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 41 
 on: Sep 01, 2014, 10:14 AM 
Started by Deva - Last post by Deva
Hi, Upasika. Thanks for posting your insights! Yes, your understanding is correct. I wanted to add for sake of clarification that the intensity of the transit is also due to transiting Pluto conjunct the South Node in Capricorn in the 8th and a first Saturn return. Yes, I did feel that a big wave was overhead and carried into a new space during this time! There are no natal skipped steps in my chart but relative to the transits at that time deep evolutionary lessons where being enforced and revisited.

Ultimately it lead to a lot of personal growth via a ongoing liberation and breaking free process. There was a new found strength and courage to establish a life path I felt most connect/aligned with at Soul/heart level (felt inspired and guided towards as you accurately mentioned).

Namaste

Deva

 42 
 on: Sep 01, 2014, 08:59 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Rasmussen: NATO Upgrade to Mean Bigger E.Europe Presence

by Naharnet Newsdesk
01 September 2014, 16:46

NATO will upgrade its military readiness at a summit this week to provide a more visible presence in eastern European member states spooked by Russia's actions in Ukraine, alliance head Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Monday.

The summit in Wales will specifically bolster NATO's rapid response force, creating a spearhead of "several thousand troops" which could be deployed within "very few days" to meet any new threat, Rasmussen told a news conference in Brussels.

This will "ensure that we have the right forces and the right equipment in the right place, at the right time," he said.

"That also means a more visible NATO presence in the East for as long as required."

NATO's newer members, such as Poland, and the Baltic states once ruled from Moscow, have been badly unnerved by the Ukraine crisis, fearing Russia could turn its sights on them.

In response, NATO has rotated small numbers of troops and aircraft through the region to reassure its allies and Washington has been at pains to stress that the alliance will honor its commitment to help any ally coming under attack.

Rasmussen made the point again Monday.

The new measures were being taken "not because NATO wants to attack anyone but because the dangers and the threats are more present and more visible ... we will do what it takes to defend our allies."

This increased commitment in the east will involve the rotation of troops through member states at upgraded military facilities, with equipment pre-positioned to speed up the response time, Rasmussen said.

Since the troops would not be permanently based there, it would not breach the terms of the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, which fixed Europe's post-Cold War borders, he said.

Rasmussen repeated that NATO remained committed to the Founding Act provisions, which laid down the need for peaceful change in international borders, while Russia was "in blatant breach."

The NATO summit Thursday and Friday is expected to be dominated by the Ukraine crisis, which Rasmussen and many others see as the most severe threat to Euro-Atlantic security in a generation.

 43 
 on: Sep 01, 2014, 08:58 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Rasmussen: NATO Upgrade to Mean Bigger E.Europe Presence

by Naharnet Newsdesk
01 September 2014, 16:46

NATO will upgrade its military readiness at a summit this week to provide a more visible presence in eastern European member states spooked by Russia's actions in Ukraine, alliance head Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Monday.

The summit in Wales will specifically bolster NATO's rapid response force, creating a spearhead of "several thousand troops" which could be deployed within "very few days" to meet any new threat, Rasmussen told a news conference in Brussels.

This will "ensure that we have the right forces and the right equipment in the right place, at the right time," he said.

"That also means a more visible NATO presence in the East for as long as required."

NATO's newer members, such as Poland, and the Baltic states once ruled from Moscow, have been badly unnerved by the Ukraine crisis, fearing Russia could turn its sights on them.

In response, NATO has rotated small numbers of troops and aircraft through the region to reassure its allies and Washington has been at pains to stress that the alliance will honor its commitment to help any ally coming under attack.

Rasmussen made the point again Monday.

The new measures were being taken "not because NATO wants to attack anyone but because the dangers and the threats are more present and more visible ... we will do what it takes to defend our allies."

This increased commitment in the east will involve the rotation of troops through member states at upgraded military facilities, with equipment pre-positioned to speed up the response time, Rasmussen said.

Since the troops would not be permanently based there, it would not breach the terms of the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, which fixed Europe's post-Cold War borders, he said.

Rasmussen repeated that NATO remained committed to the Founding Act provisions, which laid down the need for peaceful change in international borders, while Russia was "in blatant breach."

The NATO summit Thursday and Friday is expected to be dominated by the Ukraine crisis, which Rasmussen and many others see as the most severe threat to Euro-Atlantic security in a generation.

 44 
 on: Sep 01, 2014, 07:24 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
In the USA...United Surveillance America

McCain Demands Obama Lays Out Policy To Defeat ISIS, But Can't Give Specifics Himself

By Heather September 1, 2014 5:00 am
CrooksAndLiars

Sen. John McCain took to the airways on his gazillionth appearance on the Sunday shows this weekend and when asked for specifics on what U.S. policy should be to defeat ISIS, demanded that President Obama should come up with one.

Someone please explain to me why anyone thinks this bitter old warmonger and his opinions are worth listening to? He has absolutely no solutions for anything when it comes to our foreign policy other than to attack President Obama at every turn, and to demand we pour more arms into every volatile are of the world and hope for the best.

As Jon Stewart pointed out to us not that long ago, McCain has continually been on the wrong side of issue after issue, but sadly that never seems to stop the networks from having him on week after week to spew venom as he did again on this Sunday's Face the Nation:

    GARRETT: Senator John McCain joins us now from Cottonwood in his home state of Arizona.

    Senator, specifically as you can, can you describe for our audience what a full-blown strategy against ISIS would look like?

    MCCAIN: A full-blown strategy would be recognizing that we now are facing the largest, most powerful, wealthiest terrorist organization in history, and it is going to require some very strong measures to defeat them.

    And they must be defeated, not contained. And we -- first of all, we have to have a strategy. The president said he didn't. But what are our goals there? If you want to build coalitions, what are you telling our allies, that we want to save people who are stranded on mountaintops or protect American troops?

    You have to have a specific strategy to defeat ISIS. And that means, among other things, understanding that ISIS has obliterated the boundaries between Syria and Iraq, main headquarters being in Syria. So we have to get better weapons to the Peshmerga. We have to have airstrikes in Syria as well as Iraq.

    We have to arm the FSA, the Free Syrian Army. One of the biggest mistakes ever made in my view in recent times was the president's overruling his entire national security team, including the secretary of state, that argued two years ago for providing weapons for the Free Syrian Army. That was a seminal moment.

    Remember, this is a president who said it is not a matter of whether, but a matter of when Bashar al-Assad would go. We have to have reconciliation between the Sunni and the new government in Iraq. And most of all, we have to have a clear strategy dictated by a policy, and that policy has to be, we have to defeat ISIS, not contain, not stop, but defeat ISIS, because they are a direct threat over time to the United States of America.

    GARRETT: Let me pick up on that, Senator McCain. Are you saying we are at war and should say so clearly to the world and to Congress with ISIS, and does that also mean introducing special forces into the mix?

    MCCAIN: I think that it requires additional U.S. troops, not ground combat units, but it is going to require some more special forces. It is going to require some more forward air controllers. It is going to require some more advisers for training of the Iraqi military, which right now is, as we all know, near collapse.

    And we have to also work closely with the Kurds and help a very -- especially with weapons to the Peshmerga, which is a very -- they can fight, and Iraqis will fight. But there has to be a policy and a strategy to implement that policy. And first we have to tell -- if we want to build a coalition, we have to tell those people what our goals are.

    And these people, by the way, are very cynical, particularly the Saudis and others, because we said we were going to strike Syria, and then the president reversed himself without even telling them.

    GARRETT: Is this a war footing we should be on with ISIS? Does it represent that much of a danger, and should that be the organizing principle of the strategy whenever it is developed?

    MCCAIN: I think it starts with an understanding that this is a direct threat to the United States of America, that it may be one of the biggest we have ever faced.

    I was astounded when the president of the United States said that the world has always been messy and it has been accentuated by social media. That means that the president of the United States is either in denial or overwhelmed. He is either in denial or overwhelmed, one of the two, because whether it be Ukraine, which maybe we will have time for a few minutes on, but that this is a direct threat to the United States of America.

Jon Soltz did a nice job laying out just what else McCain has been perpetually wrong about a couple of weeks ago at the HuffPo: The Media and John McCain: How Someone Always Wrong Is Always on TV

***********

The Media and John McCain: How Someone Always Wrong Is Always on TV

Posted: 08/19/2014 1:52 pm EDT Updated: 08/19/2014 2:59 pm EDT
HuffingtonPose

Last month, Jon Stewart challenged John McCain to a "Wrong Off," betting that all the times Senator McCain has been wrong about, well, anything, far outnumbers the times Stewart has been proven wrong.

I thought about that, when John McCain was on a Sunday talk show last weekend (State of the Union on CNN), this time as some kind of supposed expert on Iraq. The network, as pretty much all the other networks have, gave him an unfettered block of TV time to criticize the president, and lay out what he would do.

Why?

The number of times that Senator McCain hasn't just been wrong, but deadly wrong, on matters of our security is nearly impossible to count.

Maybe the DC fishbowl has convinced itself that Senator McCain has been prescient. Well, I'm here to give them a quick education, because many of us who have served in the these conflicts are less convinced.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN -- WRONG ON IRAQ

In the leadup to the Iraq war, Senator McCain told anyone who would listen that there was a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. Among many, many others, the 9/11 Commission found that not to be true.

Senator McCain said he, like Dick Cheney, thought we would be welcomed as liberators. Of course, we now look back at that warm welcome -- over 4,400 dead American troops, tens of thousands upon tens of thousands wounded. In Iraq in 2003 it became apparent quickly there were no WMD on the ground, a complete error in judgement.

After seeing that he was so, so wrong on Iraq, you think people would stop asking him about it. Or, you would think Senator McCain would slip out the back door. But, nope. He kept talking....

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN -- WRONG ON THE SURGE IN IRAQ

Instead of saying, "Wow, John McCain was wrong on Iraq. Let's not ask him about the disaster it is turning in to," everyone in DC apparently had collective amnesia, and turned to Senator McCain as a legitimate opinion on what to do.

Having screwed up badly in supporting the launch of a war in Iraq, John McCain didn't quit. He didn't just support the idea of surge of troops in Iraq -- he wrote the Senate resolution in support of it.

That resolution stated that a surge of troops would help the Iraqis meet all sorts of benchmarks -- from disarming militias, to creating a power sharing government, to settling and splitting oil revenues. Of course, that didn't happen, as I, and others, predicted, when we opposed the surge. The reason was simple -- the surge was a "shaping operation." It might set conditions for success by providing greater security, but the definitive endstate -- the true goal of the surge -- fell to Iraqi political leaders, who were nowhere near ready to settle their differences.

And, here we are today. The surge failed at doing what Senator McCain predicted it would. Iraq still doesn't make all groups feel inclusive (which has led to Sunnis letting ISIS get as far as it has). There is no settlement on oil revenues. Sunnis have been isolated by the Maliki government. All the surge did was keep the cork on the bottle, but all of the underlying issues remained, to the point that we now have to send special forces back into Iraq.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN -- WRONG ON THE END OF THE WAR IN IRAQ

Now having messed up badly, twice, but like some kind of Svengali, Senator McCain continued to make Washington insiders think he knew what he was talking about.

And so, Senator McCain got quoted as saying that President Obama ending the war in Iraq would be "viewed as a strategic victory for our enemies in the Middle East, especially the Iranian regime." Never mind that US troops left Iraq under an agreement signed by George W Bush. Never mind that the Iraqi government wouldn't extend immunity to US troops. And never mind that disobeying the wishes of a sovereign democracy our troops died trying to set up was asking us to leave.

In fact, launching the war itself was the biggest strategic victory that Iran had seen in a long time, as Saddam Hussein was, for a long time, the biggest thorn in their side. He was replaced by Nouri al-Maliki, who was so friendly to Iran that he held on to power only because Tehran helped create a governing coalition, even though his political party didn't win the most seats in Parliament.

The irony, of course, is that, because the surge failed to bring about the unity that Senator McCain said it would, we're now talking with Iran, and on their side, as we protect Iraq from the ISIS offensive. Oh, also, ISIS is made up of many of the same insurgents who killed our troops in Iraq, under the name al Qaeda in Iraq. That brings us to...

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN -- WRONG ON ARMING SYRIAN REBELS

As far back as 2012, John McCain was advocating the arming of Syrian rebels. And he continued that call through 2013 and beyond. For some reason, folks in Washington paid attention to that. Here, John McCain was advocating arming the same folks who killed American troops.

He even went to Syria and took a picture with them.

And so, we sent small arms over to Syria. And what happened?

A particular segment of the rebels -- ISIS -- consolidated a bunch of the territory in Syria, including oil wells, using some of those arms. This allowed them funding, and an extended campaign across Syria and into Iraq, raiding the Iraqi Army of its American-made vehicles and weapons - military equipment that was only there because of Senator McCain's support for an invasion of Iraq in the first place.

In many ways, all the moves that Senator McCain supported allowed ISIS to form and grow. There is no organized insurgency in Syria. Rebels fight with rebels who fight with rebels. There was no possible course of action that would have allowed moderate rebels to fight ISIS. That is simply the words of something afraid to admit their opinions on Syria have let to chaos in Iraq.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN -- WRONG ON THE SURGE IN AFGHANISTAN

Senator John McCain, not seeing his surge in Iraq had failed, couldn't wait to get started on a new surge, in 2010, this time in Afghanistan.

Senator McCain said we would see signs of success in Afghanistan in just 18 months. He said it wasn't even as tough as Iraq.

How'd that work out? Our own military has determined that the surge in Afghanistan was a failure. The Afghan military simply will be unable to hold all the terrain we recovered during the surge once we depart.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN -- WRONG ON LIBYA

Is there any region that Senator McCain doesn't want to invade or send arms to? In 2011, Senator McCain advocated sending arms and training to Libyan rebels. He promised that, if we did, we'd see "the beginning of a peaceful and inclusive transition to democracy that will benefit all Libyans.

And so, we sent arms. They were captured by extremists. Northern Mali was completely destabilized, which to that point had been a strong example of a West African democracy.

Amid all the failure, as Libya devolved, Senator McCain maintained that he actually had wanted US led airstrikes in Libya, all along, and the country was only falling apart because President Obama agreed to NATO air strikes, not US-led airstrikes.

And today? How's all that "beginning of a peaceful and inclusive transition to democracy that will benefit all Libyans" going?

Yeah, about as well as the time we were welcomed as liberators to Iraq.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN -- WRONG ON THE GI BILL

It isn't just foreign affairs that John McCain is wrong about. For whatever reason, Washington, DC considers McCain an expert on the military. And so, when every veterans group supported a new GI Bill, for the 21st century, Senator McCain opposed it, and Washington media all flocked around him to hear what he had to say.

Senator McCain stated that a more generous GI Bill would lead to a mass exodus of noncommissioned officers, who would quit on the military, to go to college.

The truth is, retention has not become an issue, since the new GI Bill was passed, over Senator McCain's bloviating.

The irony of it is that there actually was a retention problem -- before the passage of the new GI Bill. Young officers were leaving quickly. Most of the reason behind that was connected to the war in Iraq. So, in a way, John McCain was responsible for the kind of exodus of young officers that he wrongly feared would happen under the GI Bill.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN -- WRONG ON DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL

Perhaps no issue got Senator McCain more worked up, and more obstinate than dropping the ban on gays openly serving in the military.

It will lead to a mass exodus of troops who won't want to serve alongside gay servicemembers! It will lead to adverse effect on battle readiness and effectiveness! I was in Iraq in 2011 when the law changed. Not a single thing changed on the ground and none of that happened.

This list could go on, and on, and on. Does anyone have a 100 percent success record in making predictions? Of course not. Anyone who has been on TV will make declarations that end up not being right -- myself included.

But, perhaps there is no one who does it more consistently, and on the biggest issues, than Senator John McCain.

And yet, he's been on Sunday shows 10 times this year, already. He was on 25 times, last year. He continues to be the darling of the inside-DC media.

So far, in 2014, public confidence in news media is at a record low. I can't blame Senator McCain for all of that. But his constant appearances on our airwaves as some kind of "expert," certainly isn't helping.

Update: A petition to the Sunday shows, asking them to stop inviting Senator McCain on has been launched, right here. http://action.votevets.org/page/s/mccain

***************

Americans' Confidence in News Media Remains Low

Across newspapers, TV, and Internet, confidence no higher than 22%
by Andrew Dugan

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans' faith in each of three major news media platforms -- television news, newspapers, and news on the Internet -- is at or tied with record lows in Gallup's long-standing confidence in institutions trend. This continues a decades-long decline in the share of Americans saying they have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in newspapers or TV news, while trust in Internet news remains low since the one prior measure in 1999.

These results are from a Gallup poll conducted June 5-8.The three major sources of news ranked in the bottom third of 17 different U.S. institutions measured in the poll.

Confidence in newspapers has declined by more than half since its 1979 peak of 51%, while TV news has seen confidence ebb from its high of 46% in 1993, the first year that Gallup asked this question. Gallup's only previous measure of Internet news was in 1999, when confidence was 21%, little different from today.

Conservatives' Confidence in Newspapers Tied at 10-Year Low

Slightly less than one-fifth of self-identified conservatives (15%) say they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in newspapers, tied with the 10-year low. In the past decade, the percentage of conservatives expressing a strong degree of confidence in newspapers has fallen by nearly half. Liberals are far more likely than conservatives -- or than the adult population in general -- to be confident in newspapers (34%). Nearly a quarter of moderates (24%), meanwhile, have confidence in newspapers.

While liberals are more likely to have confidence in newspapers than conservatives, conservatives are slightly more likely to express confidence in TV news (19%) than liberals (15%). For liberals, this 2014 reading represents an 11-percentage-point decline from 2013.

Over the past year, the Internet has seen the acceleration of website-only news sources that focus on empirical, data-driven analysis, including Ezra Klein's Vox website or the relaunching of Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight site. But this quantitative approach to telling the news has not, in of itself, persuaded the major ideologies to express strong confidence in news from the Internet. More than a fifth of liberals (22%) and moderates (22%) say they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in news from the Internet, while slightly fewer conservatives (17%) say this.

Bottom Line

The field of news media has changed dramatically since Gallup first began measuring the confidence the public held in newspapers or TV news decades ago. The circulation of newspapers continues to shrink to the point that University of Southern California's Annenberg Center for the Digital Future estimates that most print newspapers will not exist in five years. Television news continues to see a proliferation of new cable news networks, including the launch of Al-Jazeera America in August 2013. Meanwhile, news from the Internet now figures prominently in the average American's news diet, whereas not so long ago this mode did not even exist.

Amid this rapid change, Americans hold all news media platforms in low confidence. How these platforms can restore confidence with the American public is not clear, especially as editorial standards change and most outlets lack the broad reach once available to major newspapers and broadcasters.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 5-8, 2014, with a random sample of 1,027 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, and cellphone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the most recent Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the most recent National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the most recent U.S. census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

************

Chuck Todd Craves Acceptance Of His Corporatist Views On MTP

By Vegasjessie August 31, 2014 10:45 am
CrooksAndLiars

Andrea Greenspan Mitchell ends her last stint on Meet The Press by praising the new host, Chuck Todd. He reciprocates by applauding her performance on the show, which mimicked his favorite theme: President Obama is a failed leader.

The final segment of Meet The Press this week included a tribute to the new host and self-proclaimed political geek, Chuck Todd. MTP played a three minute reel of tributes from his mother, Savannah Guthrie, Andrea Mitchell, Brian Williams, Tom Brokaw, and Chuck's wife which ended with Williams calling Todd a 'goatee enthusiast,' and a fellow fan of football. Both Mitchell and Todd shared their love of revealing the 'failed leadership' of President Obama, especially around election time.

His backers feel Todd's affinity for political knowledge should qualify him for hosting a show with the rich history like MTP. However, the rich history excludes the last seven years. In fact, they went all the way back to the tenth anniversary of the show when JFK wrote about it. He said,

    I know of no other radio or television program that has become such a firm and widely respected institution in American life.

Todd's political statistics are really not going to be a factor as Todd will be another David Gregory, if his "Daily Rundown" show was any indication.

Todd is known for his relentless grilling of Democrats while never challenging Republicans because, it's "not his job to challenge Republican lies." He was an avid, almost giddy cheerleader for Mitt Romney after the first Presidential Debate in 2012. He was certain the "Mittmentum" was going to continue to sway in Willard's direction.

Bottom line, the sponsors of the show will not tolerate a fair Beltway perspective. They want their interviews with plenty of corporatist, conservative spin. Do you really think Boeing, Siemens, GE, or Koch industries would tolerate any positive coverage of the president? Today's harsh critique on Obama's tentative approach to dealing with ISIL omitted the real reason ISIL is gaining strength. No one mentioned the hundreds of thousands of soldiers from Saddam's army who were fired by the Bush Administration and were happy to join a group that despises the U.S., no matter who's in charge.

Todd will jump immediately to Wall Street Journal polls that never have a decent thing to say about Democrats, unless they are war hawks, like Diane Feinstein. He will base his performance on Meet The Press from the perspective of a very conservative, corporatist media. His political knowledge will be inconsequential.

 45 
 on: Sep 01, 2014, 06:59 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Cuba imposes restrictions on goods in travellers' luggage

Government clamps down on large amounts of foreign-bought merchandise brought into the island

Associated Press in Havana
theguardian.com, Monday 1 September 2014 09.45 BST   

Cubans are bracing themselves for a clampdown on the flow of car tyres, flatscreen televisions, blue jeans and shampoo in the bags of travellers who haul large amounts of foreign-bought merchandise to an island where consumer goods are frequently shoddy, scarce and expensive.

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans and Cuban-Americans fly to and from the island each year thanks to the easing of travel restrictions by the US and Cuban governments over the past five years.

Their Cuba-bound checked baggage has become a continuous airlift that moves nearly $2bn (£1.2bn) of products ranging from razor blades to rice cookers. The baggage carousels at Cuba's airports often look like they're disgorging the contents of an entire Wal-Mart or Target store. Many families bring special trailers to carry the bags of their returning family, which often weigh many hundreds of pounds and include items such as bicycles and flatscreen TVs.

But the Cuban government on Monday is enacting new rules sharply limiting the amount of goods people can bring into the country in their luggage, and ship by boat from abroad.

The government says the restrictions are meant to curb abuses that have turned air travel in particular into a way for professional "mules" to illegally import supplies for both black-market businesses and legal private enterprises that are supposed to buy supplies from the state.

Among ordinary Cubans, reactions have ranged from worry to outrage that their primary, and for many only, source of high-quality consumer goods may be throttled.

"People are really unhappy," said Maite Delgado, a 75-year-old retired state worker. "All the clothes and shoes that I have come from my granddaughters in Spain or my siblings in the US."

The rules that come into effect Monday run to 41 pages and give a sense of the quantity and diversity of the commercial goods arriving in checked bags. Travellers will be allowed to bring in 10 kg of detergent instead of 44; one set of hand tools instead of two; and 24 bras instead of 48. Four car tyres are still permitted, as are two pieces of baby furniture and two flatscreen televisions. Cuban customs also bars passengers from bringing in items worth more than $1,000. Rather than examining receipts, customs agents are given a long list assigning pre-set values to certain goods ($250 for a video-game console, for example.) Those prices rise sharply under the new rules, making it far easier to reach that $1,000 limit.

The new rules similarly increase the duties paid on goods shipped from abroad, another major source of foreign merchandise for the island.

Authorities have taken to the airwaves and state media in recent days to assure Cubans that the vast majority of travellers won't be affected. The change is intended "to keep certain people from using current rules on non-commercial imports to bring into the country high volumes of goods that are destined for commercial sale and profit," Idalmis Rosales Milanés, deputy chief of Cuban customs, told government newspaper Granma.

The government has justified the new rules with examples of prolific "mules", including one passenger it said brought in 41 computer monitors and 66 flatscreen TVs in a year.

Between $1.7bn and $1.9bn-worth of goods were flown to Cuba in travellers' baggage last year, with the average flyer bringing in goods worth $3,551, according to a survey by the Havana Consulting Group.

"It's sustenance, support that greatly aids in the survival of the Cuban family," the consulting group president, Emilio Morales, said. "Along with cash remittances, it's the most significant source of earnings for the Cuban population, not the salaries the government pays."

While his study did not look at the final destination of travellers' goods, Morales said he estimated based on his knowledge of the phenomenon that about 60% went to families and 40% to black-market retailers.

With foreign reserves dropping sharply over the past two years as Cuba tries to pay off sovereign debt and make itself a more attractive destination for foreign investment, Morales said, the government is desperate to reduce the flow of goods and push Cubans' relatives abroad to send help in the form of cash remittances, which are subjected to hefty government fees. Limiting informal imports also would presumably help boost business in state-controlled stores.

The rule change has already had an effect in Miami, where many stores are dedicated to selling goods to island-bound Cubans and Cuban-Americans.

"I haven't sold almost anything this morning," said Diana Calzadilla, 28, a cashier at Cadalzo Fashion, a store in Miami's Little Havana neighbourhood that sells discount clothing and accessories to travellers on their way to Cuba. "People look around but they don't buy anything because they're not sure how much they're going to be able to bring."

Several "mules" have commented that they are going to look into other ways to make money, she said. At least one customer, she said, appeared decided.

"It was their last trip," she said. "They don't know if they'll go again."

 46 
 on: Sep 01, 2014, 06:54 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Libyan Islamist militiamen take possession of evacuated US embassy

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, August 31, 2014 13:53 EDT

Islamist militiamen have moved in to the American embassy compound in the Libyan capital after it was evacuated last month, an AFP photographer said on Sunday.

Members of the Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn) group said they had gone in to secure the complex of several villas in southern Tripoli to prevent it from being looted.

“Diplomatic missions have been invited to return to Tripoli, and in the meantime we are here to secure the area,” one militiaman said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Washington evacuated its embassy staff on July 27, with Secretary of State John Kerry warning the mission had faced a “real risk” from fierce fighting between armed groups for control of Tripoli’s international airport.

Fajr Libya won the battle for the airport, seizing it on August 23 from nationalist fighters from Zintan, southwest of Tripoli, who had held it since the overthrow of long-time dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

 47 
 on: Sep 01, 2014, 06:52 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Egypt's rights groups get temporary reprieve

Activists fear that they will still be affected by crackdown on dissent by Egyptian government

Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
The Guardian, Sunday 31 August 2014 19.40 BST      

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui says 'the deadline sounds very much like a death sentence for independent Egyptian NGOs'.

The Egyptian government has delayed plans to shut down dozen of rights groups if they refuse to accept restrictive regulations.

Rights defenders had until Tuesday to agree to government interference or face closure. But after a fierce international backlash the deadline was delayed on Sunday until November.

The temporary reprieve is of scant comfort to the threatened parties, who fear it merely delays the inevitable. Local and international human rights defenders, including Amnesty International, say the ultimatum is the finishing touch to a year-long crackdown on dissent and an attempt to silence Egypt's remaining opposition voices.

"This is still a declaration of war against the independent human rights organisations," said Mohamed Zaree, programme director at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), one of the groups under threat. "The aim of the government is to shut down the public sphere and the horizons that were opened by the revolution in 2011. They want to shut down the last voices calling for accountability for human rights violations, and the last critics of the narrative the government puts forward about Egypt to the international community."

Since 2002, non-governmental organisations (NGO) in Egypt have been regulated by a law that gives the government the right to oversee and veto each project that an NGO carries out, and to block any overseas donation or grant. Critics say the law exists to obstruct the work of rights groups, whose work is often unfavourable to the government, and which are largely funded by international organisations. To circumvent the legislation, many would-be NGOs register as law firms or research groups, to give themselves more freedom.

In July, the government moved to end the loophole and ordered groups whose work was in any way connected to NGO-type activity to re-register under the 2002 law within 45 days.

"The looming deadline sounds very much like a death sentence for independent Egyptian NGOs," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty's deputy director for the Middle East and north Africa, in a statement. "The authorities' ultimatum is not about enabling NGOs to operate and instead paves the way for the closure of those that are critical of the government."

The Egyptian government denies it is trying to curb dissent, and says it is trying to end a legal ambiguity. "This doesn't have anything to do with [cracking down on] the opposition," said Ayman Abdelmawgud, from the ministry for social solidarity, the state body that issued the order. "Any entity practising the work of NGOs should be registered as one. I don't know why they have concerns about registering."

But the rights groups say their concerns are obvious: by registering under the 2002 law, they are submitting to the whim of a ministry that could freeze their programmes, or reject their application.

The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) is one group that has already applied to re-register. But its executive director, Mohamed Lotfy, fears the ministry will unnecessarily prolong its assessment of the ECRF's application, and ban it from working in the interim period. "They could actually come and stop our activities and say that we're doing work that should be monitored by the ministry, and therefore we should stop working until our application is processed," said Lotfy. "That's a real threat."

Once the deadline finally passes, some threatened groups may ask their employees to work from home, fearing a repeat of the raids on NGO offices that took place in December 2011. Those raids resulted in the arrest and conviction of 43 democracy advocates, and were the start of a counter-revolutionary attempt to undermine an emergent civil society that had been strengthened by the 2011 uprising that toppled former dictator Hosni Mubarak.

The election of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2012 did little to stem the tide, as the group attempted to force through a new NGO law that was even more restrictive than the 2002 version. The Brotherhood's efforts were thwarted by their overthrow last summer, but their military-installed successors have continued along a similar track, drafting yet another harsh NGO law that could be enacted as soon as a new parliament is elected.

Rights groups are the last significant source of opposition to the current government, which has muted dissent by banning street protests, arresting journalists killing more than a thousand protesters, and jailing tens of thousands of political prisoners.

"The only people exposing the violations right now in Egypt are the rights organisations," said Mohamed Zaree, the CIHRS campaigner. "And the government does not welcome that criticism."

 48 
 on: Sep 01, 2014, 06:48 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad

'Screaming' cat saves man from fire that gutted house in Melbourne

Craig Jeeves was woken up by his tabby, Sally, and managed to escape with only smoke inhalation injuries

Australian Associated Press
theguardian.com, Monday 1 September 2014 04.59 BST      

    Plucky pet cat saves his owner from his burning #Melbourne home - http://t.co/Ndoo4pa7sF #7NewsMelb pic.twitter.com/xvt1lzHTxA
    — 7NewsMelbourne (@7NewsMelbourne) September 1, 2014

A Melbourne man owes his life to his cat, Sally, after she woke him up as his house was burning down.

Thanks to the quick-thinking tabby, 49-year-old Craig Jeeves was alerted to the early morning fire in his Melbourne home and managed to escape.

“She jumped on my head and was screaming at me,” he told the Nine network.

A Country Fire Authority captain, Paul Spinks, said the owner was lucky to be alive. “The cat woke him up and he found the fire and proceeded to get outside,” Spinks said.

Fire crews found Jeeves in the bushes outside his Wandin North home.

He was treated for smoke inhalation at the scene and will be staying with neighbours until he is able to rebuild the property.

The home was gutted by the fire and Jeeves lost everything. “I’m happy to be alive but you can’t replace the memories,” he said.

 49 
 on: Sep 01, 2014, 06:46 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Israel Claims Nearly 1,000 Acres of West Bank Land Near Bethlehem

By ISABEL KERSHNER
AUG. 31, 2014
IHT

JERUSALEM — Israel laid claim on Sunday to nearly 1,000 acres of West Bank land in a Jewish settlement bloc near Bethlehem — a step that could herald significant Israeli construction in the area — defying Palestinian demands for a halt in settlement expansion.

Peace Now, an Israeli group that opposes the construction of settlements in the West Bank, said that the action on Sunday might be the largest single appropriation of West Bank land in decades and that it could “dramatically change the reality” in the area.

Palestinians aspire to form a state in the lands that Israel conquered in 1967.

Israeli officials said the political directive to expedite a survey of the status of the land came after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed in June while hitchhiking in that area. In July, the Israeli authorities arrested a Palestinian who was accused of being the prime mover in the kidnapping and killing of the teenagers. The timing of the land appropriation suggested that it was meant as a kind of compensation for the settlers and punishment for the Palestinians.

The land, which is near the small Jewish settlement of Gvaot in the Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem, has now officially been declared “state land,” as opposed to land privately owned by Palestinians, clearing the way for the potential approval of Israeli building plans there.

But the mayor of the nearby Palestinian town of Surif, Ahmad Lafi, said the land belonged to Palestinian families. He told the official Palestinian news agency Wafa that Israeli Army forces and personnel posted orders early Sunday announcing the seizure of land that was planted with olive and forest trees in Surif and the nearby villages of Al-Jaba’a and Wadi Fukin.

Interested parties have 45 days in which to register objections.

The kidnapping of the teenagers prompted an Israeli military clampdown in the West Bank against Hamas, the Islamic group that dominates Gaza and that Israel said was behind the abductions. The subsequent tensions along the Israel-Gaza border erupted into a 50-day war that ended last week with an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire.

The land appropriation has quickly turned attention back to the Israeli-occupied West Bank and exposed the contradictory visions in the Israeli government that hamper the prospects of any broader Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, condemned the announcement and called for a reversal of the land claim, saying that it would “further deteriorate the situation.”

Though Israel says that it intends to keep the Etzion settlement bloc under any permanent agreement with the Palestinians and that most recent peace plans have involved land swaps, most countries consider Israeli settlements to be a violation of international law. The continued construction has also been a constant source of tension between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as Israel and its most important Western allies.

A State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the United States urged Israel to reverse its decision, calling it “counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians.”

The last round of American-brokered peace talks broke down in April. Israel suspended the troubled talks after Mr. Abbas forged a reconciliation pact with the Palestinian Authority’s rival, Hamas, which rejects Israel’s right to exist. American officials also said that Israel’s repeated announcements of new settlement construction contributed to the collapse of the talks.

Yair Lapid, Israel’s finance minister, who has spoken out in favor of a new diplomatic process, told reporters on Sunday that he “was not aware of the decision” about the land around Gvaot and had instructed his team to look into it. “We are against any swift changes in the West Bank right now because we need to go back to some kind of process there,” he said.

But Yariv Oppenheimer, general director of Peace Now, said that instead of strengthening the Palestinian moderates, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel “turns his back on the Palestinian Authority and sticks a political knife in the back” of Mr. Abbas, referring to the latest land appropriation.

“Since the 1980s, we don’t remember a declaration of such dimensions,” Mr. Oppenheimer told Israel Radio.

***************

US urges Israel to reverse appropriation of land for West Bank settlement

Israel has claimed almost 1,000 acres near Bethlehem, in a move Palestinians say will only increase tension

Reuters in Jerusalem
theguardian.com, Monday 1 September 2014 00.43 BST

The United States has criticised Israel’s announcement of a land appropriation for possible settlement construction in the occupied West Bank as “counterproductive” to peace efforts, and urged the Israeli government to reverse the decision.

Israel laid claim to nearly 1,000 acres (400 hectares) in the Etzion settlement bloc near Bethlehem, a move which an anti-settlement group termed the biggest appropriation in 30 years and a Palestinian official said would cause only more friction after the Gaza war.

“We have long made clear our opposition to continued settlement activity,” a State Department official said. “This announcement, like every other settlement announcement Israel makes, planning step they approve and construction tender they issue is counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians.”

“We urge the government of Israel to reverse this decision,” the official said in Washington.

Israel Radio said the step was taken in response to the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish teenagers by Hamas militants in the area in June, one of the sparks for the seven-week war in Gaza that left more than 2,000 people dead.

The notice published on Sunday by the Israeli military gave no reason for the land appropriation decision.

Peace Now, which opposes Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank, said the appropriation was meant to turn a site where 10 families now live adjacent to a Jewish seminary into a permanent settlement.

Construction of a major settlement at the location, known as Gevaot, has been mooted by Israel since 2000. Last year the government invited bids for the building of 1,000 housing units at the site.

A local Palestinian mayor said Palestinians owned the tracts and harvested olive trees on them.

Israel has come under intense international criticism over its settlement activities, which most countries regard as illegal under international law and a major obstacle to the creation of a viable Palestinian state in any future peace deal.

Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, called on Israel to cancel the appropriation. “This decision will lead to more instability. This will only inflame the situation after the war in Gaza,” Abu Rdainah said.

The Obama administration has been at odds with Netanyahu over settlements since taking office in 2009.

After the collapse of the last round of US-brokered peace talks, US officials cited settlement construction as one of the main reasons for the breakdown, while also faulting the Palestinians for signing a series of international treaties and conventions.

Israel has said construction at Gevaot would not constitute the establishment of a new settlement because the site is officially designated a neighbourhood of an existing one, Alon Shvut, several kilometres down the road.

Some 500,000 Israelis live among 2.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territory the Jewish state captured in the 1967 war.

***************** 

Israeli leaders are rarely popular once the fighting ends. Binyamin Netanyahu is no exception

The aftermath of a conflict often cuts the careers of prime ministers short. In Netanyahu’s case, though, there is no alternative

Anshel Pfeffer   
theguardian.com, Thursday 28 August 2014 16.33 BST   
       
At the height of Israel’s first Lebanon war in 1982, Amiram Nir, the Israeli officer and journalist who went on to serve as the prime minister’s counter-terrorism adviser and later died in a mysterious plane crash, coined the phrase: “Quiet, we’re shooting.” Nearly all of Israel’s normally feisty and irreverent media observe this rule at times of war or during a major military operation. While soldiers are falling on the battlefield, criticism of the government is largely muted. Public opinion likewise falls in line and the prime minister and other civilian and military leaders receive levels of approval in the polls they could only dream of during peacetime.

It all ends come the ceasefire or when an operation gets bogged down into a lengthy war of attrition. Israelis have extremely high expectations, bordering on the unrealistic, from their army and intelligence services and for more than four decades have punished the politicians for any perceived shortcomings – as prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu is learning now. He has taken a nose dive in the latest polls and received a bashing from the Israeli media over the past couple of days.

Only three weeks ago, 77% of Israelis responded to a poll commissioned by Haaretz saying they were satisfied with the way Netanyahu was conducting the Gaza offensive. A day after Tuesday night’s ceasefire he had already lost a third of that and was down to 50%. In another poll carried out for Channel 2 Netanyahu’s fall was even more dramatic, his approval rating descending in the space of a month from a high of 82% to only 32% this week. He is not the first Israeli leader to suffer such a reversal.

Israel successfully fought off a surprise attack on two fronts from Egypt and Syria in the 1973 Yom Kippur war, but public anger over the intelligence failure forced both Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan to resign and set the scene for the end of the labour movement’s 29 years in power. In 1982 the army dislodged the Palestine Liberation Organisation from its bases but the continued blood-letting led to Menachem Begin’s resignation and total withdrawal from public life, as well as an end to the first period of the Likud party’s dominance in Israeli politics. During both these wars the leadership enjoyed wide support from media and public, only to plunge into a trough in the aftermath.

Military setbacks were never the sole reason for changes in political fortunes; financial crises and corruption scandals played a major part as well. But the anticlimax, following the euphorically high ratings while the guns are blazing, sets in motion an immediate and steep decline. Israel’s previous prime minister, Ehud Olmert, was ultimately brought down by allegations of bribe-taking, but it was the second Lebanon war, perceived by most Israelis as ending in a stalemate with Hezbollah, which cast a permanent pall over the rest of his term.

It isn’t a phenomenon unique to Israel. Winston Churchill’s landslide defeat in the 1945 general election, less than two months after VE Day remains the prime historical example of the way a wartime leader can swiftly lose public support. George Bush also failed to win a second term in 1992 despite the success of the first Gulf war. In Israel, however, with its frequent bouts of warfare, it has become a pattern.

In addition to the dire polls, the Israeli media, largely supportive of Netanyahu throughout the 50-day military operation, have also piled in, with commentators on just about every channel and newspaper (with the exception of the Israel Hayom freesheet owned by Netanyahu’s American backer and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson) excoriating the prime minister for having lost the initiative throughout, allowing Hamas to dictate nearly every stage of the crisis and finally accepting a ceasefire agreement which contains no assurances against future rocket launches from Gaza or mention of a demilitarisation of the Palestinian organisations – a demand repeatedly raised by Netanyahu throughout the crisis.

Westerners viewing the conflict through the prism of international media may be surprised that the heavy toll in Palestinian casualties and destruction of thousands of buildings in Gaza barely features in local criticism of the government. Many observers have also noted quite correctly that if any side has come off worse in the confrontation, it was Hamas, which for all the devastation in Gaza has achieved none of its demands save for a return to the agreements achieved in 2012 and a vague commitment to address its demands in a further round of talks next month. But that is not the Israeli perspective.

The majority of Israelis feel their army acted with restraint and that the blame for civilian casualties lies squarely with Hamas which launched its rockets from heavily built-up areas. They do blame Netanyahu, however, for not using the military might at his disposal to achieve either the toppling of the Hamas government in Gaza or extracting firm commitments to dismantle its rocket arsenal. As Israelis see it, life in much of their country was brought to a standstill for seven weeks, residents of the kibbutzim around Gaza were forced to flee and 71 soldiers and civilians were killed for no gain. Now they’re back where it all started, with no guarantee that another round won’t take place very soon. They see no one else to blame for that except the prime minister. He had their support while the fighting was ongoing – now that he failed to deliver any tangible result, he has lost it.

This doesn’t spell political demise for him quite yet. The ray of light for Netanyahu in the polls is that there is still no alternative on the horizon to his premiership. In the Haaretz poll 42% of Israelis still see him as the most suitable candidate for the job. His closest rival, Labor’s lacklustre leader Yitzhak Herzog, polled only 12%, while his challengers from the far-right, Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett, each received 11% and are deemed as too extreme by three-quarters of the electorate.

Most Israelis don’t love or revere Netanyahu and are deeply disappointed with the outcome of his war. If there was on the horizon a leader they felt was competent enough to replace him, he or she would have a good chance in the next elections. But for now there is no one.

 50 
 on: Sep 01, 2014, 06:45 AM 
Started by Sunyata - Last post by Rad
Israel Claims Nearly 1,000 Acres of West Bank Land Near Bethlehem

By ISABEL KERSHNER
AUG. 31, 2014
IHT

JERUSALEM — Israel laid claim on Sunday to nearly 1,000 acres of West Bank land in a Jewish settlement bloc near Bethlehem — a step that could herald significant Israeli construction in the area — defying Palestinian demands for a halt in settlement expansion.

Peace Now, an Israeli group that opposes the construction of settlements in the West Bank, said that the action on Sunday might be the largest single appropriation of West Bank land in decades and that it could “dramatically change the reality” in the area.

Palestinians aspire to form a state in the lands that Israel conquered in 1967.

Israeli officials said the political directive to expedite a survey of the status of the land came after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed in June while hitchhiking in that area. In July, the Israeli authorities arrested a Palestinian who was accused of being the prime mover in the kidnapping and killing of the teenagers. The timing of the land appropriation suggested that it was meant as a kind of compensation for the settlers and punishment for the Palestinians.

The land, which is near the small Jewish settlement of Gvaot in the Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem, has now officially been declared “state land,” as opposed to land privately owned by Palestinians, clearing the way for the potential approval of Israeli building plans there.

But the mayor of the nearby Palestinian town of Surif, Ahmad Lafi, said the land belonged to Palestinian families. He told the official Palestinian news agency Wafa that Israeli Army forces and personnel posted orders early Sunday announcing the seizure of land that was planted with olive and forest trees in Surif and the nearby villages of Al-Jaba’a and Wadi Fukin.

Interested parties have 45 days in which to register objections.

The kidnapping of the teenagers prompted an Israeli military clampdown in the West Bank against Hamas, the Islamic group that dominates Gaza and that Israel said was behind the abductions. The subsequent tensions along the Israel-Gaza border erupted into a 50-day war that ended last week with an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire.

The land appropriation has quickly turned attention back to the Israeli-occupied West Bank and exposed the contradictory visions in the Israeli government that hamper the prospects of any broader Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, condemned the announcement and called for a reversal of the land claim, saying that it would “further deteriorate the situation.”

Though Israel says that it intends to keep the Etzion settlement bloc under any permanent agreement with the Palestinians and that most recent peace plans have involved land swaps, most countries consider Israeli settlements to be a violation of international law. The continued construction has also been a constant source of tension between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as Israel and its most important Western allies.

A State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the United States urged Israel to reverse its decision, calling it “counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians.”

The last round of American-brokered peace talks broke down in April. Israel suspended the troubled talks after Mr. Abbas forged a reconciliation pact with the Palestinian Authority’s rival, Hamas, which rejects Israel’s right to exist. American officials also said that Israel’s repeated announcements of new settlement construction contributed to the collapse of the talks.

Yair Lapid, Israel’s finance minister, who has spoken out in favor of a new diplomatic process, told reporters on Sunday that he “was not aware of the decision” about the land around Gvaot and had instructed his team to look into it. “We are against any swift changes in the West Bank right now because we need to go back to some kind of process there,” he said.

But Yariv Oppenheimer, general director of Peace Now, said that instead of strengthening the Palestinian moderates, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel “turns his back on the Palestinian Authority and sticks a political knife in the back” of Mr. Abbas, referring to the latest land appropriation.

“Since the 1980s, we don’t remember a declaration of such dimensions,” Mr. Oppenheimer told Israel Radio.

***************

US urges Israel to reverse appropriation of land for West Bank settlement

Israel has claimed almost 1,000 acres near Bethlehem, in a move Palestinians say will only increase tension

Reuters in Jerusalem
theguardian.com, Monday 1 September 2014 00.43 BST

The United States has criticised Israel’s announcement of a land appropriation for possible settlement construction in the occupied West Bank as “counterproductive” to peace efforts, and urged the Israeli government to reverse the decision.

Israel laid claim to nearly 1,000 acres (400 hectares) in the Etzion settlement bloc near Bethlehem, a move which an anti-settlement group termed the biggest appropriation in 30 years and a Palestinian official said would cause only more friction after the Gaza war.

“We have long made clear our opposition to continued settlement activity,” a State Department official said. “This announcement, like every other settlement announcement Israel makes, planning step they approve and construction tender they issue is counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians.”

“We urge the government of Israel to reverse this decision,” the official said in Washington.

Israel Radio said the step was taken in response to the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish teenagers by Hamas militants in the area in June, one of the sparks for the seven-week war in Gaza that left more than 2,000 people dead.

The notice published on Sunday by the Israeli military gave no reason for the land appropriation decision.

Peace Now, which opposes Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank, said the appropriation was meant to turn a site where 10 families now live adjacent to a Jewish seminary into a permanent settlement.

Construction of a major settlement at the location, known as Gevaot, has been mooted by Israel since 2000. Last year the government invited bids for the building of 1,000 housing units at the site.

A local Palestinian mayor said Palestinians owned the tracts and harvested olive trees on them.

Israel has come under intense international criticism over its settlement activities, which most countries regard as illegal under international law and a major obstacle to the creation of a viable Palestinian state in any future peace deal.

Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, called on Israel to cancel the appropriation. “This decision will lead to more instability. This will only inflame the situation after the war in Gaza,” Abu Rdainah said.

The Obama administration has been at odds with Netanyahu over settlements since taking office in 2009.

After the collapse of the last round of US-brokered peace talks, US officials cited settlement construction as one of the main reasons for the breakdown, while also faulting the Palestinians for signing a series of international treaties and conventions.

Israel has said construction at Gevaot would not constitute the establishment of a new settlement because the site is officially designated a neighbourhood of an existing one, Alon Shvut, several kilometres down the road.

Some 500,000 Israelis live among 2.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territory the Jewish state captured in the 1967 war.

***************** 

Israeli leaders are rarely popular once the fighting ends. Binyamin Netanyahu is no exception

The aftermath of a conflict often cuts the careers of prime ministers short. In Netanyahu’s case, though, there is no alternative

Anshel Pfeffer   
theguardian.com, Thursday 28 August 2014 16.33 BST   
       
At the height of Israel’s first Lebanon war in 1982, Amiram Nir, the Israeli officer and journalist who went on to serve as the prime minister’s counter-terrorism adviser and later died in a mysterious plane crash, coined the phrase: “Quiet, we’re shooting.” Nearly all of Israel’s normally feisty and irreverent media observe this rule at times of war or during a major military operation. While soldiers are falling on the battlefield, criticism of the government is largely muted. Public opinion likewise falls in line and the prime minister and other civilian and military leaders receive levels of approval in the polls they could only dream of during peacetime.

It all ends come the ceasefire or when an operation gets bogged down into a lengthy war of attrition. Israelis have extremely high expectations, bordering on the unrealistic, from their army and intelligence services and for more than four decades have punished the politicians for any perceived shortcomings – as prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu is learning now. He has taken a nose dive in the latest polls and received a bashing from the Israeli media over the past couple of days.

Only three weeks ago, 77% of Israelis responded to a poll commissioned by Haaretz saying they were satisfied with the way Netanyahu was conducting the Gaza offensive. A day after Tuesday night’s ceasefire he had already lost a third of that and was down to 50%. In another poll carried out for Channel 2 Netanyahu’s fall was even more dramatic, his approval rating descending in the space of a month from a high of 82% to only 32% this week. He is not the first Israeli leader to suffer such a reversal.

Israel successfully fought off a surprise attack on two fronts from Egypt and Syria in the 1973 Yom Kippur war, but public anger over the intelligence failure forced both Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan to resign and set the scene for the end of the labour movement’s 29 years in power. In 1982 the army dislodged the Palestine Liberation Organisation from its bases but the continued blood-letting led to Menachem Begin’s resignation and total withdrawal from public life, as well as an end to the first period of the Likud party’s dominance in Israeli politics. During both these wars the leadership enjoyed wide support from media and public, only to plunge into a trough in the aftermath.

Military setbacks were never the sole reason for changes in political fortunes; financial crises and corruption scandals played a major part as well. But the anticlimax, following the euphorically high ratings while the guns are blazing, sets in motion an immediate and steep decline. Israel’s previous prime minister, Ehud Olmert, was ultimately brought down by allegations of bribe-taking, but it was the second Lebanon war, perceived by most Israelis as ending in a stalemate with Hezbollah, which cast a permanent pall over the rest of his term.

It isn’t a phenomenon unique to Israel. Winston Churchill’s landslide defeat in the 1945 general election, less than two months after VE Day remains the prime historical example of the way a wartime leader can swiftly lose public support. George Bush also failed to win a second term in 1992 despite the success of the first Gulf war. In Israel, however, with its frequent bouts of warfare, it has become a pattern.

In addition to the dire polls, the Israeli media, largely supportive of Netanyahu throughout the 50-day military operation, have also piled in, with commentators on just about every channel and newspaper (with the exception of the Israel Hayom freesheet owned by Netanyahu’s American backer and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson) excoriating the prime minister for having lost the initiative throughout, allowing Hamas to dictate nearly every stage of the crisis and finally accepting a ceasefire agreement which contains no assurances against future rocket launches from Gaza or mention of a demilitarisation of the Palestinian organisations – a demand repeatedly raised by Netanyahu throughout the crisis.

Westerners viewing the conflict through the prism of international media may be surprised that the heavy toll in Palestinian casualties and destruction of thousands of buildings in Gaza barely features in local criticism of the government. Many observers have also noted quite correctly that if any side has come off worse in the confrontation, it was Hamas, which for all the devastation in Gaza has achieved none of its demands save for a return to the agreements achieved in 2012 and a vague commitment to address its demands in a further round of talks next month. But that is not the Israeli perspective.

The majority of Israelis feel their army acted with restraint and that the blame for civilian casualties lies squarely with Hamas which launched its rockets from heavily built-up areas. They do blame Netanyahu, however, for not using the military might at his disposal to achieve either the toppling of the Hamas government in Gaza or extracting firm commitments to dismantle its rocket arsenal. As Israelis see it, life in much of their country was brought to a standstill for seven weeks, residents of the kibbutzim around Gaza were forced to flee and 71 soldiers and civilians were killed for no gain. Now they’re back where it all started, with no guarantee that another round won’t take place very soon. They see no one else to blame for that except the prime minister. He had their support while the fighting was ongoing – now that he failed to deliver any tangible result, he has lost it.

This doesn’t spell political demise for him quite yet. The ray of light for Netanyahu in the polls is that there is still no alternative on the horizon to his premiership. In the Haaretz poll 42% of Israelis still see him as the most suitable candidate for the job. His closest rival, Labor’s lacklustre leader Yitzhak Herzog, polled only 12%, while his challengers from the far-right, Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett, each received 11% and are deemed as too extreme by three-quarters of the electorate.

Most Israelis don’t love or revere Netanyahu and are deeply disappointed with the outcome of his war. If there was on the horizon a leader they felt was competent enough to replace him, he or she would have a good chance in the next elections. But for now there is no one.

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