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Saturday, Feb 24th

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FEC inaction on enforcing election laws rises more than 600 percent

After GOP lawyer Caroline Hunter helped lead the national Election Assistance Commission, a propitious series of events allowed her swift confirmation to the Federal Election Commission.

The result, along with FEC appointments of her two Republican colleagues, has been a staggering decrease in the commission's ability to enforce campaign finance law.

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Belgium moves towards public ban on burka and niqab

Belgium today moved to the forefront of a campaign to restrict the wearing of the Muslim veil by women when a key vote left it on track to become the first European country to ban the burka and niqab in public.

The home affairs committee of the Brussels federal parliament voted unanimously to ban the partial or total covering of faces in public places. "I am proud that Belgium would be the first country in Europe which dares to legislate on this sensitive matter," the centre-right MP Denis Ducarme said.

Daniel Bacquelaine, the liberal MP who proposed the bill, said: "We cannot allow someone to claim the right to look at others without being seen. "It is necessary that the law forbids the wearing of clothes that totally mask and enclose an individual. Wearing the burqa in public is not compatible with an open, liberal, tolerant society."

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Pope has immunity in abuse trials: Vatican

Pope Benedict, accused by victims' lawyers of being ultimately responsible for a cover-up of sexual abuse of children by priests, cannot be called to testify at any trial because he has immunity as a head of state, a top Vatican legal official said on Thursday.

The interview with Giuseppe dalla Torre, head of the Vatican's tribunal, was published in Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper as Pope Benedict began Holy Thursday services in St Peter's Basilica and Catholics marked the most solemn week of the liturgical calendar, culminating on Sunday in Easter Day.

The pope did not refer in his sermon to the crisis of confidence sweeping the Church as almost daily revelations surface of sexual abuse of children in the past, accompanied by allegations of a cover-up.

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U.S. Bishops Quietly Reinstate Accused Priests

In the wake of its own scandal almost a decade ago, the U.S. church says it has reformed its policies for handling sexual abuse allegations and will remove from ministry every priest who is credibly accused of abuse.

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The war on WikiLeaks and why it matters

Over the past several years, WikiLeaks — which aptly calls itself “the intelligence agency of the people” — has obtained and then published a wide array of secret, incriminating documents (similar to this CIA Report) that expose the activities of numerous governments and corporations.  Among many others, they posted the Standard Operating Manual for Guantanamo, documents showing how corrupt offshore loans precipitated the economic collapse in Iceland, the notorious emails between climate scientists, documents showing toxic dumping off the coast of Africa, and many others.  They have recently come into possession of classified videos relating to civilian causalities under the command of Gen. David Petraeus, as well as documentation relating to civilian-slaughtering airstrikes in Afghanistan which the U.S. military had agreed to release, only to change their mind.

All of this has made WikiLeaks an increasingly hated target of numerous government and economic elites around the world, including the U.S. Government.

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Great-grandmother given an electronic tag and curfew for selling a goldfish to a 14 year-old

Joan Higgins, a pet shop owner, was caught selling the fish to the teenager in a 'sting' operation by council officials. She was then prosecuted in an eight month court process estimated to have cost the taxpayer more than £20,000.

Under new animal welfare laws, passed in 2006, it is it illegal to sell goldfish to under 16s. Offenders can be punished with up to 12 months in prison.

TVNL Comment: This is one example of why authority must be checked; law makers and police included.

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Afghanistan world’s top pot grower

Long the world’s largest producer of opium, the raw ingredient of heroin, Afghanistan has now become the top supplier of cannabis, with large-scale cultivation in half of its provinces, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

Between 10,000 and 24,000 hectares of cannabis are grown every year in Afghanistan, with major cultivation in 17 out 34 provinces, the UN drug agency (UNODC) said in its first report on cannabis production in Afghanistan.

While some countries grow cannabis on more land, Afghanistan’s robust crop yields - 145 kg of resin per hectare compared to around 40 kg per hectare in Morocco—make it the world’s largest producer, estimated at 1,500-3,500 tonnes a year.

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US aid going to 'bribe' Afghanistan partners

The Pentagon is pouring millions of dollars into equipment and training for its smaller partner nations in the Afghanistan war, a new effort that could encourage some countries not to abandon the increasingly unpopular conflict.
The money comes from a $350 million Pentagon program designed to improve the counterterrorism operations of U.S. allies.

While the funding cannot be openly used as an enticement for NATO nations to either send troops to Afghanistan or keep them in the country, the budding initiative sends the message that those who commit to the counterinsurgency fight could be rewarded.

The U.S. is committing more troops to Afghanistan to beat back a stubborn Taliban-led insurgency — and watching in dismay as allies, including Canada and the Netherlands, look to pull troops out of the 8-year-old war or remove them from combat duties. Roughly 87,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan now, and about 100,000 are expected to be in place by late summer.

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Supreme Court: Bad advice on deportation can void guilty plea

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that defendants are entitled to know that the potential consequences of a guilty plea include deportation for noncitizens, a decision that could have broader significance for the more than 12.8 million legal immigrants who live in the U.S.

The case, Padilla v. Kentucky, focused on Jose Padilla, a Honduran-born immigrant who faces deportation after pleading guilty to felony marijuana trafficking. He isn't the U.S. citizen of the same name who was convicted in 2007 of conspiring to aid terrorists.

"It is our responsibility under the Constitution to ensure that no criminal defendant — whether a citizen or not — is left to the 'mercies of incompetent counsel,' " Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in the majority opinion. "To satisfy this responsibility, we now hold that counsel must inform her client whether his plea carries a risk of deportation."

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