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Zoe Schlanger

Zoë Schlanger is Frontpage Editor at TPM. Zoë was a TPM intern in 2011, and prior to returning here she was editor in chief of NYU Local, the alternative independent student news site at NYU. Zoë has interned at places like the Nation, InsideClimate News, The Rachel Maddow Show and Gothamist. She can be reached at zoe@talkingpointsmemo.com.

Articles by Zoe

Nato helicopter fire reportedly kills two children along with nine suspected Taliban fighters near the town of Ghazni. Read this story on the Guardian here.

Nato helicopter fire reportedly kills two children along with nine suspected Taliban fighters near the town of Ghazni

A Nato helicopter has reportedly killed two children during an attack on Taliban fighters.The helicopter opened fire as it supported Afghan soldiers near the town of Ghazni in south-east Afghanistan, despite president Hamid Karzai forbidding troops to call for foreign air support.

Afghan police had been patrolling in Ghazni when they came under attack by insurgents, Nato spokesman Major Adam Wojack said.

"International Security Assistance Forces [ISAF] supported the Afghan unit in contact by engaging the insurgent forces with helicopter-delivered direct fire," he said, adding that ISAF was investigating reports of civilian casualties.

Nine Taliban fighters were killed and eight civilians were wounded, according to senior Afghan police detective Colonel Mohammad Hussain.

A Reuters reporter saw the bodies of two children, whom local people said had been killed in the air strike.

Last month Karzai forbade Afghan forces from calling for Nato air support and Nato from striking "in Afghan homes or villages" after an air strike that killed 10 civilians.

Civilian casualties caused by air strikes are a significant source of friction between Karzai and his international allies as Washington and Kabul negotiate over the size of a future US military presence after most international troops depart by the end of 2014.

Some Afghan officials say privately that limiting air strikes exposes the 352,000-strong Afghan security forces to greater danger as they take over the responsibilities of international forces.

Foreign air power is especially critical to cover the mountainous regions near the Pakistani border.

guardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

The Guardian is an independent, global news organisation that invests in original journalism and in-depth analysis. For more from the Guardian, visit http://www.guardiannews.com. © 2011 Guardian News And Media Limited.

"I thought it was a very good oral argument," Rep. Jerry Nadler told Capital this afternoon, after attending the Supreme Court's hearing on the Defense of Marriage Act. "I was encouraged by it. I'm optimistic."

Nadler has been a longtime opponent of DOMA, having sponsored a bill to repeal the law and coordinated the House's amicus brief arguing the law is unconstitutional, which was joined by 212 members of Congress. 

He also happens to be the congressional representative for Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in the case, who is challenging the federal government's unwillingness to recognize the marital status of she and her late wife, Thea Spyer.

At least five justices sounded skeptical of the federal government's ability to deny benefits to married couples like Windsor, and Nadler suggested there could be one more sympathetic justice.

"At least five, and I wouldn't be surprised if there was a sixth on federalism," he said, referring to Chief Justice John Roberts.

Nadler said he didn't expect the justices to dodge this case, despite the hour-long argument on the court's jurisdiction, and said he was encouraged by the justices' questions, particularly from Anthony Kennedy, the likely swing vote.

"The key argument was the Equal Protection argument," Nadler said. "And there was no answer. They couldn't answer it."

Kennedy, in particular, questioned Congress's ability to coerce the states to go along with the federal government's definition of marriage, which Nadler said "may give you some indication of where Kennedy is heading."

Nadler predicted the court would strike down DOMA as unconstitutional, citing his correct prediction that the Affordable Care Act would be upheld, even though he said he had been wrong about the court's reasoning in that case.

"I was wrong on every single one of them," he said, calling his correct prediction "pure happenstance."

If the court does strike it down, Nadler said "it takes out of a bone of contention for the next election, perhaps," but wouldn't necessarily help or hurt Democrats.

"I don't think people are debating that act in particular," he said.

Capital New York is a website about how New York City works, featuring news, analysis and investigations on politics, media, culture and sports. For more, visit http://www.capitalnewyork.com/. (c) 2012 Capital New York.

Beyond the references to slicing off genitalia and the "sound-proofing" of her City Hall office, the Times story about Christine Quinn helps illustrate the power that comes with being the City Council speaker.

Common Cause NY is hoping that there will be a lot less of it in the future.

The good-government advocacy group sent letters to the four likely Council speaker candidates and asked them about the centralization of power in the speaker's office.

Would they change or "reform" this process, in order to prevent the next Speaker from controlling the flow of legislation and money as a way of punishing and rewarding Council members?

One of the leading candidates, Inez Dickens of Harlem, freely admits that she would not.

In her March 11 response to Common Cause NY, Dickens frames the proposed rules changes as a dilution of the next speaker's power, and part of a troubling trend of weakenening black legislative leaders who rise to power.

"I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge what to many has been a remarkable historical coincidence of timing between the increased fervor of reform/good government organizations and the ascension of non-traditional leaders to positions of power.

"J. Raymond Jones' ascension to the Manhattan County Leadership, the David Dinkins Mayorality and the leadership for the New York State Senate in 2009 are just a few historical points of reference."

Other possible speakers were more open to the changes, in theory.

Councilman Dan Garodnick of Manhattan wrote, "I share your concerns about the centralization of power within the Council Speaker." He also said he's interested in "a more equitable distribution of funds [b]ecause it could eliminate some fear of retribution for independent acts."

Melissa Mark-Viverito, from East Harlem, accepted Common Cause NY's premise, writing, "The differential allocation of member items is broadly perceived by Council Members and the public as a core factor that undermines members' independence."

She went to talk about more transparency and live-streaming of Council events, plus "Charter reforms that will make the Council more equal partners with the mayor in the budget process and in setting policy."

Mark Weprin of Queens wrote a four-sentence letter that didn't say much of substance, calling himself "one of the leading advocates for open government" and saying, "I support many of the concepts" the group advocates.

 

Capital New York is a website about how New York City works, featuring news, analysis and investigations on politics, media, culture and sports. For more, visit http://www.capitalnewyork.com/. (c) 2012 Capital New York.

Billionaire property magnate attacks decision to build experimental offshore windfarm near his golf course as 'purely political.' Read this story on The Guardian here.

Billionaire property magnate attacks decision to build experimental offshore windfarm near his golf course as 'purely political'

Scottish ministers have given the go-ahead to an experimental offshore windfarm site near Aberdeen after ignoring Donald Trump's angry threats of legal action to block the project.

Trump has repeatedly attacked the European offshore wind deployment centre (EOWDC) proposal, alleging the turbines will ruin the view from his £750m golf resort, which overlooks the North Sea and sits several kilometres north of the site's boundary.

The billionaire property magnate again threatened to use his financial muscle to oppose the 11-turbine project in the courts using "every legal means" to defeat it. Despite recently announcing plans to build a second 18-hole golf course at his resort, he repeated his threat to put his entire project on hold because the windfarm threatened the financial viability of his resort.

In a statement, the developer attacked his former friend and ally Alex Salmond, the first minister. "This was a purely political decision," Trump said.

"As dictated by Alex Salmond, a man whose obsession with obsolete wind technology will destroy the magnificence and beauty of Scotland. Likewise, tourism, Scotland's biggest industry, will be ruined. We will spend whatever monies are necessary to see to it that these huge and unsightly industrial wind turbines are never constructed.

"All over the world they are being abandoned, but in Scotland they are being built. We will put our future plans in Aberdeen on hold, as will many others, until this ridiculous proposal is defeated. Likewise, we will be bringing a lawsuit within the allocated period of time to stop what will definitely be the destruction of Aberdeen and Scotland itself."

Fergus Ewing, the Scottish energy minister, said the £230m project would be capable of generating up to 100MW of power, enough for nearly half of Aberdeen's homes.

But he added that the project was chiefly designed to test and evaluate advanced new offshore wind power designs, potentially helping to find new breakthrough technologies. Scottish and UK ministers, who also support the project, believe it could be crucial to helping the UK exploit the £100bn offshore wind industry.

The 11 turbines, which have been reduced in number and location after objections from fisheries and aviation interests, are expected to be of different heights and designs. The project, owned by the Swedish power giant Vattenfall and a local business and university consortium, still needs marine consents and planning consent for an onshore sub-station.

Ewing said: "Offshore renewables represent a huge opportunity for Scotland; an opportunity to build up new industries and to deliver on our ambitious renewable energy and carbon reduction targets.

"The proposed European offshore wind deployment centre will give the industry the ability to test and demonstrate new technologies in order to accelerate its growth. [It] secures Aberdeen's place as the energy capital of Europe."

The scheme has been made subject to a series of fresh conditions, to protect defence and civil aviation radar systems, avoid a military firing range at Black Dog, on environmental management and on protecting shipping and fishing in the area.

Trump's opposition to the project led to open hostilities between him and Salmond, who had originally been a prominent cheerleader for Trump's golf resort and hotel development and played a crucial role in it securing planning approval.

Trump's attacks on Salmond's vigorous support for wind power have put the two men in direct conflict and also soured Trump's relationships with some of his most influential supporters in Aberdeen.

Several major figures and institutions who supported Trump's resort - the North Sea engineering millionaire Sir Ian Wood, Robert Gordon University and Aberdeenshire council - are also directly involved in the EOWDC project.

They believe it could substantially support Aberdeen's attempts to benefit from the billions of pounds being spent on renewable energy investment, particularly as an alternative to North Sea oil and gas.

Iain Todd, a spokesman for the project, made this clear, stating: "The Scottish government's most welcome approval for the EOWDC is extremely positive news for both Scotland and the UK's offshore wind industry as it helps position Scotland, the UK and Europe at the global vanguard of the sector.

"The decision also confirms Aberdeen city and shire's status as a world-class energy hub, bringing with it significant economic benefits which will be pivotal to ensuring the region's long-term prosperity."

Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: "Offshore wind will be a huge part of our energy future and this scheme is a big step forward.

"Well done to the Scottish government for standing up to Donald Trump's threats and bluster."


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The Guardian is an independent, global news organisation that invests in original journalism and in-depth analysis. For more from the Guardian, visit http://www.guardiannews.com. © 2011 Guardian News And Media Limited.

Obama administration reliance on drones to fight al-Qaida and Islamic militants sees drones spread to Africa

The newest outpost in the US government's empire of drone bases sits behind a razor-wire-topped wall outside this west African capital, blasted by 40C heat and the occasional sandstorm blowing from the Sahara.

The US air force began flying a handful of unarmed Predator drones from here last month. The grey, mosquito-shaped aircraft emerge sporadically from a borrowed hangar and soar north in search of al-Qaida fighters and guerrillas from other groups hiding in the region's deserts and hills.

The harsh terrain of north and west Africa is rapidly emerging as yet another front in the long-running US war against terrorist networks, a conflict that has fuelled a revolution in drone warfare.

Since taking office in 2009, President Barack Obama has relied heavily on drones for operations, both declared and covert, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya and Somalia. US drones also fly from allied bases in Turkey, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and the Philippines.

Now they are becoming a fixture in Africa. The US military has built a major drone hub in Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa, and flies unarmed Reaper drones from Ethiopia. Until recently, it conducted reconnaissance flights over east Africa from the island nation of Seychelles.

The Predator drones in Niger, a landlocked and dirt-poor country, give the Pentagon a strategic foothold in west Africa. Niger shares a long border with Mali, where an al-Qaida affiliate and other Islamist groups have taken root. Niger also borders Libya and Nigeria, which are also struggling to contain armed extremist movements.

Like other US drone bases, the Predator operations in Niger are shrouded in secrecy. The White House announced in February that Obama had deployed about 100 military personnel to Niger on an "intelligence collection" mission, but it did not make any explicit reference to drones. Since then, the defence department has publicly acknowledged the presence of drones here but has revealed little else. The Africa Command, which oversees US military missions on the continent, denied requests from a Washington Post reporter to interview American troops in Niger or to tour the military airfield where the drones are based, near Niamey's international airport.

Government officials in Niger, a former French colony, were slightly more forthcoming. President Issoufou Mahamadou said his government invited Washington to send surveillance drones because he was worried that the country might not be able to defend its borders from Islamist fighters based in Mali, Libya or Nigeria.

"We welcome the drones," Mahamadou said in an interview at the presidential palace in Niamey. Citing the "feeble capability" of many west African militaries, he said Niger and its neighbours desperately needed foreign help to track the movements of guerrillas across the Sahara and Sahel, an arid territorial belt that covers much of the region.

"Our countries are like the blind leading the blind," he said. "We rely on countries like France and the United States. We need co-operation to ensure our security."

The Predator drones in Niger are unarmed, US officials said, though they have not ruled out equipping the aircraft with Hellfire missiles in the future. For now, the drones are conducting surveillance over Mali and Niger.

US officials said they share video footage and other intelligence collected by the unmanned aircraft with French forces and African troops - including 670 soldiers from Niger - who are fighting the Islamist insurgency in Mali. Liaison officers from Niger, France and Chad work alongside US air force personnel who launch and land the drones from the base in Niamey.

Most of the surveillance missions are designed to track broad patterns of human activity and are not aimed at hunting individuals, said a senior US official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss military operations. Although French and African troops are engaged in combat in Mali, the Obama administration has not given the US military the same authorisation.

"The whole issue is lethality," the senior official said. "We don't want to abet a lethal action."

But the rules of engagement are blurry. Intelligence gathered by the Predators could indirectly help the French fix targets for airstrikes or prompt Nigerien security forces to take action on their territory.

Moreover, US officials have acknowledged that they could use lethal force under certain circumstances. Last month, army general Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress that the US military had designated "a handful of high-value individuals" in north Africa for their suspected connections to al-Qaida, making them potential targets for capture or killing.

The Pentagon declined to say exactly how many Predator aircraft it has sent to Niger or how long it intends to keep them there. But there are signs that the US military wants to establish a long-term presence in west Africa.

After years of negotiations, the Obama administration signed an agreement with Niger in January that provides judicial protection and other safeguards for US troops in the country.

Two US defence officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning, said the Pentagon ultimately wants to move the Predators to the Saharan city of Agadez, in northern Niger.

Agadez is closer to parts of southern Algeria and southern Libya where fighters and arms traffickers allied with al-Qaida have taken refuge. The airfield in Agadez, however, is rudimentary and needs improvements before it can host drones, officials said.

The US military has used Agadez since last year as a refuelling stop for U-28 spy planes - small, piloted aircraft flown by private contractors. US officials have hesitated to send those surveillance aircraft across the border into Mali because of fears that the crews could be taken hostage if the planes crash or are shot down.

Government officials in Niger declined to say whether they viewed the US drones as a short-term fix or a permanent addition. "I can't tell you how long they will be here," said Mahamadou, the president. "How long it will take to stabilise Mali is one factor. The stabilisation of Libya is another."

At the same time, he said Niger cannot rely on French and US military forces forever and needs to ensure its own security. To that end, the US government has agreed to give Niger two Cessna Grand Caravan aircraft to transport troops and conduct surveillance.

"The intelligence is crucial for us," said Colonel Mamane Souley, director of exterior relations for the Nigerien armed forces. "We have a vast territory, and in that sense aircraft are fundamentally important."

The presence of hi-tech Predator drones in Niger's skies contrasts jarringly with life on the ground. There are only a handful of paved roads in the capital. Many people live in mud-brick shanties. Goats and camels are a common sight in the city centre.

US and Nigerien officials had worried that the drones might spur a popular backlash in Niger, where about 90 % of the population is Muslim. Extra security barriers were raised outside the US and French embassies as a precaution. So far, however, reaction has been muted, and many people seem to favour anything that the US and French militaries can do to prevent a spillover of violence from Mali.

"Of course, we might have some narrow-minded Nigeriens," said Marou Amadou, who serves as justice minister and chief government spokesman. "But people understand that the presence of these drones is very, very helpful ... What is happening in Mali could happen in Niger also."

Nonetheless, US troops have kept a low profile. Americans with short haircuts and a military bearing occasionally surface at a couple of Niamey hotels to eat barbecue or drink beer, but most confine themselves to the base.

The Africa Command did not respond to questions about how many US troops are in Niger, but one US official said the number of air force personnel had increased beyond the 100 troops Obama said last month he had deployed.

"We just know there are drones; we don't know what they are doing exactly," said Djibril Abarchi, chairman of the Nigerien Association for the Defence of Human Rights, an independent watchdog group. "Nothing is visible. There is no transparency in our country with military questions. No one can tell you what's going on."

Most Nigeriens are strongly opposed to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, the terrorist network's affiliate, and recognise that their country is vulnerable without foreign military help, said Boureima Abdou Daouda, an imam in Niamey who leads a regional council of religious leaders that advises governments on countering extremism.

At the same time, as in many African countries, the presence of foreign troops is a sensitive issue given the history of colonialism in Niger. Daouda warned that the government could face trouble if it doesn't shore up popular support and do a better job of publicly explaining why the American drones are necessary.

"Someone with bad intentions could say, 'They are here to cause strife with Muslims'," he said. "People might demonstrate. They might riot. Big flames begin with little flames."

• This article appeared in the Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material from the Washington Post

guardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

The Guardian is an independent, global news organisation that invests in original journalism and in-depth analysis. For more from the Guardian, visit http://www.guardiannews.com. © 2011 Guardian News And Media Limited.

A housekeeper at West Point who was busted with a bag full of frozen meatballs that didn't belong to her is facing two years in prison on federal charges of larceny and possession of stolen property.

Put in perspective, that's the same amount of time Trent Mays was sentenced to serve following his conviction in the Steubenville rape trial.

56-year-old Estelle Casimir stands accused of trying to make away with a bag of frozen meatballs that were slated to be served to at the West Point Cadet Mess Hall.

According to court documents, a supervisor became suspicious after spotting Casimir with a grocery bag in her hand.

Confronted, Casimir, who is responsible for cleaning the mess hall latrines and does not handle food, claimed she found the meatballs in a trash container "and was on her way to dispose of them in another trash container."

An affidavit signed by the operations manager on duty does not specify how many meatballs were in the bag.

At an initial court hearing earlier this month, Casimir pleaded not guilty to the charges. Her next court date is scheduled for April 19th.

In the meantime, she has been forced to look elsewhere for employment after the food services company Watson Services, her employer of 28 years, suspended her pending the outcome of the trial.

"I just sit in the house," Casimir is quoted as saying. "I don't have anything to do."

[photos via AP, Hot Cheap & Easy]

Gawker dishes the nation's most current and cutting gossip across media, entertainment, technology, and business. Founded in 2002 and namechecked frequently in mainstream publications, the site is essential reading for those who want big media hypocrisy debunked and faux-sincerity exposed, all with a healthy dose of snark.

Turkey responds following an apology by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Friday for a raid on a Turkish flotilla bound for the Gaza strip in May 2010


The Guardian is an independent, global news organisation that invests in original journalism and in-depth analysis. For more from the Guardian, visit http://www.guardiannews.com. © 2011 Guardian News And Media Limited.

In February, a hacker named Guccifer revealed to the world the hidden artistic talents of George W. Bush, releasing to The Smoking Gun a handful of photographs of oil paintings by the former president that had been taken from personal Bush family emails. The images were well-received by critics and laypeople alike, but they represented only a small portion of the budding outsider artist's oeuvre. Little more was being made available: In an interview with an Atlanta television station, his art teacher said he'd painted "over 50 dogs," tantalizingly few of which were actually shown on the broadcast. Otherwise, the Texan Master was silent. The world was crying out for more Bush art, more raw talent, more lush brushstrokes--more dogs--and nothing was forthcoming.

Until now.

Six photographs of paintings by the former president, taken from the private email hack originally reported by The Smoking Gun, have been provided to Gawker, where we're publishing them for the first time.

The new work reveals a wider range of subject matter than previously seen: not just dogs, but also, cats, and shells, and crosses. Nothing as immediately arresting as the nude self-portraits--but the lumpy cats, arranged in landscapes and around plants, and the limbless dogs, trapped in vacuums of varying shades of dun, can be as affecting and revelatory upon meditation as the shower paintings are immediately.

Here, the first cat painting by George W. Bush ever seen by the world (note the bath self-portrait in the bottom of the frame):



Another Bush cat, and a still life of shells:



A nighttime landscape, with a cross in the foreground (this one was titled, by the hacker, "THE.INFAMOUS.WEDDING.NIGHT.WHAT.IS.LAURA.HAS.TO.SAY.ABOUT.THAT"):



Two more of the "over fifty" dogs:



A previously-seen painting of Barney Bush, next to a never-before-seen landscape:


Gawker dishes the nation's most current and cutting gossip across media, entertainment, technology, and business. Founded in 2002 and namechecked frequently in mainstream publications, the site is essential reading for those who want big media hypocrisy debunked and faux-sincerity exposed, all with a healthy dose of snark.

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