U.S. says Turkish shelling of Syria ‘appropriate’ and ‘proportional’
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 4, 2012 19:14 EDT
WASHINGTON — The United States said Thursday Turkey had taken “appropriate” and “proportional” action in firing back at Syria after a deadly cross-border shelling, but urged that tensions should not escalate.
“From our perspective, the response that Turkey made was appropriate,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, adding Ankara had long made it clear that it would respond to any violation of its territory.
“It also was designed to strengthen the deterrent effect, so that these kinds of things don’t happen again, and it was proportional.”
Turkish artillery Thursday hit targets inside Syria in retaliation for Wednesday’s shelling that killed five Turkish nationals. Turkey said Syria apologized and vowed the incident would not happen again.
“We hope this doesn’t escalate into a broader conflict, we hope that the situation de-escalates,” Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters.
“We are outraged by the Syrian government actions along the the Turkish border. We stand by our Turkish allies,” he insisted, adding “certainly we respect the inherent right of self-defense displayed by Turkey.”
Turkey’s parliament has authorized military action against Syria, but insisted it was not a mandate for war as tensions soared between the neighbors.
“The intent in sending a very strong message was to deter future such aggression,” Nuland said, highlighting that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had promised to back Turkey as it seeks UN condemnation of the strike.
The United States supports “a very strong statement that makes clear who’s responsible and holds them to account,” Nuland said.
But Russian objections to the draft UN statement condemning Syria’s shelling of Turkey meant the Security Council was still in consultations.
Asked whether there was any message to Turkey about the shelling, Nuland said: “The message is to the Syrian side that it needs to stop.”
10/04/2012 06:23 PM
Syrian-Turkish Hostilities: NATO Wary of Involvement as Situation Escalates
By Benjamin Bidder, Matthias Gebauer and Carsten Volkery
Ankara was quick to respond to Syria's Wednesday shelling of a Turkish border town. But NATO is worried that the escalation could make Western involvement in the Syrian conflict inevitable. Capitals across the alliance are urging calm.
In the jargon of diplomats, a "game changer" is an event that completely changes a situation. It doesn't even have to be particularly spectacular. Just a small incident can sometimes be enough to alter the view of those involved and give a conflict an entirely different dynamic.
Syria's cross-border shelling of a Turkish village may ultimately be seen as just such an event. On Wednesday, an errant shell landed in the Turkish border town of Akcakale, killing five civilians, including a woman and her three children. It wasn't the first such incident, but it was, for Turkey, one too many. The government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the "provocation by the Syrian regime" and ordered retaliatory strikes. On Thursday, the Turkish parliament in Ankara authorized the country's military to launch cross-border raids.
The escalation in the long-bubbling border conflict has not gone unnoticed. The United Nations Security Council met in New York and the NATO Council gathered for an extraordinary meeting on Wednesday night in Brussels at the request of Ankara. Media speculation is rampant that the incident could mark the turning point in the Syrian conflict. The attack on NATO member Turkey could be enough to convince the alliance to finally move against Syrian autocrat Bashar Assad.
It is a question that has confronted NATO ever since violence broke out in Syria 18 months ago: Should the alliance intervene to stop the murderous fighting? So far, Western governments have done all they can to avoid being drawn into the complicated conflict. Furthermore, China and Russia have wielded their vetoes in the UN Security Council, blocking resolutions aimed at forcing Assad to step down.
'The Utmost Prudence'
The most recent border incident puts NATO in a difficult situation. Externally, the alliance must do all it can to show solidarity with its Turkish allies. Indeed, alliance members have rushed to condemn Syria in the last two days. Following Wednesday's reunification holiday in Germany, Merkel added her own comments on Thursday. "We condemn the Syrian attacks on Turkey in the sharpest possible terms," she said during a press conference with the visiting president of Yemen in Berlin.
She then added: "We also call on all involved to exhibit the utmost prudence" -- a sentence which reveals the flip side of the fine line the Western alliance is trying to walk. Internally, nobody wants to get involved in a military adventure in Syria.
Merkel was largely echoing Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who also assured Turkey of the alliance's solidarity. "Now, though, we must focus on de-escalation," he said on Thursday adding that a political solution must be found. His British counterpart William Hague sounded similar, saying in Budapest that "the Turkish response is understandable, an outrageous act has taken place, Turkish citizens have been killed inside Turkey by forces from another country. So we express our solidarity with Turkey, but we don't want to see a continuing escalation of this incident."
Turkey too, despite its public outrage, seems uninterested in ratcheting up the tensions. Ankara called the Wednesday night meeting by invoking Article 4 of the NATO treaty, which requires consultations among alliance members, rather than grabbing for Article 5, which calls for NATO to treat an attack on a single member as an attack on all. Article 5 has only ever been invoked once, by the US following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
In the roughly one-hour long meeting in Brussels, the Turkish ambassador informed his colleagues about the details of the shelling and told them of several smaller border incidents in recent weeks. He left little doubt that the shell fired on Wednesday clearly came from the Syrian army and not from rebels or other armed groups. Meeting participants, however, say that the Turkish ambassador seemed bent on caution despite the tense situation and insisted that Ankara was not interested in invoking Article 5.
'A Tragic Accident'
Several of his counterparts, say participants, urged Turkey to continue to use discretion. It is a message that Westerwelle and his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, had already communicated to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu in telephone calls prior to the NATO meeting. The attacks are deeply disturbing, Westerwelle said after the phone calls, but he asked Davutoglu to "act without losing sight of the extremely dangerous situation in the entire region."
Whether Turkey will be satisfied with the rhetorical support offered by the alliance remains to be seen. Ankara has been demanding for months that a militarily guaranteed buffer be established between Turkey and Syria and has often spoken of a no-fly zone. NATO has consistently rejected the two measures, saying they would be the first steps toward military involvement in the Syrian conflict.
The border incident also alarmed Russia, Assad's most important ally on the international stage. The Kremlin fears nothing more than a NATO intervention. In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov demanded that Damascus and Ankara move quickly to establish direct contact as an important step toward resolving their differences. It is vital to have an open channel of communication, Lavrov said. He added that "we have spoken to the Syrian authorities who assured us … that what happened at the border with Turkey was a tragic accident and that it will not happen again."
The UN Security Council will address the border incident on Thursday. UN diplomats, however, say that anything stronger than a non-binding appeal to Assad to respect international borders is unlikely.
Mars rover to ‘sandblast’ sampling equipment
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 4, 2012 19:12 EDT
WASHINGTON — NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover is parked at a sand pit and ready to scoop up soil to clean and test its geological sampling hardware, the US space agency said Thursday.
These will be the first solid samples put through Curiosity’s high-tech collection and processing tool set — a task central to realizing the mission’s goal of determining whether Mars ever harbored life, NASA officials said.
Project team members said they were excited to get started, but planned to proceed with caution.
“Because this is such an important capability, kind of the keystone of the rover mission, we’re being deliberately, incredibly careful,” said Daniel Limonadi, lead systems engineer, on a conference call with reporters.
“We’re taking a lot of extra steps to make sure we know what’s going on,” added mission manager Michael Watkins.
Step one, they explained, will be to use sand to scrape off the earth-born film that would taint any future testing.
“On Earth, even though we make this hardware super, squeaky clean when it’s assembled and worked on, by virtue of just being on Earth, you get an oily film that is impossible to avoid,” Limonadi said.
To get rid of it, Curiosity will take some sand and vibrate it vigorously across all the instrument over several hours, “to effectively sand blast those surfaces.”
The process will be repeated three times over the next 10 days, with stops between to verify everything is going well.
Before grabbing that first scoop, tentatively scheduled for Saturday, scientists have analyzed images of the sand.
Once the cleaning is done, Curiosity will scoop up its first sample for geological analysis.
Once Curiosity is done with the work at its current location, dubbed “Rocknest,” it will then travel some 328 feet (100 meters) towards its next destination, an spot named “Glenelg.”
At that spot, located at an intersection of three types of terrain, NASA experts plan to drill a rock and analyze the content.
Curiosity is on a two-year mission to investigate whether it is possible to live on Mars and to learn whether conditions there might have been able to support life in the past.
The $2.5 billion craft landed in Gale Crater on August 6, opening a new chapter in the history of interplanetary exploration.
Astronomers find racing star that could prove Einstein was right
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 4, 2012 16:34 EDT
US astronomers have found evidence of a star racing tightly around the monstrous black hole at the heart of our galaxy — the closest ever found near the matter-sucking body.
The scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles, said the discovery will help them test Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity and his predictions of how black holes warp space and time.
The star, S0-102, is orbiting the black hole every 11-and-a-half Earth years, much faster than the 60 years or longer orbit of most of the stars around the Milky Way’s black hole center.
This is only the second star discovered with such a short orbit — the other, S0-2, orbits the black hole every 16 years — thanks to improved imaging techniques.
Lead researcher Andrea Ghez, who has been observing the black hole since she discovered it in 1998, said the second data point is crucial for their research.
“It is the tango of S0-102 and S0-2 that will reveal the true geometry of space and time near a black hole for the first time,” she said in a statement. “This measurement cannot be done with one star alone.”
Like the Earth and other planets, both stars have elliptical orbits — meaning they regularly move closer and further from the black hole.
Ghez and her team at UCLA hope to see evidence of little wobbles in the orbit when the stars move closer, which would show they are being affected by the curvature of space time, as predicted by Einstein’s theory.
Ghez added it was “phenomenal” to find two stars so close to the black hole.
“This should not be a neighborhood where stars feel particularly welcome,” she said.
Black holes, which are what is left when a massive star dies and collapses in on itself, have a gravitational force so strong that even light cannot escape.
They cannot be seen directly, and so are observed through their influence on the things around them.
“Now it’s a whole new ballgame,” Ghez said, adding that the team’s investigations could open a new window into understanding black holes and how the universe evolves.
The research will be published in Friday’s issue of the US journal “Science.”
In the USA....
NYTAn Unhelpful Debate
Published: October 4, 2012
The first debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney, so long anticipated, quickly sunk into an unenlightening recitation of tired talking points and mendacity. With few sparks and little clarity on the immense gulf that truly separates the two men and their policies, Wednesday’s encounter provided little guidance for voters still trying to understand the choice in next month’s election.
The Mitt Romney who appeared on the stage at the University of Denver seemed to be fleeing from the one who won the Republican nomination on a hard-right platform of tax cuts, budget slashing and indifference to the suffering of those at the bottom of the economic ladder. And Mr. Obama’s competitive edge from 2008 clearly dulled, as he missed repeated opportunities to challenge Mr. Romney on his falsehoods and turnabouts.
Virtually every time Mr. Romney spoke, he misrepresented the platform on which he and Paul Ryan are actually running. The most prominent example, taking up the first half-hour of the debate, was on taxes. Mr. Romney claimed, against considerable evidence, that he had no intention of cutting taxes on the rich or enacting a tax cut that would increase the deficit.
That simply isn’t true. Mr. Romney wants to restore the Bush-era tax cut that expires at the end of this year and largely benefits the wealthy. He wants to end the estate tax and the gift tax, providing a huge benefit only to those with multimillion-dollar estates, at a cost of more than $1 trillion over a decade to the deficit. He wants to preserve the generous rates on capital gains that benefit himself personally and others at his economic level. And he wants to cut everyone’s tax rates by 20 percent, which again would be a gigantic boon to the wealthy.
None of these would cost the Treasury a dime, he insisted, because he would reduce deductions and loopholes. But, as always, he refused to enumerate a single deduction he would erase. “What I’ve said is I won’t put in place a tax cut that adds to the deficit,” he said. “No economist can say Mitt Romney’s tax plan adds $5 trillion if I say I will not add to the deficit with my tax plan.”
In fact, many economists have said exactly that, and, without details, Mr. Romney can’t simply refute them. But rather than forcefully challenging this fiction, Mr. Obama chose to be polite and professorial, as if hoping that strings of details could hold up against blatant nonsense. Viewers were not helped by a series of pedestrian questions from the moderator, Jim Lehrer of PBS, who never jumped in to challenge either candidate on the facts.
When Mr. Romney accused the president of supporting a “trickle-down government,” Mr. Obama might have demanded to know what that means. He could then have pointed out that it is Mr. Romney whose economic plan is based on the discredited idea that high-end tax cuts trickle down to the middle class and poor.
Mr. Romney said he supported the idea of regulation but rejected the Dodd-Frank financial reform law because it was too generous to the big “New York banks.” This is an alternative-universe interpretation of a law that is deeply despised and opposed by the banks, but Mr. Obama missed several opportunities to point out how the law limits the corrosive practices, like derivatives trading, that led to the 2008 crash and puts in place vitally important consumer protections.
On health care, Mr. Romney pretended that he had an actual plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, and that it covered pre-existing conditions. He has no such plan, and his false claim finally roused the president to his only strong moment of the evening. The country doesn’t know the details, he said, of how Mr. Romney would replace Wall Street reform, or health care reform, or tax increases on the rich because Republicans don’t want people to understand the hard trade-offs involved in these decisions.
There are still two more presidential debates, and Mr. Obama has the facts on his side to expose the hollowness of his opponent. But first he has to decide to use them aggressively
************Romney’s Sick Joke
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Published: October 4, 2012
“No. 1,” declared Mitt Romney in Wednesday’s debate, “pre-existing conditions are covered under my plan.” No, they aren’t — as Mr. Romney’s own advisers have conceded in the past, and did again after the debate.
Was Mr. Romney lying? Well, either that or he was making what amounts to a sick joke. Either way, his attempt to deceive voters on this issue was the biggest of many misleading and/or dishonest claims he made over the course of that hour and a half. Yes, President Obama did a notably bad job of responding. But I’ll leave the theater criticism to others and talk instead about the issue that should be at the heart of this election.
So, about that sick joke: What Mr. Romney actually proposes is that Americans with pre-existing conditions who already have health coverage be allowed to keep that coverage even if they lose their job — as long as they keep paying the premiums. As it happens, this is already the law of the land. But it’s not what anyone in real life means by having a health plan that covers pre-existing conditions, because it applies only to those who manage to land a job with health insurance in the first place (and are able to maintain their payments despite losing that job). Did I mention that the number of jobs that come with health insurance has been steadily declining over the past decade?
What Mr. Romney did in the debate, in other words, was, at best, to play a word game with voters, pretending to offer something substantive for the uninsured while actually offering nothing. For all practical purposes, he simply lied about what his policy proposals would do.
How many Americans would be left out in the cold under Mr. Romney’s plan? One answer is 89 million. According to the nonpartisan Commonwealth Foundation, that’s the number of Americans who lack the “continuous coverage” that would make them eligible for health insurance under Mr. Romney’s empty promises. By the way, that’s more than a third of the U.S. population under 65 years old.
Another answer is 45 million, the estimated number of people who would have health insurance if Mr. Obama were re-elected, but would lose it if Mr. Romney were to win.
That estimate reflects two factors. First, Mr. Romney proposes repealing the Affordable Care Act, which means doing away with all the ways in which that law would help tens of millions of Americans who either have pre-existing conditions or can’t afford health insurance for other reasons. Second, Mr. Romney is proposing drastic cuts in Medicaid — basically to save money that he could use to cut taxes on the wealthy — which would deny essential health care to millions more Americans. (And, no, despite what he has said, you can’t get the care you need just by going to the emergency room.)
Wait, it gets worse. The true number of victims from Mr. Romney’s health proposals would be much larger than either of these numbers, for a couple of reasons.
One is that Medicaid doesn’t just provide health care to Americans too young for Medicare; it also pays for nursing care and other necessities for many older Americans.
Also, many Americans have health insurance but live under the continual threat of losing it. Obamacare would eliminate this threat, but Mr. Romney would bring it back and make it worse. Safety nets don’t just help people who actually fall, they make life more secure for everyone who might fall. But Mr. Romney would take that security away, not just on health care but across the board.
What about the claim made by a Romney adviser after the debate that states could step in to guarantee coverage for pre-existing conditions? That’s nonsense on many levels. For one thing, Mr. Romney wants to eliminate restrictions on interstate insurance sales, depriving states of regulatory power. Furthermore, if all you do is require that insurance companies cover everyone, healthy people will wait until they’re sick to sign up, leading to sky-high premiums. So you need to couple regulations on insurers with a requirement that everyone have insurance. And, to make that feasible, you have to offer insurance subsidies to lower-income Americans, which have to be paid for at a federal level.
And what you end up with is — precisely — the health reform President Obama signed into law.
One could wish that Mr. Obama had made this point effectively in the debate. He had every right to jump up and say, “There you go again”: Not only was Mr. Romney’s claim fundamentally dishonest, it has already been extensively debunked, and the Romney campaign itself has admitted that it’s false.
For whatever reason, the president didn’t do that, on health care or on anything else. But, as I said, never mind the theater criticism. The fact is that Mr. Romney tried to mislead the public, and he shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.
***************Obama calls on Romney to tell the truth
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 4, 2012 19:17 EDT
DENVER, Colorado — Barack Obama demanded truth from the “real Mitt Romney” on Thursday as aides promised a “hard look” at strategy after the president’s listless performance in the first White House debate.
Passionate, cutting and engaged, in stark comparison to his debate showing, Obama told 12,000 cheering supporters at a chilly lakeside rally in Denver that the Romney who turned up to their first head-to-head clash on Wednesday night was an impostor who had covered up unpopular positions.
“I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney,” Obama said. “It couldn’t have been Mitt Romney because the real Mitt Romney has been running around the country for the last year, promising $5 trillion in tax cuts for the wealthy.
“The fellow on stage last night said he didn’t know anything about that. The real Mitt Romney said we don’t need any more teachers in our schools. The fellow on stage last night — he loves teachers, can’t get enough of them.
“If you want to be president, you owe the American people the truth,” a fired-up Obama told supporters anxious not to see him fritter away his opinion poll lead with less than five weeks to go before election day.
The president’s feisty appearance represented a clear effort to shift the news cycle away from his stinking debate reviews and stall Romney’s bid to create a comeback narrative following his unexpectedly strong showing.
Obama, who flew later to another rally in Wisconsin, seized on Romney’s comment that he knew nothing about a tax break for companies that outsource jobs overseas, saying that if that was true, then the multi-millionaire former venture capitalist needed a new accountant.
“He seems to be doing just fine with his current accountant,” he said, poking fun at Romney’s complex offshore tax arrangements, which Democrats highlight to press the case he is indifferent to middle-class struggles.
About 40 million people watched Wednesday night’s debate on television, according to preliminary figures by the Nielsen TV ratings service.
Romney basked in the plaudits for his performance as he addressed a fundraising event in Colorado before flying to Virginia, saying Americans had seen two contrasting visions for the future on stage in Denver.
The Republican challenger made a surprise appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference, thrilling hundreds of attendees as he stepped on stage to join his sons who were scheduled guests.
“I know this is going to be a close-fought battle,” Romney said. “We need to win Colorado. You know what, if we do, we are going to win back the White House.”
In his first public appearance since trumping Obama in the first of three one-on-one debates, the former Massachusetts governor pursued attacks on what he portrayed as the president’s continuing expansion of government.
“I saw the president’s vision as trickle-down government and I don’t think that’s what America believes in,” Romney said. “I see instead a prosperity that comes through freedom.”
Obama turned in a lethargic and sometimes irritable performance, allowing a pumped-up Romney an opening in a White House race that had been trending away from the Republican after weeks of gaffes.
The president’s campaign team signaled that it understood Obama’s performance was below par and promised a rethink before the next clash in New York state in two weeks’ time.
Top strategist David Axelrod told reporters on a damage limitation conference call that Romney’s performance was laced with untruths that the campaign would now push back on.
“We are going to take a hard look at this,” Axelrod said. “I’m sure we will make adjustments.”
Independent fact checkers agreed that many of the more flagrant manipulations of the facts in Denver were committed by the Republican challenger.
“The fact checkers will have a field day on Romney,” congressional expert Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington told AFP.
“He brazenly lied on numerous occasions and that could change the story line over the next several days.”
The question now is whether Romney’s debate performance has changed the minds of enough wavering voters in key swing states to give the Republican challenger a real chance on November 6.
Opinion polls in the coming days will provide the first clues.
***************Obama Targets Romney’s Debate Lies with Ad Focusing on Trust
By: Sarah JonesOctober 4th, 2012
Last night, I told nervous Obama supporters that Obama would hit Romney with fact-checking today and it would be brutal. And here we go. Obama is hitting Romney on the trail, fact-checkers are having a field day with Romney, and now the ads have started.
Here is your first TV ad from the Obama campaign, called “Trust”. If you can’t trust Romney in the debate, how can you trust him in the White House?
“I’m not in favor of a 5 trillion tax cut. That’s not my plan. The non-partisan Tax Policy Center concluded that Mitt Romney’s tax plan would cost 4.8 trillion dollars over ten years.”
“Why won’t Romney level with us about his tax plan which gives the wealthy huge new tax breaks? Because according to experts he’d have to raise taxes on the middle class or increase the deficit to pay for it. If we can’t trust him here how could we ever trust him here?”
Here’s a small roundup of the response to Romney’s fairy tale presentation of his positions last night:
CNN’s David Gergen: “Romney was just sort of flat out lying.”
Bloomberg News: “Romney’s tax plan can’t add up.”
CNBC Fact Check: “Romney again tonight did not say specifically how he would pay for his proposed across the board tax cut.”
Los Angeles Times: “Fact check: Romney repeats erroneous claims on healthcare”:
Fact Check@factcheckdotorg Romney says he will pay for $5T tax cut without raising deficit or raising taxes on middle class. Experts say that’s not possible….
Rachel Weiner @rachelweinerwp Fact Checker: Romney says “six other studies” have found his plan can be revenue neutral, but he’s wrong about that. wapo.st/UGjQeh
PolitiFact @politifact Obamacare is a government takeover of health care? That was the 2010 Lie of the Year. ow.ly/ecO9V #debate
Chicago Sun-Times: “If, however, you score Wednesday’s debate on substance — accurate facts and honest arithmetic — Obama more than held his own.”
Michael Crowley @CrowleyTIME Romney closes with pretty dishonest warning about defense cuts
Liberals can’t stand seeing the President bullied and not fighting back. It brings up painful memories of lost elections stemming from unchecked Republican lies about patriotism and purple band-aids. But Obama is not John Kerry. Obama is not Jimmy Carter. Obama is not a wimp.
If anyone in this election is a wimp, it is Mitt Romney — as even Newsweek pointed out months ago. Romney is so desperate to be liked that he will tell the voters anything, do anything, to get their approval in this moment. But he will change it all tomorrow or the next hour to get someone else’s approval. He is fickle, two-faced and back-stabbing. He stands for nothing except the sleaze of an unethical used car salesman. This is what Americans think wins a debate? Bullying and lies?
Perhaps Americans are that silly. I don’t happen to think they are. But at any rate, Obama is not trying to win a debate. He’s trying to win an election. There is a big difference. Ask Sarah Palin about that. She is foolish enough to be gloating today over Romney’s performance, because Palin loves it when anyone takes a cheap shot at the President since she never managed to land a punch.
The country needs to lift itself up from the Right, not stoop down to their level. We are not electing bully-in-chief. We already had one of those and it didn’t work out so well. Fact lovers worry that the average voter didn’t hear the truth last night, and I agree. They didn’t.
But there isn’t anything Obama could have done about that without coming down to Romney’s level. Romney stood on that stage and reinvented his entire tax plan, disowning everything he’s been saying for the past year. Have you ever fought a serial liar in public? Engaging with them on their every lie is a mistake, because a misinformed public who do not understand the issues will falsely equate your growing hysteria with the lies of the serial liar. The mud spreads.
Obama did what he had to do. He was put in a bad position – how to catch a slippery liar who keeps changing their position? Punch air? He rose above it, spoke to the people directly, and he let the fact-checkers do their job. Today, he’s taking his case to the people in swing states. This man is not a wimp. But if his opponents want to make that same mistake again, fighting their fictional Obama, that will no doubt be just fine with the Obama camp.
In case anyone forgot, in 2008 Obama had the exact same strategy. He does not play the aggressive, angry man. He makes his rational, calm case to the public. He waits until the public has made up their mind about who is being dishonest or unfair, and when even the Independents are screaming “Why doesn’t he hit back!?”, Obama finally delivers the smooth, never-nasty knock out.
There is nothing more damaging for a candidate than having their own words used against them. It proves that they are not trustworthy and no matter what the pundits say, trust and likeability matter at the polls. George W Bush came across as a decent guy; Mitt Romney does not. Romney is a serial liar, who seems to garner smug pleasure from getting away with it at the moment. Mitt Romney is only fooling himself and what is left of his base. Sure, he took some “Undecideds” last night, but how are those folks feeling this morning after Romney has been roundly taken to the woodshed for his lies?
Trust. You can’t buy it.http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=eV5m1NxffEs
October 4, 2012F.B.I. Agents Scour Ruins of Attacked U.S. Diplomatic Compound in Libya
By ELISABETH BUMILLER and MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT
WASHINGTON — Escorted by several dozen Special Operations forces, F.B.I. agents on Thursday entered the ruins of the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, as part of their investigation into the killings there of ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Security fears had kept the F.B.I. agents from traveling the 400 miles from the American Embassy in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, to collect evidence at a crime scene that was trampled, looted and badly burned by militants more than three weeks ago. Administration officials said Thursday the delay was caused in part by the Libyan government, which they described as slow in granting approval for the mission.
The officials said the agents flew from Tripoli in a C-130 military transport plane and were then driven to the compound in armored cars. The officials did not say how many F.B.I. agents were involved or precisely how long they were on the ground. The Pentagon press secretary, George Little, would only say at a briefing that the agents and their military escorts were in Benghazi “for a number of hours” before returning to Tripoli.
The agents were specialists in evidence collection, according to law enforcement officials, and were there to sift through the wreckage and to determine in better detail how the attack unfolded. It is unclear how much can still be gleaned from the site, which a senior American law enforcement official has described as so badly “degraded” that linking evidence to the attackers will be difficult at best.
Already looters, curiosity seekers and reporters have been through the site, which is only protected by two private security guards hired by the compound’s Libyan owner, The Washington Post reported Thursday. On Wednesday, a Post reporter at the site discovered loosely secured sensitive documents about American operations in Libya, some of which were turned over to the State Department. Last month CNN discovered Mr. Stevens’s diary in the wreckage.
It is unclear if the F.B.I. investigators plan to return to the site, but Mr. Little hinted that they might. He offered few details about the military escort operation, adding, “We may need to replicate it in the future, and I wouldn’t want to tip off the wrong people.”
It appears that the F.B.I. spent little or no time interviewing residents in Benghazi. Typically they would spend weeks, rather than hours, at a crime scene as important to national security as this site. The F.B.I., which always investigates the deaths of American overseas under suspicious circumstances, has agents from its national security division and New York field office in Libya. They have been operating largely out of the American Embassy in Tripoli, now guarded by a force of 50 elite Marines trained to protect American diplomatic posts in crisis.
But even in Tripoli the investigation has been hobbled by the tenuous security in Libya after the overthrow of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. Late last month investigators were so fearful about the risks of taking some potential Libyan witnesses into the American Embassy that they resorted to questioning people in cars outside the embassy.
The agents are also operating without any help on the ground from the C.I.A., which had about a dozen intelligence operatives and contractors in Benghazi until the attacks, conducting surveillance and collecting information on militant groups in the city. They were among more than two dozen American personnel evacuated from Benghazi after the attack.
American counterterrorism officials and Benghazi residents are now focused on a local militant group, Ansar al-Shariah, as the main force behind the attack, which occurred on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
President Obama has vowed to bring the killers to justice, and the United States is now laying the groundwork for possible operations to kill or capture militants implicated in the attack. The options could include drone strikes, Special Operations raids and joint missions with the Libyan authorities. But the Libyan government opposes any unilateral American military operation in Libya against the attackers, and administration officials say no decisions have been made about attacking any potential targets.
*************Wal-Mart employees in Los Angeles rally against anti-union retaliation
By Eric W. Dolan
Thursday, October 4, 2012 17:20 EDT
Wal-Mart employees from stores in the Los Angeles area on Thursday walked off their job to hold a rally outside the Pico Rivera Wal-Mart, accusing the retail chain of retaliating against workers who tried to form a union.
“I’m excited, I’m nervous, I’m scared…” Pico Rivera Wal-Mart employee Evelin Cruz told Salon. “But I think the time has come, so they take notice that these associates are tired of all the issues in the stores, all the management retaliating against you.”
OUR Walmart, a group supported by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, organized the rally to bring attention to what it claims is an intimidation campaign launched by Wal-Mart to eliminate union activity.
Five employees involved with the group have been fired in the past month. While Wal-Mart said the employees were fired for work-related troubles, OUR Walmart alleged they were terminated for seeking to form a union within the massive company, which employees nearly 1.6 million people.
In June, it was discovered a public relations specialist working on behalf of Wal-Mart posed as a journalist at a press conference held by Warehouse Workers United, which has organized protests against the working conditions at the company’s warehouses. A Wal-Mart spokesman said the company “would ensure this type of activity is not repeated.”
“We cannot stand by while the country’s largest employer tries to silence workers who stand up for a better future for their families,” Maria Elena Durazo, Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, said in a statement.
Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Fogleman said only “a few” Wal-Mart employees had walked off their job and that the action was too small to be considered a strike. All of the stores in the area remained open.
**************NSA director: U.S. needs offensive weapons in cyberwar
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 4, 2012 16:28 EDT
General Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency (AFP Photo)
Topics: director of the National Security Agency ♦ keith alexander ♦ offensive weapons
The United States needs to develop offensive weapons in cyberspace as part of its effort to protect the nation from cyber attacks, a senior military official said Thursday.
“If your defense is only to try to block attacks you can never be successful,” General Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency and commander of the US Cyber Command, told a Washington symposium.
“At times, the government has to look at what you have to do to stop an attack — stop it before it happens. Part of our defense has to consider offensive measures.”
Alexander, who spoke at a cybersecurity summit sponsored by the US Chamber of Commerce, said any offensive cyber action would need to follow rules of engagement similar to those in other military situations.
“We have to have a discussion on this,” he said.
Alexander’s comments come as the US military has started studying various strategies in cyberspace, including offensive weapons.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has begun studying building a platform for offensive capabilities in cyberspace and has called for participation from academic and industry experts.
The US government has stopped short of confirming involvement in cyber weapons such as the Flame and Stuxnet viruses that have targeted Iran, but many analysts say there is evidence of US or Israeli involvement.
***************U.S. military’s secret experiment sprayed radiation on low-income housing
By David Edwards
Thursday, October 4, 2012 10:36 EDT
A college professor from St. Louis, Missouri has released research claiming that the U.S. Army conducted secret Cold War tests by spraying toxic radioactive chemicals on cities like St. Louis and Corpus Christi.
St. Louis Community College-Meramec sociology professor Lisa Martino-Taylor told The Associated Press that her research showed that the Army may have sprayed radioactive particles with zinc cadmium sulfide while claiming that it was testing a smoke screen that could prevent Russians from observing St. Louis from the air.
Those tests were concentrated in predominately-black areas of the city, which Army documents called “a densely populated slum district.”
In 1994, the Army confirmed to Congress that St. Louis was chosen because it resembled Russian cities that the U.S. might have to attack with biological weapons.
“The study was secretive for reason,” Martino-Taylor explained to KDSK last month. “They didn’t have volunteers stepping up and saying yeah, I’ll breathe zinc cadmium sulfide with radioactive particles.”
Documents showed that the Army used airplanes to drop the chemicals in Corpus Christi, but sprayers were mounted on station wagons and buildings in St. Louis.
“It was pretty shocking. The level of duplicity and secrecy. Clearly they went to great lengths to deceive people,” Martino-Taylor observed. “This was a violation of all medical ethics, all international codes, and the military’s own policy at that time.”
“There is a lot of evidence that shows people in St. Louis and the city, in particular minority communities, were subjected to military testing that was connected to a larger radiological weapons testing project.”
Doris Spates lived in one of those impoverished St. Louis neighborhoods as a child and has survived cervical cancer. But four of her siblings and her father weren’t as lucky. All five have died of cancer.
“I’m wondering if it got into our system,” Spates told the AP. “When I heard about the testing, I thought, ‘Oh my God. If they did that, there’s no telling what else they’re hiding.’”
Last month, both Missouri Sens. Claire McCaskill (D) and Roy Blunt (R) demanded that Army Secretary John McHugh come clean about the testing. For its part, the Army refused to comment on the matter until it had responded to the senators, the AP reported.
« Last Edit: Oct 05, 2012, 07:45 am by Rad »
10/05/2012 03:09 PM
Fears of Mideast Wildfire: Syrian War Threatens to Spread to Neighbors
With deaths in Turkey, shelling in Lebanon and skirmishes on the border with Jordan, it is clear the war in Syria has begun to spill over to into neighboring states. The longer the crisis lasts, the greater the danger becomes of a major regional escalation.
Events in recent days have illustrated just how quickly the violence in Syria could spiral into a regional war. After Syrian mortar bombs once again fell on Turkish soil, this time killing five civilians, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan felt compelled to act. The Turkish military's retaliation on Wednesday and Thursday startled the international community.
With its actions, Turkey obviously proceeded with caution: It answered the repeated attacks from Syria with a few artillery shots -- not missiles. And the permission for further military action granted to Erdogan by his parliament is intended primarily as an intimidation measure. There is no apparent intent to declare all-out war -- at least for the time being. The United Nations Security Council, meanwhile, has strongly condemned the Syrian attack on Turkish soil and called on both sides to show restraint.
The fact of the matter is that the longer Syrian civil war continues, the more often incidents like that seen earlier this week will occur -- particularly in Turkey and Lebanon. A large part of the border region around Syria has already become a war zone. Previously, the international community had worried that a military intervention could fuel a regional wildfire, but now it is being forced to look on as this increasingly appears to be the reality -- without it ever even having gotten involved.
All of Syria's neighbors have already been affected by the civil war -- with the most dramatic impact on Turkey and Lebanon.
Dozens of civilians have been killed on Turkish soil by cross-border shelling and gunfire near the Turkish-Syrian border. Prime Minister Erdogan is under pressure from an increasingly angry population to respond to the violence seeping out of Syria.
In the western border region, tensions within Turkey are intensifying as well. Ankara is lending massive support to the Syrian rebels and has taken in around 100,000 Syrian refugees, angering the Alawites in the Turkish border province of Hatay. The region was part of Syria up until 1938 and has a similar sectarian diversity. There have been repeated protests by Alawites in Hatay against the Syrian rebels.
Syria Gives PKK Free Reign
What Turkey finds especially unnerving is the support the government of President Bashar Assad lends to the militant Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). To avoid angering its northern neighbor, Damascus had long suppressed the cross-regional militant group's activities on Syrian soil. But since the deterioration of Turkish-Syrian relations, the PKK as been allowed to recruit and train members in Syria and initiate attacks against targets in Turkey.
In the last year and a half -- not coincidentally the length of the Syrian civil war -- PKK attacks in eastern Turkey have drastically increased in frequency. In the past, Ankara has responded to foreign PKK activity in Iraq with military strikes. It is thus highly plausible that Turkey would not shy away from taking the same action against the PKK in Syria. That is one reason why Turkey has been increasing its militarization of the border with Syria since July, when Damascus granted de facto autonomy to the Syrian Kurdish region.
Much of the population in parts of the Lebanese-Syrian border region has already fled. Almost daily, Syrian rockets and artillery are landing in Lebanon, destroying homes and killing civilians. Syrian government forces regularly cross the border and kidnap residents whom they believe to be supporting the rebels. The large number of Syrian refugees is also creating pressures for Lebanese society. Often enough, groups backing the Syrian regime in Lebanon have themselves kidnapped civilians they suspect of being Assad opponents. In addition, the war in Syria has fuelled the conflict in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli between Assad supporters and opponents. There have already been dozens of casualties there this year alone. The BBC has reported that Hezbollah, which is closely tied to Assad, has already lost several of its fighters in the war in Syria.
Israel, Iraq and Jordan
Fear of an expansion of violence outside Syria is also growing in Israel. In the Golan Heights, which Israel has occupied since 1967, pro- and anti-Assad protests have become more common in recent weeks. Fighting in Syria is getting closer and closer to Israel, and several incidents of gunfire from Syria have been reported in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The Israeli army on Wednesday evacuated tourists from the region after discovering armed individuals near the border.
The government in Baghdad, meanwhile, is nervous that the Syrian civil war could reignite its own internal armed conflict. The Assad government previously egged on fighting in Iraq by smuggling militant jihadis into the country and giving them a safe haven to retreat to in Syria. Out of fear that fighters from Syria would infiltrate the country, Iraq has been turning away all male Syrian refugees from its borders.
Last month, the Syrian-Jordanian border experienced an hour-long skirmish between Jordanian troops and pro-Assad soldiers after the latter fired on Jordanian territory. The closer the fighting on the Syrian side gets to Jordan, the more dangerous the border regions there become.
No neighbor of Syria is interested in getting dragged into war. All its provocations notwithstanding, the Assad regime is also taking pains to deter its neighbors from direct intervention. After inflammatory incidents like the most recent shelling on the Turkish border town or the shooting down of an unarmed Turkish surveillance plane in June, Syria has acted with policies of deescalation.
Still, the mutual saber-rattling and the growing violence along Syria's borders provide a clear warning: The danger of a regional war cannot be underestimated.
October 5, 2012
Rebels Say West’s Inaction Is Pushing Syrians to Extremism
By C. J. CHIVERS
SAMAS, Syria — Majed al-Muhammad, the commander of a Syrian antigovernment fighting group, slammed his hand on his desk. “Doesn’t America have satellites?” he asked, almost shouting. “Can’t it see what is happening?”
A retired Syrian Army medic, Mr. Muhammad had reached the rank of sergeant major in the military he now fights against. He said he had never been a member of a party, and loathed jihadists and terrorists.
But he offered a warning to the West now commonly heard among fighters seeking the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad: The Syrian people are being radicalized by a combination of a grinding conflict and their belief that they have been abandoned by a watching world.
If the West continues to turn its back on Syria’s suffering, he said, Syrians will turn their backs in return, and this may imperil Western interests and security at one of the crossroads of the Middle East.
This is a theme that has resonated in recent days, not just in Syria, but in Turkey, where the government fired artillery shells into northern Syria this week after a Syrian mortar round hit a Turkish town and killed five civilians. In Turkey, there is a growing sense of frustration shared by the Syrian rebels that the West, the United States in particular, called for Mr. Assad to leave power, only to sit quietly on the sidelines as the crisis transformed into a bloody civil war.
“We are now at a very critical juncture,” wrote Melih Asik in the Turkish newspaper Milliyet. “We are not only facing Syria, but Iran, Iraq, Russia and China behind it as well. Behind us, we have nothing but the provocative stance and empty promises of the U.S.”
Across northern Syria, in areas that rebels have wrested from government control, such sentiments have become an angry and routine element of the public discourse. Wearied by violence, heading into another winter of fighting, and enraged by what they see as the inaction and hypocrisy of powerful nations, frontline leaders of the rebellion say that the West risks losing a potential ally in the Middle East if the Assad government should fall.
The corollary is frequently sounded, too: The West may be gaining enemies where it might have found friends. As anger grows, armed groups opposed to the United States may grow in numbers and stature, too.
“The United Nations and international community are making a big mistake,” said Ghassan Abdul Wahib, 43, a truck driver and now a leader in Kafr Takharim, a village in the north. “By letting this be a long war, they are dragging Syria toward radicalism, and they will suffer from this for a long time.”
The origins of these sentiments are typically the same: a widely held view that Washington and European capitals are more interested in maintaining the flow of oil from Libya and Iraq, or in protecting Israel, than in Syria and its people’s suffering. The view is supported, Syrians opposed to Mr. Assad say, by the West’s stubborn refusal to provide weapons to the rebels, or to protect civilians and aid the rebels with a no-fly zone.
The contrast with the West’s military assistance and vocal political support to the uprising last year in Libya is frequently drawn.
The donations of nonlethal aid to the Syrian opposition by Washington are often called small-scale, to the extent that none of the half-dozen fighting groups visited by journalists for The New York Times, or the many commanders interviewed in Turkey, claimed to have seen, much less received, American aid.
“We haven’t received anything from the outside,” said Thayar, a member of the ad hoc governing body in Kafr Takharim known as the revolutionary council. (He asked that his last name be withheld to protect him and his family from retaliation.) “We read in the media that we are receiving things. But we haven’t seen it. We only received speeches from the West.”
Other men echoed this sentiment, and accused the United States and Europe of playing a double game, in effect of conspiring with the Kremlin to ensure that no nation has to act against the Assad government or on the rebels’ or civilians’ behalf.
In this view, the Kremlin’s insistence that it will not support further action against Syria is regarded as convenient for the White House, which, many commanders and fighters said, issues statements supporting the uprising and condemning the Assad government knowing it will not have to back up words with deeds. Russia has provided weapons and diplomatic support to the Assad government and blocked action by the United Nations Security Council.
Mr. Wahib, the leader in Kafr Takharim, dismissed the discussions in the United Nations as a choreographed show. “The whole world is now trying to destroy Syria,” he said. “The international community knows that Assad is dead, but they want war so it destroys Syria and puts us back 100 years. In this way, Israel will be safe.”
“The United Nations,” he added, “is a partner in destroying Syria.”
Like many activists and fighters, he had a derisive view of what had once been hailed in Western capitals as an achievement by NATO — the military intervention in Libya last year, which Western leaders have said protected civilians and which enabled disorganized rebels to defeat their country’s conventional military.
That campaign was not perfect. NATO killed and wounded many civilians whom it has refused to acknowledge or help. As the war dragged on, many armed groups formed, casting the country’s long-term security in doubt and, after the attack last month on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, jeopardizing Western engagement, too.
But Syrians opposed to Mr. Assad still crave Western military assistance, even if it would only be a no-fly zone to ground the Syrian Air Force, whose aircraft have been attacking cities and towns since this summer. The United States, however, has so far ruled out military involvement in Syria.
Many Syrian men also bristled under what they called common descriptions that their uprising is driven by foreign fighters, or hosts groups linked to Al Qaeda.
“We are not terrorists like the regime says,” said Abu Muhammad, a teacher in Deir Sonbul. “We are fighting for dignity, which has been raped for 40 years.”
In this environment of acrimony and charge and countercharge, the anger of Majed al-Muhammad, the retired sergeant major, was of a type fueled by frustration and loss.
A few days before he received journalists in his office here, from where he commands 200 fighters in the northern highlands of Jebel al-Zawiya, he learned that his sister had been killed in Damascus. A photograph of her bloodied remains, crumpled on the ground, was on his cellphone; he displayed the image with rage.
Then he moved to a collection of ordnance remnants on a table beside his desk. He held up an expended tank shell. “Is it possible for the government to use this against the people?” he asked.
He lifted the remains of an S-5 rocket, an air-to-ground weapon in common use by the Syrian Air Force’s helicopters and jets. He asked if citizens of the United States would tolerate what Syria’s opposition has endured, and not ask for weapons and help, too.
“Is it possible for your helicopters to fire this into the crowds?” He was fuming. His voice rose again. “Do we have the right to live, or not?”
10/05/2012 08:03 PM
>b>Tempers Simmer in Turkey: 'If They Push Us, We Will Have No Choice'
By Alexander Christie-Miller in Akcakale, Turkey
This week's deadly shellings by Syria have brought fear to the residents of Akcakale, Turkey. After burying their dead, they are now asking why the government in Ankara didn't do more to protect them? The area has been pulled into the war, and many locals are now fleeing.
In the early hours of Thursday morning, residents and dignitaries in the Turkish border town of Akcakale gathered to bury their dead: a mother, her sister-in-law and her three daughters.
Gülen Özer, 40, and her family had been visiting their cousins the Timuçins when the third of four Syrian mortar shells to strike the town landed in the courtyard where they were gathered.
"I cannot talk now. The ones who have died ... What can I say?" said Özer's husband Ismail, 42, speaking at a community center being used as a house of condolence. "I was looking at them when it happened."
Beneath the shock and fear that the deaths have instilled in many Akcakale residents, there is growing anger towards their own government for allowing their town -- and their country -- to become ever more embroiled in their neighbor's civil war.
"The first fault is the government's because they chose the side of the rebels," said Ozer's brother, Ali Sonis, 37. Like many in the town he also asked why Ankara only retaliated against the Syrian mortar strikes after lives were lost.
"Why didn't the government protect us before they died?" he said. "The bombing has been going on for a month."
Other Akcakale residents described how shelling had begun close to the border around 15 days earlier, after forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad started targeting the nearby Tal al-Abyad border crossing after it fell to rebels.
'If We Didn't Have Animals We Would Have Left Long Ago'
Since then at least one other mortar shell had hit the town, and many residents have left to stay with relatives in the city of Sanliurfa, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) away. Schools have remained closed, and groups of young children roam the streets.
"If we didn't have animals we would have left long ago," said Ahmet Çildin, a 45-year-old farmer from the nearby village of Oncul, a located few hundred meters from the border. "We come here in the day to work and in the evening we go."
On Thursday, Turkey's parliament authorized the country's armed forces to carry out cross-border ground raids into Syria. Earlier it had responded to the deaths in Akcakale with its own artillery strikes against Syrian military positions. Residents in the town said the Turks had begun shelling at around 6 p.m. on Wednesday, whereupon fire from the Syrian side ceased immediately.
Through the night, Turkish artillery could be heard firing at a rate of about once an hour until stopping at around 6 a.m. in the morning, one resident said.
Speaking on Thursday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted his country did not want war. "We want peace and security and nothing else," Erdogan told reporters. "We would never want to start a war. Turkey is a country which is capable of protecting its people and borders. No one should attempt to test our determination on the issue."
Doubts in Akcakale
In Akcakale, however, many expressed doubt about whether Turkey can avoid becoming further embroiled in the Syrian conflict.
"We do not want war," said Mustafa Taka, a 58-year-old civil servant. "But if they push us we will have no choice."
On Ceylanpnar Street, residents peered into the shattered courtyard of the home where the Özer and Timuçin families were gathered when the mortar struck them.
The walls of the street opposite were flecked with shrapnel holes and dried blood.
The dead had included Özer, her sister-in-law Zeliha Timuçin, 39, and her three daughters Fatos, 14, Aysegul, 12, Zeynep, 8.
Ozer's daughter Ozlem, 8, is in the hospital, among 11 people wounded by the two mortar shells that struck the town at around 4 p.m. on Monday. A third hit a grain depot outside town.
"Our psychology is broken, we are living in fear," said Ibrahim Çiftçi, a 28-year-old farmer who was among the first to reach the scene of carnage that greeted rescuers that afternoon.
As he spoke, police passed by knocking on nearby doors in the street. Residents said they were telling people to leave their homes.
Many expressed indignity at the prospect of being forced to become refugees in their own country.
"Right now we feel like second-class citizens," said one cousin of Özer, who did not wish to give his name.
"The Syrian refugees are being put before us. When they came here they made camps for them. Where will we go?"
October 5, 2012
Turkey Detains 2 in Connection With Killings in Libya
By SCOTT SHANE and TIM ARANGO
WASHINGTON — American officials confirmed Turkish news reports on Friday that two Tunisian men had been detained in Turkey in connection with the killing of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in the attack on a United States diplomatic post in Libya on Sept. 11.
But the officials said they were awaiting more information from the Turkish authorities, and it remained unclear whether the two were considered to be suspects or witnesses in the violent attack in Benghazi, which fell on the 11th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Kanal D, a private Turkish television network, said the two were stopped at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul on Wednesday as they tried to enter the country using false passports.
Another report, in Sabah, a Turkish newspaper, said that immigration officials had matched the names of the men, who were said to be in their mid-30s, to a list of possible suspects that American intelligence agencies had given to security services in the region.
Turkish police officials declined to comment.
A State Department spokesman, Mark C. Toner, said Friday that American officials “have been in contact with the Turkish government on this issue,” but he referred more detailed inquiries to the F.B.I. Asked about the detained Tunisians, an F.B.I. spokesman, Paul E. Bresson, said officials were not “ready to discuss at this point or in any way characterize what their involvement may or may not have been.”
President Obama has repeatedly pledged to “bring to justice” those responsible for the deaths of Mr. Stevens, a popular ambassador whose death provoked a protest by Benghazi residents, as well as Sean Smith, a computer specialist, and Tyrone S. Woods and Glen A. Doherty, both former members of the Navy SEALs.
But investigators have faced many obstacles. So far, Libyan officials have issued sometimes conflicting reports about arrests that offer little hard information. And security concerns had prevented an F.B.I. team from visiting Benghazi until Thursday, when they spent several hours on the scene of the attack.
At a news conference on Thursday, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. declined to comment in detail on the investigation. But he suggested that the F.B.I. team’s limited access to the crime scene in Benghazi had not prevented investigators from following other leads.
“You should not assume that all that we could do or have been doing is restricted solely to Benghazi,” Mr. Holder said. “There are a variety of other places in country and outside the country where relevant things could be done and have been done.”
American investigators have been compiling information on the militants implicated in the attack, drawing in part on witness accounts and interviews with suspected attackers identifying some as members of a local militia, Ansar al-Shariah. That raises questions about what kind of role the detained Tunisians might have played.
Senior American military and counterterrorism officials say they are preparing for operations to kill or capture the suspected perpetrators, though any American action will be politically delicate. Much of the Libyan population is friendly to the United States, which supported the revolution that overthrew Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, while some of the country’s many militias are not. Unilateral American military action, including drone strikes or commando raids, could set off resentment that might cut across such divides.
Scott Shane reported from Washington, and Tim Arango from Istanbul. Sebnem Arsu contributed reporting from Istanbul.
October 5, 2012
Defiant Message Amid Iran Currency Crisis
By RICK GLADSTONE
Senior Iranian clerics intensified their anti-Western criticism on Friday, calling the near-collapse of the national currency this past week a consequence of an American-led conspiracy to wage an economic war on Iran, and predicting that the pressure would ease.
The message, highlighted in the main weekly sermon at Friday Prayer, appeared to be an effort to show a unified and defiant response to the crisis over the currency, the rial, which lost roughly 40 percent of its value against the dollar in a stampede of selling to black-market currency traders by Iranians worried about their country’s economic stability.
A televised plea on Tuesday by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to stop the selling seemed only to heighten the anxiety, and a crackdown by the police against the currency traders and the arrests of suspected speculators on Wednesday escalated into a large protest in Tehran that included merchants in the politically powerful Grand Bazaar.
That was the first significant demonstration of anger over the devalued rial, which has injected new uncertainty into the daily lives of Iranians by worsening the already high inflation rate. Many Iranians and outside economic experts have attributed the problems to what they call Mr. Ahmadinejad’s mismanagement as well as the accumulating effects of the Western sanctions imposed on Iran over its disputed nuclear energy program.
None of the statements about the crisis in the official Iranian news media on Friday offered a hint of any new solutions to the crisis or suggested that the government was willing to compromise on the nuclear program in exchange for reduced sanctions.
Instead they exhorted Iranians to show fortitude and uphold the legacy of resilience amid other crises, like the eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s.
“The pressure today imposed on us by the world arrogance is full-fledged economic war,” Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, a top cleric and the Friday Prayer leader, said in his message, carried on official news outlets. “This pressure will not last. Our people have been tested, and they will not be worn down.”
The Fars News Agency quoted a close aide of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as saying that Iran’s enemies were mistaken if they believed the sanctions would force Iran to capitulate in the dispute over the nuclear program, which Iran has said is for peaceful purposes. Western powers, however, suspect Iran is developing the ability to make nuclear weapons.
“Iran is overcoming the psychological war and conspiracy that the enemy has brought to the currency and gold market, and this war is constantly fluctuating,” said the aide, Gholam Ali Haddad Adel. “The arrogant powers, in their crude way, think that the nation of Iran is ready to let go of the Islamic Revolution through economic pressure, but we are establishing Iran’s economic strength.”
The message of defiance came as Western officials were contemplating further tightening the sanctions, which have severely limited Iran’s ability to sell oil and have expelled Iranian banks from a global network that is crucial in conducting financial transactions.
Proponents of stricter economic penalties against Iran have been emboldened by the currency crisis, calling it evidence that the sanctions are working.
Mark D. Wallace, chief executive of United Against Nuclear Iran, a New York-based group that has worked to persuade multinational companies to sever business ties with Iran, said that by its calculation Iran’s currency had fallen by 80 percent in the past year.
In a statement on the group’s Web site, he called for an economic blockade on Iran to increase the pressure, saying “the regime must be forced to choose between having a nuclear weapon or a functioning economy.”
October 5, 2012
Platinum Company Fires 12,000 Striking Miners in South Africa
By LYDIA POLGREEN
JOHANNESBURG — The world’s top platinum producer fired 12,000 workers who refused to return to work on Friday, apparently an attempt by the company to stem the tide of wildcat strikes that have shaken South Africa’s mining industry and unsettled Africa’s biggest economy.
The move by the company, Anglo American Platinum, is likely to heighten tensions in South Africa amid a wave of sometimes violent and illegal strikes by workers at platinum, gold and iron ore mines. Last week, Moody’s downgraded South Africa’s bond rating for the first time since 1994, and the country’s currency, the rand, has weakened in recent days.
The mining industry has been in turmoil since Aug. 16, when the police opened fire on miners who had gathered outside a mine in Marikana, killing 34 and wounding dozens more. About 75,000 miners are believed to be on strike, representing nearly a fifth of the industry’s work force.
Anglo American Platinum said Friday that just 20 percent of its workers had been showing up at its shafts, forcing the closing of the company’s entire operation in the Rustenberg area, home to the world’s richest platinum deposit.
Leaders of the African National Congress, South Africa’s governing party, have struggled to contain the mining crisis despite their deep ties to trade unions. The wildcat strikes have been initiated by rival unions that criticize the A.N.C. and the traditional unions as being too complacent now that they are in power.
On Friday, a branch leader for the country’s largest mineworkers union, the National Union of Mineworkers, which is closely allied with the A.N.C., was shot to death near a mine run by Lonmin, the company at the heart of the deadly unrest in Marikana, Reuters reported. A union spokesman was quoted as saying that the leader had been killed “execution-style.”
October 5, 2012
Fears Persist Among Venezuelan Voters Ahead of Election
By WILLIAM NEUMAN
CUMANÁ, Venezuela — Hugo Chávez, a polarizing president who has led Venezuela for nearly 14 years, has many advantages over the opposition candidate trying to unseat him on Sunday, from the airwaves he controls to the government largess he doles out with abandon. But one especially potent weapon in Mr. Chávez’s arsenal is what might be called the fear factor.
Many Venezuelans who are eager to send Mr. Chávez packing, fed up with the country’s lackluster economy and rampant crime, are nonetheless anxious that voting against the president could mean being fired from a government job, losing a government-built home or being cut off from social welfare benefits.
“I work for the government, and it scares me,” said Luisa Arismendi, 33, a schoolteacher who cheered on a recent morning as Mr. Chávez’s challenger, Henrique Capriles Radonski, drove by in this northeastern city, waving from the back of a pickup truck. Until this year, she always voted for Mr. Chávez, and she hesitated before giving her name, worried about what would happen if her supervisors found out she was switching sides. “If Chávez wins,” she said, “I could be fired.”
Although polls diverge widely, with some predicting a victory for Mr. Chávez and others showing a race that is too close to call, there is wide agreement that Mr. Chávez is vulnerable as never before. Handicapping the election is complicated by the angst felt by many Venezuelans that a vote for the opposition could bring retaliation.
Adding to that anxiety, the government recently introduced a new electronic voting system that many Venezuelans fear might be used by the government to track those who vote against the president. Electoral officials and opposition leaders defend the integrity of the system, but there is significant distrust, and a big part of Mr. Capriles’s campaign has been to reassure voters that their votes will remain secret.
“The government has sown this fear,” Mr. Capriles said in an interview, adding that the reluctance of people to speak their mind skewed opinion polls in favor of Mr. Chávez. “If we can overcome the fear, I believe that we can win this election by a million votes.”
The fear has deep roots. Venezuelans bitterly recall how the names of millions of voters were made public after they signed a petition for an unsuccessful 2004 recall referendum to force Mr. Chávez out of office. Many government workers whose names were on the list lost their jobs.
Mr. Chávez runs a well-oiled patronage system, a Tammany Hall-like operation but on a national scale. Government workers are frequently required to attend pro-Chávez rallies, and they come under other pressures.
“They tell me that I have to vote for Chávez,” said Diodimar Salazar, 37, who works at a government-run day care center in a rural area southeast of Cumaná. “They always threaten you that you will get fired.”
Ms. Salazar said that her pro-Chávez co-workers insisted that the government would know how she voted. But experience has taught her otherwise. She simply casts her vote for the opposition and then tells her co-workers that she voted for Mr. Chávez.
“I’m not going to take the risk,” said Fabiana Osteicoechea, 22, a law student in Caracas who said she would vote for Mr. Chávez even though she was an enthusiastic supporter of Mr. Capriles. She said she was certain that Mr. Chávez would win and was afraid that the government career she hoped to have as a prosecutor could be blocked if she voted the wrong way.
“After the election, he’s going to have more power than now, lots more, and I think he will have a way of knowing who voted for whom,” she said. “I want to get a job with the government so, obviously I have to vote for Chávez.”
Venezuela is a major oil supplier to the United States and the election gives voters a stark choice, with Mr. Chávez, 58, whose health has been an issue after he underwent treatment for an undisclosed form of cancer, pushing the country further down the road toward his version of socialism. Although the Obama administration would likely relish a more friendly leader in Caracas, American officials have steered clear of taking sides in the election.
Mr. Capriles, 40, who has served as legislator, mayor and governor, said he would follow the Brazilian model of business-friendly policies to expand the economy, coupled with social programs to help the poor. He has hammered away at government inefficiencies and mismanagement, and focused on runaway crime, high on the agenda of every Venezuelan.
Mr. Capriles’s bid is an uphill one. Mr. Chávez uses the entire state apparatus to promote his campaign, and his influence overshadows the courts and the electoral council. He has hugely bolstered government spending this year on social programs to attract voters. And he retains the loyalty of legions of adoring followers.
In the last presidential election, in 2006, Mr. Chávez won with more than 62 percent of the vote. He received 7.3 million votes then and says he will get 10 million this year.
At campaign events, he urges supporters to defend his revolution and to look beyond the many unresolved problems.
“On Oct. 7, what’s at stake is not whether or not the lights went out or if there was or wasn’t running water, or if they haven’t given me a house, or that I don’t have a job yet or that I’m angry at I-don’t-know-who,” Mr. Chávez said at a rally last week in Maturín, a city southeast of Cumaná. “What’s at stake is the life of the country, the future of the youth, of the children, of all of Venezuela.”
With discontent rising, though, Mr. Capriles has made significant inroads in Mr. Chávez’s strongholds, especially poor urban slums.
“He fooled all of us but we are waking up,” Lisbet Márquez, 46, a Cumaná high school teacher, said of the president. She used to support him but now feels the country has stagnated.
In the working-class Buena Vista neighborhood where Ms. Márquez lives, Mr. Chávez got more than 70 percent of the vote in 2006, yet today many homes display Capriles posters.
“My family was 100 percent Chavista,” she said, indicating that more than two dozen people in her extended family were changing their vote from Mr. Chávez to Mr. Capriles.
In Cumaná, the capital of Sucre State, the roads and highways are in terrible shape, the sewage systems are inadequate, power failures are routine, thousands of local jobs were lost when Mr. Chávez banned a form of commercial fishing several years ago, and the teachers at many schools refuse to hold classes because the governor, a Chávez stalwart, has not paid their full wages.
But it has been harder for Mr. Capriles to dent the strong support for Mr. Chávez in rural areas.
There, analysts say, poverty rates are often higher, and the role of government in people’s lives can be even more intense than in cities; the government is often the biggest employer and residents may be even more likely to rely on welfare programs.
“Before, the people in the countryside weren’t taken into account; we were forgotten,” said Mercedes Rodríguez, 35, who lives in a mud-wall house in a hamlet called La Florida, southeast of Cumaná.
Ms. Rodríguez, who has a poster of Mr. Chávez on her veranda, is a member of his political party. In the morning she works for the state government in a job that combines the functions of social worker and political organizer, getting those same residents to marches and out to vote in support of Mr. Chávez.
“There’s no one else like him,” she said of Mr. Chávez, predicting that he would win again handily.
October 5, 2012
Seeking the Right to Be Female in Malaysia
By LIZ GOOCH
SEREMBAN, MALAYSIA — The feminine figure dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, makeup carefully applied, drew little attention from other customers at the fast-food restaurant in Seremban, a city about an hour’s drive south of Kuala Lumpur.
The 26-year-old began wearing women’s clothing at age 13. Thanks to plastic surgery in neighboring Thailand, a daily dose of hormones and a feminine nickname, she is able to present herself as female to the outside world.
But her official identification card — which Malaysians must produce in dealings like job interviews — declares that her name is Adam Shazrul Bin Mohammad Yusoff and that she is male.
The discrepancy between her appearance and her officially recognized gender presents much more than just awkward moments in Malaysia, where Shariah, or Islamic law, bans Muslim men from dressing or posing as women.
Penalties differ in individual states, but in Negri Sembilan, where the 26-year-old lives, convicted offenders may be sentenced to up to six months in prison, fined as much as 1,000 ringgit, about $325, or both.
Tired of living in fear of prosecution, the 26-year-old — who has been arrested twice and was once fined 900 ringgit — and three other transgender people are challenging the law in the secular courts, arguing that it violates the Malaysian Constitution, which bans discrimination based on gender and protects freedom of expression.
A verdict in their case — the first time anyone has sought to overturn the law — is expected next Thursday.
“It’s for freedom — to be like everybody else, to wear what we like,” said the 26-year-old, explaining why she is taking part in the case. “This shouldn’t happen. It’s an unjust law. We are just human beings. We are not doing anything wrong.”
Transgender people — those who act like, dress as or feel themselves to be the sex opposite of what they were born — say they are often ostracized in Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country where homosexual acts are also banned and punishable by caning and as much as 20 years’ imprisonment.
Some states also have laws that bar Muslim women from dressing as men, but activists say the religious authorities focus mainly on those born male who wear women’s clothes.
Across the Asia-Pacific region, transgender people are subject to discrimination, harassment, and verbal, sexual and physical abuse within their families, at school, in workplaces, in the provision of services and in society more broadly, according to a report released in May by the U.N. Development Program.
The report states that there could be as many as 9.5 million transgender people across the Asia Pacific region and that “alarming numbers” of transwomen — men who identify or present as women — are H.I.V. positive.
Support groups say transgender people in Malaysia face considerable discrimination. They say they often struggle to find work, prompting some to turn to sex work, and that they often face abuse, sometimes by the authorities.
The 26-year-old and the three other litigants in the court case — Mohammad Juzaili Bin Mohammad Khamis, Shukur Bin Jani and Wan Fairol Bin Wan Ismail — have all been arrested on accusations of dressing as women.
Two of their cases are continuing, pending the outcome of the judicial review.
The four are arguing not only that the law is unconstitutional but also that it should not apply to them because they have been diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder.
The 26-year-old, who supplements the money she earns as a makeup artist with sex work, said religious officers groped her when they arrested her.
“They were very rough,” she said, adding that she is fortunate that her family accepts her, unlike the case for some of her friends.
She said that she turned down a job offer at a bank when its managers insisted that she cut her hair short, and that she turned to sex work because it helped pay for the “monthly maintenance” required to keep her looking female, including hormones, and allowed her to dress as she liked.
One of the other litigants, a 25-year-old makeup artist who has been fined 1,000 ringgit on three occasions for dressing as a woman, said religious officers had once punched her in the face.
She said she wanted to officially change her name and gender, because it was stressful knowing that she could be arrested at any time and jailed.
“This is not just for me,” she said of the court case.
“It’s also for the community. This is something that needs to be done. We need to highlight the existence of transpeople in this country,” she said.
The Negri Sembilan State and central government departments responsible for Islamic affairs did not respond to requests for comment.
Thilaga Sulathireh, an independent researcher and rights advocate who has helped the four take their case to court, said that there were no publicly available figures indicating the total number of Malaysian men who have been prosecuted for dressing as women but that arrests were not uncommon.
“It’s unfortunate that there are Shariah laws to do moral policing,” she said, adding that two transgender people in Malacca State have also filed for a judicial review of the law since finding out about the Negri Sembilan case.
Ms. Sulathireh said that non-Muslim men who dress as women have been fined under a civil law governing public indecency but that this was less common.
She said that although Shariah judges could exercise discretion, they generally seemed to follow a “three-strike rule,” under which people are jailed after being arrested three times.
But that is not always the case.
Nisha Ayub was jailed for three months after her first arrest for dressing as a woman 14 years ago. Ms. Nisha, who was 20 at the time, said prison wardens forced her to walk naked in front of the male inmates.
“It’s something I can’t forget until today,” she said.
Ms. Nisha, who now works as the transgender program manager at the PT Foundation, a nongovernmental organization that provides counseling and health support for transgender people, said many were often afraid to go to hospitals because they feared discrimination from medical staff.
Support groups say a fatwa, or religious edict, issued in the 1980s that forbids Muslims from having sexual reassignment surgery has led many Malaysians to travel to Thailand for surgery.
While the current case is the first legal challenge to the law that bans men from dressing as women, several other Malaysians who were born male have sought to be legally declared women.
Last year, a court in Terengganu State rejected an application by a 26-year-old man to be legally declared a woman.
Horley Isaacs, a lawyer, said the court rejected the application of Mohammad Ashraf Hafiz Abdul Aziz to change her name to Aleesha Farhana Abdul Aziz, on the basis that “since she didn’t have a womb she doesn’t qualify to be a woman.” Ms. Aleesha, as his client was known, died about a month after the verdict. The local news media gave the cause as heart problems, but Mr. Isaacs said he had been unable to obtain a copy of the death certificate from the hospital.
“All she asked me was ‘please give me a chance to live,”’ said Mr. Isaacs.
He said that although several similar court applications had failed, in 2005 a Kuala Lumpur court allowed a man who was not a Muslim to change his identity to female on his identification card.
Aston Paiva, the lawyer representing the four in the judicial review, said that if the court finds in their favor, it would mean that they, and other transgenders in Negri Sembilan, could no longer be arrested for dressing as women.
Mr. Paiva said the decision could have implications beyond Negri Sembilan because transgender people arrested in other states could use the verdict to argue their case.
Despite the Islamic law prohibiting her from dressing as a woman, the 26-year-old from Seremban says she remains a practicing Muslim. She fasts during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and sometimes visits the mosque, where she wears men’s clothing.
She said while she knows that, according to Islam, men should not dress as women, “this is something that is in me. This is how I feel.”
In the USA....
October 5, 2012
Drop in Jobless Figure Gives Jolt to Race for President
By SHAILA DEWAN and MARK LANDLER
The jobless rate abruptly dropped in September to its lowest level since the month President Obama took office, indicating a steadier recovery than previously thought and delivering another jolt to the presidential campaign.
The improvement lent ballast to Mr. Obama’s case that the economy is on the mend and threatened the central argument of Mitt Romney’s candidacy, that Mr. Obama’s failed stewardship is reason enough to replace him.
Employers added a modest 114,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department reported on Friday, but estimates for what had been disappointing gains in July and August were revised upward to more respectable levels.
Unemployment fell to 7.8 percent from 8.1 percent, crossing what had become a symbolic threshold in the campaign. Mr. Romney was deprived of a favorite line of attack, mocking the president for “43 straight months with unemployment above 8 percent.”
The new numbers may have less economic than political import, since they represent only one month of data that can be quite volatile and give little indication that the plodding recovery has accelerated.
“We’ve been amazingly resilient thus far in the face of all these headwinds,” said Ellen Zentner, the senior United States economist for Nomura Securities International, referring to global obstacles like the slowdown in China and domestic ones like the looming expiration of tax breaks. “But it’s awfully hard to see getting significantly above that growth range given that these headwinds are still in place.”
Still, an energized Mr. Obama seized on the statistics as he campaigned in Virginia and Ohio, seeking to regain his footing after a listless performance in the first debate this week. Mr. Romney, whose muscular showing in Denver had emboldened his campaign, scrambled to play down the report, saying it merely confirmed that millions of Americans had given up looking for work.
In back-to-back rallies in Virginia, the president declared, “This country has come too far to turn back.” His Republican challenger then insisted, “We don’t have to stay on the path we’ve been on. We can do better.”
Some Romney backers, led by the former chief executive of General Electric, John F. Welch Jr., suggested that the White House had massaged the Labor Department data to make it more favorable. The Obama administration, economic experts and some Republicans dismissed that notion as a groundless conspiracy theory.
The jobs report was preceded by other signs of growing economic strength, including a jump in consumer confidence, the strongest auto sales in four years, rallying stock prices and, at long last, a stabilization of housing prices.
According to the monthly survey of employers, the bulk of the gains came from service jobs, particularly in education and health care. Though government downsizing has been a drag on the recovery, government over all added 10,000 jobs in September, the third consecutive month of gains.
The nation’s employers have added an average of 146,000 jobs a month in 2012, just ahead of the numbers that are considered necessary to absorb new workers into the labor force. “This is not what a real recovery looks like,” Mr. Romney said in a statement.
Areas of weakness included manufacturing, one of the bright spots that Mr. Obama has showcased throughout the re-election campaign. It lost 16,000 jobs after a revised 22,000 drop in August in the face of a global slowdown. The number of temporary jobs, usually considered a harbinger of future growth, fell 2,000. Speaking to a rain-soaked crowd of 9,000 at Cleveland State University, Mr. Obama said, “Today’s news should give us some encouragement. It shouldn’t be an excuse for the other side to talk down the economy just to try to score some political points.”
“We’ve made too much progress to return to the policies that led to this crisis in the first place,” the president said to cheers.
The nation now has nearly the same number of jobs as when Mr. Obama took office in January 2009. Since the economy stopped hemorrhaging jobs in February 2010, there has been an increase of more than 4.3 million. A mere 61,000-job increase would allow Mr. Obama to claim a net gain in jobs over his tenure.
The White House has already made that claim based on one measurement. In an annual recalibration last month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said 400,000 more jobs were added in the 12 months that ended in March than previously thought. Such revisions are common, but the adjustment process is slow — that new benchmark will not be incorporated into the monthly jobs figures until early next year.
Mr. Romney, on other hand, said the lower rate spoke to a nation short of hope. The rate, he asserted, would be about 11 percent if the same percentage of people were looking for work now as on the day Mr. Obama was elected.
“If you just dropped out of the labor force, if you just give up and say, ‘Look, I can’t go back to work, I’m just going to stay home,’ if you just drop out altogether, why, you’re no longer part of the employment statistics, so it looks like unemployment is getting better,” Mr. Romney said at a farm equipment dealership in Abingdon, Va.
That was true in August, when the rate dropped to 8.1 percent, from 8.3 percent. But this time, the statistics showed that more people were working, not that discouraged job seekers had stopped looking for work.
The jobs report is based on two surveys, one of businesses and one of households, that can present different pictures.
While the survey of businesses showed mediocre growth, the household survey had a whopping increase of 873,000 people working in September. The household survey is much more volatile and prone to sampling error, but it captures aspects of the labor market that the business survey does not, like self-employment and household workers. Economists said that this month’s household survey probably overstated the improvement, but that its credibility was bolstered by an unexpectedly robust rise in consumer confidence.
The polling firm Gallup pinpointed the improvement in consumer confidence last month to the first day of the Democratic National Convention and attributed it almost entirely to increased optimism among Democrats, while confidence among Republicans remained at low levels. But Gallup could not say whether politics or economic conditions had driven the change.
The employment gains were not spread equally. While for older workers, the unemployment rate was the lowest in years, the unemployment rate for black men improved only 0.1 percentage point and the portion of all black men with jobs actually fell, to 57.5 percent.
There was no movement between August and September in a broader measure of underemployment, which includes the jobless who have stopped looking for work and those who work part time but would like to work full time. That stayed at 14.7 percent, though it is down from 16.4 percent a year earlier.
And 4.8 million people are in the group that has had the toughest time finding work — those who have been unemployed for longer than six months.
Sarah Thurman, a civil engineer in Kansas City, Mo., has been looking since May 2010. “The smaller firms are starting to post job openings, and that hasn’t been like that for over two years, but there’s so many of us without jobs that there’s so much competition,” she said. “I’m hearing from the headhunters that it’s going to be opening up, it’s going to be opening up — but when?”
Like Republicans and Democrats, consumers and businesses have divergent views of the economic situation. Consumers have brightened along with the better outlook for employment, calmer stock markets and whispers of rising home values.
Business leaders have been hanging back, more focused on a global slowdown and domestic concerns. They say they are uncertain what the election will mean for the business climate and are waiting in part for a resolution of the host of tax increases and budget cuts that will be set off at the end of the year if Congress fails to act.
The discrepancy between consumers’ mood and companies’ outlook can be easily explained, economists said. “Businesses are much more forward-looking,” said Ms. Zentner at Nomura.
In a survey of 400 chief financial officers conducted this summer, Grant Thornton, a management consulting firm, found that only 37 percent foresaw the possibility of adding workers while 18 percent said they expected to shrink over the next six months.
Harry Kazazian, the chief executive of Exxel Outdoors, a maker of camping equipment based in Alabama, said the election, the fiscal cliff and rapidly shifting regulations had put him in a cautious mood.
With sales on the rise, Exxel has slowly resumed a capital investment plan that it suspended three years ago. “We’re moving forward, but we’re doing it in steps rather than being much more aggressive and putting ourselves out there,” Mr. Kazazian said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if things start turning the other way, meaning down.”
But at a Walmart in Atlanta, shoppers were loosening the reins a bit, buying what they described as small indulgences like scented candle oil and seasonal beer.
Michael Peacock, 43, said that although his house was in foreclosure, he could sense enough activity in his chosen field, online marketing, that he could afford to turn down some work outside his specialty. “I’m not superconfident in the economy. But in my line of work, things have been getting better. There seems to be some improvement.”
John H. Cushman Jr. contributed reporting.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: October 5, 2012
An earlier version of this article misstated the increase in jobs since February 2010 and the number of jobs needed for President Obama to claim an increase during his tenure. More than 4.3 million jobs have been added since February 2010, not more than 400,000, and an increase of 61,000 jobs, not 62,000, would allow Mr. Obama to claim a net gain. The earlier version also misidentified the city where Sarah Furman lives. She lives in Kansas City, Mo., not Kansas City, Kan.
October 4, 2012, 9:18 pm
Pity the Plutocrats
By THOMAS FRANK
THESE are the times that try rich men's patience. Not because this interminable economic crisis threatens to cost them their fortunes, of course, but rather the reverse: that by humiliating so many others, the slump has exposed the mighty to the horrors of criticism. Yes, sour sounds have reached their ears: recrimination, reproof, ridicule, rebellion!
The people have been thinking about how the economy came to collapse in the first place, of the role that great wealth and the deregulation of the financial industry played. And over the years, the unthinkable has happened. People have started to say mean things about billionaires. Even the president has engaged in the "rhetoric of class warfare." During Wednesday's debate, for example, this Danton of the Democrats went so far as to say that businesses shouldn't get tax breaks for moving jobs overseas and even scoffed at that archetypal small-business man, Donald J. Trump.
Rhetoric like this makes the very rich feel very sad. It has sent them on a crusade to restore matters to their rightful place. And in the process they have developed one of the distinctive literary forms of our time: the plutocrat's j'accuse.
The most famous example is the open letter to the president written last year by the hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman and dissected at length in this week's New Yorker magazine. In it, Mr. Cooperman blames Mr. Obama (and his "minions") for "setting the tenor of the rancorous debate now roiling us that smacks of what so many have characterized as 'class warfare.' " This is serious, this roiling and this tenor-setting, but it is not the only damage the president's words have done. The "divisive, polarizing tone of your rhetoric is cleaving a widening gulf," Mr. Cooperman continued, "between the downtrodden and those best positioned to help them" - meaning, apparently, hedge fund managers like himself.
Other princelings who have made noteworthy contributions to the genre include Ted Leonsis, the owner of several Washington sports teams, who feels that "anyone who has achieved success in terms of rank or fiscal success is being cast as a bad guy in a black hat," and the casino magnate Steve Wynn, who griped in a famous conference call that the president "keeps making speeches about redistribution." He said, "We haven't heard that kind of talk except from pure socialists."
Reports have even reached us, via The Wall Street Journal, of a tragic incident last year on the streets of New York in which an unnamed "panhandler" rejected a handout with a spiteful, "You Wall Street fat cats!" Thankfully, the man at whom this imprecation was directed, the chief executive of a venture capital firm, knew whom to blame: President Obama, whose "incendiary message has now reached the streets."
Nobody likes to be criticized, but one would expect captains of industry, Darwinian tough guys that they are, to have thicker skins. Were Mr. Obama a true incendiary, he might have found a way on Wednesday to mention his opponent's millions; his work for Bain Capital; or his dismissal, captured on video, of those layabouts who make up 47 percent of the country. Mr. Obama called for ending the tax break for corporate jets, sure, but that's about it.
In the broad scheme of things, these are excellent times to be a billionaire. Labor is powerless. Taxes are low. The banks that survived the crisis are bigger than ever. So why do the well-to-do whine so? Why do they wring their hands?
For one thing, their criticisms reveal a contemptuous view of their fellow citizens. That all the books and articles on the financial crisis and the recession might have had an effect - that people might see the economic downturn as a reflection on the individuals who were, a few years back, lionized as the economy's leaders - is inconceivable to the class-war complainers. The public's attitude, they seem to believe, can have arisen only as a result of propagandizing by Mr. Obama. No American would ever stop respecting his betters unless he was brainwashed into it.
It is also a play for legitimacy. In good times, the very rich compare themselves to the Almighty; in hard times they convince themselves that Huey P. Long lurks just around the corner. History, they fear, will repeat its most sordid chapters unless it is stopped right now, and that's why they act as if a few mean words wound as hurtfully as any program of, say, antitrust enforcement.
They whine because whining works. One only wishes that if he wins a second term, Barack Obama will give them something to really cry about.
Thomas Frank, a columnist at Harper's Magazine, is the author of "Pity the Billionaire."
October 5, 2012
Romney Claims of Bipartisanship as Governor Face Challenge
By MICHAEL WINES
BOSTON — He came into office with a mandate to shake things up, an agenda laden with civics-book reforms and a raging fiscal crisis that threatened to torpedo both. He sparred with a hostile legislature and suffered a humiliating setback in the midterm elections. As four years drew to a close, his legacy was blotted by anemic job growth, sagging political popularity and — except for a landmark health care overhaul bill — a record of accomplishment that disappointed many.
That could be the Barack Obama that Mitt Romney depicted in Wednesday’s presidential debate as an ineffective and overly partisan leader. But it could also be Mitt Romney, who boasted of a stellar record as Massachusetts governor, running a state dominated by the political opposition.
Mr. Romney did score some successes beyond his health care legislation, notably joining a Democratic legislature to cut a deficit-ridden budget by $1.6 billion and revamping a troubled school building fund. Some outside experts and former aides say his administration excelled at the sorts of nuts-and-bolts efficiencies that make bureaucracies run better, like streamlining permit approvals and modernizing jobs programs.
As a Republican governor whose legislature was 87 percent Democratic, Mr. Romney said in Wednesday’s debate, “I figured out from Day 1 I had to get along, and I had to work across the aisle to get anything done.” The result, he said, was that “we drove our schools to be No. 1 in the nation. We cut taxes 19 times.”
But on closer examination, the record as governor he alluded to looks considerably less burnished than Mr. Romney suggested. Bipartisanship was in short supply; Statehouse Democrats complained he variously ignored, insulted or opposed them, with intermittent charm offensives. He vetoed scores of legislative initiatives and excised budget line items a remarkable 844 times, according to the nonpartisan research group Factcheck.org. Lawmakers reciprocated by quickly overriding the vast bulk of them.
The big-ticket items that Mr. Romney proposed when he entered office in January 2003 went largely unrealized, and some that were achieved turned out to have a comparatively minor impact. A wholesale restructuring of state government was dead on arrival in the legislature; an ambitious overhaul of the state university system was stillborn; a consolidation of transportation fiefs never took place.
Mr. Romney lobbied successfully to block changes in the state’s much-admired charter school program, but his own education reforms went mostly unrealized. His promise to lure new business and create jobs in a state that had been staggered by the collapse of the 2000 dot-com boom never quite bore fruit; unemployment dropped less than a percentage point during his four years, but for most of that time, much of the decline was attributed to the fact that any new jobs were being absorbed by a shrinking work force.
Mr. Romney won lawmakers’ consent to streamline a tangled health and human services bureaucracy, but the savings amounted to but $7 million a year. He entered office considering an eight-state compact to battle climate change, but left office outside the consortium, saying it cost too much.
“He put on the table in his inaugural address, and then in his budget, a series of proposed reforms like civil service reform, pension reform — going right to the heart of the lion’s den,” Michael Widmer, president of the nonpartisan Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, said in an interview. But excepting health care, “he never followed up. There was a handful of successes, but there was never a full-blown or focused program in the sense of saying, ‘Here’s our vision.’ ”
Mr. Romney’s former aides vigorously disagree.
“That’s an overwrought type of critique,” said Timothy Murphy, the health and human services secretary under Mr. Romney. “If you take a look at the things the governor set out to do, we accomplished a lot. The budgets were more than balanced — we generated surpluses.”
And, he said, “We did pass the most consequential piece of health care legislation in this state in 25 years.”
Mr. Romney was pushing on an open door on the 2006 initiative — Democrats had long dreamed of providing health coverage to almost every resident.
Jane Edmonds, who headed the state’s Labor and Workforce Development agency, recounted a meeting at the start of Mr. Romney’s term in which he handed out a list of campaign promises to his staff and ordered them carried out within four years.
“My opinion is that he delivered on almost all those promises,” she said. “We had 8 or 10 of them and we carried them all out.”
Some of Mr. Romney’s harshest critics concede his competence and his grasp of Massachusetts’ problems and needs. Many of the initiatives he took into office were arguably nonpartisan; he brought to the job the same gimlet-eyed scrutiny of costs and revenues that he employed as an investment manager to spot potentially profitable companies.
But in contrast to his statements in the debate, many say, Mr. Romney neither mastered the art of reaching across the aisle nor achieved unusual success as governor. To the contrary, they say, his relations with Democrats could be acrimonious, and his ability to get big things done could be just as shackled as is President Obama’s ability to push his agenda through a hostile House of Representatives.
Mr. Romney could be appealing and persuasive, they say. But he also could display a certain political tone-deafness and a failure to nurture the constituencies he needed to make his initiatives succeed.
Mr. Romney promoted his record on Wednesday as a bipartisan leader by noting that he met regularly with the Democratic leadership of the Massachusetts legislature. But that apparently was not enough to keep afloat a relationship that had been rancorous from the beginning.
In the opening months of his tenure, Mr. Romney vetoed a House plan to create new committees and raise legislative pay, and the legislators rejected his flagship proposal, a nearly 600-page plan to overhaul the state bureaucracy. “They had a deteriorating relationship during the first two years,” said Jeffrey Berry, a political science professor and expert on state politics at Tufts University.
Mr. Romney proved to have a taste for vetoes, killing legislative initiatives in his first two years at more than twice the rate of his more popular Republican predecessor, William F. Weld, The Boston Globe reported in 2004.
Some seemed almost designed to rankle legislators: one rejected an increase in disability payments to a police officer who had slipped on an ice patch. Others reflect his ramrod-straight views on ethics and government waste — knocking down a special pension deal for a state legislator; rejecting a subsidy to Medicaid payments so nursing homes could provide kosher meals to Jewish residents.
“He seemed to take great delight in vetoing bills,” recalled his director of legislative affairs, John O’Keefe. "Some of the bills we would chuckle when we wrote the veto message.”
By 2004, the second year of his term, Mr. Romney was provoked enough to mount an unprecedented campaign to unseat Democratic legislators, spending $3 million in Republican Party money and hiring a nationally known political strategist, Michael Murphy, to plan the battle.
The effort failed spectacularly. Republicans lost seats, leaving them with their smallest legislative delegation since 1867. Democratic lawmakers were reported to have been deeply angered by the campaign’s tactics.
On close scrutiny, some of the bipartisan successes that Mr. Romney claimed in the Wednesday debate turn out to by peppered with asterisks.
On education, Mr. Romney was correct in stating that Massachusetts students were ranked first in the nation during his tenure. Students in grades four and eight took top honors in reading and mathematics on the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress.
However, educators largely credit an overarching reform of state schools 10 years earlier under Governor Weld. The reforms doubled state spending on schools and brought standards and accountability to administrators and students.
“Governor Romney does not get to take the credit for achieving that No. 1 ranking,” said Mike Gilbert, field director for the nonprofit Massachusetts Association of School Committees, “but it did happen while he was in office.”
Mr. Romney’s claim that he was responsible for 19 separate tax cuts is also technically accurate, but not the full story. In 2005, for example, Mr. Romney’s administration wrote legislation refunding $250 million in capital gains taxes — but the bill came only in response to a court ruling that the taxes had been illegally withheld in 2002.
Many of the other tax cuts were first proposed by the legislature, not Mr. Romney, and others were routine extensions of existing tax reductions or were one-day sales tax holidays.
Michael Barbaro contributed reporting.
Mitt Romney Proved in front of 67 Million Americans that He Can’t be Trusted
By: Dennis SOctober 5th, 2012
Since I’ve held my tongue these past few days regarding the Wednesday night debate flogging of the President by the ‘Masked Mitt’ who hides his taxable money overseas, I figured it’s time to put a cap on debate debacle number one.
Yes, by any objective measure Obama lost. I agree with the Progressive Punditry mob on that one. I also agree that Jim Lehrer’s best moderating days are behind him as he was stampeded by Romney. And while I feel that Lehrer stunk the joint out, I was appalled at the patronizing and disrespectful behavior of Romney. Few people picked up on that highly revealing window into the character of the Republican nominee.
I going to write off Obama’s performance (or lack thereof) to his limited debate preparation and poor advice from his advisers. Perception is vital to the success or failure of a debate participant and the President was perceived as being weak while the aggressive Romney took on the trappings of what most people think a president should be…in the moment, quick to respond, chock full of facts and possessed of a plan. It’s all pure bullshit of course, but most viewers were dazzled by Mitt’s Carny side-show, while Obama frittered away a fantastic opportunity in front of a Neilsen-rated TV audience of 67.2 million viewers (not counting computers and other electronic media) to demonstrate his obvious Presidential qualities.
But enough of October 3rd. We’ve already heard from everybody from Mrs. Dyer’s 4th grade class to the smugosity of O’Reilly. It’s time to lift the veil of Romney’s bombast and see what lies underneath.
Romney was one lucky dude. No references to his tax returns, (the job of the moderator). No challenge from his opponent to renounce the birther dipshits. There were no specifics from Obama about the constituent-friendly bills he tried to get congress to pass. Nothing about all that Romney money hidden overseas. Nothing about the absolute impossibility for Romney to relate to the average worker, given the fact that he does NO work. With all his blind trusts, he doesn’t even do the work of picking up the phone and asking his Dublin, Swiss or wherever the hell his latest overseas hiding hole is to invest a few million here, a few million there. He does NOTHING while U.S. middle-class worker productivity tops the world even as wages are paralyzed because Romney and his ilk have managed, with the help of right-wing courts, to all but nullify an union influence in the workplace. Less than 7% of workers in the private sector are unionized (used to be 33% or so), and still these dumb-ass workers vote against their families and for Koch, union-busting Republicans.
Let’s get one thing straight here. If, as is the case with Obama, you have a viciously oppositional party controlling either the House or the Senate, it doesn’t mean squat what the debate candidate says. Yes, you can throw in a few Executive Orders, but in order to make the true game-changing policy wishes come true, you’re going to have to pass legislation.
What I’m saying in Romney’s case is that he can make all the promises that his health care plan will include pre-existing conditions (that is, if you already have insurance; for people buying new insurance, ain’t happening), or that we need to pump up U.S. energy production and sadly Obama agreed with him without adequately defending alternative sources. It will take decades to just facilitate the drilling permits already issued today and a massive percentage of the oil we do produce goes to overseas markets.
As importantly, you must remember Mitt is a deregulation guy. He’d reverse every advance made in the area of financial deregulation, just as Republicans reversed anti-monopoly and anti-trust legislation, again, with a huge contribution from the courts. If Romney has his way, half the population with be breathing in pure benzene. Your kids will be able to watch it float on their favorite stream.
Romney also makes the laughable statement that he can’t reduce middle-class taxes without reducing taxes for the rich. It’s called legislation. We repeal the Bush tax cuts, then pass legislation giving 98% of taxpayers a new reduction, maybe even more generous that the Bush cuts. Case closed!
Romney talked about the 47 million people (close) on food stamps. Here was a great opportunity to spell out chapter and verse how our economy got to this point. Later Obama cited a number of programs that he eliminated from the Department of Education, playing to Romney’s base. I would sure like to know his reasoning for each move. Bowing to Romney’s desire to destroy the Education Department isn’t going to gain you a single goober vote, Mr. President.
Romney insists he’ll get more revenue into the Treasury, “by more people working, getting higher pay, paying more taxes.” Whatta crock from a guy who encourages companies to relocate overseas, wants corporations to pay their workers the least wage possible and to accomplish that end, unions must go. Here are his words when he addressed a meeting of non-union contractors, “One of the first things I will do, actually on day 1, is I will end the government’s favoritism towards unions and contracting on federal projects. I will fight to repeal Davis-Bacon…and I will fight for right-to-work laws.” So, yeah, wages are going to skyrocket under Romney. Obama should have asked Mitt about his animus towards unions and how that was going to square with increased wages.
President Obama told the viewers that he and Romney had a somewhat similar position on Social Security. Romney has said elsewhere he’s going to lower the rate of inflation growth in the benefits received by so-called ‘high-income’ recipients. Whatever he means by ‘high-income’. He doesn’t’ say. You get to work at least a year or two longer under Romney’s proposal and he insists nothing applies to those who are already retired or 55 or older. And Obama has a ‘similar’ position? Are there surprises in store if the President is re-elected?
As for Romney, I don’t believe anything he says that sounds reasonable and I believe everything he says that sounds like it would pretty much destroy America. Obama gets a second bite of the apple October 16th. There will be domestic (women, immigration, global warming?) and foreign policy discussed in a Town Hall meeting setting at Hofstra University. Advantage Obama. And the moderator is CNN’s Candy Crowley, a no-nonsense pro. The single Vice presidential debate will take place Thursday the 11th at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. Again, to include foreign and domestic policy. Don’t underestimate Joe. Ryan’s in for a long evening.
Romney is Rooting Against the Economy and Depressed Over Improving Numbers
By: Sarah JonesOctober 5th, 2012
It’s understandable that Romney would be bummed when the economy is seen to be improving, but when did we get to the place in politics where Republicans were so openly rooting for the further destruction of the American middle class that upon hearing of the improved job numbers, the Romney camp sat “stone faced” and “quiet” on their plane?
The AP describes the mood on Romney’s plane as cheering and clapping the day before, saying the “euphoria ended after the morning report that the nation’s unemployment rate had dropped to 7.8 percent, its lowest level in Obama’s presidency. Romney and his team sat stone-faced and quiet on the flight to Virginia’s coal country, taking in the good news for the country that’s bad news for their political prospects.”
Once they landed in Virginia, Romney attacked Obama on jobs in spite of the improving jobs numbers, including attacking Obama over jobs in the coal industry, which have in fact grown to their best numbers in 15 years under Obama.
Even the AP pointed out that the reaction leaves the Romney camp open to accusations that Obama’s economic plan is working and Romney is rooting against the economy. “The report gave Obama fresh evidence to argue that his economic policies are working. It also gave the president an opportunity to suggest that Romney is rooting against the economic recovery.”
While rooting for America’s demise has been all the rage among conservatives since Obama took office, it doesn’t play well in a national campaign. That demise in this case includes real Americans with very real and much needed jobs. Romney needs to step up his game and find a way to convey the impression that he is happy that more people have jobs.
This is just right back to Mitt the Twit level behavior. Does Romney need weeks of rehearsal to figure out how to comport himself?
Republican Hatred of Their Country Hits a New Low as More Americans Find Jobs
By: Rmuse October 6th, 2012
There is a German term, Schadenfruede, that describes the pleasure one takes in the misfortune of others, and conversely, there are people who are irritated at another person’s fortune and they usually are mean-spirited and driven by jealousy and contempt. However, one would think that those sentiments would never apply to a nation’s success or failures, unless of course, it is a hated enemy anxious for a country’s demise. It is unfortunate that in America, there is a segment of the population that hopes America fails and it is a fairly new phenomenon unique to the Republican Party. Throughout President Obama’s term, the GOP has deliberately sought to thwart economic recovery and kill jobs, so it was little surprise that they reacted negatively to the Bureau of Labor Statistics report yesterday that the unemployment rate fell to 7.8% for the first time in well over three-and-a-half years.
It is questionable that, except for the Civil War, there has ever been a time in history that some Americans were angry at good news for other Americans, or celebrated their setbacks regardless if it was under a Democratic or Republican administration. But this is an era in which Republicans have proven time and again that they have such contempt for Americans that they have worked tirelessly to punish the people they were elected to serve, and they have done it because they hate one man; President Obama.
The President reacted to the unemployment numbers by saying there were still Americans the government had to help by creating jobs, and that there was still much work to do, but Republicans went in a different direction and decried the President’s policies as a failure. Willard Romney said, “This is not what a real recovery looks like, we’ve lost over 600,000 manufacturing jobs since President Obama took office,” and perennial cretin Eric Cantor said, “It simply isn’t good enough!” It was typical Republican naysaying and pathetic, especially since congressional Republicans have thwarted every job creation measure the President has proposed in the past three-and-a-half years. Romney especially has no room to decry the loss of manufacturing jobs since his company, Bain Capital, has been at the forefront of outsourcing entire manufacturing companies to boost employment opportunities in China. However, this is not the first time Republicans have decried success under President Obama or celebrated setbacks that affected the people.
When the Olympic committee responsible for selecting a host country for the 2016 Olympics was considering Chicago as the host city, Republicans cheered wildly when Chicago lost its bid to host the games. Last year when Republicans nearly caused a government shutdown over a budget deal, influential Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) repeatedly said in public that “nobody wants a government shutdown,” but when he was speaking at a Tea Party rally, he cried out, “Shut ‘er down!” In fact, Republicans were rallying their Tea Party base with calls for a shutdown for weeks, despite public pronouncements to the contrary, and it typified the contempt the GOP has for this government and its people.
Republicans showed the same hate-inspired resolve during the healthcare reform debate that has not let up despite 30-million Americans having the opportunity to have healthcare insurance, or that the ACA reduces the deficit they are so “concerned” about, and they have the same contempt for Wall Street and banking reforms that protect consumers and investors alike. There is no reasonable explanation for the Republican contempt for good news for the American people that is not founded in their hatred of an African American man working for all Americans. To some degree, the slogan, Republicans hate Obama more than they love America is true, but they hate Americans every bit as much as they hate the president or they would not decry the people’s good fortune or reduction in unemployment.
It is difficult to come to any other conclusion than Republicans have gone out of their way to deny President Obama credit for his successes. They still decry the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (stimulus) as a failed policy despite it created 3.3 – 3.8 million jobs, or that the American automobile industry is thriving because the President did not follow the advice of renowned business impresario Willard Romney who said, “let Detroit go bankrupt.” Americans are well-aware of Romney’s Bain Capital creative destruction model that bankrupts and shutters companies to ship manufacturing jobs overseas while employees lose their jobs, healthcare, and pensions.
Republicans even went to great lengths to heap praise on convicted war criminal George W. Bush’s illegal torture techniques when the President fulfilled his campaign promise of finding and killing Osama bin Laden, even if he had to go into Pakistan to accomplish the feat. There are Republicans in Ohio who have bought into the Republican myth that the President was insignificant in killing bin Laden, and 65% of them are either not convinced the President was involved or credit Willard Romney with his death.
Why do Republicans hate this President? It cannot be his Christian faith, or that he saved the economy, or presided over the lowest tax rates and government spending in 60 years. Simply put, it is the President’s race and to show their hatred, they have taken it out on the American people by taking pleasure and perpetuating their misfortune at being unemployed, or condemning their good fortune of finding jobs as a Bureau of Labor Statistics fabrication.
There is a name for people in foreign nations that condemn America’s success and celebrate our misfortune, and most people would agree they are this country’s enemies, but when they are American citizens serving in Congress and running for the presidency, they are Republicans.
« Last Edit: Oct 06, 2012, 11:50 am by Rad »
The Changing Nature of Ancient Mongolia ....
Below is a link to a program from AlJazzera television called 'witness'..........here is the right up on it: Mongolian Bling
We follow three young rappers as they combine traditional Mongolian music with western rap to create nomadic hip hop.
Filmmakers: Benj Binks and Nubar Ghazarian
In modern-day Mongolia, apartment blocks have replaced tents, Hyundais have taken over from horses and businessmen walk where nomads once roamed.
We jump into the thriving alternative music scene in the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar and follow three young rappers as they record new tracks and draw inspiration from their fast-changing environment.
While many rappers aspire to make it in the West, some are inspired by their elders, and hope that traditional values and cultures will not be lost in their fast-changing society.
Click here to meet the Mongolian rappers.
Filmmaker's view: Benj Binks
Mongolia is a fairly obscure country. Ask people what they know about it and most will say Genghis Khan, nomads, the Gobi desert and Mongolian BBQ.
The little media information that does get out of the country usually depicts traditional nomadic life, a foreign world that the West romanticises about.
Although Mongolia definitely has an amazing traditional culture, it also has a modern urbanised contemporary society in which the majority of the population lives.
Mongolian Bling will take people beyond the stereotypical traditional images of Mongolia and reveal another less expected side of the country.
Traditional Mongolia goes back centuries, and serves as a comparison to the modern life that has swept the country since socialism ended and democracy was introduced some 18 years ago. However, what grabbed me when I reached Mongolia was this modern society.
In the film, I try to capture how I felt and what I saw when I landed in the capital Ulaanbaatar and discovered the real Mongolia.
It is a grey Soviet city with battered old Hyundais crammed into the street next to flashy new SUVs - a city infested with new buildings and construction sites.
It is a place where grandparents traditionally dressed in bright colours walk down the crumbled footpaths of Ulaanbaatar hand-in-hand with their 'baggy-pants and baseball-cap wearing' grandchildren.
And where cool 20-something-year-olds in trendy bars listen to live music and watch MTV while young monks sit in dingy internet cafés in the city's slums playing World of Warcraft.
The film attempts to show some of the effects that globalisation has had on an ancient culture through the eyes of the hip hop artists who have had such a significant influence on the new generation of Mongolians.
The stories of Gennie, Gee and Quiza - and of their established, well regarded and an emerging talent - help view Mongolia through their eyes.
The Ger Districts reflect a lot of the issues that Gee talks of while Quiza incorporates the traditional music that Bayarmagnai sings. And Gennie’s story shows not only her maturing as she works with her idol Enkhtaivan, but also his support of her and Mongolian youth.
Here is the link to watch:http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/witness/2012/10/2012103113231574635.html
Here's another Republican piece of work, a state Senator in Arkansas. Check out these progressive views. While reading, remember people ELECTED this piece of work to their state Senate, as someone else ran against him:
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Arkansas Republican: Slavery was ‘blessing in disguise’ that ‘rewarded’ blacks with U.S. citizenship
By David Ferguson
Saturday, October 6, 2012 13:34 EDT
A Republican member of the Arkansas state senate’s self-published memoir claims that for black people in America, slavery was a “blessing in disguise,” that, if they were physically hardy enough to survive it, “someday be rewarded with citizenship in the greatest nation ever established upon the face of the Earth.” According to the Arkansas Times, Rep. Jon Hubbard, of Jonesboro, included these thought and others in his book, Letters to the Editor, Confessions of a Frustrated Conservative, which was initially written about and excerpted by writer Michael Cook at Talk Business.
“(T)he institution of slavery that the black race has long believed to be an abomination upon its people may actually have been a blessing in disguise,” Hubbard wrote. “The blacks who could endure those conditions and circumstances would someday be rewarded with citizenship in the greatest nation ever established upon the face of the Earth.”
The Africans who were abducted from their homeland to be sold abroad as human chattel were the lucky ones, however. On page 189 of Letters to the Editor, Hubbard said, “Knowing what we know today about life on the African continent, would an existence spent in slavery have been any crueler than a life spent in sub-Saharan Africa?”
However, Hubbard also believes that black Americans’ lives would “be more enjoyable and successful if they would only learn to appreciate the value of a good education.”
And while he sees “the blacks” as a pressing problem facing America, the real threat, he wrote, comes from immigrants, “legal and illegal,” who will eventually have to be rounded up and killed.
“(T)he immigration issue, both legal and illegal… will lead to planned wars or extermination,” said Hubbard on page 9 of Letters to the Editor. “Although now this seems to be barbaric and uncivilized, it will at some point become as necessary as eating and breathing.”
Hubbard has represented Arkansas’s District 58 in the state senate since 2011.
Raw Story (http://s.tt/1plvh
This was also 'elected' .. what does this suggest about the very nature of the people in America who elect such people ?
October 06, 2012 12:00 PMRep. Paul Broun: Evolution, Embryology, and the Big Bang Theory are 'Lies Straight from the Pit of Hell'
American Bridge captured Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) at the Liberty Baptist Church Sportsman's Banquet on September 27, 2012, in Hartwell, Georgia, denying evolution, embryology, and the Big Bang Theory, saying that they are lies from the "pit of Hell".
BROUN: God's word is true. I've come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it's lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior. You see, there are a lot of scientific data that I've found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I don't believe that the Earth's but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That's what the Bible says.
And what I've come to learn is that it's the manufacturer's handbook, is what I call it. It teaches us how to run our lives individually, how to run our families, how to run our churches. But it teaches us how to run all of public policy and everything in society. And that's the reason as your congressman I hold the Holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C., and I'll continue to do that.With such an open mind Rep. Broun naturally chairs the House Science Committee on Investigations and Oversight.
« Last Edit: Oct 07, 2012, 06:23 am by Rad »
October 6, 2012
Turkey Fires Back at Syria a Fourth Day in a Row
By ANNE BARNARD and HWAIDA SAAD
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Turkey fired artillery into Syria for a fourth consecutive day on Saturday after another Syrian shell landed on the Turkish side of the increasingly tense border.
The exchanges — and Turkey’s recent warnings to Syria that it would defend itself — have raised fears of a regional conflict. While stray shells and bullets from the Syrian conflict have often landed in Lebanon and Turkey, for the first time a Syrian shell killed five Turkish civilians on Wednesday, prompting Turkey’s response.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, who was in Peru, said the continued exchange of fire was raising concerns that the Syrian conflict would spread, adding that the United States was using diplomatic channels to relay worries about the fighting.
Both Syria and Turkey on Saturday denied that Syria had pulled its forces back six miles from the border to avoid provoking Turkey, as Turkish news media had reported on Friday. A Turkish government official dismissed the reports as unreliable.
Rebel activity heightened along the border area in Syria’s Idlib Province on Saturday. Antigovernment activists said rebels had seized the Syrian village of Khirbet al-Jouz, not far from where the shell landed in a field in the Turkish village of Guvecci, and one activist group said 40 government soldiers, including officers, had been killed in the fighting. Another Turkish official confirmed in an interview that rebels had taken control in the area.
Potential spillover from the Syrian conflict is a concern not only in Turkey but on all of Syria’s borders. Some Lebanese officials believe Syria wants to drag Lebanon into the conflict to reduce international focus on Syria and raise the stakes if the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, falls.
On Saturday, unnamed Lebanese officials told the local news media that Bouthaina Shaaban, a prominent media adviser to Mr. Assad, had been involved in a plot they say was uncovered this summer to stir sectarian violence in Lebanon, suggesting that the Syrian government was more deeply involved than previously alleged. A Lebanese security official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, later made the same charges. It was impossible to immediately confirm the accusations, and Syria made no statements on the matter.
Lebanon had already charged Michel Samaha, a pro-Syrian politician, in the plot, which it said would have loosed a campaign of bombings and assassinations inside Lebanon.
The Lebanese security official said that evidence from tapped phone calls suggested that Ms. Shaaban had worked with Mr. Samaha, who was accused of transporting explosives to Lebanon and plotting explosions aimed at “big crowds” and Sunni politicians who support the Syrian uprising.
“From the phone records we have, we managed to track a call between Samaha and Bouthaina Shaaban,” the official said. “Both were talking explicitly and clearly about the operation.”
The allegations about Ms. Shaaban were first reported by Lebanon’s MTV channel.
In Latakia, another province bordering Turkey, unusually intense fighting was reported. Latakia, the home province of the Assad family’s Alawite sect, had previously remained relatively calm. Activists said 10 rebels were killed trying to seize a military outpost.
Also in Latakia, activists reported that a high-ranking officer in the elite Republican Guard died of wounds sustained in clashes days earlier. The officer, Col. Ali Khuzam, was considered the right-hand man of Maher al-Assad, the president’s brother and security enforcer, who heads the feared Fourth Division.
Colonel Khuzam’s death was reported by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based organization that quoted members of its network of sources in Qardaha, the mountain village near Latakia that is the Assad clan’s hometown. The report could not be confirmed. Conflicting reports have circulated of clashes in Qardaha among Alawite families, and the observatory said he sustained his wounds in those clashes.
Continued heavy shelling was reported on Saturday morning by antigovernment activists in the city and province of Homs. Shelling was also reported near Damascus and in the southern province of Dara’a.
Hania Mourtada contributed reporting from Beirut, and Sebnem Arsu from Istanbul.
October 6, 2012
Citing U.S. Fears, Arab Allies Limit Syrian Rebel Aid
By ROBERT F. WORTH
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — For months, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been funneling money and small arms to Syria’s rebels but have refused to provide heavier weapons, like shoulder-fired missiles, that could allow opposition fighters to bring down government aircraft, take out armored vehicles and turn the war’s tide.
While they have publicly called for arming the rebels, they have held back, officials in both countries said, in part because they have been discouraged by the United States, which fears the heavier weapons could end up in the hands of terrorists.
As a result, the rebels have just enough weapons to maintain a stalemate, the war grinds on and more jihadist militants join the fray every month.
“You can give the rebels AKs, but you can’t stop the Syrian regime’s military with AKs,” said Khalid al-Attiyah, a state minister for foreign affairs in Qatar. Providing the rebels with heavier weapons “has to happen,” he added. “But first we need the backing of the United States, and preferably the U.N.”
Saudi officials here said the United States was not barring them from providing shoulder-fired missiles, but warning about the risks. The Saudis and Qataris said they hoped to convince their allies that those risks could be overcome. “We are looking at ways to put in place practices to prevent this type of weapon from falling into the wrong hands,” one Arab official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity in line with diplomatic protocol.
American support for such weapons transfers is unlikely to materialize any time soon. The Obama administration has made clear that it has no desire to deepen its efforts, mostly providing logistical support for the rebels.
Administration officials would not comment on what they are telling their Persian Gulf allies about arming the rebels. “We are doing what we feel is appropriate to help the unarmed opposition to be more effective and working closely with the opposition to prepare for a transition,” the State Department said in response to a question on the subject.
Backing from the United Nations Security Council, where any intervention is blocked by the firm vetoes of Russia and China, seems even less likely. Nor is the call for an Arab-led military action in Syria, voiced two weeks ago by the emir of Qatar at the United Nations General Assembly, expected to bear fruit.
Many Saudi and Qatari officials now fear that the fighting in Syria is awakening deep sectarian animosities and, barring such intervention, could turn into an uncontrollable popular jihad with consequences far more threatening to Arab governments than the Afghan war of the 1980s.
“If the killing continues, the youth will not listen to wise voices,” said Salman al-Awda, one of this country’s most prominent clerics, in an interview at his office here. “They will find someone who will encourage them, and they will go.”
Already, there are signs of an uptick in the number of young men crossing illegally into Syria from Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries, and of private fund-raising efforts across the gulf to help the rebels acquire heavier weapons. The fighting has also spilled into Turkey, which shelled Syria for four days last week after a Syrian shell killed five Turkish civilians.
Saudi Arabia has long had an antagonistic relationship with the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and sees itself as the protector of Syria’s Sunni majority in a country governed by Mr. Assad’s Alawite minority. But the prospect of an increasingly sectarian civil war in Syria is deeply troubling to many here, where the Afghan jihad spawned a generation of battle-tested zealots who returned home and waged a bloody insurgency that was brought under control only recently.
“The government really doesn’t want to repeat the experience we had with the guys who went to Afghanistan and Iraq,” said Mshari al-Zaydi, a Saudi columnist and an expert on jihadi movements. “The damage from Al Qaeda was worse in Saudi Arabia than it was in the U.S.A.”
In May, a group of conservative Saudi clerics, including some who had called for volunteers to fight in Iraq, announced a fund-raising drive on Facebook to support the Syrian rebels. Days later, they posted messages saying the government had barred them from sending donations.
Some clerics criticized the government’s restriction, including Mr. Awda, who sent an apparent warning on Twitter: “The donations to Syria cannot be limited to this route or that route, and those who want to provide support will find a way.”
The Saudi government must also manage the rising popular demand for greater action to defend the rebels against the Syrian government, widely seen here as a proxy for Saudi Arabia’s arch-nemesis, Iran. Behind these political fault lines lies a deep sectarian hostility: Saudis are increasingly angry about the mistreatment of their fellow Sunni Muslims in Syria by an Alawite regime they see as heretical.
“There is deep anger,” said Abdelaziz al-Gasim, a prominent lawyer in Riyadh with a reformist reputation. “People want the government to do more.” The calls for greater involvement are a rare point of accord between Saudi liberals and conservatives, he added, though they are more visible on the free zone of Twitter than in traditional media.
Already, regional Islamist funding networks are being built up, Mr. Gasim said. “These are private channels with people in Kuwait and Qatar, and you cannot control them — there are deep business relationships in the gulf,” he said. “And the majority of them are within the Islamic movement, because the more nationalist or secular movements in Syria have no relationship with Saudi society.”
To some extent, the Saudi and Qatari governments have themselves to blame, because the major pan-Arab satellite TV stations they control — Al Arabia and Al Jazeera, respectively — have done more than any other outlets to stoke anger against Syria’s government and urge sympathy with the rebels. Both stations have been accused of being little more than rebel mouthpieces, and they have played on sectarian fears and hatreds. In one recent and much-repeated teaser on Al Arabia for a news segment about Syria, a man with an anguished face clutches a wounded child and shouts into the camera: “Our children are dying because of Iranian fatwas!”
The Saudi government has not officially acknowledged providing arms to the rebels, and the public face of its aid has been charitable support, including a much publicized donation campaign for Syrian refugees during the holy month of Ramadan in July and August. The government is also paying the salaries of many defected Syrian officers, and financing medical assistance to Syrian refugees.
But at the Turkish border town of Antakya late last month, Syrian rebels spoke openly of the Saudi and Qatari intermediaries who dole out weapons on behalf of their governments. The chief Saudi supplier is said to be a Lebanese figure named Okab Saqr, who belongs to the political coalition of Saudi Arabia’s chief ally in Lebanon, Saad Hariri.
“The amounts are not that much,” said Maysara, 40, a lean rebel commander from the northern town of Saraqib, who withheld his last name for safety reasons. “They deliver weapons once every few weeks.” In one recent shipment, he said, a 200-man fighting brigade received six Russian-made AS Val assault rifles, and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
Maysara added that Mr. Saqr seemed to struggle with supply issues; he once saw Mr. Saqr asking rebels for the name and contacts of a weapons dealer from the former Yugoslavia that he was hoping to meet. The logistics of acquiring and distributing weapons in such a chaotic environment are daunting, and the rebels are anxious about infiltration by the Syrian government’s notorious intelligence agents.
The Saudi government appears to be trying to finance more secular rebel groups, Maysara said, while the Qataris appear to be closer to the Muslim Brotherhood. But these distinctions are slippery, in part because rebel groups adapt their identities to gain money and weapons. One group, in an almost comical bid for support, named itself the Rafik Hariri brigade, after the former Lebanese prime minister and Saudi ally who is believed to have been assassinated by the Syrians, and whose son Saad is influential in doling out Saudi support to the rebels.
Mr. Awda, the Saudi cleric, said reports of the chaotic situation at the Turkey-Syria border had become a staple of popular complaint in Saudi Arabia.
“People are repeating rumors that people inside Syria receive almost nothing of what is being given,” he said, “and that those who are arranging it do not have the experience to deal with this.” Those reports, he added, augment the desire of many Saudis to take matters into their own hands and set up new channels to the rebels.
Michael R. Gordon contributed reporting from Washington.