Brazil’s Arms Buying Up For Review Again

RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug. 8 (UPI) — Brazil’s multibillion-dollar defense acquisition program is up for review again after the latest high-profile departure from President Dilma Rousseff ‘s Cabinet.

Defense Minister Nelson Jobim, who resigned after criticizing the government, was promptly replaced by former Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, heralding further change in the Latin American country’s military establishment.

Jobim, 65, was one of the key aides of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and oversaw Brazil’s military purchases worth several billion dollars and the start of a long-winded process toward a decision on refurbishing the air force with up to 100 new fighter jets, and development of Brazilian defense industries with technology transfers.

The first phase of the fighter purchase involving up to 36 jets is to come for up for presidential review next year. In the meantime, however, Rousseff has created a stir in the military establishment with her removal of key personnel and decision-makers.

Rousseff’s sweeping overhaul responds to international criticism of alleged corruption at different levels of the government’s decision-making process. There are also charges against some National Congress members, and accusations of politicians inexplicably living beyond their means and enriching themselves and their cronies.

Jobim was the third minister to lose his job since Rousseff became president in January. In June, influential Cabinet chief Antonio Palocci resigned after charges of financial misconduct, and Transportation Minister Alfredo Nascimento left over charges of corruption. Numerous investigations under way are likely to put spotlight on more political personalities.

Jobim attracted the president’s ire after openly criticizing Institutional Relations Minister Ideli Salvatti and Cabinet chief Gleisi Hoffmann in comments attributed to him in a magazine article. Jobim denied making the comments but a deeper rift already appeared to exist after Jobim admitted a few weeks earlier he voted for Rousseff’s arch-rival Jose Serra in the 2010 election that brought Rousseff to power as Brazil’s first woman president.

Jobim’s departure was seen as a further blow to manufacturers’ hopes the jet fighter deal could be decided soon. Three frontrunners in the tender process, U.S. company Boeing, France’s Rafale and Sweden’s Saab are competing for an initial deal for the supply of 36 fighter jets, worth up to $7 billion, with an option on at least 64 additional aircraft of the winning model.

Brazil has made clear its intention to adopt technologies acquired in the purchase for development of its own aircraft manufacturing industries.

Although much of the government’s anti-corruption campaign is a response to aggressive investigative reporting by the Jornal Globo, Folha de Sao Paulo and the Veja magazine, Rousseff has said she doesn’t want her campaign to become a parade in front of the populist press. Instead, she warned, the government is seeking an effective solution to corruption in high places.

Man With Breast Cancer Denied Coverage

CHARLESTON, S.C., Aug. 8 (UPI) — A South Carolina construction worker with breast cancer and no insurance says he’s been denied Medicaid coverage because he’s not a woman.

Raymond Johnson had ignored the lump in his breast, thinking it was a cyst, until the pain prompted a July 4 weekend run to a Charleston emergency room, ABC News reported.

“They thought it had to do with my heart, but I showed them the lump and they sent me to get a biopsy,” Johnson said. “That Tuesday, I was notified I had breast cancer.”

After the shock of the diagnosis came the logical next thought.

“I get paid $9 an hour, I don’t know how I’m going to pay for it,” Johnson said he told his doctors.

As a single, non-disabled man with no children, Johnson couldn’t qualify for South Carolina’s Medicaid program but he was counseled to apply for a program for those diagnosed with breast cancer whose income is 200 percent of the poverty line ($21,780 per year), ABC reported Sunday.

The program was created by Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act of 2000. And is for women only.

Meanwhile, Johnson went to the Charleston Cancer Center, had a baseball-sized tumor removed, ABC said, and on July 11 met at the center with cancer patient advocate Susan Appelbaum.

“Breast cancer is not exclusive to women, I know there’s not near as many cases [in men] but it’s certainly an issue to think about,” Appelbaum said. “What this 26-year-old man is going to endure, with chemo radiation and surgery, we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars. This boy is never going to recover financially.”

Johnson has been sent to the not-for-profit Roper Saint Francis Hospital for his treatment where his bills have already added up to $4,050.

Appelbaum’s been in touch with community leaders and congressional lawmakers trying to change the law and the only bright light she’s received has been from the office of Rep. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who’s given her names of local organizations and individuals who might help out Johnson for now, ABC said.

Travel Warning Issued For Pakistan

WASHINGTON, Aug. 8 (UPI) — The U.S. State Department Monday issued a travel warning for Pakistan, reminding U.S. citizens of ongoing security concerns in that country.

Although Pakistan has upgraded security measures, especially in major cities, the State Department warned the presence of al-Qaida, Taliban and other militant terrorists pose a danger to U.S. citizens.

Terrorists allegedly disguise themselves as Pakistani security personnel to gain access to places where U.S. and other westerners gather such as hotels, schools, clubs, restaurants, outdoor recreation events, shopping areas or places of worship.

Extremists have upped their attacks on U.S. citizens and government personnel since January 2010 in coordinated operations by multiple terrorists using weapons such as car bombs, rocket-propelled grenades, guns, grenades and suicide vests in Rawalpindi, Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar, a State Department release said.

Markets, hotels, and/or restaurants are off limits to official U.S. personnel. It is strongly suggested while in Pakistan U.S. citizens avoid hotels that do not have strict security measures in place. It is also recommended citizens stay alert at all times, the State Department said.

U.S. Special Ops Command Change

TAMPA, Fla., Aug. 8 (UPI) — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta presided over a closed ceremony in Florida Monday giving Adm. William McRaven control of the U.S. Special Operations Command.

McRaven, by reputation one of the most experienced terrorist hunters in the United States military, took over from Adm. Eric T. Olson. Both admirals have extensive battle experience and are highly-decorated Navy SEALs.

McRaven has commanded at every level within special ops and he headed the Joint Special Operations Command, a subcommand overseeing the killing of Osama bin Laden, The Tampa Tribune.

The ceremony attended by Panetta and other dignitaries at MacDill Air Force Base outside Tampa came just three days after the crash of a Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan’s Wardak province killed 38 people including 22 SEALs.

Panetta said the tragedy was a reminder we are a nation still at war.

“The entire world saw the precision and skill of our military in the operation that brought down bin Laden, but we know that these successes are driven by the willingness of these brave warriors to shoulder the burdens, to take on great risks. And as we all know, that comes oftentimes a very high cost.”

“We will honor the fallen by showing the world our unyielding determination to press ahead, to move forward with the hard work that must be done to protect our country. As heavy a loss as this was, it would be even more tragic if we allowed it to derail this country from our efforts to defeat al-Qaida and deny them safe haven in Afghanistan,” Panetta said.

“Mr. Secretary, I guarantee we will not let you down,” McRaven said.

Court Won’t Dismiss Rumsfeld From Suit

CHICAGO, Aug. 8 (UPI) — A federal appeals court in Chicago ruled 2-1 Monday not to remove former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as a defendant in a torture lawsuit.

The suit was brought by two employees of Shield Group Security, Nathan Vance and Nathan Ertel, who say they were imprisoned in Iraq without charge and tortured by the U.S. military for three months after they alleged their company was paying off local officials for contracts.

In 2006, the two men “were released from military custody without ever being charged with a crime. They then filed this suit for violations of their constitutional rights against … Rumsfeld and other unknown defendants” under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, the majority opinion said. “Plaintiffs seek damages from Secretary Rumsfeld and others for their roles in creating and carrying out policies that caused plaintiffs’ alleged torture.”

Rumsfeld and the U.S. government moved to dismiss the claims, but a U.S. judge in Chicago allowed the claims for torture to proceed, citing the Fifth Amendment’s substantive due process clause.

“We agree with the district court (judge) that the plaintiffs may proceed with their … claims against Secretary Rumsfeld,” the majority opinion said. “Taking the issues in ascending order of breadth, we agree first, applying the standards of (the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure) that plaintiffs have alleged in sufficient detail facts supporting Secretary Rumsfeld’s personal responsibility for the alleged torture. Second, we agree with the district court (judge) that Secretary Rumsfeld is not entitled to qualified immunity on the pleadings.”

The opinion said under U.S. law it “was clearly established in 2006 that the treatment plaintiffs have alleged was unconstitutional. No reasonable public official could have believed otherwise.”

The men are making “Bivens” claims, named after the Supreme Court ruling in 1971’s Bivens vs. Six Unknown Named Agents.

“Next, we agree with the district court that a Bivens remedy is available for the alleged torture of civilian U.S. citizens by U.S. military personnel in a war zone,” the opinion said. “We see no persuasive justification in the Bivens case law or otherwise for defendants’ most sweeping argument, which would deprive civilian U.S. citizens of a civil judicial remedy for torture or even cold-blooded murder by federal officials and soldiers, at any level, in a war zone.”

Index: Job Growth Looks Weak For 2011

NEW YORK, Aug. 8 (UPI) — Weak employment growth is expected through 2011, the Conference Board said, citing the Employment Trends Index’s slide in recent months.

The Conference Board Employment Trends Index fell slightly in July to 100.6, down from June’s revised figure of 100.9, the board said Monday in a release. The July figure is up 4 percent from a year ago.

“The Employment Trends Index declined in three of the past four months, and is signaling employment growth of less than 100,000 per month through the end of 2011,” said Gad Levanon, associate director of macroeconomic research at the Conference Board. “Despite weak employment growth in recent months, GDP has been growing even slower in the first half of 2011. There is simply not enough growth in production to warrant stronger hiring.”

The Employment Trends Index aggregates eight labor-market indicators, including a percentage of Conference Board survey respondents who said jobs are hard to get, initial unemployment insurance claims, job openings, number of workers hired by a temp agency and the percentage of firms with positions they can’t fill.

The Conference Board, an independent business membership and research association based in New York, publishes its Employment Trends Index on the Monday that follows the Friday release of the Bureau of Labor Statistics employment report.

ECB To Buy Italian, Spanish Bonds

BRUSSELS, Aug. 8 (UPI) — The European Central Bank said it would buy Italian and Spanish bonds and eurozone countries would have to call legislative sessions on the financial crisis.

In a series of telephone conference calls in the past three days, ECB officials and EU ministers discussed ways to calm market fears after the Standard & Poor’s ratings agency downgraded the U.S. debt from AAA to AA+ last week, EUobserver.com reported Monday.

French and German leaders, in a statement, urged eurozone legislative bodies to meet to ratify a July agreement on expanding the powers of the bloc’s $625.1 billion bailout fund.

Ratification of the fund’s upgrade is considered vital for the European Central Bank to buy Italian and Spanish debt, the EUobserver.com said.

Despite the move, analysts said questions remain about whether the internally divided bank can sustain a battle against market forces as it seeks to preserve its independence, MarketWatch.com reported.

“With [eurozone] politicians offering nothing new over the weekend, the ECB has once again been backed into a corner to save the euro,” said Chris Scicluna, deputy head of economic research at Daiwa Capital Markets. “But by doing so, it has further undermined its credibility as an independent central bank.”

Whale Caught In Fishing Lines Rescued

TOFINO, British Columbia, Aug. 8 (UPI) — A Canadian wildlife group has been credited with saving the life of a humpback whale that had become entangled in crab trap lines, officials said.

The distressed adult whale was discovered by John Forde of the Whale Center in Tofino, British Columbia, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported Monday.

“We cut over 300 feet of rope and three crab floats off of this [whale] and two of the floats were wedged under the tail, keeping the whale above the water more than it should be, and the whole back of the animal and the tail was sun damaged and blistered,” Forde said.

Judging by the wounds made by the lines, he said, the whale was likely entangled several weeks ago.

Tags on the lines indicated they came from an American fishing boat.

Forde said the Whale Center has saved 20 whales in the past two decades.

“[It's an] incredible feeling — euphoric and hard to explain, and you just feel so good after something like this,” he said.

Thefts Climb At JFK Airport

NEW YORK, Aug. 8 (UPI) — Reported larcenies at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport rose 30 percent in the first half of this year compared with the same period last year, officials say.

But the 299 complaints this year have led to only 28 arrests, a 9 percent arrest rate, The New York Post reports.

The Post said the items stolen most frequently are laptops and iPads.

The larcenies include thefts from baggage carousels, unattended property and thefts by baggage handlers and Transportation Security Administration employees.

Excluded are thefts by pickpockets, shoplifting and thefts from cars in airport parking lots.

An unidentified source told the newspaper Port Authority police face pressure from supervisors to reduce the value of stolen properties, which means they’re reported as petit larcenies. Grand larcenies are one of the seven crimes reported to the FBI. Petit larcenies aren’t.

“The bosses are constantly telling us to downgrade grand larcenies to petit larcenies when a stolen item is more than a year old,” the source said. “They want us to take into account depreciation. It’s not enough for us to be cops. They want us to be accountants too.”

The Post said the PA has asked airlines to place more cameras and post more guards in areas where thefts have been reported.

Poll: Tea Party Not Economic ‘terrorists’

ASBURY PARK, N.J., Aug. 8 (UPI) — Most likely U.S. voters say they disagree with recent remarks by prominent Democrats characterizing the Tea Party as economic terrorists, a poll indicates.

Fifty-five percent say members of the Tea Party are not economic terrorists, a Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found.

Just 29 percent believe Tea Party members have been terrorists during the budget debates while 16 are undecided, a Rasmussen release said Monday.

While 53 percent of Democrats in the poll said they view Tea Party members as terrorists, 74 percent of Republicans disagreed.

However, 43 percent of all voters said they think the Tea Party has made things worse for the country in the budget debates in Congress.

The survey of 1,000 likely voters was conducted on Aug. 5-6, 2011 by Rasmussen Reports, which put the margin of sampling error at 3 percentage points.