Thursday, December 24, 2009

Man in wheelchair arrested after standoff

A standoff involving a man who took several people hostage at a Virginia post office has ended without bloodshed, according to the local mayor.

The eight-hour ordeal involving a man believed to be carrying explosives ended with him being taken into police custody and three people being released from the post office in the southwestern Virginia town of Wytheville, on Wednesday.

The town's Mayor Trent Crewe told CNN that fewer than five hostages had been in the building, but added he could not confirm how many people were being held by the time the situation ended.

Local media reports said three people exited the post office after the man, identified as Warren Gator of Tennessee, was arrested.

"We cannot confirm any explosives," Crewe said when the standoff ended, over eight hours after Gator entered the building and fired gun shots.

Multiple bomb squads had been on the scene and the Federal Bureau of Investigation headed negotiations, according to officials.

The gunman's motive was unclear, Crewe said.

The Wytheville Enterprise newspaper, citing police on the scene, said the man entered the post office with five pounds of C-4, a plastic explosive, strapped to a wheelchair.

Reports of explosives prompted local police to cordon off the area around the post office located on Main Street in the small town.

Details of the hostage taker were still limited after the situation ended, although the Wytheville Enterprise reported he was not wheelchair bound.

State Police Sergeant M.T. Conroy "said that the man had pushed the wheelchair into the building," the newspaper reported, but it was unclear for what purpose.

Clinton 'thrilled' Brazil boy reunited with US dad

Nine-year-old boy Sean Goldman (right) embraces his stepfather, Brazilian Joao Paulo Lins e Silva

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she is "thrilled" that a US father and his young son have been reunited after a five-year custody battle involving Brazil, and sent them warm wishes for the holidays.

"I am thrilled that nine-year-old Sean Goldman was reunited with his father David Goldman earlier today in Rio de Janeiro and that they are flying home to New Jersey," Clinton said in a statement.

She thanked "a number of members of Congress and many concerned parties both here and in Brazil" for helping bringing the long standoff to a successful end.

"We also appreciate the assistance and cooperation of the government of Brazil in upholding its obligations under the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction," she said.

"I offer my warmest wishes for father and son as they celebrate their first holiday season together in five years," Clinton added.

Brazilian television earlier showed the Goldmans leaving Brazil Thursday on a chartered private jet for the United States.

The two were reunited just three hours earlier in the US consulate in Rio de Janeiro, in line with a Brazilian supreme court ruling awarding custody to the father, David Goldman.

Alzheimer's May Stave Off Cancer, and Vice Versa

Biological factors that lead to one seem to protect against the other, expert says

Researchers have uncovered a bittersweet relationship between two major illnesses: cancer and Alzheimer's disease.

People who have had cancer are less likely to get Alzheimer's disease, just as having Alzheimer's disease reduces the risk for cancer, their study found.

"Alzheimer's was associated with a rather dramatic reduction in cancer risk," said Dr. Richard Lipton, an attending neurologist at Montefiore Medical Center and professor of neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. "From my perspective, the strengths of the findings are very striking and somewhat unexpected."

There was no link between Alzheimer's and vascular dementia, however, suggesting that the association has to do with neurodegenerative factors. Vascular dementia is attributed to damage to the brain's blood supply.

"Parkinson's and Alzheimer's are both neurodegenerative diseases, where specific populations of cells die without clear reason," Lipton said. "In cancer, specific populations of cells begin dividing wildly and out of control so, very broadly, it makes sense that a condition associated with selective cell death may be associated with a condition associated with proliferation. The biological factors that predispose one to neurodegenerative disease may protect against wild division."

A number of previous studies had hinted at a similar relationship but were subject to the usual limitations of early research.

For example, said Catherine M. Roe, lead author of the new study, published Dec. 23 in Neurology, earlier research could not pinpoint whether cancer patients died before they had a chance to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Roe is an instructor in neurology at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine.

As the accompanying editorial pointed out, the main reason older people with advanced brain tumors don't get Alzheimer's is that they just don't live long enough.

In Roe's study, 3,020 people 65 and older enrolled in a cognition sub-study of the large Cardiovascular Health Study were followed for an average of five years for dementia and eight years for cancer.

Among white participants, those who had Alzheimer's at the start of the study were 69 percent less likely to be hospitalized for cancer. Having cancer meant a 43 percent reduced risk for Alzheimer's.

Among minority participants, the researchers found an opposite trend, but it was not statistically significant, they noted.

There appeared to be no link either way between vascular dementia and cancer.

Next, Roe said, the research team would like to see whether there's an association between Alzheimer's disease and specific types of cancer.

Christmas Eve Celebrations Begin in Bethlehem

A Palestinian man dressed as Santa Claus dances at a pre-Christmas fair held just outside the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, 23 Dec 2009

It's Christmas Eve in the Holy Land and festivities have already begun in the little town of Bethlehem.

Palestinian boy and girl scouts are marching through Manger Square here in Bethlehem, kicking off Christmas Eve celebrations. They are passing the ancient Church of the Nativity, the site where tradition says Jesus was born.

Religion is mixing with nationalism here: decorations include Christmas trees and lights and Palestinian flags.

Although Palestinians complain about Israel's separation wall at the entrance to Bethlehem, the mood is upbeat this Christmas. Bethlehem is enjoying a boom in tourism thanks to a lull in violence. About 50,000 visitors are expected for Christmas, giving a boost to the Palestinian economy.

Reporter Discloses List Of 186 Secret Immigrant Detention Facilities

According to a report published by Jacqueline Stevens in this week’s The Nation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is confining an unknown number of people in 186 secret, unmarked, and unlisted subfield offices. Since the subfield offices are designed to hold detainees in transit, they are not subject to ICE Detention Standards. As a result, Stevens claims ICE has essentially been able to hold individuals charged with a civil infraction in “conditions approaching those no longer authorized for accused terrorists.”

Stevens describes B-18, a Los Angeles storage space converted into an ICE sub-field office, as an “irrationally revolving stockroom that would shuttle the same people briefly to the local jails, sometimes from 1 to 5 am, and then bring them back, shackled to one another, stooped and crouching in overpacked vans.” In 2008, former ICE Director James Pendergraph boasted that, “If you don’t have enough evidence to charge someone criminally but you think he’s illegal, we can make him disappear.” For one B-18 detainee, the worst part of her experience wasn’t the dirt, bugs, or clogged, stinking toilet — it was not knowing how long she would be held in a place where no one in the outside world could find her. B-18 detainees have also been left at the office overnight and forced to sleep on benches or the concrete floor without showers, heat, drinking water, soap, toothbrushes, sanitary napkins, mail, attorneys or legal information.

ICE apparently “fixed the situation” after Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder were named in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and National Immigration Law Center this year. Though the lawsuit was settled and the government promptly took steps to correct many of the problems, it’s still unclear whether the improved B-18 facility represents the norm, or just one of the few exceptions amongst the clandestine network of ICE sub-field offices.

According to an October report by Dora Shriro, then special adviser to Janet Napolitano, subfield offices represent three percent of the average daily detained population and 84 percent of all book-ins. Following Shriro’s report, DHS announced a series of reforms aimed at reining in the web of federal centers, state and county lockups, and for-profit prisons that constitute a multi billion dollar “patchwork” of detention cells created by the Bush administration. However, some critics pointed out that many of the reforms are “so fundamental that you have to wonder what they are replacing.” ICE refused Stevens’ request for an interview and offered no explanation for the lack of public disclosure of subfield office locations and phone numbers.

Better to Give Than Receive? Tell That to This Gun-Toting Santa

Santa robber/metro nashville police photo

Ho Ho Ho?

What’s a Christmas season without some guy dressing up just like Santa and robbing a bank?

On Tuesday, a Santa with gun in tow, robbed the SunTrust Bank at 4809 Old Hickory Boulevard in Hermitage, Tenn., according to the Tennessean newspaper.

The paper reported that the guy then fled in a gray mid-sized car that had been parked in a nearby church parking lot.

Review: A Christmas Carol

This movie not only doesn't feel the need to affirm multicultural ethics, it doesn’t have the compulsion to reshape the image of old British society, as the BBC so frequently does, with fictional token minorities. Instead, it portrays 19th century Britain as it was ethnically and morally with a society that fully gathered around the wonderful holiday that is Christmas.

This past Sunday, I went with my cousins and Oma to see Disney’s 3D animated movie A Christmas Carol and was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Not only does the movie have tremendous graphics and great voice acting by Jim Carrey (who, fortunately, doesn’t attempt to make the role comedic) as Ebenezer Scrooge, it also retains the original story’s wholesome message, unshaped by modern society’s ailments.

Ebenezer Scrooge is an archetypal Objectivist, forsaking love and happiness to line his pockets. He is scornful of the needy and refuses to donate any of his money to charity or even spend an extra schilling to ensure his life-long partner’s ascension to Heaven. This movie thoroughly repudiates the sort of greedy individualism that is pervasive throughout American society. When Scrooge sees the future he is creating for himself and others because of his selfishness, he is finally able to see the light, and not only overcome his vicious ways but also find happiness. Our elites, on the other hand, have seen the future they are creating as well and have yet to change their ways.

The three ghosts Scrooge encounters are some of the most memorable characters I’ve encountered in cinema. The Ghost of Christmas Past, trapped in purgatory because of Scrooge’s stinginess, reveals the tragic story of Scrooge’s past. While some Christmas villians have no redeeming qualities whatsoever, one is truly touched by the story of Scrooge’s troubled past, while still seeing that his problems are his own doing. The Ghost of Christmas Present is probably the most unforgettable character in the film. Robust and merry, I found myself reminded of a mythical god, maybe Zeus or even Thor. The third ghost, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is a mere shadow which leads it to be perhaps the most intriguing, as the viewer is left to his or her own imagination to decide what he is like.

What I found most surprising about the movie is its consistency with the old story and the fact that it remained untouched by modernity’s multiculti-madness. After being exposed to the horrendous movie Shrek and the “virtues” it advocated (crudeness, ugliness, commonality etc.), I figured the likelihood of Disney producing a wholesome flick would be minimal. One friend gave me his opinion on Shrek, saying that “It teaches that tolerance is the sole virtue towering above the rest. All other merits are insignificant.” After a long hiatus from Disney movies, I was quite pleased to see this flick reassert traditional values like generosity, charity, and most importantly, community.

Michael Vick Given Award For Courage

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, who joined the team after serving 18 months in federal prison for his role in a dogfighting ring, has won an award.

Not for his performance on the field, where he's thrown one TD pass and run for two more in a reserve role. Vick has won the team's Ed Block Courage Award.

The award honors NFL players who exemplify commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage. Recipients are selected by their teammates' votes.

"I still have a lot of work to do," Vick said today after receiving the award. "But having my teammates vote me this award shows I'm doing the right thing."

He was given a prison sentence in December 2007 of up to 23 months for killing pit bulls, bankrolling a dogfighting operation and lying about it to authorities.

The Eagles were criticized by many for signing Vick after his release, but he has made no excuses and by most accounts he has been a model citizen so far.

"Congratulations to him for straightening his life around," Eagles coach Andy Reid said of Vick. "He's obviously very well-respected by his teammates."

Quarterback Donovan McNabb called the award "well-deserved."

Vick, whose comeback will be chronicled in a reality show on BET, is now up for the league-wide Ed Block Courage Award with one player from each team.

US jobless claims dip to 15-month low

WASHINGTON — New US claims for jobless benefits dropped to the lowest level since September 2008, government data showed, in a fresh sign of optimism for a weak labor market.

The seasonally adjusted initial claims in the week ending December 19 was 452,000, a decrease of 28,000 from the previous week's unrevised figure of 480,000, the Labor Department said in a report.

It was much lower than the 470,000 figure expected by most economists.

The four-week moving average, a less volatile indicator than the week-to-week figures, fell to 465,250 from the previous week's revised average of 468,000.

The figures suggest the brutal pace of layoffs is easing as the economy pulls out of its worst recession in decades.

The total number of Americans receiving unemployment benefits also fell.

The Labor Department's figures showed the number of seasonally adjusted insured unemployment during the week ending December 12 was 5.076 million, a 127,000 drop from the preceding week's revised level of 5.203 million.

Analysts cautioned that unemployment remained a key problem despite the decline in claims.

"Although the decline in initial and continuing claims is a positive for the labor market, caution should be taken in reading too much into the decline, considering common holiday volatility," said Andrew Gledhill from Moody's

The weekly report offers an up-to-date snapshot of the job market, critical to US economic recovery from recession.

The US labor market witnessed a dramatic improvement in November as the number of jobs lost narrowed to 11,000 and the unemployment rate dipped to 10.0 percent, the government said.

The US economy grew at a 2.2 percent pace in the third quarter, reversing four quarters of contraction.

Yet many economists argue the recovery could be imperiled by high unemployment, limiting consumer incomes and hurting confidence and spending.

David Goldman Reunited With Son Sean, En Route To U.S.

Sean Goldman 9, arrives at the U.S. Consulate in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, hugging his Brazilian stepfather, Joao Paulo Lins e Silva, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2009.(AP Photo/Eduardo Naddar)

David Goldman, whose nine year-old son Sean has been in the custody of his Brazilian relatives for five years, was finally reunited with him today after an arduous legal battle that was basically a reverse Elian Gonzalez situation. The father and son are flying back to the States now according to New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith from Goldman’s home state.

Watch Raw Video Of Sean Goldman, Brazilian Stepfather Joao Paulo Lins e Silva And Attorney Sergio Tostes Flanked By Brazilian Press Outside The U.S. Consulate In Rio De Janeiro

Yemen kills 34 in attack on al Qaeda, including imam to Fort Hood shooter

Yemeni forces killed 34 suspected Al-Qaeda members, including senior leaders, in a dawn raid Thursday in a remote mountainous region of Yemen's Shabwa province, a security source said.
"The raid was carried out as dozens of members of Al-Qaeda were meeting in Wadi Rafadh," said the source, referring to a rugged location about 650 kilometres (400 miles) east of the Yemeni capital.

The head of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Nasser al-Wahishi and his deputy, Saeed al-Saudi Shahrani, were present at the meeting, said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

He added that "members of the group's leadership, including Saad al-Fathani and Mohammad Ahmed Saleh al-Omir, were among those killed."


"Saudis and Iranians at the Wadi Rafadh meeting were also among the dead," said the source, without going into detail.

A second security source told AFP that the raid had been launched after locals had tipped the authorities off about the meeting in Wadi Rafadh.


A raid earlier this month also killed 34 al Qaeda terrorist. Yemen appears o be getting good actionable intelligence and is putting it to good use. It also appears they are getting evidence of cooperation between Iran and al Qaeda. That could invalidate many intelligence assumptions.

Reuters reports that the imam who advised Fort Hood shooter is among the dead. His presence in the meeting suggest that maybe the US was providing some of the intelligence to Yemen. Fox News is also reporting that Awlaki was killed in the attack.