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Saturday, Feb 16th

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Obama In Afghanistan On Surprise Trip

U.S. President Barack Obama is in Afghanistan on an unannounced visit that is expected to last several hours. Mr. Obama landed at the Bagram military base north of Kabul Sunday and was flown by helicopter to the presidential palace for meetings with Afghan Preisent Hamid Karzai and other top officials.

He also planned to meet U.S. military officers and troops for a briefing on the offensive against Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan.

U.S. National Security Advisor James Jones told reporters that Mr. Obama is meeting with President Karzai to impress on him the need to "battle the things that have not been paid attention to almost since day one." General Jones did not elaborate, but U.S. officials have pushed for stronger Afghan government efforts against corruption and drugs, and to build credible government services.

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Victims of sex abuse to sue Vatican

Mounting anger at the Catholic Church’s failure to act on predatory priests in the US, Europe and Mexico has plunged the papacy into an institutional crisis described by an American Catholic newspaper last week as “the largest in centuries”.

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'I felt like I was brainwashed': After 40 years of silence, abuse victims of U.S. priest relive ordeal 'that Pope covered up'

Former pupils of a U.S. Catholic priest who molested up to 200 deaf schoolboys have spoken out about his offences after four decades of silence.

Father Lawrence Murphy preyed on students in the confessional, dormitories, cupboards and during field trips from the 1950s until 1974.

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Despite row, U.S. and Israel sign massive arms deal

As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Washington this week absorbing the full wrath of the Obama administration, the Pentagon and Israel's defense establishment were in the process of sealing a large arms deal.

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New details in CIA detainee's death

More than seven years ago, a suspected Afghan militant was brought to a dimly lit CIA compound northeast of the airport in Kabul. The CIA called it the Salt Pit. Inmates knew it as the dark prison. Inside a chilly cell, the man was shackled and left half-naked. He was found dead, exposed to the cold, in the early hours of Nov. 20, 2002.

The Salt Pit death was the only fatality known to have occurred inside the secret prison network the CIA operated abroad after the Sept. 11 attacks. The death had strong repercussions inside the CIA. It helped lead to a review that uncovered abuses in detention and interrogation procedures, and forced the agency to change those procedures.

Little has emerged about the Afghan's death, which the Justice Department is investigating. The Associated Press has learned the dead man's name, as well as new details about his capture in Pakistan and his Afghan imprisonment.

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The Rage Is Not About Health Care

When Social Security was passed by Congress in 1935 and Medicare in 1965, there was indeed heated opposition. As Dana Milbank wrote in The Washington Post, Alf Landon built his catastrophic 1936 presidential campaign on a call for repealing Social Security....When L.B.J. scored his Medicare coup, there were the inevitable cries of “socialism” along with ultimately empty rumblings of a boycott from the American Medical Association.

But there was nothing like this. To find a prototype for the overheated reaction to the health care bill, you have to look a year before Medicare, to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Both laws passed by similar majorities in Congress; the Civil Rights Act received even more votes in the Senate (73) than Medicare (70). But it was only the civil rights bill that made some Americans run off the rails. That’s because it was the one that signaled an inexorable and immutable change in the very identity of America, not just its governance.

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Abrupt end of college tuition help angers military spouses

The Pentagon was overwhelmed by the number of applicants, which had grown from an average of about 10,000 a month to 70,000 in January alone as the nation's economy continued to sputter. Money for the Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts program, known as MyCAA, was rapidly running out. Rather than ask Congress for more cash, Pentagon officials decided to close the program to new applicants and stop payments to those who were already enrolled.

"This was probably, in my view, a mistake," Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Senate Appropriations Committee's defense subcommittee last week, adding that while he expected the program to resume, it eventually could end up costing $1 billion to $2 billion.

Gates said the Pentagon had budgeted $61 million for the program in the current fiscal year and had requested $65 million in the next fiscal year.

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Cancer question complicates 9/11 compensation deal

Of all the illnesses people fear might be caused by toxic dust from the World Trade Center, nothing scares people like cancer. Hundreds of people are suing New York City over cancer diagnoses they received after working at ground zero.

A judge last week rejected a $575 million legal settlement for thousands of sick 9/11 responders in part because he thought it should contain more money for cancer victims.

Yet, statistics show that cancer rates among those who worked in trade center rubble are in line with rates among the general public. The three major research efforts tracking the health of ground zero responders have so far failed to turn up evidence linking any type of cancer to the dust.

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Earth 'entering new age of geological time'

Humans have wrought such vast and unprecedented changes on the planet that we may be ushering in a new period of geological history.Through pollution, population growth, urbanisation, travel, mining and use of fossil fuels we have altered the planet in ways which will be felt for millions of years, experts believe.

It is feared that the damage mankind has inflicted will lead to the sixth largest mass extinction in Earth’s history with thousands of plants and animals being wiped out. The new epoch, called the Anthropocene – meaning new man – would be the first period of geological time shaped by the action of a single species.

Although the term has been in informal use among scientists for more than a decade, it is now under consideration as an official term.

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