Pakistani Taliban blows up five schools in Pakistan

Daylife/AP Photo by Sherin Zada

Pakistani fighters have blown up five schools in the northwestern Swat valley, just hours after government officials pledged to reopen schools closed due to the fear of attacks.

Four boys’ schools and one girls’ school were blown up by militants,” said Anwer Khan, a district police official in the town of Mingora. “No one was injured in the bombings, but the school buildings were badly damaged.”

There were no pupils at the schools at the time of the attacks as they were closed for the winter holidays.

Followers of Maulana Fazlullah, a local leader who has reportedly has links to Pakistan’s Taliban movement, have destroyed 173 schools, 105 of them for girls, since security forces launched a military operation in the region in 2007, according to Sher Afzal, an education ministry official.

Local pro-Taliban fighters see the schools as symbols of government authority and have accused the army of posting soldiers in them.

Shaukat Yousafzai, a senior government official in Swat, said teachers were refusing to work. “I try to convince them but they’re scared. They doubt the government’s ability to protect them,” he said. “If they’re destroying schools during a curfew, they can do anything. Even if the authorities announce schools are open, nobody will go and parents won’t send their kids.”

Sooner or later, the army and police that the Pakistan government has supposedly spent billions of Aid dollars to build and train – will have to start behaving like genuine soldiers and coppers. Of course that also requires moving some officials into the line of fire, as well.

Writer jailed for Thai ‘insult’

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Australian writer Harry Nicolaides has been sentenced to three years in a Thai jail for insulting the monarchy.

Nicolaides wrote a novel four years ago, which contained a brief passage referring to an unnamed crown prince. It sold just seven copies.

He admitted the charge of insulting the royal family, but said he was unaware he was committing an offence.

Harry Nicolaides was arrested as he was leaving the country last August. His self-published book, called Verisimilitude, was hardly well-received; in fact the only copy which is still known to exist sits on the shelf of the Thai National Library, freely available to the public.

He was quickly found guilty, with a judge telling the court: “He has written a book that slandered the king, the crown prince and Thailand and the monarchy.”

The court initially sentenced him to six years in jail, but reduced the term because of his guilty plea.

Personally? I hope the book gets picked up by some international publisher and becomes a real hit. Especially in Asia.

No pardon for Scooter Libby. Har!

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In a move that has keenly disappointed some of his strongest conservative allies, President Bush has decided not to pardon Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, for his 2007 conviction in the CIA leak case, two White House officials said Monday.

On Bush’s last full day as president, Bush did commute the sentence of two former Border Patrol agents—Jose Compean and Ignacio Ramos—for shooting a Mexican drug dealer and then lying about it. But White House press spokesman Tony Fratto told NEWSWEEK “you should not expect any more” pardons and commutations from Bush before he leaves office Tuesday. Another senior official, who requested anonymity discussing sensitive matters, confirmed that no more pardons would be granted.

But the decision not to pardon Libby stunned some longtime Bush backers who had been quietly making the case for the former vice presidential aide in recent weeks. A number of Libby’s allies had raised the issue with White House officials, arguing that as a loyal aide who played a key role in shaping Bush’s foreign policy during the president’s first term, including the decision to invade Iraq, Libby deserved to have the stain of his felony conviction erased from the record. In the only public sign of the lobbying campaign, The Wall Street Journal published an editorial strongly urging Libby’s pardon.

“I’m flabbergasted,” said one influential Republican activist, who had raised the issue with White House aides, but who asked not to be identified criticizing the president. Ambassador Richard Carlson, the vice chairman of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a neo-conservative think tank, added that he too was “shocked” at Bush’s denial of a pardon for Libby.


KB’s Encouraging Word

In this day of peanut butter contamination, isn’t it nice to know that you can still enjoy the wholesome, delicious taste of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups? Why not buy some today?

“No products made by The Hershey Company, including items and brands in the iconic Reese’s franchise, are affected by the recent recall related to peanut butter. Hershey does not purchase any peanut butter, peanuts or peanut products from the Peanut Corporation of America. Peanut butter for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups is made in Hershey facilities under the most stringent safety and quality standards. “

How to move two presidents in six hours, more or less

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The clearing out of the Bushes’ belongings began over the summer, when many items were packed and taken to Crawford, Texas, says Anita McBride, chief of staff to first lady Laura Bush. Then, during the Christmas holiday, the Bushes moved their personal things out of Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland.

On January 20, the Obamas move in — a side of Inauguration Day that most people never see: a grueling, precisely timed workday involving scores of staffers that follows six months of careful planning.

In the morning, after the Bushes and Obamas depart the executive mansion for the Capitol Hill swearing-in ceremony, moving trucks will roll up to the south side of the White House. The drivers put down their tailgates, allowing most of the White House’s 93 staff members to begin unloading Obama family items, he said.

By about 5 p.m., before the Obamas move from the parade viewing stand to their new home, the presidential move must be complete.

“Their clothes will be in their closets; everything will be put away,” Gary Walters said. “There should be no full or half-empty boxes will in view. Furniture will be set in proper places. Their favorite foods will be in the kitchen or the pantry. The chief usher will welcome them into their home and ask them what they would like to do before going out to enjoy the inaugural balls.”

On Tuesday, once the whirlwind moving operation is finally done, Chief Usher Stephen Rochon will probably greet Obama the same way Walters did Bush in 2001.

Standing near the doorway to the White House North Portico, Walters recalls, he said, “Hello, Mr. President, welcome to your home.”

I suppose I shouldn’t complain about this change being overdue. We might have had 4 years to struggle with Kerry. On the other hand, if we had an honest election in 2000, we probably wouldn’t have had the Iraq slaughter.

Climate change scepticism for fun and profit

Don’t fret. You still have plenty of time left to secure your place at the second annual International Conference on Climate Change – which is not, of course, about climate change.

For any of you who are not yet familiar with this venerable event, this conference is the largest coming together of climate change sceptics anywhere outside of, well, the internet. Organised and sponsored by the Heartland Institute which says its mission is to “discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems” and which Milton Friedman once called “a highly effective libertarian institute”, the conference will be asking whether global warming “was ever really a crisis”.

Followed by, “Do poor people really matter?” – “Is it time time to drop the experiment with democracy?” – and the ever-popular favorite, “Why consider anyone else as your equal?”

Sounds fun, doesn’t it? There’s nothing quite like putting tizzying politicians right. But best of all, the generous souls at the Heartland Institute are offering a special 20% discount on the $720 registration fee. All you have to do to qualify is put your name to the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine’s Global Warming Petition, which to date has been signed by 31,072 American scientists, “including 9,021 with PhDs”. Pretty impressive, huh? The signatories all say they agree with the following statement:

“There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gasses is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth.”

Join other famous signatories like Perry Mason and even one or more of the Spice Girls. I signed up as Mickey M. Mouse.

The Obamas and Bidens volunteer for service on MLK Day

At the Tomb of the Unknown
Daylife/Reuters Pictures

On a holiday reserved to honor the strides of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President-elect Barack Obama, Vice President-elect Joe Biden and their families are among those volunteering for a national day of service, participating in a series of activities today across Washington, D.C.

“To honor the legacy of a man who lived his life as a servant to others, I will ask all Americans to make a renewed commitment to serving their communities and their country,” Obama said in a YouTube address last week. “Dr. King once said, ‘Everybody can be great because anybody can serve.’ You don’t have to wear a uniform. You don’t have to be a community organizer. You don’t even have to run for president. At a time when there is so much need, we are blessed with endless ways to contribute something to the life of this nation.”

In neighborhoods around the country, people were heading out to answer that call.

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Want to hire an out-of-work Bush loyalist? Har!

Daylife/Reuters Pictures

The ranks of the nation’s unemployed are swelling this week.

As President-elect Barack Obama’s team transitions into the federal government, President Bush’s political appointees will be locked out, and in these tough economic times many of them are scrambling to find new jobs. High-ranking White House loyalists have deluged Washington headhunters with pleas for jobs. Corporations and nonprofit organizations have stopped hiring. With the GOP out of power, jobs on Capitol Hill are scant and K Street lobbying firms have trimmed their golden parachutes.

So this is the new reality: Instead of boasting to friends and colleagues of new jobs in goodbye e-mails, many longtime Bush aides have offered home phone numbers and Gmail and Yahoo e-mail addresses as their new contacts.

“For Republicans, the inn is full,” lamented veteran GOP operative Ron Kaufman, a close White House adviser to former president George H.W. Bush and an executive at Dutko Worldwide. “You have lots of folks in the House and Senate on the streets and 3,000 administration appointees on the streets at a time when the job market is shrinking anyways. It’s just not a fun time.”

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Obama unveils grassroots caucus as DNC “project”

Daylife/AP Photo by Alex Brandon

President-elect Barack Obama has announced the formation of a group to continue the grass-roots engagement that was a hallmark of his presidential campaign, but lobbying now for his policy priorities in the White House.

“As president, I will need the help of all Americans to meet the challenges that lie ahead,” Obama said in a video message e-mailed to supporters and reporters. “That’s why I’m asking people like you, who fought for change during the campaign, to continue fighting for change in your communities.”

The new group, called Organizing for America, will be a “special project” of the Democratic National Committee, according to Obama transition spokesman Ben LaBolt, and it appears to be the primary vehicle for issue advocacy for Obama’s agenda. It will also be the keeper of Obama’s e-mail list, which has 13 million addresses.

By keeping Organizing for America within the DNC, and running it with a small handful of campaign operatives, Obama is ensuring that the political machine, and political brand, he built during the campaign are preserved and protected over the coming years.

Sounds like a caucus within the Democratic Party – which is OK by me. Something like that exists in many urbane centers. Especially where and when folks are fed-up with old-line party hacks.

I wonder whether this attempt to completely reform the Democratic Party – contains a subtle threat to break away if stonewalled by the Old Guard?

Privacy requirements for medical data opposed by corporations


President-elect Barack Obama’s plan to link up doctors and hospitals with new information technology, as part of an ambitious job-creation program, is imperiled by a bitter, seemingly intractable dispute over how to protect the privacy of electronic medical records.

Lawmakers, caught in a crossfire of lobbying by the health care industry and consumer groups, have been unable to agree on privacy safeguards that would allow patients to control the use of their medical records.

Does that mean they can’t figure out whose side they should be on?

In a speech outlining his economic recovery plan, Obama said, “We will make the immediate investments necessary to ensure that within five years all of America’s medical records are computerized.” Digital medical records could prevent medical errors, save lives and create hundreds of thousands of jobs, Obama has said.

So far, the only jobs created have been for a small army of lobbyists trying to secure money for health information technology. They say doctors, hospitals, drugstores and insurance companies would be much more efficient if they could exchange data instantaneously through electronic health information networks. Consumer groups and some members of Congress insist that the new spending must be accompanied by stronger privacy protections in an era when digital data can be sent around the world or posted on the Web with the click of a mouse.

In a letter to congressional leaders, Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group for insurers, expressed “serious concern about privacy provisions being considered for inclusion in the economic stimulus bill.”

What that means in English is that the insurance companies – and their beddy-buddies in Health Care – would rather maximize every cent of profit and screw the privacy of patients.