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Indonesian Tsunami Girl 'Turns up After Seven Years Presumed Dead'

Aceh was one of the worst hit places
© REX
Aceh was one of the worst hit places in the Indonesian tsunami
An Indonesian girl swept out to sea in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami and long feared drowned has apparently turned up in her village and been reunited with her parents seven years later.

The girl named Wati, 15, who uses just one name, was ripped from her mother's grasp in the province of Aceh by the raging waters and has not been seen since.

But on Wednesday a friend of the girl's grandfather, Ibrahim, brought a teenaged girl in a headscarf to his house in the city of Meulaboh.

She had been discovered sitting in silence in a coffee bar, but when questioned she said that she had come by bus from Banda Aceh and was trying to find her way home and did not know how.

Candle

'If Jesus Were to Come This Year, Bethlehem Would be Closed'

A Palestinian shepherd
© Abir Sultan/EPA
A Palestinian shepherd watches his flock near the Israeli settlement of Har Homa, near Bethlehem.
If Joseph and Mary were making their way to Bethlehem today, the Christmas story would be a little different, says Father Ibrahim Shomali, a parish priest in the town. The couple would struggle to get into the city, let alone find a hotel room.

"If Jesus were to come this year, Bethlehem would be closed," says the priest of Bethlehem's Beit Jala parish. "He would either have to be born at a checkpoint or at the separation wall. Mary and Joseph would have needed Israeli permission - or to have been tourists.

"This really is the big problem for Palestinians in Bethlehem: what will happen when they close us off completely?"

Bethlehem is the heart of Christian Palestine and it swells with pride every Christmas. Manger Square is transformed into a grotto of lights and stalls crowned by a towering Christmas tree. Strings of illuminated angels, stars and bells festoon the streets. But just a few minutes' drive to the north, the festive atmosphere stops abruptly.

MIB

Breaking: WSRP wants your Presidential Preference NOW

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In an interesting move, the Washington State Republican Party is asking for your personal contact information and presidential preference (read "straw poll") through an online form, but also wants to know how you identify yourself. Republican? Progressive? Conservative? Liberal? Libertarian? Democrat?

The results of the presidential straw poll, according to Kirby Wilbur, will be released the day before the Iowa Caucus.

Will Rob McKenna, Slade Gorton or Sam Reed correctly identify themselves as "liberal"? We don't think so.

Heart - Black

US: The Ongoing Republican Plan to Shame the Poor

food stamp card
© Unknown
That House Republicans are opposed to anything that could assist regular Americans is par for the course. After all, this is a class of lawmakers who voted for two budgets that would slash social spending and gut the welfare state. What's remarkable, as seen in the current fight over extending payroll tax relief, is the extent to which House Republicans are eager to heap scorn and disdain on the poor and disadvantaged. In addition to forcing drug tests on those who receive unemployment insurance - as if recipients are prone to drug abuse and thus undeserving - House Republicans want to require GED training for anyone who receives UI and does not possess a high school diploma. The New Republic's Timothy Noah explains the problem with this egregious provision:
Requiring a drug test establishes that if you are collecting unemployment you are probably a disreputable character. It's morally repellant, but not particularly novel, since companies now routinely require lower-tier workers to piss into a jar as a condition of unemployment. [...]

The GED requirement, on the other hand, is a new way to communicate that if you lack a job you must be deficient.... If you don't have a high school diploma, or a GED, you're going to have a very difficult time getting a job. But if someone is collecting unemployment who lacks either of these things we know that person managed to get a job in spite of this educational deficit - otherwise he or she wouldn't be on unemployment. To require this person to enroll in a GED program as a condition of collecting benefits is in essence to say that you had no business being in the labor force to begin with.
If this sounds like an overread of the situation - or comically evil - I challenge you to reconsider. Over the last year, conservatives have doubled-down on their view that the unemployed are responsible for their fate, and that the mass of Americans are "mooching" from the "makers" of society. "Reasonable" Republican presidential candidates like Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman endorsed Representative Paul Ryan's draconian budget for the United States, while more conservative candidates like Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain pushed for budget plans that would wipe out the income of poor and working-class Americans with massive tax increases.

Star of David

Will Tanya Rosenblit's stand lead to the desegregation of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem?

Tanya Rosenblit
© Ilan Assayag
Tanya Rosenblit
Rosenblit reminds me of Rosa Parks, who - together with Clifford Durr, Edgar Nixon and Jackie Robinson - led to the eventual racial desegregation of the United States.

There is a bar in Tel Aviv called Rosa Parks. It's a nice place, one renowned for its clientele of intellectually engaging young women. I went there not long ago with a friend of mine who was visiting Tel Aviv from London, who happens to be black. When he saw the name of the bar he jokingly asked the barman,

"So, do I have to sit at the back of the room then?"

He got nothing but a blank look in response, the barman had no idea who the bar was named after, nor did he know her story.

That's changed now. The sex segregation of busses has become one of the hottest topics in Israeli domestic politics, coming to a head last week with the story of Tanya Rosenblit who refused to move to the back of a bus on the order of a religious Jewish man. Now she's being called 'The Israeli Rosa Parks.' She's not though, not yet anyway.

Rosa Parks was not the first African-American to take a stand against segregation, nor was she the best known, nor was the story of her protest the most unique. Nine months before Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat for a white person, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin was dragged off a bus in handcuffs for the crime of "seated while black." Earlier still, in 1944 (three years before he would become the first black Major League Baseball player) Jackie Robinson was court-martialed for refusing to give up his seat on a bus to a white army officer.

Stormtrooper

US Marine: I am sorry for the role I played in Fallujah

US soldiers return to their barracks at a military base outside Fallujah
© Stefan Zaklin/EPA
US soldiers return to their barracks at a military base outside Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004.
As a US marine who lost close friends in the siege of Fallujah in Iraq seven years ago, I understand that we were the aggressors

It has been seven years since the end of the second siege of Fallujah - the US assault that left the city in ruins, killed thousands of civilians, and displaced hundreds of thousands more; the assault that poisoned a generation, plaguing the people who live there with cancers and their children with birth defects.

It has been seven years and the lies that justified the assault still perpetuate false beliefs about what we did.

The US veterans who fought there still do not understand who they fought against, or what they were fighting for.

Cell Phone

Cellphone towers fade into landscape

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© n/a
Faced with providing service for ever more data-hungry cellphones, telecommunications carriers are in a nonstop race costing billions of dollars to boost the capacities of their networks.

To handle the heavy volume of video, music and Web pages that smartphone users are downloading, office buildings, strip malls, condominiums, schools, churches and just about every other type of structure - including water towers and freeway overpasses - are being pressed into service as cell signal relay stations, industry lingo for cell towers.

The number of cell stations is growing rapidly but stealthily. Few new cell sites are the imposing triangle-topped metal poles that are widely regarded as eyesores.

"People think cell sites look like oil derricks," said Andy Shibley, AT&T Inc.'s general manager for the Greater Los Angeles region. "Some still exist, but by and large that is not the case anymore."

Comment: The towers may be missing, but the radiation dangers are still there.


Vader

US: Local Cops Ready for War With Homeland Security-Funded Military Weapons

Atlanta Police S.W.A.T. members
© John Bazemore
Atlanta Police S.W.A.T. members searched a building for a shooting suspect in July of 2010.
A decade of billions in spending in the name of homeland security has armed local police departments with military-style equipment and a new commando mentality. But has it gone too far? Andrew Becker and G.W. Schulz of the Center for Investigative Reporting report.

Nestled amid plains so flat the locals joke you can watch your dog run away for miles, Fargo treasures its placid lifestyle, seldom pierced by the mayhem and violence common in other urban communities. North Dakota's largest city has averaged fewer than two homicides a year since 2005, and there's not been a single international terrorism prosecution in the last decade.

But that hasn't stopped authorities in Fargo and its surrounding county from going on an $8 million buying spree to arm police officers with the sort of gear once reserved only for soldiers fighting foreign wars.

Every city squad car is equipped today with a military-style assault rifle, and officers can don Kevlar helmets able to withstand incoming fire from battlefield-grade ammunition. And for that epic confrontation - if it ever occurs - officers can now summon a new $256,643 armored truck, complete with a rotating turret. For now, though, the menacing truck is used mostly for training and appearances at the annual city picnic, where it's been parked near the children's bounce house.

Question

New South Wales, Australia: 25 dead ponies dumped near cliff

The bodies of 25 ponies with no obvious wounds have been dumped near a cliff in northern NSW, police say.

A tip-off on Saturday afternoon led police to a truck parking bay three kilometres south of Old Ben Lomond Road near Glen Innes.

The officers followed tracks to a nearby cliff, where they spotted the bodies of 25 ponies of various colours and ages in the early stages of decomposition.

There were no obvious wounds on the animals or any other indication as to the cause of their death, police said.

Family

Gaming is "Next Major Addiction": Up to 40 Percent of Under-16s Know an Addict - and a Third of Adults Play Every Day

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© Alamy
Troubling: A charity has warned that addiction to playing computer games is set to become a major issue, particularly for 10 to 16-year-olds
Astonishing 40 per cent of people under 16 think they know of at least one person addicted to gaming

Addiction to playing computer games is set to become a major issue, a charity has warned.

New research carried out by Norfolk-based Norcas - which helps people overcome addiction to drugs, alcohol and gambling - revealed that huge numbers of 10 to 16-year-olds would be lost without computer games.

The charity commissioned independent research into gaming and addictive behaviours which revealed that more than a third of people surveyed above the age of 16 think they know of at least one person addicted to gaming.

For those under the age of 16 that number rose to almost 40 per cent.