Friday, March 31, 2006

Israeli Planes Target Rocket Sites In Gaza

Israel carried out airstrikes in the Gaza Strip early on Friday morning, hitting roads and a bridge believed to be used by militants for firing rockets into Israel, the army said. An army spokesman said planes had launched two airstrikes on targets. Separately, in the worst spike in violence recently, a Palestinian suicide bomber killed at least three Israelis near a settlement in the West Bank on Thursday in an attack that a new Hamas-led government called a "natural response to Israeli crimes".
The violence comes in the week that Hamas took office and Israeli leader Ehud Olmert's party won elections with a platform of imposing a border in the occupied West Bank if peacemaking remains frozen. The new Hamas-led government is sworn to Israel's destruction. Hamas sources in Gaza had said earlier that Israeli aircraft had fired a missile at an empty training camp belonging to the Islamist group. The army said it had not targeted any Hamas sites in its airstrikes. Palestinian emergency services said the airstrike on the bridge had burst the main water pipe in the area causing flooding. There were no reports of casualties. The emergency services added that Hamas and Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, part of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement, both had training bases close to the bridge. Earlier, Israeli planes carried out a further airstrike on a launch site used by militants to fire rockets into Israel. No casualties were reported. Artillery gunners also shelled open areas in the northern Gaza strip in response to recent rocket fire, which killed two Israelis earlier this week.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Peeps Invade Saint Paul City Hall

Saint Paul's city hall is no place for the Easter bunny according to the City's human rights director. The reason, the Easter décor may offend may offend non-Christians. Some city hall employees are upset with that decision and they're staging a 'Peep' protest under the gargantuan statue called The Vision of Peace or is that the Vision of Peeps? "Peeps, it's pretty funny cause it's peeps instead of peace," laughed attorney and city hall employee Maureen Dolan. She took part in what's being called the Peep Protest, "I brought them in because when I saw them at the store I went spring!" This colorful and sugary display appeared after the Easter bunny and a Happy Easter sign were removed from city hall last week.
The "Vision of Peace" statue in the St. Paul City Hall building, is ringed with marshmallow birds and Easter decorations.
Mike the Mailman, as he called himself, liked the protest display that was growing my the hour, "I like it, the Easter Bunny I mean, because I go around singing Peter Cottontail all day." The bunny and the greeting were removed last week because it was feared they would offend someone, "I think Easter is one thing but the Easter bunny is something else," said Dolan. But today, the Peeps produced chuckles and a desire by some to lighten up the atmosphere, "It saddens me that someone could find offense in the Easter bunny but I think it should be a little bit more tolerant of people," said employee Dan McKinnon. Dolan agreed, "There is a lot of serious business in this building and sometimes you just need a break from that." The Saint Paul Human Rights Office said the director has no further comment on the Easter bunny controversy. An attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota said that according to case law, the Easter bunny is secular while the greeting Happy Easter is deemed religious. And when it comes to the issue of allowing a bunny at city hall? The ACLU says it is probably not something they would have challenged.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Filipino Muslims Favor Own State in Mindanao

Filipino Muslims in the southern Philippines are strongly supporting a proposal by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to put up an Islamic government in Mindanao region. The MILF, the country’s largest Muslim separatist rebel group negotiating peace with Manila, said it is likely to share sovereign powers with the Arroyo government in Mindanao and talks are going on to put up the so-called Bangsamoro government in the southern region. Eid Kabalu said peace negotiators were discussing on how the Muslims will run the proposed new government, but he was quick to say that both sides are seriously studying new formulas based on model countries such as Sudan, Palestine, East Timor, Northern Ireland, and Bougainville.
“Talks are going on about the proposal for a shared government and shared sovereignty between the Bangsamoro people and the Philippine government.” “The results of this proposal will depend entirely on the outcome of the peace negotiations. Once the new Bangsamoro government is finally set up, then the five-province Muslim autonomous region will be dissolved,” Kabalu said. He said the MILF was also proposing to government negotiators that the Muslims be given an option to choose in a referendum whether they wanted Mindanao to be an independent state or not. Many local Muslims said they were supporting the MILF and the proposal to put up the Bangsamoro government, but majority of them wanted an independent Islamic state, similar to Iran. “That’s good if the MILF can put up this Bangsamoro government in areas where there are large Muslim communities, like Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi and Central Mindanao. But if would be much better if we have our own government, a Muslim state, like Iran and run our government according to the teachings of Islam,” said Abdullah bin Rashid. Ustadz Shariff Julabbi, a former guerilla leader and MILF spokesman, said Filipino Muslims would welcome an Islamic government in Mindanao. “This is the clamor of the millions of Filipino Muslim not only in Mindanao, but all across the Philippines, to have their own government. The aspiration and determination of the Bangsamoro people is very strong and we are all supporting this proposal to put up a Muslim government in the southern region.” “This land traditionally belongs to the Muslims, and the Philippines was originally Muslim, part of the vast kingdom of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo. This land is ours,” said Julabbi, now leader of the Muslim separatist group called the Bangsamoro Mujahideen Alliance, which has a large following in the islands of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi and some areas in the Zamboanga Peninsula in western Mindanao. Ghazali Jaafar, MILF deputy vice chairman for political affairs, said the Muslims in Mindanao are ready to govern their own homeland once the peace accord is signed.
Moro Islamic Liberation Front
“We are empowering our people so that they are more prepared to assume the reins of governance. This is our main thrust today in our current consultations, seminars and trainings with our regional and local officials and members,” Jaafar, former MILF chief peace negotiator, said in report posted on the MILF website. The report also quoted Silvestre C. Afable, government chief negotiator, in a remark he made during last year’s MILF plenum in Maguindanao province, that the Arroyo administration was ready to give the Muslims their homeland. The MILF said both peace panels have already signed at least 30 consensus points on the ancestral domain, which included the recognition of the Bangsamoro as a nationality designation for both the Islamized and non-Muslim indigenous tribes in the southern Philippines. At least 18 ethnic tribes are known to inhabit Mindanaothe T’boli, B’laan, Ata, Bagobo, Banwaon, Bukidnon, Dibabawon, Higaunon, Kalagan, Mamanwa, Mandaya, Mangguwangan, Manobo, Mansaka, Subanen, Tagakaolo, Teduray and the Ubo. The coverage of the ancestral domain includes the five Muslim autonomous provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao. The other areas are in Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani provinces where there are large communities of Muslims and indigenous tribes. Peace negotiators last week discussed in Malaysia the scope of the territories of the Muslim ancestral domain, but the talks ended without any solid agreement, although, they agreed to continue the negotiations next month. Ancestral domain refers to the MILF demand for territory that will constitute a Muslim homeland. In September, government and rebel peace negotiators signed several agreements centered on the ancestral domain — its concept, territories and resources, and how the MILF shall govern these places. Kabalu said both peace panels are expecting to sign a formal agreement on the ancestral domain once they finally agree to some contentious issues on territories. After the agreement on ancestral domain is signed, Kabalu said the MILF and government peace negotiators will then negotiate to find a political solution to the Muslim secessionist problem in Mindanao.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Minnesota Senate Restricts Eminent Domain

The push for eminent domain reform in Minnesota, and more than two dozen other states, was triggered by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year. The court upheld a decision allowing cities to seize private property for public uses. Those public uses can include private business development, as long as the project creates jobs and generates additional tax revenue. Sen. Thomas Bakk (DFL-Cook) says his bill tightens the Minnesota's eminent domain law. "Most people were outraged by the Supreme Court decision that said government can take your home, or government can take your business and give it to another private owner," Bakk said. "I think people feel pretty strongly that the constitution should protect them from that."
Under Bakk's bill, local government would have little room left to use eminent domain for economic development. The bill also sets specific conditions that government entities must meet in order to take private land for public purposes. Public hearings would be required for all eminent domain actions. And property owners would receive adequate compensation for their land, as well any legal fees. Bakk says property owners need a level playing field. "Often times city planners, or even state agencies, when they decide they want to acquire a piece of property, they have the eminent domain card in their tool box and often times they play it too soon. And it gets used like a negotiating tool to bring about a settlement. So an awful lot of people end up selling, and are considered willing sellers, but they really sell with a gun to their head." Eminent domain reform enjoys broad bi-partisan support at the Capitol. But some lawmakers would like even tighter restrictions. Sen. Julianne Ortman (R-Chanhassen) argued unsuccessfully to limit government acquisition of private property to only cases of public nuisance or environmental contamination. "Only under very limited circumstances should our cities, counties and other governmental agencies be able to say 'well, I like this company better, or I think that bakery is an eyesore, or I don't really want a liquor store on that corner.'" Despite the overwhelming support for the bill, skeptics remain.
Jim Miller, executive director of the League of Minnesota Cities, says he's concerned that setting high standards for eminent domain might get in the way of urban redevelopment projects. "It will depend on the circumstances, but if I were a developer and if I were looking at a complex redevelopment project and I wasn't at all certain that I going to be able to acquire all the property necessary, and the city is no longer able to make that happen through its power of eminent domain, I guess it's not inconceivable that certain projects just won't happen. Similar concerns were raised by one of the two senators who voted against the bill. Sen. Sandy Pappas (DFL-St. Paul) says changes to the eminent domain law go too far, too fast. Pappas says private property rights must be balanced with the need for livable communities. "We don't want to totally limit a city's ability to do redevelopment and our ability to get rid of pornographic bookstores and billboards or blighted properties. So, I think this is going to be a problem. I think we're going to see problems and lawsuits over the next two decades. And we're going to be back here every two years trying to fix this because we really haven't thought it through carefully," she said. A committee in the Minnesota House will finish work on an eminent domain reform Wednesday. Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum says a floor vote on the measure is expected by the first week of April.

Monday, March 27, 2006

United States May Seek Criminal Charges Against Kim Jong-il

Two U.S. senior congressional researchers say Washington could bring criminal charges against North Korean leader Kim Jong-il over his country’s counterfeiting of U.S. dollars. The two authors of a Congressional Research Service report say the U.S.'s increasing keenness to back up its allegations with legal evidence is fueling speculation that it is considering going after Kim. According to the report, the impoverished communist state may earn as much as US$15 million to 25 million each year from counterfeiting. Last year, the U.S. took action against a Macau-based bank, Banco-Delta Asia, for allegedly supporting North Korea's illegal activities. North Korea denies any state involvement in forgery.
Kim Jong-il
The report says the U.S. may try to press criminal charges against the North Korean leader in a similar way to how it overthrew Manuel Noriega, the former Panamanian leader. Noriega stood trial in the U.S. on a number of charges including drug trafficking and was imprisoned in 1992. The report also questions the credibility of South Korean information on Pyongyang's criminal activities, as Seoul pursues a more conciliatory policy with the North. According to the report, Washington's recent financial measures against the North have dealt a blow to North Korea's illicit activities as well as its legitimate trade. It adds the U.S. could now either ease financial pressure on the North and jumpstart stalled multilateral talks over Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions or it could tighten them. It said strengthening financial snctions against the North would come at the risk of angering China and South Korea.

Britney Spears, Pro-Life Hero

Britney Spears as art--political art, no less? Apparently so. Artist Daniel Edwards has crafted "Monument to Pro-Life: The Birth of Sean Preston," soon to be displayed at Brooklyn's Capla Kesting Fine Art gallery.
The gallery's Web site says the sculpture "applauds her decision of placing family before career." "Britney provides inspiration for those struggling with the `right choice,'" Edwards said.
The statue purported to be Spears (though the resemblance seems slim at best) shows her nude, pregnant and on all fours on a bearskin rug. A dedication ceremony April 7 will include materials provided by Manhattan Right To Life Committee, the gallery's site says. No word on whether Sean Preston's parents approve.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Vandals Deface Sign Honoring Soldier

The family of a Green Beret who was one of the nation‘s first casualties in the war on terror in Afghanistan was outraged after discovering vandals had defaced a sign honoring the soldier with anti-war graffiti.
A vandal scrawled several anti-war slogans on this memorial
"It was just pure rage," he told reporters. Michael Petithory discovered the vandalism as he biked along the Ashuwillticook Trail.
Sgt. 1st Class Daniel H. Petithory
ODA-574, Co. A, 3rd Bn., 5th SFG (Abn.)
Family and friends cleaned the sign, which is one of three along a stretch of the trail that honors the Cheshire native. The other two signs were not vandalized. Police in Cheshire and Lanesborough are investigating, but there had been no arrests. Cheshire, a town of approximately 3,500 residents, is about 140 miles west of Boston.
Daniel's brother, Mike Petithory, cleaned off the memorial

Saturday, March 25, 2006

US Sanctions On North Korea Produce 'Encouraging' Results

The United States' financial restrictions on North Korea produced ``encouraging'' results, U.S. Deputy Assistant Treasury Secretary Daniel Glaser said at a conference in Cairo. His comments came amid continuing tension between Washington and Pyongyang over the U.S. punitive actions against a bank in Macau that allegedly provided suspicious financial services to North Korea over the past 20 years. During his speech, Glaser cited the U.S. decision in September 2005 to place Macau's Banco Delta Asia (BDA) on its blacklist as a ``unworthy'' example of its successful war against terrorist financing. ``Our designation of BDA has produced encouraging results,'' Glaser said. ``Jurisdictions in the region have begun conducting investigations and taking necessary steps to identify and cut off illicit North Korean business.''
U.S. Deputy Assistant Treasury Secretary Daniel Glaser
In a report on Sept. 20, the Treasury Department concluded that BDA is a financial institution of ``primary money laundering concern.'' The designation consequently forced the bank to sever its relations with North Korea. He said that BDA financially facilitated North Korean front companies and government agencies engaged in narcotics trafficking, currency counterfeiting and the laundering of proceeds from those illegal practices. The U.S. punitive action is based on Section 311 of the USA Patriotic Act that has designated a total of three jurisdictions and nine financial institutions, including entities in Macau, Latvia, Burma, Syria and the ``Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,'' Glaser said. ``Section 311 has the dual effect of protecting the U.S. financial sector from abuse and undermining the financial networks that support criminal activity worldwide,'' he said. Calling the U.S. financial sanction an attempt to stifle the Pyongyang regime, North Korea declared in November that it will not return to the six-party talks unless Washington lifts it.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Fidel Castro Likes To HAM It Up

Fidel Castro has a penchant for imported cured Spanish hams and a paranoia about assassination that leads him to have his underwear incinerated, one of his former bodyguards has said. Delfín Fernandez, 44, fled Cuba in 1999 after becoming disillusioned with Castro's communist regime. He first lived in Spain and moved to Florida last year. There, as a regular television guest, he has caught the imagination of the Cuban community with his disclosures of Castro's habits and idiosyncracies and the workings of his inner circle.
Fidel & Raul Castro
Mr Fernandez said the chief bodyguard, Bienvenido "Chicho" Perez, had told him that Castro had his underwear burned to foil any assassination plots with chemicals during laundering. He said also that he personally had been sent to Spain to bring back $2,500 worth of pata negra Serrano ham for the Cuban leader. He claimed that Castro and his brother, Raul, assembled incriminating dossiers on foreign businessmen who wanted to invest in Cuba.
Delfín Fernández
Mr Fernandez said that Raul, the head of the island's army and thought to be Castro's heir, had stolen millions of dollars from government coffers. The former bodyguard, who worked in Spain for David Beckham, Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith, among others, said he had carried suitcases of cash out of Cuba for the Castro brothers. He said: "Raul likes the money. He has a transition plan; Fidel doesn't. I think Raul would want to lead an economic transformation and find a way to retire peacefully with his family with all the money he has stolen from the Cuban people over the years."

Thursday, March 23, 2006

North Korea, The People's Paradise

North Korea has no people with physical disabilities because they are killed almost as soon as they are born, a physician who defected from the communist state said. Ri Kwang-chol, who fled to the South last year, told a forum of rights activists that the practice of killing new-borns was widespread but denied he himself took part in it. "There are no people with physical defects in North Korea," Ri told members of the New Right Union, which groups local activists and North Korean refugees. He said babies born with physical disabilities were killed in infancy in hospitals or in homes and were quickly buried. The practice is encouraged by the state, Ri said, as a way of purifying the masses and eliminating people who might be considered "different".
The group urged the South Korean government to change course away from "silent diplomacy" and immediately begin taking action to pressure the North to improve its human rights record. The South Korean government has refused to join international condemnation of human rights abuses in the North out of concern that such a move could rattle ties with Pyongyang, which considers any criticism of its human rights as deeply offensive. "The government should stop trying to avoid upsetting Kim Jong-il," said another defector, Kim Young-sun, 67, referring to the North Korean leader. "It should try to upset Kim Jong-il," she said, adding it would be the best way to change the North. Kim Young-sun is a survivor of the North's Yodok prison camp, notorious for its forced labour and life-sentences for people charged with conspiring against the Kim Jong-il leadership. Mun Hyon-ok said women from her hometown in the northern region of North Korea bordering China were taken by a ring of human traffickers and probably ended up in China. "And there are women who are selling themselves for a handful of rice," she told the forum.
North Korea has called itself a people's paradise and said criticism of its human rights was motivated by a goal of toppling the leadership of Kim Jong-il. South Korea has come under fire from human rights groups and some countries for abstaining in votes on UN measures to condemn the North's human rights record. Seoul has also avoided the subject in bilateral talks with the North. South Korean officials have said the best way to improve the situation is through quiet diplomacy and encouraging the North to improve its food situation and open up to the international community.

The (not so) Great Communicator

I am a President Bush Supporter! BUT... This IS funny.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Neo-Nazis Threaten To Massacre Muslims

The World Cup in Germany is set to become a battleground between facists and Muslims, an Italian member of a new European Neo-Nazi movement warned. In a statement published by Italian daily Repubblica, the memeber of AS Roma's notorious ultras hooligan group claims Neo-Nazis across Europe met in Braunau in Austria to plan attacks against supporters from Islamic countries during the World Cup in Germany from June 9 to July 9.
"We are united. For the first time we are talking and planning together, with the English, the Germans, the Dutch, the Spanish, everyone with the same objective. At the World Cup there will be a massacre," said the Italian ultra. "We will all be in Germany and there will be Turks, Algerians and Tunisians.
The Turks, we can't stand them. In our country (Italy) there are not many, but in Germany, there are many of those guys there. They are Islamic terrorists. "We will attack them. They are all enemies that need to be eliminated, just like the police. If we make the Roman greeting (the fascist salute) they put us in prison. We will be tens of thousands. Nothing but the English are feared."

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Death Penalty For Converting to Christianity

An Afghan man is being prosecuted in a Kabul court and could be sentenced to death after being charged with converting from Islam to Christianity, a crime under this country's Islamic Shari'a laws, a judge said. The trial is believed to be the first of its kind in Afghanistan and highlights a struggle between religious conservatives and reformists over what shape Islam will take here four years after the ouster of the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime. The defendant, Abdul Rahman, 41, was arrested last month after his family accused him of becoming a Christian, Judge Ansarullah Mawlavezada told The Associated Press in an interview. Rahman was charged with rejecting Islam.
The trial judge holds the bible he says belonged to the accused
During the one-day hearing, the defendant allegedly confessed that he converted from Islam to Christianity 16 years ago while working as a medical aid worker for an international Christian group helping Afghan refugees in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, Mawlavezada said. "We are not against any particular religion in the world. But in Afghanistan, this sort of thing is against the law," the judge said. "It is an attack on Islam." Mawlavezada said he would rule on the case within two months. Afghanistan's constitution is based on Shari'a law, which states that any Muslim who rejects Islam should be sentenced to death, according to Ahmad Fahim Hakim, deputy chairman of the state-sponsored Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. Repeated attempts to see Rahman in detention were barred. The prosecutor, Abdul Wasi, said he had offered to drop the charges if Rahman converted back to Islam, but he refused. "He would have been forgiven if he changed back. But he said he was a Christian and would always remain one," Wasi told the AP. "We are Muslims and becoming a Christian is against our laws. He must get the death penalty." Afghanistan is a conservative Islamic country. Some 99 per cent of its 28 million people are Muslim, the remainder mainly Hindu.

House Expected To Be In Session Only 97 Days This Year

The House of Representatives is on track this year to be in session for fewer days than the Congress Harry Truman labeled as “do-nothing” during his 1948 re-election campaign. Members of Congress are taking an entire week off for St. Patrick's Day. It's the latest scheduling innovation to give members more time to meet with constituents. Through Friday, the House was in session for 19 days, compared with 33 for the Senate. If they stick to their current schedule — including two weeks off in April, a week in May and July, plus all of August — House members will spend 97 days in Washington this year. The House was in session 108 days in 1948, according to the chamber's archives, compared with 141 days last year.
“This is an election year and people want to see more of their constituents,” says House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. During the first two months of the year, House members logged a total of 47 hours in the Capitol. They took off almost the entire month of January , while the Senate confirmed Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. For both chambers, workweeks have become short in recent years. Roll call votes are seldom scheduled for Mondays or Fridays. In the House, they are often postponed until late Tuesday. As a result, it's difficult to schedule committee meetings. Some panels meet when Congress is not in session, but not often. When in Washington, lawmakers do a lot of multitasking. Last week, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., struggled to ready an immigration bill for the full Senate, as panel members drifted in and out of the room. They were juggling a floor debate on the budget and other meetings. Critics contend Congress needs time to discuss important issues. “The Tuesday-to-Thursday work schedule is a detriment,” says Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., who served five terms in the House during the 1980s and returned last year. Some experts think an absentee Congress is not bad. “I don't think there's anything wrong with them being out of Washington,” says John Samples of the Cato Institute, a think tank that favors limited government. “They might be better representatives.” Lawmakers will make $165,200 this year. Leaders earn more.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Egypt Uncovers 1.5 Tons Of Explosives Near Israel Border

Egyptian security forces uncovered about 1.5 tons of TNT explosives near the border with Israel. Egypt informed Israel of the discovery and launched an investigation into the matter. Egyptian police officers found the explosives about 2 kilometers (roughly 1.2 miles) from the Kerem Shalom crossing. Israeli officials believe the explosives were meant to reach the Gaza Strip.

Al-Qaeda Failing To Foment Iraq Civil War

US Vice President Dick Cheney said that Al-Qaeda is failing in its effort to spark a civil war in Iraq, insisting that the group has reached a “stage of desperation.” Speaking to reporters, MR. Cheney rejected the idea that the country had descended into civil war, despite a “clear attempt” by Al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi to start such a conflict.
“That’s been their strategy all along, but my view would be they’ve reached a stage of desperation from their standpoint. “What we’ve seen is a serious effort by them to foment civil war but I don’t think they’ve been successful,” MR. Cheney said. The Vice President insisted that US efforts to establish a stable government in Baghdad are going well. “I think we are going to succeed in Iraq. I think the evidence is overwhelming,” he said.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Protecting Honor

After almost 34 years, Tom Angell still chokes on his words recalling the moment he returned to the U.S. after fighting in Vietnam. "They threw eggs at us," Angell said of the anti-war protesters who met his return flight after serving as a combat military policeman. Since January, Angell has been part of the Patriot Guard Riders, who were first organized in August 2005. On Wednesday afternoon, the Reno County resident kept rubbing a shine on his sparkling royal blue Honda motorcycle with a silver flagpole attached. He was preparing to ride to a funeral in Temple, Texas, on Friday to support another soldier killed in Iraq. The bitter memory at the San Francisco Airport was buried deep for years. But it has surfaced in recent months because of another war, and more protesters.
Tom Angell talks about being a member of the Patriot Guard which started in Kansas this past August, has grown to nearly 18,000
"It won't happen again," he said firmly, sweeping his long, gray bangs out of his eyes. According to Terry "Darkhorse" Houck, the Patriot Guard Riders formed in Kansas when a few friends in Mulvane heard members of Westboro Baptist Church, Topeka, were planning to protest the funeral of a soldier killed in Iraq. Church members oppose an army that represents a country that accepts homosexuality. "This isn't a motorcycle gang," he said. "You don't even need to have a motorcycle or know what one is to belong. It's the patriotic thing to do. A lot of the people come in cars with flags." Chapters have been formed across the country and in the United Kingdom; as of March 16, there were 17,983 members. Angell got involved when he learned of the death of Reno County soldier Cpl. Peter Wagler and that Westboro Baptist Church was coming to protest. "I don't do this to protest Phelps," Angell said. "I'm there to honor the soldier." At Wagler's funeral he was so impressed with the show of flags - and compassion - he knew he needed to show his support for other fallen soldiers. Now, two months later, he's planning to attend his sixth military funeral.
How could he not, he asks? His son, Brian Angell, currently is serving in the military. A War Mother's flag can be seen hanging in the window of his home. For him, it's important that the families who have lost a loved one know people are behind them. "Whatever Phelps' thought process is, it's not fair to the families," he said. "That had to have been the most fantastic thing I had seen in a long time," said Linda Klaus, the mother of Sgt. Jessie Davila, speaking of the Patriot Guard's presence at her son's Dodge City funeral March 4. With more than 400 members holding flags and standing at attention, Klaus described the scene as a sea of flags, which helped her feel safe in her grief. "My son would have been so proud to have seen that," Klaus said. A Davila family friend, Dr. Alan Snodgrass, Jetmore, agreed the Patriot Guard eased the ordeal. "It helped with the pain," Snodgrass said. "We realized how important Jessie was to his country." Snodgrass said a guard member from Mulvane, also a Vietnam veteran, told him the protestors wouldn't do to Jessie what protestors had done to the veterans returning from Southeast Asia. For Angell, this is the first bit of unity the 55-year-old has felt since he returned from Vietnam in July 1972. "I realized I can do something to make the families feel better at the worst time of their life," he said softly.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Dayton Criticizes Feingold

Minnesota Sen. Mark Dayton strongly criticized fellow Democrat Russ Feingold's resolution to censure President Bush over a warrantless surveillance program. "It's an overreaching step by someone who is grandstanding and running for president at the expense of his own party and his own country," Dayton said of Feingold, a Wisconsin senator and potential 2008 presidential candidate. "I think it's a very dangerous territory for the democracy that we have in this country to be playing around with those kinds of resolutions, without any consultations from his colleagues. I think it was irresponsible."
Senator Mark Dayton
Although Feingold has gotten a tepid response from Democrats, none has publicly blasted the proposal the way Dayton did. The assault was even more striking given that Dayton is one of Bush's harshest Senate critics. In a statement issued to The Associated Press, Feingold said, "I agree with what Senator Dayton said in January when he called the president's illegal wiretapping program an 'abuse of power.' Now it is up to senators to decide how to respond to that abuse of power. "The Senate has a responsibility to uphold the rule of law by condemning the president's decision to break the law and I hope my colleagues will listen to what their constituents think during the upcoming congressional recess." But Dayton said that although he disagrees with the White House assertion that Bush was authorized to sanction the warrantless surveillance program under his powers as commander in chief, the White House has at least made a "plausible case" that it was constitutional. Dayton said he and his Democratic colleagues were "blindsided" by Feingold's proposal. "For somebody who wants to lead our party and our nation, I think consultation and forewarning is a prerequisite to that kind of leadership," he said. Feingold's resolution condemns Bush's "unlawful authorization of wiretaps of Americans within the United States without obtaining the court orders required" by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. So far, only one senator, Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, has co-sponsored the resolution. "And, you know, given some other bills I've introduced, we're way ahead," Feingold joked at a news conference earlier in the day, referring to his propensity to be alone on some issues. Feingold said that no Democrat has asked him to withdraw the resolution. "A couple have said, 'Bad idea.' A couple have said, 'Excellent,"' Feingold said. Dayton said he had not spoken to Feingold about the resolution. For Dayton, who is not seeking re-election this year, it marked the second time in recent weeks that he has assailed a senator from a neighboring state. Last month, he accused Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., of engaging in a "despicable" violation of the public interest by pushing a railroad extension for DM&E, which had employed Thune as a lobbyist in 2003 and 2004.

Minnesota Senate Passes Funeral-Protest Bill 58-1

With a lone dissenting vote from Sen. Becky Lourey, the Senate approved restrictions Thursday on funeral protests such as one that marred the burial of a fallen soldier last month in Anoka. The vote of 58 to 1 came a week after the House unanimously passed similar, but not identical, legislation. A conference committee will probably have to work out differences between the two bills. Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, a candidate for governor and the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq last year, said she opposes the bill as an infringement of the free-speech right her son died to protect. No protesters showed up for the burial of Army helicopter pilot Matthew Lourey last June at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, but the senator said even that would not have changed her mind. "If it had happened, I would have had to endure that," she said. "This is very emotional because the speech we're addressing is very ugly, but we can't repeal the Bill of Rights because of it." She suggested that a few changes in the state's disorderly conduct statute would suffice to protect funerals from improper disruption. In a news release from her gubernatorial campaign, Lourey added: "I will never compromise my convictions for political expediency. I will always stand for freedom. The hardest time to stand for freedom is in the face of overwhelming sentiment. ... We appear to be losing our ability to respect differences of opinion or have a civil dialogue. Legislating respectful behavior is not likely to help. In fact, more likely it will hurt." The issue surged to the top of the Legislature's agenda after protesters from a church in Topeka, Kan., noisily picketed the funeral of Army Cpl. Andrew Kemple Feb. 23 in Anoka. They contend that God is killing U.S. soldiers in Iraq because of the nation's tolerance of homosexuality. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Don Betzold, DFL-Fridley, would make intentional disruption of a funeral or memorial service, procession or burial a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Repeat offenses could bring gross misdemeanor penalties of up to a year in jail and a $3,000 fine. Protesters would also be barred from picketing the home of the deceased's family or household on the day of the funeral. In addition, violators of any provisions of the bill could be sued for damages by the survivors. "It does not prohibit all forms of protest," Betzold said. "I don't know that we could do that. It does prohibit the behavior that most people would find offensive." A House bill sponsored by Rep. Steve Smith, R-Mound, would impose similar restrictions, plus a clause to keep protesters 1,000 feet from mourners. Some legislators have said the distance limit would make the measure vulnerable to a court challenge. "It probably will be challenged anyway," said Sen. Thomas Neuville, R-Northfield. "But it's important that we focus on protesters' conduct, not the content of their speech." The only serious debate on the bill came when the Senate's two openly gay members, Sens. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, and Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, proposed increasing some of the penalties to the felony level. "It's important to send a strong message that we're not going to tolerate this," Koering said. "I feel very passionate about this. This is a serious, serious, serious matter."

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Cracks Appear In Iran's Unity On Nuclear Program

Just weeks ago, the Iranian government's combative approach toward building a nuclear program produced rare public displays of unity here. Today, while the top leaders remain resolute in their course, cracks are opening both inside and outside the circles of power over the issue. Some people in powerful positions have begun to insist that the confrontational tactics of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are backfiring, making it harder instead of easier for Iran to develop a nuclear program.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
This week, the U.N. Security Council is meeting to take up Iran's nuclear program. That referral, and, perhaps more importantly, Iran's inability so far to win Russia's unequivocal support for its plans, have empowered critics of Ahmadinejad, according to political analysts with close ties to the government. On Tuesday, both Ahmadinejad and the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, insisted in public speeches that their country would never back down. At the same time, Iranian negotiators arrived in Moscow to resume talks — at Iran's request — just days after Iran had rejected a Russian proposal to resolve the standoff. Average Iranians seem less uniformly confident at the prospect of being hit with U.N. sanctions. Reformers, whose political clout as a movement vanished after the last election, have also begun to speak out. And people with close ties to the government said high-ranking clerics have begun to give critical assessments of Iran's position to Khamenei, which the political elite sees as a seismic jolt. Former President Muhammad Khatami recently publicly criticized the aggressive approach and called a return to his government's strategy of confidence building with the west. “The previous team now feels they were vindicated,” said Nasser Hadian, a political science professor at Tehran University. “The new team feels they have to justify their actions.”

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

North Korea Threatens Pre-Emptive Attack

North Korea says it has the right to launch a pre-emptive strike against South Korean forces because the two countries are technically still at war. The comments were sparked by North Korea’s anger over the annual joint South Korean-U.S. military exercises, which Pyongyang says are a preparation for an invasion of its territory.
A North Korea People's Army (KPA) spokesman says distrust is high between the United States and North Korea. The official state news agency reports North Korea "will never remain a passive onlooker to the U.S. pre-emptive attack on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)." Because no treaty was signed following the 1950-1953 Korean War, the two Koreas are technically still at war. There are currently about 30,000 U.S. troops in South Korea in support of some 690,000 South Korean troops. The North has about 1.2 million troops.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Philippines To Tighten Border Security

The Philippines plans to force all vessels to use designated sea lanes along the borders with Malaysia and Indonesia to deny militants easy access to its restive Muslim areas, the defence secretary said. Avelino Cruz said the Australian government was also helping Manila establish a coastal watch system in the southern Philippines to improve border controls around its 7,100 islands. “Our Philippine Navy and Coast Guard ships would board and inspect all vessels and watercraft that would be passing outside a delineated maritime route,” Cruz said.
At more than 36,000 km long, the Philippine coastline is seen as a weak with militants exploiting a multitude of private inlets and the navy’s lack of equipment to evade capture. Cruz said President Arroyo had discussed the counter-terrorism plan with the leaders of Malaysia and Indonesia.

Monday, March 13, 2006

North Korea Fears US Invasion

North Korea accused the United States of stepping up preparations to attack the communist state, a day after it delayed high-level talks with South Korea over Seoul’s planned military drills with the US. North Korea’s Minju Joson newspaper cited a reported US plan to deploy more submarines and reconnaissance aircraft to Asia-Pacific, as well as joint military exercises with Japan and planned drills with South Korea as evidence Washington was preparing to invade.
“The US strengthening military moves on and around the Korean Peninsula is nothing but a premeditated manoeuvre to realise its hostile policy aimed at militarily stifling our republic,” the newspaper said in a commentary carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency. “Under the current tense situation, the nuclear deterrent force of our republic effectively contributes to guaranteeing peace and safety of our republic . . . (We) will make every effort to solidify our self-defence force,” it said. Meanwhile, Rodong Sinmun, Pyongyang’s official mouthpiece and communist party paper on the same day slammed an agreement which would allow US troops based in South Korea to deploy elsewhere in the region if necessary, saying the move could spark a war, not only in the Korean Peninsula but in any area of Asia. “It is a criminal act of harassing peace and stability in the region, as it is a fresh military strategy designed to invade the DPRK (North Korea) and Asia,” Rodong said in a dispatch monitored in Seoul. South Korea and the United States announced on January 19 they will allow 32,000 US troops stationed in South Korea to move to other parts of the region. Seoul officials said Washington had promised not to draw South Korea into a regional conflict against the will of its people.

Ex-NFL Lineman Begins New Career As A Marine

A former Pittsburgh Steelers player is leaving a career in professional football to join the military, following in the footsteps of his college teammate, Pat Tillman. Private First Class Jeremy Staat, a former defensive lineman who also played for the Saint Louis Rams, graduated from the San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Friday. Tillman, a defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals, was killed by friendly fire near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in April 2004. Tillman gave up a $1.2 million NFL contract to join the Army Rangers.
Jeremy Staat
Staat played for the Steelers from 1998 to 2000, and played two games with the Rams in 2003. He was playing for the Los Angeles Avengers of the Arena Football League before being put on the league's suspended list. Staat says he didn't think it was right paying professional athletes and entertainers millions of dollars but only "pennies to a dollar" to military personnel, who are risking their lives.

Chicago Requires Blind Student to Pass Driver’s Ed Exam

High school graduation requirements for some Chicago public school students are unbelievable – the school district expects blind students to pass driver's education classes.
Illinois state law requires that all districts offer driver's education, but does not mandate it as a graduation requirement. Hundreds of Illinois school districts require students to pass the class, although the state only requires districts to offer it. A spokeswoman for the state Board of Education tells the Chicago Tribune, "It defies logic to require blind students to take this course." By law, any parent can request a change in a disabled student's education plan, but that is rarely explained to blind students who are told that they must take the class to graduate.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

US Agrees To Return 3 Okinawa Facilities To Japan

The United States has agreed to return three facilities in Okinawa Prefecture to Japan during bilateral talks in Hawaii on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, Kyodo News reported on Sunday. The three are the Makiminato Service Area in Urasoe, Naha military port, and Camp Kuwae (Camp Lester) in the town of Chatan,Kyodo quoted sources familiar with the agreement as saying. The United States in addition agreed to transfer part of Camp Zukeran (Camp Foster), the sources said, adding that the latest agreement is expected to be contained in a realignment plan the two countries are to work out at the end of this month. Japanese and U.S. foreign affairs and defense officials held talks earlier this month in Hawii on realignment of U.S. troops currently stationed in Japan.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

U.S. Announces Military Drills That Pyongyang Hates

United States and South Korean troops will stage a major joint exercise later this month, the U.S. military said on Friday, referring to annual drills that Pyongyang has in the past criticized as a dry run for an invasion. The March 25-31 drills come as six-country talks on ending the North's nuclear programs have hit a snag over a U.S. crackdown on firms Washington suspects of helping Pyongyang in illicit activities such as counterfeiting. South Korean and U.S. troops will hold field exercises called Foal Eagle along with another joint drill. They are designed to coordinate defenses of the southern half of the peninsula.
United States & Republic of Korea Marines train together in South Korea
About 25,00 U.S. troops will participate, a U.S. Forces Korea spokesman said by telephone, adding he could not disclose the number of South Korean soldiers taking part. North Korea has said the joint military drills are one reason it is refusing to return to the table. U.S. and South Korean forces describe Foal Eagle as regular exercises they have held for more than four decades, while North Korea typically denounces them. Last year, it described them in its official media as "reckless large-scale nuclear war exercises for a pre-emptive nuclear strike at the DPRK". DPRK is short for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. There are about 30,000 U.S. troops in South Korea in support of some 690,000 South Korean troops. The North has about 1.2 million troops. The two Koreas are technically at war because the 1950-1953 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Israel Set To Draw Borders By 2010

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expects to draw Israel’s permanent borders by 2010 and, as part of that effort, will build a controversial settlement outside Jerusalem. Mr Olmert, whose Kadima Party is clear front-runner in the March 28 election, told The Jerusalem Post daily that, within four years, he intended to “get to Israel’s permanent borders, whereby we will completely separate from the majority of the Palestinian population and preserve a large and stable Jewish majority in Israel.” Mr Olmert adviser Avi Dichter disclosed that time frame earlier this week, but this was the first time Mr Olmert had publicly stated it. Olmert said Israel would act unilaterally to set its borders, if Hamas militants - poised to take control of the Palestinian Authority - didn’t renounce their violent campaign against Israel and accept the guidelines of an internationally backed peace plan within a “reasonable time”. Should Hamas resist, he said, “we will need to begin to act”.
Israel’s Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
Mr Olmert said his broad guidelines for Israel’s borders included incorporating its three major settlement blocs - Maaleh Adumim and Gush Etzion outside Jerusalem, and Ariel, deep inside the West Bank. Residents of isolated settlements could be moved into the major blocs, he told the Haaretz daily. Jerusalem and its environs would also fall within the permanent borders, as would the West Bank’s Jordan Valley on the frontier with Jordan, which Mr Olmert characterised as a “security border”. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat urged Mr Olmert to return to negotiations. “Unilateralism and dictation will only add to the complexities and will not solve problems,” Erekat said. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has stated his interest in resuming long-stalled negotiations, but Mr Olmert told The Jerusalem Post he had no intention of meeting Abbas after the elections because he sees him as part and parcel of a Palestinian Authority dominated by Hamas. The Islamic militant group is in the process of forming a Cabinet it expects to install within weeks. Yesterday, a spokesman in Gaza, Mushir al-Masri, said Hamas would take over the key ministries - finance, foreign affairs and the interior, which oversees some security forces.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Arizona Governor Orders Troops To Border

Arizona's Governor has signed an executive order to expand the National Guard's presence at the state's porous border with Mexico. Governor Janet Napolitano says the increase is aimed at supporting federal efforts to combat illegal immigration and other border problems. She emphasized that the move is not aimed at militarizing the border, adding "we are not at war with Mexico.
Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano
"Arizona currently has about 170 National Guard troops at the border assisting federal and state officers with communications, fence construction and anti-drug efforts.No immediate word on how many new troops would be sent to the area.But under Napolitano's executive order, the troops would work at crossing points, assist with cargo inspection and operate cameras and mobile observation points so they can report suspicious activity.

South Korean Official Confirms North Korean Missile Launch

A South Korean military intelligence official confirmed Thursday that North Korea test-fired two short-range missiles this week, as the US urged the communist nation to abide by its moratorium on missile tests. There were conflicting reports about details of Wednesday’s missile launches, but they underscored the dangers posed by North Korea’s longer-range missiles and professed nuclear weapons program and its tendency to cause instability in the region. “It is true that North Korea fired the missiles yesterday,” the South Korean intelligence official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the information.
He added that there had been indications of a missile launch over the past two days, including the transfer of equipment to the area of the launch site at Sabujin, just below the city of Kim Chaek in North Hamkyong Province on North Korea’s northeast coast on the Sea of Japan. He could not confirm the direction of the missile launch. On Wednesday, Japan’s Kyodo news agency cited a “security source” in China as saying the missiles were fired by mistake in the direction of China during a military drill and apparently landed inside the North. The agency also cited a “Western military source” as saying the short-range missiles were test-fired in an eastern direction from the North’s eastern coast, toward the Sea of Japan. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that, “Indications are that North Korea launched two short-range missiles,” similar to tests it has conducted in the past. “We have consistently pointed out that North Korea’s missile program is a concern that poses a threat to the region and the larger international community,” McClellan said in an e-mail to reporters. Pyongyang shocked Tokyo and other nations when it test-fired a ballistic missile over northern Japan in 1998, giving impetus to US and Japanese efforts to upgrade missile defense systems.
Although North Korea announced a moratorium on missile tests a year later, it has since test-fired short-range missiles many times, including one launched into the Sea of Japan in May. US officials said North Korea should abide by its missile moratorium, and that its activities demonstrated the importance of getting Pyongyang to drop its boycott of six-nation talks on halting its nuclear weapons program. “So we would call upon North Korea to abide by the moratorium concerning missile tests,” US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington. It isn’t known if the North has built a functioning nuclear weapon as it claims, since the country isn’t believed to have performed any nuclear tests. Putting a device on a missile is even more complicated, and there’s no evidence the North has done that either. Still, experts believe the North has extracted enough plutonium from its main nuclear reactor for at least a half-dozen nuclear weapons or more.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Hamas To Israel: Die, and We'll Change

Hamas officials are going all out to mask their group's violent intentions towards Israel in the language of "moderation" so as to realign deteriorating Western support behind the "Palestinian cause." Speaking to reporters in Moscow Sunday after three days of talks with their Russian hosts, senior Hamas official Mohammed Nazzal said: "Hamas must change its manners. We know that very well. But what we are saying is that we want a response from the Israelis. If you want Hamas to change its policies, you must also request that the Israelis change their policies."
The changes Israel must make, spelled out on several occasions by Hamas leaders over the past couple weeks, constitute a complete surrender to all current Arab demands:

Israel must fully withdraw to its pre-1967 borders;

Judea and Samaria, like the Gaza Strip, must be ethnically cleansed of all Jews;

Israel must surrender control of the eastern half of Jerusalem, including the Old City and Temple Mount;

Israel must open its gates wide for the four to six million people claiming to be "Palestinian" refugees.
While the first three demands represent strategic threats, not to mention of violation of Israel's biblical and historic rights, it is the required "right of return" for so-called "Palestinian refugees" that makes Hamas' recent comments so ridiculous. Reading between the lines, Hamas is saying that if Israel allows itself to be flooded with Arabs, then Hamas will of course cease its "military" activity since the Jewish state will be no more and there will be no one to fight. Israeli leaders have engaged in efforts to prevent their ostensible allies in the West from being taken in by the terrorists' sweet talk. Said Defense Minister Sha'ul Mofaz to visiting US State Department envoy David Welch last week: "Hamas is trying to mislead the international community, to sweet-talk it and to exhibit an appearance of responsibility." Israel's efforts in this area, however, seem as doomed to failure as past efforts to keep Yasser Arafat's PLO on the world's blacklists, as an increasing number of nations invite Hamas for official talks.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Minnesota Twins legend Kirby Puckett Dies

Kirby Puckett, a Minnesota Twins legend, is dead after suffering a stroke. He was 45. Puckett died at a Phoenix hospital after surgery Sunday to try and repair damage done by the stroke. Kirby Puckett made a real impression on Minnesota fans, starting with four hits in his first game as a Twin. Over the next 12 years Puckett was a one man-highlight reel, hitting homeruns, and stealing them from opponents.
Kirby Puckett
A lifelong dream come true for this kid from the Chicago projects. Puckett told fans that he had wanted to play baseball ever since he was 5-years-old; but he did much more than play, Puckett succeeded in nearly every way possible, breaking records and winning two world championships. Many find it hard to forget that clutch homerun in the 10th inning of Game Six of 1991 World Series. Puckett's play on the field made him a fan favorite; his treatment of fans off the field clinched it. He always seemed to find time to sign an autograph, and plenty of fans wanted them. But even Puckett couldn't overcome what would hit him in 1996; retina damage stole sight from his right eye, forcing him to retire early. But even as fans, friends and family were overcome with emotion, Puckett kept his calm telling them, "It's going to be alright. Kirby Puckett's going to be all right. Don't worry about me."
Just five years later, the first year he was eligible, writers voted Puckett into Baseball's Hall of Fame in 2001. But it was a year after the honor that Puckett suffered a very public slide. Puckett's and his wife divorced and accusations surfaced that he assaulted a woman in a restaurant bathroom; a jury found him not guilty. For true Twins fans though, this is the Kirby Puckett to remember. The hero of two World Series, a player always willing to spend times with fans, and a guy who really seemed to enjoy every minute of it.

At The Mosque

Monday, March 06, 2006

Illegal Immigrants Video