Census: Texas remains country’s fastest growing state
By Steve Campbell | Fort Worth Star-Telegram
FORT WORTH – Even the recession couldn’t derail Texas’ status as the fastest-growing state, according to U.S. census estimates released Wednesday.
Texas gained 478,000 people between July 1, 2008, and July 1, 2009, the Census Bureau said. The next-biggest gainers were California (378,000), North Carolina (134,000), Georgia (131,000) and Florida (114,000).
With 37 million residents, California remains the most populous state. Texas is second with 24.8 million, followed by New York (19.5 million), Florida (18.5 million) and Illinois (12.9 million).
The Lone Star State will likely pass the 25 million mark in the 2010 Census, said Steve Murdock, a Rice University professor and a former director of the U.S. Census.
Taliban video claims to be of captured GI
Infantryman Bowe Bergdahl disappeared off his base in Afghanistan in June
Associated Press Dec. 25, 2009
KABUL – The Taliban released Friday a video purporting to show a U.S. soldier who was captured more than five months ago in eastern Afghanistan.
The media arm of the Afghan Taliban announced last week on an affiliated Web site that a new videotape of Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl was forthcoming. They did not name the American captive, but the only one known is Bergdahl, a U.S. airborne infantryman who was captured by the Afghan Taliban in Paktika province on June 30.
He Shoots, He Skis, and Europe Takes Notice
By KATIE THOMAS
Published: December 24, 2009
As an American in the biathlon, Tim Burke is used to being overlooked by the sport’s most passionate fans.
His German and Norwegian rivals are celebrities in their home countries, where biathlon is broadcast live on television and races draw up to 30,000 spectators. In Germany, he is perhaps best known as the boyfriend of Andrea Henkel, a two-time Olympic gold medalist.
So when Burke took first place in the World Cup standings last weekend – the first time an American has ever done so – his achievement stunned the sport’s mostly European fan base.
Pro-democracy program in Cuba questioned after man detained
By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 25, 2009
The detention of a U.S. government contractor in Cuba has put the spotlight on a secretive U.S. pro-democracy program that ballooned during the Bush administration but has faced persistent questions about its management and effectiveness.
The Cuba program seeks to evade the Communist government’s “information blockade” by sneaking computers, cellphones, DVD players and other communications equipment onto the island. Its budget rose from about $3.5 million in 2000 to $45 million in 2008 under President George W. Bush, who made democracy promotion a priority.
Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo sentenced to 11 years
From Times Online
December 25, 2009
A Chinese court handed down a harsh 11-year sentence to prominent dissident Liu Xiaobo on subversion charges today after he called for sweeping political reforms and an end to Communist Party dominance.
The sentencing of Mr Liu Xiaobo despite international appeals for his release. Rights groups said the harshness of the sentence was a warning to others who challenge China’s one-party rule.
Mr Liu was the co-author of an unusually direct appeal for political liberalization in China called Charter 08. He was detained just before it was released last December. More than 300 people, including some of China’s top intellectuals, signed it.
Pakistan reslices revenue pie: formula for unity?
The government resolved a two-decade conflict over how to share the nation’s revenue. Redistributing wealth – even by a few percentage points – is a first step toward easing the hostilities that have fueled bloody insurgencies and stalled important energy projects.
By Carol Huang Staff writer / December 24, 2009
The technocratic title sounds nothing like a historic agreement.But the 7th National Finance Commission Award that Pakistani federal and provincial government officials hashed out this month resolves a two-decade conflict over how to share the nation’s revenue.
By redistributing wealth – even by just a few percentage points – it marks a first step toward easing the hostilities that have fueled bloody insurgencies and stalled important energy projects.
Not bad for a country in perpetual fear of breaking into its four ethnically divided provinces.
Auschwitz sign ‘stolen to fund Swedish terror attacks’
From The Times
December 24, 2009
Marcus Oscarsson and Jenny Booth
The Nazi gang that ordered the theft of the infamous ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ sign from the gates of Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland planned to sell it to fund violent attacks against the Swedish Prime Minister and Parliament, it was claimed today.
A spokesman for the Swedish security police confirmed that the authorities were taking seriously a threat by a militant Nazi group to disrupt national elections next year.
“We are aware of the information about the alleged attack plans,” said Patrik Peter, the security police spokesman.
“We have taken actions. We view this seriously.”
Georgian-Russian border set to reopen
The Georgian government has confirmed that a border crossing between Russia and Georgia is to be reopened. Georgian-Russian relations have been strained since a short war fought last year.
Ties between Russia and Georgia appeared to be improving on Thursday after a Swiss-brokered deal resulted in a plan to reopen a mountain pass on the border. All border crossings and flights between the two nations have been closed since the August war fought in 2008.
“According to our preliminary verbal agreement with the Russian side, the Verkhny Lars checkpoint will open in early March,” Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Nino Kalandadze told a news conference.
Georgia and Russia fought a brief war last year over the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Opening up the border would be the first sign of thaw in diplomatic ties between Russia and Georgia which were severed after the war.
Behind Israel-Hamas prisoner swap: Shalit family’s influential campaign
Israel and Hamas are reportedly close to a prisoner swap deal that would bring home captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, thanks in no small part to his soft-spoken family’s efforts to mobilize public pressure for his release.
By Joshua Mitnick Correspondent / December 24, 2009
Tel Aviv, Israel
The family of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit prodded Prime Minister Benjamin Netnayahu to the brink of an historic prisoner exchange with Hamas this week, camping outside his office when they sensed the deal was in danger. Then, with an Israeli counteroffer delivered to the Islamist group’s leaders in Gaza, they retreated.
The soft-spoken Shalit family – led by father Noam – has become a force to be reckoned with in Israel, politely but firming keeping up pressure for a deal. They have to walk a careful line, keeping their son at the forefront of public consciousness without making him such a prize that Hamas will raise the stakes for his release above what Israel is willing to accept.
“All the time, we have to figure out when [pressure] is helping and when it could hurt,” says Shimshon Liebman, a neighbor of the family and director of the family-led campaign to free Shalit. “And we also know that the other side is listening to us. We know that our pressure can cause damage.”
In Bethlehem, holiday cheer edges out gloom
Christian communities across the globe celebrate Christmas
BETHLEHEM, West Bank – Thousands of pilgrims from around the world descended on the traditional birthplace of Jesus on Thursday, greeted by choruses, scout troops and rock bands for the most upbeat Christmas celebrations this Palestinian town has seen in years.
But the Holy Land’s top Roman Catholic clergyman reminded followers that peace remains elusive, while the threat of sectarian violence in the Islamic world and the lava spilling from a volcano in the Philippines clouded the celebrations for other Christian communities across the globe.
Argentina’s ‘disappeared:’ Justice at last or reneging on amnesty?
In Argentina, and elsewhere in Latin America, victims of brutal dictatorships are finally getting their day in court. But by trying former officials who were given amnesty, are nations reopening old political wounds?
By Sam Ferguson Contributor / December 24, 2009
Just outside Buenos Aires, in the depths of the Rio de la Plata and the South Atlantic, lie the remains of thousands of bodies.
A generation ago, officials from Argentina’s Naval Mechanics School, known by its Spanish acronym, ESMA, secretly loaded drugged prisoners into aircraft and threw them out over the brown and frigid waters. As many as 5,000 people were “disappeared” at the hands of ESMA, perhaps the most horrifying symbol of South American repression in the 1970s.
Earlier this month, more than 30 years after these crimes were committed, 19 officials from ESMA finally appeared in court.
The trial is the product of a debate emerging all across Latin America: Should amnesty laws passed a generation ago to shield authorities from Latin America’s repressive dictatorships from prosecution still be respected? If so, why?