CityBeat Blogs - War http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-34-137.html <![CDATA[Activists Urge Boehner to Make Pentagon Cuts]]>

Activists gathered on Thursday outside of the West Chester office of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, asking the House’s top official to look at reducing military spending when coming up with a budget.

The group of nearly two dozen — which included nuns, a veteran, a retiree advocate, a small businessman and progressive activists — held signs reading, “It is time for Nation Building in the United States. Cut Massive Pentagon Budget Now!” and “End Tax Breaks for Richest 2%.”

“We’re here today in front of Speaker of the House John Boehner’s West Chester office to drive home the fact that we believe that over 50 percent of the budget magically, this elephant in the House, has failed to be discussed as we discuss taking away services that provide human needs,” said David Little of Progress Ohio.

“Any discussion that fails to address excesses in that budget is failing the American people.”

Little added that it was possible to support the troops and veterans without spending billions on pointless wars.

Butler County attorney and Navy veteran Bruce Carter said the military can be more efficient in what he called the changing mission.

“When you refuse to have a discussion on over half of the budget, that’s like trying to tell the Bengals to win a game without going over the 50 yard line,” he said.

The group had a letter to deliver to Boehner, which contained what they called a statement of principles.

“We believe in a holistic approach to the budget crisis, and in order to protect the middle-class, cuts to the Pentagon need to be at the forefront,” the letter states. “We understand that Pentagon cuts are a controversial issue, however, Pentagon cuts in the sequester do not threaten our national security.”

The letter suggests that some of the money currently being spent on the Defense Department goes to providing services for veterans.

The military accounted for about 52 percent — or $600 billion — of discretionary spending in fiscal year 2011.

In contrast, education, training and social services collectively made up 9 percent of the budget.

The group of four activists weren’t allowed into Boehner’s office, but a young staffer met them outside. He said that the speaker thought everything should be on the table when it came to budget cuts.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

In-person early voting is underway in Ohio. Find your nearest polling booth here.

The final presidential debate is tonight. It will cover foreign policy. The debate will likely focus on the recent attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya and Iran’s nuclear program. Whatever happens, political scientists say debates typically have little-to-no electoral impact. In aggregate polling, Obama is up 2.2 points in Ohio and Romney is up 0.3 points nationally. Ohio is considered a must-win for Romney, and it could play the role of 2000's Florida. The debate begins at 9 p.m. It will be streamed live on YouTube and C-SPAN.

CityBeat will host a debate party tonight at MOTR Pub in Over-the-Rhine from 7:30-10:30 p.m. Come watch the debate and live tweet. Councilman Chris Seelbach will make an appearance. If you can’t show up, at least tweet if you watch the debate with the hashtag #cbdebate. Check out the event’s Facebook page for more information.

If Gov. John Kasich gets his way, 60 percent of bachelor’s degrees will be completable in three years by 2014. The move intends to raise graduation rates and save money for students. Currently, very few students graduate in three years. Only 1 percent of Miami University students and 2 percent of University of Cincinnati students graduate that quickly.

Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee, a new education policy approved by Kasich that requires all students to be proficient in reading in third grade before they can move onto fourth grade, could cause 40 percent of students to be held back in some schools. The policy is meant to encourage better progress and higher reading standards, but some studies have found retention has negative effects on children. 

The Urban League of Greater Cincinnati announced a merger and expansion into Dayton. The organization will now be called the Urban League of Southwest Ohio.

Greater Cincinnati home sales ticked up in September, but there was some slowdown.

The end of the Scripps trust that funded the Cincinnati-based E.W. Scripps Company could lead to the end of a few newspapers. But Ohio will not be affected; the company no longer owns newspapers in the state.

Plant identification has never been easier at Cincinnati parks.

University of Cincinnati researchers are using a $2.7 million grant to see if there’s a difference between generic versus brand drugs for transplant patients. The study could potentially save money and lives.

Tired of traditional bridges? Meet the trampoline bridge.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]> Final results from a disputed 2010 judicial race will be announced later today. Workers at the Hamilton County Board of Elections are expected to finish the tallying of provisional ballots sometime this afternoon. A total of 286 ballots are being counted in a Juvenile Court judge race, in compliance with a recent order from a federal judge. Democrat Tracie Hunter seemingly lost to Republican John Williams by just 23 votes out of nearly 230,000 ballots cast by county voters, but 286 ballots weren't counted because they were cast by people who showed up to vote at the correct polling place but were misdirected by poll workers and voted at the wrong precinct table. Hunter then filed a lawsuit, which she won.

After completing their prison terms, many ex-convicts have difficulty finding jobs due to their criminal records. As a result, some return to a life of crime to make money. The HELP program, which is operated by St. Francis De Sales Church in Walnut Hills, assists the ex-felons — or “returning citizens,” as they like to be known — to find employment. Now the church is lobbying state lawmakers to help them get some professional licenses restored.

Profits fell for one of Greater Cincinnati's largest companies in the January-March quarter, but the firm still beat Wall Street’s expectations. Procter & Gamble today reported profits of $2.5 billion for the quarter, down 15 percent from the same period last year. That translates to earnings per share of 94 cents, beating analysts' forecast of 93 cents. Sales were $20.2 billion, up 2 percent from a year ago.

Speaking of P&G, a group alleges that one of the firm's most popular products might pose a cancer risk for users. Tests run by an environmental group, Women's Voices for the Earth, found small amounts of a cancer-causing chemical called dioxane in Tide Free and Gentle and Tide Original Scent. P&G representatives, however, say the amounts of dioxane in the detergent aren't harmful.

An investigation by WXIX-TV (Channel 19) into the safety of semi-tractor trailer trucks on Cincinnati area roads has revealed hundreds of them aren't being maintained properly and one company in particular is under scrutiny by state and federal investigators. T&T Enterprises, a U.S. mail hauler based in West Chester, has been cited multiple times for not maintaining its fleet up to federal safety standards and not monitoring whether its drivers have had enough rest on long-haul trips throughout the Midwest and up the East Coast. The company didn't respond to the report.

In news elsewhere, the U.S. government said Thursday that it will move about 9,000 Marines off Okinawa in Japan to other bases in the Western Pacific, in an effort to remove a persistent irritant in the relationship between the two allies. The Futenma air base on Okinawa has been viewed as essential to deterring Chinese military aggression in the region, but the noisy air base’s location in a crowded urban area has long angered Okinawa residents and some viewed the Marines as rowdy and potentially violent.

The United States' economic growth slowed to 2.2 percent in the first quarter of the year, down from the prior quarter’s growth rate of 3 percent, according to a new report from the Federal Reserve. The economy has been growing slowly since the second half of 2009, and the recovery quickened throughout all of 2011. Early this year, though, economists forecast a weaker showing for the first quarter, mostly due to a decline in aircraft orders.

An Afghan soldier shot and killed an American mentor and his translator at a U.S. base, Afghan officials said today. The soldier opened fire at an American military base on Wednesday in the volatile Kandahar province. At least 18 foreign soldiers have died this year in 11 incidents of so-called “green on blue” shootings.

A federal judge has refused to order the Obama administration to release photographs and video of the U.S. military operation that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan almost a year ago. The government watchdog group, Judicial Watch, had requested the Defense Department and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) release any pictures or video footage of the May 1, 2011, operation. The CIA admitted it had 52 such records, but U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg said he wouldn't order their release. "A picture may be worth a thousand words," wrote Boasberg. "Yet, in this case, verbal descriptions of the death and burial of Osama bin Laden will have to suffice, for this court will not order the release of anything more."

A suicide bomber has killed at least five people in the Syrian capital of Damascus, a state TV news service reported today. It's the latest in a wave of explosions in Syrian cities in recent months, despite a diplomatic push to end the year-old uprising against the Syrian government. Thousands of people protested elsewhere to denounce persistent violence by President Bashar Assad's regime.
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<![CDATA[Historic Burial Records Placed Online]]>

Newly restored digital copies of 73-year-old maps detailing where U.S military veterans are buried throughout Hamilton County will be unveiled Wednesday.

 

The Hamilton County Recorder’s Office recently received map books dating to 1939 that were thought to have been destroyed. Created by the Works Progress Administration, the map books register the burial location of every veteran in the county who had served dating back to the Revolutionary War.

 

The maps list details about area veterans who served in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the War with Mexico, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War and World War I.

 

Eventually, the records were transferred to microfiche between the 1950s and ‘70s, and the map books were given to a local resident. The filmed copies began degrading over time and are of poor quality, causing problems for historians, genealogical researchers and others who tried to use them.

 

A member of the Ohio Genealogical Society ultimately acquired the original copies of the map books and presented them to the Recorder’s Office in February. Since that time, the office has worked to transfer the images to a digital format and enhance their quality. All of the images now are available on the Recorder’s Office website.

 

County Recorder Wayne Coates will unveil the newly restored records at 2 p.m. Wednesday. The event will be held in Room 205 of the County Administration Building, located at 138 E. Court St., downtown.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]> The Samuel Adams Brewery in Cincinnati's West End is using $3.6 million in grant funding to expand its facilities. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded the grants so the firm could expand its operations onto an adjacent contaminated site that once contained dry cleaning and automotive businesses. “They had a business choice,” said Scott Nally, EPA director. “They could have chose to stay here and be landlocked or to expand and take some risk or to move out of the state.”

Cincinnati Public Schools is grappling with rising transportation costs, which are contributing to a deficit. The district will spend $29.5 million this year to transport 21,000 kids to and from school each day. That’s nine percent, or $2.3 million, more than budgeted and $1.3 million more than last year. Officials are looking at options to reduce costs. One is negotiating with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati about changing some start times at parochial schools to allow CPS to run fewer routes, which would save about $400,000.

Seven inmates have been mistakenly released at the Butler County Jail this year, including four in recent weeks. Some of the prisoners were jailed for misdemeanors such as traffic violations, but others were locked up for more serious crimes such as theft and burglary. An official said court personnel misread the court documents in some cases, but also admits a failure in oversight that led to nine jail employees being disciplined. (Maybe Sheriff Richard Jones should focus more on running the jail, and less on rounding up undocumented immigrants.)

Starting today, motorists headed to Over-the-Rhine may park in the new garage that's been built under Washington Park, across from Music Hall. The garage has 450 spaces. Construction crews still are working above ground to renovate and expand the park itself, which is slated to open July 1.

A southeastern Ohio village mayor suspected of repeatedly raping a girl has pleaded not guilty and is being held in jail in lieu of posting a $1 million bond. Michael Shane Shuster – who is mayor of Stockport, located near Athens – is charged with 10 counts each of rape, sexual battery and gross sexual imposition. He pleaded not guilty in a Morgan County court on Wednesday.

In news elsewhere, the Obama administration has revealed that even after the United States withdraws its combat troops from Afghanistan in late 2014, the nation and its allies still will spend spend about $4.1 billion annually to prop up Afghan army and police forces. Most of the money will come from the U.S., they added. (Maybe that's the real reason politicians are telling us we need to cut Social Security and Medicare. Which would be a better investment in the long-haul?)

Meanwhile, a U.S. military Black Hawk helicopter with four crew members on board crashed in southwestern Afghanistan on Thursday. A senior U.S. military official told NBC News there was bad weather in the area at the time of the crash, but couldn't rule out the possibility that enemy activity downed the helicopter.

A proposed “personhood” law in Oklahoma that would grant embryos the same rights as people beginning at the moment of conception failed in the state's Legislature Thursday without coming to a vote in the House of Representatives. The bill, which backers hoped would provide a path to roll back the constitutional right to an abortion, had sailed through the Oklahoma Senate in February but Republican caucus leaders indicated some medical professionals and business leaders expressed their dislike for the measure. It's unclear if the bill will be revived for a final vote after this fall's elections.

Fenway Park, the much-beloved home of the Boston Red Sox, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Thousands of diehard fans are expected to pour into the stadium today to help the team commemorate the event.

In an effort to shore up his support from social conservatives, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Willard Mitt Romney will deliver the commencement address at Liberty University in Virginia on May 12. The evangelical Christian college was founded by the late Jerry Falwell, a TV preacher known for – among other things – blaming the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on gays and feminists angering God and incurring his wrath. The university estimated that 14,000 students will graduate at the ceremony, with some 34,000 guests watching.
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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]> Cemeteries have officially arrived in the 21st Century. A Crawfordsville, Ind., firm is now using Quick Response barcodes on tombstones. The Allen Monument Co. says the code can connect users to an entire memorial site about a deceased person, provided by Cincinnati-based Making Everlasting Memories. The site can include photos, a biography and other information. All it takes is a simple scan from a smartphone. That's either a brilliant step forward for convenience or a sign of consumerism and technology run amok. You decide.

It looks like charter schools aren't quite the draw that many conservatives believed they would be. Cincinnati Public Schools will lose fewer students than expected next year to private schools and state-funded vouchers, a school official said Tuesday. Only 899 new students applied for new Educational Choice scholarships for the upcoming school year. That’s down from 1,078 applicants from CPS last year and it’s far below the 1,377 students that district officials had estimated to lose this spring.

A Northern Kentucky police chief charged with drunken driving wants to suppress police dashboard camera footage of the traffic stop that led to his arrest. An attorney for Wilder Police Chief Anthony Rouse made the request during a pretrial hearing this week. Rouse is suspended without pay after his March 1 arrest by Alexandria police. We wonder if the Wilder Police Department uses dashboard cams in its cruisers. (What's good for the goose, etc.)

They had better come on strong. The Bengals will be featured on the season opener of Monday Night Football on ESPN in September. The team will face off against the Ravens in Baltimore. Other highlights of the 2012 schedule, which was released Tuesday, include the Bengals playing their first regular season game in week two against the Cleveland Browns in Cincinnati, and playing divisional foes the Steelers in week 16 at Pittsburgh.

A large swarm of bees has invaded Cincinnati's Covedale neighborhood. Residents on Woodbriar Lane are concerned about thousands of active bees going from yard to yard looking for a place to make a hive. The bees have been doing it for the last couple of days, and residents say they're swarming around different locations, changing locations in as little as 30 minutes in some cases. The buzzing sounds can be heard from 20 feet away or more, they added.

In news elsewhere, friends of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney insist their pal isn't an android. Romney is a nice guy, they said, adding they are at a loss to explain his stiff demeanor and unusual syntax on the campaign trail. Maybe he's simply trying too hard, some friends told The Washington Post. Yeah, that's it, I'm sure.

Reacting to rising gasoline prices, President Obama proposed new measures this week to reduce oil market manipulation. The proposals, which observers say are unlikely to get support from a divided Congress, include increasing civil and criminal penalties on individuals and companies involved in manipulative practices involving commodities speculation.

In yet another setback for U.S.-Afghan relations, photographs of American troops gleefully posing with corpses of insurgents they've killed were given to The Los Angeles Times. The U.S. soldier who released the photos said he did so to draw attention to the safety risk of a breakdown in leadership and discipline. The Army has started a criminal investigation.

A shadowy conservative group that works behind-the-scenes to push laws that call for stricter voter identification requirements and “stand your ground” initiatives is disbanding its “Public Safety and Elections” task force. The task force, part of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), has been the prime vehicle for proposing and advancing what critics describe as voter-suppression and anti-democratic initiatives, not just restrictive voter ID laws but also plans to limit the ability of citizens to petition for referendums and constitutional changes that favor workers and communities. In recent weeks, numerous of ALEC's corporate members have left then group including Coca-Cola, Intuit and McDonald's.

Thousands of documents detailing crimes committed during the final years of the British empire were systematically destroyed to prevent them falling into the hands of post-independence governments, an official review concluded. Those papers that survived the purge were flown discreetly to Britain where they were hidden for 50 years in a secret Foreign Office archive, beyond the reach of historians and members of the public, and in breach of legal obligations for them to be transferred into the public domain.
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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Supporters of low income housing programs are criticizing a bill proposed by U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Westwood). Chabot's proposal would impose restrictions on people who use the federal Section 8 housing program, which provides vouchers to help poor people pay their rent. Among his changes, people only would be able to use the program for five years. In Cincinnati, however, 53 percent of clients already leave the program within five years. Of the 47 percent who remain, many of them have problems like mental health issues and likely would become homeless and more expensive to deal with for the government, a housing advocate told The Enquirer.

To prepare for an influx of foreign visitors when the World Choir Games begin here in July, a new language translation tool is being launched. Cincinnati-based Globili is testing its text and mobile application for cellphones and smartphones that translates signs, menus and ads into about 50 languages. The event will be held July 4-14 at various locations in downtown and Over-the-Rhine including the Aronoff Center for the Arts and Music Hall.

It's been 147 years since the U.S. Civil War ended, but Kentucky lawmakers are just now getting around to abolishing a pension fund for Confederate veterans. The measure, which passed Kentucky's House of Representatives unanimously on Feb. 29, now heads to the state Senate for a vote. No one who is eligible to receive the pension has been alive for at least 50 years, lawmakers said. I guess things really do move more slowly in the South.

Business at the venerable Blue Wisp Jazz Club has increased since it moved to a new location at Seventh and Race streets in January. The club's owners attribute the jump to more pedestrian traffic and the number of hotels located near the new site. The front room includes a bar and restaurant accessible with no cover charge, while the back room is reserved for performances by Jazz musicians.

Steep spikes and drops on standardized test scores, a pattern that has indicated cheating in Atlanta and other cities across the nation, have occurred in hundreds of school districts and charter schools across Ohio in the past seven years, a Dayton Daily News analysis found. The analysis doesn't prove cheating has occurred in Ohio, but documents show state officials don't employ vigorous statistical analyses to catch possible cheating, discipline only about a dozen teachers a year and direct Ohio’s test vendor to spend just $17,540 on analyzing suspicious scores out of its $39 million annual testing contract.

In news elsewhere, the U.S. Supreme Court begins its constitutional review of the health-care overhaul law today with a basic question: Is the court barred from making such a decision at this time? The justices will hear 90 minutes of argument about whether an obscure 19th-century law — the Anti-Injunction Act — means that the court cannot pass judgment on the law until its key provisions go into effect in 2014.

When it recently was announced that a U.S. soldier who allegedly went on a shooting spree in Afghanistan would be charged with 17 counts of murder, many people wondered about the number. After all, early reports indicated Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, a Norwood native, allegedly killed 16 people. Military officials decided to charge Bales with murder for the death of the unborn baby of one of the victims, a senior Afghan police official said today.

In a possibly related incident, a gunman in an Afghan army uniform killed two NATO soldiers today at a base in southern Afghanistan, NATO's International Security Assistance Force has said. Details were still sketchy, but NATO said in a statement that an individual wearing an Afghan soldier's uniform had turned his weapon against international troops. Coalition forces then returned fire, killing the gunman.

China and the United States have agreed to coordinate their response to any "potential provocation" if North Korea goes ahead with a planned rocket launch, the White House says. North Korea says the long-range rocket will carry a satellite, but U.S. officials say any launch would violate United Nations resolutions and be a missile test.

Somehow, 71-year-old Dick Cheney managed to get a heart transplant Saturday after spending nearly two years on a list waiting for a suitable organ to become available. Cheney, a former U.S. vice president and — some would say — unindicted war criminal, got the transplant even as much younger, healthier people continue to wait for a new heart. (My guess is he made a pact with Beelzebub.) Cheney has had five heart attacks over the years, the first occurring at age 37.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]> Amid a growing public outcry, Kroger has joined the list of grocery store chains that will stop using so-called “pink slime” in their ground beef. The Cincinnati-based grocer announced Thursday it will no longer sell beef with the additive. Ever since ABC News did a report a few weeks ago on the meat filler, many consumers have pushed to have it either eliminated or clearly identified on packages. The product contains “finely textured lean beef,” the product made from beef trimmings after all the choice cuts of beef are removed, which is then treated with ammonia. Just eat more chicken.

The police chief of Wilder, Ky., entered a not guilty plea Thursday to a drunken driving charge. Alexandria Police arrested Wilder Police Chief Anthony Rouse on March 1 for allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol. During the court hearing, a prosecutor said Rouse violated the conditions of a pre-trial release from jail by allegedly driving a vehicle after drinking in a bar. Rouse said he was unaware of the conditions surrounding his pre-trial release. Chief, call a cab next time.

A team of doctors from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center is partnering with a hospital in Ghana to complete more than 30 advanced surgeries there during a week-long mission trip. The team's focus will be on pediatric colorectal and gynecological conditions, specialties not widely practiced in Africa.

About 128,000 Ohio workers hold jobs related to the production of “green” goods and services, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s first-ever green jobs report. Those workers represent 2.6 percent of total employment in the Buckeye State and are spread across various industries, based on a 2010 survey. Critics, however, say tax incentives create an artificial demand for such jobs.

Ohio leads the nation in property insurance claims for the theft of copper and other metals, according to an organization that fights insurance fraud. The National Insurance Crime Bureau says Ohio property owners made 2,398 such claims during the three-year period from 2009-11. Texas ranked second, followed by Georgia, California and Illinois.

Covington officials are upset about a rowdy St. Patrick's Day crowd in MainStrasse last weekend that resulted in a serious assault, unruly behavior and piles of trash left for residents to pick up. The owners of Cock and Bull English Pub and Pachinko's were apologetic Thursday after their advertised St. Patrick's Day parties drew a larger than expected crowd, which they blamed on the holiday falling on a Saturday this year and the unseasonably warm weather.

In news elsewhere, civil liberties advocates are concerned by new rules approved by the Obama administration that allow counterterrorism officials to lengthen the period of time they retain information about U.S. residents, even if they have no known connection to terrorism. The changes allow the National Counterterrorism Center to keep information for up to five years. Previously, the center was required to promptly destroy, usually within 180 days, any information about U.S. citizens unless a connection to terrorism was evident.

A U.S. soldier who allegedly shot and killed civilians in Afghanistan reportedly will be charged with 17 counts of murder. Robert Bales, an army staff sergeant and Norwood native, also faces six counts of attempted murder and six counts of aggravated assault, an official told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity. Bales, 38, is suspected of leaving a military base in Kabul, entering homes and shooting villagers, including nine children, in their sleep on March 11.

A teenager in Minnesota is being prevented from bringing a porn actress to his high school prom. Mike Stone, 18, tweeted various actresses in the porn industry, seeking one to go to the prom in St. Paul. Megan Piper – star of films like “Tugged by an Angel” and “Squirting 2” – said on her Twitter account that she would go if Stone paid for her transportation from California. Once school officials learned of the plan from another parent on an Internet message board, however, they put a stop to it. They said her visit would violate a school policy that states visitors are allowed unless "the visit is not in the best interest of students, employees or the school district." Hate the game, don't hate the player.

Census officials soon will allow first-time, instant public access to records that provide a snapshot of Americans at the end of the Great Depression and on the verge of World War II. Beginning April 2, the 1940 Census will be available online for free. The records document details of 132 million people, including 21 million who are still alive today, and what their lives were like. The project is expected to be a boon for history buffs and researchers.
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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]> Many people in Greater Cincinnati still are reeling from the revelation over the weekend that the U.S. soldier who allegedly killed 16 people in Afghanistan grew up in Norwood. Military officials identified U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert “Bobby” Bales as the suspect in the case, which has inflamed tensions between Afghanistan and the United States and led to a renewed push to withdraw troops before the planned 2014 departure. Bales, 38, is a 1991 graduate of Norwood High School who joined the Army in November 2001, and was serving his fourth tour of duty when the incident occurred. Bales has been flown to a military jail at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to await trial.

The Cincinnati Fire Department is seeking a $6 million federal grant so it can increase staffing levels. If the department wins the grant, it will hold a recruit class to add up to 40 firefighters. The federal funding would cover two years' worth of salary and benefits for the recruits, but the city would have to pay training and equipment costs.

Basketball fans are celebrating now that Ohio has four teams in the NCAA Tournament's “Sweet 16.” Ohio University scored an upset victory Friday against Michigan, winning 65-60, and winning 62-56 against South Florida on Sunday night. The Bobcats join the University of Cincinnati, Xavier University and Ohio State University in advancing in the tournament.

The Buckeye State didn't fare so well in an analysis of government transparency and integrity. Ohio ranked 34th out of 50 states and got an overall grade of “D” in a study by the the Center for Public Integrity, Public Radio International and Global Integrity.

In news elsewhere, if Mitt Romney gets the Republican Party's presidential nomination and somehow beats President Obama in the fall, he had better reward Puerto Rico in some fashion, possibly by bestowing statehood on the U.S. territory. Romney handily won the GOP's primary there Sunday, getting 83 percent of the votes. Because he won more than 50 percent, Romney will receive all 20 delegates at stake — giving him a much needed boost in his race against Rick Santorum. The next primaries are Tuesday in Illinois and Louisiana.

Rick Santorum is turning to a secretive group of rich conservatives to pump cash into his campaign. The ex-Pennsylvania senator is relying on the Council for National Policy to fill his coffers and urge right-wing Republicans to unite behind his presidential bid. The council helped Santorum raise $1.8 million last week in Houston. Formed in 1981, the group brings together some of the Right's biggest donors, and helped George W. Bush in 2000 when his campaign was floundering.

Four people are dead after a gunman burst into a Jewish school in France and opened fire. The victims include  a teacher, his two sons and another child. Officials said a man arrived in front of the school on a motorcycle or scooter. This is the third attack involving a gunman escaping on a motorcycle to take place in southwestern France during the past week, although police say it's unclear whether the attacks are terrorism-related.

Heavy fighting broke out today between Syrian security forces and anti-government activists in a wealthy neighborhood of Damascus. At least 18 members of the security forces were killed in the battle, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, but the official SANA news agency put the death toll much lower.

An upsurge in fracking means North Dakota will overtake Alaska as the second-largest U.S. producer of oil within a few months, behind Texas. State data released this month showed energy companies in January fracked more wells than they drilled for the first time in five months, suggesting oil output could grow even faster than last year's 35 percent increase.
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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]> In the works since December, Hamilton County commissioners completed the sale of the county-owned Drake Center rehabilitative hospital in Hartwell on Wednesday. Commissioners voted 2-1 to sell the facility for $15 million to the University of Cincinnati, with Greg Hartmann casting the sole “no” vote. Commissioners Chris Monzel and Todd Portune want to use the proceeds to fund a one-year extension of a property tax rebate promised to voters as part of the 1996 campaign to raise the sales tax by a half-cent to pay for new sports stadiums. Hartmann called the deal fiscally irresponsible, noting Drake is worth at least $45 million and possibly more.

A state lawmaker is proposing a bill that would ban new ownership of exotic pets like gorillas and lions. State Sen. Troy Balderson (R-Zanesville) hopes the bill would prevent incidents like the one in eastern Ohio last year that led to 48 animals being shot to death after their suicidal owner let them loose.

The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday released its list of priorities for 2012 and it didn't contain any surprises. Once again, the business advocacy organization wants Cincinnati City Council to repeal its Environmental Justice Ordinance, despite offering no evidence that it has adversely affected any of its members' businesses. Also, the chamber opposes the taxation of stock options and supports a permanent extension of George W. Bush's 2001 and 2003 federal tax cuts.

Speaking of City Council, it will vote soon on a proposal to create a Youth Commission that would serve as an advisory group to the mayor and council members. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson introduced the proposal, and said the commission would make recommendations to address issues involving crime, poverty, education, employment, health and development. How this will differ from Mayor Mark Mallory's “Young Professional Kitchen Cabinet” or similar groups formed by council over the years is anybody's guess.

In honor of Cincinnati's storied history as “porkopolis,” two local companies are jointly creating a new sausage to commemorate St. Patrick's Day. Queen City Sausage Co. and Christian Moerlein Brewery created a new beer-flavored sausage, which contains Hudepohl Amber Lager.

In news elsewhere, today marks the one-year anniversary of the ongoing anti-government uprising in Syria. The conflict against President Bashar al-Assad's regime has resulted in at least 8,000 deaths so far, according to the United Nations.

Syrian activists gave a cache of more than 3,000 confidential emails allegedly hacked from Assad's private account to London's Guardian newspaper. The emails indicate the president took advice from Iran on how to handle the uprising against his rule, and leads an opulent lifestyle while violence plagues the nation's cities.

The Pentagon is investigating more than 1,700 recruiters and hundreds of recruiting assistants for allegedly making $92 million in fraudulent transactions involving “bounties” paid to get people to enlist in the Army National Guard and Reserve. The alleged fraud involves programs that paid $2,000 bounties to soldiers or civilians who signed up as “recruiting assistants” and brought in new enlistees. Investigators have found evidence that recruiters for the Guard and Reserve who weren't eligible for the bounties worked with some assistants to secretly secure and split up the money.

Supposedly secret negotiations between the Taliban and the U.S. government to end the decade-long war in Afghanistan have been suspended, the Taliban announced in a statement issued today. The statement said U.S. officials kept changing the terms of the negotiations, and had presented a "list of conditions" in their latest meeting that contradicted earlier arrangements. The announcement comes as Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded foreign troops pull out of villages, a few days after a U.S. soldier’s shooting spree in southern Kandahar province left 16 civilians dead.

Closer to home, Senate Democrats are pushing to renew the Violence Against Women Act, the bipartisan 1994 legislation that now faces fierce opposition from conservatives. Some lawmakers want to expand financing for and broaden the scope of domestic violence programs, but conservatives dislike it because it would allow more battered illegal immigrants to claim temporary visas, and would include same-sex couples in programs for domestic violence.
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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]> Here's some good news to help CityBeat readers start their week: Not only have city officials reached a settlement with Occupy Cincinnati protestors to drop all trespassing charges against them, but the deal also designates a portion of Piatt Park as a public space that's open 24 hours a day for one year. The settlement, which will be filed in court today, is believed to be one of the first in the nation resolving both a federal civil rights lawsuit against a city and local criminal charges against people connected to the international Occupy Wall Street movement. Protestors were arrested in November after camping overnight in Piatt Park for about 10 days.

Former Reds player Aaron Boone has been selected to be the grand marshal of the Findlay Market Opening Day Parade. The parade, which will begin at 1 p.m. April 5, will wind through Over-the-Rhine and downtown before the Reds' season opener against the Miami Marlins. Boone played for the Reds from 1997-2003, mostly as a third baseman, before ending his Major League career with the Houston Astros in 2009. He is now an announcer for ESPN.

Staffers with the Federal Emergency Management Agency are trying to explain why Ohio's request to be declared a federal disaster area was rejected last week. "We look at the total amount of impact versus the state. How much of what was insured? What other programs are available? It doesn’t talk about loss of life of homes destroyed. It refers to the impact to the state," FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate told WLWT-TV (Channel 5).

One man is dead and another is injured after what sheriff's deputies call a "domestic dispute" occurred at a Green Township condominium complex early Sunday morning. David Franks, 45, allegedly shot and killed his elderly father-in-law around 3:30 a.m. James Schobert, 76, died from his gunshot injuries before the Green Township Life Squad arrived on the scene.

The ongoing legal battle over a contested 2010 election for a Hamilton County Juvenile Court judgeship could cost taxpayers $1.4 million, or almost as much as the $1.57 million cost for the county’s entire November 2010 general election. The dispute hinges on whether 286 provisional ballots should be counted in the race between Democrat Tracie Hunter and Republican John Williams.

In news elsewhere, a U.S. staff sergeant has been arrested in Afghanistan after allegedly going on a shooting rampage and killing 16 civilians. Some Afghanis say more than one soldier was involved, and military officials are investigating. The deaths have prompted Taliban fighters to declare they will seek revenge.

The rampage is likely to increase the push to withdraw troops from Afghanistan ahead of the 2014 target date. About 60 percent of Americans now see the war as not worth it and 54 percent favor a U.S. withdrawal even if the Afghan army has not been adequately trained, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll released Sunday.

Alabama and Mississippi will hold primary elections on Tuesday, but national polling companies have found a near toss-up among the GOP's three leading presidential candidates: Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. Political analysts said the results show the Republican Party's Deep South base isn't as predictable as it once was and might be fracturing.

A “right to die” case filed by a 58-year-old British man can proceed to a court hearing, a U.K. judge has ruled. Tony Nicklinson has "locked-in syndrome" following a stroke in 2005 and is unable to carry out his own suicide, the BBC reports. The syndrome leaves people with paralyzed bodies but fully-functioning minds.

Many people in Appalachia, which includes southeastern Ohio, are counting on new investments from energy companies seeking to extract natural gas from underground pockets as the way to offset job losses suffered in the Great Recession. During the recession, Appalachia lost all the jobs it gained from 2000-08, and personal and small business income is roughly 25 percent lower than the rest of the United States. With such a bleak outlook, many in the region are willing to overlook potential hazards involved with some extraction processes like fracking.
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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]> In a refreshing sign of sanity at City Hall, Cincinnati officials might change the way they go about drafting the municipal budget. Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who heads council's Finance and Budget Committee, is proposing the group adopt a new priorities-based process that involves more community input. Six council members support the idea, which means it probably will be adopted.

As first reported by The Daily Bellwether blog and later picked up by The Enquirer, a new tenant at The Banks shopping and residential district will get almost $1 million in grant and loan assistance from the city. Mahogany’s Bar and Grill, a soul food restaurant scheduled to open in spring, will get a $684,000 grant and $300,000 loan, if City Council approves the deal Thursday. The grant would cover design and construction costs, while the loan would be used to pay for furniture and equipment.

Legendary Soul and Funk singer Patti LaBelle is visiting two local Kroger grocery stores to celebrate Black History Month. The diva will visit the Queen City Centre store at 4777 Kenard Ave. from 1:30-2:30 p.m. today, where she will be joined by a choir from the School of Creative and Performing Arts, along with students from Rockdale Academy in Avondale. She will visit the Norwood store at 4500 Montgomery Road from 1:30-2:30 p.m. Thursday, where she will perform with the St. Bernard High School Choir and students from Evanston Academy. As Ms. LaBelle might say, “Gitchi gitchi yaya here, mocha chocolata, yaya here.”

As expected, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, has broken a 2-2 tie vote by siding with the GOP members of the Hamilton County Board of Elections. Husted wants to appeal the decision of a federal judge who ordered elections officials to count additional ballots in a disputed 2010 juvenile court judge election.

In news elsewhere, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum is defending comments he made in 2008 that he's a Satanist. No, not really, but he did say that The Evil One exists and has targeted the United States for destruction through the policies of President Obama. (Yes, that part is real.) Maybe Santorum would prefer being elected Pope instead of president. Someone buy the man an airline ticket to Rome, please.

The newly-created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau wants to overhaul rules on overdraft fees charged by banks. The agency plans to limit the costly charges. Last year, banks made between $15 billion and $22 billion from overdraft fees, which is excessive, agency officials said.

President Obama is about to ask Congress to scrub the corporate tax code of dozens of loopholes and subsidies to reduce the top rate to 28 percent, down from 35 percent, while giving preferences to manufacturers that would set their maximum effective rate at 25 percent, sources told The New York Times.

At least four people were killed and 20 injured in Afghanistan after protests spread over the burning of copies of the Koran at a U.S. military base. American officials apologized on Tuesday after Korans were "inadvertently" put in an incinerator at Bagram Air Field. Seriously, we're in our 11th year of this war, shouldn't we know proper protocol by now?
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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]> Today is Presidents' Day and even though it's a federal holiday, most readers probably don't have the day off from work. You can console yourself about this affront to George and Honest Abe by learning all about the holiday's quirky history. For example, it was the first holiday authorized to commemorate an American citizen (Mr. Washington) and was split among three different holidays until President Nixon decided to consolidate them in 1971. (Thanks for that, Dick.) And here's CityBeat contributer Ryan Carpe's account of interesting anecdotes involving several presidents from Ohio.

Xavier University is facing yet another federal investigation for possible civil rights violations. The probe, the third since December, again involves allegations that campus officials didn't appropriately investigate and punish complaints of sexual assaults filed by female students. In the latest incident, 2011 XU graduate Caitlin Pinciotti charges that she was sexually assaulted in late 2008. She says the university allowed the student found responsible in a March 2009 campus disciplinary hearing to flout terms of his one-semester suspension and frequently return to campus.

Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis Jr. looks back on his 41-year political career as he prepares to retire later this year. Leis, 77, was county prosecutor and a judge before being elected to his first term as sheriff in 1987. He is perhaps best known for his 1977 prosecution of Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt, which was later thrown out on a technicality, and his temporarily shutting down a photographic exhibit by Robert Mapplethorpe at the Contemporary Arts Center in 1990, both of which helped solidify Cincinnati's image as a backwards, culturally inept burg on the national scene.

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is in town today, stumping before Ohio's March 6 primary. Romney will visit Meridian Bioscience in Newtown this afternoon, then hold a $2,500-a-plate fundraising dinner at downtown's Great American Tower at 5 p.m.

Do you plan on using the bridge that replaces the Brent Spence Bridge over the Ohio River whenever it's finally built? Then you'd better have some change ready. Greater Cincinnati business leaders said tolls likely will be part of whatever financing plan eventually is cobbled together for the $2.3 billion project.

In news elsewhere, a Washington Post analysis of various speeches and documents from years past reveals that GOP presidential wannabe Newt Gingrich criticized President Reagan and often took moderate positions on some issues until it became more politically expedient to portray himself as a staunch conservative.

Nuclear inspectors from the United Nations are visiting Iran to verify that its uranium enrichment work is peaceful in purpose and isn't designed to make weapons. International tensions have risen due to speculation that Israel may soon carry out a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

It's not just the United States and Europe that's having problems with deficits. Japan is posting a record trade deficit in January as fuel imports rose sharply following last year's Fukushima nuclear disaster. January's deficit totaled $18.5 billion, the highest since the nation began record-keeping in 1979, officials said.

Canada is threatening a trade war with the European Union over the bloc's plan to label oil from Alberta's vast tar sands as highly polluting in a key vote scheduled for Thursday. Canadian officials believe it would set a global precedent and derail its ability to exploit its tar sands, which are the biggest fossil fuel reserve in the world after Saudi Arabia.
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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

In a reaction to economic sanctions pushed by the United States, Iran today stopped exporting oil to six European nations. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the nation would no longer sell oil to Greece, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Portugal. Also, he appeared on TV to announce that an underground bunker complex for uranium enrichment needed to create nuclear energy is now fully operational.---

BP posted a net profit of $25.7 billion for 2011, just a year after suffering losses when an explosion on the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers and sent millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The company and its partners — including Halliburton — will face trial beginning Feb. 27 in New Orleans that consolidates various lawsuits seeking damages for economic losses, injury claims and environmental violations.

Corrections Corp. of America, the nation's largest operator of for-profit prisons, has sent letters to 48 states offering to buy their prisons as a way to help alleviate their budget problems. In return, the firm is asking for a 20-year management contract, plus an assurance that the prison would remain at least 90 percent full. Can you say “war on drugs” and “police state?” I knew you could.

Political pundits say Mitt Romney must win the Feb. 28 Michigan primary to salvage his presidential aspirations. “As the son of one of the state’s legendary governors and the scion of an auto family,” Romney’s backers are confident of a victory there, Politico reports.

Linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky comments on the recent spate of articles examining whether the United States is in decline. His conclusion: Yes, it is partially, but the reasons are mostly self-inflicted. “Corporate power’s ascendancy over politics and society — by now mostly financial — has reached the point that both political organizations, which at this stage barely resemble traditional parties, are far to the right of the population on the major issues under debate,” Chomsky writes.

Vatican officials tell Reuters News Service that a barrage of leaks about confidential and embarrassing information in the holy city during recent weeks could force Pope Benedict to clean up its administration.

Locally, the Cincinnati Museum Center is taking control of the troubled National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Museum representatives say the merger “will reduce payroll expense by sharing administrative work and eliminating redundancy in areas such as human resources and finance,” The Enquirer reports.

A local company is providing passengers the chance to join “the Mile High Club.” Flamingo Air, which operates at the city-owned Lunken Airport, offers hour-long flights for $425 a pop that allows couples to have sex while airborne in a private cabin. (We sense Citizens for Community Values about to launch a new fundraising campaign centered on this “scandal” even as we type.)

The city of Cincinnati’s attorney said there's no conflict of interest with Christopher Smitherman serving on City Council and also being the president of the NAACP’s local chapter. An assistant city solicitor explained that Ohio Ethics Law doesn't prohibit him from doing both jobs because the NAACP doesn’t currently receive any city funding.

 

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Perhaps sensing they were losing the public perception battle, House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor on Monday agreed to extend the payroll tax cut for another 10 months without getting offsetting reductions elsewhere in the budget. The action is a victory for President Obama, who opposed the GOP’s attempts to force pay cuts for federal workers and require them to contribute more to their pensions.---

After a string of victories over the weekend, Rick Santorum’s profile among Republicans nationwide is rising. A New York Times/CBS News poll released this morning found 30 percent of Republican primary voters say they support Santorum, compared with 27 percent for Romney — a statistical dead heat. Recent polls by Gallup, Pew and Public Policy Polling produced similar results.

Jill Stein is seeking the Green Party’s nomination for presidential candidate. A former physician, 61, she is a Harvard Medical School graduate and serves on the board of Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility. The New York Times today asks Stein five questions about her positions on issues, while regularly giving people like Newt Gingrich thousands of inches to espouse his views. (Maybe Stein should propose a moon base and start using racially inflammatory language.)

It looks like U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) are going to defy their party leaders and support the new federal rule that requires most insurers to offer free birth control to women. It shouldn’t be surprising: Snowe and Collins — along with their GOP brethren Lincoln Chafee, Gordon Smith, John Warner and Arlen Specter — proposed a bill in 2001 that would’ve mandated the same thing. Wow, they must really hate Catholics. Right, Mitt?

If you hear a rhythmic beating in the distance, it could be the sound of war drums. A U.S. aircraft carrier has been sent to the Strait of Hormuz, near the coast of Iran, for the second time in two weeks. Iranian officials recently threatened to close the channel, through which 20 percent of the world's oil exports pass, in a dispute about oil trade embargoes.

No one is immune to crime. While vacationing in the West Indies, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and his wife were robbed by a masked, machete-wielding man. No one was injured in the incident at the Breyers’ vacation home, but the intruder left with about $1,000. (Maybe there are a lot of Danny Trejo fans down there?)

In a bizarre accident near Tampa, Fla., a pastor’s daughter was accidentally shot in the head while attending church Sunday. As a church member was showing a 9mm handgun to two young men in a closet, it discharged and a bullet traveled through a wall, striking 20-year-old Hannah Kelley. She remains hospitalized in critical condition.

Locally, phase two of construction at The Banks riverfront district is about to begin. It will include a new pedestrian bridge from Pete Rose Way, security cameras, emergency call stations and other public safety projects.

A judge will allow a 20-year-old Northern Kentucky man to keep driving until he stands trial for killing a couple after allegedly running a red light. Judge Martin Sheehan ruled Monday that Richard Michael Beers could keep his license despite facing two charges of reckless homicide. Since getting his learner’s permit, Beers has been pulled over 13 times, cited for speeding three times, as well as for not having his license with him, running a stop sign, improper passing, careless driving and reckless driving. But he’s suburban and white, so — you know.

Ex-Clermont County Commissioner Archie Wilson pleaded not guilty this morning to charges of soliciting a prostitute and trafficking a controlled substance. Wilson, formerly a darling of area Tea Party groups, was busted in a police sting in Kenton County.

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<![CDATA[Alleged Leaker Nominated for Nobel]]>

Some U.S. progressives are supporting a move by Icelandic politicians to nominate alleged WikiLeaks collaborator Bradley Manning for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Manning was nominated for the prestigious prize by The Movement of Icelandic Parliament, a group of politicians in Iceland dedicated to empowering grassroots activism.---

In its letter nominating Manning, the group wrote, “The leaked documents pointed to a long history of corruption, war crimes, and imperialism by the United States government in international dealings. These revelations have fueled democratic uprising around the world, including a democratic revolution in Tunisia. According to journalists, his alleged actions helped motivate the democratic Arab Spring movements, shed light on secret corporate influence on our foreign policies, and most recently contributed to the Obama Administration agreeing to withdraw all U.S. troops from the occupation in Iraq.”

The letter continued, “The documents made public by WikiLeaks should never have been kept from public scrutiny. The revelations — including video documentation of an incident in which American soldiers gunned down Reuters journalists in Iraq — have helped to fuel a worldwide discussion about America’s overseas engagements, civilian casualties of war, imperialistic manipulations, and rules of engagement.”

Manning, 24, is a U.S. Army private who is awaiting court-martial on 22 charges including aiding the enemy, wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet knowing that it is accessible to the enemy, theft of public property or records and transmitting defense information.

Although the most serious charge — aiding the enemy — carries a possible death penalty, prosecutors have said they won’t seek it. Still, Manning faces life in prison if convicted of all the charges.

He has been held in maximum security custody — essentially solitary confinement — since July 2010 at the Marine Corps Brig in Quantico, Va.

Manning is suspected of leaking more than 251,000 secret diplomatic messages from U.S. embassies worldwide to WikiLeaks.

Revelations in the documents include there were 15,000 previously undisclosed civilian deaths in Iraq after the U.S. invasion; U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered diplomats to spy on overseas leaders at the United Nations and elsewhere and try to collect their DNA; Arab leaders urged the U.S. to launch a preemptive attack against Iran to stop its nuclear program; a source alleged China launched a cyber-attack against Google; the Obama administration is waging a secret war using missiles against suspected terrorists in Yemen; and U.S. suspicions that Iran has received 19 long-range missiles from North Korea.

Firedoglake, the popular U.S. progressive blog, is endorsing the nomination. The blog has distributed an email asking people to sign an online petition to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which selects award recipients.

“What's more ironic than nominating Bradley Manning for a Nobel Peace Prize while he stands trial for allegedly ‘aiding the enemy,’ is that President Obama himself won the prize in 2009 — a few months before Manning was arrested in Iraq. This could be the first time a Nobel Peace Prize recipient has been inhumanely and unjustly imprisoned by a previous Peace Prize recipient,” said Firedoglake’s email.

It added, “As Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg has said, Bradley Manning is a hero. If he really did leak these documents, we should recognize that there are likely few individuals who have made as great a contribution to justice and peace as Bradley Manning — and even fewer who have had to pay for it the way he has.”

There appears to be growing international support to award the prize to Manning. In October, he won a poll conducted by The Guardian newspaper in Britain, which asked who should win the Nobel. Manning received nearly 40 percent of the votes cast.

One respondent wrote, “If Bradley Manning is responsible for allowing the world to see the shenanigans that have been going on in the name of western democracy and responsible government, then he must be the first on the list. Those ‘shenanigans’ include horrifying acts of murder and torture.”

Even as Manning sits in solitary confinement for more than a year, the U.S. Army last week dropped all charges against the last of five soldiers to face a court-martial in the slaying of unarmed Afghan civilians.

Five members of the infantry unit formerly known as the 5th Stryker Brigade were charged with killing Afghan civilians in cold blood during random attacks staged to look like combat engagements, according to Reuters News Service.

The staff sergeant who led the attacks was convicted by court-martial in November of murdering three unarmed civilians. Although that mandates an automatic life prison sentence, he will be eligible for parole in 8 1/2 years. Three others involved in the case were sentenced to prison sentences of 24 years, seven years and three years respectively.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Despite all of the incessant hype, there actually are other things going on in the world besides the Super Bowl. So, grab your beverage of choice, sit back and we’ll tell you about a few of them. (And we promise nary a mention of Tom Brady or Eli Manning. Well, after this paragraph, that is.)

A study by Chicago University’s Booth Business School found that the use of social media might be more addictive than cigarettes or alcohol. A team used BlackBerrys to gauge the willpower of 205 people between the ages of 18 and 85 in and around the German city of Würtzburg. The researchers say sex and sleep still appear to be stronger urges, but tweeting and checking email are more irresistible to some people than smoking or drinking.---

Possibly buoyed by last week’s improving unemployment statistics, President Obama has opened a clear lead over Mitt Romney in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll. It found Americans were evenly divided about whether Obama deserved a second term but once the president was placed into a match-up against Romney, his numbers dramatically improved.

Overall, 55 percent of those who are closely following the campaign say they disapprove of what the GOP candidates have been saying. By better than 2 to 1, Americans say the more they learn about Romney, the less they like him.

Politico’s Jonathan Martin writes that Newt Gingrich 2012 looks a lot like Mike Huckabee 2008, and Gingrich’s campaign probably will flame out in a similar fashion. Some GOP strategists say Gingrich has yet to prove he holds appeal beyond Southern conservatives, who aren’t indicative of the populace as a whole.

Nevertheless, Newt will make a stop in the Queen City on Tuesday. Details still are being hashed out, but it looks like a stop at Price Hill Chili is in the works.

The Syrian military bombed the city of Homs today, killing at least 50 people as the crackdown continues on dissidents opposed to President Bashar al-Assad. Activists said more than 200 people were killed on Friday night when tanks and artillery blasted the Khalidiya neighborhood of Homs. The strikes come after Russia and China vetoed a draft U.N. resolution that would have backed an Arab plan urging Assad to resign.

A source at Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the nation’s leading breast cancer charity, told The Huffington Post that the group’s new vice president, Karen Handel, was the main force behind the decision to defund Planned Parenthood. “Emails between Komen leadership on the day the Planned Parenthood decision was announced, which were reviewed by HuffPost under the condition they not be published, confirm the source's description of Handel's sole ‘authority’ in crafting and implementing the Planned Parenthood policy,” the website reported.

Although Mitt Romney only paid an effective tax rate of 13.8 percent in 2010, a recent report shows that many corporations are paying even less. U.S. corporations only paid an average of 12.1 percent in taxes on the profits they earned inside this nation during 2011, according to statistics from the Congressional Budget Office. That’s the lowest percentage corporations have paid on profits since at least 1972, and it’s less than half of the 25.6 percent they paid on average between 1987 and 2008.

Two gay men in Cleveland who were jailed without their pants by a police officer who was their neighbor are suing the city and the police department. The men were charged with assaulting the officer but were acquitted Oct. 20 in a non-jury trial. The lawsuit states the officer and his colleagues repeatedly referred to the two men as "faggots" and said "faggots don't get to wear pants to jail."

Locally, a homeless man was arrested early Sunday morning while hiding under a pew after allegedly breaking into an Avondale church and attempting to steal some items. An alarm was triggered, which alerted police to the scene. Vaughn Whitehead is scheduled to appear in court this morning.

Cincinnati City Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan is proposing a charter amendment that would change council terms from two years to four years. As part of the measure, the term-limit clock would start over for incumbents, potentially giving them extra time in office if voters approve the measure and then reelect them. Councilmen P.G. Sittenfeld and Christopher Smitherman are opposed, but it looks like Quinlivan has enough support to put the amendment on the November ballot.

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<![CDATA[Israeli Ambassador Visits Cincinnati]]>

Israel’s ambassador to the United States will speak at an event in Cincinnati on Saturday night.

Michael Oren will speak about U.S.-Israeli relations and current events affecting both nations. Time will be allowed for questions following Oren’s speech.

Several area politicians are scheduled to attend the event including U.S. Reps. Jean Schmidt (R-Miami Township) and Steve Chabot (R-Westwood); State Rep. Denise Driehaus (D-Price Hill); Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel; and a representative from the office of U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Terrace Park).---

The event will be held at 8 p.m. at Mayerson Jewish Community Center. It’s located at 8485 Ridge Road, in Amberley Village.

Although the event is free, the center already has reached capacity level for the crowd through reservations, and is discouraging walk-ins. But the center will videotape the ambassador's remarks and the question and answer session, and post them online next week.

Oren has been criticized for defending Israel’s blockade and military assault on the Gaza Strip in 2008-09. A United Nations fact-finding report concluded that the Israel Defense Forces were guilty of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.

Further, some critics have blasted Oren’s endorsement of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s support for some tyrannical regimes in the Arab world instead of promoting democracy and self-determination.

Oren, 56, was born in upstate New York. He was active in Zionist and Jewish youth groups and made his first trip to Israel at age 15. After graduating from Columbia University, Oren immigrated to Israel in 1979.

Also, Oren is a former member of the Israel Defense Forces. He served in the 1982 Lebanon War, the 2005 Gaza Strip disengagement and the 2006 Lebanon War.

Netanyahu appointed Oren as ambassador to the United States in May 2009.

For more information on the event, contact the Jewish Federation at 513-985-1500.

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<![CDATA[Mr. Chabot, Meet Mr. Will]]>

As far as conservatives go, I can tolerate columnist George Will and often enjoy reading his work. Unlike most of what passes as conservatism today, Will tends to base his arguments on logic and fact, not emotion and rhetoric.

Making him even more of an anomaly in Republican circles, Will acknowledges and corrects his errors, when he makes them. As an added bonus, he's also a deft wordsmith.

Despite his many years in office, Congressman Steve Chabot (R-Westwood) could stand to take a few pointers from Will. Chabot, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, spoke during a hearing Wednesday about his concerns with a total withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by year's end.---

President Obama announced in late October that he would withdraw the remaining 39,000 U.S. troops in Iraq by Dec. 31. Although Obama and his advisors originally had hoped to leave about 10,000 troops in Iraq, the Iraqi government’s refusal to grant those troops immunity from criminal prosecution for any future wrongdoing ended that plan.

Polls show Americans overwhelmingly support Obama's decision. A recent Gallup Poll found that 75 percent of respondents approve of the withdrawal. When broken down along party lines, 96 percent of Democrats support the decision, along with 77 percent of independents and 43 percent of Republicans. Other polls yielded similar results.

Since the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003, 4,485 U.S. troops have been killed there. Also, an estimated 1.45 million Iraqis have been killed. The United States has spent about $802 billion waging the war so far.

Mimicking the invective of some neocon GOP presidential hopefuls like Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, however, Chabot wants troops to stay put.

Before Wednesday's hearing, Chabot read a speech that stated, in part: “It is painfully clear that although the Iraqi army has progressed remarkably from where it once was, Iraq is not yet prepared to defend itself from the threat posed by its nefarious neighbors, Iran and Syria … Public reports indicate that General Lloyd Austin, Commanding General of U.S. Forces Iraq, requested and recommended approximately 20,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq. Unfortunately, these negotiations failed due to mismanagement by the White House. Amazingly, the White House is now trying to tout the breakdown and lack of agreement as a success inasmuch as it has met a promise President Obama made as a candidate. This blatant politicization calls into question the White House’s entire effort to secure a troop extension. Fulfilling a campaign promise at the expense of American national security interests is at best, strategic neglect and at worst, downright irresponsible.”

Chabot continued, “Although I understand that Iraq is a sovereign country, I believe there is much more we could have done to secure a reasonable troop presence beyond the end of this year. Accordingly, I’d like to again echo Senator Lieberman’s call to reopen negotiations with the Iraqis. It would be a failure of colossal proportions to withdraw our forces before Iraq is ready to stand on its own.”

In Chabot's mind, apparently, the Iraqi government's belief that it is ready to “stand on its own” isn't enough; its U.S. occupiers must agree.

Based on his stance, Chabot should answer some questions posed by Will in his Nov. 6 column. The piece, entitled “Let's Debate Iraq,” was aimed at Republican presidential contenders and asked them to better explain their foreign policy positions, but it applies equally as well here.

In the column, Will wrote, “How many troops would they leave in Iraq? For how long? And for what purpose? If eight years, 4,485 lives and $800 billion are not enough, how many more of each are they prepared to invest there? And spare us the conventional dodge about 'listening to' the 'commanders in the field.' Each candidate is aspiring to be commander in chief in a nation in which civilians set policy for officers to execute.”

Well, Mr. Chabot? We'd love to hear your answers.

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<![CDATA[Peace, Man!]]>

Today is Peace Day, a day for “wide-scale community action and a day for UN agencies and aid organisations to safely carry out life-saving work,” according to a global organization called Peace One Day.---

The organization is currently working on a campaign called “Global Truce 2012,” a yearlong call for world peace by this date next year. From Peace One Day's blog:

For Peace Day 2012, we are inviting all sectors of society to observe a day of Global Truce — individuals in every country, at home, in schools, in the workplace, in their local communities, and those engaged in armed conflict on the international stage. Everyone has a role to play. We want Global Truce 2012 to be the largest reduction in global violence in recorded history, both domestically and internationally.

As part of the celebration, there's a concert today in London as part of the London 2012 Festival. If you can't make it there in time (and they're several hours ahead of the U.S. so you probably can't), you can join the 11,654 people (as of 1:37 p.m. EST) who have joined the cause here.

The following is a short video about the organization and event. Here's a 9-minute video about the history and future of the movement. If you prefer your world-saving media by cell phone, here's the Peace One Day App.

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