TBR News February 27, 2013

Feb 27 2013

The Voice of the White House

 

            Washington, D.C. February 27, 2013: “The mystery about the resignation of the Pope… isn’t. Informed European and Catholic sources know that the homosexual issue is the reason. No one wielding as much power as the Pope does would willingly give up his power unless he was compelled to, either by death or overwhelming circumstances.

 

            The real issue is the homosexual issue. The Catholic Church is riddled with gays and this has spread even to princes of the Church and to the top Vatican officials. The same issue is also a bete noir for the Evangelical Christians.

 

            Both branches of the Church, one ancient and one very modern, spew out vicious hatred aimed at the homosexual community and both will be greatly undone with the forthcoming book, ‘Christ the Essene,’ which is about to appear as an ebook.

 

            This is a translation of an ancient Dead Sea scroll and it is the only document about Jesus that is of his period. It states, very clearly, that Jesus was an Essene, preached their dogmas and attacked the Roman authority. For his pains, he was captured by the Roman Procurator, tried and crucified along with many others of his sect.

            The Essenes were an all-male agricultural sect that was homosexual in practice and teaching, as the scroll makes very clear. How this information will impact on Christianity as a whole is unknown but the Christian groups who so hate and vilify gays will not be amused to have it known that their spiritual head was also homosexual.

 

And further It is the belief of Pentecostals that when certain conditions are met, Jesus Christ will return to earth, take his elect (the Pentecostals) physically to Paradise in an event known as Rapture. Those not belonging to the Pentecostal elect will have to remain behind for Satan to deal with.

 

When Parousia happens, there will be a great battle fought at Armageddon between the forces of Jesus and the Devil and his antichrist and Jesus, quite naturally, will be triumphant.

 

All of this, the Pentecostals assure their membership, can be found in the book of Revelation.

 

Unfortunately for this interesting thesis, the struggle between good and evil at Armageddon is not found in the book of Revelations. Revelations 16:16 only mentions the name of the long-forgotten town but there is nothing about an epic struggle mentioned anywhere else other than twisted interpretations in cult literature.

 

This strange book was allegedly written by St. John the Devine, an alleged  disciple of Jesus when, in fact is believed by most reputable Biblical scholars to have been written by a certain John of Patmos who lived many years after the period ascribed to Christ’s ministry.

 

John of Patmos was a hermit/monk on the Greek island of Patmos and contemporary historical reference briefly dismisses him as a lunatic. No one has been able to understand a word of what he wrote, and his confused and mystic writings easily lends themselves to all manner of interpretations by various dimwitted and obsessed religious fanatics.

 

When Martin Luther prepared the Protestant Bible, he discarded Revelations, and other books then found in the Bible, as being ‘unworthy and filled with nonsense.’

 

The Second Coming has as one of its primary  requirements that a Jewish nation must be reestablished in Palestine (which it was in 1948) and, even more important, that the great Jewish temple of Solomon must be rebuilt before Christ can return to earth and elevate his elect.

 

The first temple of Solomon was destroyed by the Babylonians and the more elegant second, by the Romans when they crushed the Jewish revolt in the first century.

 

Unfortunately for the Pentecostals, the former site of this temple is now occupied by the much-revered Muslim Dome of the Rock mosque.

 

The Jewish temple cannot be rebuilt, therefore, as long as the Muslim mosque occupies its space and therefore, it would be necessary to destroy this very holy building and replace it with a new edifice of another religion.

 

However, if this lunatic act were consummated , there would be an immediate and  terrible rising in the Muslim world and a savage religious war would burst forth on an already-ravaged Middle East.

 

The Pentecostals are, by their very nature, uncaring and fierce fanatics and such a war would, to them, be a fulfillment of the spurious prophecy of the manic Revelation’s non-existent Battle of Armageddon.

 

Already we can hear comments from prominent Pentecostals that the Muslims are the forces of the anti-Christ and must therefore be engaged by the forces of Jesus in a final hecatomb of blood and destruction. This pending bloodbath means nothing to Pentecostals because, according to their beliefs, they will be safe in Paradise and those left behind are of no consequence

 

These God-intoxicated fanatics have managed to capture the White House and place their people in high official positions within the Bush Administration.

 

In the face of all reason and logic, they are pushing a suicidal, hidden agenda that will have terrible consequences for everyone concerned.

 

In light of this, perhaps it is now far easier to understand what really stands behind the Administration’s apparent fierce determination to invade a shattered and disorganized Iraq while studiously ignoring a very real danger from North Korea’s declared intentions of building nuclear weapons.

 

After all, North Korea is not mentioned in Pentecostal dogma and there would be no Parousia because of a terrible nuclear war launched by that country.

 

In spite of the large amount of learned dissertations on the underlying motives for the Bush Administration’s war hysteria, one should note that the simplest answer to a complex problem is always the correct one.

 

The militant Evangelicals have committed the supreme error of wanting to make their personal religious beliefs a matter of state policy, horrifying as it may seem, and instead of elevating their numbers to a mythic paradise, they will most certainly create a wilderness of death and destruction for no sane justifying reason.

 

Jesus is quoted as saying that he did not come to “bring Peace but a Sword,” and this seems to be the real motivation of his more deranged followers.

 

 

What lies behind religious homophobia

The anti-gay rhetoric of religious leaders like Cardinal Keith O’Brien often masks deep-seated fears about their own sexuality

 

February 25, 2013

by Mark Dowd

The Guardian,

I approached a director at Channel 4 back in 2000 with a proposal for a documentary on homosexuality and the Roman Catholic church. I had a simple pitch. “I want to show why my church is so anti-gay.”

“And why is your church so anti-gay?,” came back the obvious question. “Because it is so gay,” I replied.

A furrowed brow invited further exposition. I then spelt out the logic. We interviewed clerics and ex-seminarians in the UK, US and Rome and uncovered a huge irony: the very institution that teaches that the homosexual orientation is “intrinsically disordered” attracts gay candidates for the priesthood in numbers way in excess of what one would expect, based on numbers in society at large. One seminary rector based on his own experience told me the number was at least 50%.

Gay Catholics like me will appreciate another irony with the news of Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s resignation: that the very man whose trenchant rhetoric on the subjects of gay adoption and marriage has been brought down by accusations of improper same-sex behaviour from no less than four men who crossed his path in the 1980s, either as a seminary rector or as archbishop of Edinburgh. His decision not to participate in the papal conclave is not to be taken as an admission of guilt and he contests the accusations made against him. Nevertheless, it does raise some general questions about a possible relationship between the tone of anti-gay rhetoric and the identities of those who engage in such high-octane language on same sex attraction.

For our programme, Queer and Catholic, we interviewed two men from the English College in Rome who had fallen in love while training for the priesthood. In seminary they had tried to have open and frank discussions about homosexuality but were told by staff and many fellow students alike that this was not the done thing.

In the TV interview, one of them reported on the fact that it was frequently the very men who were out and about in Rome engaging in casual sexual acquaintances in the Monte Capitolino, a nearby park, who were often the most vehemently homophobic in the seminars on sexual ethics.

Building on this, the lesbian writer on queer theology, Elizabeth Stuart, in a fascinating deconstruction of “liturgy queens”, made the observation that in her experience it was more often than not the very closeted clergy who deployed an almost neurotic obsession with the size and length of the altar cloth and ecclesiastical protocol as “their own way of dealing with their demons”. We have to be careful of a simplistic reductio ad absurdum here. Love of aesthetics in liturgy does not automatically prove anything about one’s sexual orientation. But I think Stuart had a point.

Of course, “inverted homophobia” as it has come to be known, doesn’t only occur inside the Church of Rome. Colorado evangelical preacher Ted Haggard, married and father of five children, spent years assuring that LGBT individuals would be getting their fair share of hellfire and brimstone before his (male) lover spilled the beans. Republican Senator Richard Curtis, an opponent of gay rights legislation, had the misfortune to be caught with a young man on camera inside an erotic video store. Then there was George Rekers, Baptist minister and leading light of the Family Research Council, who had sloped off on a not-so-secret European holiday with a younger man.

The knee-jerk reaction is to scream “hypocrite”, but I take a more measured view. The coming to light of these tales is a positive development. “Methinks the lady doth protest” is a well worn cliche, but from here on in, those who seek to cover their own guilty tracks by the uncharitable nature of their words know that a watching public is getting wiser to some of the unfortunate mind games that have been played out over the decades.

In the future, when as a gay Catholic I hear a senior cleric describing my orientation in hostile and uncompromising language, I might just want to ask a poignant question: is this really about me, or is it more about you?

Departing Pope Benedict’s daily activities shrouded in mystery

February 27, 2013

by Jason Horowitz,

Washington Post

VATICAN CITY — On an April 2009 visit to the Italian mountain town of Sulmona, Pope Benedict XVI solemnly placed his pallium, the vestment symbolizing his papal authority, on the tomb of Celestine V. The medieval pontiff’s abdication in 1294 had resulted in imprisonment by his successor and banishment to hell by Dante for “the great refusal.” Benedict is no doubt hoping for a better retirement plan.

At 8 p.m. Thursday, the Swiss Guards protecting the 85-year-old German will stand down as Benedict becomes the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign. He will then recede into history but also behind the Vatican walls, where he has said he will be “hidden from the world.”

Unlike fellow octogenarians playing bocce ball or shuffleboard, the daily activities of the departing sovereign are shrouded in mystery. On Tuesday, the Vatican revealed that Benedict, who spent the morning packing, would be known as emeritus pope, keeping his white cassock but trading in his red shoes for a pair of hand-cobbled brown loafers made in Mexico.

Benedict will spend the next few months in his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, a small lake town about 15 miles outside Rome, as he awaits the completion of renovations on a residence attached to the Mater Ecclesiae monastery. There, he plans to while away the rest of his days poring over books and Bibles. The 8,600-square-foot complex on a hill west of the apse of St. Peter’s Basilica, not far from the grotto where he likes to take his afternoon walk, will for Benedict be the papal version of Boca. “A place of the sacred, given its style as a hermitage,” according to the Vatican Web site.

John Paul II established it in 1994 as a convent for nuns providing him with spiritual assistance. In November, an order was moved out so that the site could undergo renovations. On a recent visit, an eagle-topped fountain that sits below the monastery poured turquoise water out of a series of spouts and waterfalls as prelates warned about the especially bloodthirsty tiger mosquitoes that swarm in the summer.

Benedict will share his retirement home with his longtime housekeepers, the consecrated laywomen who belong to the Memores Domini association of Communion and Liberation, a religious movement that has become controversial for its propinquity to power players in Italy. Asked at a recent news briefing whether Benedict would receive a pension, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, responded that although a retirement fund had not been established, “obviously he will be taken care of.”

The pope’s retirement complex will also be home to Archbishop Georg Ganswein (a.k.a. Gorgeous George), Benedict’s longtime confidant and personal secretary. But Ganswein will keep his day job as the new head of the household for the incoming pope. His simultaneous service to two popes has raised some concerns in the Vatican about a conflict of interest, but the church insists that Benedict will not be an eminence grise.

“He’s not going to be a meddling pope whatsoever,” said the Rev. Tom Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, who said popes often consult the writings of their previous successors to St. Peter or turn in prayer to their predecessors buried in the tombs under St. Peter’s Basilica. “What’s better than to take a stroll in the gardens for a consultation? What better person to turn to than the one who has been there?” Rosica said.

That’s the best-case scenario. It’s not the universal view within the Vatican, where there is a sense of bewilderment and even a touch, though never uttered near the record, of resentment about the pope leaving them in the lurch. Benedict’s papacy was often tripped up by public relations missteps and inconvenient revelations about dysfunction within the Vatican. The last year of his tenure was especially hard on him and the Vatican. A security breach of papal correspondence exploded into the scandal known as VatiLeaks, and this month a parade of freshly revealed scandals involving top cardinals is accompanying Benedict to the door. Some critics have suggested that Benedict is using the Vatican walls as a fortress against future scandals.

In the meantime, the Vatican has occupied itself with such vexing questions as, what’s in a name?

On Monday afternoon, a day before the Vatican unveiled the title emeritus pope, Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata, the No. 2 official overseeing the church during the interregnum between the pope’s last day and the election of a new pontiff, made the case against calling Benedict just that. “An emeritus bishop reserves some rights,” Celata said. “He still has a connection to the office.”

The church believes that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger transmutated into Benedict XVI in 2005. By personally choosing to retain the official title “Your Holiness Benedict XVI,” the pope apparently believed there was no going back.

In his final weekly blessing to a large crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, Benedict appeared from the window of his apartment in the Apostolic Palace and assured the faithful that his future of prayer and meditation “doesn’t mean abandoning the church. On the contrary, if God asks me, this is because I can continue to serve it with the same dedication and the same love which I have tried to do so until now, but in a way more suitable to my age and to my strength.”

Like the pope, some people in the square seemed ready to move on.

             “I want to see him for the last time,” said Gregory Esola, 54, a Catholic from Cameroon who has worked in Rome for nearly 30 years. As the pope’s assistants hung a purple drape with the papal seal out of the pope’s window, Esola said he appreciated Benedict’s stepping aside for the sake of the church. “The devil is in the church, and he’s too old to combat it. We need somebody who is young and powerful now.”

The School Security America Doesn’t Need
After Newtown: Turning Schools Into Prisons

by Chase Madar

TomGram

 

             Outrage over the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre may or may not spur any meaningful gun control laws, but you can bet your Crayolas that it will lead to more seven-year-olds getting handcuffed and hauled away to local police precincts.

You read that right.  Americans may disagree deeply about how easy it should be for a mentally ill convicted felon to purchase an AR-15, but when it comes to putting more law enforcement officers inside our schools, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and liberal Democrats like Senator Barbara Boxer are as one.  And when police (or “school resource officers” as these sheriff’s deputies are often known) spend time in a school, they often deal with disorder like proper cops — by slapping cuffs on the little perps and dragging them to the precinct.

Just ask the three nine-year-old girls and an eight-year-old boy who got into a fight at their Baltimore elementary school — then got arrested by real police.  Or Salecia Johnson, age six, cuffed and arrested for throwing a tantrum at her elementary school in Milledgeville, Georgia.  Or Wilson Reyes, a seven-year-old at a Bronx, New York, elementary school who last December 4th was cuffed, hauled away, and interrogated under suspicion of taking $5 from a classmate.  (Another kid later confessed.)

The last of these incidents made the cover of the New York Post, but the New York City Police Department still doesn’t understand what they did wrong — sure, the first-grader spent about 4 hours handcuffed in a detention room, but that’s “standard for juvenile arrest.”

Which is precisely the problem: standard juvenile misbehavior (a five-year-old pitching a fit, a 12-year-old doodling on a desk, a 13-year-old farting in class, a class clown running around the football field at halftime in a banana suit) is increasingly being treated like serious crime, resulting in handcuffs and arrest.  If you can’t understand why such “consistency” is crazy, please desist from reading the rest of this article.

It seems grotesque that the horrific slaughter of those 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut, will result in more children getting traumatized, but that’s exactly where we’re headed — with firm bipartisan support.

In his amazing post-Newtown speech last December, Wayne LaPierre, the CEO and executive vice president of the NRA, called for armed guards in all schools — a demand widely hailed as jaw-droppingly nutty.  A few weeks later, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) proposed $50 million in federal grants to install more metal detectors, surveillance cameras, and National Guard troops in schools, but made her pitch in the caring cadences of a Marin County Democrat.  And when President Obama ordered more police in schools (point 18 in his 23-point Executive Order responding to the Sandy Hook tragedy), it was all over.

So here’s an American reality of 2013: we will soon have more police in our schools, and more seven-year-olds like Joseph Andersons of PS 153 in Maspeth, New York, getting arrested.  (He got handcuffed after a meltdown when his Easter egg dye-job didn’t come out right.)

The School-to-Prison Pipeline

In fairness to the feds, similar kinds of local responses were already underway before the LaPierre-Boxer Axis of Tiny Handcuffs even arose.  Across the country, from Florida and Connecticut to Tennessee, Indiana, and Arizona, despite tough budgetary times, municipal governments are now eagerly scrounging up the extra money for more metal detectors, surveillance cameras, and armed guards in schools.  (The same thing happened after the Columbine shooting 14 years ago.)  No one keeps national statistics, but arrests of the 10-and-under set do seem to be on the rise since Sandy Hook. A typical recent case: in January, a seven-year-old at a Connecticut school was arrested by the police for “threatening” a teacher.  Jitters are understandable after the trauma of Sandy Hook — but arresting a seven-year-old?

Truth be told, we were already well on our way to turning schools into carceral fortresses before the Sandy Hook slaughter even happened.  In fact, the great national infrastructure project of the past 20 years may be the “school-to-prison pipeline.”  After all, we are the nation that arrested Isamar Gonzalez for being in her high school early to meet with a teacher, then arrested her principal, Mark Federman, when he tried to intervene.

The stats speak as loudly as the anecdotes: of the Chicago School District’s 4,600 arrests in 2011, 86% were for misdemeanors. That school system spends $51.4 million on security guards, but only $3.5 million for college and career coaches.  And for every incident that makes the news, there are scores that don’t.  Despite a growing body of damning research by civil libertarians of the left and the right, including Annette Fuentes’s excellent book Lockdown High, political opposition to the school-to-prison pipeline has proven feeble or nonexistent.  Brooklyn State Senator Eric Adams, who represents one of the most liberal districts in the country, has staked out the civil libertarian outer limit by helpfully suggesting that Velcro handcuffs might be more suitable than metal ones for arresting young children.

The metal detector at the schoolhouse door is threatening to become as iconic an American symbol as baseball or type 2 diabetes.  Not that metal detectors in place were capable of preventing the massacre at Red Lake High School in Minnesota in 2005: young Jeffrey Weise just barged right in and shot six people dead; nor could the metal detectors at George Washington High School in Manhattan or Paul Robeson High School in Brooklyn prevent teens from getting stabbed. Yet metal detectors and school police proliferate across the country. 

One state, however, truly leads the way. Self-satisfied Yankees have traditionally slandered the state of Mississippi as a jerkwater remnant of the past.  As for me, I say Mississippi represents the American future.  A new report by advocacy groups shows how the Hospitality State is leading the nation in cruel and draconian school over-policing.  Felony assault charges for throwing peanuts on the school bus!  Dress codes enforced by handcuffing a child to a railing for hours for the crime of not wearing a belt!  Cops escorting a five-year-old home for wearing the wrong color shoes! And constant arrests of kids for “disorderly conduct.”

Yes, the “Mississippi model” of non-union teachers plus “zero tolerance” discipline is the kind of schooling that some of the best and brightest among our education “reformers” have been touting — and what they are increasingly getting.  In fairness, Governor Rick Perry’s Texas is struggling with Mississippi for vanguard status, with cutting-edge surveillance of students and 300,000 misdemeanor arrests in 2010 for “crimes” like tossing a paper airplane.  And Massachusetts is a strong contender for third place.

Safe Schools Without Police or Metal Detectors

The over-policing of our schools is particularly grotesque because it’s so unnecessary.  All schools need order and all students need self-discipline (as do adults), but putting police and metal detectors in a school often just adds another layer of violent chaos to an already tough situation.  In my own policy research on school security overkill in New York City, I’ve found plenty of high schools, and not in the fancy parts of town, that do just fine without police or scanners.

In fact, they do better than fine: one report I coauthored with advocates from the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform found that schools without police or metal detectors actually get significantly better educational results (higher graduation rates, lower truancy) than their heavily policed counterparts.

So why aren’t these low-impact schools being held up as models?  Why don’t City Hall and the New York City Department of Education seem to want to know about these more effective — not to mention cheaper — models? Alas, despite a steady 15-year nationwide drop in crime, politicos continue to score points with voters by showing that they aren’t afraid to crack down on children, especially the working-class Black and Latino youth who bear most of the brunt of these policies. The psycho-racial-political dynamics are pretty much the same throughout the country.

But there are proven, demonstrably better, ways to do school discipline.  Ask Judge Steve Teske whose visionary common sense has brought down referrals to juvenile court by 70% in Clayton County, Georgia, by forcing schools to handle minor disciplinary infractions without handcuffs or police arrests.  (In the same period in that county, serious weapons charges, like bringing guns and knives to school, have fallen by 80% — further evidence that restraining a police presence actually makes schools safer.)

For another example of the right way to respond to school violence, look no further than Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, site of the 1999 massacre of 12 students and a teacher by two heavily armed students. In response, the school made the choice not to add a phalanx of armed guards. (Columbine actually had an armed school resource officer on duty the day of the killings, and he was unable to slow, let alone stop, the carnage.)

In fact, Columbine today remains an open campus with no metal detector at the front door.  Instead, its administration has worked hard to improve communications with the student body, trying to build an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.  Columbine parents have supported this approach for a simple reason: they don’t want their children treated like criminals.  Because Littleton, Colorado, is a largely affluent community with political muscle, they’ve been able to resist the avalanche of punitive measures that have been generated by every school massacre since the one that took place at theirs.

Other schools — particularly urban ones with working-class African-American and Latino students — are not so lucky. When President Obama announced his pledge of more “resource officers” in schools, he was quick to qualify it with an “if they want them.” A laudable sentiment that doesn’t really reflect how things usually work on the ground.

One Brooklyn high school principal I interviewed told me of the constant pressure he experienced from higher up in the New York City Department of Education to put in a metal detector and more police personnel. Another school security success story I profiled back in 2008 has since had a metal detector rammed down its educational throat despite its immaculate disciplinary record.  Now, its students are made to feel like potential criminals from the moment they arrive every morning.  The logic is, in its way, all-American: crazy white kids go on shooting sprees, and then the screws tighten on Black and Latino kids.

Resisting the Axis of Tiny Handcuffs

Is there any hope of preventing the rush to put more first graders in handcuffs? Yes, but don’t expect any help from the NRA, which is actively promoting a heavily armed vision of heaven on Earth in which armed guards will be everywhere, with all public space turned into an airport security line.  As for Barbara Boxer, evidently she wasn’t as struck as I was by the t-shirts that Sacramento’s school security police made with the slogan “U Raise ‘Em, We Cage ‘Em” emblazoned on the image of a child behind bars. Or maybe she should talk to constituents like five-year-old arrestee Michael Davis or the seven-year-old in San Mateo whom a cop blasted in the face with pepper spray for climbing a bookshelf. It remains to be seen if the NRA and Boxer, united, can ever be defeated.

This response to the Newtown massacre is of a piece with a developing post-9/11 American national-security-lockdown mentality — the belief that an armed response will solve most of our problems, domestic and foreign.  It’s a habit of thought that leads not figuratively but quite literally to a police state.  The over-policing of schools is just a part of the increasing militarization of the police nationwide, which in turn fuels the smoldering paranoia that drives civilians to stock up on AR-15s and the like.

Ending this cycle of armed fear and violence will require getting police out of the schools along with the whole battery of security state accessories.  The only way to get there will be via the broadest possible civil libertarian coalition: Black community groups and Ron Paul types, immigrants’ rights activists and teachers and principals unions that see the big picture, liberals and conservatives united against the nanny/thug state.

There could be no finer spokesperson for such an ecumenical gathering than the newly crowned Miss America, Alabama-raised Brooklyn-residing Mallory Hytes Hagan.  After wowing the pageant judges with her terpsichorean prowess, she demonstrated the soundest policy judgment.  Asked if she thought it was a good idea to bring armed guards into schools, Ms. Hagan’s response was clear.  “No, I don’t think the proper way to fight violence is with violence.”  According to the New York Daily News, she said it “firmly.” Let people of goodwill rally behind this model citizen to end all the grotesque violence in our schools.

Chase Madar (@ChMadar) is a civil rights attorney in New York City who has written about the proven alternatives to school security overkill. His latest book is The Passion of Bradley Manning: The Story Behind the Wikileaks Whistleblower (Verso).

US Senate approves Chuck Hagel as Obama’s next secretary of defense

Former senator from Nebraska approved to replace Panetta with support of four Republicans after bitter confirmation battle

February 26, 2013

by Paul Harris

guardian.co.uk 

After one of the lengthiest and most bitter confirmation fights in recent history, the Senate on Tuesday voted to confirm Chuck Hagel as president Barack Obama‘s next secretary of defense.

The Republican former senator from Nebraska and decorated Vietnam veteran will now replace Leon Panetta as head of the Pentagon at a time when America is seeking to draw down its ground forces in Afghanistan but ramping up its controversial drone warfare across the globe.

Just four Republicans crossed the political divide to back Hagel as he won a 58 to 41 vote in America’s upper chamber. They were Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Mike Johanns of Nebraska, Richard Shelby from Alabama and, surprisingly, Tea Party favourite Rand Paul from Kentucky, who had been one of Hagel’s staunchest critics.

The vote marks a long-delayed but important win for Obama who had placed some personal political capital on getting Hagel appointed to the post after reportedly receiving warnings that he could face a torrid time. Yet even those warnings had probably not prepared the White House – or indeed Hagel himself – for the intense grilling that the Nebraskan’s former Republican colleagues would dole out over a broad range of issues.

They questioned numerous speeches he had given in the past, raised doubts over whether he had accepted payments from abroad and sought to portray him as weak on Iran and too hard on Israel.

One of the most implacable foes of the appointment was Texas Republican Ted Cruz, who is a newcomer to the Senate but is fast winning a vocal place on the party’s right wing. In a statement Cruz continued to state his opposition to Hagel getting the military top job. “I fervently hope that this confirmation does not embolden Iran to accelerate their nuclear weapons development. I fervently hope that this confirmation does not undermine our vital alliance with Israel,” Cruz said.

Democrats had attacked Republican stalling over the appointment as being motivated by party political interested and had claimed they were damaging America’s national security interests.

Before the vote Senate majority leader Harry Reid had admonished his Republican opponents in stern language. “Politically motivated delays send a terrible signal to our allies around the world, and they send a terrible signal to tens of thousands of Americans serving in Afghanistan, other parts of the world and … in the United States,” he said.

Hagel is a former infantry soldier who was awarded two Purple Hearts during the conflict in Vietnam. He is now the first enlisted man to ever lead the Pentagon. However, Hagel’s first crisis on the job is not likely to be anything that happens overseas.

He is taking the reigns at the exact moment a fierce budgetary fight is raging in Washington over looming spending cuts, including to large swathes of the military. Defence chiefs have been warning that the planned cuts have already caused delayed deployments of manpower.

‘Credible Deterrence’: Germany Plans to Deploy Armed Drones

A document obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE indicates the German government is preparing to procure armed drones for foreign combat. Opposition politicians are outraged by the development and note that the use of weapons-equipped unmanned aircraft is legally dubious and possibly unethical.

January 25, 2013

by Veit Medick

Spiegel

Bowing to pressure from the German armed forces, the Bundeswehr, the federal government in Berlin is preparing to deploy armed, unmanned drones in foreign conflicts. In an answer to an official query made by the far-left Left Party, which has been obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE, the German government wrote that its experience in foreign combat operations has made it clear that reconnaissance vehicles must be armed “in order to provide protection against sudden and serious changes in the situation.”

As opposed to unarmed surveillance drones, these aircraft could attack known targets in a “quick, precise and scalable” way, the document stated. “In addition, the new features would confront opposing forces with a permanent and unpredictable threat that would limit their ability to act.” It went on to say that the weapons boost safety and security through “credible deterrence,” pointing to the “Predator” drones used by the United States as a possible model.

The government decision on armed drones brings the German air force one step closer to implementing a long-standing plan to dramatically alter the country’s drone fleets. Unlike the United States, Germany has only been using unarmed drones in combat. For aerial reconnaissance in Afghanistan, the Defense Ministry leases the drone model “Heron 1″ from an Israeli consortium and also relies on drones built by the German company Rheinmetall. But the government’s contract with the Israeli group runs out at the end of 2014, and the military has been searching for a replacement for some time now.

The move is likely to rekindle the debate within the government over fighter drones. Last year, the head of the German air force, Karl Müllner, landed in hot water shortly after assuming office for vehemently supporting the purchase of armed drone systems. At the time, the government remained cautious and called for a “broad discussion” in parliament before making any decision.

Nevertheless, Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière has always been open to having armed drones. “Aircraft are allowed to carry weapons, so why shouldn’t an unmanned aircraft also be able to do so?” de Maizière, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said in an interview with the German daily Die Welt. “The new weapons have a huge advantage: They are more targeted. And the better one can target, the less damage there will be,” he said.

Political Opposition to Plans

With its move, the German government is entering a political minefield. Even the use of unarmed drones is a issue of heated debate in Berlin. Drone opponents exist the world over, but many in Germany are concerned that drones will be misused to spy on people within the country. Criticism against armed drones is even sharper. Many security experts in the political arena point to the US’s intensive reliance on drone warfare as a chilling example of the use of armed, unmanned machines — the legality of which is questionable under international law.

Within Germany, politicians have been divided on the issue. Those within the CDU and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) view drones as a necessary evil of security policy. Meanwhile, the Left Party, the Green Party and even many within the CDU’s governing coalition partner, the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), are opposed to the plans.

“I’m vehemently opposed to the Bundeswehr’s drone strategy,” said Andrej Hunko, a parliamentarian with the Left Party. “I’m also critical of expanding the use of reconnaissance drones.” Hunko said that he fears that such aircraft won’t just be used abroad, but that they could be used domestically as well.

Green Party officials have also expressed their opposition to the move. “The government’s plans to order armed drones are evidence of a blind and irresponsible handling of progress in terms of military technology,” parliamentary group leader and chancellor candidate Jürgen Trittin told SPIEGEL ONLINE. “We oppose the government’s plans. By lowering the bar for the use of military means, the deployment leads to a further blurring of the limits of military force. Procuring armed drones, if at all, can only proceed after the ethical issues and questions of international law have been successfully clarified.”

Such sentiments are also being echoed by members of the opposition SPD, including senior parliamentarian Thomas Opperman, who told SPIEGEL ONLINE: “I’m opposed to a hasty decision because this brings a new quality to warfare. We need a broad societal and parliamentary debate about the ethical and legal boundries of the deployment of combat drones and not some backroom decision. It is entirely inappropriate that the public and parliament have learned of these plans more or less by accident.”

The government, for its part, has refuted that suggestion. Unmanned flying aircraft of all kinds were “not intended to have the effect of escalating” conflict, it said in response to the Left Party’s inquiry. In the future, they will be used “exclusively within the framework of their constitutional and mandated assignment.”

Black-White Wealth Gap Widens in US: Study

February 27, 2013

RIA Novosti

WASHINGTON, February 27 (RIA Novosti) – A growing US wealth gap between blacks and whites is rooted in government policies and institutional practices that create fundamental economic disparities in home ownership, employment, income and education, according to a report released Wednesday.

“All families need a financial cushion to be economically secure and create opportunities for the next generation,” said Dr. Thomas Shapiro, director of the Institute on Assets and Social Policy (IASP) at Brandeis University and a principal author of the 25-year-study of hundreds of American families.

“Our economy cannot sustain its growth in the face of this type of extreme wealth inequality,” Shapiro added in a statement.

There were 1,700 working-age households that took part in the research from 1984 to 2009. During that time, the gap in wealth between black and white families in the study grew from $85,000 in 1984 to $236,500 in 2009.

The 2009 median net worth of households in the study was $265,000 for whites and just $28,500 for blacks.

The study found white families were able to buy homes on average eight years earlier than black families, in part because of inheritance money and family assistance. They were also able to offer larger down payments and got better interest rates and lower lending costs.

Researchers also found black workers were more likely to have jobs that didn’t offer retirement plans or other benefits, were less likely to graduate from college and were likely to have higher student debt when they did.

 

February 27, 2013 by TomDispatch.com

Walling Ourselves Inside a Militarized-Police State

by Tom Engelhardt

 

It was, in a sense, so expectable, so leave-no-child-behind.  I’m talking about the arming of American schools.  Think of it as the next step in the militarization of this country, which follows all-too-logically from developments since September 11, 2001.  In the wake of 9/11, police departments nationwide began to militarize in a big way, and the next thing you knew, the police were looking ever less like old-style neighborhood patrollers and ever more like mini-anti-terror armies.  The billy club, the simple sidearm? So Old School. So retro

 

When it came to weaponry for the new, twenty-first-century version of the police, it was a matter of letting the good times roll: Tasers, flash grenades, pepper spray, incendiary tear gas, Kevlar helmets, assault rifles, bomb-detection robots, armored vehicles and tanks, special-ops-style SWAT teams, drone mini-submarines, drone aircraft, you name it.  Today, even school police are being armed with assault rifles.  And with it all goes a paramilitary fashion craze that anyone who observed the police in the Occupy moment is most familiar with.

 

In addition, the U.S. military is now offloading billions of dollars worth of its surplus equipment, some of it assumedly used in places like Iraq and Afghanistan against armed insurgents, on police forces even in small towns nationwide.  This includes M-16s, helmet-mounted infrared goggles, amphibious tanks, and helicopters. And now, the same up-armoring mentality is being brought to bear on a threat worse than terror: our children.  Think of it as the reductio ad absurdum of the new national security state.  First, they locked down the airports, then the capital, then the borders, and finally the schools. Now, we’re ready!

 

But the seldom-asked question is: ready for what?  After all, with a few rare exceptions (including unpredictable lone wolf attacks like the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords; the disgruntled software engineer who flew his plane into a building containing an IRS office in Austin, Texas, killing himself and an IRS manager; Major Nidal Hassan’s murderous rampage at Fort Hood, Texas; and the Newtown slaughter), just about all “terror” threats in the U.S. have essentially been FBI sting operations involving crews of “terrorists” who were, by themselves, incapable of planning their way out of the proverbial paper bag. 

 

Imagine for a moment how much better off we might be today if the money that has, for more than a decade, poured into the militarization of the police had been plowed into American education or infrastructure or just about anything else.  In that case, we might be prepared for something other than fighting phantoms and — as Chase Madar, author of The Passion of Bradley Manning, points out in “The School Security America Doesn’t Need” — handcuffing seven-year-olds.  For the TV version of what’s happening in our schools in the post-Newtown moment, you would have to imagine “Homeland” populated by overarmed Muppets and Thomas the Tank (not the Tank Engine).

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