Author Archives: Jeff P

East and Gulf coast ports still running, for the time being

By reaching a short term extension, a strike that would have shut down many of the nation’s major seaports on the East and Gulf coasts has been postponed.

The United States Maritime Alliance and the International Longshoremen’s Assn. have reached an agreement on container royalty fees, one of the most heated and controversial issues in the negotiation.

Employers have attempted to put a cap on royalty fees (which supplement dockworker wages) and limit who gets them. The longshoremen’s union has been against the changes.

If it had gone into effect, the strike would have efficaciously stopped the flow of consumer goods to virtually the entire half of the U.S. Talks will now go on until at least Feb. 6.

“The container royalty payment issue has been agreed upon in principle by the parties, subject to achieving an overall collective bargaining agreement,” George H. Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, said in a statement.

The National Retail Federation, which represents many of the nation’s largest retail chains, told the L.A. Times Friday that it was pleased to learn of the latest contract extension, but referred to it as only a temporary reprieve.

In the dispute, are 14 ports with over 15,000 dockworkers. The ports are among the busiest in the country.

Kansas Gov. Signs Measure Blocking Foreign Law

Muslim groups are in a frenzy over the measure signed by Kansas Governor Sam Brownback which is meant to stop the state’s courts and government agencies from making decisions based on foreign legal codes. Even though Islamic Sharia Law would most likely fall under the definition of the measure, it is not specifically aimed at it. It instead states that no rulings from administrative agencies or state tribunals can be based on any legal system or foreign law that contradicts the rights of states and the U.S. Constitution.

“This bill should provide protection for Kansas citizens from the application of foreign laws,” said Stephen Gele, spokesman for the American Public Policy Alliance, a Michigan group promoting model legislation similar to the new Kansas law. “The bill does not read, in any way, to be discriminatory against any religion.” According to the Associated Press. However,  the alliance website does state that it wants to protect Americans’ freedoms from foreign laws and legal doctrines, “especially Islamic Shariah Law.”

Muslims organizations including the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) claim they will most likely challenge the law in court because supporters of the law often speak concern about Sharia law specifically. They argue the law could cause discrimination. “If he claims it has nothing to do with Shariah or Islamic law or Muslims, then he wasn’t paying attention.” CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said of Governor Brownback.

Although there are no known cases of Kansas courts deferring to Sharia law, it would appear they don’t want it to become an issue.  There is a pending case were a man is attempting to divorce his wife and seeing the property be divided in accordance with Sharia law.

House Substitute for SENATE BILL No. 79 will take effect July 1st.

 

 

 

Death toll from drone strikes have been inflated

The Associated Press has released a report shedding light on the actual number of deaths from U.S. drone strikes. The report says that right-wing political groups, clerics, and militants are falsely leading Pakistan citizens to believe drones are killing more civilians than is actually true. This is from an on-the-ground Associated Press investigation.

Reporters spoke to approximately 80 villiagers in an area of Pakistan, typically a hotbed sancturary for militants, that was the location of 10 recent attacks. Villagers informed the reporters that of 194 casualties, at least 138 were militants. Even though 70 percent of casualties were enemy combatants it’s still the widspread perception of mass civilian deaths fueling anti-American feelings.

That strike aside, which was the largest amount of civilian deaths in single strike since the drone program began, villagers told reporters 90 percent of deaths were militants.

 

*UPDATE* Terrorism investigation results in man arrested near the Capitol

It’s being reported by Reuters that a terrorism investigation has resulted in the arrest of a man near the Capitol who was planning to use explosives. The is according to the Justice Department and the Capitol Police.

“Explosives the suspect allegedly sought to use in connection with the plot had been rendered inoperable by law enforcement and posed no threat to the public,” according to a Justice Department spokesman.

A Capitol Police spokesman claimed that at no point “was the public or congressional community in any danger.”

In the past few years within the DC area there have been undercover operations against suspects planning to carry out terrorist attacks. As it turns out these operations have been closely watched by FBI agents.

At this time, there are no details regarding the suspect or the charges being brought against him.

UPDATE

The suspect, Amine el-Khalifi an illegal immigrant living in Alexandria, VA, was arrested with a non-functional gun and explosive vest. Khalifi thought he was coordinating with the Al Qaeda network but it turned out to be undercover FBI agents. He had been under surveillance for the past year. This was reported by the Washington Post.

Keystone Bill passes the House – Senate fate not clear

On Thursday the House passed legislation that would take control of the Keystone pipeline from President Obama who caved to demands of environmentalists and has kept the bill on hold. The Republicans have made the bill a part of their effort to fund the highways and infrastructure project. In addition, the bill would open drilling to parts of the Artic National Wildlife Refuge.

While the bill passed the Republican controlled house, its fate in the Democrat controlled Senate remains uncertain.

As Senate leaders were still negotiating whether or not to allow a vote on Keystone Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota, a key supporter of the $7 billion oil project, told Reuters, “I  think on the merits we’re going to get it done. I don’t know when. I hope in the highway bill, but if not, we’ll stick with it.” Hoeven was the developer of legislation to give Congress the ability to grant TransCanada a permit for the project.

Republicans are capitalizing on soaring gas prices and a horrid economy to push the Keystone pipeline project. They argue it will create thousands of jobs and put the United States on a path toward energy independence from middle eastern nations.

Claims of major nuclear advances coming from Iran

On Wednesday, in a continued show of defiance against sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union, Iran announced two major advances in its nuclear program. A CNN report said Iranian President Ahmadinejad was at the reactor to personally hand load domestically made file rods while also announcing a new generation of advanced centrifuges with the intent to produce yellowcake, which is used to enrich uranium. Yellowcake is a material which the United Nations has banned Iran from developing.

Tehran displayed further resistance as state media reported the Islamic Nation was taking steps to stop oil exports to six European countries as a result of the sanctions. This would include an oil ban. It’s reported Iran has already discontinued exports to France and the Netherlands while placing an ultimatum on Italy, Spain, Greece, and Portugal demanding they either sign long term contracts with Iran or be cut off completely. The ban on Iranian oil by the EU set to go in effect in July.

On Wednesday Iran’s head nuclear negotiator formally notified the EU’s foreign policy chief that Iran has a willingness to resume talks with world powers over its nuclear program. However many in the West feel it’s ploy to buy more time.

Ahmadinejad: the world will soon witness Iran’s “major nuclear achievements”

Saturday, before state TV, Iranian President Ahmadinejad stated that Iran in the near future will announce significant progress in its nuclear program.

The announcement came on the 33rd anniversary of the Islamic revolution before thousands of Iranians, carrying flags and pictures of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei while chanting “Death to Israel” and “Death to America”, in state-organized rallies across the Islamic republic.

“In the coming days the world will witness Iran’s announcement of its very important and very major nuclear achievements,” Ahmadinejad said to a crowd at Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom). He gave no specific details.

Despite sanctions imposed by the United States and its European allies in an attempt to force Tehran back to the table for more talks. Iran continues to maintain its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Police raid Occupy DC camp

U.S. Park Police officers, converging on one of the nation’s last remaining Occupy sites, arrived before dawn Saturday. The officers entered on horseback and in riot gear placing barricades around McPherson Square, a federal park near the White House. The officers said they were not there to evict anyone, but to ensure the protestors following “no camping” laws. Although four people were arrested, a Park Police spokesman said there were no clashes between police and protesters.

The occupiers have been in McPherson Square since last October and have been, for the most part, left alone. This changed as last week the National Park Service announced it would enforce a camping ban. Although the ban took effect Monday, police did not immediately take steps to enforce the law.

CBSNews.com Video

U.N. leader urges Israel to halt settlement construction and resume talks with Palestine

After negotiations failed last week U.N. leader Ban Ki-Moon called upon Israel on Wednesday to halt construction of settlements on the West Bank and resume talks with Palestinians. The U.N. secretary general said he hope that talks between Palestine and Israel, that took place last month in Jordan, could continue and “Israel’s cooperation in creating a positive dynamic is vital.”

jewishjournal.com

Ban, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at his side said “all Israeli settlements are contrary to international law and prejudice” the outcome of a final peace deal. Ban spoke of Abbas’ leadership and gave him his support on key issues. This include Palestine’s demand to immediately stop building on occupied land they want for their state.

Earlier in the day at a joint press conference with Netanyahu, Ban said “This is the moment to display further leadership to ensure that negotiations continue.” Netanyahu thanked Ban for trying to help but said “It cannot be a precondition to enter into that agreement” referring to the settlements.

On Sunday, Netanyahu told his cabinet the chances of talks resuming were “not particularly good.” According to a press release from the Prime Ministers office,  Netanyahu spoke to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday and told her Israel had intentions to continue the talks but within the confines of maintaining Israel’s security interest.

While Israel has called for direct negotiations without preconditions. The Palestinians have said Israel accepting pre-1967 lines and the freezing of settlement construction as a basis for negotiations of Palestine’s borders.

 

Six Marines dead after helicopter crash in Afghanistan

It’s being reported that Thursday evening 6 Marines lost their life in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province. At the this time the cause of the crash is unknown and under investigation.

Reuters reported a spokesman for the NATO Forces said, “The cause of the crash is under investigation, however initial reporting indicates there was no enemy activity in the area at the time of the crash.” It is being speculated that pilot error or malfunction led to the crash.

NATO has not released the nationalities of the victims, but a U.S. official speaking anonymously said 6 of the victims were U.S. Marines. The request for more information was declined until the victims families could be notified.

The crash is the worst since a Taliban rocket propelled grenade hit a U.S. helicopter killing 22 Navy Seals and 8 Afghan soldiers last August.

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says Romney should release tax returns

Mitt Romney supporter Gov. Chris Christie now joins democrats and other GOP presidential candidates in saying Romney should release his tax returns.

On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Christie said the following:

“The way I’ve conducted myself in my public life all along is I’ve released all my tax returns, and I did it during the campaign — went back a number of years and released my tax returns, and I’ve released them every year right after I filed them to the public in New Jersey so they can see everything.

And I think that’s the right way to go, and that’s what I would tell Governor Romney to do. Now he says he’s going to release them in April. I hope he does.

The fact of that matter is that’s what I would advise him to do.”

The subject of Romney’s tax returns begins around 8:30 of the video.

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1st drone attack into Pakistan in 6 weeks kills 4

photo: presstv.ir

The U.S. conducted its first drone attack into Pakistan since the November airstrikes by U.S. forces that killed two dozen Pakistani troops on the border of Afghan. The missile attack killed four militants, and according to Pakistani intelligence, three were Arabs.

Relations with Pakistan remain strained as their military remains steadfast with the claim American forces purposely attacked and killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. This caused Islamabad to close vital supply routes into Afghanistan and force the U.S. to leave the base used to service drones that targeted militants in the tribal regions close to Afghanistan.

Although the Pakistani military say it was “short on facts”, a US military report concluded both sides had made mistakes during the incident. The report blamed poor information and insufficient co-ordination between US and Pakistani forces on the ground.