February 2008

Via WaPo:

Visitors to some national parks would be able to start packing heat along with their tents and picnic baskets under a proposal being considered by the Interior Department that would ease restrictions on loaded firearms in the parks.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said last week that officials would review long-standing regulations that require firearms in most national parks to be unloaded and inoperable — through the use of trigger locks, for example, or storage in a car trunk or a special case. The department intends to propose new rules by April 30.

The review pits the National Rifle Association and a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers against park rangers and advocates who decry the move as election-year posturing that could make the parks more dangerous.

Kempthorne’s action comes in response to two recent letters from 51 senators — 44 Republicans and seven Democrats — requesting that the National Park Service align its gun rules with state laws. If a state permits citizens to carry concealed weapons, the national parks in that state should, too, they argued.

"These inconsistencies in firearms regulations for public lands are confusing, burdensome and unnecessary," wrote the lawmakers, led by Sens. Michael D. Crapo (R-Idaho) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.). ". . . Such regulatory changes would respect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners, while providing a consistent application of state weapons laws across all land ownership boundaries."

The most recent revision of the rules came in 1983, but parks advocates say the restrictions date at least to the 1930s and mainly were designed to prevent poaching. The NRA praised Kempthorne’s move, noting that 48 states now have processes that allow people to legally carry firearms for self-defense, compared with six states in 1982.

The group also wants national parks to be on an even footing with lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, where the rules on firearm possession match state laws. NRA officials cast the matter as a safety issue as well as a Second Amendment issue.

"Law-abiding citizens should not be prohibited from protecting themselves and their families while enjoying America’s national parks and wildlife refuges," Chris W. Cox, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, said in a statement.

Parks advocates and rangers’ organizations say allowing loaded weapons would increase illegal hunting, add a deadly element to many domestic disputes and generally make the parks less secure and family-friendly.

"There is no need to walk around a national park with a loaded weapon," said Bryan Faehner, a former park ranger now with the National Parks Conservation Association, an advocacy group. "It’s a political maneuver by the NRA. They are using this as a political tool to build up support heading into the elections."

He added that "it’s impossible for park rangers to know the difference between someone walking on a trail with a gun, and someone walking on a trail with a gun who is a poacher. This is a management nightmare for the Park Service."

Bill Wade, a former superintendent at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, said replacing a single standard with rules that vary by state would create more confusion, not less. "It might simplify things for people who are in one particular state, but it sure makes it more complicated for people who are visiting parks from different places in the country," said Wade, a leader of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who joined other lawmakers in writing Kempthorne, has sponsored an amendment to a public lands bill that would accomplish the changes legislatively. But the bill is bogged down in the Senate, in part because of a dispute with Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) over the provision.

Interior Department spokesman Chris Paolino said the public will be able to comment on whatever changes the department proposes.


Related: Mexican drug cartels taking over U.S. National Parks


Armed combat is hardly what families hope to encounter as they head for their summer vacations in America’s national parks and forests. But drug smugglers, methamphetamine cooks and cannabis cultivators are invading federal lands as never before. A U.S. Park Service ranger in Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was gunned down by a Mexican pot smuggler last August. In Missouri’s Mark Twain National Forest, 192 meth labs have been dismantled over the past three years. And marijuana farms are infesting Kentucky’s Daniel Boone National Forest and Alabama’s Talladega National Forest. [Full Article]



TYLER, Texas: Republican presidential hopeful John McCain mocked Barack Obama’s view of al-Qaeda in Iraq, and the Democratic contender responded that GOP policies brought the terrorist group there. The exchange Wednesday underscored that the two consider each other likely general election rivals, even though the Democratic contest remains unresolved.

McCain criticized Obama for saying in Tuesday night’s Democratic debate that, after U.S. troops were withdrawn, as president he would act "if al-Qaeda is forming a base in Iraq."

"I have some news. Al-Qaeda is in Iraq. It’s called ‘al-Qaeda in Iraq,’ " McCain told a crowd in Tyler, Texas, drawing laughter at Obama’s expense. He said Obama’s statement was "pretty remarkable."

Obama quickly answered back. "I do know that al-Qaeda is in Iraq, and that’s why I have said we should continue to strike al-Qaeda targets," he told a rally at Ohio State University in Columbus.

"But I have some news for John McCain," Obama added. "There was no such thing as al-Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq. … They took their eye off the people who were responsible for 9/11 and that would be al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, that is stronger now than at any time since 2001."

Noting that McCain likes to tell audiences that he’d follow Osama bin Laden to the "gates of hell" to catch him, Obama taunted, "All he (McCain) has done is to follow George Bush into a misguided war in Iraq."

McCain said he had not watched Tuesday night’s debate but was told of Obama’s response when asked whether as president he would reserve the right to send U.S. troops back into Iraq to quell an insurrection or civil war.

Obama didn’t say whether he’d send troops but said: "As commander in chief, I will always reserve the right to make sure that we are looking out for American interests. And if al-Qaeda is forming a base in Iraq, then wewill have to act in a way that secures the American homeland and our interests abroad."

On Wednesday, Obama expanded slightly that he "would always reserve the right to go in and strike al-Qaeda if they were in Iraq" without detailing what kind of strike that might be.

McCain said later in San Antonio, "So I guess that means that he would surrender and then go back." Throughout the primary season, McCain has attacked Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton for saying they would withdraw troops from Iraq. " If we left, they (al-Qaeda) wouldn’t be establishing a base," McCain said Wednesday. "They’d be taking a country, and I’m not going to allow that to happen."



Five states did something over the past 12 months that no state had done before: expressed regret or apologized for slavery.

This year, Congress, which meets in a Capitol built partly by slaves, will consider issuing its own apology.

"We’ve seen states step forward on this," says Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, citing the resolutions of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Alabama and New Jersey. "I’m really shocked, just shocked" that the federal government hasn’t apologized. "It’s time to do so."

Harkin says he and Sen. Sam Brownback R-Kan., will propose as early as March an apology not only for slavery but for subsequent "Jim Crow" laws that furthered racial segregation. So far, they have 14 Senate backers, including Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama. A similar House measure introduced last year has 120 co-sponsors.

"I think 2008 will be the year," says Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. He says an apology could begin a dialogue about race that Obama could continue as the nation’s first black president.

"The success of the Obama candidacy underscores the irrelevance of an apology" because it shows "enormous progress" in race relations, says Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative group that describes itself as opposed to racial preferences. "Haven’t we already moved beyond it?"

Congress has apologized before, but not for slavery.

It apologized to Japanese-Americans in 1988 for holding them in camps during World War II and gave each survivor $20,000. In 1993, Congress apologized to native Hawaiians for the overthrow of their kingdom a century earlier. In 2005, the Senate apologized for not enacting anti-lynching legislation.

The Senate has no record of any prior effort to apologize for slavery. In the House of Representatives, Tony Hall, an Ohio Democrat, proposed one in 1997, and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., has tried since 1989 to pass a bill that would create a commission to study slavery’s impact and possible remedies, including reparations, which can be cash payments.

Apologies are controversial because of concern they could lead to reparations.

They "carry weight" as a step toward racial healing and don’t have to "open the door" to reparations, says Carol Swain, professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University.

Other proponents say an apology should lead to remedies.

"A mere apology doesn’t do anything for me," says state Rep. Talibdin El-Amin, a Democrat who is lobbying for such a resolution in Missouri.

An apology is a necessary first step because it recognizes a wrongdoing, says Hilary Shelton of the NAACP.

He says it’s "hollow," though, unless it leads to a remedy for African-Americans, who still suffer economically and educationally from the aftereffects of slavery and segregation.

Remedies don’t have to be monetary payments but could be government programs to help the disadvantaged, Cohen says.

An apology is counterproductive, Clegg says. "It taps into white guilt and helps perpetuate social programs the civil rights establishment likes, such as racial preferences and ultimately reparations," he says.

Clegg says that an apology serves "no legitimate purpose since the villains and victims are long since deceased" and that such an action could instead be divisive and "keep racial wounds alive."

The state apologies have not given a boost to the reparations movement, says Ronald Walters, author of a book titled The Price of Racial Reconciliation.

Last February, Virginia became the first state to issue a form of apology, expressing "profound regret," as did Maryland lawmakers a month later. The three states that followed expressed regret and apologized.

Alabama and New Jersey added language saying the apology cannot be used to sue the state.

The House proposal does not include such a disclaimer, but the Senate one does, saying its apology cannot be the basis for claims against the United States.

Harkin says his proposal does not address reparations.

"We’re just apologizing," he says. "You can’t undo the past, but you can recognize a wrong was done."


Dubai: US-based Boston University will offer a range of graduate and postgraduate programmes in dentistry and allied health sciences in Dubai by 2011, making it the first time in the academic institution’s history to open beyond its geographical borders.

Mohammad Al Gergawi, Executive Chairman of Dubai Holding, inaugurated the construction of the new Boston University building as part of the Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Academic Medical Centre at Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC), a member of Tatweer.

The ceremony was conducted in the presence of Joseph Mercurio, Executive Vice-President of Boston University, and Jeffrey Hutter, Interim Dean of Goldman School of Dental Medicine Boston University.

"As a world-renowned academic institution, Boston University’s move to the emirate signals a crucial step forward for the healthcare and educational sectors in the region. It also complements the objectives of Dubai Strategic Plan 2015 as outlined by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai," said Al Gergawi.

Joseph Mercurio, Executive Vice-President of Boston University, said: "Boston University is proud to move into the region. We are committed to raising healthcare standards that complement our status as one of the world’s oldest leading private research and teaching institutions."



An Ohio school says the Mohawk worn by Bryan Ruda, 6, is a distraction for other students.

PARMA, Ohio — A kindergarten student with a freshly spiked Mohawk has been suspended from school.

Michelle Barile, the mother of 6-year-old Bryan Ruda, said nothing in the Parma Community School handbook prohibits the haircut, characterized by closely shaved sides with a strip of prominent hair on top. The school said the hair was a distraction for other students.

"I understand they have a dress code. I understand he has a uniform. But this is total discrimination," she said. "They can’t tell me how I can cut his hair."


Honeywell Aerospace said Wednesday that it is eliminating 420 manufacturing jobs at its north Phoenix facility and plans to move the jobs to Indonesia and Malaysia starting in the third quarter.

The process could take 18 to 24 months to complete, spokesman Bill Reavis said.

Honeywell Aerospace, a unit of global manufacturer Honeywell International Inc., is one of the Valley’s biggest employers.

About 12,600 people are on the payroll in various divisions throughout Arizona, Reavis said.

Honeywell Aerospace currently employs about 2,500 workers at the north Phoenix site.

"It’s a decision to remain globally competitive in the markets that we serve," Reavis said.

"The company has to continue evaluating its operations and business practices in all locations in order to best serve (its) customers."

The company will provide severance packages and outplacement help to affected workers who are eligible, he said.

They will also be able to apply for open positions in the company.

"It was a very tough decision for the company to make," he said. "We understand that it’s going to impact a number of our employees. We’re working with them to make sure that transition is going to be as smooth as possible."

Reavis would not say how much money the cuts would save the company or what the average salary range was for the affected workers.

The announcement comes a month after Honeywell Process Solutions, which makes factory-automation systems, said it planned to eliminate 240 jobs from its Phoenix facility.

Those cuts target 180 manufacturing positions and 60 engineering positions.



 Mohammed Hamid has been found guilty of organising terrorist training camps. He called himself Osama bin London. The new plans aim to stop terrorism spreading

Every part of Britain will be mapped for its potential to produce violent Muslim extremists under a new strategy drawn up by senior police officers, it has emerged.

At its counter-terrorism conference in Brighton this week, the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) approved a blueprint for how to prevent al Qaeda recruiting fresh supporters.

The 40-page document aims to stop extremist ideas gaining hold in schools, colleges, prisons and over the internet.

It includes advice for parents on how to stop their children searching for jihadist websites.

"The internet is a potential area where a tendency towards violent extremism can be exploited…" it reads.

"Parents and carers have a need for advice on how to control access for their children and to understand what defines the legal-potentially illegal divide."

The strategy also outlines details of an anti-extremist agenda to be included at every level of state-maintained education from primary school to university by 2008-09.

It speaks of a "pressing need" to develop relationships between the police and the education sector "at every level" with regard to preventing violent extremism.

It also warns: "Research last year revealed that the police service would be very low on the list of agencies that the Muslim community would turn to if they had concerns about a member of their community who embraced violent extremism…

"The police service has a long way to go in building a relationship of trust around these issues."

The strategy will be rooted in "neighbourhood profiling" to establish what is normal and what is unusual behaviour.

An unnamed senior source told The Guardian that it was important to map areas of the country for their tendency to produce extremists.

The source said: "You have to assess where the need is greatest. Just relying on the census data for the number of Muslims in an area is not detailed or sophisticated enough."

The document has not yet been published, but it was presented to the conference on Tuesday by Sir Norman Bettison, Acpo’s lead on preventing extremism.

Notorious: Finsbury Park Mosque has been linked to Muslim terrorists



BALAD, Iraq – Flying in slow circles four miles above Baghdad in the back of a four-engine C-130, the Air Force Academy’s Capt. Linda Thorstenson waits for a call.

It could be from a convoy under attack, or just someone checking a radio. She’s their security blanket, ensuring that when they pick up their radios, someone will hear them on the other end.

“We’re 911 operators at 20,000 feet,” said Thorstenson, who teaches cadets the basics of flying in Colorado Springs and helps coach the academy’s gymnastics team.
“We’re there if they need us.”

Thorstenson’s job at Balad Air Base, north of Baghdad, grew from the physics of FM radio signals, which the Army and other military units use to communicate on the ground in Iraq. The signals usually work well, but distance, terrain and even the buildings of a city can block communications, leaving units isolated and out of touch with the people who can help in an emergency. That’s where the Air Force comes in on one of dozens of new roles for the service created to help in Iraq.

Thorstenson’s C-130s fly well above the city and can listen in on the convoys. If someone can’t reach headquarters, crews in the back of the plane can relay the message.

For Army units, the Air Force assistance can bring extra firepower from fighters or send medical evacuation choppers to soldiers who would otherwise be alone in battle.

It’s more than just theory for Thorstenson, whose husband, Capt. Craig Thorstenson of Peterson Air Force Base, is an electronics expert assigned to help the Army here and at any time could be rolling in one of those convoys.

“I obviously have a very personal interest in making sure we catch all the calls,” she said Wednesday. “Not just for my husband, but for all the people on the ground.”

The Thorstensons are among thousands of airmen in Iraq. Some fill familiar jobs, such as dropping bombs in close air support missions, and running passengers and cargo around the country, while others have relatively new roles such as manning machine guns, escorting convoys and helping the Army counter radiocontrolled bombs.

“It’s behind the scenes, and that is completely OK as long as we are there when we are needed,” the captain, a 2000 Air Force Academy graduate, said of her work.

Thorstenson, a Dillon, S.C., native, has flown over Iraq at the controls of a KC-135 tanker that fueled fighters and bombers early in the war. At the academy, she flies T-41 Cessna trainers used to give cadets their introduction to powered flight.
She said the cadets were surprised that their teacher was going back into combat.

“I told them, ‘It’s going to be you someday, and with what you’ll learn in four years at the academy, you’ll be ready when it comes,’” she said.

At Balad, Thorstenson and other airmen live in trailers converted to barracks rooms like the accommodations given their Army comrades. It’s safer here than it once was, but alarms sounded several times Tuesday to warn of mortar attack.

She volunteered to take the job as assistant operations director of Joint Air Battle Staff, a unit at Balad that includes Army and Navy service members.

Much of her work centers on keeping the radio crews trained and making sure the unit’s paperwork is straight.

But about twice a week she climbs into the cargo hold of a C-130 for a long day of listening to radios.

Most days are quiet for the crews as they listen to the chatter from the units on the ground during flights that last hours.
“There are days when you wonder if you’re really helping out,” she said.
The radio crews in the sky jump into action when frantic calls for help come in.

If a unit in trouble doesn’t get a response from their Army headquarters, Thorstenson steps in, walking soldiers through the basics of what they need and relaying the 911-like call to those on the ground who can give aid.
“When things go wrong, we make sure we stay calm,” she said.

She’s sometimes approached by the soldiers who have been helped out through the airborne radio connection. Their gratitude is deep, but Thorstenson tells them she was just doing her job.

She’s scheduled to return next month to the academy, where she plans to pass her war experience on to the next generation of officers.

“I’m going to be able to take this experience right back to them,” Thorstenson said. “I’ll be able to give them a fresh look at what it’s like.”


SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5 / AP / BCN) ― A dozen people were in custody Wednesday after federal law-enforcement targeting a methamphetamine distribution ring raided locations throughout the Bay Area.

The Federal Burea of Investigation said about 200 officers served 10 search warrants and 14 arrest warrants Wednesday in San Francisco, San Jose and Gilroy.

Officers seized more than six pounds of pure methamphetamine and $45,000 in cash, U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello said.

Twelve of the indicted suspects were arrested, two more remained fugitives – including one believed to be in Mexico. 

Eleven of those arrested appeared later Wednesday in handcuffs in San Francisco federal court for arraignment. They included: Guillermo Zaragoza, 25; Eduardo Zaragoza, 24; Martin Zaragoza, 43; Manuel Contreras, 51; Martel Valencia, 34; Angelica Rodriguez, 33; Paul Kozina, 37; and Irma Corona, 44, all of San Jose; Juan Zaragoza, 30, of Stockton; David Weld, 33, of San Francisco; and David Quezada, 33, of Gilroy.
Those nine men and two women pleaded not guilty to meth conspiracy and distribution charges before U.S. Magistrate Edward Chen. They will all remain in custody until detention hearings set for next week.

Many of those charges carry life sentences, if the accused are convicted and get the maximum.

FBI agent Joseph Schadler said another defendant named in the indictment was in custody but did not appear in court Wednesday. That defendant, Lorenzo Carbajal, 46, of San Jose, is already incarcerated in state prison.
Two other defendants remained at large: Roberto Zaragoza Ruiz, 29, of San Jose, and Richard Parodi, 32, of San Francisco, according to Schadler.

Authorities said Wednesday’s raids were part of a two-year investigation of a distribution ring that was capable of distributing up to 20 pounds of methamphetamine a month.
Schadler described the meth operation as "a family-run organization."
"A lot of (the defendants) are related. It’s definitely a family organization. This is a major distribution ring," he said.

The raids were conducted by San Francisco and San Jose police, FBI agents, the state Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement and a San Mateo County narcotics task force.

Authorities executed warrants at seven homes in San Jose as well as at two homes in San Francisco and one in Gilroy, Schadler said.

Lebanon is to stay away from this year’s Paris book fair in protest at the invitation of Israel as guest of honour, Culture Minister Tarek Mitri announced.

Mitri said in a statement Lebanon will not participate this year in protest at the cultural event’s organisers’ decision to select Israel as guest of honour.

Lebanon is the first Arab government to announce a boycott of the March 14 to 19 event after organisers announced that 39 Israeli writers were being invited to mark the 60th anniversary of Israel.

On Tuesday, the 50-nation Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISECSCO), called for a boycott of the event by Islamic states.

The group said the crimes against humanity that Israel is perpetrating in the Palestinian territories… constitute, in themselves, a strong condemnation of Israel, making it unworthy of being welcomed as a guest of honour at an international book fair.

Twenty-five Egyptian groups have announced that they will not take part, as has the Union of Algerian Writers.

In Sanaa, the head of the state-run Public Book Authority, Dr Faris al-Saqqaf, said Yemen would not be participating at the request of the Arab League.

Bahrain and Qatar said they did not normally take part in any case.


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