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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1071525 times)
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« Reply #4005 on: Jan 12, 2013, 08:03 AM »

January 11, 2013

Sri Lankan Parliament Impeaches Chief Justice


NEW DELHI — Defying a court order, Sri Lanka’s Parliament voted overwhelmingly on Friday to impeach the nation’s chief justice, a significant step in a worsening showdown between the legislature and the judiciary that has alarmed democracy advocates and many foreign governments.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa must now decide whether he is willing to take the last step in the impeachment process and dismiss Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake of the Supreme Court, who was seen as a Rajapaksa loyalist until September, when the court struck down provisions of a law that would have given greater power to the government’s economic development minister, Basil Rajapaksa, who is also the president’s brother.

The chief justice’s fall from grace since that ruling has been dizzying, with the state-controlled media sharply criticizing her. Impeachment proceedings began in November.

A parliamentary committee issued a guilty verdict against her in December, saying she had misused her power and failed to adequately declare her assets. Last week, an appeals court annulled the verdict and forbade further action by the Parliament against Chief Justice Bandaranayake.

The Parliament’s willingness to ignore the court’s ruling and impeach the chief justice anyway set the nation up for a possible constitutional crisis. Saliya Peiris, a lawyer for Chief Justice Bandaranayake, told The Associated Press that his client would not recognize the impeachment and that her next step would be announced later.

Since President Rajapaksa dominates the Parliament, the impeachment effort is widely seen by many democracy advocates as an effort by the president and his family to further consolidate power and eliminate any impediment to their almost complete control.

“The entire impeachment process is clearly politically motivated as a punishment to the chief justice for daring to apply the constitution in a way that went against the Rajapaksa administration,” Alan Keenan, of the International Crisis Group, said in an interview.

The parliamentary committee found Chief Justice Bandaranayake unfit for office on charges of failing to disclose details of 20 bank accounts and intervening in cases before the court in which she had a financial interest. She was also alleged to have sought to protect her husband from corruption charges.

She had protested the rapidity of the parliamentary proceeding and her inability to confront or cross-examine her accusers.

Lawmakers voted 155 to 49 on Friday to impeach.

On Wednesday, Victoria Nuland, the United States State Department spokeswoman, said that the department had “serious concerns about the actions that were taken to impeach the chief justice” and that the proceedings raised “serious questions about the process and government pressure on the judiciary.”

The United States Embassy in Colombo released a statement Friday repeating those concerns.

“This impeachment calls into question issues about the separation of powers in Sri Lanka and the impact of its absence on democratic institutions,” it said in a statement.

President Rajapaksa and his brothers are widely credited with ending one of the world’s longest and bloodiest civil wars in 2009 by defeating the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The war’s end brought stability to much of the country and has increased opportunities for tourism. But he and his brothers have been accused of being involved in unlawful killings by security forces and government-allied paramilitary groups, and a United Nations panel ruled that accusations against the Sri Lankan government of war crimes were credible and should be investigated.
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« Reply #4006 on: Jan 12, 2013, 08:04 AM »

January 11, 2013

Fiji’s Government Rejects Proposed Constitution


SYDNEY, Australia — Fiji’s military government intends to discard a draft constitution unveiled last month by a renowned professor of constitutional law, a key component of measures intended to help return the coup-plagued nation to democracy ahead of elections set for late next year, the nation’s ruler has announced.

The rejection of the proposed constitution in favor of one written by the government itself was announced Thursday during a nationally televised news conference by the military ruler, Commodore Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, also known as Frank. Mr. Bainimarama promised that his government would deliver a fresh constitution within the next three weeks.

The new constitution was drawn up by a commission headed by Yash Ghai, a respected Kenyan-born legal scholar.

“The government’s legal team will amend the Ghai draft to ensure that the draft constitution presented to the constituent assembly is one that is positive, addresses fundamental issues of good governance, and will result in an enduring constitution and guarantees true democracy,” he said.

Fiji, a former British colony made up of roughly 330 islands in the central Pacific Ocean, has been under military rule since a 2006 coup led by Mr. Bainimarama, the fourth in the country’s relatively short post-independence history.

The government last year ended emergency regulations that had greatly expanded police powers, placed censors in newsrooms and curtailed the rights of nongovernmental organizations and religious organizations to hold meetings. Critics, however, say those measures were simply enshrined in even more draconian laws.

Senior members of the military had recently complained of foreign meddling in the constitution-building process, presumably a reference to regional powerhouse Australia, which has a rocky relationship with Mr. Bainimarama and had partially financed the constitution’s drafting through its international aid organization, AusAID.

The draft constitution, however, may have rankled some within the government because it sharply constrained the power of the military and required the formation of a transitional government ahead of the elections. Members of the junta would have received immunity from prosecution in exchange for apologizing for their actions, which may have been another stumbling block.

In an interview last year in Fiji’s capital, Suva, Mr. Bainimarama repeatedly insisted that he had done nothing wrong by seizing power.

Last month, the police seized hundreds of copies of the draft constitution and reportedly burned them in front of Professor Ghai. The commission had submitted its draft after reviewing more than 7,000 open submissions from the public.

Since gaining independence from Britain in 1970, Fiji has been dominated by four military juntas. But the latest coup and subsequent crackdown isolated the island state, which is a member of the British-led Commonwealth of Nations. Australia and New Zealand have imposed unilateral sanctions, and the country’s membership in the Commonwealth was suspended in 2009.

The announcement that the draft constitution had been rejected drew condemnation from Fiji’s neighbors. New Zealand quickly expressed concern over the move, which Foreign Minister Murray McCully told New Zealand Radio was “a backward step of some proportions.”

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi of neighboring Samoa was less diplomatic.

“Most democratic countries know a lot more about constitutional processes than the inexperienced military gang in Suva,” he told The Australian newspaper.
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« Reply #4007 on: Jan 12, 2013, 08:12 AM »

Native leaders meet with Canada PM amid threat to bring economy ‘to its knees’

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, January 11, 2013 22:46 EST

Indigenous Canadians marched on the capital and other major cities threatening to bring the economy “to its knees” as their leaders met with officials to try to resolve a row over extreme poverty on reserves.

As many as 500 aboriginals protested in freezing rain outside parliament in Ottawa in support of a hunger strike by a northern Ontario chief. Hundreds more held rallies in Montreal and Winnipeg.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, meanwhile, met with 20 native chiefs behind closed doors in a bid to stem an escalation of demonstrations and highway blockades across the country.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan said after the meeting that the prime minister agreed to ongoing “high level dialogue on the treaty relationship.”

But beyond this commitment it was unclear at the end of the day what, if anything, was accomplished except to highlight divisions among Canada’s more than 600 tribes.

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, whose 32-day hunger strike has become a focal point for an aboriginal rights movement calling for improved living conditions on reserves, boycotted the emergency talks.

She and her supporters had insisted on the participation of Queen Elizabeth II’s representative in Canada, Governor General David Johnston, describing his attendance as “integral when discussing inherent and treaty rights.” Canada’s more than 600 indigenous reserves were created by royal proclamation in 1763.

But Johnston declined, saying their plight is a political matter that must be taken up with elected officials.

“We’re giving this opportunity for them to resolve the broken promises from the treaty. And all we’re asking is a meeting and to sit down with them,” Spence told a news conference earlier in the day.

“All we want is justice, equality and fairness which we’re entitled (to),” she said, vowing to continue her hunger strike.

Chiefs from Manitoba and Ontario provinces, as well as the Northwest Territories, joined her boycott, insisting on a meeting with the prime minister on their terms and vowing to “bring the Canadian economy to its knees” if their demands were not met.

This could include blocking resource development on their ancestral lands, said Manitoba Grand Chief Derek Nepinak.

“We have the warriors that are standing up now, that are willing to go that far. So we’re not here to make requests, we’re here to demand attention,” he said.

Nepinak was echoed by Grand Chief Gordon Peters of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians who called for protests to be stepped up with all major road and rail lines shut down.

Foreign investments in Canada not approved by First Nations could also be targeted, he told reporters.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, after leading a delegation to meet with Harper, avoided speaking to reporters.

Ahead of the talks he said he would seek a commitment from the prime minister for a “long-term process” to address native concerns, including outstanding land claims, hundreds of missing and murdered native women, high unemployment among natives, and too few schools in native communities.

A fix, Atleo said, could also include natives getting a share of royalties from some Can$650 billion in resource development planned for the coming decade.

In addition to complaints of severe poverty, natives also blasted changes last month to environmental and other laws they say impact their hunting and fishing rights, which allow tribes to lease reserve lands to non-natives.

Although the government insists the latter was meant to boost economic development, some fear it will result in a loss of native control of reserve lands and eventually lead to the end of aboriginal communities.

* canadaprotest_AFP.jpg (72.34 KB, 615x345 - viewed 33 times.)
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« Reply #4008 on: Jan 12, 2013, 08:14 AM »

Belgium becomes conception haven for French lesbians

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, January 11, 2013 12:09 EST

As France braces this weekend for giant protests against gay marriage and adoption, neighbouring Belgium has become a haven for French lesbians, who flock there in their thousands to conceive babies they are denied at home.

Some 2,000 babies conceived in Belgium through artificial insemination by donor are thought to be born each year to French lesbian couples, who are not eligible to undergo the procedure in France.

“We have seen a sharp increase in demand over the past three years. The word is getting around in France, our patients are passing the message along,” said Professor Michel Dubois at the University Hospital of Liege, in the southeast of the country.

The children thus conceived even have a nickname — “Thalys babies” — after the high-speed train service between Brussels and Paris on which their mothers shuttle back and forth — sometimes for years — in their quest to become parents.

Plans by France’s Socialist government to extend marriage and adoption rights to gay couples have proven deeply divisive, igniting fierce protests from opponents including Catholic and Muslim leaders, with a new mass rally planned in Paris for Sunday.

Reflecting the heated debate, ruling party lawmakers agreed Wednesday to drop an amendment expanding access to artificial insemination services from the same-sex marriage legislation.

By contrast Belgium, which has allowed same-sex civil marriages since 2003 and prides itself on its gay rights record, artificial insemination is available to all “regardless of civil status or sexual orientation” under a 2007 law.

The country has become a mecca of sort for lesbian couples, with 18 centres nationwide offering the procedure and catering to an overwhelming majority of French women.

“French mothers accounted for 80 percent of the 833 artificial insemination cases we handled last year,” said Dubois.

At the largest hospital in Brussels, the Erasmus University Hospital, demand is such that it allows only two days a year for patients to phone and arrange consultations.

“In just an hour and a half, all the appointments available for the next six months are taken. That causes a lot of frustration but there is nothing we can do about it,” said Anne Delbaere of the hospital’s fertility clinic.

Those French lesbians who manage to get an appointment then embark on a long, difficult and sometimes painful journey but when things go right, it is worth the agony, they say.

“It was torture but we happily forgot all about that when Achilles was born,” said Katell Thepault, a midwife from near Nantes in western France.

“It took more than three years, with dozens of trips back and forth to Brussels for what turned out to be nine artificial inseminations and two in-vitro fertilisations,” Thepault, 35, said.

Everything, her personal life with her partner and her working career, all turned around these trips.

“It was impossible to know in advance when we would have to go to Brussels. We were given only 48 hours notice. We would drive at night, for eight hours,” she said.

And the cost?

“It was really expensive. We nearly gave up when the artificial insemination did not work and we had to try the in-vitro procedure,” at a cost of about 3,000 euros, Thepault said.

For a simple insemination the cost ranges from 350 to 500 euros.

For Marie, also mother to a ‘Thalys Baby’, “it was galling to have to spend so much money when (French) heterosexual couples get the cost reimbursed.”

“It would be much less hypocritical if women could get this service in France because the politicians know very well that we go to Belgium or Spain for it,” she said.

Even in Belgium, there are some limits to the principle of open access for lesbians.

Some fertility centres have traditional links with the Catholic church — a powerful opponent of the French government’s plans — and so prefer not to take on lesbian couples.

Other medical centres limit the help offered to French and other foreign mothers so as to ensure there are enough services available to local women.

Brussels’ Erasmus University Hospital accordingly treats only perhaps a 100 foreign women a year.

“It is a decision we had to take because of a shortage of sperm donors and a sharp increase in demand for help in cases not caused by infertility problems,” said Delbaere.

Delbaere says she cannot understand the French reluctance to grant lesbians access to medically-assisted procreation, which is offered only to heterosexual couples facing fertility problems.

“It seems to me that they just do not want to accept a reality which has been there for a long time now.

“These children, these families are there now, whether one likes it or not. Why continue to deny it?”

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« Reply #4009 on: Jan 12, 2013, 08:20 AM »

Evolution: New Fossils Help Bring Hobbit Humans to Life

Jan 10, 2013
by Jennifer Viegas

New bones attributed to Homo floresiensis -- aka the "Hobbit Human" -- along with other recent findings, are helping to reveal what members of this species looked like, how they behaved, and their origins.

The latest findings, described in a Journal of Human Evolution paper, are wrist bones unearthed on the Indonesian island of Flores. Since they are nearly identical to other such bones for the Hobbit found at the site, they refute claims that H. floresiensis never existed.

"The tiny people from Flores were not simply diseased modern humans," Caley Orr, lead author of the paper, told Discovery News.

"The new species of human stood approximately 3' 6" tall, giving it its nickname 'The Hobbit,'" continued Orr, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Anatomy at Midwestern University.

He said that they were "similar to modern humans in many respects." For example, he explained that they walked on two legs, had small canine teeth, and lived what appears to have been an iconic "cave man'" lifestyle.

"Stone tools and evidence of fire use were found in the cave, along with the remains of butchered animals, such as Stegodon (an extinct elephant relative), indicating that meat was a part of diet," Orr said.

He and his colleagues, however, also point out the differences between the Hobbit individuals and modern humans.

The Hobbits had arms that were longer than their legs, giving them a slightly more ape-like structure. Their skulls had no bony chins, so their faces had more of an oval shape. Their forehead was sloping. The inferred brain size was tiny, putting them in the IQ range of chimpanzees.

"Remarkably, the feet were also long relative to the legs, as fantasy fans might expect of a Hobbit," he added.

The Hobbit's wrist looked like that of early human relatives, such as Australopithecus, but the key ancestral candidate now is Homo erectus, "Upright Man."

It is possible that a population of H. erectus became stranded on the Indonesian island and dwarfed there over time. Orr said that "sometimes happens to larger animals that adapt to small island environments."

A problem, however, is that H. erectus is somewhat more modern looking than the Hobbit, so researchers are still seeking more clues.

Another question concerns whether or not the Hobbits ever mated with modern humans. There is evidence that happened to Neanderthals, which have left traces of their genome in modern human DNA. So far, however, conditions have not been right to extract DNA from H. floresiensis bones.

Nonetheless, the Hobbit -- which went extinct relatively recently during the Pleistocene -- is now better known due to the new discoveries.

"These fossils provide further, clear evidence that H. floresiensis is in no way a pathological modern human, or that its primitive morphology is related simply to its small body size," said Tracy Kivell, a paleoanthropologist from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. "Instead, it is clearly its own, unique and very intriguing species."

Kivell added, "What is particularly interesting is that H. floresiensis is associated with such a long, well-documented history of stone tools. (Its primitive hand and wrist were) still apparently capable of making and using stone tools, suggesting that H. floresiensis solved the morphological and manipulative demands of tool-making and tool-use in a different way than Neanderthals and ourselves."

Orr and his team continue to study the Hobbit humans, with at least one other paper about the interesting species in the works.


A reconstruction of a Hobbit face.
Susan Hayes, University of Wollongong

* hobbit-face-456x304.gif (116.24 KB, 456x304 - viewed 30 times.)
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« Reply #4010 on: Jan 12, 2013, 08:48 AM »

In the USA..

Originally published January 11, 2013 at 8:51 PM | Page modified January 11, 2013 at 9:38 PM

Climate change moving faster than predicted

The draft report sums up what has become increasingly apparent: The country is hotter than it used to be, rainfall is becoming more intense and erratic and rising seas and storm surges threaten U.S. coasts.

By Neela Banerjee
Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON – The effects of climate change driven by human activity are spreading through the United States faster than had been predicted, increasingly threatening infrastructure, water supplies, crops and shorelines, according to a review of climate science and its effects by a federal-advisory committee.

A draft of the Third National Climate Assessment delivers a bracing picture of environmental changes and natural disasters that mounting scientific evidence indicates is fostered by climate change: heavier rains in the Northeast, Midwest and Plains states that have overwhelmed storm drains and led to flooding and erosion; sea-level rise that has battered coastal communities; drought that has turned much of the West into a tinderbox.

“Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” the report says. “Americans are noticing changes all around them. Summers are longer and hotter, and periods of extreme heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer.”

The draft report — more than 1,000 pages compiled by more than 300 experts during the past three years — sums up what has become increasingly apparent: The country is hotter than it used to be, rainfall is becoming both more intense and erratic, and rising seas and storm surges threaten U.S. coasts.

It arrives days after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued its annual State of the Climate Report, which noted that 2012 was the hottest year on record.

Together, the two major reports and a year of drought, wildfires, floods and freak storms have teed up for President Obama the chance to take substantial steps on climate change, environmentalists said.

The report explicitly addresses the most controversial question in climate change, saying that consumption of fossil fuels by humans is the main driver of climate change.

The report adds that the changes are already exacting an economic toll: “Infrastructure across the U.S. is being adversely affected by phenomena associated with climate change, including sea-level rise, storm surge, heavy downpours and extreme heat.”

The report details 13 airports that have runways that could be inundated by rising sea level. It mentions that thawing Alaskan ground means 50 percent less time to drill for oil.

And overall it says up to $6.1 billion in repairs need to be made to Alaskan roads, pipelines, sewer systems, buildings and airports to keep up with global warming.

Sewer systems across America may overflow more, causing damages and fouling lakes and waterways because of climate change, the report said.

With the White House working on so many economic, foreign and domestic policy fronts, it remains unclear if the president will use the scientists’ findings and the evidence to speak up more on climate.

The White House declined to comment on the climate report because it had not had a chance to review it. It also would not comment on specific on any specific efforts Obama might make to address climate change.

The National Climate Assessment report does not offer policy proposals to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions or to help specific communities adapt to climate change.

Instead, it details the risks they face.

The final assessment will be issued in early 2014, and public comment on the draft will be accepted until April 12.

Material from The Associated Press and The Washington Post is included in this report.


January 11, 2013

‘Any Lawful Steps’ Urged to Avert Default


WASHINGTON — The Democratic leadership in the Senate asked President Obama on Friday to take “any lawful steps” available to avoid a default on the nation’s debt if Republicans continue to press their demand that an increase in the government’s borrowing limit be accompanied by spending cuts of the same magnitude.

“In the event that Republicans make good on their threat by failing to act, or by moving unilaterally to pass a debt-limit extension only as part of unbalanced or unreasonable legislation, we believe you must be willing to take any lawful steps to ensure that America does not break its promises and trigger a global economic crisis — without Congressional approval, if necessary,” wrote Senators Harry Reid of Nevada, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Charles E. Schumer of New York and Patty Murray of Washington.

The letter signaled an escalation in the war of words over the federal debt ceiling, which has already technically been breached, leaving the Treasury Department scrambling to meet the government’s domestic and foreign obligations. Lawmakers believe the bookkeeping flexibility will be exhausted by Feb. 15, at which time Washington would have to either default on its debt or shut down major expenditures.

Already, liberal policy experts have been trying to rally support for measures to go around the Republican blockade, from declaring that the Constitution’s 14th Amendment gives the president unilateral authority to raise the debt ceiling to calling for the minting of a trillion-dollar platinum coin that would be used to pay the nation’s debts.

“All Americans, Democrats and Republicans alike, have a stake in ensuring that our country meets its legal obligations,” the Democratic leaders wrote. “Financial markets have long viewed securities backed by the full faith and credit of the United States as the most trustworthy in the world. This lowers borrowing costs for homes, cars, and college for all Americans and strengthens our economy. If we violate that trust for the first time in history, we will never fully regain it, and every American will suffer.”

Mr. Obama has said he will not negotiate on raising the government’s statutory borrowing limit, but without some extralegal maneuver, it is not clear how he can keep that promise. The House speaker, John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, has not backed down on his demand that any increase in the debt limit include cuts at least equal in scope, and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, has also said the debt ceiling issue must be used to secure spending reductions.

“Senate Democrats cannot ignore their responsibilities for political convenience — and the American people will not tolerate an increase in the debt limit without spending cuts and reforms,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner.

Conservative Republicans say that even without an increase in the debt ceiling, the administration could continue to pay foreign and domestic creditors by ensuring that incoming tax receipts go first to paying off debts. To do that, however, huge and immediate cuts in government spending would be necessary, and global financial markets would almost certainly be rattled.

The Senate Democratic leaders did not suggest what “lawful steps” they had in mind. A Democratic aide said the senators would be inclined to have the president declare unilateral authority under the 14th Amendment, which says the debt’s validity “shall not be questioned.”

That, the aide said, would be more politically tenable than using the loophole of a trillion-dollar coin, issued under a legal provision that allows the Treasury to mint a platinum coin of any denomination. The coin would be deposited at the Federal Reserve, which in theory would then issue a line of credit against it.

But Democrats worry that the coin option would baffle voters. According to officials familiar with the drafting of the letter, top aides to Mr. Reid, the Senate majority leader, initially favored an explicit reference to the 14th Amendment. But in negotiations over the wording of their letter, the leaders opted for strategic ambiguity, to keep Republicans guessing and the president’s options open.

One of the main reasons for the letter was to bolster the president’s resolve, Senate aides said. In 2011, Mr. Obama dismissed the 14th Amendment option, telling reporters that his lawyers “are not persuaded that that is a winning argument.” This week when asked about the coin, the White House spokesman, Jay Carney, said, “There is no Plan B, there is no backup plan. There is Congress’s responsibility to pay the bills of the United States.”

Democratic leadership aides said the Senate would probably take up legislation in early February that would allow the president to raise the debt ceiling on his own in set increments, perhaps of $1 trillion. Congress would have the ability to reject the increase, but that would take a two-thirds majority.

That plan was first used at the suggestion of Senator McConnell in 2011 to solve the last debt-ceiling impasse. Late last year, Mr. McConnell proposed it on the Senate floor again, but when Democrats called his bluff, he reversed course and blocked his own proposal.


January 10, 2013

Coins Against Crazies


So, have you heard the one about the trillion-dollar coin? It may sound like a joke. But if we aren’t ready to mint that coin or take some equivalent action, the joke will be on us — and a very sick joke it will be, too.

Let’s talk for a minute about the vile absurdity of the debt-ceiling confrontation.

Under the Constitution, fiscal decisions rest with Congress, which passes laws specifying tax rates and establishing spending programs. If the revenue brought in by those legally established tax rates falls short of the costs of those legally established programs, the Treasury Department normally borrows the difference.

Lately, revenue has fallen far short of spending, mainly because of the depressed state of the economy. If you don’t like this, there’s a simple remedy: demand that Congress raise taxes or cut back on spending. And if you’re frustrated by Congress’s failure to act, well, democracy means that you can’t always get what you want.

Where does the debt ceiling fit into all this? Actually, it doesn’t. Since Congress already determines revenue and spending, and hence the amount the Treasury needs to borrow, we shouldn’t need another vote empowering that borrowing. But for historical reasons any increase in federal debt must be approved by yet another vote. And now Republicans in the House are threatening to deny that approval unless President Obama makes major policy concessions.

It’s crucial to understand three things about this situation. First, raising the debt ceiling wouldn’t grant the president any new powers; every dollar he spent would still have to be approved by Congress. Second, if the debt ceiling isn’t raised, the president will be forced to break the law, one way or another; either he borrows funds in defiance of Congress, or he fails to spend money Congress has told him to spend.

Finally, just consider the vileness of that G.O.P. threat. If we were to hit the debt ceiling, the U.S. government would end up defaulting on many of its obligations. This would have disastrous effects on financial markets, the economy, and our standing in the world. Yet Republicans are threatening to trigger this disaster unless they get spending cuts that they weren’t able to enact through normal, Constitutional means.

Republicans go wild at this analogy, but it’s unavoidable. This is exactly like someone walking into a crowded room, announcing that he has a bomb strapped to his chest, and threatening to set that bomb off unless his demands are met.

Which brings us to the coin.

As it happens, an obscure legal clause grants the secretary of the Treasury the right to mint and issue platinum coins in any quantity or denomination he chooses. Such coins were, of course, intended to be collectors’ items, struck to commemorate special occasions. But the law is the law — and it offers a simple if strange way out of the crisis.

Here’s how it would work: The Treasury would mint a platinum coin with a face value of $1 trillion (or many coins with smaller values; it doesn’t really matter). This coin would immediately be deposited at the Federal Reserve, which would credit the sum to the government’s account. And the government could then write checks against that account, continuing normal operations without issuing new debt.

In case you’re wondering, no, this wouldn’t be an inflationary exercise in printing money. Aside from the fact that printing money isn’t inflationary under current conditions, the Fed could and would offset the Treasury’s cash withdrawals by selling other assets or borrowing more from banks, so that in reality the U.S. government as a whole (which includes the Fed) would continue to engage in normal borrowing. Basically, this would just be an accounting trick, but that’s a good thing. The debt ceiling is a case of accounting nonsense gone malignant; using an accounting trick to negate it is entirely appropriate.

But wouldn’t the coin trick be undignified? Yes, it would — but better to look slightly silly than to let a financial and Constitutional crisis explode.

Now, the platinum coin may not be the only option. Maybe the president can simply declare that as he understands the Constitution, his duty to carry out Congressional mandates on taxes and spending takes priority over the debt ceiling. Or he might be able to finance government operations by issuing coupons that look like debt and act like debt but that, he insists, aren’t debt and, therefore, don’t count against the ceiling.

Or, best of all, there might be enough sane Republicans that the party will blink and stop making destructive threats.

Unless this last possibility materializes, however, it’s the president’s duty to do whatever it takes, no matter how offbeat or silly it may sound, to defuse this hostage situation. Mint that coin!


January 11, 2013

Makers of Violent Video Games Marshal Support to Fend Off Regulation


WASHINGTON — With the Newtown, Conn., massacre spurring concern over violent video games, makers of popular games like Call of Duty and Mortal Kombat are rallying Congressional support to try to fend off their biggest regulatory threat in two decades.

The $60 billion industry is facing intense political pressure from an unlikely alliance of critics who say that violent imagery in video games has contributed to a culture of violence. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. met with industry executives on Friday to discuss the concerns, highlighting the issue’s prominence.

No clear link has emerged between the Connecticut rampage and the gunman Adam Lanza’s interest in video games. Even so, the industry’s detractors want to see a federal study on the impact of violent gaming, as well as cigarette-style warning labels and other measures to curb the games’ graphic imagery.

“Connecticut has changed things,” Representative Frank R. Wolf, a Virginia Republican and a frequent critic of what he terms the shocking violence of games, said in an interview. “I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’re going to do something.”

Gun laws have been the Obama administration’s central focus in considering responses to the shootings. But a violent media culture is being scrutinized, too, alongside mental health laws and policies.

“The stool has three legs, and this is one of them,” Mr. Wolf said of violent video games.

Studies on the impact of gaming violence offer conflicting evidence. But science aside, public rhetoric has clearly shifted since the shootings, with politicians and even the National Rifle Association — normally a fan of shooting games — quick to blame video games and Hollywood movies for inuring children to violence.

“I don’t let games like Call of Duty in my house,” Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said this week on MSNBC. “You cannot tell me that a kid sitting in a basement for hours playing Call of Duty and killing people over and over and over again does not desensitize that child to the real-life effects of violence.”

Residents in Southington, Conn., 30 miles northeast of Newtown, went so far as to organize a rally to destroy violent games. (The event was canceled this week.) Mr. Biden, meeting with some of the industry’s biggest manufacturers and retailers, withheld judgment on whether graphic games fuel violence. But he added quickly, “You all know the judgment other people have made.”

Industry executives are steeling for a political battle, and they have strong support from Congress as well as from the courts.

Industry representatives have already spoken with more than a dozen lawmakers’ offices since the shootings, urging them to resist threatened regulations. They say video games are a harmless, legally protected diversion already well regulated by the industry itself through ratings that restricting some games to “mature” audiences.

With game makers on the defensive, they have begun pulling together scientific research, legal opinions and marketing studies to make their case to federal officials.

“This has been litigated all the way to the Supreme Court,” Michael Gallagher, chief executive of the industry’s main lobbying arm, said in an interview, referring to a 2011 ruling that rejected a California ban on selling violent games to minors on First Amendment grounds.

Twenty years ago, with graphic video games still a nascent technology, manufacturers faced similar threats of a crackdown over violent games. Even Captain Kangaroo — Bob Keeshan — lobbied for stricter oversight. The industry, heading off government action, responded at that time by creating the ratings labels, similar to movie ratings, that are ubiquitous on store shelves today.

This time, with a more formidable presence in Washington, the industry is not so willing to discuss voluntary concessions.

Game makers have spent more than $20 million since 2008 on federal lobbying, and millions more on campaign donations.

Mr. Gallagher’s group, the Entertainment Software Association, has five outside lobbying firms to push its interests in Washington. And the industry has enjoyed not only a hands-off approach from Congress, which has rejected past efforts to toughen regulations, but also tax breaks that have spurred sharp growth.

Game makers even have their own bipartisan Congressional caucus, with 39 lawmakers joining to keep the industry competitive.

One of those lawmakers, Representative Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican, suggested that the focus on violent video games is misplaced. He called the games “a healthy form of education and entertainment for our family” and said ratings made it easy to keep inappropriate games from his children.

“We find it harder, though, to shield our children from the relentless, in-your-face glorification of violence promoted on our TV screens and in the movies,” he added. “It’s everywhere, and you can’t seem to find the remote fast enough.”

Executives cite 2009 research by the Federal Trade Commission crediting game makers for going further than any other media group to shield children from inappropriate material. Major retailers like GameStop consistently refused to sell “mature” rated games to minors, the commission found, and game makers usually did not market them to children.

The industry’s biggest political asset may be the 2011 ruling by the Supreme Court that found restrictions on the sale of video games to be unconstitutional.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, wrote that evidence linking games to violence was unpersuasive and that games had the same legal protection as violent literary classics like Grimm’s Fairy Tales or “Snow White.”

The scientific record is mixed.

Some researchers have found that games bring out real-life aggression, making players less empathetic. But other studies say the linkage is exaggerated and that game-playing does not predict bullying or delinquency.

The authorities have linked some past attacks, directly or indirectly, to the gunman’s fascination with violent games.

In the 2011 rampage in Norway that killed 77 people, for example, the gunman played Call of Duty six hours a day to practice shooting. In the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, which killed 12 people, the two teenage gunmen were said to have been obsessed with a game called Doom, featuring bloodshed and explosions.

There have been reports that Mr. Lanza, 20, the Newtown gunman who killed himself after his rampage, liked World of Warcraft and other violent games, as do many young men. James E. Holmes, 25, who is accused in last summer’s massacre at a theater in Aurora, Col., was a fan of the same game.

But the authorities in Connecticut and Colorado have not established a direct link between those attacks and the gunmen’s interest in those games.

Michael D. Shear contributed reporting.


A truly sick and demented society ........

January 11, 2013

Sales of Guns Soar in U.S. as Nation Weighs Tougher Limits


As Washington focuses on what Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will propose next week to curb gun violence, gun and ammunition sales are spiking in the rest of the country as people rush to expand their arsenals in advance of any restrictions that might be imposed.

People were crowded five deep at the tiny counter of a gun shop near Atlanta, where a pastor from Knoxville, Tenn., was among the customers who showed up in person after the store’s Web site halted sales because of low inventory. Emptying gun cases and bare shelves gave a picked-over feel to gun stores in many states. High-capacity magazines, which some state and federal officials want to ban or restrict, were selling briskly across the country: one Iowa dealer said that 30-round magazines were fetching five times what they sold for just weeks ago.

Gun dealers and buyers alike said that the rapid growth in gun sales — which began climbing significantly after President Obama’s re-election and soared after the Dec. 14 shooting at a school in Newtown, Conn., prompted him to call for new gun laws — shows little sign of abating.

December set a record for the criminal background checks performed before many gun purchases, a strong indication of a big increase in sales, according to an analysis of federal data by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun industry trade group. Adjusting the federal data to try to weed out background checks that were unrelated to firearms sales, the group reported that 2.2 million background checks were performed last month, an increase of 58.6 percent over the same period in 2011. Some gun dealers said in interviews that they had never seen such demand.

“If I had 1,000 AR-15s I could sell them in a week,” said Jack Smith, an independent gun dealer in Des Moines, referring to the popular style of semiautomatic rifle that drew national attention after Adam Lanza used one to kill 20 children and 6 adults at a Newtown school. “When I close, they beat on the glass to be let in,” Mr. Smith said of his customers. “They’ll wave money at me.”

Mr. Smith said many people were stocking up on high-capacity magazines in anticipation that they might be banned. Two weeks ago, he said, a 30-round rifle magazine was $12, but it now fetches $60. Popular online retailers were out of many 20- and 30-round rifle magazines.

In Washington, Mr. Biden said the task force he leads is “shooting for Tuesday” to make its recommendations to President Obama about preventing gun violence. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, one of the nation’s leading gun control groups, said its top priority was to close the loopholes that currently allow 40 percent of gun sales to be made without background checks.

Some groups that support gun control urged the White House not to focus too much energy on an assault weapons ban, which they said could be hard to persuade Congress to pass. Officials at Third Way, a left-leaning research group in Washington, urged the president to save his political capital for higher-priority goals like universal background checks and cracking down on gun trafficking.

Outside Greta’s Guns, a gun store in Simi Valley, Calif., about an hour northwest of downtown Los Angeles, several customers said that they opposed any assault weapons ban, but would support more thorough background checks.

George Gray, 60, who said that he already owned “more arms than arms to bear them,” said that he was in favor of more background checks. “If you own a weapon, you should be stable,” said Mr. Gray, who said he had come from Los Angeles to buy a gun for his daughter. “You should be accountable for your actions. I don’t mind stricter background checks. What we’ve done with the mental health in this country — these people used to get care and were in facilities. And in most of these instances, it’s been people with mental problems.”

Some customers at Greta’s said that they wanted to buy guns before any new gun control measures made it more difficult. Bob Davis, 64, said that he wanted a new pistol. “They want to take guns out of citizens’ hands,” he said. “So as a consequence I ordered a gun. And they’re not going to be able to get me a gun for like six months, because of the backlog. They can’t make guns fast enough.”

The gun industry expected a surge in sales even before the Newtown shooting. Gun sales rose after President Obama was first elected in 2008, and many manufacturers expected an increase in gun sales in the event of his re-election. “We believe the continued economic uncertainty and the outcome of the 2012 presidential election is likely to continue to spur both firearms and ammunition sales,” the Freedom Group, which owns Bushmaster, the company that makes the rifle used in Newtown, wrote in a financial report on the quarter that ended Sept. 30.

The possibility that the federal assault weapons ban — which lasted from 1994 to 2004 — might be reinstated was enough to spur sales of semiautomatic rifles with military-style features.

Dale Raby, who manages one of two Gus’s Guns shops in Green Bay, Wis., said his inventory of guns and ammunition was almost cleaned out, and that most of the interest was in AR-15-style rifles.

“I had almost fistfights over the remaining inventory of that type gun,” he said.

Joel Alioto, 44, an Iraq war veteran who lives in the area, said he recently sold an AR-15 rifle at a gun show for $1,700, more than three times what he had paid for it. “I think the shooting in Connecticut was a terrible thing,” said Mr. Alioto, who is unemployed. “But before the shooting the gun was worth 500 bucks. I don’t think I did anything wrong. I wanted to get my teeth done, get a computer and pay for my first year of Bible college.”

Brad Williamson, one of the owners of Quint’s Sporting Goods in Saraland, Ala., said the waiting lists for some products are double what they normally are — especially for guns that are mentioned in the gun control debate. “Whenever there’s a blip on the news about a particular model, the next day people want to come in wanting whatever they named,” he said. “When Biden makes his recommendation next week, you’re going to see another surge.”

At Georgia Arms in Villa Rica, Ga., west of Atlanta, the ammunition business was brisk, with dozens of the yellow bins that usually held ammunition empty. The Rev. Laurence Hesser, a pastor at Memorial United Methodist Church near Knoxville, stopped by because he had been unable to buy ammunition on the shop’s Web site, which halted sales because inventory was so low.

He likened the current run on ammunition to the rush to buy Twinkies last year after its maker, Hostess Brands, announced it was closing. “It’s the same thing,” he said. “When you are threatened with the possibility that you are going to lose something, you get a bunch of it.”

Reporting was contributed by Kim Severson in Villa Rica, Ga.; Trip Gabriel in New York; Ian Lovett in Simi Valley, Calif.; Campbell Robertson in New Orleans; and Michael D. Shear in Washington.


January 11, 2013

Trouble in Russia Over Ban of Adoptions by Americans


MOSCOW — The moratorium on the adoption of Russian children by Americans, which began as a fight between two countries, began this week to look like a fight between Russians and themselves.

On Friday, opponents of the law were preparing for a demonstration on Sunday condemning legislators who had voted for the ban — organizers were calling it the “March Against Scoundrels” — and a top official at the governing party, United Russia, lashed out with unusual vitriol. Opposition “hysteria” over the adoption ban was useful, in a way, the official, Andrei Isayev, wrote on the party’s Web site, because it created a vivid distinction between patriotic Russians and others whom he witheringly called “citizens of the world.”

“All the enemies of Russian sovereignty have revealed themselves as ardent supporters of American adoption,” wrote Mr. Isayev, who sits on the party’s general council, adding that on Sunday, “the latter will go out to march for the right of unrestricted export of Russian children to America.”

“Let’s look attentively and remember the faces of the organizers and active participants of this march,” he wrote, calling Sunday’s event a “March of Child Sellers.” “Our task in the coming years is to drive them to the farthest edge of political and public life, to the middle of nowhere.”

President Vladimir V. Putin approved the adoption ban last month, in retaliation for a new American law aimed at punishing human rights abuses in Russia. In 2011, about 1,000 Russian children were adopted by Americans, more than residents of any other foreign country, but still a tiny number given the nearly 120,000 children in Russia who are eligible for adoption.

Anger over the ban may not be enough to reinvigorate a protest movement in Russia that has flagged recently, when it became clear the rewards would be meager and the punishments harsh. But the reaction is deepening a rift that began to open last year, after Mr. Putin decided to address himself to a conservative, loyal electorate in the hinterlands, turning away from the prosperous urbanites who were drawn to antigovernment rallies.

“The country is really dividing,” said Lev D. Gudkov, director of the Levada Center, a Moscow-based polling agency. Two-thirds of Russia’s population, he said, lives in villages and small towns where people get their information from television, which often reports that American parents are never punished for abusing children adopted from Russia. Polling by the Public Opinion Fund in late December showed that 56 percent of respondents approved of the ban.

The rest are city dwellers who increasingly graze the Internet for news, and are less and less dependent on the government. That group lurched back to life after its long winter holiday and mobilized against the ban. The newspaper Novaya Gazeta has gathered 130,000 signatures in favor of revoking the law; on Thursday it announced 100,000 signatures on a petition in favor of dissolving Parliament.

All week, prominent entertainers have been promoting Sunday’s march by posting video clips online in which they explain — often emotionally — why they are opposed to banning adoption by Americans.

“It’s a horrible story.,” said Liya Akhedzhakova, an actress beloved for Soviet-era comedies. “The most defenseless, unwanted children who are not quite healthy when they are born — they are not needed by anyone.”

Tatyana Dogileva, another actress, practically spat out her words about politicians. “They play their cruel, dirty games, and this is their business. But why do they get children involved in it?”

She went on to address Alina Kabayeva, a gymnast who now sits in Parliament and who years ago was rumored to be Mr. Putin’s mistress. “Alina, why did you vote for this law?” Ms. Dogileva said. “Aren’t you sorry for these children, these specific children? They will die there, Alina.”

Yevgeny S. Gontmakher, a social scientist, said Mr. Putin had made a gamble not unlike the one he made by arresting the oil tycoon Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky in 2004: Russian elites might disapprove, but they would get used to it, and a vast part of the electorate would not care much.

But he said the Kremlin would eventually suffer for the ban.

“In the long-term perspective, it is of course a loss, because there is 25 or 30 percent of society that has formed the opinion, because of these orphans, that politics has become immoral,” Mr. Gontmakher said. “It’s clear that a certain break has taken place inside these people. They may not say so during a public opinion poll, because there are elements of fear. But for these people the government has lost the last remains of its moral authority.”


January 11, 2013

Rockefeller Will Leave Senate After Five Terms


WASHINGTON — Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, a longtime liberal voice in Congress, announced on Friday that he would not seek a sixth term in 2014, providing an opening for Republicans to cut into the Democratic Senate majority.

The decision by Mr. Rockefeller, 75, who also served two terms as governor of West Virginia, was no surprise and came after he gave a Senate floor speech last June that angered the state’s politically influential coal industry. He is the first incumbent to announce he will not run in a challenging election cycle for Democrats who will be defending a seat not only in conservative West Virginia but in Republican-leaning states like Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana and Montana.

Mr. Rockefeller would have faced his stiffest challenge since joining the Senate in 1985. Representative Shelley Moore Capito, a seven-term Republican, had announced her intention to challenge Mr. Rockefeller, and his retirement could spur more interest.

Speaking in Charleston, W.Va., with his wife, Sharon, at his side, Mr. Rockefeller said his decision to retire was not an easy one.

“As I approach 50 years of public service in West Virginia, I’ve decided that 2014 will be the right moment for me to find new ways to fight for the causes I believe in and to spend more time with my incredible family,” said the senator, who is chairman of the Commerce Committee and has played a critical role in fights to expand health care coverage. “For the next two years in the Senate, and well beyond, I will continue working tirelessly on behalf of all West Virginians. Championing those most in need has been my life’s calling, and I will never stop fighting to make a difference for the people who mean so much to me.”

The departure of Mr. Rockefeller, a great-grandson of John D. Rockefeller, the oil tycoon, will unofficially bring to a close the tradition of dynastic reigns of powerful American families shaping public policy. When Representative Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island left the House in 2011 shortly after the death of his father, Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Congress did not have a member of the Kennedy clan for the first time in six decades. However, this month, Joseph P. Kennedy III, grandson of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, was sworn in as a new congressman from Massachusetts.

Ms. Capito is the favored choice of many Republicans in West Virginia, though some conservatives have questioned her candidacy. She also comes from a political family. Her father, Arch A. Moore Jr., is a former governor of West Virginia, and a former rival of Mr. Rockefeller. In 1972, he beat Mr. Rockefeller in the governor’s race, only to lose to him in a rematch eight years later.

West Virginia, with its deep Democratic past, has not been represented by a Republican in the Senate since the late 1950s. While the state has increasingly trended Republican — President Obama did not carry a single county in the state — its other senator, Joe Manchin III, and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin are both Democrats. Still, Republicans see a prime opportunity.

“Senator Rockefeller’s decision not to seek re-election makes West Virginia an even stronger pickup opportunity for Republicans in 2014,” said Rob Collins, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Voters next year will have a clear choice between a Democrat who will be a loyal vote for President Obama and Harry Reid as they try to kill West Virginia’s coal industry and bankrupt our country with reckless government spending, versus a Republican who will serve as an effective check-and-balance on their liberal agenda and work to get our country’s economy back on track.”

But Democrats, who had a very successful 2012 election cycle, said they would retain Mr. Rockefeller’s seat.

“While we will greatly miss him in our caucus, I am confident we can elect an independent-minded Democrat to his seat,” said Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Democrats maintain nearly a 2-to-1 voter registration advantage over Republicans in West Virginia, and I know there are a number of leaders there who will consider taking this next step to serve their state.”

With the issue of gun control gaining increasing national prominence and likely to be an issue in 2014, the success of the Democrats here will hinge in part on Mr. Manchin and his willingness to fight hard for the seat.

The idea that Mr. Rockefeller, who has had health problems in recent years, would not seek a sixth term became widespread last June when he gave a Senate speech opposing Republican attempts to prevent regulation on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. The speech prompted outrage from business interests in West Virginia, a state that relies heavily on coal. At the time, Mr. Rockefeller warned that the coal industry needed to “face reality,” arguing that they “would rather attack false enemies and deny real problems than find solutions.”

Mr. Rockefeller’s service as a Vista volunteer brought him to West Virginia in 1964 after graduating from Harvard University in 1961, where he made his home and quickly began his career in public service, joining the state’s House of Delegates in 1966. He championed liberal causes, supporting President Bill Clinton’s thwarted attempt at near-universal health insurance coverage and Mr. Obama’s successful Affordable Care Act nearly 20 years later.

Jonathan Weisman contributed reporting.


January 11, 2013

Veterans and Senate Buddies, Until Another War Split Them


WASHINGTON — In the old days it was like a Senate buddy movie.

John McCain and Chuck Hagel traveled the world together, popped into each other’s neighboring offices on Capitol Hill and played pranks. Mr. Hagel, then a Republican senator from Nebraska, dropped by one Halloween wearing a McCain mask. Mr. McCain, an Arizona Republican, liked to jokingly fire Mr. Hagel’s staff. “Pack up your desks!” he would say. As Vietnam War veterans — Mr. McCain had been a naval officer and a pilot, Mr. Hagel an enlisted infantryman — they forged an even closer bond.

“John would call him sergeant — ‘Hey, Sergeant, come in, Sergeant!’ ” said Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who is Mr. McCain’s closest friend in Washington. “They would salute each other.”

But as Mr. Hagel heads into contentious confirmation hearings to be President Obama’s secretary of defense, the two remain estranged over policy differences that started with the Iraq War, spread into bitter presidential politics and ultimately damaged, if not ended, a friendship. Some colleagues say the break between two stubborn iconoclasts has been exaggerated in the absolutist world of the capital, but no one disputes that the relationship has cooled dramatically.

“The Iraq war is where the policy differences became pretty difficult to deal with,” said Mr. Graham, speaking of Mr. McCain’s aggressive push for the 2007 surge of American forces in Iraq and Mr. Hagel’s unsuccessful fight against that escalation. “The worldview really began to diverge.”

The differences were on full display when Mr. McCain released a statement after Mr. Hagel was nominated on Monday saying he had “serious concerns” about the positions on national security Mr. Hagel had taken over the years. The two spoke the same day by phone in what an aide called a cordial conversation — one of at least 30 calls to senators Mr. Hagel has made this week in preparation for his hearing — but on Tuesday on CNN Mr. McCain had not changed his tone.

While “the friendship, I hope, is still there,” Mr. McCain said, he remained worried about Mr. Hagel’s “overall attitude about the United States, our role in the world, particularly in the Middle East, and whether we should reduce the Pentagon further.”

People who know both men say that at this point Mr. Hagel appears to have the votes for confirmation and that in the end Mr. McCain could well vote yes for the friend who was at his side during his unsuccessful 2000 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. But aides to both acknowledge the dynamic on Capitol Hill could change and that Mr. McCain — and others — will give Mr. Hagel a rough time. At the very least, they say, Mr. McCain remains bruised over Mr. Hagel’s decision not to support Mr. McCain when he became the Republican presidential nominee in 2008, and over a trip Mr. Hagel took with Mr. Obama to Iraq the same year.

“He was very angry about it,” said one of Mr. McCain’s 2008 advisers, who asked not to be identified discussing the complicated dynamics between the two. Mr. McCain “takes policy disputes very, very personally,” the adviser added. He described Mr. McCain’s current view of Mr. Hagel as one of “profound disappointment.”

Mr. McCain, 76, the son and grandson of admirals, and Mr. Hagel, 66, the son of a lumberyard worker who drank heavily and died when Mr. Hagel was in high school, first became political pals in 1996, when Mr. Hagel was running for the first time for the Senate.

Mr. McCain, who by then had been in the Senate nearly a decade and was nationally known, campaigned frequently for his fellow Vietnam veteran in Nebraska, much to the gratitude of Mr. Hagel and his staff. The two had similar personality traits: a sense of humor, brashness, bullheadedness and an aversion to Republican orthodoxy and hierarchy. By 2000, Mr. Hagel had returned the favor to become national co-chairman of Mr. McCain’s presidential campaign.

As one of only a small band of supporters in the Senate, Mr. Hagel was a regular on the “Straight Talk Express,” Mr. McCain’s rolling campaign bus party. He exulted with Mr. McCain during his upset victory in New Hampshire, roared back at a smear campaign against Mr. McCain in South Carolina and by the end of the primaries was a broker for an uneasy peace between Mr. McCain and the Republican nominee, George W. Bush.

Friends say the strains between the two began in 2002, when Mr. Hagel emerged as an early and acerbic Republican skeptic to the Bush administration’s plans for invading Iraq. Mr. Hagel voted for the resolution that authorized the invasion but rapidly became a critic of the Bush administration’s execution of the war. Mr. McCain was equally critical, but he saw the solution in an addition of more than 20,000 American troops, which Mr. Hagel opposed.

“This is a Ping-Pong game with American lives,” Mr. Hagel told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January 2007. “And we better be damn sure we know what we’re doing, all of us, before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder.”

Mr. McCain saw Mr. Hagel’s views as wrongly colored by the brutal combat he saw as an infantryman in the jungles of Vietnam, where he was wounded twice. (Mr. McCain was shot down over Hanoi in 1967 and for the next five years was imprisoned and tortured by the North Vietnamese.) “I think he was very haunted by Vietnam,” Mr. Graham said of Mr. Hagel. Mr. McCain, he said, “doesn’t look at every conflict through the eyes of his Vietnam experience — you know, ‘We shouldn’t have been there, it went on too long, we didn’t have a plan.’ Fighting Al Qaeda is not fighting in Vietnam.”

Some former staff members insist that Iraq was not the divisive force between the two men that it has been made out to be and that they naturally drifted apart when Mr. McCain began campaigning again for president in 2007 and spent less time in Washington. Mr. Hagel left the Senate at the end of 2008.

“Although McCain disagreed with Hagel’s position, he never resented him for it,” Mark Salter, Mr. McCain’s former chief of staff and a top adviser in the 2008 campaign, wrote on the Web site RealClearPolitics this week, referring to the differences over the surge. The two just stopped socializing, he said, for no discernible reason.

“Not everything that happens in Washington fits into a neat narrative or affects history,” Mr. Salter wrote. “Sometimes it’s just another unremarkable occasion when people go their own way for their own quirky reasons.”

Others hold out the possibility of a rapprochement, however remote. “You have two guys who are hurt, and you know how guys are, they don’t make up unless there’s a woman around who forces them,” said one of Mr. Hagel’s former staff members who did not want to be identified discussing the conflict. “They would rather be friends than not, I’m quite certain of that.”


January 11, 2013

Flu Season Deaths Reach Epidemic Level but May Be at Peak, C.D.C. Says


Deaths in the current flu season have officially crossed the line into “epidemic” territory, federal health officials said Friday, adding that, on the bright side, there were also early signs that the caseloads could be peaking.

Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaking on a telephone news conference, again urged Americans to keep getting flu shots. At the same time, they emphasized that the shots are not infallible: a preliminary study rated this year’s vaccine as 62 percent effective, even though it is a good match for the most worrisome virus circulating. That corresponds to a rating of “moderately” effective — the vaccine typically ranges from 50 percent to 70 percent effective, they said.

Even though deaths stepped — barely — into epidemic territory for the first time last Saturday, the C.D.C. officials expressed no alarm, and said it was possible that new flu infections were peaking in some parts of the country. “Most of the country is seeing a lot of flu and that may continue for weeks,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the C.D.C.’s director.

New outpatient cases — a measure based on what percentage of doctor visits were for colds or flu — dropped off slightly from the previous week, to 4 percent from 6 percent. The trend was more pronounced in the South, where this year’s season began.

Dr. Frieden cautioned that the new flu figures could be aberrations because they were gathered as the holiday season was ending. Few people schedule routine checkups then, so the percentage of visits for severe illness can be pushed artificially high for a week or two, then inevitably drop.

Deaths from pneumonia and the flu, a wavy curve that is low in summer and high in winter, typically touch the epidemic level for one or two weeks every flu season. How bad a season is depends on how high the deaths climb for how long.

So far this season, 20 children with confirmed flu tests have died, but that is presumably lower than the actual number of deaths because not all children are tested and not all such deaths are reported. How many adults die will not be estimated until after the season ends, said Dr. Joseph Bresee, the chief of prevention and epidemiology for the C.D.C.’s flu branch. Epidemiologists count how many death certificates are filed in a flu year, compare the number with normal years, and estimate what percentage were probably flu-related.

Many people are getting ill this year because the country is also having widespread outbreaks of two diseases with overlapping symptoms, norovirus and whooping cough, and the normal winter surge in common colds. Flu shots have no effect on any of those.

Spot shortages of vaccines have been reported, and there will not be enough for all Americans, since the industry has made and shipped only about 130 million doses. But officials said they would be pleased if 50 percent of Americans got shots; in a typical year, 37 percent do.

Dr. Bresee said that this year’s epidemic resembles that of 2003-4, which also began early, was dominated by an H3N2 strain and killed more Americans than usual.

Nevertheless, more Americans now routinely get flu shots than did then, and doctors are much quicker to prescribe Tamiflu and Relenza, drugs that can lessen a flu’s severity if taken early.

The C.D.C.’s vaccine effectiveness study bore out the point of view of a report released last year by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. It said that the shot’s effectiveness had been “overpromoted and overhyped,” said Michael T. Osterholm, the center’s director.

Although the report supported getting flu shots, it said that new vaccines offering lifelong protection against all flu strains, instead of annual partial protection against a mix-and-match set, must be created.

“But there’s no appetite to fund that research,” Dr. Osterholm said in an interview Friday.

“To get a vaccine across the ‘Valley of Death’ is likely to cost $1 billion,” he added, referring to the huge clinical trials that would be needed to approve a new type of vaccine. “No government has put more than $100 million into any candidate, and the private sector has no appetite for it because there’s not enough return on investment.”

At the same time, he praised the C.D.C. for measuring vaccine effectiveness in midseason.

“We’re the only ones in the world who have data like that,” he said.

“Vaccine effectiveness” is a very different metric from vaccine-virus match, which is done in a lab. Vaccine efficacy is measured by interviewing hundreds of sick or recovering patients who had positive flu tests and asking whether and when they had received shots.

Only people sick enough to visit doctors get flu tests, said Thomas Skinner, a C.D.C. spokesman, so the metric means the shot “reduces by 62 percent your chance of getting a flu so bad that you have to go to a doctor or hospital.”

During the telephone news conference Friday, Dr. Frieden repeatedly described the vaccine as “far from perfect, but by far the best tool we have to prevent influenza.”

Most vaccinations given in childhood for threats like measles and diphtheria are 90 percent effective or better. But flu viruses mutate so fast that they must be remade annually. Scientists are trying to develop vaccines that target bits of the virus that appear to stay constant, like the stem of the hemagglutinin spike that lets the virus break into lung cells.

During the 2009 swine flu pandemic, many elderly Americans had natural protection, presumably from flus they caught in the 1930s or ’40s.

“Think about that,” Dr. Osterholm said. “Even though they were old, they were still protected. We’ve got to figure out how to capture that kind of immunity — which current vaccines do not.”

At Friday’s news conference, Dr. Bresee acknowledged the difficulties, saying: “If I had the perfect answer as to how to make a better flu vaccine, I’d probably get a Nobel Prize.”

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Indian police arrest six after gang rape on bus in Punjab

Alleged offenders held weeks after incident involving student on Delhi bus caused mass protests across nation

Associated Press in New Delhi, Sunday 13 January 2013 13.03 GMT   

Indian police have arrested six suspects for an alleged gang rape of a bus passenger in India, four weeks after a similar and brutal attack on a student in the capital caused outrage across the country.

Police officer Raj Jeet Singh said a 29-year-old woman was the only passenger on a bus as she was travelling to her village in northern Punjab state on Friday night. The driver refused to stop at her village despite her repeated pleas and drove her to a desolate location, he said.

There, the driver and the conductor took her to a building where they were joined by five friends and took turns raping her throughout the night, Singh said.

The driver dropped the woman off at her village early Saturday, he added. Singh said police arrested six suspects on Saturday and were searching for another.

Deputy Superintendent Gurmej Singh said all six admitted involvement in the rape. He said the victim was recovering at home.

The deadly rape of a 23-year-old student on a New Delhi bus in December set off an impassioned debate about how India can prevent such tragedies. Protesters and politicians have called for tougher rape laws, police reforms and a transformation in the way the country treats women.

"It's a very deep malaise. This aspect of gender justice hasn't been dealt with in our nation-building task," said Seema Mustafa, a writer on social issues who heads the Centre for Policy Analysis thinktank. "Police haven't dealt with the issue severely in the past. The message that goes out is that the punishment doesn't match the crime. Criminals think they can get away it."

In her first published comments on Sunday, the mother of the deceased student said all six suspects, including one believed to be a juvenile, deserved to die. She was quoted by The Times of India newspaper as saying that her daughter told her the youngest suspect had participated in the most brutal aspects of the rape.

Five men have been charged with the student's rape and murder and face a possible death penalty if convicted. The sixth suspect, who says he is 17 years old, is likely to be tried in a juvenile court if medical tests confirm he is a minor. His maximum sentence would be three years in a reform facility.

"Now the only thing that will satisfy us is to see them punished. For what they did to her, they deserve to die," the newspaper quoted the mother as saying.

Some activists have demanded a change in the law so juveniles committing heinous crimes can face the death penalty. The identity of the victim of the 16 December attack and her family have not been released.

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« Reply #4012 on: Jan 13, 2013, 07:22 AM »

January 12, 2013

India’s New Focus on Rape Shows Only the Surface of Women’s Perils


NEW DELHI — Harassed for years by her husband and his relatives, an Indian woman was finally kidnapped, raped, strangled and tossed into a ditch.

For more than a year, the woman’s father has tried without success to get the police to arrest those accused of killing her, including her husband, who were charged but remain at large. The father, Subedar Akhileshar Kumar Singh, an army officer, says he believes his daughter was killed because her in-laws were not satisfied with her dowry, according to an article on Thursday in The Indian Express.

Such crimes are routine in this country, where researchers estimate that anywhere from 25,000 to 100,000 women a year are killed over dowry disputes. Many are burned alive in a particularly grisly form of retribution.

While a horrific gang rape in New Delhi has transfixed India and drawn attention to a violent epidemic, rape is just one facet of a broad range of violence and discrimination that leads to the deaths of almost two million women a year, researchers say. Among the causes are not only sexual violence but also domestic violence, family disputes and female infanticide, as well as infant neglect and poor care of the elderly that affect girls and women far more than boys and men.

Women have made enormous strides in India in recent decades. Their schooling now matches that of men, and they have moved forcefully into many industries, although their participation in the work force is still far less than that of men. And women have become leaders in Indian politics.

But women in New Delhi and throughout India say that their gender makes them vulnerable to attack from a vast and growing sea of unattached and unemployed young men who view women’s success as the reason for their failure.

“Women are breaking through and advancing toward greater attainment — but in a society that continues to be patriarchal, that is increasing tensions,” said Dr. K. Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India. “And one of the manifestations of that tension is increased violence against women.”

In a column in The Hindustan Times, Sagarika Ghose, an author and commentator, wrote, “A profound fear and a deep, almost pathological, hatred of the woman who aspires to be anything more than mother and wife is justified on the grounds of tradition.”

That tradition has for centuries been especially deadly for women who fail to live up to its ideals or reject them altogether. Using techniques pioneered by Amartya Sen, an economist who won the Nobel Prize in 1998, researchers estimate that there are as many as 100 million “missing women,” as Mr. Sen called them, in India. These are women who would be alive if they died at the same rates relative to men as woman die relative to men in more developed countries, and their ranks grow by nearly two million each year, studies by an American and Canadian research team concluded.

Some of these lives are ended before they begin: Indian women are far more likely to abort female fetuses than male ones. Still, such birth selection accounts for, at most, 12 percent of the figure, the researchers found.

The official explanation for many of the deaths of “missing women” is that they died from accidents or injuries, but there is little reason to believe that Indians are especially clumsy or accident-prone, the researchers said. Instead, they believe that in many cases the official explanations mask deadly crimes.

“Our guess is that a lot of these deaths are due to the dowry phenomenon, but it just doesn’t get reported that way,” said Siwan Anderson, an associate professor of economics at the University of British Columbia and an author of the studies.

As many as 100,000 women are burned to death each year and another 125,000 die from violent injuries that are rarely reported as killings, according to government figures and other data analyzed by the research team.

Beyond violence, Indian girls may suffer from subtle neglect that can have profound consequences. Research has found, for instance, that Indian mothers tend to breast-feed boys longer than they do girls, Ms. Anderson said. And once their sons start eating solid food, they may get more of it than their daughters. Families may also invest more in the protection of boys’ health, buying them mosquito netting to ward off malaria and dengue.

These differences in nutrition and care may account for the substantially greater share of girls under the age of 4 who die of infectious and respiratory diseases in India than elsewhere, the researchers found.

Deaths in childbirth, long considered a plague here, account for the fatalities of about 130,000 Indian women a year. An even greater number results from an increased relative risk of heart attacks, which may demonstrate that the poorer quality of care provided to women continues throughout their lives.

As girls age, the strict controls that many families have over their daughters cannot protect them from rape and sexual assault, since most of those crimes are committed by people known to the women, studies say. But even so, such controls have some benefits, public health experts say. Indian women have, on average, no more than two sexual partners in their entire lives, and most are virgins when they marry, surveys show. This absence of promiscuity is probably an important reason that AIDS never became an epidemic in India.

“Tradition in this case is not a bad thing,” said K. Sujatha Rao, a former health secretary of India and a crucial figure in the fight against AIDS. “You take marriage here as a much more sacrosanct thing.”

Trying to determine how to protect women in India while preserving the country’s traditions has led to a very public debate in recent weeks.

Asaram Bapu, a popular Hindu guru, said that the New Delhi rape victim could have saved herself if she had simply “held the hand of one of the men and said, ‘I consider you as my brother.’ ” Some conservative politicians and commentators blamed skirts, revealing clothing, a lack of overcoats on girls, junk food, astrology and the decisions by some wives to work outside the home.

For many Indian women, having more police officers on the streets is no answer, since many view them as every bit as dangerous to their safety as criminals. On Thursday, the police in South Delhi put up posters advising young women to go straight home after their classes in school or college.

Tradition in India also results in considerable acceptance of violence. A 2005 government survey found that 54 percent of women in India said that husbands were justified in beating their wives, with the most common justification being if they failed to show proper respect for their in-laws.

Still, Indian husbands beat their wives far less than men in many other developing countries, according to comparable surveys done in multiple countries. Domestic violence levels are far higher in Colombia, Egypt, Peru and Zambia than in India, the surveys found.

But discrimination against women is so endemic and wide-ranging in India that deaths from domestic violence account for only a fraction of the overall risk of unnecessary death. “Other aspects come into play, like female infanticide, mistreatment of young girls in terms of access to resources, maternal deaths, unequal access to health care and so forth,” said Ms. Anderson, the economics professor. “Indian women face more dangers.”

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« Reply #4013 on: Jan 13, 2013, 07:26 AM »

Mali neighbours send troops to help French intervention

African states agree to send soldiers following French military intervention against Islamist rebels holding Mali's north

Associated Press in Bamako, Sunday 13 January 2013 11.26 GMT   

Troops from Mali's neighbours are expected to join hundreds of French soldiers in the battle to push back Islamist extremists holding Mali's north, a fight that in its first two days has left at least 11 civilians dead, including three children who threw themselves into a river and drowned trying to avoid the bombs.

Niger, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Nigeria agreed on Saturday to send soldiers, a day after France authorised air strikes, dispatching fighter jets from neighbouring Chad and bombing rebel positions north of Mopti, the last Malian government-controlled town in the north.

State television announced that the African troops, including up to 500 each from Burkina Faso and Niger, are expected to start arriving on Sunday. Britain has offered the use of its transport planes to help bring in the soldiers.

The African soldiers will work alongside French special forces, including a contingent that arrived on Saturday in Bamako to secure the capital against retaliatory attacks by the al-Qaida-linked rebel groups occupying Mali's north. National television broadcast footage of the French troops walking single-file out of the Bamako airport on Saturday, weapons strapped to their bodies. Some carried them like skis, against their shoulder.

The French defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said on Sunday that France now has more than 400 troops in Bamako, mainly to ensure the safety of French citizens and also to send a signal to the extremists.

"We will strengthen our operation depending on the situation," he said on a political talk show with itele and Europe 1 radio. Le Drian said that Rafale fighter jets will be part of the operation and that technical support will be arriving soon.

He said that France has international support and "the Americans seconded us" with intelligence and logistical support, though he did not elaborate.

Storage hangars and "sensitive sites" were among targets destroyed so far and the Islamists lost a "significant number" in the fighting, Le Drian said. "The intervention is still in progress and we will continue" as long as needed.

The military operation began on Friday, after the fall of Konna on Thursday to the rebel groups. Konna is only 30 miles north of the government's line of control, which begins at Mopti, home to the largest concentration of Malian troops in the country.

The UNhad cautioned that a military intervention needed to be properly planned, and outlined a step-by-step process that diplomats said would delay the operation until at least September of this year.

However, the rebels' decision to push south, and the swift fall of Konna, changed everything. After an appeal for help from Mali's president, the French president, François Hollande, sent in Mirage jets and combat helicopters, pounding rebel convoys and destroying a militant base. Footage of the jets showed the triangle-shaped aircrafts screaming across the sky over northern Mali. Le Monde reported that the jets dropped at least two, 250kg (550lb) bombs on militant targets.

The human toll has not yet been calculated, but a communique read on state television late Saturday said that at least 11 Malians were killed in Konna.

Sory Diakite, the mayor of Konna, says the dead included children who drowned after they threw themselves into a river in an effort to escape the bombs.

"Others were killed inside their courtyards, or outside their homes. People were trying to flee to find refuge. Some drowned in the river. At least three children threw themselves in the river. They were trying to swim to the other side. And there has been significant infrastructure damage," said the mayor, who fled the town with his family and is now in Bamako.

Human rights groups have warned that any military intervention will exact a humanitarian price. Mali, and the international community, found itself in a Catch-22 because every passing week that any intervention was delayed allowed the rebels to dig in and prepare for war. The rebels occupied Mali's northern half, an area larger than Afghanistan, amid the chaos after a coup in Mali's capital last March.

With no clear leader at the head of the country, Mali's military simply gave up when the rebels arrived, retreating hundreds of miles to the south without a fight. In the nine months since then, the extremists have imposed an austere and severe form of Islam – those who disobey their rules are beaten with whips and camel switches. Public amputations of the hands of thieves have become a regular spectacle.

They have also used their nine-month siege of the north to dig in, creating elaborate defences, including tunnels and ramparts using construction equipment abandoned by fleeing construction crews.

As well as civilians, a French pilot was killed after Islamists downed his combat helicopter, a sign perhaps of how dangerous the terrain has become even for trained, special forces.
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« Reply #4014 on: Jan 13, 2013, 07:29 AM »

Israel evicts E1 Palestinian peace camp protesters

Israeli military make arrests in early morning swoop against Bab al-Shams encampment despite supreme court ruling

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem, Sunday 13 January 2013 11.56 GMT   

The Israeli state has swung into action against a group of Palestinian activists who established a tent village on a rocky hillside east of Jerusalem, with hundreds of security officials carrying out an eviction under the orders of the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, in the early hours of Sunday morning.

According to activists, a large military force surrounded the encampment at around 3am. All protesters were arrested and six were injured, said Abir Kopty.

On Saturday evening, Netanyahu demanded the Israeli supreme court overturn an injunction preventing the removal of the protesters, and ordered the area to be declared a closed military zone.

Around 200 Palestinian activists set up the village, named Bab al-Shams ("gate of the sun") and comprising around 20 tents, early on Friday morning on a highly sensitive swath of land known as E1 which Israel has earmarked for settlement development. The protesters' actions echoed the tactics of radical settlers when establishing outposts in the West Bank.

The tents were erected on privately owned Palestinian land, the protesters said, with the full permission of the landowners. The activists sought legal protection from the supreme court, which granted an injunction against eviction and gave the state of Israel up to six days to respond.

Following the eviction, the Popular Struggle Co-ordinating Committee, which was involved in setting up the camp, said the state's actions were illegal because Bab al-Shams was established on private land. "The action succeeded in inspiring all the residents of the village as well as Palestinians around the world. This is not the end of the popular struggle."

The protest was launched six weeks after Netanyahu announced plans to press ahead with the development of E1, triggering strong international condemnation. The area, measuring around 12 sq km, lies between Jerusalem and the vast West Bank settlement of Ma'ale Adumim.

The Palestinian Authority and most western diplomats say the development of E1 will damage the prospects of a viable Palestinian state by almost bisecting the West Bank, effectively cutting it off from East Jerusalem, which is intended to be the future capital of a Palestinian state.

Speaking on Israel army radio on Sunday, Netanyahu said that planning for E1 is moving ahead and that "there will be construction".

On Saturday, scores of Palestinian activists visited the site, perched close to a Bedouin encampment and within sight of a huge Israeli police headquarters. Activists brewed sweet tea and coffee on open fires, and volunteers manned a medical centre in one tent. Rubbish was collected by a team organised by a member of the seven-strong "village council".

Mahmoud Zawahra, a protest leader, described the tent village as "constructive resistance".

"We are part of a non-violent resistance movement. For us, this is occupied land so we created a village to stop the Israeli plan to build a settlement here," he said.

Another activist, Samir, who declined to give his full name, said the protest had been organised secretly. "We know the army follows us on Twitter and Facebook, so we made out we were holding a protest somewhere else."

Activists were trained in non-violent resistance techniques, he added. "This is not a scout camp, it is to empower Palestinians on the ground. We know [the army] will come, and we are prepared."

Tha'ar Aniz, from nearby Azariya, said temperatures had plummeted overnight. "It was very cold. But if you want to be free, you have to withstand such things."

Israeli security forces prevented Palestinian officials Hanan Ashrawi and Saeb Erekat from visiting the site on Saturday. Earlier, Ashrawi welcomed the establishment of Bab al-Shams, saying: "This initiative is a highly creative and legitimate non-violent tool to protect our land from Israeli colonial plans.

"We have the right to live anywhere in our state, and we call upon the international community to support such initiatives, as well as to protect those who are being threatened by Israeli occupation forces for exercising their right to peaceful resistance against the illegal Israeli occupation."


Binyamin Netanyahu 'wasted $3bn on Iranian attack plan'

Israel's former prime minister Ehud Olmert accuses Israeli PM of preparing for war that never took place

Peter Beaumont, foreign affairs editor
The Observer, Sunday 13 January 2013   

Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert has accused the current prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, of wasting $3bn preparing for a war on Iran that never took place. Photograph: David Furst/AFP/Getty Images

Israel's former prime minister, Ehud Olmert, has accused the current prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, of wasting almost $3bn preparing for a war on Iran that never took place, underlining how seriously Netanyahu considered launching an attack in the last two years.

The public criticism of Netanyahu, who is expected to be re-elected later this month, follows some scathing criticism of the prime minister by the former head of Israel's domestic intelligence agency Shin Bet, Yuval Diskin. Diskin accused Netanyahu of spending the money on "harebrained adventures that haven't, and won't, come to fruition". The charge was levelled by Olmert as Netanyahu once again pledged that Iran would be top of his agenda if he was re-elected.

Speaking in a television interview on Israel's Channel 2, Olmert said: "In the last two years, 11bn shekels [$2.9bn] were spent on operations which were not and will not be carried out. These figures go well beyond the multi-year budgets. We were told that 2012 was the decisive year. They managed to scare the entire world, but nothing was done in the end."

Olmert also appeared to back the claims by Diskin that Netanyahu and the defence minister, Ehud Barak, discussed launching an attack on Iran over alcohol and cigars.

"Did I hear about it? Yes. Should Diskin have talked about it? I'm glad he didn't reveal operative details, but when it comes to issues like this, it was his duty to speak up," said Olmert.

"If a man like Diskin, who has behaved responsibly during all his years of public service, reaches the conclusion that the Israeli public must know what's going on when their fates are being decided on, it is vital that he does so."

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« Reply #4015 on: Jan 13, 2013, 07:34 AM »

Vowing revenge, 15,000 rally in Paris over Kurd killings

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, January 12, 2013 13:44 EST

About 15,000 Kurds from all over Europe vowed revenge as they rallied Saturday in Paris over the killing of three top Kurdish activists from a separatist group banned in Turkey.

The march, which began at the city’s Gare de l’Est railway station, was emotionally charged, with demonstrators saying France would be an accomplice in the brazen murders if it did not identify and punish the killers.

“This crime is a crime against the Kurdish people and against peace,” said a woman demonstrator, calling for an end to the listing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as a terrorist organisation.

“The French state bears a responsibility. If the perpetrators of these crimes are not found, France will be indisputably considered as an accomplice,” said a leaflet published and distributed by France’s main Kurdish association, Feyka.
“It’s the first time something like this has happened in Europe,” said Celine Yildirim, a waitress in Paris who gained political asylum in France after being jailed in Turkey.

“We want to know who did this.”

The demonstrators, marching under grey skies and an intermittent drizzle, held banners saying “Intikam! PKK,” using the Turkish word for revenge, and “The Martyrs of the Revolution Are Eternal.”

The three activists — Sakine Cansiz, Fidan Dogan and Leyla Soylemez — were found dead on Thursday at the Kurdistan Information Centre in the grimy 10th district of Paris, after last being seen alive at the centre at midday on Wednesday.

They were all shot in the head, at least three times each.

Cansiz was a founding member of the PKK, which took up arms in 1984 for Kurdish self-rule in southeastern Turkey and is branded a terrorist organisation by Ankara and much of the international community.

Police put the number of marchers at 15,000. They came from Belgium, the Netherlands, Britain, Switzerland and especially Germany, which is home to 800,000 Kurds, of whom 13,000 are believed to be PKK members.

Fikriye Cinar, who drove to Paris with eight members of her family from the German city of Dortmund, said she had “not really slept for three days as these murders have shaken me.”

The killings came days after Turkish media reported that Turkey and the PKK leadership had agreed a roadmap to end the three-decade Kurdish insurgency, which has claimed more than 45,000 lives.

The deal was reportedly reached during a new round of talks between the Turkish government and jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan which the government acknowledges have been taking place with the aim of disarming the rebels.

“This attack comes at a time when talks are on to find a solution to the Kurdish problem in Turkey,” said Kurdish association Feyka.

French President Francois Hollande had said the murder was “terrible”, adding that he knew one of the Kurdish women and that she “regularly met us” — a comment seized upon by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who on Saturday sought an explanation from Paris.

“How can he regularly meet with these people who are members of a group listed as a terrorist organisation by the European Union and who are wanted under red bulletin (issued by Interpol)?” Erdogan asked.

Erdogan said Hollande “must explain immediately to the French, Turkish and world public why… he is in communication with these terrorists.”

The Turkish leader repeatedly accused some European states, including France and Germany, of obstructing Ankara’s fight against the PKK, saying that they were letting PKK members freely circulate on their territory.

Experts have suggested a number of potential motives for the killings, including an attack by Turkish extremists and internal feuding within the PKK.

There are around 150,000 Kurds in France, the vast majority of them of Turkish origin.

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« Reply #4016 on: Jan 13, 2013, 07:38 AM »

January 12, 2013

A Desert Cold and Wet Multiplies the Misery of Syrian Refugees


ZAATARI, Jordan — The water has mostly been removed from hundreds of flooded tents and the dirt paths that run between them here in the region’s vastest camp of Syrian refugees. The clotheslines are laden with soggy sweaters and socks, waiting for the sun after a week of harsh wind, rain and snow.

The residents are waiting, too: for the next storm, and the next, that they know will come this winter and also, many fear, for their own demise.

“We were waiting for our deaths so we came out, but we found our second deaths here,” said a man who identified himself as Abu Tarik from the Dhulash family. He said he arrived in the Zaatari refugee camp 10 days ago after intense shelling near his home and farm, which lie across the border in Dara’a, Syria.

“There, we were going to die from the fires,” he said, sitting on a mat surrounded by a dozen family members. “Here we’re going to die from the cold. We don’t want to die in this tent.”

With aid agencies expecting the number of Syrian refugees to reach one million this year, and estimates for the cost of caring for them topping $1 billion, the misery in this struggling six-month-old camp is part of a deepening humanitarian crisis that threatens to destabilize the Middle East further. More than half a million people who have already fled Syria have ended up in camps and villages across Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, all of which have asked for more international aid. Last week was the worst yet in Zaatari, as scores of tents collapsed under the most severe storm in 20 years. Two babies and a 22-year-old amputee died, all of unrelated causes. Several aid workers were injured when a riot broke out during food distribution.

Life began to return to normal on Friday, but normal in this desert camp of nine square miles crowded with more than 50,000 people is, according to the refugees and even some of those running the place, somewhere between horrible and inhumane.

Barefoot children trod through mud in temperatures not far above freezing. People lined up for hours for pots, utensils and buckets. Women pushed squeegees through the remaining puddles, and washed clothes in plastic tubs with cold water that quickly turned brown.

A young man got a $3 shave and haircut in a corrugated tin shack that a refugee barber had set up four days before. A younger one shinnied up a 30-foot light pole to pirate electricity.

“There’s no silver lining on such harsh conditions,” acknowledged Andrew Harper, the top official of the United Nations refugee agency in Jordan. “It’s just a really, really bad place to be.”

But Mr. Harper said the United Nations and the nonprofit groups helping it run the camp were doing the best with what they had, noting that the agency had appealed for $245 million to absorb Syrians regionwide in 2012 and received $157 million.  Jordan, already consumed with an intense financial crisis and a growing protest movement, is scrambling to keep up with the influx. Its task is particularly complex given the delicate balance in its population of six million, which is dominated by Palestinian refugees and their descendants and includes hundreds of thousands who fled the war in Iraq.

Zaatari is only the most visible challenge. Nearly five times as many refugees are living in Jordanian cities and villages, taxing the government’s resources, and competing for scarce jobs.

Anmar Hmoud, who is handling the Syria file for the prime minister, said that refugees could leave Zaatari and Jordan’s handful of smaller camps if a relative or friend could guarantee financial support, but that the government was “exhausting its own resources.” He estimated the cost of military, health, education and other services at $670 million for 2012 and 2013.

“We are a neighbor, and we do our duty, but there is a limit to helping people unless we are helped by others,” he said. “It’s not the Jordanian problem, it is the international community’s problem.”

Some relief is coming. Mr. Hmoud said a new camp just south of here near Zarqa, financed by the United Arab Emirates, would open in two weeks, allowing 6,000 of Zaatari’s most vulnerable residents to move into prefabricated homes, and eventually growing to accommodate 30,000. Saudi Arabia, which over the past month has provided Zaatari with 2,500 prefabs costing $8 million, announced Friday that it would give $10 million more to the Jordanian effort. Mr. Harper said he had met with envoys from Qatar and the Emirates.

“It’s terrible to say, but sometimes it takes a miserable situation like we’re having now to get people to say, ‘Yes, we can do something,’ ” Mr. Harper said.

Not soon enough for Iman Qardah, 30, who has been in the camp for 10 weeks with her five children, ages 1 to 10. When the storm struck last week, her husband spent the night hammering the stakes of the tent as the wind threatened to rip it from the ground. The next night, rain seeped inside, so the family slept piled on one side. The next, the tent “started swimming on the water,” she recalled, and finally collapsed. “My husband started shouting in the street for someone to help.”

The family moved to a prefab that is perhaps 10 feet by 20 feet. But they leak, too. On Friday, the children huddled for warmth around a gas burner where Ms. Qardah was simmering cauliflower and rice, as a bucket nearby caught drops from the ceiling. A neighbor poked a head in, wondering jealously how she had procured a space heater.

“Every day I’m thinner than the day before and my mind is more preoccupied,” Ms. Qardah said as she nursed the baby. “I used to not sleep because of the missiles. Now I don’t sleep because I’m worried about my kids constantly.”

The camp is rife with complaints. Skimpy food rations, scarce clothes. Spotty electricity, rare hot water, squalid toilets. Suspicions that aid workers are stealing blankets. Nothing to do, no prospects for getting out.

But given the weather and the continued flood of refugees — about 10,000 had arrived in the camp in the past 10 days — it is remarkable things are not much, much worse. Officials said there had been no casualties from the cold. Khaled al-Hariri, the 22-year-old who was described in a YouTube video posted Wednesday by a Syrian activist as “the martyr to negligence and cold,” actually died of cancer in a nearby hospital, according to a spokesman for the World Health Organization. There was also a stillbirth and a premature baby who died after three days in an incubator.

Anne, the doctor at the French military clinic here, which requires personnel to be identified only by first name, said she had seen a slight uptick in sore throats and ears since the storm, but no frostbite. The main change is that patients linger in the consultation tent to stay out of the cold.

The French have performed 192 surgical operations on war wounded in the camp. An organization called Gynecologists Without Borders has delivered 172 babies here, 46 in the last three weeks.

Yusef Mohamed Hasan was at the clinic on Friday holding Sham, who was born Dec. 12 by Caesarean section. She was swaddled in four layers, then cradled in a big fuzzy blanket as her mother had the stitches removed.

“As soon as my wife is O.K., we are going back,” said Mr. Hasan, 44. “It’s not better for me there; it’s not safe. But it’s humiliating here.”

Talk of returning to Syria has increased as conditions have deteriorated, but officials said there had been no marked change in the number heading back across the border. Most are resigned to remaining through the winter, or longer.

As the sun came out Friday, Aboud Mohamed Awad and three neighbors set about building themselves a bathroom. The storm made walking to the shared facilities unbearable, he said, and anyhow they are filthy and crowded. Mr. Harper of the United Nations said the goal was to have one toilet per 20 refugees, but that the reality right now was more like one to 50.

Mr. Awad said he used the profits selling the ground floor of his home in Syria to buy corrugated panels and wood for about $100 and hired a $1.50-an-hour laborer, who started by smoothing cement with a pie plate to create a floor.

“We can at least take care of certain things,” Mr. Awad said with something like pride. “We have young girls. It will make us feel more like people.”

Ranya Kadri contributed reporting.

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« Reply #4017 on: Jan 13, 2013, 07:43 AM »

Cuban president backs Venezuela as Chavez convalesces

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, January 12, 2013 16:30 EST

Cuban President Raul Castro on Saturday voiced his support for the Venezuelan government, as its cancer-stricken leader Hugo Chavez convalesces in Havana, with no sign of when or if he might return home.

Castro made the comments during a meeting with Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro, who arrived in the Cuban capital late Friday to check on his ailing boss, who had a difficult fourth round of cancer surgery last month.


January 12, 2013

Venezuela Warns Opposition Against Vocal Dissent


CARACAS, Venezuela — Top government officials are threatening to take action against opposition governors and issuing dark warnings about conspiracies against the government of President Hugo Chávez, who is ailing and remains incommunicado in Cuba.

At a large rally for Mr. Chávez on Thursday, the day designated for his inauguration, Vice President Nicolás Maduro sent a warning to government critics who had objected to a Supreme Court ruling that endorsed the indefinite postponement of the president’s swearing-in.

Many interpreted his words to be directed at Henrique Capriles, the governor of Miranda State who lost to Mr. Chávez in the presidential election in October. He is the most likely opposition candidate if a special election has to be held should Mr. Chávez die, resign or become too sick to continue in office.

“Some governors out there have come out to make declarations, playing with words,” Mr. Maduro said. “We say to them, ‘Stop the waffling.’ If you don’t recognize the legitimate government of President Chávez, we are evaluating legally very forceful actions, because if you don’t recognize me, I’m not obligated to recognize you. It’s that simple.”

He added: “Watch your words and your actions. Take care not to get involved in coups and destabilizing adventures.”

Before leaving for cancer surgery in Havana in early December, Mr. Chávez designated Mr. Maduro as his political heir and said that he wanted him to run for president if a special election became necessary.

It is not unusual for Venezuelan officials to threaten or lash out at the opposition, which they routinely characterize as an enemy bent on overthrowing Mr. Chávez’s revolution. But recently, amid a debate over the constitutionality of postponing the president’s swearing in, the tone has gotten harsher.

Later on Thursday, Mr. Capriles posted a reply on Twitter saying, “Threats from No. 2s make us laugh, let’s see if starting tomorrow they get back to work, Government in paralysis.”

Mr. Capriles added in another post: “What do you know, they didn’t let Al Capone speak, what happened?”

Vladimir Villegas, a former ambassador who is now critical of the government, said that in Mr. Chávez’s absence, Mr. Maduro and other officials were using the clash with the opposition to promote unity among their followers.

“They can’t live without an enemy,” Mr. Villegas said. “The confrontation with the opposition holds them together.”

The vice president is appointed by the president, and some in the opposition have argued that Mr. Maduro cannot continue to serve in the new term without being reappointed by Mr. Chávez. But the Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Maduro and other appointees could continue in their posts.

Mr. Capriles has pointed out that although Mr. Maduro is now at the head of the government, he is not an elected official.

“He was not elected Oct. 7,” Mr. Capriles said last week, referring to the recent presidential election. “He shouldn’t come and talk to us about legitimacy.”

The front page of the newspaper Tal Cual on Friday showed a caricature of Mr. Maduro with the headline: “The Usurper.” Another newspaper opposed to the government, El Nacional, ran a front-page headline that said: “The new term starts with legality questioned.”

On Thursday, Mr. Maduro also said the government had uncovered a plot to destabilize the country, although he offered no evidence and was vague in his description of the conspiracy.

“There is a plan by sectors of the ultraright to find a cadaver, two cadavers and fill the streets of Venezuela with protests,” he said, adding that the opposition was planning “a kind of sabotage and constant fires in the cities.”

“We alerted all the police security forces to be very careful of their actions because they are looking to stain the political life” of the country, Mr. Maduro said.

Also last week, the government said it was starting an administrative proceeding against Globovisión, a television station allied with the opposition, over its coverage of the constitutional controversy around Mr. Chávez’s swearing-in. The proceeding could result in a large fine or the temporary shutdown of the station.

The National Telecommunications Commission announced the proceeding on Wednesday, several hours after Diosdado Cabello, president of the National Assembly and a top Chávez ally, said in a speech that the station should be sanctioned for its coverage of the issue.

The director of the commission, Pedro Maldonado, said punishment could include a fine of up to 10 percent of the station’s gross revenue and a 72-hour shutdown.

Globovisión paid a fine of about $2.2 million last year for its coverage of a deadly prison riot in 2010. The government said its reporting threatened public order and fomented anxiety.

On Friday, Globovisión ran a short spot several times showing a section of the Constitution that defends free speech followed by Mr. Maldonado announcing the proceeding against the station. It ends with the words, “Censorship of the Constitution.”

Mr. Chávez has not been seen or heard from since his cancer surgery on Dec. 11 in Havana. Officials have said that he is fighting a severe lung infection. In past trips to Cuba for cancer treatment, starting in June 2011, Mr. Chávez stayed in the public eye, posting on Twitter, making phone calls to government-run television stations and on one occasion conducting a televised government meeting from Cuba.

Mr. Chávez’s brother, Adán, the governor of Barinas State, said after returning from a visit to Cuba that the president was advancing in his recovery, according to a statement posted on his office’s Web site. It added that rumors that the president was in a coma were “totally false.”

Chavez, 58, has not been seen for a month, and his scheduled inauguration on Thursday was transformed into a public rally, with thousands of Chavistas joining regional leaders in a show of support for the fiery leftist president.

Castro “expressed his confidence in the ability of the Venezuelan people and their institutions to address and overcome any challenge,” a government statement said.

“Raul and Maduro shared their mutual satisfaction with the emotional demonstration of support for Venezuela and President Chavez on January 10 in Caracas,” it added.

Maduro, who was handpicked by Chavez as his political heir before the surgery, was to attend a mass at 5:00 pm (2200 GMT) at the cathedral in Havana, at which prayers would be offered for the Venezuelan president’s health.

The uncertainty surrounding Chavez’s condition has rattled Venezuela, the nation with the world’s largest proven oil reserves.

The government was forced to postpone the president’s scheduled inauguration Thursday, as it became clear that he could not attend. Authorities insist the country’s constitution allows Chavez to take the oath of office later on.

But the opposition has cried foul, calling for a medical board to review the absent leader’s health — a demand rejected by the Supreme Court, which said the delayed swearing-in was constitutional.

Chavez has been out of public sight since undergoing surgery on December 11, the fourth operation in the 18 months since his condition was made public.

“I will continue this work of visiting the family, meeting with the medical team, visiting our comandante Chavez and presenting him with the good news of a nation at work,” Maduro, 50, said Friday before heading to Havana.

Two Chavez allies, Argentine President Cristina Kirchner and Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, also arrived in Havana on Friday.

“We all hope for a quick recovery,” Humala said.

Throughout his illness, first detected in June 2011, Chavez — in power for 14 years — has refused to relinquish the powers of the presidency, even when leaving for Cuba for his latest surgery.

The Venezuelan constitution says new elections must be held within 30 days if the president-elect or president dies or is permanently incapacitated, either before he takes office or in the first four years of his six-year term.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]
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« Reply #4018 on: Jan 13, 2013, 07:45 AM »

Haitian president Martelly talks up recovery in quake memorial

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, January 12, 2013 17:00 EST

Three years after a massive earthquake ravaged Haiti, President Michel Martelly said Saturday the country was slowly rebuilding, despite the ongoing day-to-day misery of many survivors.

An estimated 250,000 people were killed in the January 12, 2010 earthquake. Hundreds of thousands are still living rough in squalid makeshift camps, and they now face rampant crime, a cholera outbreak and the occasional hurricane.

“I bow in memory of the victims. I can still hear the cries of pain from families who lost loved ones, but dry your tears,” a visibly moved Martelly said on the grounds of the presidential palace, which collapsed in the quake.

“Despite all the suffering, Haiti is recovering.”

Government ministers, officials and diplomats attended the somber memorial ceremony in the capital Port-au-Prince, at which a police siren rang out in honor of the dead.

While the presidential palace had been reduced to a heap of stone and metal, “the flag remains aloft and proud,” Martelly said, vowing to rebuild his impoverished Caribbean country from the ground up.

The president was due to lay a wreath later in the day at a mass grave north of Port-au-Prince where the remains of tens of thousands of people are buried.

Residents of the capital flocked to the city’s churches, signing mournful hymns in memory of lost loved ones.

The rebuilding process has been slow in Haiti, which was already one of the world’s poorest countries when disaster struck three years ago.

Beyond the presidential palace, several other ministries remain in ruins and unusable. The parliament has been razed and Port-au-Prince’s cathedral has been reduced to rubble. Other churches and schools were destroyed.

In tough comments to journalists on the eve of Saturday’s anniversary, Martelly said he was “not satisfied” with progress, and urged foreign donors to have more faith in his administration to lead reconstruction efforts.

“Where has the money given to Haiti after the earthquake gone?” he said late Friday, charging that only a third of the international aid recorded so far was actually handed over to the Haitian government, urging an overhaul.

“Most of the aid was used by non-governmental organizations for emergency operations, not for the reconstruction of Haiti.

“Let’s look this square in the eye so we can implement a better system that yields results,” he added.

The European Union on Friday pledged another $40.7 million in help, with aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva saying the bloc “remains committed to helping Haitians in need and the country with its reconstruction.”

In the past two years, hundreds of housing units have been built, and the government has set up shop in pre-fabricated buildings, the best option until ministries can be rebuilt. But the reconstruction process has been slow.

“We have recorded damages of nearly $13 billion,” said Martelly, who came to power in the nation of 9.8 million people a little over a year after the quake.

“My dream is to see the country turn into a sprawling construction site.”

In the streets of Port-au-Prince, however, Haitians say they have waited long enough.

“If our leaders don’t do something to get us out of these tents, we will take to the streets one day,” said Jacky, an unemployed father of three.

Ary Adam, who is in charge of the office tasked with the reconstruction of public buildings and housing, said Haiti needs 400,000 homes to house the 1.5 million people left homeless by the quake.

But the money is not there. Adam says private investment may be a solution, but not in the short term.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #4019 on: Jan 13, 2013, 07:50 AM »

January 12, 2013

Russian Lawmakers Aim at Foreign Cars, Films and Schooling in Patriotic Purge


MOSCOW — The members of Russia’s lower house of Parliament — which last year passed so many harsh new laws with so little debate that commentators compared it to a “rabid printer” — returned to work last week as the standard-bearers for President Vladimir V. Putin’s brand of patriotism.

Having captured the world’s attention in December by banning all adoptions of Russian children by American families, members of Parliament have dreamed up a variety of further proposals to purge Russian politics and civic life of foreign influences.

Among them: A full ban on all foreign adoption. A requirement that the children of Russian officials return directly to Russia after studying abroad, lest their parent lose his or her post. A requirement that officials’ children be barred from studying abroad altogether. A requirement that movie theaters screen Russian-made films no less than 20 percent of the time, or face fines as high as 400,000 rubles, or about $13,000.

One group of legislators is working on a bill that would prevent anyone with foreign citizenship, including Russians, from criticizing the government on television. One proposal would ban the use of foreign driver’s licenses, another would require officials to drive Russian-made cars. One deputy has recommended strictly limiting marriages between Russian officials and foreigners, at least those from states that were not formerly Soviet.

Many of these ideas sound eccentric, in a capital city whose elite are well-traveled and integrated into the West, and are very unlikely to advance and become law. But they certainly will not hurt anyone’s career in the current political environment.

“You know, there is a principle in questions of patriotism or protecting the interests of the country, as the authorities see it, that it’s better to overdo it than to show weakness,” said Aleksei V. Makarkin, an analyst at the Center for Political Technologies in Moscow. “If you try too hard, and come up with some exotic, scandalous draft law, you are in any case one of us. Maybe you are too emotional — you’re a patriot.”

Since Mr. Putin’s inauguration, the Duma, the lower house of Parliament, has hurriedly passed a series of initiatives tightening the state’s control over dissent and political activism: it has steeply increased fines for Russians who take part in unauthorized protests; required nonprofit organizations to register as “foreign agents” if they receive money from overseas; reinstated criminal penalties for slander; and vastly expanded the definition of treason to include assisting international organizations.

When the adoption ban passed, cutting off all adoptions of Russian children by Americans, only four deputies out of 406 voted against it, with 400 voting for it and two abstaining. Grigory A. Yavlinsky, the founder of the liberal party Yabloko, described the vote on his blog as “a unanimous pseudo-patriotic frenzy.”

Over the January break, opposition activists began focusing efforts on the Duma, hoping that outrage over the adoption ban would re-energize flagging protests. Moscow City Hall has approved a Sunday demonstration targeting lawmakers, called “the march of scoundrels.” The newspaper Novaya Gazeta on Thursday announced that it had gathered 100,000 signatures in favor of dissolving the Duma, enough to require an official review.

“Let them come up with a draft law, for example, ‘on the right of a citizens of the Russian Federation to raise the question of lack of confidence toward the state Duma,’ ” reads the petition. “It is necessary to make this amendment to the Russian Constitution: ‘The people should have the right to recall deputies from their warm seats if they act contrary to its will,’ ” the petition reads, in part.

Yevgeny N. Minchenko, director of the International Institute for Political Expertise, said the major pieces of legislation that passed through the Duma last year were produced by staff members in Mr. Putin’s administration. Last year, he said, demonstrated that the Parliament serves as an “instrument” of the Kremlin.

“Unfortunately, in my view, there is a dangerous trend that practically the only way to consolidate all the parliamentary factions is with various kinds of anti-Western initiatives,” Mr. Minchenko said.

Mr. Putin has made patriotism a central theme of his third presidential term, and Yevgeny A. Fyodorov, a United Russia deputy, said strengthening Russia’s sovereignty is now the Duma’s “most important direction.”

Mr. Fyodorov said he would like to see the Constitution amended to allow for a national ideology, something that is now explicitly excluded in the text, but concedes that this will take time. He said the adoption ban — or, as he called it, “the ban on the export of children” — signaled the beginning of a major effort to “strengthen Russia’s sovereignty” by purging foreign influences on civic life.

“You know the saying — we saddle up slowly, but we ride fast,” he said. “The U-turn has just begun, and the most radical steps, including the ones connected to the Constitution, will take place in three or four years.”

Mr. Fyodorov, whose proposal to bar government officials from keeping property overseas has won some support in the Kremlin, said any permanent ties between government officials and foreign countries — a child residing abroad, or a spouse with property outside Russia — constitute a “factor of distrust” that, according to legislation passed last year, can now serve as grounds for an official’s dismissal. The long-term task, he said, “is to gradually reformat the elite to fit the national mood.”

“The existence of a strong connection between an official and foreign countries — I formulate this broadly — is a factor of distrust,” Mr. Fyodorov said.

This mission is complicated by the fact that Moscow’s ruling class is, in fact, already deeply integrated into Western Europe. One leader of the legislative campaign, a United Russia deputy, Sergei Zheleznyak, was pilloried by a blogger, Aleksei Navalny, because his daughters study at exclusive institutions in Switzerland and Britain. Nevertheless, the Kremlin has determined that officials’ foreign holdings must be brought under control, because they are alienating the public, said Sergei A. Markov, a political analyst who served as a legislator with United Russia until last year.

“The population considers the elite to be half-foreign,” he said. “Their property is abroad, their houses are abroad, their wives are abroad, their children are abroad. Even Russian industrialists work through offshore companies. Why do these people run Russia, they say.”

The proposals are bound to raise eyebrows in the West, but they are actually driven by domestic politics, analysts said. Mr. Minchenko noted that even as anti-American sentiment surged in the Duma this fall, Mr. Putin has avoided damaging steps like closing the NATO transit point in Ulyanovsk. He called the legislative campaign “carefully dosed” to avoid permanently hurting bilateral relations.

His colleague, Mr. Makarkin, was less sanguine.

“Those initiatives which yesterday seemed exotic could become reality tomorrow; we saw this happen last year,” he said. “The most important thing is, there are practically no limitations.”


January 11, 2013

Trouble in Russia Over Ban of Adoptions by Americans


MOSCOW — The moratorium on the adoption of Russian children by Americans, which began as a fight between two countries, began this week to look like a fight between Russians and themselves.

On Friday, opponents of the law were preparing for a demonstration on Sunday condemning legislators who had voted for the ban — organizers were calling it the “March Against Scoundrels” — and a top official at the governing party, United Russia, lashed out with unusual vitriol. Opposition “hysteria” over the adoption ban was useful, in a way, the official, Andrei Isayev, wrote on the party’s Web site, because it created a vivid distinction between patriotic Russians and others whom he witheringly called “citizens of the world.”

“All the enemies of Russian sovereignty have revealed themselves as ardent supporters of American adoption,” wrote Mr. Isayev, who sits on the party’s general council, adding that on Sunday, “the latter will go out to march for the right of unrestricted export of Russian children to America.”

“Let’s look attentively and remember the faces of the organizers and active participants of this march,” he wrote, calling Sunday’s event a “March of Child Sellers.” “Our task in the coming years is to drive them to the farthest edge of political and public life, to the middle of nowhere.”

President Vladimir V. Putin approved the adoption ban last month, in retaliation for a new American law aimed at punishing human rights abuses in Russia. In 2011, about 1,000 Russian children were adopted by Americans, more than residents of any other foreign country, but still a tiny number given the nearly 120,000 children in Russia who are eligible for adoption.

Anger over the ban may not be enough to reinvigorate a protest movement in Russia that has flagged recently, when it became clear the rewards would be meager and the punishments harsh. But the reaction is deepening a rift that began to open last year, after Mr. Putin decided to address himself to a conservative, loyal electorate in the hinterlands, turning away from the prosperous urbanites who were drawn to antigovernment rallies.

“The country is really dividing,” said Lev D. Gudkov, director of the Levada Center, a Moscow-based polling agency. Two-thirds of Russia’s population, he said, lives in villages and small towns where people get their information from television, which often reports that American parents are never punished for abusing children adopted from Russia. Polling by the Public Opinion Fund in late December showed that 56 percent of respondents approved of the ban.

The rest are city dwellers who increasingly graze the Internet for news, and are less and less dependent on the government. That group lurched back to life after its long winter holiday and mobilized against the ban. The newspaper Novaya Gazeta has gathered 130,000 signatures in favor of revoking the law; on Thursday it announced 100,000 signatures on a petition in favor of dissolving Parliament.

All week, prominent entertainers have been promoting Sunday’s march by posting video clips online in which they explain — often emotionally — why they are opposed to banning adoption by Americans.

“It’s a horrible story.,” said Liya Akhedzhakova, an actress beloved for Soviet-era comedies. “The most defenseless, unwanted children who are not quite healthy when they are born — they are not needed by anyone.”

Tatyana Dogileva, another actress, practically spat out her words about politicians. “They play their cruel, dirty games, and this is their business. But why do they get children involved in it?”

She went on to address Alina Kabayeva, a gymnast who now sits in Parliament and who years ago was rumored to be Mr. Putin’s mistress. “Alina, why did you vote for this law?” Ms. Dogileva said. “Aren’t you sorry for these children, these specific children? They will die there, Alina.”

Yevgeny S. Gontmakher, a social scientist, said Mr. Putin had made a gamble not unlike the one he made by arresting the oil tycoon Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky in 2004: Russian elites might disapprove, but they would get used to it, and a vast part of the electorate would not care much.

But he said the Kremlin would eventually suffer for the ban.

“In the long-term perspective, it is of course a loss, because there is 25 or 30 percent of society that has formed the opinion, because of these orphans, that politics has become immoral,” Mr. Gontmakher said. “It’s clear that a certain break has taken place inside these people. They may not say so during a public opinion poll, because there are elements of fear. But for these people the government has lost the last remains of its moral authority.”

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