Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Report: Ex-minister says Gadhafi ordered Lockerbie

Libya's ex-justice minister on Wednesday was quoted as telling a Swedish newspaper that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi personally ordered the Lockerbie bombing that killed 270 people in 1988.

"I have proof that Gadhafi gave the order about Lockerbie," Mustafa Abdel-Jalil was quoted as saying in an interview with Expressen, a Stockholm-based tabloid.

Abdel-Jalil, who stepped down as justice minister to protest the clampdown on anti-government demonstrations, didn't describe the proof.

Expressen's online edition said its correspondent interviewed Abdel-Jalil outside the local parliament in the Libyan city of Al Bayda. A longer version of the interview was to be published in Expressen's paper edition on Thursday.

Gadhafi has accepted Libya's responsibility for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed all 259 people on board and 11 on the ground, and paid compensation to the victims' families. But he hasn't admitted personally giving the order for the attack.

Abdel-Jalil told Expressen that Gadhafi gave the order to Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the only man convicted in the bombing.

"To hide it, he (Gadhafi) did everything in his power to get al-Megrahi back from Scotland," Abdel-Jalil was quoted as saying.

Al-Megrahi was granted a compassionate release from a Scottish prison in August 2009 on the grounds that he was suffering from prostate cancer and would die soon. He is still alive.

Expressen spokeswoman Alexandra Forslund said its reporter in Libya, Kassem Hamade, taped the 40-minute interview, which was conducted in Arabic and translated to Swedish.

Most of the victims in the Lockerbie bombing were Americans, and al-Megrahi's release has been criticized by members of the U.S. Congress and the victims' families.

Bob Monetti, of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, whose 20-year-old son Richard was killed in the bombing, said he's glad to hear a former official say what's been clear to him all along.

"If you went to the trial, there was no question about who did it and why, and who ordered it," Monetti said.

Lisa Gibson, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, lost her 20-year-old brother Ken in the bombing.

"I'm not surprised for him to say that Gadhafi is responsible because ultimately we know that," Gibson said.

Al-Megrahi's trial was conducted at a special Scottish court set up in the Netherlands after years of diplomatic maneuvering.

In Britain, some Lockerbie victims' relatives have questioned his conviction. They argue that insufficient attention was paid to the possibility that the bombing was carried out not by Libyan intelligence but by Iranian-backed Palestinian terrorists.

Their case was bolstered when the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Board raised questions about evidence used to convict al-Megrahi. The former Libyan agent had been in the process of appealing his conviction when he was released.

Before the unrest broke out, Gadhafi had been trying to transform Libya from a pariah state to an accepted member of the international community.

He renounced terrorism and his program for weapons of mass destruction, and paid billions of dollars in compensation to families of Lockerbie victims.

Those decisions paved the way for warmer relations with the West and the lifting of U.N. and U.S. sanctions.

Washington Post

Are Wisconsin's state and local workers overpaid?

Jim Manzi has posted a critique of the Economic Policy Institute's study suggesting that Wisconsin's public-sector workers are underpaid relative to their private-sector counterparts.
It basically boils down to the argument that this sort of thing is hard to measure. The study controls for most every observable worker characteristic that we can imagine controlling for.
But there are, Manzi says, an "all-but-infinite" number of differences beyond that.

Perhaps going into the public sector says something about a person's level of ambition, or ability to take risks and tolerate stress, or tendency to innovate -- something that, in turn, makes the private-sector worker worth more or less to the economy.

And fair enough. Maybe there is some systemic difference between Hispanic women with bachelor's degrees and 20 years of work experience who put in 52-hour weeks in the public sector and Hispanic women with bachelor's degrees and 20 years of work experience who put in 52-hour weeks in the private sector.

If anyone has some evidence for that, I'm open to hearing it. But the EPI study is aimed at a very specific and very influential claim: that Wisconsin's state and local employees are clearly overpaid. It blows that claim up.
Even in Manzi's critique, there's nothing left of it. So at this point, the burden of proof is on those who say Wisconsin's public employees make too much money.

By Ezra Klein

Obama Orders End to Defense of Federal Gay Marriage Law

WASHINGTON — President Obama, in a major legal policy shift, has directed the Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act — the 1996 law that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages — against lawsuits challenging it as unconstitutional.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. sent a letter to Congress on Wednesday saying that the Justice Department will now take the position in court that the act should be struck down as a violation of same-sex couples’ rights to equal protection under the law.

“The president and I have concluded that classifications based on sexual orientation warrant heightened scrutiny and that, as applied to same-sex couples legally married under state law,” a crucial provision of the act is unconstitutional, Mr. Holder wrote.

The move is sure to be welcomed by gay-rights advocates, who had often criticized Mr. Obama for moving too slowly in his first two years in office to address issues that concern them. Coming after the administration successfully pushed late last year for repeal of the military’s ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly, the change of policy on the marriage law could intensify the long-running political and ideological clash over same-sex marriage as the 2012 presidential campaign approaches.

While Mr. Obama has long argued that the Defense of Marriage Act is bad policy and has urged Congress to repeal it, his administration has also sent Justice Department lawyers into court to defend the statute’s constitutionality.

The new position will require the administration to file new briefs in such litigation, including a major case now pending before the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, in Boston.

Congress may decide to appoint its own lawyers to defend the law, or outside groups may try to intervene in the cases in order to mount legal arguments in the law’s defense. Mr. Holder said that the administration would continue to enforce the act unless and until Congress repeals it, or a court delivers a “definitive verdict against the law’s constitutionality.”

“Our attorneys will also notify the courts of our interest in providing Congress a full and fair opportunity to participate in the litigation in those cases,” he wrote. “We will remain parties to the case and continue to represent the interests of the United States throughout the litigation.”

The decision to change position grew out of an internal administration policy argument, first reported by The New York Times in January, over how to respond to two lawsuits filed late last year in New York.

Citing an executive-branch duty to defend acts of Congress when plausible arguments exist that they are constitutional, the Obama administration had previously argued that legal challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act should be dismissed.

But those lawsuits were filed in circuits that had precedents saying that when gay people say a law infringes on their rights, judges should use a test called “rational basis” to evaluate that claim. Under that standard, the law is presumed to be constitutional, and challengers must prove that there is no conceivable rational government basis for enacting it, a hard standard for challengers to meet.

But the new lawsuits were filed in districts covered by the appeals court in New York. That court has no precedent establishing which legal test judges should use when evaluating claims that a federal law violates gay people’s rights.

That vacuum meant that the administration’s legal team had to perform its own analysis of whether gay people were entitled to the protection of a test known as “heightened scrutiny.” Under that test, it is much easier to challenge laws that unequally affect a group, because the test presumes that such laws are unconstitutional, and they may be upheld only if the lawmakers’ purpose in enacting them served a compelling governmental interest.

In his letter, Mr. Holder said the administration legal team had decided that gay people merited the protection of the “heightened scrutiny” test, and that under that standard, the Defense of Marriage Act was impossible to keep defending as constitutional.

Nightclub Worker Alleges Abuse in Lawsuit

LAS VEGAS -- A blistering lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court alleges that the glittering Las Vegas nightclub industry has a dark underside -- one that has destroyed lives and uses young women as expendable playthings.

The suit was filed by a former employee of the Light Group, which is the largest club operator in Las Vegas. The woman claims she was fed drugs and booze on a daily basis and, like her fellow cocktail waitresses, was expected to have sex with customers. The lawsuit alleges conspiracy, assault, sexual harassment and more.

The world got a small glimpse under the tent of the Las Vegas nightclub scene when the Tiger Woods scandal broke. Woods was one of the celebrity customers at these clubs and reportedly had sexual affairs with women who worked there.

The lawsuit filed by a Jane Doe rips open the door of that tent. It provides grim and graphic details about how one particular nightclub empire allegedly recruits attractive young women, still in their teens, and then grooms them with a steady diet of booze and drugs to do anything high-rolling customers might want.

For Jane Doe, the wild ride started at age 19 when a company host recruited her by taking her to a bar for drinks. She alleges they knew she was underage.

"Once we got there, he did give us cocaine. Before I did it, I said I was nervous because you usually don't do cocaine in front of people who you are trying to work for. I found that a bit odd. I asked him, 'I can't do this if I am going to have a drug test for this interview to be working at a hotel.' He said, 'The Light Group is perfect for you. Why do you think we all work here? This is the company to work for if you want to do drugs,'" she said.

It is not exactly a revelation that drug use is widespread in Las Vegas nightclubs. After all, people come here to party. But there is nothing casual about substance abuse described in the explosive lawsuit that alleges booze and drug use that is systemic. It was not only tolerated but condoned by management, according to Jane Doe, who was promoted into the pulse pounding madness of Jet, a nightclub at Mirage as a cocktail server.

She says she was taught how to entice customers into spending more money. The lawsuit alleges the female employees were encouraged to drink and do drugs and have sex with high-rolling customers -- not just celebrities, but with anyone who spends big money.

"Sex is encouraged. Once a girl engages in that behavior with a client, management will expect it from you so that it happens again. Once you do it once, you show you are willing to be a company girl and they love that," she said.

Jane didn't always want to be a part of the wild Las Vegas nightclub scene. She was a high school cheerleader, an honor student, studying graphic design in college when she was recruited to work for the Light Group.

Once she heard about the money being made by women inside the company's nightclubs, she started partying with co-workers, lost interest in school, dyed her hair, and got breast implants. Cocaine and booze were widely used by employees, she says, including her.

"I didn't say they forced me to do it, but they definitely condone it. They encourage it. Once you put it out there that you are willing to do it, they make it very accessible for you," she said. "I did it to maintain my body -- very thin with huge boobs -- and that fit the image. I wanted to look good to keep my job."

Appearances were everything, she says. In her lawsuit, Jane claims cocktail servers had to undergo what she called a nightly boob check by managers. Jane says celebrities would have everything comped and would be showered with female attention as an enticement to non-celebrity high-rollers.

"The girls are all over them -- girls dancing behind them in tiny little dresses, surrounded by alcohol and beautiful women everywhere. And if you have enough money and are an onlooker, you want that too. We make you want that," she said.

The Light Group is an unqualified success story. In just the past five years, it has expanded to 16 clubs, restaurants, and pools that rake in $160 million a year, even during a recession. A cocktail waitress like Jane could make $3,000 in a weekend.

The lure of that kind of money, plus the glitz and glamour of the constant party, is powerful. But the reality, according to the lawsuit, is a pervasive atmosphere where women are not only groped by customers, but also by managers and co-workers.

"Touching, grabbing, lots of verbal sexual harassment that comes off as joking. And that's what they do, make harassment funny. Use it as a joke so every situation is lightened so someone taps your ass, sorry. Then later, they squeeze it and it started out as a smack," she said. "They do it so often that, like everything else like the drug use, it becomes normal. So you forget that it's not supposed to go on and its inappropriate because you see it every day and it happens to you every day."

One of Jane's friends, a VIP hostess named Desiree, was considered the go-to girl for the club, the one who made the most money by "taking care of high rolling customers." But Desiree died of a drug overdose in 2009.

The same almost happened to Jane, she claims. After a year at Jet, her manager asked if she needed to go to rehab and she said she needed help.

"I thought they would send me the next day, but they kept me on the schedule, worked me the next day and the next until Monday, still supplying me with drugs and alcohol. And then they sent me home Tuesday morning to die in a park," she said.

After five days of non-stop partying at work, she attempted suicide and was found by a jogger in a park and rushed to a hospital. She was in convulsions, a shadow of her former self.

"You see a withering shell of a daughter I don't know," said her father. "She looked like she was dead -- pale, thin, maybe 95 pounds."

Attorneys Al Marquis and Michael Amador filed the lawsuit knowing that Jane made the decision to drink and use drugs. They allege the company actively promoted excessive behavior and specifically recruited young girls into the business.

"This is their business plan. This is not just one rogue employee, it's from the owner on down through the hosts and the managers. Everyone is engaged in this activity and they all make it clear to these girls that if you don't do what we want, you will be fired because there's 50 other girls waiting to take your place," said Marquis. "This is a company that exploits young women by using alcohol and cocaine, the lure of the glamour, they get to dress up and party, be with famous people, and it all sounds good to a 19-year-old solicited to work there. And after awhile, they lose all sense of reality. Everyone there is drinking and everyone is using cocaine, getting groped and molested in this place and it seems normal to young girls who haven't been around long enough to know they can say no."

In a statement responding to the lawsuit, the Light Group said, "The Light Group sympathizes with the difficult circumstances that result from substance abuse for the abuser and the family. It is never advisable to discuss legal matters outside of court, however the outrageous accusations made in this case require a strong and clear response: These allegations are completely untrue and will be proven so through the legal system."

TV8 Las Vegas

Poll: Americans favor union bargaining rights

Americans strongly oppose laws taking away the collective bargaining power of public employee unions, according to a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll.
The poll found 61% would oppose a law in their state similar to such a proposal in Wisconsin, compared with 33% who would favor such a law.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators in Wisconsin have proposed cutting union rights for most state government workers and making them pay more for benefits. Ohio, New Jersey, Indiana, Iowa and other states with Republican governors are considering similar laws.

Thousands gathered in Madison for an eighth day to protest Walker's plan. Rallies were also held in Columbus, Ohio, Des Moines and Montpelier, Vt.

"Most people ... mistakenly think worker rights come from collective bargaining," Walker told USA TODAY Tuesday. He said his plan would not remove union workers' protections from wrongful termination or inappropriate discipline or hiring. "When you alter collective bargaining, it doesn't alter workers' rights," he said.

Fourteen Democratic legislators have left the state for the past week to keep the Senate from having a quorum needed to vote on the bill. Democrats in the Indiana House of Representatives also stayed away from their Capitol on Tuesday as unions protested Republican-backed labor bills.

Almost two-thirds of those polled say their states face budget crises, but respondents oppose or are split on potential solutions, from tax hikes to spending cuts. "This underlines the difficulty of solving these problems," Jeffrey Jones of Gallup says. "It's hard to find a consensus on what to do."

Brain Reacts to Cellphones

Study Finds Region Nearest Antenna Is More Active; Health Implications Unknown

Cellphone use appears to increase brain activity in regions close to where the phone antenna is held against the head, according to a new study, but researchers said the implications for health are still unknown.

The study is the first to demonstrate that radiation from the devices has a direct impact on some brain cells, and is likely to fuel a long-running debate over the safety of cellular phones.

"This study shows that the human brain is sensitive to electromagnetic radiation coming out of cellphones," said Nora Volkow, an author on the study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. "That is something we need to face."

However, "our finding does not tell us if this is harmful or not," said Dr. Volkow, who is head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Some medical experts have been concerned for years about the possible long-term health consequences of frequent cellphone use. The city of San Francisco voted in June to require cellphone retailers to post the amount of radiation emitted by each phone because of the concern.

The Federal Communications Commission sets radiation exposure standards for wireless communication devices aimed at limiting the amount of radiation that is absorbed by the body, and determined that a safe limit for a cellphone user is 1.6 watts per kilogram, averaged over one gram of tissue, in the U.S. and slightly less restrictive in most other countries, according to the FCC's website.

Results from studies looking at the health effects have been mixed. Some large-scale studies have found a link between cellphone use and brain cancer, but they haven't been able to show that the cancer was caused by cellphone radiation.

The main concern is that radiation from phones could cause DNA mutations or changes to chemicals in the brain, leading to tumors or cognitive decline. But to date there is no known evidence that the frequency of the waves emitted from phones are powerful enough to cause such changes, according to Reto Huber, a professor at the University Children's Hospital Zurich who has published several studies on electromagnetic fields and cellphones but wasn't part of this latest study.

In Tuesday's study, researchers from the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., and Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York measured glucose metabolism—how much sugar a cell takes in to fuel activity—in the brains of 47 adults, the largest study of its kind to date.

The researchers found that some brain regions near the antenna became significantly more active when a cellphone was turned on and held to the ear, even though the participants didn't speak or listen to a conversation, compared with when the phones weren't activated.

The increase in brain activity in those regions was comparable to the increase in level of glucose metabolism used by the visual cortex when someone talks—about 8% to 10%, according to Dr. Volkow.

Dr. Huber's group in Switzerland has conducted similar studies by measuring blood flow to brain regions—another indicator of brain activity—and found that there is an increase in flow to regions close to where the cellphone was held.

Mitchel Berger, a neuro-oncologist at the University of California, San Francisco, called the findings "very interesting and provocative" but said they don't increase his concerns about the safety of cellphones.

"You could get confused very rapidly and think this finding is equated with a health hazard," said Dr. Berger, who wasn't involved in the study. "What it tells us is at the frequencies these phones currently generate, there are [brain] regions that are hyperactive."

Nevertheless, "I think until we really understand the very long-term effects with these newer phones it's not unreasonable to ask people to use headphones or speakers," said Dr. Berger.

If there aren't negative long-term effects, cellphones could be used as a non-invasive way to stimulate parts of the brain in a therapeutic sense, such as for depression treatment, said Dr. Volkow.