Rhodes said.

Dollar Gold

Defense contractor agrees to pay $5 million to Iraqis over Abu Ghraib

© Photo: Khalid Mohammed / APIn this Sept. 2, 2006, file photo, Iraqi army soldiers stand guard at the Abu Ghraib prison, after taking over from U.S. soldiers, on the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq.
A defense contractor whose subsidiary was accused in a lawsuit of conspiring to torture detainees at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq has paid $5.28 million to 71 former inmates held there and at other U.S.-run detention sites between 2003 and 2007.

The settlement in the case involving Engility Holdings Inc. of Chantilly, Va., marks the first successful effort by lawyers for former prisoners at Abu Ghraib and other detention centers to collect money from a U.S. defense contractor in lawsuits alleging torture. Another contractor, CACI, is expected to go to trial over similar allegations this summer.

The payments were disclosed in a document that Engility filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission two months ago but which has gone essentially unnoticed.

The defendant in the lawsuit, L-3 Services Inc., now an Engility subsidiary, provided translators to the U.S. military in Iraq. In 2006, L-3 Services had more than 6,000 translators in Iraq under a $450 million-a-year contract, an L-3 executive told an investors conference at the time.

Arrow Down

77 percent of Americans strongly disapprove of Congress

© AFP Photo / Karen BleierOccupy DC protesters holds a signs January 17, 2012 during a demonstration in front of the Capitol in Washington, DC.
Nearly 80 percent of Americans say they believe Washington is causing "serious harm to the country," shedding further light on the low approval ratings of the most recent US Congress and the widespread pessimism regarding the country's future.

The overwhelming majority of Democrats, Republicans and Independents all believe that Washington politicians are damaging the United States, according to a Dec. 14-17 USA Today/Gallup poll, which was conducted while the 112th Congress was attempting to avert the looming fiscal cliff.

While 77 percent of Americans admitted having no faith in their elected representatives to do good, only 19 percent believed Washington is doing no harm.
Republicans had the most negative opinion, with 87 percent of GOP respondents indicating that Washington is harming the country, while only 68 Democrats and 79 Independents believed the same.

The poll reinforced the consistently low approval ratings of the 112th Congress, which were frequently below 20 percent. A separate poll conducted during the same time period found that Congress' approval rating remained at 18 percent during the fiscal cliff debate, which is also where it stood a month prior, in mid-November.


Missouri lawmaker wants drone use to require a warrant

© Reuters/Jose Saavedra
Drones have been employed throughout the US for surveillance purposes, but a Kansas City lawmaker perceives this type of spying as a violation of the Fourth Amendment and is working to limit the government's use of domestic drones.

Kansas City Rep. Casey Guernsey (R), who works in the Missouri House of Representatives, claims that the domestic use of drones is a defilement of American freedom. The state legislator this week introduced the 'Preserving Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act', which would require law enforcement officers to obtain a warrant in order to use UAV surveillance to gather criminal activity. The bill would also protect agriculture businesses and farmers from being spied on without their knowledge.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones, have in recent years been employed throughout the US to capture criminals and monitor illegal immigrants. Homeland security claims to use the UAVs to protect US citizens from terrorism and crime, while the drones are also used for "disaster relief, immigration control and environmental monitoring," according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS). The National Guard claims to use unmanned drones for wildfire surveillance.


Secrets and lies of the bailout: One broker's story

Secret and Lies of the Bailout
© Spencer Platt/Getty Images
I have a feature in the new issue of Rolling Stone called "Secrets and Lies of the Bailout," which focuses in large part on the seemingly intentional policy of deception in the government's rescue of the financial sector. The government didn't just bail out Wall Street with money: It also lied on Wall Street's behalf, calling unhealthy banks healthy, and helping banks cover up just how much aid they were getting in secret.

Proponents of the bailouts will say that whatever the government did, it worked. The economy didn't collapse as it appeared it might in late 2008, and the stock markets are puffed up all over again, as financial companies in particular are back making huge profits.

But in the course of researching the magazine piece, we discovered definite victims of the myriad deceptions that became a baked-in feature of the bailouts. One of those victims was a southern investment broker who lost lots of his own money, lost money for family members who'd invested with him, and (maybe worst of all) lost plenty of his clients' money, when he made investment decisions based on what turned out to be incomplete information.

If this particular broker had known exactly how far the bailouts reached, neither he nor his clients would ever have lost so much. But during the crisis it was decided, by people deemed more important than small-town investment advisers and their clients, that the full story of the bailouts didn't need to be told.

As a result, George Hartzman and his clients got creamed. In recent years we've heard a lot about how the bailouts saved the world. This is the other side of the story.



Bradley Manning subjected to illegal pretrial punishment in Wikileaks case

© AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
A military judge on Tuesday reduced the potential sentence for an Army private accused of sending reams of classified documents to the WikiLeaks website.

Col. Denise Lind made the ruling during a pretrial hearing at Fort Meade for Pfc. Bradley Manning.

Lind found that Manning suffered illegal pretrial punishment during nine months in a Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Va. She awarded a total of 112 days off any prison sentence Manning gets if he is convicted.

Manning was confined to a windowless cell 23 hours a day, sometimes with no clothing. Brig officials say it was to keep him from hurting himself or others.

The judge said that Manning's confinement was "more rigorous than necessary." She added that the conditions "became excessive in relation to legitimate government interests."