Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Wildfire in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park has announced the evacuation of Moraine Park campground and the closure of Fern Lake Road.

The area is a popular elk viewing location, not far from Estes Park.

A wildfire, estimated at one hundred and fifty acres, began Tuesday afternoon, and firefighters are en route.

Witnesses describe thick smoke coming from the area.

Greek Riots Welcome Merkel

Greeks rioted in Athens as German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, on Tuesday.

Tens of thousands took to the streets, clashing with police, as they protested the presence of the leader of the strongest economy in Europe. Five rioters were injured and twenty-four were arrested, as more than forty thousand protesters fought with nearly seven thousand police.

Merkel stated her sympathy for Greece, saying all would be worth it in the long run. Samaras said that he was proud to see Germany showing it's solidarity with the Greek people.

Greece has been forced to make severe austerity cuts to meet demands that the European Commission, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund have placed upon the country. If the country can meet the demands, they will be rewarded with EU bailout money, beginning with a thirty-one billion euro sum.

One of the requirements is that the country get spending down to 137.3% of GDP, by 2017. The IMF doubts that the country will even be able to get to 152.8% by that time. It is also feared that Greece will not be able to even begin paying off the debt until 2016, when they're supposed to be doing so by 2014.

Plans To Tax The Second Amendment

Since Chicago and Cook County were told their restrictions on firearm ownership were unconstitutional, they have decided to tax weapons and ammunition instead. Long time readers of Mental Akido will recall I predicted such actions back on July 26, 2012. Cook County Board officials have dubbed this proposed tax on legal firearms and the ammunition they require as a "violence tax", despite the fact that locales with fewer firearms restrictions have significantly lower violent crime rates.

Cook County claims the increased taxes on firearms and ammunition are in order to help close their $115M budget deficit, which is used, in part, to pay for law enforcement, running the county hospital, and operating the county jail.

Their reasoning is that most of  the problems these facilities address deal with firearms ownership, that taxing firearms and ammunition is a logical solution. However, they fail to understand that most of the violent crimes are conducted using weapons that were stolen or procured on the black market (usually also stolen). Those weapons would not be subject to the tax, since they would not be bought through legal channels.

All this proposal does is further infringe upon law abiding citizens' second amendment rights to keep and bear arms. While it does not directly restrict firearms ownership, it makes owning one or purchasing ammunition more expensive, therefore less available due to household budget constraints.

Toni Preckwinkle, the Cook County Board President, is pushing for this so called "violence tax". Perhaps she needs a few lessons in the US Constitution. Residents of Illinois may wish to let her know their thoughts on this violation of their rights. 

Making arms and ammunition less attainable through economic means is really just another form of violating the second amendment rights of the citizens. Illinois already infringes upon the second amendment to a drastically unconstitutional level with laws restricting the ability to bear arms. Illinois does not allow carry permits, concealed of unconcealed. To transport a weapon, it must be unloaded and locked in a container, with the ammunition locked in a separate container, rendering it useless for self defense purposes. Those very laws are infringements upon the right to carry (bear) that is constitutionally guaranteed.

This tax is but another level of infringement meant to keep residents of Cook County, Illinois and those Americans traveling through the area from exercising their constitutional rights. There is a word in the dictionary for such forms of  despotism, tyranny!

Original article at Mental Aikido

Walmart Strike Spreads to 12 Cities

Dan Schlademan, the director of the United Food and Commercial Workers' Making Change At Walmart campaign, has announced that strikes are now taking place at twenty-eight stores, in twelve cities.

The strikes mark the continuation of the first strikes against the company, ever, which began on Friday, in Los Angeles.

Workers are protesting Walmart's attempts to "silence and retaliate against workers for speaking out for improvements on the job".

Walmart workers are not part of any union, but the strikers are working closely with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

Some of the strikers plan to protest in front of the company's corporate headquarters, in Bentonville, Arkansas.

1.4 million people, across the country, are employed by Walmart, but at this point only eighty-eight of them are striking.

Though that number will likely continue to increase, as in recent years the company has a history of associates complaining about management failures, working conditions, and low wages.

Ten Killed by Brain Eating Amoeba

Health officials in Pakistan are warning the public to be extra careful to only use clean water, after ten people, in Karachi, have died from a brain eating amoeba.

The amoeba, naegleria fowleri, survives in warm water and it's favorite meal is human brain tissue.

Hopes are that an increase of chlorine, in the local drinking water, as well as boiling of water, will kill off the organism.

It's thought to be most possible that people have become infected when they used water to clean out their nasal passage, which is a common practice, in that part of the world.

Sesame Street Asks Obama to Remove Big Bird Ad

Sesame Workshop, which runs Sesame Street, has asked the Obama campaign to take down a satirical ad, which attacked Mitt Romney.

They released a statement saying, "Sesame Workshop is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization and we do not endorse candidates or participate in political campaigns. We have approved no campaign ads, and as is our general practice, have requested that the ad be taken down."

The Obama campaign has been using Big Bird as a victim ever since the Presidential debates, last week. During the debate, Romney stated that he would end government funding of PBS and Big Bird.

PBS, who's executives make six figures a year, has no actual need for government funding, due to the success of their pledge drives and volume of commercial sales.

Obama's campaign has yet to actually take down the ad, only saying that they would consider the request.

Netanyahu Announces New Elections

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced new elections for the country.

Elections were not scheduled for at least a year, but his announcement will set them to happen within the next three months, likely in late January or early February.

Early elections are quite common, in Israel, where the balance of the coalition government can change constantly.

Netanyahu is under no threat to lose his spot, he's at one of his most popular points.

However, holding them earlier, will ensure that he is when they occur, and put off til longer a time when he could be forced with mandatory elections, not at the time of his choosing.

Meningitis Toll up to 11 Dead, 119 Sick

The toll from meningitis has now reached eleven dead and one hundred and nineteen sick.

That's up slightly from where it stood Monday.

As many as thirteen thousand people may have been infected by the fungal meningitis that was accidentally spread in spinal steroid injections.

So far, all the ill are in nine states, but the steroid was shipped to ninety-six facilities in twenty-three states.

New England Compounding Center, which manufactured the injections, is doing everything it can to aid the government in it's investigation. They've handed over their operation licenses and voluntarily recalled all of their other products as well.

Local police agencies have been tasked with checking in on people, who received injections, that the CDC has not been able to reach.

Felix Baumgartner's Jump Delayed by High Winds

Felix Baumgartner has been planning his next big challenge, since February. Already the holder of multiple records for skydiving and base jumping, he is currently planning a jump that will set even more. The plan this time is to jump from a balloon at 120,000 ft. If successful it would gain him four more records: the highest altitude free fall, the highest manned balloon flight, the longest distance traveled in free fall and the speed record for the fastest free fall; and he will also break the sound barrier during his fall to the earth. He also hopes that his jump will prove real scientific information and help open up space tourism and new extreme sports, like space jumping.

He will make his way up in an adapted weather balloon. The 400 ft wide scientific balloon will carry a pressurized capsule, with him in it. At 120,000 ft up 23 miles up, he will have to endure temperatures as low as -94 F as well as lack of oxygen and an air pressure that would make his blood boil. To protect him from these difficulties, a suit has been specially designed. The custom suit is also pressurized in a very similar way to the ones NASA astronauts use and carries a supply of 20 minutes of oxygen. His helmet was also specially designed to try and keep him from blacking out when he causes a sonic boom passing through the sound barrier. Due to the difficulties of reaching his parachute's cords whilst in the suit, it also had to be adapted to make the jump possible.

Once he jumps out of the capsule, and away from the balloon, it should take him ten minutes to reach the ground. Thirty-five seconds later he'll break the sound barrier. He'll be traveling close to 700 miles an hour, for the first five minutes, until he reaches 5,000 ft and opens his chute. Five minutes later he hopes to have reached the ground safely, hoping to land in a specific area of New Mexico, but even a slight breeze could cause him to drift 150 miles.

During his jumping blacking will be his worst fear, it would very easily prove deadly. Breaking the sound barrier, the sheer force of the fall, or going into a spin could cause it to happen. Baumgartner stated during an interview that, "I always feel the danger because you might always be subject to an unexpected or emergency event. One single mistake might cause a real catastrophe. You are worried about being where humans shouldn't be."

Early Tuesday morning was the scheduled time for the launch. However, gusty winds delayed it throughout the morning, until it was scrubbed, to be rescheduled, just before noon MDT.

18 Year Old Loses Part of Stomach to Liquid Nitrogen Drink

Gaby Scanlan was celebrating her eighteenth birthday, Thursday, when she was given a drink that used liquid nitrogen in it's making.

Liquid nitrogen is added to alcoholic drinks as it gives off a smoky, cauldron look.

This time however it was given to Scanlan before all of the nitrogen had hit it's gaseous form.

Within in moments she was unable to breathe and in extreme abdominal pain.

Rushed to the hospital, she underwent emergency surgery to remove part of her stomach, as it had been flash frozen by the liquid nitrogen, which has a temperature of negative 321 degrees Fahrenheit.

When the walls of her stomach froze, they died, allowing for the gastric acid to burn through.

Scanlan is still in serious condition, but the doctor's efforts seems to have been successful in saving her life.

Doctors around the world are now warning people away from the drinks, citing their obvious dangers.

Despite the dangers, this is the first recorded case of such an incident, despite their growing popularity.

9 States Form Religious Freedom Caucuses

Tuesday saw a bipartisan group of more than one hundred and twenty state lawmakers agree to form religious freedom caucuses.

A national teleconference was organized by the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s American Religious Freedom Program, and included nine states.

Their hopes is that by the end of 2013, all fifty states will be involved.

Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Tennessee will now hold their own caucuses to "set state specific agendas for strengthening religious liberties, learn from the experiences of sister states, and formulate religious freedom policy based on input from each state's diverse faith communities".

Organizers and participants hope that this will lead to further religious coexistence, in the US.

They also believe that furthering understanding will allow for religions to be able to express themselves, outside of their places of worship, without being attacked for it.

Denver Expanding BCycle

Denver's City Council unanimously approved an expansion of B Cycle stations in the city, Monday night.

For $1.1 million, the city will be adding twenty-seven new locations, to the fifty-three that already exist.

B Cycle is a program which stations bicycles around the city.

Users use their credit card to rent a bike, and then pay for it once they return it to the same, or another, station.

The program has been gaining in popularity and demand had been over growing supply.

Denver hopes to continue expanding locations, throughout the metro area, allowing for yet another way to decongest roads and highways.

Taliban Attempts Assassination of 14 Year Old Pakistani Activist

Malala Yousufzai, fourteen, was shot in the head and neck, Tuesday, as she was leaving school.

She was in extremely critical condition, but doctors at the Saidu Sharif Teaching Hospital, in Mingora, were able to save her life, and she is now listed as stable.

Two other girls were injured in the attack, when gunmen fired into the schools bus, that was transporting the girls.

The Taliban admitted to targeting Yousufzai for her activism against them and for her pro west views.

Yousufzai started getting international recognition, in 2009, after the BBC published a blog she started writing when the Taliban took over her part of Pakistan.

Since the country regained the area, she had continued her activism, working for peace and education for women.

Last Day for Voting Registration

Today, Tuesday October 9, is the last day to register to vote here in Colorado, and in many other states.

With valid Colorado ID you may register online, but that has been filled with errors and difficulties.

If the online registration tool does not work for you, you can print an application from the website, scan it or photograph the completed form, and email it to elections@sos.state.co.us.

Alternately, you can register in person, at your county clerk's office.

All applications must be turned in by 11:59 MDT on October 9.

The website is also supposed to let you confirm your information and change your address if necessary, but that has not worked at all in any of our tests.


Haitian Sin Tax

Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe has proposed a new tax to raise money for schools in Haiti.

Lamonthe calls the plan a "sin tax", and it would increase taxes on alcohol, cigarettes, and gambling.

Parliament will have to approve the legislation, but it's aim would be to raise one hundred million dollars.

That money would be put into building two hundred schools, fixing up two thousand others, and for training thousands of teachers.

The tax is expected to pass, and it's supporters hope that it will bring about a new age for the country.

Explosion Hits Iran Turkey Gas Line

Turkey has stated that the Kurdish Labor Party is responsible for an explosion in the southeast of the country.

The explosion put a massive hole into a pipeline that supplies natural gas from Iran.

This marks the third time, this year, that natural gas pipelines have been hit, though both the others occurred on pipelines from Azerbaijan.

Georgian and Azerbaijani troops had joined Turkish ones in adding security to the pipelines. Apparently they were doing quite well at it, as the PKK had to move further south.

The PKK has been working for decades to form it's own country, Kurdistan, in parts of Turkey, Iran, and Iraq.

Obama's Foreign Policy Record vs. Romney's Foreign Policy Plans

In preparation for the upcoming presidential and vice presidential debates on foreign policy, let's examine key areas of the president's foreign policy as compared to Mitt Romney's stated foreign policy goals.

Iran

The Obama administration continues to refuse to set "red lines" for Iran, apparently unmoved by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent speech to the United Nations.

The sanctions imposed have been relatively easy to undermine, due to Iran's alliances with China, Cuba, Russia, Venezuela and others. As former US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton has indicated, Tehran does not "buy our theories of deterrence."

Romney believes that US policy toward Iran "must begin with an understanding on Iran's part that a military option to deal with their nuclear program remains on the table. This message should not only be delivered through words, but through actions. The United States should restore the regular presence of aircraft carrier task forces in both the Eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf region simultaneously. The United States should repair relations with Israel, increase military coordination and assistance, and enhance intelligence sharing to ensure that our allied capabilities are robust and ready to deal with Iran."

A Romney administration would implement a fifth round of tougher sanctions, support the Iranian opposition and commit to the on time completion of a fully capable missile defense system.

Russia

Obama's Russian policy has been transformed from "reset" to "regret". The Obama administration has failed to advance Russia toward a more mutually beneficial relationship with the United States. President Obama's reset policy began with the withdrawal, minus reciprocal concessions, from President Bush’s strategy to place a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Obama continued the same "we give, Russia gets" policy in signing the new START treaty in 2010. While the treaty compels the US to reduce nuclear launcher and warhead limits, the levels it allows for Russia are above what the Russians possessed at the time the agreement was reached.

Mitt Romney, on the other hand, would implement a "strategy that seeks to discourage aggressive or expansionist behavior on the part of Russia and encourage democratic political and economic reform. This will include decreasing Europe's energy reliance on Russia, building stronger relationships with Central Asia and supporting civil society."

China

In Asia, China has steadily been attempting to undermine the decades-old U.S. alliance system and present itself as the region’s dominant power. Additionally, the harassment of US naval ships by Chinese maritime forces is just one aspect of the goal to alter how US ships operate in Asian littoral waters.

Former Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg drafted a China policy of "strategic reassurance". The folly of "strategic reassurance" has become all too clear. In the first two years of the Obama administration, Beijing failed to hold up its end of the "tacit bargain".

Romney asserts that "while the potential for conflict with an authoritarian China could rise as its power grows, the United States must pursue policies designed to encourage Beijing to embark on a course that makes conflict less likely. China must be discouraged from attempting to intimidate or dominate neighboring states. Mitt Romney will implement a strategy that makes the path of regional hegemony for China far more costly than the alternative path of becoming a responsible partner in the international system."

Romney's plan seeks to maintain robust military capabilities in the Pacific, deepen cooperation among regional partners and defend human rights.

Middle East

The US struggle in Afghanistan persists, while our troops continue to be killed by supposed allies, to whom the country will be turned over upon the departure of the US, Iraq is gradually becoming an Iranian vassal state, Al Qaeda has made a comeback, and US influence in the area has plummeted. The president failed to support democratic regime change in Iran and was instrumental in the establishment of Islamist governments in the region. New details continue to emerge regarding the Benghazi murders, demonstrating the lack of security and military preparedness that preceded the killing of four Americans.

Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia

Romney has explained that his administration would "support those individuals and groups that are seeking to instill lasting democratic values and build sturdy democratic institutions that will sustain open societies in countries that have been closed for too long. Mitt will make available technical assistance to governments and transitional bodies to promote democracy, good governance, and sound financial management. One official with responsibility and accountability will be able to set regional priorities, craft a unified regional strategic plan, and properly direct our soft power toward ensuring the Arab Spring realizes its promise."

Syria

Romney's vision for Syria:

"The United States must recognize Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad for what he is: an unscrupulous dictator, a killer, and a proxy for Iran. For far too long, the Obama administration held out hope that it could negotiate with Assad to stop his violent crackdown on prodemocracy protestors. It even labeled him a "reformer" while he was turning heavy weapons on his own people. Mitt Romney holds no illusions about Assad’s character or about Iran’s interest in maintaining a client regime in Damascus.

Mitt Romney believes the United States should pursue a strategy of isolating and pressuring the Assad regime to increase the likelihood of a peaceful transition to a legitimate government. We should redouble our push for the UN Security Council to live up to its responsibilities and impose sanctions that cut off funding sources that serve to maintain the regime’s grip on power. We should work with Saudi Arabia and Turkey to call on Syria’s military to protect civilians rather than attack them. This effort would aim to drive a wedge between Assad and his military, minimize violence, and increase the possibility that the ruling minority Alawites will be able to reconcile with the majority Sunni population in a post Assad Syria. And we should make clear that the United States and our allies will support the Syrian opposition when the time comes for them to forge a post Assad government."


Most notably, Romney would support the Syrian opposition, which includes Islamist groups, but has also stressed that he would "identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad's tanks, helicopters and fighter jets".

Iraq

Mitt Romney plans to "enter office seeking to use the broad array of our foreign policy tools: diplomatic, economic, and military, to establish a lasting relationship with Iraq and guarantee that Baghdad remains a solid partner in a volatile and strategically vital region".

Africa

Spero News reports:

"In Nigeria, certainly the most under reported, Washington’s position on daily killings of Christians, weekly bombings of churches, government and perceived "western" institutions by an Islamist terror group's insurgency is to pontificate that more economic incentives need to be provided to the terror prone zones by Nigeria's government.

The case of Nigeria is however more unsettling. True the culprit Islamist terror group Boko Haram has made the government itself and Christians in particular its declared target, but in a remarkable twist, the US has managed to point disapproving fingers at Nigeria's mild mannered accidental president former zoology professor Goodluck Jonathan. According to the US, Nigeria's Muslim north feel uncared for by Jonathan and must get more federal checks in addition to the billions of dollars distributed to those states, from the oil produced in his southern home region, as mandated by the constitution."

The genocidal situation in Kenya and Sudan is similar as was the case on the Ivory Coast.

Mitt's administration would move to "bolster economic ties and the rule of law believing that the United States must regard Africa not as a problem to be contained, but as an opportunity to be embraced by us and our partners on the continent. Recognizing that Africa's road to stability and prosperity lies through a robust private sector economy, increased trade, and good governance. A Romney administration will encourage and assist African nations to adopt policies that create business friendly environments and combat governmental corruption. Such policies will lift those nations and their people, boost economic ties to the United States, and provide greater certainty to US and international investors. Greater market access across the continent for US businesses will bolster job creation in Africa as well as in the United States. Additionally, Romney would lead on issues of security and human rights."

Israel

Some key points of Obama's foreign policy regarding Israel:
  • The US has condemned the Israeli government's decision to expand settlement construction, saying that it undermines peace efforts.
  • In October 2011, in a legal brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, Hillary Clinton urged the justices to not refer to Jerusalem part of Israel. At issue is the birthplace designation on passports given to US citizens born in Israel. The policy states that those born in Jerusalem must have their place of birth listed as Jerusalem rather than Israel. This rule applies to no other capital city in the world.
  • Jerusalem (along with, no less significantly, the Palestinian "right of return" and Hamas) had been omitted from the Democratic Party’s platform for 2012. It was, however, reinstated via a congressional voice vote.
  • The Obama administration's overtures to Middle East leaders has encouraged them act more boldly than they likely otherwise would.
  • One of Obama's strategies has included demanding serious concessions from Israel and nothing from the Palestinians. During a 2009 speech in Cairo, the president said: "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements."
  • During a UN speech in 2010 Obama spoke of coming back the next year with a new member of the United Nations, an independent and sovereign state of Palestine.

Mitt Romney has described Israel as the United States' closest ally in the Middle East and "a beacon of democracy and freedom in the region. To ensure Israel's security, Mitt Romney will work closely with Israel to maintain its strategic military edge. The United States will work intensively with Turkey and Egypt to shore up the now fraying relationships with Israel that have underpinned peace in the Middle East for decades. The United States must forcefully resist the emergence of anti Israel policies in Turkey and Egypt, and work to make clear that their interests are not served by isolating Israel.

With regard to the Israeli Palestinian conflict, Mitt's policy will differ sharply from President Obama's. As president, Mitt will reject any measure that would frustrate direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. He will make clear to the Palestinians that the unilateral attempt to decide issues that are designated for final negotiations by the Oslo Accords is unacceptable. The United States will reduce assistance to the Palestinians if they continue to pursue United Nations recognition or form a unity government that includes Hamas, a terrorist group dedicated to Israel's destruction. The United States needs a president who will not be a fair weather friend of Israel. The United States must work as a country to resist the worldwide campaign to delegitimize Israel. We must fight against that campaign in every forum and label it the anti-Semitic poison that it is. Israel’s existence as a Jewish state is not up for debate."

The foreign and domestic policy debates will take place on October 11 between the vice presidential candidates and on October 16 between the presidential candidates. There is also more detailed information available on the debate schedule.