Who would replace Justice John Paul Stevens?: (NBC) Two experienced federal judges and the Obama administration's top Supreme Court lawyer are widely considered the leading candidates for the next high court opening if Justice John Paul Stevens retires this year.
Stevens, 89, is expected to decide soon whether to step down after more than 34 years on the court. If he does, President Barack Obama would have his second high court pick in as many years.
Two of the three top contenders, Judge Diane Wood, 59, of the federal appeals court in Chicago and Solicitor General Elena Kagan, 49, were finalists last year when Obama chose Sonia Sotomayor to replace Justice David Souter.
Judge Merrick Garland, 57, of the federal appeals court in Washington, is a former high-ranking Justice Department official who is well respected and considered least likely to engender significant Republican opposition.
The three high court prospects have different strengths and weaknesses. But even conservative activists say any of the three would likely win confirmation in a Senate in which Democrats control 59 seats. Yet Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona said Sunday he would not rule out delaying tactics if Obama nominates "an overly ideological person..."
It’s official: Obama is black: (NBC) President checks black, not black and white, on census form. leader, but when it came to the official government head count, President Barack Obama gave only one answer to the question about his ethnic background: African-American.
The White House confirmed Friday that Obama did not check multiple boxes on his U.S. Census form, or choose the option that allows him to elaborate on his racial heritage. He ticked the box that says "Black, African Am., or Negro."
Obama filled out the form on Monday, supplying information for himself, first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters Malia and Sasha, as well as for Mrs. Obama's mother, Marian Robinson, who lives with the family in the White House.
For Obama, whose mother Ann Dunham, a white woman from Kansas, married his father, Kenyan native Barack Obama Sr., the question of his racial identity has been a lifelong struggle. His first memoir, "Dreams From My Father," is an account of a difficult journey of discovery.
Obama the community activist and then politician always self-identified as African-American, and he now wears the mantle of America's first black president with pride.
On a visit to Ghana last year, he took his wife and daughters to see Gold Coast Castle, the one-time slave trading depot from which thousands of Africans were sent in shackles to a life of toil in the New World. The First Lady is descended from a South Carolina slave.
Karzai to lawmakers: ‘I might join the Taliban’: (NBC) Afghan leader made threat twice at closed-door meeting, witnesses say.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai threatened over the weekend to quit the political process and join the Taliban if he continued to come under outside pressure to reform, several members of parliament said Monday.
Karzai made the unusual statement at a closed-door meeting Saturday with selected lawmakers — just days after kicking up a diplomatic controversy with remarks alleging foreigners were behind fraud in last year's disputed elections.
Lawmakers dismissed the latest comment as hyperbole, but it will add to the impression the president — who relies on tens of thousands of U.S. and NATO forces to fight the insurgency and prop up his government — is growing increasingly erratic and unable to exert authority without attacking his foreign backers.
"He said that 'if I come under foreign pressure, I might join the Taliban'," said Farooq Marenai, who represents the eastern province of Nangarhar.
"He said rebelling would change to resistance," Marenai said — apparently suggesting that the militant movement would then be redefined as one of resistance against a foreign occupation rather than a rebellion against an elected government.
Marenai said Karzai appeared nervous and repeatedly demanded to know why parliament last week had rejected legal reforms that would have strengthened the president's authority over the country's electoral institutions.
Two other lawmakers said Karzai twice raised the threat to join the insurgency.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the reports were troubling. "On behalf of the American people, we're frustrated with the remarks," Gibbs told reporters.
The lawmakers, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of political repercussions, said Karzai also dismissed concerns over possible damage his comments had caused to relations with the United States. He told them he had already explained himself in a telephone conversation Saturday with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that came after the White House described his comments last week as troubling.
The lawmakers said they felt Karzai was pandering to hard-line or pro-Taliban members of parliament and had no real intention of joining the insurgency.
Nor does the Afghan leader appear concerned that the U.S. might abandon him, having said numerous times that the U.S. would not leave Afghanistan because it perceives a presence here to be in its national interest...
Web chats spell out al-Qaida's Indonesia links: (NBC) Jakarta bombing suspect says they're fake; expert says it's a 'wake-up call.'
It plays out like any ordinary chat between friends on Yahoo Messenger, but the subject matter is chilling: "thekiller" is looking to mesh his Indonesian militant network more deeply with al-Qaida in its Pakistani heartland...
The exchange appears in transcripts of Internet chat sessions recovered from the computer of Muhammad Jibriel, identified in the documents as the man suspected of using the screen name "thekiller". Jibriel, a 26-year-old Indonesian and well-known propagandist for al-Qaida, is currently on trial, accused of helping fund last year's twin suicide bombings at luxury hotels in his country's capital, Jakarta. He claims the transcripts are fabricated.
The 40 pages of conversations are in a police dossier that provides a rare glimpse into the inner workings of Jemaah Islamiyah, Southeast Asia's main extremist group, suggesting it and allied networks in the region have more international links than was previously assumed.
Since the chats took place, from mid to late 2008, a sustained crackdown on Southeast Asian groups has continued, resulting in the arrest of Jibriel and the execution of the man identified in the police dossier as one of his most prominent conversationalists.
But the chats refer to other people engaged in contact with international extremists, and experts believe such ties likely continue.
"The transcripts are a wake-up call," said Sidney Jones, a leading international expert on Southeast Asian terror groups. "They show that Indonesian links to Pakistani and Middle Eastern terror groups are real and dangerous, even if limited to a few individuals."
Pope's immunity could be challenged in Britain: (NBC) Protests are growing against Pope Benedict XVI's planned trip to Britain, where some lawyers question whether the Vatican's implicit statehood status should shield the pope from prosecution over sex crimes by pedophile priests.
More than 10,000 people have signed a petition on Downing Street's Web site against the pope's 4-day visit to England and Scotland in September, which will cost U.K. taxpayers an estimated $22.5 million. The campaign has gained momentum as more Catholic sex abuse scandals have swept across Europe.
Although Benedict has not been accused of any crime, senior British lawyers are now examining whether the pope should have immunity as a head of state or whether he could be prosecuted under the principle of universal jurisdiction for an alleged systematic cover-up of sexual abuses by priests.
Universal jurisdiction — a concept in international law — allows judges to issue warrants for nearly any visitor accused of grievous crimes, no matter where they live. British judges have been more open to the concept than those in other countries.
Lawyers are divided over the immunity issue. Some argue that the Vatican isn't a true state, while others note the Vatican has national relations with about 170 countries, including Britain. The Vatican is also the only non-member to have permanent observer status at the U.N.
Then again, no other top religious leaders enjoy the same U.N. privileges or immunity, so why should the pope?
David Crane, former chief prosecutor at the Sierra Leone war crimes tribunal, said it would be difficult to implicate the pope in anything criminal.
"It's a fascinating kind of academic, theoretical discussion," said Crane, who prosecuted Sierra Leone's Charles Taylor when he was still a sitting head of state. "At this point, there's no liability at all."
But Geoffrey Robertson, who as a U.N. appeals judge delivered key decisions on the illegality of conscripting child soldiers and the invalidity of amnesties for war crimes, believes it could be time to challenge the immunity of the pope — and Britain could be the place. He wrote a legal opinion on the topic that was published Friday in the U.S. news site The Daily Beast and Saturday in the British newspaper the Guardian...
U.S. admits role in killing of Afghan women: (NBC) NATO initially denied involvement in the deaths and in any cover-up. After initially denying involvement or any cover-up in the deaths of three Afghan women during a badly bungled American Special Operations assault in February, the American-led military command in Kabul admitted late on Sunday that its forces had, in fact, killed the women during the nighttime raid.
The admission immediately raised questions about what really happened during the Feb. 12 operation — and what falsehoods followed — including a new report that Special Operations forces dug bullets out of the bodies of the women to hide the nature of their deaths.
A NATO official also said Sunday that an Afghan-led team of investigators had found signs of evidence tampering at the scene, including the removal of bullets from walls near where the women were killed. On Monday, however, a senior NATO official denied that any tampering had occurred.
The disclosure could not come at a worse moment for the American military: NATO officials are struggling to contain fallout from a series of tirades against the foreign military presence by the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, who has also railed against the killing of civilians by Western forces.
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has tried hard, and with some success, to reduce civilian casualties through new rules that include restricting night raids and also bringing Special Operations forces under tighter control. But botched Special Operations attacks — which are blamed for a large proportion of the civilian deaths caused by NATO forces — continue to infuriate Afghans and create support for the Taliban.
NATO military officials had already admitted killing two innocent civilians — a district prosecutor and a local police chief — during the raid, on a home near Gardez in southeastern Afghanistan. The two men were shot to death when they came out of their home, armed with Kalashnikov rifles, to investigate.
Three women also died that night at the same home: One was a pregnant mother of 10 and another was a pregnant mother of six. NATO military officials had suggested that the women were actually stabbed to death — or had died by some other means — hours before the raid, an explanation that implied that family members or others at the home might have killed them.
Survivors of the raid called that explanation a cover-up and insisted that American forces killed the women. Relatives and family friends said the bloody raid followed a party in honor of the birth of a grandson of the owner of the house.
On Sunday night the American-led military command in Kabul issued a statement admitting that “international forces” were responsible for the deaths of the women. Officials have previously stated that American Special Operations forces and Afghan forces conducted the operation.
The statement said that “investigators could not conclusively determine how or when the women died, due to lack of forensic evidence” but that they had nonetheless “concluded that the women were accidentally killed as a result of the joint force firing at the men.”
“We deeply regret the outcome of this operation, accept responsibility for our actions that night, and know that this loss will be felt forever by the families,” said Brig. Gen. Eric Tremblay, a spokesman for the NATO command in Kabul.
The admission was an abrupt about-face...
Is the tea party brewing a revolution?: (NBC) Movement unlikely to affect November elections without GOP alliance. They heeded a pamphleteer's call for "manly opposition to the machinations of tyranny" — the 60 American colonists who stormed Griffin's Wharf and emptied 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor. And with that, a revolution brewed.
Now, more than two centuries later, come the angry throngs of the modern-day tea party. They've gotten the nation's attention. Can they foment their own revolution?
The Associated Press reviewed tea party operations in almost every state, interviewing dozens of local organizers as well as Democratic and Republican strategists to produce a portrait of the movement to date — and its prospects for tilting this November's elections.
The bottom line:
Though amplifying widespread voter anger at the political establishment, the tea party movement is unlikely to dramatically affect the congressional elections — unless their local affiliates forge alliances with Republican candidates. And how likely is that? Republican operatives look at the possibility of GOP-tea party collaborations with some anxiety, and many tea party activists frankly don't want to see them.
Born of protest and populism, the United States is a nation of movements — people galvanized by causes, summoned with the latest technologies. But none of those causes — not abolition, women's votes, civil rights or anti-war — was certain to succeed in its first fateful steps, or even to leave a lasting mark.
It's much too early for any long-term verdict on the tea party. Even defining what short-term success would be for its members can be a challenge.
Let's begin with what they're not.
They're sure not Democrats. But many aren't thrilled with the Republicans either.
The tea party itself is not a political party — and there are no signs it ever will be.
It has no single issue around which people rally. It has no clear leader who drives the organization's message, motivates followers and raises money. Indeed, the hundreds of tea party chapters and tens of thousands of its activists cannot agree on the most basic strategic goal: whether to influence the current political system or dismantle it.
The embryonic movement is not as much a force that drives public opinion as a reflection of it.
In the words of a senior Republican consultant: The tea party is a lot of noise, little muscle. But it has plenty of ability to make a scene: The consultant, who is directly involved in plotting the party's Senate elections strategy, insisted his name not be attached to that conclusion, concerned about alienating activists.
Many of those activists want nothing to do with political parties at all.
"The day there's an organized Tea Party in Wisconsin," says Mark Block, who runs tea party rallies in the state, "is the day the tea party movement dies."
America's tea party is a hodgepodge of barely affiliated groups, a home to the politically homeless, the fast-growing swath of citizens who are frustrated with Washington, their own state capitals and the two major political parties. Most describe themselves as conservatives or libertarians. They don't like the change wrought by President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats in Congress.
Republican Pollster David Winston takes a comprehensive look at who comprises the Tea Party movement. Check out his site for more details: The Winston Group
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