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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 494538 times)
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« Reply #2760 on: Oct 21, 2012, 07:09 AM »

October 20, 2012

Russia Stages Missile Test, With Putin Taking the Helm

By ELLEN BARRY
IHT

MOSCOW — President Vladimir V. Putin on Saturday took the helm of what the Kremlin described as the largest nuclear command exercise in Russia’s recent history, launching unarmed strategic and cruise missiles from the air, the sea and the ground.

Russian news broadcasts on Saturday featured images of the fiery launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile from a site near Arkhangelsk, in northern Russia, which was said to have arced across most of Russia and hit its target in the far eastern region of Kamchatka. Another missile was shown bursting up from the Sea of Okhotsk, west of Kamchatka.

In a brief statement, Dmitri S. Peskov, Mr. Putin’s spokesman, told Russian news agencies that the test took place “under Putin’s personal control.”

“The supreme commander in chief made a high assessment” of the performance of Russia’s combat units and staff, Mr. Peskov told Interfax and other news services. “It was the first time in the recent history of Russia that the strategic nuclear forces have held a command exercise on such a scale.”

Such displays are not unusual in Russia, especially at a period when the government is trying to “beef up the military,” said Pavel Podvig, a researcher with the Russian Nuclear Forces Project.

“Being there and pushing the buttons — that is something that is in his character,” Mr. Podvig said of Mr. Putin. “I wouldn’t read it as any particular message.”

Dmitri V. Trenin, a military analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said Mr. Putin’s involvement was probably intended to give him more credibility in the eyes of the military, an important political constituency. Mr. Putin raised military spending as he strove for a convincing margin of victory in March presidential elections. With that race safely behind him, Russia’s government is struggling to devise a budget that fulfills his campaign promises, and those increases may be adjusted, Mr. Trenin said.

“Two things he needs badly are to continue to support the people who depend on the federal budget, in terms of pay raises, and at the same time to support the military,” Mr. Trenin said.

Defense spending has opened significant rifts within the government, and was the stated reason for the resignation of one of Mr. Putin’s most trusted advisers, Finance Minister Aleksei L. Kudrin. Mr. Kudrin said this month that he had refused repeated offers of government positions because, as he told the radio station Ekho Mosvky, “the policies I disagreed with remain unchanged.”
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« Reply #2761 on: Oct 21, 2012, 07:10 AM »

Libya ‘not fully liberated’ year after Kadhafi death

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, October 20, 2012 8:55 EDT

The new Libyan authorities said on Saturday the country has not yet been “fully” liberated, exactly a year since the killing of Moamer Kadhafi and against the backdrop of clashes in one of his last bastions.

“The campaign to liberate the country has not been fully completed,” Mohammed Megaryef, the head of Libya’s national assembly, said in remarks broadcast on state television.

He singled out the oasis town of Bani Walid, scene of deadly clashes over the past week and one of the final strongholds of Kadhafi’s dictatorial regime during the 2011 revolution that ousted and killed him.

Megaryef, president of the democratically elected General National Congress, gave a sombre assessment of the post-Kadhafi period and warned that remnants of the former regime still pose a threat.

He pointed to “delays and negligence” in the formation of a professional army and police force, and the failure to disarm and integrate former rebels into state institutions.

The national assembly chief stressed that delays in reactivating and reforming the judiciary had also hampered national reconciliation in what marks a critical transition period for the oil-rich nation.

“This situation has created a state of discontent and tension among different segments of society and contributed to the spread of chaos, disorder, corruption and weakness in the performance of various government agencies,” said Megaryef.

This benefited “remnants of the former of the regime which have infiltrated the organs of the state, maybe even its leadership, and are plotting against the revolution with the help of others who are abroad.”

The weakness of the state, he continued, has allowed groups with or without ties to the former regime to defy the law and carry out arbitrary arrests, torture, blackmail and looting.

“They even dared to establish their own prisons,” Megaryef said in apparent reference to armed militias, some of which have their own detention centres and act as a law unto themselves.

Libya’s top official reserved his sharpest criticism for the town of Bani Walid, which is seen by many as a hideout for regime loyalists and criminal gangs, and endorsed military operations there.

“Bani Walid’s misfortune is that it has become a sanctuary for a large number of outlaws and anti-revolutionaries and mercenaries,” Megaryef said.

Forces linked to the army, the majority of them former rebels, encircled the hilltop town this month in a bid to bring to justice the men who kidnapped and allegedly tortured an ex-rebel credited with capturing Kadhafi.

Fighting around Bani Walid this week has killed more than 10 people.

Megaryef stressed that the operations underway “do not target this brave city or its people, rather they target culprits, wanted people, the accused and infiltrators among its honorable residents.”
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« Reply #2762 on: Oct 21, 2012, 07:13 AM »


Tens of thousands rally in London against austerity

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, October 20, 2012 9:33 EDT

Government spending cuts brought some tens of thousands of people onto the streets of London and other British cities on Saturday in protest, with union leaders expected to call for a general strike.

Marchers carried signs reading “No cuts” and “Tax justice not tax havens”, condemning the austerity measures introduced by Prime Minister David Cameron’s coalition government in a bid to reduce Britain’s huge deficit.

“Austerity isn’t working. It is hitting our jobs, our services, our living standards,” Mr Brendan Barber, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) umbrella body, was to tell a rally at the end of the march in Hyde Park. “Ministers told us that if we only accept the pain, recovery would come. Instead we have been mired in a double dip recession.”

Britain climbed out of a deep economic downturn in late 2009 but fell back into recession at the end of 2011.
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« Reply #2763 on: Oct 21, 2012, 07:15 AM »

October 20, 2012

Amid the Echoes of an Economic Crash, the Sounds of Greek Society Being Torn

By RACHEL DONADIO
IHT

ATHENS — The cafes are full, the night life vibrant and the tourists still visiting in droves, but beneath the veneer of normalcy here Greece is unraveling. In good times, money papered over some of the problems. As the economic crisis grinds along, austerity is fraying the bonds of civility, forcing long-submerged divisions to the surface.

Members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, who are widely seen to have the support of the police, clash violently with leftists and immigrants, raising fears of the precariousness of the rule of law. But the discord is not confined to them.

Lawmakers, increasingly mired in corruption scandals that alienate the public, curse one another in Parliament. Friends fall out, disagreeing over how deep the country’s troubles run and who is to blame.

The divisions are not only political. With unemployment at 25 percent, and exceeding 50 percent for young people, tensions are rising between generations, public- and private-sector workers, haves and have-nots.

“In Greece today, there are people with nothing to lose, and they’re dangerous,” said a popular blogger, Pitsirikos, as he sat in a cafe here. “If something happened, it would be like pouring gasoline on a fire. From moment to moment, things change completely. It’s not stable.”

The introduction of the euro in 2002 helped raise living standards after lean years. Today, those gains are slipping. Every day, it seems, the unthinkable becomes commonplace.

The government just passed a law allowing supermarkets to sell expired food at discounted prices. The price of home heating oil has tripled since 2009, and many apartment blocks are voting not to buy any since too many tenants can’t afford it.

As he stood outside a supermarket in a middle-class neighborhood here, a man who gave his name only as Stefanos, 70, said that his biggest fear was that Greece would reach a point “where for every five people unemployed, only one is working.”

“When that one person comes out of the supermarket, the other five are waiting for him outside to grab his groceries,” he said.

As the talks drag on between the government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Greece’s foreign lenders over politically toxic new austerity measures in exchange for more aid, the news media are filled every day with leaks about possible cuts to salaries and pensions, leading to a state of constant, low-grade panic.

The leader of Golden Dawn last week threatened that his 18 members of Parliament would resign en masse in the vote on austerity measures. The move would probably not jeopardize the foreign aid but would force destabilizing new elections in key areas in which the neo-Nazis would likely gain even more seats.

“What scares me most is that we continue to be suspended in this permanent state of uncertainty, which creates a political vacuum in and of itself,” said Nick Malkoutzis, a journalist and blogger in Athens.

Mr. Samaras recently provoked public outrage when in an interview with a German newspaper he likened Greece today to Weimar Germany, referring to the fragile democratic republic in which fascists and Communists fought for power while the political center eroded before Hitler came to power. “You have both depression and aggression — thefts, crimes of all sorts, have increased very much during the last months,” said Nicos Mouzelis, an emeritus professor of sociology at the London School of Economics, who was recently mugged in an upscale neighborhood here.

Adding to the anxiety, a newspaper recently reported that the government of Prime Minister George Papandreou fired several high-ranking army officers in October 2011 to thwart a coup attempt several weeks before he left office.

Mr. Papandreou’s office denied the claim, and in a country that had a military dictatorship from 1967 until 1974 and where democracy is still young, the unsourced article was widely dismissed as groundless. But to many Greeks, the report deepened an already profound mistrust of the news media, which in Greece are largely in the hands of the political parties and business elite.

Critics warn of a climate of intimidation against journalists. Those who are seen as representing the business elite often need security details to protect them from angry citizens. Investigative reporters for Reuters looking into the Greek banking system said they were followed, Reuters reported.

On the streets of Athens, clashes between Golden Dawn members and leftists are rising. A group of leftists arrested last month after one such clash said they had been hit, bruised and burned in custody and that the police threatened to reveal their names and addresses to Golden Dawn, The Guardian newspaper reported and a lawyer for one of the 15 detainees confirmed.

The police have denied any wrongdoing, and the public order minister has said he would sue the paper for defamation. But a Golden Dawn lawmaker did them no favors when he recently told the BBC he believed the group had the support of 50 to 60 percent of the Greek police.

As she shopped for vegetables at an outdoor market recently, Angeliki Christaki, 58, said she was growing more worried. “We’re heading toward a scenario of civil war,” she said. “But that’s only natural when the rich are against the poor, when the extreme right wing fights the extreme left wing.” (Greece ended World War II with a civil war that inflicted still lingering scars.)

“I was personally crushed when I saw young kids in a Golden Dawn protest,” she said. “I could not believe my eyes.”

While that party is best known for its violent clashes with immigrants, some of its members teamed up this month with religious protesters and scuffled with theatergoers and actors to protest a production of Terrence McNally’s 1997 play “Corpus Christi,” which depicts Jesus and the Twelve Apostles as gay.

“The neo-Nazis are widening their range of targets,” a columnist, Nikos Xydakis, wrote in the Greek daily Kathimerini. “First it was foreigners; now it’s women, homosexuals, artists, leftists, Greeks, anyone who is not deemed to be 100 percent Aryan, super-masculine, a total Greek.”

Some see humor as the best revenge. On a recent night, a man outside a bar joked that he was a Golden Dawn member and invited passers-by in for a drink. “Are you three generations’ Greek?” he asked. “We might have to give you a DNA test.”

Dimitris Bounias contributed reporting.
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« Reply #2764 on: Oct 21, 2012, 07:16 AM »

October 20, 2012

Spain’s Premier Hopes to Avoid Electoral Setback on Austerity and Separatism

By RAPHAEL MINDER
IHT

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain — Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his Popular Party are fighting to avoid a potential setback in regional elections on Sunday that are considered critical bellwethers of both his austerity plans and the growing push toward separatism in parts of Spain.

Mr. Rajoy is a native of Galicia, which has been dominated by his conservative party and is one of two Spanish regions, along with the Basque region, holding early elections this weekend. Galicia has in many ways been a model for Mr. Rajoy’s austerity program, and a loss here would portend badly for its already waning acceptance in the rest of Spain.

Both regions also have their own language and separatist political factions, which, in the case of the Basque region, are expected to pose an unusually strong challenge in the vote. Coming just weeks after a mass rally for independence in Catalonia, the Basque vote could have a significant impact on the future of Spain if the results bolster the centrifugal forces tugging at the country.

In Galicia, the economy is the key issue. The election on Sunday presents “a serious test for Mr. Rajoy’s own credibility because he has used Galicia as a showcase for austerity,” said Santiago Lago-Peñas, a professor of economics at Vigo University.

Though the Popular Party is defending a parliamentary majority in Galicia, recent opinion polls suggest a very tight outcome, with a large number of undecided voters. Mr. Rajoy has praised Galicia for its fiscal discipline, but the pain of his austerity plans is being increasingly felt here, as in other parts of Spain.

Some commentators have suggested that Alberto Núñez Feijóo, the president of Galicia, called the elections five months early, anticipating a further decline in the economy next year. Opposition politicians also say that Mr. Feijóo has done his best to put daylight between the regional and national governments, distancing himself from his own conservative Popular Party. “Feijóo has done everything possible to keep Rajoy and his party affiliation out of his campaign and instead highlight his own rigorous management, because he knows that is the only way he can win another mandate,” said Xaquín Fernández Leiceaga, a Galician lawmaker from the opposition Socialist Party.

In an interview, Pedro Puy Fraga, the Popular Party’s parliamentary leader in Galicia, said there had been “no attempt to hide” from Mr. Rajoy. “When the economy of Galicia is doing better than other regions of Spain, it makes sense to talk about our own government rather than about a national government that has only had nine months in office and has been forced to take some very urgent measures,” he said.

Mr. Rajoy has faced an increasingly powerful pushback against his austerity program. Nationwide protests have intensified against his latest budget, which includes cuts in services and tax increases. Spanish unions called this week for a general strike on Nov. 14.

Unhappiness has been building in Galicia, too. Opposition candidates have pointed to figures showing the region’s once-relatively manageable unemployment rate has now climbed closer to the rest of Spain’s. Galicia’s jobless rate has risen to 21 percent from 12 percent when Mr. Feijóo took office in 2009. Nationally, almost 25 percent of the work force is searching for work.

When Mr. Feijóo took charge of Galicia, the region had already been long transformed by Spain’s economic development and the huge subsidies that the country received after it joined the European Union in 1986.

As elsewhere in Spain, Galicia’s politicians and bankers encouraged reckless and unchecked spending during Spain’s decade-long construction boom, which came to an abrupt halt with the bursting of Spain’s real estate bubble in 2008.

Reminders of past missteps abound. Last year, the state seized control of Galicia’s main savings bank, Novagalicia Banco, because of bad loans. Overlooking Santiago stands the City of Culture, a cultural center inaugurated last year, more than a decade after it was commissioned by conservative politicians. Only two of its planned six buildings were actually completed, because of a financing shortfall. The $500 million project, designed by the American architect Peter Eisenman, has cost four times its initial budget.

The election also coincides with the start this week of a trial over the sinking of the Prestige tanker, whose oil devastated Galicia’s beaches a decade ago, and the revival of the disaster has given opposition candidates ammunition against Mr. Rajoy, who was deputy prime minister at the time of the spill.

Pachi Vázquez, the Socialist candidate, told supporters this week that Mr. Rajoy was “one of the culprits” of the environmental disaster. Mr. Vázquez suggested that Galicians now needed to prevent another spill, this time economic and caused by the Popular Party’s austerity crusade.

Mr. Rajoy has arguably less at stake in the Basque region on Sunday, given that conservative politicians from Madrid do not have much sway among independent-minded Basque voters. But the Basque elections could have a significant impact if they confirm the ascendancy of Bildu, a radical separatist coalition party formed last year. In municipal elections, it has already managed to capture a quarter of Basque votes. Last year, Madrid tried unsuccessfully to outlaw Bildu, arguing that it was a new political front for ETA, whose violent separatist campaign has killed more than 800 people in four decades.

But Bildu has instead argued that it could help consolidate peace in the Basque region, after ETA declared a cease-fire last year, while calling during its campaign for the Basque region to become “a free state in Europe.”

Coming alongside the separatist push in Catalonia, the rise of the party has fueled fears that growing political instability will make it harder for Spain to address its economic troubles. Asked by reporters in August whether the Madrid government was worried about voters endorsing Bildu and its separatist agenda, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, Spain’s deputy prime minister, gave a clear answer: “very.”
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« Reply #2765 on: Oct 21, 2012, 07:26 AM »

In the USA...

The Benghazi Controversy, Explained

—By Kevin Drum
Mother Jones Magazine

| Sat Oct. 20, 2012 9:48 AM PDT    

The caskets of US ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens, foreign service officer Sean Smith, and security officers Tyrone S. Woods and Glen A. Doherty are escorted through an honor cordon during a transfer ceremony at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, on Sept. 14, 2012. Secretary of Defense/Flickr

The reporting on what we know about the Benghazi attacks on September 11 just gets more and more interesting. Let's do a quick Q&A:

    Why was President Obama initially unwilling to call it an act of terror?

    He wasn't. The day after the attack, on September 12, he gave a Rose Garden speech in which he said, in reference to the assault, "No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation." At campaign stops that day and the next, he again referred to the Benghazi assault as "an act of terror." A McClatchy report sums up the evidence: "In the first 48 hours after the deadly Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. diplomatic outposts in Libya, senior Obama administration officials strongly alluded to a terrorist assault and repeatedly declined to link it to an anti-Muslim video that drew protests elsewhere in the region, transcripts of briefings show."

    A day after the attacks, the CIA station chief in Libya reported to Washington that there were eyewitness reports that the attack was carried out by militants. Why didn't Obama administration officials say so?

    They did. Hillary Clinton, for one, referred to it as an attack "by a small and savage group."

    OK, but that McClatchy report quoted above also says that a few days after the attacks administration officials started putting more emphasis on the "Innocence of Muslims" video. Why? It had nothing to do with the Benghazi attacks.

    That's not what locals said. As David Kirkpatrick reports: "To Libyans who witnessed the assault and know the attackers, there is little doubt what occurred: a well-known group of local Islamist militants struck the United States Mission without any warning or protest, and they did it in retaliation for the video....The fighters said at the time that they were moved to act because of the video, which had first gained attention across the region after a protest in Egypt that day."

    So the video might have played a role. But why did UN ambassador Susan Rice put the video front and center in her Sunday morning appearances a week after the attacks?

    She didn't, really. On Face the Nation, she said the "best information" at that moment suggested that Benghazi began "as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo where [...] there was a violent protest outside of our embassy sparked by this hateful video." She then immediately added: "But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post-revolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent."

    Still, why even mention the video? By that point, wasn't it clear that the real cause of the attacks lay elsewhere?

    Because, we now know, that's what the CIA was telling her. David Ignatius reports that a set of "talking points" prepared by the CIA on September 15, the day Rice taped her TV appearances, "support her description of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate as a reaction to Arab anger about an anti-Muslim video prepared in the United States. According to the CIA account, 'The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. Consulate and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.'"

    Fine. But why did Rice suggest that the attacks came after a "spontaneous" protest at the Benghazi consulate? There was no protest.

    True, but Rice didn't know that at the time because the CIA talking points still referred to "demonstrations" that had been inspired by the protests in Cairo. As David Martin reports: "Over that same weekend, U.S. intelligence began to uncover evidence that there had not been a protest outside the consulate. That new intelligence did not get to Rice before she appeared on the Sunday talk shows, making her the target of Republican accusations the administration was trying to cover up the terrorist attack."

    But why did anyone think there was anything "spontaneous" about this in the first place? In fact, the assault on the consulate was preplanned by "al-Qaeda elements," as Libyan President Mohammed Magarief said, wasn't it?

    No. The LA Times reports that Magarief was mistaken: "The assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi last month appears to have been an opportunistic attack rather than a long-planned operation, and intelligence agencies have found no evidence that it was ordered by Al Qaeda, according to U.S. officials and witnesses interviewed in Libya....The attack was 'carried out following a minimum amount of planning,' said a U.S. intelligence official....A second U.S. official added, 'There isn't any intelligence that the attackers pre-planned their assault days or weeks in advance.' Most of the evidence so far suggests that 'the attackers launched their assault opportunistically after they learned about the violence at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo' earlier that day, the official said."

    Still, the Obama administration was negligent in refusing a stream of requests from American diplomats in Libya to provide more security, wasn't it?

    That's possible. However, increased security probably wouldn't have changed anything. As the New York Times reported a couple of weeks ago, "The requests were denied, but they were largely focused on extending the tours of security guards at the American Embassy in Tripoli — not at the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, 400 miles away."

Bottom line: There were conflicting reports on the ground, and that was reflected in conflicting and sometimes confused reports from the White House. I don't think anyone would pretend that the Obama's administration's response to Benghazi was anywhere near ideal. Nevertheless, the fact is that their statements were usually properly cautious; the YouTube video really did play a role; the attack was opportunistic, not preplanned; and it doesn't appear to have had any serious connection with al-Qaeda. It's true that it took about ten days for all this to really shake out, but let's be honest: ten days isn't all that long to figure out what really happened during a violent and chaotic attack halfway around the world. I get that it's a nice opportunity for Republicans to score some political points in the runup to an election, but really, there's not much there there.

**************   

While Investigating Obama Over Libya, Darrell Issa Puts Libyans’ Lives at Risk

By: Sarah JonesOctober 19th, 2012

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) has placed several Libyans lives at risk in the course of investigating the alleged security issues regarding the deaths of four Americans in Libya on September 11, 2012.

Issa uploaded scores of sensitive material and didn’t redact names of Libyan civilians or local leaders, exposing them to physical danger from the very people the Obama administration is investigating regarding the September 11, 2012 attacks.

Speaking to The Cable, an administration official said, “Much like WikiLeaks, when you dump a bunch of documents into the ether, there are a lot of unintended consequences. This does damage to the individuals because they are named, danger to security cooperation because these are militias and groups that we work with and that is now well known, and danger to the investigation, because these people could help us down the road.”

This comes after Issa already outed a CIA base in Libya during the course of this (one of many) partisan witch hunt, allegedly based on concerns over security. As Richard Clarke explained, however, anyone who thinks that initial information is correct knows nothing about terrorism or combat.

Issa is doing the exact same thing his party did when we first discussed going into Libya and they were warned by their own party policy makers to stop giving aid to our enemies just because they wanted to cause problems for President Obama.

So, Darrell Issa has leaked important information while investigating alleged leaks of security — again. He is doing more damage in this investigation than our enemies could have hoped for. This is hardly Issa’s first go at hacking up a partisan witch hunt of this administration.

This isn’t just your typical Republican incompetence. The Republicans don’t care that they’ve endangered our work and civilians in Libya over their alleged concern over Americans killed in Libya.

They’re politicizing Libya and hoping that by leaking info that even Wikileaks wouldn’t have leaked (Wikileaks offered the State Department the chance to redact sensitive material unlike the Republican Party), they can stir up more chaos and violence in order to blame it on Obama before the election.

Let’s see. Wikileaks has been named an enemy of the state for their document dumping, and yet Republicans are still running wild after dumping unredacted documents that Wikileaks would not have without first running it past the State Department.

******

This is a sad example of the propaganda that the corporate media in America creates and 'sells' to it's citizens ....

October 20, 2012 02:00 PM

Big Fail: CBS Pushes Scare Story About Social Security

By Susie Madrak

Remember when CBS used to be a trusted name in news? Now, not so much. Trudy Lieberman has been doing truly excellent work at the Columbia Journalism Review, monitoring how the media is spreading the idea that Social Security and Medicare are in crisis, softening up the public for the need for so-called entitlement reform. See if you can catch the many errors/lies in this CBS report!

    The other night CBS Evening News brought forth another gloom and doom story about Social Security. Like others from the network that havecome to CJR’s attention, this one sent a similar message: Social Security is in big trouble, a debatable point. And like those other stories, this one mis-characterizes the system and omits important context that leaves viewers at the mercy of political elites who are shaping the acceptable fixes for the program.

    After introducing the attention-grabbing anecdote—around one John Altobello, a kitchen remodeler in New Orleans, who believes the system is deeply troubled—the report dives right in to the oft-repeated canard about the declining ratio of workers to retirees as the culprit-in-chief for Social Security’s impending shortfall. CBS reported that in 1945, 42 workers paid into the system for every retiree. By 2033, there will be fewer than two. “Social Security could fall 25 cents short for every dollar it owes in benefits,” viewers learned. Scary stuff indeed!

If there's one thing I know from my years in the newspaper business, it's that most reporters are very, very bad at math. But don't worry, lobbyists and politicians are always waiting with selective information to fill in the gap!

    CBS apparently missed the warning that Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue gave the press last spring, cautioning them on how to describe Social Security’s financial condition, and noting that though the system will eventually need a fiscal re-adjustment, the system is OK for the next 21 years.

    “After 2033—even if Congress does nothing—there will still be sufficient assets to pay about 75 percent of the current level of benefits. That’s not acceptable, but it’s still a fact that there will still be sufficient assets there,” Astrue told reporters.

    CBS also missed the chance to offer viewers a clear—and accurate—picture of what the declining worker ratio actually means. For the last 40 years or so the ratio of workers to retirees has been about three to one, explained Nancy Altman, co-director of the advocacy group Social Security Works. “Actuaries and all experts understood that, with the aging of the baby boom and increases in longevity, the ratio would start to decline, and that was taken into account.”

    No less a figure in Social Security’s history Robert Ball, who served as commissioner for 11 years, wrote a few years before his death in 2008:

        Social Security faces an eminently avoidable long-range funding shortfall, not an inevitable collapse brought about by unmanageable changes in the historic ratio of workers to beneficiaries. Those who advance that argument are using an accurate statistic to make a highly inaccurate charge.

    Instead of discussing all this, CBS relied on the kitchen remodeler from New Orleans to advance its narrative about the program’s money troubles. Altobello, we learned, has so much money saved for retirement he doesn’t have to count on Social Security. “All indications are it’s going to run out of money,” he said. “Maybe not in the near future but it’s coming up fairly close. In my retirement, in my lifetime, it’ll end.” Really? Maybe CBS thinks Altobello knows something the Social Security commissioner doesn’t.

    Altobello also told us that he worries that his sons and younger workers will never see a nickel, a popular view among the public—partly due to poor journalism on the topic. CBS correspondent Mark Strassman had the last word: “The federal retirement program must change,” he opined. “Though no one can be sure exactly how to make it rock solid.”

Nope, nobody. Nobody except the people like Sen. Bernie Sanders, Nancy Altman, Eric Kingson, Dean Baker and Paul Krugman, just to mention a few.

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

October 19, 2012

The Opiate of Exceptionalism

By SCOTT SHANE
NYT

Washington

IMAGINE a presidential candidate who spoke with blunt honesty about American problems, dwelling on measures by which the United States lags its economic peers.

What might this mythical candidate talk about on the stump? He might vow to turn around the dismal statistics on child poverty, declaring it an outrage that of the 35 most economically advanced countries, the United States ranks 34th, edging out only Romania. He might take on educational achievement, noting that this country comes in only 28th in the percentage of 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool, and at the other end of the scale, 14th in the percentage of 25-to-34-year-olds with a higher education. He might hammer on infant mortality, where the United States ranks worse than 48 other countries and territories, or point out that, contrary to fervent popular belief, the United States trails most of Europe, Australia and Canada in social mobility.

The candidate might try to stir up his audience by flipping a familiar campaign trope: America is indeed No. 1, he might declare — in locking its citizens up, with an incarceration rate far higher than that of the likes of Russia, Cuba, Iran or China; in obesity, easily outweighing second-place Mexico and with nearly 10 times the rate of Japan; in energy use per person, with double the consumption of prosperous Germany.

How far would this truth-telling candidate get? Nowhere fast. Such a candidate is, in fact, all but unimaginable in our political culture. Of their serious presidential candidates, and even of their presidents, Americans demand constant reassurance that their country, their achievements and their values are extraordinary.

Candidates and presidents generally oblige them, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney included. It is permissible, in the political major leagues, for candidates to talk about big national problems — but only if they promise solutions in the next sentence: Unemployment is too high, so I will create millions of jobs. It is impermissible to dwell on chronic, painful problems, or on statistics that challenge the notion that the United States leads the world — a point made memorably in a tirade by the dyspeptic anchorman played by Jeff Daniels in the HBO drama “The Newsroom.”

“People in this country want the president to be a cheerleader, an optimist, the herald of better times ahead,” says Robert Dallek, the presidential historian. “It’s almost built into our DNA.”

This national characteristic, often labeled American exceptionalism, may inspire some people and politicians to perform heroically, rising to the level of our self-image. But during a presidential campaign, it can be deeply dysfunctional, ensuring that many major issues are barely discussed. Problems that cannot be candidly described and vigorously debated are unlikely to be addressed seriously. In a country where citizens think of themselves as practical problem-solvers and realists, this aversion to bad news is a surprising feature of the democratic process.

“I think there’s more of a tendency now than in the past to avoid discussion of serious problems,” says Allan J. Lichtman, a political historian at American University. “It has a pernicious effect on our politics and on governing, because to govern, you need a mandate. And you don’t get a mandate if you don’t say what you’re going to do.”

American exceptionalism has recently been championed by conservatives, who accuse President Obama of paying the notion insufficient respect. But the self-censorship it produces in politicians is bipartisan, even if it is more pronounced on the left for some issues and the right for others.

FOR instance, Democrats are more loath than Republicans to look squarely at the government debt crisis indisputably looming with the aging of baby boomers and the ballooning cost of Medicare. Republicans are more reluctant than Democrats to acknowledge the rise of global temperatures and its causes and consequences. But both parties, it is fair to say, prefer not to consider either trend too deeply.

Both parties would rather avert their eyes from such difficult challenges — because we, the people, would rather avert our eyes. Talk to any political pro about this phenomenon and one name inevitably comes up: Jimmy Carter, who has become a sort of memento mori for American politicians, like the skulls in Renaissance paintings that reminded viewers of their mortality.

Mr. Carter, they will say, disastrously spoke of a national “crisis of confidence” and failed to project the optimism that Americans demand of their presidents. He lost his re-election bid to sunny Ronald Reagan, who promised “morning in America” and left an indelible lesson for candidates of both parties: that voters can be vindictive toward anyone who dares criticize the country and, implicitly, the people.

This is a peculiarly American brand of nationalism. “European politicians exercise much greater freedom to address bluntly the uglier social problems,” says Deborah Lea Madsen, professor of American studies at the University of Geneva. An American politician who speaks too candidly about the country’s faults, she went on to say, risks being labeled with that most devastating of epithets: un-American.

The roots of this American trait are often traced to the famous shipboard sermon the Puritan lawyer John Winthrop preached on his way to help found the Massachusetts Bay Colony nearly five centuries ago.

“We must consider,” he said, “that we shall be as a city upon a hill — the eyes of all people are upon us.” Winthrop’s metaphor has had a long life in American speechifying, prominently quoted by both President John F. Kennedy and Reagan. But if, for Winthrop, the image was something the colony should aspire to, for modern politicians it is often a boast of supposed accomplishment, a way of combating pessimists and asserting American greatness, whatever the facts.

Could a presidential candidate today survive if he promised to wage a war on poverty, as President Lyndon B. Johnson did in 1964? It seems unlikely, and one reason may be that Johnson’s effort fell short, revealing the agonizing difficulty and huge cost of trying to change the lives of the poor.

Indeed, in the current fiscal environment, promising an ambitious effort to reduce poverty or counter global warming might imply big new spending, which is practically and politically anathema. And given the increasing professionalization of politics, any candidate troubled by how the United States lags its peers in health or education has plenty of advisers and consultants to warn him never to mention it on the stump.

“Nobody wants to be the one who proposed taking the position that got the candidate in trouble,” says Martha Joynt Kumar, a political scientist at Towson University who studies presidential communications.

Of course, the reason talking directly about serious American problems is risky is that most voters don’t like it. Mark Rice, who teaches American studies at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y., said students often arrived at his classes steeped in the notion that the United States excelled at everything. He started a blog, Ranking America, to challenge their assumptions with a wild assortment of country comparisons, some sober (the United States is No. 1 in small arms ownership) and others less so (the United States is tied for 24th with Nigeria in frequency of sex).

“Sure, we’re No. 1 in gross domestic product and military expenditures,” Mr. Rice says. “But on a lot of measures of quality of life, the U.S. ranking is far lower. I try to be as accurate as I can and I avoid editorializing. I try to complicate their thinking.”

A reporter in the Washington bureau of The New York Times.

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

October 20, 2012

For President, a Complex Calculus of Race and Politics

By JODI KANTOR
NYT

When President Obama greets African-Americans who broke barriers, he almost invariably uses the same line.

“I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you,” he said to Ruby Bridges Hall, who was the first black child to integrate an elementary school in the South. The president repeated the message to a group of Tuskegee airmen, the first black aviators in the United States military; the Memphis sanitation workers the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed in his final speech; and others who came to pay tribute to Mr. Obama and found him saluting them instead.

The line is gracious, but brief and guarded. Mr. Obama rarely dwells on race with his visitors or nearly anyone else. In interviews with dozens of black advisers, friends, donors and allies, few said they had ever heard Mr. Obama muse on the experience of being the first black president of the United States, a role in which every day he renders what was once extraordinary almost ordinary.

But his seeming ease belies the anxiety and emotion that advisers say he brings to his historic position: pride in what he has accomplished, determination to acquit himself well and intense frustration. Mr. Obama is balancing two deeply held impulses: a belief in universal politics not based on race and an embrace of black life and its challenges.

Vigilant about not creating racial flash points, the president is private and wary on the subject, and his aides carefully orchestrate White House appearances by black luminaries and displays of black culture. Those close to Mr. Obama say he grows irritated at being misunderstood — not just by opponents who insinuate that he caters to African-Americans, but also by black lawmakers and intellectuals who fault him for not making his presidency an all-out assault on racial disparity.

“Tragically, it seems the president feels boxed in by his blackness,” the radio and television host Tavis Smiley wrote in an e-mail. “It has, at times, been painful to watch this particular president’s calibrated, cautious and sometimes callous treatment of his most loyal constituency,” he continued, adding that “African-Americans will have lost ground in the Obama era.”

Such criticism leaves the president feeling resentful and betrayed, aides said, by those he believes should be his allies. The accusations are “an assault on his being,” said David Axelrod, his chief strategist — not to mention a discomfiting twist in a re-election fight in which the turnout of black voters, who express overwhelming loyalty to the president but also some disappointment, could sway the result.

But like an actor originating a role on Broadway, Mr. Obama has been performing a part that no one else has ever played, and close observers say they can see him becoming as assured on race in public as he is in private conversation. In 2009, the new president’s statement on the arrest of a black Harvard professor by a white police officer set off days of negative headlines; in 2012, he gave a commanding but tender lament over the killing of a black teenager, Trayvon Martin, by a white man.

“As he’s gotten more comfortable being president, he’s gotten more comfortable being him,” said Brian Mathis, an Obama fund-raiser.

Asked when they could sense that shift, several advisers and friends mentioned the waning hours of Mr. Obama’s birthday party in the summer of 2011. As the hour grew late, many of the white guests left, and the music grew “blacker and blacker,” as the comedian Chris Rock later told an audience. Watching African-American entertainers and sports stars do the Dougie to celebrate a black president in a house built by slaves, Mr. Rock said, “I felt like I died and went to black heaven.”

The president, guests recalled, seemed free of calibration or inhibition. He danced with relative abandon, other guests ribbing him about his moves, everyone swaying to Stevie Wonder under a portrait of George Washington.

Trying to Avoid a Wedge

In the White House, Mr. Obama has relied on a long-term strategy on race and politics that he has been refining throughout his career.

As far back as 1995, former colleagues at the University of Chicago remember him talking about moving away from the old politics of grievance and using common economic interests to bind diverse coalitions. “He argued that if political action and political speeches are tailored solely to white audiences, minorities will withdraw, just as whites often recoil when political action and speeches are targeted to racial minority audiences,” recalled William Julius Wilson, now a sociologist at Harvard.

Mr. Wilson had turned the world of social policy on its head by arguing that class was becoming more determinative than race in America and pointing out that race-specific remedies were less politically feasible than economic policies that benefited a broad range of people. The young politician absorbed Mr. Wilson’s ideas, which matched his own experience as a community organizer and a person whose own life did not fit neat racial categories.

Mr. Obama now presides over a White House that constantly projects cross-racial unity. When discussing in interviews what image the Obamas want to project, aides use one word more than any other: “inclusive.” Concerts of Motown and civil-rights-era songs have been stocked with musicians of many races, and in introducing them, the president emphasizes how the melodies brought disparate Americans together. Though the Memphis sanitation workers were involved in a shattering moment of the civil rights struggle — Dr. King was assassinated after going to support their strike — they were invited to the White House for a labor event, not a race-oriented one.

Many of the president’s most critical domestic policy decisions have disproportionately benefited African-Americans: stimulus money that kept public sector workers employed, education grants to help underperforming schools and a health care overhaul that will cover tens of millions of uninsured Americans. But he invariably frames those as policies intended to help Americans of all backgrounds.

“If you really want to get something done, you can’t put it in a way that will kill it before it gets going,” Mr. Obama said in one meeting, according to the Rev. Al Sharpton. “We have to deal with the specific problems of different groups — blacks, women, gays and lesbians, immigrants — in a way that doesn’t allow people to put these wedges in,” Mr. Sharpton recalled the president saying in another.

That approach, along with the memories of the toxic campaign battles over Mr. Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., has resulted in a White House that often appears to tiptoe around race.

Debra Lee, the chairman and chief executive of Black Entertainment Television, requested interviews with the Obamas in 2009, but press aides told her that they did not want the first couple on BET in the first six months of the administration, she said in an interview. (They appeared later.)

“There was all this caution and concern because we were in the midst of a great American experiment,” one former aide said. Another aide remembered palpable nervousness about the artwork the Obamas chose for their private quarters in the White House, including some with race-specific messages.

In private, White House aides frequently dissect the racial dynamics of the presidency, asking whether Representative Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, would have yelled “You lie!” at a white president during an address to Congress or what Tea Party posters saying “Take Back Our Country” really mean. Michelle Obama, often called the glue in her husband’s relationship with black voters, sometimes remarks publicly or privately about the pressures of being the first black first lady.

Her husband is more circumspect, particularly on the question of whether some of his opposition is fueled by race. Aides say the president is well aware that some voters say they will never be comfortable with him, as well as the occasional flashes of racism on the campaign trail, such as the “Put the White Back in the White House” T-shirt spotted at a recent Mitt Romney rally. But they also say he is disciplined about not reacting because doing so could easily backfire.

“The president knows that some people may choose to be divided by differences — race, gender, religion — but his focus is on bringing people together,” Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser, wrote in an e-mail.

Even when Newt Gingrich called him a “food stamp president” during the Republican primaries, the most the president did was shoot confidants a meaningful look — “the way he will cock his head, an exaggerated smile, like ‘I’m not saying but I’m saying,’ ” one campaign adviser said.

To blacks who accuse him of not being aggressive on race, Mr. Obama has a reply: “I’m not the president of black America,” he has said. “I’m the president of the United States of America.”

That statement “makes me want to vomit,” Cornel West, an activist and Union Theological Seminary professor, said in an interview. “Did you say that to the business round table?” he asked rhetorically. “Do you say that to Aipac?” he said, referring to a pro-Israel lobbying group.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, with whom the president has a contentious relationship, have echoed the charges that Mr. Obama is insufficiently attentive to African-Americans, even threatening at times to sandbag his agenda.

Even some of Mr. Obama’s black supporters privately express the same anxiety, in more muted form. At the first meeting of his top campaign donors last year, some black donors were dismayed when officials handed out cards with talking points on the administration’s achievements for various groups — women, Jews, gays and lesbians — and there was no card for African-Americans.

The accusation that Mr. Obama does not care about black suffering appears to carry little weight with the African-American public, and yet it tears at the president, say aides, friends and supporters.

After a 2010 speech at the National Urban League, he approached Mr. West. “He just came at me tooth and nail,” Mr. West said. “Are you saying I’m not a progressive?” Mr. West recalled the president asking.

Mellody Hobson, an Obama fund-raiser, explained why the accusation was painful.

“You expect your family to give you the benefit of the doubt,” she said.

Out to Change Stereotypes

Shortly before his 2009 inauguration, Barack Obama took his family to see the Lincoln Memorial. “First African-American president, better be good,” a 10-year-old Malia Obama told her father, who repeated the story later, a rare acknowledgment of the symbolic shadow he casts.

For all of Mr. Obama’s caution, he is on a mission: to change stereotypes of African-Americans, aides and friends say. Six years ago, he told his wife and a roomful of aides that he wanted to run for the White House to change children’s perceptions of what was possible. He had other ambitions for the presidency, of course, but he was also embarking on an experiment in which the Obamas would put themselves and their children on the line to help erase centuries of negative views.

While Mr. Obama resists being the president of black America, he does want to change black America, aides say — to break apart long-held beliefs about what African-Americans can and cannot do. The president, who appointed Lisa P. Jackson and Charles F. Bolden Jr. as the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency and NASA, wants to encourage black achievement in science and engineering, even urging black ministers to preach about the need to study those subjects.

Mr. Obama knows that the next presidential candidate of color may be judged by his own performance, added Charles J. Ogletree, a Harvard law professor. And Mr. Obama’s desire to win re-election in part because he is the first black president is “so implicit it’s just like breathing,” one White House adviser said.

On rare occasions, Mr. Obama allows others a glimpse of the history, expectations and hope he carries with him. At the funeral of the civil rights leader Dorothy Height in 2010, he wept openly. Again and again, those close to him say, Mr. Obama is moved by the grace with which other blacks who broke the color barrier behaved under pressure.

When Ruby Bridges Hall went to see the famous Norman Rockwell portrait of her marching into school, which Mr. Obama had hung just outside the Oval Office, the president opened up a bit. The painting shows a 6-year-old Ms. Hall in an immaculate white dress walking calmly into school, a hurled tomato and a racial slur on the wall behind her.

The president asked Ms. Hall, now 58, how she summoned up such courage at that age and said he sometimes found his daughters staring at the portrait. “I really think they see themselves in this little girl,” he said, according to an interview with Ms. Hall.

“Doing the work we do, it gets really lonely,” Ms. Hall said. “I felt like we understood each other because we belong to the same club.”

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

October 20, 2012

In South, Republicans Find That Dominance Does Not Ensure Solidarity

By CAMPBELL ROBERTSON
NYT

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The featured speaker before the Kiwanis Club of Birmingham was Judge Roy S. Moore, well known for having lost his job as the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court after setting up a two-and-a-half-ton granite monument of the Ten Commandments in the courthouse rotunda.

Calling the United States Constitution a “restriction on the fallen nature of man” and quoting Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Gen. Douglas MacArthur, among others, Judge Moore was making his case as the Republican nominee, once again, for the state’s highest judicial office.

It was not exactly a plea for harmony and unity. There is a great moral divide in the country, he said, a division “not just between Democrats and Republicans, but between Republicans and Republicans.”

There are plenty of Republicans in the state who may take issue with the particulars of Judge Moore’s overall message, but on that last part they would agree.

Many in the Alabama business and legal establishment, a community that is overwhelmingly and faithfully Republican, are privately despondent over the prospect of a Moore victory and its effect on the state’s image. Some are the same people who spent the last year quietly lobbying the governor and state lawmakers to tone down Alabama’s strict immigration enforcement law, with limited success.

Like many other urban and suburban Republicans across the Deep South, they consider economic growth, not social issues, the priority. That motivated their longtime efforts to help create a Republican-controlled South.

“You’ve got to be careful what you wish for,” said Tom Ingram, a Republican political consultant in Tennessee.

As the South is settling in once again to an era of one-party dominance, many Republicans are learning that governing is not quite the same as campaigning, and that total control does not always equal total agreement.

“I’ve been in politics for 30 years, and I saw firsthand after I was elected the split within the Democratic Party,” said Eric Johnson, who was in the Georgia legislature for 15 years. “Now you’ve got the rural conservative Republicans and the suburban moderates and libertarians. I don’t think you have as broad an ideological split as the former Democratic majority had, but you certainly have a broader one than the Republicans are used to.”

It is hard to find anyone who believes that the different currents within the Republican Party will lead to anything like the battling factions that characterized the old one-party Democratic rule. Even before the civil rights era irreparably fractured Southern Democrats, the party was a collection of divergent and sometimes contradictory agendas, often pitting populists against conservatives.

But students of politics in the South have long predicted that similar, though less pronounced, fissures would develop when the Republicans gained dominance, said Glen Browder, a former Democratic congressman from Alabama and an emeritus professor of political science at Jacksonville State University.

Since the rise of the evangelical right, there has been a divide in the party between “the chamber and the church,” he said, or between the Chamber of Commerce interests that were once the heartbeat of Southern Republicans and the more populist, socially conservative electorate that fueled the party’s rise to power. With a one-party South, the chamber element has learned that while they may have the money and the history, the social conservatives have the votes.

“It was easy for the business community to be a leading voice when they were a minority voice and trying to establish themselves,” Professor Browder said, adding that the business community would learn to use its leverage with more savvy in future campaigns, when candidates come looking for money.

In Tennessee, where Gov. Bill Haslam’s Republican agenda of economic development and education reform has been overshadowed by lawmaker crusades against Shariah law and the teaching of evolution and climate change, fund-raisers are learning this lesson, Mr. Ingram said. Long accustomed to giving money in statewide and federal races, some donors have begun to realize the need to put up money for state legislative races as well.

“Here you’ve got one party, one set of donors looking at their standard-bearers’ agenda and saying: ‘The fact that he’s got a Republican majority may not be enough. It’s got to be the right majority,’ ” he said.

The race for Alabama chief justice is a rather extreme version of this dynamic. Among the lawyers and reliably Democratic groups in the campaign finance records of Mr. Moore’s opponent, Judge Robert S. Vance Jr. of State Circuit Court, are a number of surprising names.

There is, for example, the Alabama chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, with a $5,000 donation. Since 2004, over 90 percent of its donations in state races have gone to Republicans.

“While ABC of AL traditionally supports Republican pro-business candidates, we feel Judge Vance is the most qualified candidate for the chief justice of the Supreme Court,” Tim Hightower, a member of the group’s executive committee, wrote in an e-mail. “Is this a trend we are seeing among other associations in the state? Most certainly.”

Judge Moore’s victory in the primary was a shock to many, because his opponents were well-regarded by both Republicans and Democrats and because he was badly beaten in his two runs for governor.

Judge Moore’s initial Democratic opponent was a lawyer named Harry Lyon, who has run for offices on both party lines and was the only Democrat to qualify. Mr. Lyon proceeded to insult gay people as “freaks,” jokingly suggest the execution of illegal immigrants and call Judge Moore a demented devil worshiper.

This ultimately became too much for the state Democratic Party, which in August revoked Mr. Lyon’s nomination. The party then backed Judge Vance, who entered the race late but whose name is prominent in state legal circles: his father, a federal judge and an early advocate of the civil rights movement, was assassinated in 1989 when a vengeful ex-convict sent a mail bomb to his home.

After entering the race, Judge Vance quickly raised nearly a half-million dollars, much of it from donors within his hometown, Birmingham.

Judge Moore has kept pace, and while he can count on some big-money benefactors (including the wife of the actor Chuck Norris, who gave $5,000), many of his donations are coming in small amounts from all over the country, $100 or $200 contributions from California, Maine, New York, Wyoming, even Hawaii.

In conversation, supporters tend to agree with his description of a basic divide in the country’s moral life and say he is on the correct side of that divide, even if they do not always like his methods.

“I don’t think the judicial system is really the place to promote any sort of religion,” said Calvin Poole, a lawyer in Greenville. But he said he still considered Judge Moore better than the alternative — that is, the Democrat.

“If we’ve got to pick between Image A and Image B, I would rather for our image to be that we’re going to be outspoken and unapologetic on our view on the sovereignty of God,” Mr. Poole said. “I’d rather be wacky on that side than wacky on the other side.”


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« Reply #2766 on: Oct 22, 2012, 06:17 AM »

U.S. and Iran Deny Plan for Nuclear Talks

By BRIAN KNOWLTON and THOMAS ERDBRINK
Published: October 21, 2012
IHT
   
WASHINGTON — The question of whether the United States should seek to engage Iran in one-on-one talks on its nuclear program joined the likely topics for Monday’s final presidential debate as supporters of President Obama and Mitt Romney jousted on Sunday over the issue.

The prospect of such talks was raised in an article published over the weekend by The New York Times that said Iran and the United States had agreed in principle to direct talks after the presidential election.

On Saturday, the White House denied that a final agreement on direct talks had been reached, while saying that it remained open to such contacts. On Sunday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry dismissed the report.

But if the report proved to be true, said a supporter of Mr. Romney, the Republican candidate, Iran’s motives should be seriously questioned.

“I hope we don’t take the bait,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I think this is a ploy by the Iranians” to buy time for their nuclear program and divide the international coalition, he said.

A supporter of Mr. Obama, Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, said on the same program that the tough international sanctions the president helped marshal against Iran might be bearing fruit exactly as hoped, forcing Iran to blink.

“This month of October, the currency in Iran has declined 40 percent in value,” Mr. Durbin, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said. “There is unrest in the streets of Tehran, and the leaders in Iran are feeling it. That’s exactly what we wanted the sanctions program to do.”

The Times, citing unnamed senior Obama administration officials, reported over the weekend that after secret exchanges, American and Iranian officials had agreed in principle to hold one-on-one negotiations between the nations, which have not had official diplomatic relations since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.

Iran’s foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, denied on Sunday that any direct talks had been scheduled. “We do not have anything such as talks with the United States,” he told the semiofficial Fars news agency.

Mr. Salehi predicted that there would be a new round of talks in November with the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — including the United States — and Germany, but said that “there is no fixed date yet.” Several rounds of such talks have failed to produce a breakthrough. The United States and its partners say Iran’s nuclear program is aimed at producing a weapon, but Iran says the program is for peaceful purposes.

Weighing in on the topic from Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that although he did not know whether the United States and Iran had discussed the possibility of direct negotiations, “very sharp sanctions and a credible military option” were the best means to halt Tehran’s nuclear program. He said Iran had used earlier multinational talks “to drag its feet and to gain time” to advance its weapons program.

In the past, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and members of his inner circle have floated the idea of re-establishing some diplomatic contacts with the United States.

But while Mr. Ahmadinejad is the public face of the Iranian government, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is the only Iranian leader with the authority to approve direct negotiations with the United States.

According to an Obama administration official, an understanding on direct talks was reached with senior Iranian officials who report to Ayatollah Khamenei.

But Iranian analysts suggested that if there had there been any behind-the-scenes negotiations, the ayatollah would have publicly hinted of a change in his stance.

“Instead, he has done nothing but strongly denounce all ideas of any compromise in the nuclear case,” said Abbas Abdi, a former politician critical of Mr. Ahmadinejad.

That stance leaves little space for diplomatic maneuvering, Mr. Abdi said, adding that negotiations with the United States could only weaken the ayatollah’s position.

“Direct talks with our archenemy would be a disgrace for those who support him, and create more leverage for his opponents to criticize him.” Mr. Abdi said.

Amir Mohebbian, a foreign affairs analyst whose writings are published on Ayatollah Khamenei’s official Web site, denounced any idea of direct talks.

“The Obama administration is clearly very eager to convince the U.S. voters that their sanctions are working,” Mr. Mohebbian said. “But as long as the U.S. makes threats and creates sanctions against us, no negotiations will be endorsed by our supreme leader.”

Brian Knowlton reported from Washington, and Thomas Erdbrink from Tehran. Jodi Rudoren contributed reporting from Jerusalem.
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« Reply #2767 on: Oct 22, 2012, 06:19 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
10/22/2012 12:55 PM

Expanding Europe: Germany Doubts Whether Croatia Is Ready for EU

Croatia is set to join the European Union next summer, but after a recent progress report exposed problem areas, several leading German conservatives have placed the timeline in doubt. The EU, they argue, does not need another Romania.

Romania's political soap opera has been painful to watch. A prime minister and a president who are barely on speaking terms, democratic deficits severe enough to warrant a warning from Brussels and a currency in freefall as investors avoid the country like the plague. The situation has been nothing less than an embarrassment for the European Union.

Romania's problems, though, are also turning out to be a hindrance for other countries as well. Croatia is eager to join the EU and is currently scheduled to do so on July 1, 2013. But with the EU having outlined a number of areas where Croatia must make progress ahead of accession, skepticism in Germany as to whether the country will be ready seems to be growing.

"The examples of Romania and Bulgaria show that the expectation that problems are easier to solve once accession to the EU has been completed does not work in practice," Norbert Lammert, president of German parliament and a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, told SPIEGEL. "We can't make the same mistake twice."

Lammert hasn't been shy about voicing his concerns about Croatia since the most recent EU monitoring report was released on Oct. 10. But he has been joined recently by other senior German politicians. When it comes to Croatia, said Ruprecht Polenz, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee in German parliament, the country's accession cannot be based on hopes for future improvement.

'A Political Example'

Voices from the other side of the political aisle have likewise been critical. "We have to set a political example with Croatia," said Social Democrat member of European Parliament Michael Roth. Zagreb must make improvements quickly "or the Bundestag should not ratify the accession treaty," he told SPIEGEL.

The Oct. 10 progress report was generally positive about Croatian steps taken to prepare for entry into the EU. But Brussels also pointed out 10 areas where improvements still had to be made, including accelerating privatization and speeding up and improving the judiciary. It reflects a concern growing in Brussels, Berlin and elsewhere that the Croatian government of Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic is dragging its feet on reforms necessary for EU accession.

Even Doris Pack, a German member of European Parliament and a member of the CDU, has warned Zagreb. Long a supporter of Croatian accession, she told the Croatian daily Jutarnji List earlier this month that the EU's enlargement report "is a clear message that should not surprise the Croatian government. You have to work harder to meet the conditions, and not waste time."

Still, despite the pressure being piled on Zagreb from German politicians, it seems unlikely that Croatian accession will be held up. The country has made huge strides in recent years and most expect that ratification of the accession treaty will go as planned next summer.

'No Reason for Panic'

But there is still one more progress report to go, which will be released next spring. And even Croatian politicians appear to be getting nervous. Miroslav Kovacic, a member of the country's negotiating team, told the Financial Times recently that criticism from Berlin "is a rather serious signal for the Croatian government." He said that it often fell to Germany to fire shots over Zagreb's bow when improvements needed to be made.

"Judging from the accession process so far," he added, "the government is well positioned to do what is needed by July 1 next year. But they would have to focus more than they have done so far. In short, there is no reason for panic, but German criticism is no joke either."

Lammert, for his part, seems to be wary of EU enlargement in general and hinted to SPIEGEL that he might be in favor of a moratorium on further expansion. "It is worth thinking about whether an annual progress report on the internal state of the EU would make sense," he said. "That might open some eyes as to the problems that have gone unresolved for years."

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« Reply #2768 on: Oct 22, 2012, 06:25 AM »

22 October 2012 - 11H27  

Pussy Riot members taken to Russian 'prison hell'

AFP - Two members of punk band Pussy Riot have been taken to remote Russian prison colonies notorious for their harsh conditions after a court this month upheld their two-year sentences, their lawyer said on Monday.

"Nadya Tolokonnikova has been sent to Mordovia, and Maria Alyokhina to Perm," defence lawyer Violetta Volkova told AFP.

The Perm and Mordovia regions, both in central Russia, host a vast network of Soviet-era prison camps infamous for their tough conditions.

"They were convoyed on Saturday," Volkova said, noting that their relatives had learnt of the move when their parcels for the women were rejected at the Moscow prison where they had been temporarily held.

It remains unclear when the two young women, who both have small children, will reach their final destination, Volkova added.

A Twitter account organised by the band's supporters also said the two band members were taken in a "special" convoy to the prison camps, but gave no details.

"Of all the possible options, these are the cruellest prison camps," the Twitter account noted.

The art group Voina (War), which is closely affiliated with Pussy Riot, called Mordovia on Twitter "the worst prison hell there is."

Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina and their bandmate Yekaterina Samutsevich were in August sentenced to two years in prison after they staged a balaclava-clad performance inside Moscow's main cathedral mocking President Vladimir Putin.

Earlier this month a Russian appeals court upheld the prison camp sentences against Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina but unexpectedly ordered the release of Samutsevich in what many observers believe was an attempt to split the tight-knit band.


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« Reply #2769 on: Oct 22, 2012, 06:30 AM »

Originally published October 21, 2012 at 6:39 PM | Page modified October 21, 2012 at 10:40 PM 

Ferndale boy's healing leads to Indian's sainthood

Thousands of Catholics, some wearing feathered headdresses and beads, others in colorful Hawaiian shirts and leis, turned out Sunday as Pope Benedict XVI canonized seven saints, including the first Native American and a 19th-century nun who tended to lepers on Hawaii.

By Roy Gutman
McClatchy Newspapers

VATICAN CITY — Tens of thousands of pilgrims, including Native Americans in tribal regalia, Hawaiians with leis and Bavarians in lederhosen, packed St. Peter's Square on Sunday as Pope Benedict XVI canonized seven saints, including a Mohawk whose role in the healing of a Lummi Indian from Ferndale, Whatcom County, was a significant factor in her canonization.

In 2006, 6-year-old Jake Finkbonner was on his deathbed after contracting the flesh-destroying bacterial infection necrotizing fasciitis through a cut in his lip.

A priest had given him his last rites, and his parents had resigned themselves to his death. But after they prayed to Kateri Tekakwitha — who was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980 — the bacteria stopped spreading and Jake recovered.

The bacteria had traveled too fast, the church found, for there to be any explainable, scientific reason for him to recover.

The elevation of Kateri to sainthood was a breakthrough not only for Native Americans, but also for the Roman Catholic Church. The pope went out of his way to emphasize the church's respect for Indian culture and tribal traditions, which wasn't always the case.

Born in 1656 in what is today upstate New York, Saint Kateri died in what is now Canada just 24 years later, having spent the last four years of her life as a Christian.

Benedict praised her for staying "faithful to the traditions of her people," except for their religious beliefs.

Unlike most of the others canonized Sunday, Kateri was neither a martyr nor a member of a religious order, but Benedict gave her a bigger challenge than anyone else. "Protectress of Canada and the first Native-American saint, we entrust to you the renewal of the faith in the First Nations and in all of North America," he said in his homily.

A second American canonized Sunday, Saint Marianne Cope, born in Germany in 1838, was a Franciscan nun who tended a leper's colony in Hawaii in the 19th century. Saint Pedro Calungsod was a martyr at age 18 in 17th century Philippines. Saint Jacques Berthieu, a French priest born in the mid-19th century, spent much of his life in Madagascar, and Saint Giovanni Battista Piamarta, born in 1841, served as a parish priest in Brescia, Italy. Saint Maria Carmelo Salles y Barangueras, born in 1848, founded a Spanish religious order, and Saint Anna Schaefer, born in Germany in 1882, intended to join a religious order but was prevented by ill health.

Kateri, some of whose bone fragments were presented to the pope as part of the ceremony, was first proposed for sainthood more than a century ago. Phil Fontaine, a spokesman for the First Nations, as Canada calls its Native Americans, said Sunday that the canonization should be a milestone in relations with the Roman Catholic Church.

In 2009, Benedict granted Fontaine and other First Nation leaders an audience in which he apologized for the abuse and mistreatment of Indian children in so-called residential schools that the church operated on behalf of the Canadian government. This led to the start of a broader reconciliation.

For the family of Jake Finkbonner, 12, Sunday was an uplifting day of the sort that couldn't have been imagined as he lay near death six years ago from a bacterial infection. The church ruled his recovery, after prayers and the placing of a relic of Kateri on his body, to be a miracle, and that opened the way for Kateri's canonization.

Kateri was already an important figure for Catholics in the Lummi tribe, of which Jake's father, Donny, is a member. A carved wooden statue sits in the church on the Lummi reservation near Bellingham.

The Rev. Tim Sauer was the Finkbonners' parish priest in Ferndale, as well as the pastor on the Lummi reservation. He had performed the last-rites ritual on Jake and said he immediately urged the Finkbonners and the congregation back on the reservation to pray to Kateri, thinking their shared Native- American heritage and scarring diseases were relevant.

On Sunday, Jake, his parents and his two younger sisters all received communion from the pope.

"It was spectacular being able to walk behind my family as they were going to take communion," his father, Donny, said.

"I can't think of enough words," to describe the day, said his wife, Elsa. "It's surreal. It keeps on getting better."

Jake and his family were the toast of the reception thrown by the Canadians. Archbishop Gerald Cyprien Lacroix, the archbishop of Quebec City and primate of Canada, was just one of the top Canadian clerics who had his photograph taken with Jake. When Canadian Ambassador Anne Leahy introduced the family, the roomful of top church officials and government dignitaries room broke into applause.

As recounted by the Vatican and many historians, Kateri's life began in 1656 in what today is Auriesville in upstate New York on the southern bank of the Mohawk River. The daughter of an Algonquin mother and a Mohawk chief, she was orphaned at age 4 when smallpox killed her parents and brother.

The name Tekakwitha — she was simply Kateri before — was a result of her badly damaged eyesight that accompanied her smallpox scars. It means "she who bumps into things."

She had been introduced to Catholicism by her mother and held fast to her faith when she and her foster family moved to the north riverbank after their village was destroyed in war.

Kateri studied her faith in secret until she was baptized at 18 near present-day Fonda, N.Y., where there is now a national Kateri Tekakwitha shrine. Employees there organized an evening Mass on Saturday and a celebratory gathering Sunday.

Over time, Kateri was ridiculed for her beliefs, and she fled to Canada.

After she died at age 23, a priest reported what is regarded as a miracle — the scars on her face vanished and her skin took on a youthful appearance. Villagers reported seeing visions of her reassuring them she was going to heaven, and for years afterward, the earth she touched was used to treat people's ills. She had settled at the Mission of St. Francis Xavier with a group of Christian Indians in Quebec. A shrine stands in her name there, too.

Some Native Americans have said that canonizing Kateri is an implicit offense to Native-American traditions, but Eleanor Smith, 80, from Albuquerque, N.M., did not agree.

"It's a combination of your Catholic and your native traditions blending together," said Smith, who is from Mississippi Choctaw and Navajo heritage. "We all believe in the same creator. God, creator, Father Sky — it's all the same."

Others came to honor Saint Marianne Cope, a former mother superior of the Third Order Regular of Saint Francis in Syracuse, N.Y., who moved to the island of Molokai in 1883 to tend to those with Hansen's disease, or leprosy. There, she worked with Father Damien De Veuster, a Belgian priest who was canonized in 2009.

Benedict called Saint Marianne, who died in 1913, "a shining and energetic example of the best of the tradition of Catholic nursing sisters and of the spirit of her beloved Saint Francis."

Kathleen Ford, 67, came with a group from the Diocese of Syracuse.

"You can relate to her. She was a forerunner in health care," Ford said as she stood in a group wearing white kerchiefs that read, "Sisters of Saint Francis. Beloved lover of outcasts."

The Vatican confirmed that a woman from Syracuse was cured from complications of pancreatitis in 2005 after praying to Marianne Cope, the second miracle needed to assure the nun's sainthood.

Yvonne Pascua, 65, said she had come to Rome from Kapaa on the island of Kauai for the canonizations of both Saint Marianne and Saint Damien.

"After Father Damien, Sister Marianne stepped up to the plate," she said.
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« Reply #2770 on: Oct 22, 2012, 06:32 AM »


Forgotten women of science win recognition online

By Maev Kennedy, The Guardian
Friday, October 19, 2012 21:28 EDT

Royal Society and Wikimedia UK mark Ada Lovelace Day with event to promote work of female scientists

By late afternoon scores of red women on Sam Haskell’s list had turned blue: female scientists, some dead and some living, many immensely distinguished, some geniuses, but whose names have almost been forgotten even by their peers.

Up the grand marble staircase of the Royal Society in London, under the imposing gold and white library ceiling, women and a handful of men had gathered, joined by many more online across the world, to correct a gross injustice.

The list gradually changing colour on Haskell’s screen represented hundreds of women scientists who have either never had a Wikipedia entry, or whose lives and work are dismissed in a stub a few lines long.

The names turning blue represented the success of a live edit-a-thon jointly organised by the Royal Society, where Haskell is digital communications officer, and Wikimedia UK – together with the promoters of Ada Lovelace Day, held every year in honour of the 19th-century mathematician, daughter of the poet Lord Byron, who became a pioneer of computing theory.

The event in London was booked out for weeks, but many more joined online, some starting work days ago.

Prof Uta Frith, psychologist, fellow of the Royal Society and one of the event organisers, arrived determined to rescue the reputation of Mary Buckland, a scientist and brilliant natural history illustrator, from the shadow of her husband, a 19th-century librarian and fellow of the society. She found to her surprise that somebody online had got there before her. She settled down with a stack of books to expand it, but found, as so often, that she was having to fillet scraps about Mary from the biographies of her husband and son.

“It is shameful that when you ask people, including scientists, to name well-known female scientists and engineers, they can barely get past Marie Curie,” she said. “I think this is very much because they are not in our consciousness, or they have not been given high enough profile for their work. Wikipedia is one of the first places that many people go for information, but if it’s not there how will we ever learn about our scientific heroines. This event is a very small but important step towards putting these very special women in the spotlight they deserve.”

Typical of many female scientists, Frith suspects, she has never even looked at her own Wikipedia entry (a respectable six paragraphs and a chunky slab of references) and wouldn’t dream of editing it. “I just couldn’t” she said, slightly puzzled, “I wouldn’t even want to read it. It just wouldn’t seem right.”

Entries added for living scientists included Eleanor Maguire, professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London, who briefly gave every grumpy London taxi driver a glow of happy pride when her research proved their brains developed remarkably as they acquired “the knowledge”, their hard- wired interior maps of every street in London. Up until Friday, she had not had even a stub in Wikipedia.

Other stubs were expanded. Dame Louise Napier-Johnson, a biochemist and protein crystallographer, professor of molecular biophysics at Oxford for 17 years from 1990, had previously merited just eight lines, one taken up with noting her death last month, and her marriage to the Nobel laureate Abdus Salam. His entry runs to more than 200 lines.

Sometimes there was an audible snarl in the room as the researchers discovered a clue as to how these women retired into the shadows. In 1878 Mary Elizabeth Barber, a UK-born, South African-reared scientist who identified many new plant species, and indirectly influenced Darwin, was invited to join a distinguished South African natural history society.

She responded: “I don’t see any reason why a lady should in a quiet way be a member of any scientific society … I do not by any means approve of ladies coming publicly forward and usurping the places of men by preaching, making speeches etc, but I don’t see why they should not belong to any society that they are qualified for, and in a quiet way enjoy the privileges too.”

“Well honestly!” snapped Seirian Sumner, a research fellow at the Institute of Zoology at London Zoo, sisterly solidarity slipping for an instant, before she resumed her effort to haul Barber’s reputation back into the light.

© Guardian News and Media 2012

[Portrait of Ada Lovelace via Wikipedia Commons]


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« Reply #2771 on: Oct 22, 2012, 06:40 AM »

In the USA....

October 21, 2012

After Benghazi Attack, Talk Lagged Behind Intelligence

By ERIC SCHMITT
NYT

WASHINGTON — Even as Susan E. Rice took to the Sunday talk shows last month to describe the Obama administration’s assessment of the Sept. 11 attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, intelligence analysts suspected that the explanation was outdated.

Ms. Rice, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, has said that the judgments she offered on the five talk shows on Sept. 16 came from talking points prepared by the C.I.A., which reckoned that the attack that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans had resulted from a spontaneous mob that was angry about an anti-Islamic video that had set off protests elsewhere. That assessment, described to Ms. Rice in briefings the day before her television appearances, was based on intercepted communications, informants’ tips and Libyan press reports, officials said.

Later that Sunday, though, American intelligence analysts were already sifting through new field reports that seemed to contradict the initial assessment. It would be several days, however, before the intelligence agencies changed their formal assessment based on those new reports, and informed administration officials about the change. Intelligence officials say such a lag is typical of the ever-changing process of piecing together shards of information into a coherent picture fit for officials’ public statements.

Gov. Mitt Romney and Congressional Republicans have sharply criticized Ms. Rice’s comments and the administration’s shifting public positions on the cause of the attack, criticisms that Mr. Romney will probably reprise in the final presidential debate on Monday night.

On Sunday, Congressional Republicans cited the administration’s response to the attack as symptomatic of larger leadership failings. “This is going to be a case study, studied for years, of a breakdown of national security at every level, failed presidential leadership — senior members of the Obama administration failed miserably,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

The gap between the talking points prepared for Ms. Rice and the contemporaneous field reports that seemed to paint a much different picture illustrates how the process of turning raw field reports, which officials say need to be vetted and assessed, into polished intelligence assessments can take days, long enough to make them outdated by the time senior American officials utter them.

Intelligence officials, alarmed that their work has been turned into a political football, defend their approach, noting that senior administration officials receive daily briefings that reflect the consensus of the nation’s array of intelligence agencies, but can also dip into the fast-moving stream of field reports, with the caveat that that information is incomplete and may be flat wrong.

“A demand for an explanation that is quick, definite and unchanging reflects a naïve expectation — or in the present case, irresponsible politicking,” James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, said at an intelligence symposium on Oct. 9.

The Associated Press reported Friday, for instance, that within 24 hours of the attack, the C.I.A.’s station chief in Tripoli, Libya, e-mailed headquarters that witnesses said the assault was mounted by heavily armed militants. But intelligence officials said Sunday that one report was not enough to establish the attack’s nature.

According to interviews with a half-dozen American officials, including policy makers and intelligence officials, here is a rough chronology of what happened, some details of which The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

On Sept. 13, Ms. Rice and other cabinet-level officials were told about the assessment that there had been protests at the diplomatic mission in Benghazi.

“The first briefing was exactly as one would expect in the early aftermath of a crisis,” an American intelligence official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the continuing F.B.I. investigation of the assault. “It carefully laid out the full range of sparsely available information, relying on the best analysis available at the time.” Briefers said extremists were involved in attacks that appeared spontaneous.

On Sunday, Sept. 16, Ms. Rice summed up a common theme she voiced on all five television programs: “What this began as was a spontaneous, not a premeditated, response to what happened, transpired in Cairo,” where protesters angered by the video invaded the grounds of the American Embassy.

Critics say Ms. Rice overlooked that Al Qaeda might have been involved. But when asked by Bob Schieffer of CBS News about Al Qaeda’s possible role, Ms. Rice said: “It’s clear that there were extremist elements that joined and escalated the violence. Whether they were Al Qaeda affiliates, whether they were Libyan-based extremists or Al Qaeda itself, I think, is one of the things we’ll have to determine.”

The unclassified talking points were written by the C.I.A. with input from other intelligence agencies so that members of Congress and senior officials could say something preliminary about the attacks; the points would be expected to be somewhat cautious, American officials said.

“The points clearly reflect the early indications of extremist involvement in a direct assault,” the American intelligence official said. “It wasn’t until after the points were used in public that people reconciled contradictory information and assessed there probably wasn’t a protest around the time of the attack.”

That change in the intelligence community’s assessment did not happen until a series of reviews from Sept. 20 to Sept. 22, an American official said on Sunday. Some of the new information came from American officials evacuated from Benghazi on Sept. 12.

The American intelligence official said it took time to determine “whether extremists took over a crowd, or if the guys who showed up were all militants.”

Mr. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, approved the release of an unusual public statement on Sept. 28 about the evolving intelligence conclusions. His spokesman, Shawn Turner, said then that analysts had revised their assessments “to reflect new information indicating that it was a deliberate and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists.”

By the end of last week, intelligence officials settled into a new position that they had been suggesting for several days. American officials cautioned that it, too, could change as more information became available.

“Right now, there isn’t any intelligence that the attackers preplanned their assault days or weeks in advance,” said the intelligence official. “The bulk of available information supports the early assessment that the attackers launched their assault opportunistically after they learned about the violence at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.”

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

Republican Ohio Sec of State Believes Early Voting (By Democrats) is Un-American

By: Adalia Woodbury October 21st, 2012

According to Jon Husted, making the vote accessible to all eligible voters is un-American. The Federal Court ruling against his efforts to suppress the vote is un-American. The Supreme Court upheld the ruling that Husted thinks is un-American. Therefore, while he didn’t say it, he inferred that the Supreme Court is also un-American. Considering how conservative the Roberts Supreme Court is, Husted’s comments speak volumes about his extreme political views.

According to the Toledo Blade, Husted made the outrageous claims during a keynote speech at the University of Toledo College of Law on Friday.

    Mr. Husted spoke of a recent federal court decision that he claimed intruded on Ohio’s ability to run its own elections and called it an “un-American approach to voting” — an opinion not shared by many who attended the symposium.

Mr. Husted’s comments speak to many things. They speak to the extremism that he and the Republican Party have come to represent. The ideals that the Romney/Ryan Republicans stand for scare the hell out of sane Americans, including some older white men.

In short, they can’t win an honest very pro America election, in which people aspiring for political office recognize that they are serving the public. The Romney/Ryan Republicans think they are entitled to “rule over” the public rather than serve them.
That is evident from Mitt Romney’s attitude to 47% of the country, conveyed many times before the video. We heard it when Ann Romney said it’s our turn. We heard it when the Romneys decided we didn’t have a right to know what’s in their tax returns.

We saw it very time Mitt Romney was rude and disrespectful to the President and both moderators in the Presidential debates so far. We saw ut with every twist of the truth that came out of Romney’s mouth and every deceitful ad that came from dark money.

Every time Mitt Romney avoids discussions about policy, and refuses to offer specifics on his policies, Mitt Romney conveys the attitude of an Emperor, rather than a potential leader of the Free World. We saw it when he refused, over and over again, to identify the tax exemptions he would eliminate to pay for the tax cuts he plans to give the rich. We saw it when he refused to answer the simple question of whether he is for or against equal pay for equal work. Sarah Jones has written volumes on Mitt Romney’s position when it comes to women’s health and reproductive rights.

The Mitt Romney who thought he was being ever so liberal by “letting” women out of his corporate binder to go home and cook dinner doesn’t appeal to Americans. As a man, Mitt Romney doesn’t appeal to half of America because half of America doesn’t appeal to him. The Mitt Romney who believes its okay for bosses to tell their employees who to vote for would prefer that the vote be limited to people who, in the words of one of his supporters” gets how things work.

Husted’s claim that States can do whatever they want shows his arrogance, not to mention a failure to understand the Constitutional principles that all States must abide by. When a State violates the constitution, then it is not only the option, but the responsibility of the courts to strike down unconstitutional laws.

Husted fails to understand that America operates under the rule of law, not the rule of men – no matter how rich, how spoiled, and how arrogant these men may be.

Even the conservative Supreme Court of the United States couldn’t find anything to justify Husted’s voter suppression laws. That should tell him something.

Husted’s behavior and views are more reminiscent of totalitarian regimes, in which voting was a rubber stamp of one party and one party only. There is nothing more un-American than that.
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« Reply #2772 on: Oct 22, 2012, 09:34 AM »

Witness

Mourning their daughters: One woman is campaigning for justice in the cases of Guatemala's forgotten daughters.

Director: Guillermo Galdos

After 40 years of brutal civil war, Guatemala has tried to make violence a thing of the past - but it has not been entirely successful.

More than 2,000 women have been killed in Guatemala since 2001 and only nine per cent of those cases have been investigated.

The murders have been indiscriminate - women from different backgrounds and of different ages have been killed.

Guatemala is a country where impunity reigns.

Filmmaker Guillermo Galdos went to Guatemala and followed Rosa Franco, the mother of Maria Isabel, who was 15 years old when she was killed in 2003.

More than 2,000 women have been murdered in Guatamala since 2001. Like many others, Rosa is still waiting for justice to be done. She wants to organise the families of the victims to put pressure on the authorities to do more in their investigations.

Rosa regularly goes to the national morgue to leave her telephone number for families of victims to get in touch.

Rosa also often visits the attorney's office to find out what progress has been made in her daughter's case.

Victims like Maria Isabel are found everyday. The prevalence of street gangs, such as the much-feared Mara Salvatrucha gang, is one of the major reasons why so many women are being killed.

Gang members often abuse women - and when drugs and jealousy come into play, the women fall victim to their violence.

Many of the families of the victims continue to be frustrated by the injustices and the lack of results from investigators.

But Rosa Franco is a woman driven by determination and love and has pledged to fight for the justice of Guatemala's forgotten daughters.

Watch Part One: http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/witness/2007/06/2008525184540195870.html

Watch Part Two: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UULMvFfjtZM


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« Reply #2773 on: Oct 23, 2012, 07:13 AM »

October 22, 2012

Lebanon and Jordan Move Quickly to Contain Syria-Related Violence

By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK and NEIL MacFARQUHAR
IHT

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Lebanon and Jordan moved aggressively on Monday to squelch the spread of violence from Syria’s deadlocked civil war, the most significant register yet of alarm over the strife spilling over Syrian borders.

Lebanese Army tanks and armored personnel carriers rolled into the streets of Beirut and Tripoli to stop a night of gunfights as the Lebanese military issued an extraordinary statement urging sectarian and political leaders to refrain from incitement to pull the country back from the brink.

“The country’s fate is at risk,” the statement said. “Tension in some areas is increasing to unprecedented levels.”

In Jordan, the authorities seized a ring of Jordanian extremists suspected of plotting mayhem with munitions from Syria, while Jordanian military skirmishes with suspected Islamic militants traversing the Syria-Jordan border left a Jordanian corporal dead — the first military casualty suffered by Jordan in connection with the Syria conflict since it began 19 months ago.

Fears that the Syrian uprising against President Bashar al-Assad could destabilize the Middle East have been growing for months as the conflict has aggravated sectarian tensions that cut across national boundaries and has sent more 300,000 refugees spilling into Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. But those fears escalated sharply on Friday when a large bomb obliterated a Beirut block, killing eight people including Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, the top Lebanese security official.

The blast was followed by a weekend of roadblocks, sporadic street protests and isolated clashes in Lebanon. General Hassan, the head of internal security, was a hero to many Sunni Muslims, Christians and others here for his efforts to expose assassinations and other political meddling by the Syrian government, which is a close ally of the politically dominant Lebanese Shiite militant group, Hezbollah.

Mourners at the general’s funeral chanted against Mr. Assad and some waved the flags of the Free Syrian Army battling to oust him. Mr. Assad and much of the ruling elite belong to a sect considered an offshoot of Shiism, while the Free Syrian Army is dominated by Sunnis. The proximity of that conflict and the car bombing that killed the general brought back smoldering grudges but also a feeling of dread left from Lebanon’s own bloody, 15-year civil war.

By Monday night, Lebanese state news media said that at least 4 people were dead, at least 20 injured and nearly 50 under arrest in connection with clashes set off by the Beirut bombing. Three of those killed and most of the injuries were in the northern city of Tripoli near the Syrian border, a flash point with armed groups on both sides of Syria’s sectarian divide.

In Washington on Monday, a State Department spokesman said that the United States would send an F.B.I. team to help Lebanon investigate the bombing.

Although the Hezbollah-dominated government is normally hostile to Washington, Lebanon’s chief of Internal Security Forces, General Ashraf Rifi, confirmed in a telephone interview that judicial authorities had accepted the F.B.I.’s offer of assistance. He said that “technical experts” from the bureau would arrive within 48 hours to survey the crime scene.

In Amman, Jordanian authorities said Monday that soldiers had fought two gun battles overnight against small groups of what the government called Islamist extremists at the Syria-Jordan border, arresting 13 of them. The Associated Press reported that the assailants were trying to cross into Syria.

The gun battles came hours after the government said it had arrested a ring of 11 Jordanians accused of planning to use explosives and weapons obtained in Syria for terrorist attacks against the American Embassy, shopping malls and other targets.

Samih Maayta, Jordan’s minister of media and communication, said the government had evidence that they had traveled to Syria and planned to go back for munitions to use in the attacks.

Mr. Maayta said the group had taken “counsel from Al Qaeda in Iraq via the terrorist sites on the Internet,” and had posted its plans online “to enable others to be able to create the same explosives.” Al Qaeda in Iraq is a Sunni insurgent group named after the organization founded by Osama bin Laden, and American intelligence officials have described it as being made up of mostly homegrown Iraqis, with limited foreign leadership.

Although the events in both Lebanon and Jordan illustrated the seepage of violence over the Syrian borders, the revival of the latent sectarian tensions in Lebanon constituted a more combustible threat to regional security.

Peter Harling, a Syria researcher for the International Crisis Group, said that over the course of the Syrian conflict, Lebanese factions had adopted an informal “dissociation” policy to avoid entangling Lebanon. With the Beirut bombing and violent reaction, he said, “that ground rule has been broken.”

Beginning Monday morning, Lebanese military vehicles occupied parts of Beirut and Tripoli where fights had broken out the night before, typically in streets divided by neighbors belonging to rival sects. By early afternoon, all streets were reopened.

All that remained were a few smoldering tires, a lingering smell and the debris of overturned trash bins and garbage cans used as road blocks. Residents of Beirut neighborhoods where clashes took place said the antagonists were mostly young men still angry at the killing of General Hassan.

With a Sunni officer elite and a mostly Shiite rank-and-file, the Lebanese Army has broken up fights and calmed the streets in recent years. But its military prowess compared with Hezbollah or other militias is uncertain.

An undercurrent of anxiety ran through the Lebanese Army statement.

“The Lebanese Army stresses that security is a red line,” the statement said, vowing “to prevent Lebanon being transformed again into a place for regional settling of scores, and to prevent the assassination of the martyr Wissam al-Hassan being used to assassinate a whole country.”

In another context, the statement might have been the harbinger of a coup. But Gen. Hisham Jabber, a retired military spokesman, said the army meant to warn members of the political class not to exploit the situation. “That it is enough, they cannot make political gains at the expense of the security of this country,” General Jabber said in an interview.

Reporting was contributed by Hwaida Saad and Hania Mourtada in Beirut, Ranya Kadri in Amman, Jordan, and Jodi Rudoren in Jerusalem.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 22, 2012

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misidentified the rank of the first member of the Jordan military killed in connection with the Syria conflict. He was a corporal, not a colonel.

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

Syria violence rages despite UN truce hopes

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, October 23, 2012 7:00 EDT

Deadly clashes in Syria showed no signs of easing on Tuesday, even as the United Nations said it has plans to assemble a peacekeeping force in case a truce proposed by its special envoy takes hold.

Warplanes raided a district of the northern city of Aleppo as fighting across the country kept up unabated, three days ahead of the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha during which peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has proposed a ceasefire.

“Neither the rebels nor the regime appear to want a ceasefire, and the daily death toll continues to exceed 100,” Syrian Observatory of Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

In Syria’s second city Aleppo, a rebel was killed in fighting, which was taking place in several districts, while planes bombed the Katergi quarter, the Observatory said.

In the Damascus provincial town of Harasta, at least two rebels were killed, the Britain-based group said.

In the capital itself, security forces carried out searches in the Zahira quarter, where gunfire could be heard. Overnight, one man was killed in a bomb attack on the southeastern outskirts of Damascus.

The Observatory also reported fighting in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor and in Daraa, southern Syria.

In the face of the 19-month revolt against his regime, President Bashar al-Assad issued an amnesty on Tuesday for all crimes committed in Syria “up until today,” state television said, but with rebels excluded.

He ordered “a general amnesty for crimes committed before October 23,” except for those carried out by “terrorists” — the regime’s term for rebels.

Despite the violence, the United Nations held to the hope that the foes will observe a truce during the four-day Eid, saying it had plans to assemble a peacekeeping force if a ceasefire takes hold.

“We are getting ourselves ready to act if it is necessary and a mandate is approved,” UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said in New York, cautioning that the plans would need the approval of the 15-nation Security Council.

UN-Arab League peace envoy Brahimi has said he contacted political opposition leaders inside and outside Syria and armed groups in the country and “found them to be very favourable” to the idea of a truce.

However, the Arab League on Monday dampened hopes of a truce.

“Unfortunately, hope for implementing the truce during Eid al-Adha is slim so far,” Arab League Deputy Secretary General Ahmed Ben Helli told AFP on the sidelines of the World Energy Forum in Dubai.

“The signs, both on the ground and by the government… do not point to the presence of any real will” to implement a truce,” he said.

On Monday, two bombs exploded in Damascus after a day of pitched battles between troops and rebels on the edge of the capital, in Aleppo and in the northwestern rebel-held town of Maaret al-Numan.

The Syrian Observatory said at least 115 people, including 43 civilians, were killed across the country on Monday, adding to a toll of more than 34,000 people killed since the anti-regime revolt erupted in March 2011.

Brahimi has said a temporary truce could be the first step to a more permanent peace.

Assad met the envoy in Damascus on Sunday and said he was “open to any sincere efforts seeking to find a political solution to the crisis based on respecting Syria’s sovereignty and rejecting any foreign interference.”

Brahimi has warned that the conflict poses a threat to the whole region.

In neighbouring Lebanon, 10 people have been killed in clashes between pro- and anti-Assad camps in the port city of Tripoli since the assassination on Friday of a top security official in a Beirut bomb blast widely blamed on Damascus.

« Last Edit: Oct 23, 2012, 07:24 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #2774 on: Oct 23, 2012, 07:15 AM »

October 22, 2012

Iran’s Political Infighting Erupts in Full View

By THOMAS ERDBRINK
IHT

TEHRAN — A long and bitter rivalry between Iran’s president and an influential band of brothers in the political hierarchy exploded into the open on Monday, signaling new fractures in the facade of unity as the country confronts worsening economic conditions and isolation over the disputed Iranian nuclear program.

In a letter published by Iranian news sites, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused the head of the powerful judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, of protecting “certain individuals” from prosecution for economic corruption who are widely understood to be high officials, including Ayatollah Larijani’s oldest brother.

Mr. Ahmadinejad also demanded access to Tehran’s Evin prison, to visit one of his aides who has been held for nearly a month. In order to build his case, Mr. Ahmadinejad referred to a range of articles in the Iranian Constitution that explain the powers of the president.

The accusation escalated a simmering conflict between Mr. Ahmadinejad and opponents among influential clerics, parliamentarians and commanders. It followed a decision announced on Sunday by Iran’s judiciary to deny Mr. Ahmadinejad access to the prison — a humiliating slap at the president’s authority.

Mr. Ahmadinejad had wanted to visit Ali Akbar Javanfekr, his press adviser and former head of the official Islamic Republic News Agency, imprisoned since September on a six-month sentence for having insulted Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Mr. Javanfekr’s arrest and conviction had also been seen as a move to curtail presidential powers.

Adding insult to injury, a judiciary statement said Mr. Ahmadinejad had been informed his visit would be “inappropriate” and divert attention from Iran’s economic problems.

Both Mr. Ahmadinejad’s government and his opponents have been trying to cast each other as responsible for double-digit inflation, high unemployment and a devaluation of the national currency. These economic indicators have worsened in recent months with the bite of antinuclear sanctions, which have constricted Iran’s ability to sell oil and do routine banking transactions.

The hostility expressed between the country’s highest leaders, at a time of increasing Western pressure, comes despite repeated calls for political unity by Ayatollah Khamenei.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, in his letter, emphasized his position as the most important directly elected official in the country. He also insisted that under Iran’s Constitution the president has the right to visit a prison.

Analysts said Mr. Ahmadinejad’s public attack on the Larijani brothers reflected his apparent preparation for an increasingly public fight with political enemies. The outcome could determine his influence after his second term ends in July 2013. He is not allowed to run in the June 2013 presidential election.

“Ahmadinejad has created a win-win situation for himself,” said Amir Mohebbian, a political analyst close to Iran’s supreme leader, referring to the president’s demand to enter the prison. “If he is denied access, his opponents will look unreasonable. If he manages to enter Evin, they look weak.”

Iran’s political system is structured around a president and Parliament directly elected from a group of candidates vetted by a council of jurists and Islamic experts, some by the supreme leader and others by Parliament. The supreme leader also has a say in appointing other officials and has final word on all important matters. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s uncompromising management style and choice of controversial advisers has grated on the clerics and led to a debate over his influence.

Mr. Ahmadinejad has been defending his inner circle of advisers against accusations of corruption, black magic and espionage for MI6, the British intelligence service. He is also disliked by Iranians who took to the streets after his disputed his re-election victory in 2009.

Mr. Ahmadinejad personally prevented an earlier attempt to arrest Mr. Javanfekr, which apparently led the judiciary to take the adviser into custody at the precise moment when the president was addressing the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 26 in New York.

Many of the Shiite clerics and commanders who once supported Mr. Ahmadinejad’s rise to power have turned into bitter enemies and are hoping Mr. Ahmadinejad will quietly sit out the end of his term. Instead, Mr. Ahmadinejad is increasingly trying to portray himself as a man of the people whose policies are obstructed by long-serving officials with selfish interests.

“Mr. Ahmadinejad, by referring to many articles of the Constitution in his letter, is underlining that he represents the people, because they elected him,” said Nader Karimi Joni, an Iranian journalist who has closely followed the power struggle.

After years of accusing former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and his family of corruption, Mr. Ahmadinejad is now increasingly focusing on the influential Larijani family, whose five brothers all have high positions in Iran’s ruling elite.

The judiciary chief was appointed by Iran’s supreme leader in 2009. An older brother, Ali Larijani, a former top nuclear negotiator, is the head of the Parliament and may run for president next year. Mr. Ahmadinejad recently attacked the Parliament speaker by name at a news conference, saying that Mr. Larijani should help the government instead of trying to blame it for the country’s economic problems.

On Monday the Parliament speaker referred to Mr. Ahmadinejad as “his dear brother” and sought to present the dispute as not personal. “Since our country is a democracy, disagreements are good,” he said according to the Islamic Students’ News Agency.

The oldest Larijani brother, Mohammad-Javad, frequently appears on American television as the head of Iran’s human rights council. In July he was accused in documents published by Alef, an official news Web site of land grabbing. The judiciary then blocked the Web site.

In his letter on Monday, Mr. Ahmadinejad said the decision to punish his aide was unjust and that he wanted to visit Evin Prison to report to the supreme leader on conditions there and “how the nation’s rights are being preserved,” according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency.

Mr. Ahmadinejad also suggested the judiciary had no legal right to stop him. “I have to remind you that in the Constitution, there is nothing that requires asking permission or agreement of the judiciary when it comes to exercising the president’s legal duties,” the agency quoted his letter as saying.
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