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Arizona gunman in court as Obama leads mourning

In Uncategorized on January 12, 2011 at 7:10 am

The man accused of trying to assassinate a congresswoman in an Arizona shooting spree that left six dead appeared in court but said nothing to shed light on his motive.


President Barack Obama led the American nation in a somber minute of silence to honor the 20 people gunned down in Tucson — where he will attend a memorial service on Wednesday, the White House announced.


Flags were at half-staff at the Capitol in Washington, where hundreds of aides and lawmakers crammed the storied steps of Congress to pay silent tribute to the victims, including one of their own.


Democratic lawmaker Gabrielle Giffords, 40, was shot through the head at point-blank range before the gunman sprayed a crowd of constituents with bullets, a nine-year-old girl and a federal judge among six who died.


Jared Loughner, who faces the death penalty for the murder of the judge, appeared, his head shaven, amid tight security around the federal court in Arizona state capital Phoenix.


Dressed in a brown prison jumpsuit for the less than 15 minute hearing, 22-year-old Loughner appeared to follow proceedings closely, but said little beyond answering “Yes” to basic questions from Judge Michael Anderson.


The judge agreed to his request to have Judy Clarke, who represented the Unabomber — an anarchist serving life without parole for a 20-year mail bombing spree — and 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, as his attorney.


No plea of guilty or not guilty was entered during the hearing and a preliminary court appearance was scheduled for January 24. A mug shot released by police showed the gunman with a haunting smile.


In an update on Giffords’ condition Monday, doctors said she was still responding to basic commands such as squeezing medics’ fingers, fueling growing hope for her recovery, though she remains in a critical condition.

People wait in line to sign condolence books for the victims of Saturday’s mass shooting in Arizona in the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill

Authorities said Loughner, a troubled young man booted out of a community college last year, fired a full clip of 31 shots.


He was reloading another clip into his 9mm Glock semi-automatic pistol when bystanders, including a 74-year-old retired colonel whose head had just been grazed by a bullet, brought him to the ground.


Obama praised the “extraordinary courage” of those who tackled the gunman, including a young Giffords aide and a woman who helped disarm him.


At the Capitol, Democratic representative Emanuel Cleaver recited a prayer: “We ask blessings on the spirit of this nation… help us move from this dark place to a place of sunshine… we ask that you help keep our hearts pure.”


Outside the Tucson hospital where Giffords clung to life with part of her skull removed, tearful well-wishers gathered, praying and hoping.


A search of Loughner’s home on Saturday unearthed a trove of evidence in a safe, according to the criminal complaint.


A letter from Giffords thanked Loughner for attending one of her earlier public meetings, in August 2007.


Also in the safe they found an envelope with the hand-written notes, “I planned ahead,” “My assassination” and “Giffords,” the affidavit said.


Officials declined to assess Loughner’s motives or mental state. He wrote a stream of barely coherent postings on the Internet that showed an interest in developing a new currency and criticism of “illiterate” fellow residents.

A US senator meanwhile said he plans to present legislation to ban high-capacity ammunition clips of the type used by the Tucson gunman.

“The only reason to have 33 bullets loaded in a handgun is to kill a lot of people very quickly. These high-capacity clips simply should not be on the market,” said Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg.

Giffords, who narrowly won re-election last year over a favorite of the conservative Tea Party movement, is a centrist Democrat who supports increased border security and, incidentally, loose restrictions on gun ownership.

Lawmakers of the rival Republican Party, which made huge gains in November midterm elections, denounced the attack and suspended proceedings of the House of Representatives whose new leadership had taken over just three days earlier.

Source: SGGP

Obama to regulate carbon from power plants

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2010 at 5:56 am

 US President Barack Obama’s administration said it will regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, setting up a climate change battle with a skeptical new Congress.


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it would set standards for fossil fuel power plants and petroleum refineries, which together emit nearly 40 percent of the gasses blamed for climate change in the United States.


The decision comes after a bill to set up a “cap-and-trade” program to restrict emissions in the world’s second largest polluter died in the Senate, although the EPA insisted it was not trying to replace action by Congress.


“We are following through on our commitment to proceed in a measured and careful way to reduce greenhouse gas pollution that threatens the health and welfare of Americans and contributes to climate change,” EPA chief Lisa Jackson said in a statement.

US President Barack Obama’s administration said Thursday it will regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, setting up a climate change battle with a skeptical new Congress

“These standards will help American companies attract private investment to the clean energy upgrades that make our companies more competitive and create good jobs here at home,” she said.


The EPA did not go into specifics about the new standards, saying it would make a proposal in the new year and finalize it in 2012 after public comment.


The regulator suggested it would not impose an outright figure for emission standards but instead would ask companies to embrace cleaner technologies.


“This is not about a cap-and-trade program,” senior EPA official Gina McCarthy told reporters on a conference call.


“It is not in any way trying to get into the areas in which Congress will be establishing law, at some point in the future we hope,” she said.


McCarthy did not say which technologies would be favored, although the Obama administration has been promoting wind, solar and other low-emission renewable energies. Fossil fuels, particularly coal, are much dirtier.


Representative Darrell Issa, who is set for a prominent role in the Republican-led House of Representatives that takes over next month, was “disappointed” by the EPA decision, said his spokesman, Kurt Bardella.


“The fact is there are serious questions about the wisdom of EPA’s recent efforts to impose multiple job-killing regulations that only serve to raise costs on a manufacturing industry trying to overcome a bad economy,” he said.


The National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, an industry group, vowed to fight the EPA move and accused the Obama administration of usurping the authority of Congress.


“Regulations can’t create technology that doesn’t exist or change the laws of physics and economics, so the only way to comply with EPA’s proposals would be to inflict massive increases in energy costs and massive increases in unemployment on families across our nation,” it said.


But advocates of action on climate change believe that the United States can open up a new green economy, creating jobs, if it moves away from fossil fuels.


Joe Mendelson of the National Wildlife Federation criticized “polluters that want to hold hostage America’s clean energy future and our public health with bullying and unfounded threats of doom and gloom.”


The upcoming rules could also trigger a battle with oil-producing Texas, which emits far more greenhouse gases than any other state and has adamantly opposed Washington restrictions.


Obama last year pledged that the United States would curb emissions by 17 percent by 2020 compared with 2005 levels. The goal is modest compared to the actions of other developed economies, particularly the European Union.

Most scientists say the world is far off track at meeting a goal — codified at UN climate talks in Mexico this month — of keeping temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

Source: SGGP

Obama congratulates Iraq on new government

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2010 at 4:31 am

WASHINGTON, Dec 21, 2010 (AFP) – US President Barack Obama Tuesday congratulated Iraq after parliament endorsed a new government, saying the move was a “significant” historic moment and represented a rejection of extremism.


“Today’s vote in the Council of Representatives is a significant moment in Iraq’s history and a major step forward in advancing national unity,” Obama said in a written statement.


“I congratulate Iraq’s political leaders, the members of the Council of Representatives, and the Iraqi people on the formation of a new government of national partnership.”


Obama and Vice President Joe Biden both spoke to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki personally by telephone to offer their congratulations, the White House said.

Iraqi former prime minister and now member of Parliament and head of the Iraqiya bloc Iyad Allawi (R) and former Iraqi prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, now member of Parliament and of the National alliance, walk together on December 21, 2010. AFP

The president said that the Iraqi people and elected representatives had shown, with the long-delayed move after elections in March, that they were committed to democratic means to ease differences and shape Iraq’s future.


“Their decision to form an inclusive partnership government is a clear rejection of the efforts by extremists to spur sectarian division,” he said.


“Iraq faces important challenges, but the Iraqi people can also seize a future of opportunity.


“The United States will continue to strengthen our long-term partnership with Iraq’s people and leaders as they build a prosperous and peaceful nation that is fully integrated into the region and international community.”


Obama, who rose to power after he opposed the then unpopular Iraq war, has presided over the end of US combat operations in the country, and all American forces are due to be withdrawn by the end of next year.


He tasked Biden with monitoring the US withdrawal and his number two has invested substantial time in persuading various factions in the country to move towards a coalition agreement.


Biden said in his own statement that Iraq’s leaders had delivered what their people deserved and expected — “an inclusive, national partnership government that reflects the results of Iraq’s elections.”


“There are many challenges ahead, but I am convinced Iraq is up to them,” Biden said.


Nearly 50,000 US troops remain in Iraq, seven years after the US invasion to topple ex-leader Saddam Hussein, mostly engaged in training and advising Iraqi security forces.


Iraq’s parliament earlier gave Maliki’s government a vote of confidence and adopted a 43-point program aimed at liberalizing the economy and fighting terrorism.


After more than nine months of political wrangling, parliament in separate votes gave its approval to Maliki, three deputy prime ministers and 29 other cabinet ministers, as well as the government program.


The results of the March 7 polls were generally split along sectarian lines, with Shiites mainly supporting Maliki’s State of Law and the National Alliance, and Sunnis mostly voting for ex-premier Iyad Allawi’s secular Iraqiya.


Neither Maliki nor Allawi was able to muster the majority needed to form a government, despite back-door negotiations with various Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs that also picked up seats, leading to more than nine months of political deadlock.


But a power-sharing pact was agreed on November 10 which saw Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, reappointed as president and Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni Arab, named as speaker of parliament.

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Source: SGGP

Obama to sign end to military gay ban

In Uncategorized on December 19, 2010 at 8:27 am

 The United States stood on the cusp of letting gays serve openly in its military for the first time, as the US Congress sent President Barack Obama a bill to bring about the historic shift.


Senators voted 65-31 to approve House-passed legislation to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” compromise of 1993 requiring gay soldiers to keep quiet about their sexual orientation or face dismissal.


“It is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed,” said Obama, who vowed during his 2008 White House bid to lift the ban.


Obama was expected to sign the measure this week with great fanfare, launching a White House and Pentagon certification process to ensure the smoothest possible transition at a time when Washington is fighting two wars.


Eight of the White House’s Republican foes backed the change — perhaps the biggest such shift in the US military since racial integration began in 1948 — while three Republicans and one Democrat missed the vote.


The measure, its passage assured when it cleared a procedural hurdle by a 63-33 margin earlier, fueled bitterly divisive debate in the already polarized Senate.


“The first casualty in the war in Iraq was a gay soldier. The mine that took off his right leg didn’t give a darn whether he was gay or straight. We shouldn’t either,” Democratic Senator Carl Levin said before the ballot.


“We cannot let these patriots down. Their suffering should end. It will end with the passage of this bill. I urge its passage today,” said Levin, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee.


“It isn’t broke, don’t fix it,” countered Senator John McCain, the top Republican on Levin’s panel and Obama’s defeated 2008 White House rival and a fierce foe of lifting the ban.


“To somehow allege that it has harmed our military is not justified by the facts,” McCain said. “Don’t think that it won’t be at great cost.”


Passage triggered a time-consuming process that calls for lifting the ban only after the president, the secretary of defense, and the top US uniformed officer certify that doing so can be done without harming military readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, recruiting and retention.


Republicans have scoffed that the leaders involved have already stated their support to ending the policy.


“They have already made up their minds,” said Republican Senator James Inhofe.


The Pentagon issued a study this month that found a solid majority of troops were not bothered by the prospect of lifting the ban and that the military could implement the change without a major disruption or upheaval.


The repeal effort enjoyed broad support from the US public, as well as from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and US Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen.


Gates — who had warned that US courts would step in and perhaps force a hasty end to the policy unless lawmakers acted — said the Pentagon would “carry out this change carefully and methodically, but purposefully.”


Mullen, whose emotional February testimony to Congress in favor of repeal has been credited as a signal moment, said ending the ban was “the right thing to do.”


“No longer will able men and women who want to serve and sacrifice for their country have to sacrifice their integrity to do so,” he said, promising: “We will be a better military as a result.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose husband Bill had enacted the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy when he was president, said the repeal would strengthen US support for human rights internationally.

Activists listen during a rally on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell on Capitol Hill, December 10.

“This is a historic step forward for all Americans, a step toward a more perfect union and a more perfect reflection of our core values,” she said.

In the years since the ban was enacted as a compromise, some 13,000 US troops have been ousted, and critics have pointed out that many were trained at great expense, like fighter pilots, or had hard-to-find skills, such as Arabic translators.

But opponents of the legislation have cited testimony from US military service chiefs who warned against a quick repeal, citing concerns about unit cohesion.

General James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps and an opponent of lifting the ban, has warned repeal could jeopardize the lives of Marines in combat by undermining closely knit units.

Newly minted Democratic Senator Joe Manchin and Republican Senators Jim Bunning, Judd Gregg, and Orrin Hatch did not vote on repeal.

Source: SGGP

US Congress passes contentious Obama tax deal

In Uncategorized on December 17, 2010 at 8:56 am

AFP file – US President Barack Obama

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US lawmakers gave final approval to President Barack Obama’s contentious deal with Republicans to avert a New Year’s tax hike and extend aid to the jobless, despite a Democratic rebellion.


A day after the Senate passed the package by an 81-19 margin, the House of Representatives followed suit 277-148, sending the measure to Obama to sign and reap a restorative bipartisan victory six weeks after an elections rout.


The 858-billion-dollar measure was expected to give the US economy a much-needed boost while digging the country’s deficit and debt deeper, as the world’s richest country emerges from the worst downturn since the 1930s.


Obama, seeking a restorative bipartisan victory six weeks after Republicans routed his Democrats in November 2 elections, had stressed the package extends middle-class tax cuts for two years and jobless benefits for 13 months.


But angry Democrats from the party’s left flank opposed the plan for including an identical extension for the richest sliver of US earners and rolling back the inheritance tax that affects only the wealthiest estates.


“This measure does not create a single job or stimulate the economy in any way,” said number-three Democratic Representative James Clyburn, who urged lawmakers to “restore some fairness to the tax code.”


Immediately prior to passage, which came shortly before midnight, lawmakers defeated a Democratic amendment to toughen the estate tax provisions in the package by a 194-233 margin.


The White House compromise sets the inheritance tax rate at 35 percent and exempts estates under five million dollars, compared to 45 percent and 3.5 million dollars in a House-passed bill earlier this year.


Obama — who campaigned on a vow to let tax cuts lapse on income over 250,000 dollars for families or 200,000 dollars for individuals — dropped that insistence after the elections and urged fellow Democrats to do the same.


Right after the Senate passed the plan, Obama called on skeptical Democrats in the House to pass the bill unchanged, in one of their last acts before Republicans take control of the chamber in January.


Republican House speaker-designate John Boehner said “failing to stop all the tax hikes would have destroyed more jobs and deepened the uncertainty in our economy” and called the bill “a good first step.”


“But much more needs to be done, including cutting spending, permanently eliminating the threat of job-killing tax hikes, and repealing the job-killing health care law,” he said.


At the same time, the US Senate forged ahead on Obama’s top foreign policy, the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia, as Republicans worked to kill the nuclear arms control accord or at least put off a final vote until next year.


Top US military officials rebuffed Republicans charges that the pact will cripple US missile defense plans, as Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid set the stage for a likely ratification vote next week.


“We need START and we need it badly,” General James Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters, stressing the treaty included “no prohibitions to our ability to move forward in missile defense.”


“This treaty in no way limits anything we have in mind or want to do on missile defense,” agreed Defense Secretary Robert Gates. “I think that there were some legitimate concerns. But, frankly, I think they’ve been addressed.”


The agreement — which has the support of virtually every present and past US foreign policy or national security heavyweight — restricts each nation to a maximum of 1,550 deployed warheads, a cut of about 30 percent from a limit set in 2002, and 800 launchers and bombers.


The accord would also return US inspectors who have been unable to monitor Russia’s arsenal since the treaty’s predecessor lapsed in December 2009.


Obama won a critical victory when lawmakers voted 66-32 Wednesday to take up the pact, showing Democrats within striking distance of the 67 votes needed to ratify START if all 100 Senators are present.

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Source: SGGP

US on track in ‘difficult’ Afghan war: Obama

In Uncategorized on December 17, 2010 at 5:26 am

WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Barack Obama said the US war plan in Afghanistan was “on track” but somberly warned that gains won by his surge strategy at a heavy human cost were fragile and reversible.


Unveiling a long-awaited policy assessment, Obama said progress was sufficient to permit a “responsible reduction” of US forces to begin in July, though the scope and size of the likely drawdown appear limited.

US President Barack Obama said Thursday that surging troops into Afghanistan had made “significant progress” in curbing the Taliban and stifling Al-Qaeda (AFP)

Despite warning the Afghan war remained a “very difficult endeavor,” Obama said a relentless US operation had placed Al-Qaeda under more pressure than ever and argued that surge troops had made “considerable gains” in Afghanistan.


He said Al-Qaeda was finding it harder to recruit and plot attacks and had seen key leaders killed, although he warned the group was “ruthless and resilient” and was still planning follow-ups to the September 11, 2001 attacks.


“In short, Al-Qaeda is hunkered down,” Obama said as he unveiled an unclassified version of the review at the White House, flanked by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.


The president also said his new strategy, announced a year ago, had forged ahead with Pakistan, saying there was a new recognition in Islamabad of the threat posed by extremist networks in rugged Afghan border regions.


“Nevertheless, progress has not come fast enough, so we will continue to insist to Pakistani leaders that terrorist safe havens within their borders must be dealt with,” Obama said.


The overview, the result of a two-month National Security Council assessment, said progress in Afghanistan was evident in gains by Afghan and coalition forces against Taliban bastions in Kandahar and Helmand provinces.


But the study was short on details and supporting evidence, and did not include pointed criticisms of the Pakistani and Afghan governments that have featured in US government documents leaked in recent months.


Though it pledged to work with Afghanistan to improve governance and reduce corruption, it did not go into details on countrywide graft, including in President Hamid Karzai’s government, that many analysts see as endemic to Afghanistan and a severe threat to US goals.


Clinton insisted however the administration was not trying to sugar coat the war effort, after the bloodiest year yet for foreign troops in the nine-year conflict and public US spats with Afghanistan and Pakistan.


“I don’t think you will find any rosy scenario people in the leadership of this administration, starting with the president,” she said. “This has been a very, very hard-nosed review.”


Obama, under pressure from his liberal base, said when he announced his surge of 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan last year that American troops would begin a conditions-based drawdown in July 2011.


He argued Thursday that his target had galvanized US NATO allies into a more urgent effort to ensure Afghans begin to assume control of their own security.


However, senior military figures have appeared uneasy with the July 2011 date, and it appears unlikely that large-scale troop withdrawals will ensue. Gates also said the pace of US redeployments was unclear after next year.


“In terms of what that line looks like beyond July 2011, I think the answer is, we don’t know at this point. But the hope is that as we progress, that those drawdowns will be able to accelerate.”


The report trod carefully on uneasy US anti-terror ally Pakistan, following pointed criticisms of Islamabad’s nuclear safety and other areas of policy revealed in the US cables published by WikiLeaks and other reports.


Progress in the Washington-Islamabad alliance had been “substantial” but “uneven” in the last year, and some adjustments were necessary, the report said.


“For instance, the denial of extremist safe havens will require greater cooperation with Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan,” the report said.


Critics of US strategy are likely to argue the review leaves key questions unanswered, including whether Afghan military and governing structures will ever be sufficiently robust to secure US gains.


Administration officials have also played down intelligence reports cited by newspapers, which paint a less optimistic picture of the war than the administration report.


Progress in Afghanistan has come at a high cost: more foreign troops — nearly 700 — have died in 2010 than in any year of the war and Washington has waged public spats with Kabul and Islamabad.


The war also faces waning public support: 60 percent of Americans surveyed in an ABC News/Washington Post poll out Thursday believe that the war is not worth fighting, up seven points since July.

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Source: SGGP

Obama hopeful of deal to break Mideast deadlock Obama hopeful of deal to break Mideast deadlock

In Uncategorized on November 15, 2010 at 5:54 am

Obama makes free trade push at Pacific Rim summit

In Uncategorized on November 13, 2010 at 8:54 am

Muslims say Obama failing to keep Cairo promises

In Uncategorized on November 12, 2010 at 5:23 am

Indonesian religious unity an inspiration to world: Obama

In Uncategorized on November 10, 2010 at 3:51 am