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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1081143 times)
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« Reply #4815 on: Feb 28, 2013, 08:53 AM »

February 27, 2013

Ex-Mayor in Greece Gets Life in Prison for Embezzlement


ATHENS — The former mayor of Greece’s second city, Salonika, and two of his top aides were sentenced to life in prison on Wednesday after being found guilty of embezzling almost 18 million euros, or $23.5 million, in public money — a rare conviction in a case involving the political corruption that has contributed to the country’s dysfunction and economic decline.

A court in Salonika, a northern port city also known as Thessaloniki, found that the local authorities had set up an “embezzlement machine” and that Vassilis Papageorgopoulos, a prominent conservative who served two terms as mayor from 1999 to 2010, had been “aware of the whole plan but had stayed on the sidelines, feigning ignorance.”

The scheme was conceived by Michalis Lemousias, a general secretary of the city administration, who operated with Panagiotis Saxonis, the city’s treasurer, the court found.

Two other former treasury officials were given terms of 15 and 10 years, and 13 other former employees were acquitted after a five-month trial that began after an estimated shortfall of $68 million was found in the city’s coffers. The court said there was proof that $23.5 million of that sum had been swindled.

In trial testimony last month, Mr. Saxonis admitted that the cash transactions had taken place in his office in “flimsy carrier bags” and said he had been taking orders from his superiors.

Mr. Papageorgopoulos, 65, is a prominent member of the conservative New Democracy party, which leads Greece’s current fragile coalition government. He insisted that he had had nothing to do with the embezzlement, and he and his former aides are expected to appeal.

“I am sure that certain people will die feeling remorse,” he said after hearing the verdict, prompting the presiding judge to remark, “At any rate, that won’t be us.”

Mr. Papageorgopoulos, a former sprinter and medical student nicknamed the Flying Doctor, was succeeded as mayor in December 2010 by Yiannis Boutaris, a left-leaning winemaker who has shaken up Salonika with a drive for reform. On coming to power, Mr. Boutaris accused his predecessor of providing inaccurate financial figures.

The convictions on Wednesday prompted a frenzied response in the news media and on blogs, where many hailed the unusually severe sentences.

Few politicians have faced prosecution for graft and other financial crimes in Greece, and convictions are rare. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s governing coalition has pledged to crack down on the deep-rooted corruption among the political and business elite that has angered a public reeling from nearly three years of austerity.

In September, the Greek authorities began investigating the bank accounts of more than 30 politicians to determine whether they should be charged with tax evasion and other crimes.

That inquiry has yet to yield any prosecutions, but last month, Greek lawmakers began an inquiry into George Papaconstantinou, a former Socialist finance minister, over his handling of a list of wealthy Greeks with Swiss bank accounts, a potential source of tax revenue that was never used by the authorities. That investigation began, prosecutors said, after the names of three of the former minister’s relatives had been removed from the list.
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« Reply #4816 on: Feb 28, 2013, 08:56 AM »

February 27, 2013

Danish Opponent of Islam Is Attacked, and Muslims Defend His Right to Speak


COPENHAGEN — When a would-be assassin disguised as a postman shot at — and just missed — the head of Lars Hedegaard, an anti-Islam polemicist and former newspaper editor, this month, a cloud of suspicion immediately fell on Denmark’s Muslim minority.

Politicians and pundits united in condemning what they saw as an attempt to stifle free speech in a country that, in 2006, faced violent rage across the Muslim world over a newspaper’s cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Since then, the newspaper that first printed the images, Jyllands-Posten, has been the target of several terrorist plots.

However, as Mr. Hedegaard’s own opinions, a stew of anti-Muslim bile and conspiracy-laden forecasts of a coming civil war, came into focus, Denmark’s unity in the face of violence began to dissolve into familiar squabbles over immigration, hate speech and the causes of extremism.

But then something unusual happened. Muslim groups in the country, which were often criticized during the cartoon furor for not speaking out against violence and even deliberately fanning the flames, raised their voices to condemn the attack on Mr. Hedegaard and support his right to express his views, no matter how odious.

The writer, who for several years edited a mainstream Danish daily, Information, is a major figure in what a study last year by a British group, Hope Not Hate, identified as a global movement of “Islamophobic” writers, bloggers and activists whose “anti-Muslim rhetoric poisons the political discourse, sometimes with deadly effect.”

That Danish Muslims would rally to defend Mr. Hedegaard, a man they detest, suggests a significant shift in attitudes, or at least in strategies, by a people at the center of a European debate over whether immigrants from mostly poor Muslim lands can adjust to the values of their new and, thanks to a long economic crisis, increasingly wary and often inhospitable homes.

“They have changed their approach,” said Karen Haekkerup, Denmark’s minister of social affairs and integration. “It is a good sign that the Muslim community is now active in the debate.”

When the news broke on Feb. 5 that Mr. Hedegaard had narrowly escaped an attack on his life, recalled Imran Shah of Copenhagen’s Islamic Society, “we knew that this was something people would try to blame on us. We knew we had to be in the forefront and make clear that political and religious violence is totally unacceptable.”

The Islamic Society, which runs Denmark’s biggest mosque and played an important role in stirring up passions against the cartoons of Muhammad, swiftly condemned the attack on Mr. Hedegaard. It also said it regretted its own role during the uproar over the cartoon, when it sent a delegation to Egypt and Lebanon to sound the alarm over Danish blasphemy, a move that helped turn what had been a little-noticed domestic affair into a bloody international crisis.

Another Islamic organization, Minhaj ul Quran International, the Danish offshoot of a controversial group in Pakistan that has taken a hard line at home against blasphemy, added its own voice, organizing a demonstration outside Copenhagen’s city hall to denounce the attack on Mr. Hedegaard and defend free speech.

“We Muslims have to find a new way of reacting,” said Qaiser Najeeb, a 38-year-old second-generation Dane whose father immigrated from Afghanistan. “Instead of focusing on the real point, we always get aggressive and emotional. This should change. We don’t defend Hedegaard’s views but do defend his right to speak. He can say what he wants.”

The response from native Danes has grown more equivocal over time, with some suggesting Mr. Hedegaard himself provoked violence with his strident views and the activities of his Danish Free Press Society, an organization that he set up in 2004 to defend free expression but that is best known for denouncing Islam.

“I think that Hedegaard wanted this conflict,” Mikael Rothstein, a religious history scholar at the University of Copenhagen, said during a discussion on Danish television, adding that “brutal words can be as strong as the brutal physical act of violence.”

Previously shunned by Denmark’s intellectual and political elite, Mr. Hedegaard, who was uninjured in the attack and is living in a safe house under police protection, has been front-page news, even in newspapers that consider him a deliberately provocative racist, which he denies.

Surfacing last week from a safe house for a meeting in the Danish Parliament organized by his Free Press Society, Mr. Hedegaard received a standing ovation after a speech in which he said, “I don’t have a problem with Muslims but do have a problem with the religion of Islam.”

Asmat Ullah Mojadeddi, a medical doctor and the chairman of the Muslim Council of Denmark, a group set up after the cartoon crisis to counter radical Muslims prominent in the news media, described Mr. Hedegaard as a mirror image of reckless Muslims who shoot off their mouths heedless of the consequences.

“There are stupid people everywhere,” Dr. Mojadeddi said. “Mr. Hedegaard is an extremist, and there are definitely extremist Muslims.”

Hoping to take advantage of the furor stirred by the attack, a tiny but vociferous anti-Muslim outfit called Stop the Islamization of Europe organized a rally Saturday in central Copenhagen. Its leader, Anders Gravers, a xenophobic butcher from the north, fulminated against Muslims and the spread of halal meats, but only 20 people turned up to show support. There were many more police officers, on hand to prevent clashes with a larger counterdemonstration nearby.

Who tried to kill Mr. Hedegaard is still a mystery. In an e-mail, he wrote, “My attacker was an immigrant or descendant of immigrants — Arab or Pakistani. He spoke Danish with no accent.”

Mr. Hedegaard described how a man dressed in a postal worker’s jacket had come to his apartment building to deliver a parcel, and, “as I was standing with the package in my hands, he immediately pulled out a gun and fired at my head,” he said. Though less than a yard away, the gunman missed and fled after a struggle, Mr. Hedegaard said.

The attack followed a failed ax attack in 2010 by a Somali Muslim on Kurt Westergaard, the artist who drew a cartoon of Muhammad with a bomb in his turban, and a foiled plot to behead journalists at the office of the newspaper that first published that cartoon and 11 others in September 2005.

Mr. Hedegaard and his Free Press Society championed the newspaper’s right to publish. They also railed against those in Denmark who seemed to contend that the newspaper’s lack of respect for Muslim sensitivities deserved much of the blame for the violent reaction in Muslim countries, which included attacks on Danish diplomatic missions in Syria, Lebanon and Iran.

Mr. Hedegaard has also fanned wild conspiracy theories and sometimes veered into calumny. At a private gathering at his home in December 2009, he declared that Muslims “rape their own children. It is heard of all the time. Girls in Muslim families are raped by their uncles, their cousins or their fathers.”

The comments, recorded by a journalist, later appeared online and led to legal action under a Danish law that prohibits racist hate speech. Mr. Hedegaard was convicted but later acquitted by the Supreme Court.

In an e-mail, he did not deny making the remarks that led to his prosecution but said he had not given permission for them to be published.

He said he was skeptical that Muslims had changed their attitudes, or even could shift toward greater accommodation of European norms.

“There is no such thing as ‘moderate’ Islam, and there never has been,” Mr. Hedegaard said. “There may be shades of opinion among Muslims, but as a totalitarian system of thought, Islam has remained unchanged for at least 1,200 years.”

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« Reply #4817 on: Feb 28, 2013, 08:59 AM »

02/28/2013 12:57 PM

One Year's Salary: Europe Caps Banker Bonuses

In a bid to address widespread public outrage over greed in the financial sector, European officials have agreed to legislation capping bankers' bonuses at a maximum of a year's salary. Great Britain fought to prevent the measure, but failed to rally enough support.

Starting in 2014, banks in the European Union must limit bonus payments for their employees. After some 10 months of tough negotiations, top European officials agreed late on Wednesday in Brussels to cap bonuses at a maximum of one year's base salary.

"For the first time in the history of EU financial market regulation, we will cap bankers' bonuses," said the European Parliament's head negotiator, Austria's Othmar Karas, in a statement. "The essence is that from 2014, European banks will have to set aside more money to be more stable and concentrate on their core business, namely financing the real economy, that of small and medium-sized enterprises and jobs."

The bonus cap was part of a package of financial laws hammered out between EU officials, the European Commission and representatives of the 27 member states in negotiations led by Ireland's Finance Minister Michael Noonan. The goal is to prevent bankers from taking excessive risks, which can shake the financial industry.

"This overhaul of EU banking rules will make sure that banks in the future have enough capital, both in terms of quality and quantity, to withstand shocks," Noonan said. "This will ensure that taxpayers across Europe are protected into the future."

Fierce Resistance from London

European Parliament and member states must still formally approve the compromise, which would allow banks to grant bonuses of twice employees' fixed salary only if the majority of their shareholders approved. The legislation is part of the far-reaching "Basel III" financial reform package aimed at increasing capital requirements to shore up the banking industry.

Wednesday's agreement to implement what will be the world's strictest pay cap was hard-won after months of resistance from member states. Chief among them was Great Britain, which boasts Europe's largest financial sector. London argued that the bonus cap would hobble industry growth, but failed to attract backing from other countries to prevent the measure.

The new rules will apply to all EU financial institutions and their foreign subsidiaries. It will also apply to the subsidiaries of American or Asian bank with branches in the EU.

Top bankers can currently earn performance-based bonuses of up to several times their salary. But this practice has angered the public, particularly after banks doling out such bonuses accepted government bailouts in the financial crisis. It remains to be seen just how banks will react to the new legislation, but some experts predict that they will simply circumvent it by creating more complicated pay structures.


UK to fight EU plan to cap bankers' bonuses

David Cameron and Boris Johnson concerned that capping bonuses at basic salary will scare banks away from London

Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent, Thursday 28 February 2013 13.29 GMT

Britain is to challenge an EU agreement to slash bankers' bonuses at a meeting of European finance ministers next week after Boris Johnson condemned the proposal as a "deluded measure".

Amid fears that the EU agreement could deal a hammer blow to the City of London, David Cameron said EU regulations needed to be flexible enough to allow international banks to operate in Britain and the rest of the European Union.

George Osborne or the Treasury minister Greg Clark will represent Britain at the meeting next week to relay what No 10 described as real concerns about the proposal.

The agreement in Brussels came as the Royal Bank of Scotland posted losses of more than £5bn after paying out more than £600m in bonuses. No 10 said it had imposed cash limits of £2,000 on bonuses at RBS and Lloyds and was giving a greater say to shareholders in all banks.

The prime minister's spokesman said: "Bonuses are very significantly down on where they were in 2010. So you are seeing real responsibility and restraint."

Johnson highlighted deep British unease about the bonus agreement hammered out in Brussels on Wednesday night between officials from the EU's 27 member states, MEPs and the European commission by dismissing it as the most preposterous idea in Europe in two millennia. Under the agreement, bankers' bonuses would be capped broadly at a year's salary, although they could be doubled if a majority of shareholders agreed.

The London mayor said: "People will wonder why we stay in the EU if it persists in such transparently self-defeating policies. Brussels cannot control the global market for banking talent. Brussels cannot set pay for bankers around the world.

"The most this measure can hope to achieve is a boost for Zurich and Singapore and New York at the expense of a struggling EU. This is possibly the most deluded measure to come from Europe since Diocletian tried to fix the price of groceries across the Roman empire."

Diocletian, the 51st Roman emperor, introduced the edict on maximum prices in AD 301.

The prime minister made clear the government's unease at a meeting of Nordic leaders in the Latvian capital of Riga. "We do have in the UK – and not every other European country has this – we have major international banks that are based in the UK but have branches and activities all over the world, and we need to make sure that regulation put in place in Brussels is flexible enough to allow those banks to continue competing and succeeding while being located in the UK. So we'll look carefully at what the outcome of the negotiations was before working out the approach we'll take at Ecofin [the meeting of EU finance ministers] next week."

Downing Street made clear Britain was prepared to water down the proposal at the meeting, though any final decision will be made by qualified majority voting in which no member state has a national veto.

Cameron's spokesman said Britain had taken important steps to rein in remuneration, such as deferred payments, which has seen £300m clawed back from Barclays bonuses and 3,000 RBS employees also experiencing "clawback" as a result of the Libor investigations.

He said: "The UK believes it has some of the toughest remuneration requirements in the world. They are incentivising long-term behaviour – the idea of deferred payments, with a significant proportion in shares that can be clawed back over a period of time. At the heart of this is aligning the incentives with long-term performance and stability.

"Alongside that we of course also want a successful financial sector in the UK. There are very successful UK-based firms that compete across the world. They are an asset to the UK. When we are looking at what further regulations may be appropriate we will want to consider the impact on competitiveness.

"This idea of a cap – one of the things we have been pointing out as a potential consequence of this type of approach, if you cap variable pay – bonuses – you can see big increases in basic pay. And of course basic pay is not subject to clawback because it is paid out straight away."

Cameron said Britain was taking a responsible approach because it was implementing the Vickers proposal to ringfence the retail side of banks away from the investment side.

"We are absolutely clear that we must be able to implement the Vickers plan in the UK, which in some ways is tougher than regulations that are being put in place in other European countries. We want to have this proper ringfence between retail banks and investment banks, and the rules must allow that to happen – I think that is very important."

The spokesman added: "We do continue to have real concerns about them [these proposals] and we will continue to be discussing them with EU partners in the coming days ahead of the Ecofin."

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« Reply #4818 on: Feb 28, 2013, 09:03 AM »

February 28, 2013

On Final Day as Pope, Benedict Pledges Loyalty to Successor


VATICAN CITY — In his final hours as head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI met on Thursday with the cardinals who will elect his successor, urging them to be “like an orchestra” that harmonizes for the good of the church and pledging that he would behave with “unconditional reverence and obedience” toward his successor.

It was one of the concluding acts of a nearly eight-year, scandal-dogged papacy that, Benedict said on Wednesday, was filled with “light and joy” but also had its darker moments when “the Lord seemed to be sleeping.”

A day after blessing the faithful for the last time as pope, Benedict will leave the Vatican by helicopter on Thursday for the papal summer residence and his retirement will formally take effect at 8 p.m., when he will become the “pope emeritus.”

After thanking the more than 100 cardinals collectively from a gilded throne in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace, the pope rose and greeted each of them individually.

Draped in a red and gold mantle lined with snow-white ermine, Benedict clasped the cardinals’ hands as they removed their distinctive red skullcaps to greet him and kiss his ring.

Benedict told them, “I will be close to you in prayer” as they meet in coming days to choose his successor from their ranks.

“Among you is also the future pope, whom I promise my unconditional reverence and obedience,” Benedict told the cardinals, reflecting the concern among Vatican watchers about what it will mean to have two popes residing in the Vatican.

Benedict will initially reside in Castel Gandolfo, a hilltop town outside Rome where popes have summered for centuries. He is expected to stay there for several months before returning to live at the Vatican in a convent whose gardens offer a perfect view of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Many of the cardinals who lined up to bid farewell to Benedict had been appointed to their powerful positions as so-called princes of the church by him or his predecessor, John Paul II, and are thus seen as followers of his doctrinal conservatism.

Benedict shocked the world on Feb. 11 when he announced that, feeling his age and diminishing strength, he would retire, a dramatic step that sent the members of the Vatican hierarchy into a tailspin. He reassured the faithful on Sunday that he was not “abandoning” the church, but would continue to serve, even in retirement.

In an emotional and unusually personal message on Wednesday, his final public audience in St. Peter’s Square, Benedict said that sometimes he felt that “the waters were agitated and the winds were blowing against” the church. His retirement will bring changes in style and substance.

In comparison to the heavy ornate robes he wore to greet the cardinals, Benedict will don a white cassock and brown shoes from Mexico, replacing the red slippers that he and other popes have traditionally worn, the color symbolizing the blood of the martyrs.

The conclave to elect the next pope, which is expected to start by mid-March, will begin amid a swirl of scandal. On Monday, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Britain’s senior Roman Catholic cleric said that he would not participate in the conclave, after having been accused of “inappropriate acts” with several priests, charges that he denies. Other cardinals have also come under fire in sexual abuse scandals, but only Cardinal O’Brien has recused himself.

On Monday, Benedict met with three cardinals he had asked to conduct an investigation into the “VatiLeaks” scandal in which hundreds of confidential documents were leaked to the press and published in a tell-all book last May, the worst security breach in the church’s modern history. The three cardinals compiled a hefty dossier on the scandal, which Benedict has entrusted only to his successor, not to the cardinals entering the conclave, the Vatican spokesman said earlier this week.

On Thursday, Panorama, a weekly magazine, reported that the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, had been conducting his own investigation into the leaks scandal, including requesting wiretaps on the phones of some members of the Vatican hierarchy.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said on Thursday that in the context of an investigation into the leaks, magistrates of the Vatican, not the Secretariat of State, “might have authorized some wiretaps or some checks” but nothing on a significant scale. The idea of “an investigation that creates an atmosphere of fear of mistrust that will now affect the conclave has no foundation in reality.” A shy theologian who appeared to have little interest in the internal politics of the Vatican, Benedict has said that he is retiring “freely, and for the good of the church,” entrusting it to a successor who has more strength than he. But shadows linger. The next pope will inherit a hierarchy buffeted by crises of governance as well as power struggles over the Vatican Bank, which has struggled to conform to international transparency norms.

Many faithful have welcomed Benedict’s gesture as a sign of humility and humanity, a rational decision taken by a man who no longer feels up to the job.

As he stood near St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday after attending the pope’s last public audience, Vincenzo Petrucci, 26, said he had come to express “not so much solidarity, but more like closeness” to the pope. “At first we felt astonished, shocked and disoriented,” he said. “But then we saw what a weighty decision it must have been. He seemed almost lonely.”

Many in the Vatican hierarchy, known as the Roman Curia, are still reeling from the news. Many are bereaved and others seem almost angry. “We are terribly, terribly, terribly shocked,” one senior Vatican official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Alan Cowell contributed reporting from Paris.

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« Reply #4819 on: Feb 28, 2013, 09:07 AM »

Berlin Wall's most iconic paintings under threat from property developers

Berlin's most famous images, such as Brezhnev and Honecker's kiss, are on part of the wall set to be demolished for luxury flats

Kate Connolly in Berlin, Wednesday 27 February 2013 18.24 GMT   

Spilling out of the Eastern Comfort hostel, which floats on Berlin's river Spree, a gaggle of Spanish tourists in town for a week of clubbing poses for the customary snapshots at one of the city's most iconic images. The painted mural of former Soviet and East German leaders Leonid Brezhnev and Eric Honecker in a passionate clinch is one of the star attractions of the East Side Gallery, the longest-remaining stretch of Berlin Wall and the second-most visited site in Berlin.

But the 1.3km-long outdoor gallery, which is covered in paintings by artists from around the world, is now threatened by the city's strident advance of gentrification, with a significant section of it due to be dismantled soon to make way for a luxury block of flats.

"Our guide book describes it as an unbroken length of wall," said Coco García López, a 21-year-old art student from Madrid. But the gallery, she notes, already has a gaping hole after a 50-metre section was removed some years ago to provide access to a boat landing stage and an open view on the river for the 02 World arena, which dominates the land adjacent to the gallery. "If Berlin's not careful, it will lose all of this beautiful structure," she said.

The latest threat is from Living Levels, a 63-metre-high tower of 36 flats and offices, which its developers, Living Bauhaus, describe as a "totally new dimension of life and living" offering "breathtaking panoramic views".

But opponents of the plan said it would destroy the aesthetics of the gallery, which is visited by an estimated 800,000 visitors a year, as well as insulting the memory of those who were killed on the former death strip.

"In this very place people died, and the idea of building luxury flats here would be like erecting a petrol station in front of one of Berlin's museums," said Sascha Disselkamp, manager of the Sage nightclub, who represents several high-profile Berlin clubs, including Watergate, KaterHolzig, Tresor and Lido, which have taken a stand against the new development, saying it would "irreparably damage" the character of the area.

Kani Alavi, head of the artists' initiative East Side Gallery, who led a €2.5m (£2m) restoration project of the wall four years ago, and was one of the original artists to paint on the wall, said the whole of the structure was now under threat. "We see this act as a direct act of destruction towards the artwork, to the extent that you might as well tear the whole thing down," he said.

The parts of the wall that are to be removed so the flats' owners will have direct access to the water bear the famous colourful "heads with big lips" paintings by the French artist Thierry Noir. This week the 54-year-old artist joined protesters at the wall to fight for the preservation of his work as a part of the gallery and the wall's survival.

"All the paintings have become a symbol of freedom in Berlin and Europe," he said. "Unlike elsewhere in the city, where the majority of the wall has been removed, this is a unique opportunity to preserve a large section of what was once a death strip. If you remove the sections, you're destroying the authenticity of this place."

The district's mayor, the Green MP Franz Schulz, confirmed that parts of the wall would have to be removed: "The investor has a legal right to demand this, so we'll have to do it." But he insisted the removal of the wall sections would not only make space for the flats but would also enable the construction of a new walkway for cyclists and pedestrians, the so-called Brommy Bridge, which will be a reconstruction of a bridge that was destroyed in wartime bombing, as well as providing an emergency exit for visitors to the adjacent Spree park.

Pausing at another of the wall's iconic images – of an East German car, the Trabant, appearing to tear through the wall – García López, the Spanish tourist who was not yet born when the Berlin Wall was brought down in November 1989, said: "It's the best place for me to come and have any sort of an inkling of what it must have been like to live in a divided city. If this goes, then that opportunity goes too."

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« Reply #4820 on: Feb 28, 2013, 09:10 AM »

February 27, 2013

As Negotiators Ease Demands on Iran, More Nuclear Talks Are Set


ALMATY, Kazakhstan — Two days of talks between six world powers and Iran over its nuclear program ended on Wednesday with specific agreement for further meetings in March and April over a proposal that would sharply constrain Iran’s stockpile of the most dangerous enriched uranium, in return for a modest lifting of some sanctions.

But the six powers dropped their demand that Iran shut down its enrichment plant at Fordo, built deep underneath a mountain, instead insisting that Iran suspend enrichment work there and agree to take a series of steps that would make it hard to resume producing nuclear fuel quickly. The six also agreed, in another apparent softening, that Iran could keep a small amount of 20 percent enriched uranium — which can be converted to bomb grade with modest additional processing — for use in a reactor to produce medical isotopes.

It was unclear whether any of these new positions would pave the way for any kind of agreement. Iran’s negotiators must now take the new proposal back to Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, at a time of intense maneuvering and infighting in Iran. The two sides agreed that technical experts would meet to discuss the proposal on March 18 and 19 in Istanbul, while the negotiations at this higher political level would resume, again in Almaty, on April 5 and 6.

The chief Iranian negotiator, Saeed Jalili, called this week’s meeting positive, asserting at a news conference that the six powers, representing the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, had offered a revised proposal that was “more realistic” and “closer to the Iranian position.”

Mr. Jalili, whose comments were notably short of the aggressive wording he has used in the past, called the meeting “a turning point.”

But senior Western diplomats were less enthusiastic, saying that Iran had not in fact responded to the proposal of the six and that real bargaining had not yet begun. A senior American official described the meeting as “useful” — refusing to call it positive — and emphasized that it was “concrete results” that counted, not atmospherics.

A senior European diplomat was even more skeptical, saying that the technical meeting was essentially to explain the proposal to the Iranians once again, and that Iran might very well come back in April with an unacceptable counterproposal that swallows the “carrots” of the six and demands more.

The senior American official said that as a first step toward building confidence and reducing the urgency around the issue, the six were demanding that Iran “significantly restrict” its accumulation of medium-enriched uranium, which could be turned to bomb-grade material in a matter of weeks or months. Iran has a growing stockpile of that fuel, but it has diverted a considerable amount to the Tehran research reactor, which the United States provided to Iran during the shah’s rule to make medical isotopes.

Iran must also suspend enrichment at Fordo and accept conditions that “constrain the ability to quickly resume enrichment there,” the official said, without being specific. In Washington, a senior administration official said those steps included dismantling part of the system that feeds low-enriched fuel into the plant’s centrifuges; it would take weeks or months to rebuild that system, giving the Western allies time to respond.

Third, Iran must allow more regular and thorough access to monitoring from the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure that it keeps its promises and cannot suddenly “break out” quickly to create a nuclear warhead, the official said.

In return, the official said, the six would suspend some sanctions. But the relief would not involve oil or financial transactions, which have done the most damage to Iran’s main source of revenue. The group of nations said that if Iran took the deal, they would also promise not to vote for new sanctions through the Security Council or the European Union.

“What matters are concrete results on the most urgent issues, on 20 percent enrichment and on Fordo,” the official said, “the most destabilizing and urgent elements of Iran’s nuclear program.”

The decision to drop the demand that Iran fully dismantle the plant was unexpected. But one official familiar with the strategy said the United States and its allies were “trying to come up with something face-saving for the Iranians” that would allow them to claim that they had resisted demands to shutter the plant even though production had ended.

One American official denied that there was any “softening of our position,” citing further constraints on Iran, but conceded that Iran was being offered some more sanctions relief in response to its concerns and in an effort “to gain traction for these talks.”

If the American position was an effort to show the toughness of the offer, Mr. Jalili was at pains to sound both conciliatory and triumphant.

With presidential elections scheduled for June in Iran and visible political infighting there, Mr. Jalili’s news conference was a study in politics, Iranian style, with Mr. Jalili insisting that the six had moved toward Iran because of the “failure” of economic sanctions.

The willingness of Iran to agree so quickly to a new set of meetings and venues was also a marked change, indicating some sense of urgency and also of a political need to show Iranians that progress was being made to reduce the pain of sanctions. The sanctions have cut 8 percent from Iran’s gross domestic product, produced high inflation and chopped the value of the Iranian currency, the rial, by half.

But Western officials said the tough sanctions put pressure on Iran’s government to negotiate. “There is a cost to Iran and its people every day they don’t solve this problem,” one senior Western official said. “And that cost will go up.”

David E. Sanger contributed reporting from Washington.
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« Reply #4821 on: Feb 28, 2013, 09:11 AM »

February 28, 2013

Islamic Leader Sentenced to Death in Bangladesh


NEW DELHI – A top leader of a fundamentalist Islamic political party in Bangladesh was sentenced to death on Thursday by a special war crimes tribunal that convicted him of committing crimes against humanity during the country’s 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.

The death sentence against Delawar Hossain Sayedee, a leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, sparked joyous celebration among thousands of people gathered in central Dhaka, the nation’s capital. For weeks, huge crowds of protesters, led by college students and ordinary citizens, have demanded justice against those accused of war crimes in what has morphed into a national movement.

The protests have convulsed Bangladeshi politics and offered a reminder of how the country has still not fully healed from the bloody 1971 conflict, when as many as 3 million people were killed and thousands of women were raped. Before the war, Bangladesh had been the detached, eastern half of Pakistan. The war pitted Bangladeshi freedom fighters against Pakistani soldiers and also their local collaborators, many of whom are now linked to Jamaat.

The International War Crimes Tribunal has now convicted three Jamaat leaders, with other cases still underway.

Mr. Sayadee is a prominent orator with a brightly colored red beard who in the years after the war became a member of the Bangladeshi parliament. He was convicted on multiple counts of crimes against humanity, including charges of looting, torching villages, raping women and forcing religious minorities to convert to Islam during the war. His defense lawyer scoffed at the verdict.

“Obviously, we will appeal as he is innocent,” Abdur Razzaq, a senior defense lawyer, told reporters in Dhaka, according to the Bangladesh online news outlet, “He was supposed to be acquitted. Prosecution secured the verdict in their favor by producing false witnesses.”

Jamaat leaders and other opposition politicians have strongly criticized the war crimes tribunal, saying the proceedings are being manipulated by the government into a political witch hunt and have violated international legal norms. Irregularities in the proceedings led to the resignation of a former presiding justice.

Across Bangladesh, followers of Jamaat, along with members of the party’s youth wing, have staged violent protests against the proceedings. On Thursday, Jamaat sought to enforce a nationwide hartal, or shutdown of commerce and transportation, as a protest gesture against the verdict against Mr. Sayadee. Media outlets reported that at least two people had been killed by Thursday afternoon.

The larger, more unexpected movement has come from the students who began gathering at the downtown Shahbagh intersection on Feb. 5, after the tribunal announced a life sentence against one of the other Jamaat leaders, Abdul Quader Mollah. Furious that the tribunal had not sentenced Mr. Mollah to death, protesters gathered in growing numbers until the crowds on certain days surpassed 200,000 people.

Many political analysts say the Shahbagh protests represent the most significant and spontaneous political movement in Bangladesh in decades. Yet if the movement is suffused with idealism and a proud nationalism, it also bears a hard edge, with the demands for executions of convicted war crimes criminal.

Sultana Kamal, a prominent human rights leader in Dhaka, said she disagreed with the calls for the death penalty but thought such demands reflected an abiding cynicism among many ordinary Bangladeshis who have seen war criminals evade punishment for decades. Many people were infuriated when Mr. Mollah, after receiving his life sentence, made a victory sign.

“We have a problem in accepting that they are demanding the death penalty,” Ms. Kamal said in a telephone interview. “But we understand that it was from a nervousness among the people here that unless they are given the highest penalty in the land, these people will come back out.”
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« Reply #4822 on: Feb 28, 2013, 09:12 AM »

February 28, 2013

Thailand to Hold Peace Talks With Rebel Group


The Thai government agreed on Thursday to hold peace talks with a major rebel group in what analysts said was a hopeful but tentative sign that tensions may ease in an insurgency in southern Thailand that has left 5,000 people dead.

The agreement between a representative of the rebel group, the Barisan Revolusi Nasional, and Paradorn Pattanathabutr, secretary general of Thailand’s National Security Council, was signed in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Thai news media reported that the actual talks would begin in two weeks.

“This was just talks to have talks,” said Sunai Phasuk, an expert on the southern insurgency with Human Rights Watch in Thailand. “But it’s a very important public commitment. It’s a courageous decision.”

Numerous attempts at negotiations with rebels by Thai security agencies have foundered in recent years but analysts said this time they were encouraged by the presence of a senior figure from the rebel group, Hassan Taib, at the ceremony in Kuala Lumpur.

The talks appear to have the backing of the Malaysian government, which has sought to project the image of regional peacemaker in recent years by helping broker separate deals between rebel groups and the Philippines and Indonesian governments.

Thursday’s agreement comes after a spate of bombings by insurgents in southern Thailand and the failed attack on a Thai military base in February that left 16 insurgents dead.

In some ways southern Thailand appears ripe for a de-escalation of violence. The killing of teachers by insurgents  — more than 150 have been killed since 2004  —  has angered villagers and lead to public criticism by Muslim groups.

But one potential stumbling block in the negotiations will be knowing who to negotiate with. There are at least four major rebel groups and many factions and cells within them.

“The big trouble is to identify those who are in control,” said Panitan Wattanayagorn, a professor at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University and a specialist on southern Thailand.

Rungrawee Chalermsripinyorat, an expert on southern Thailand, called the agreement a “major milestone” but warned that the negotiation process, even if it succeeds could take years. The peace process between the Philippine government and the Moro National Liberation Front in the southern Philippines began in 1996 and only reached agreement last year, she said. “There are still remaining sticking points,” she said.
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« Reply #4823 on: Feb 28, 2013, 09:13 AM »

February 28, 2013

Tibetans Accused of Inciting Self-Immolations


BEIJING — Security officials in the northwestern Chinese province of Gansu have arrested five Tibetans and accused them of inciting a series of self-immolations late last year by convincing participants they would become heroes in death, state news media reported. Four of those detained were Buddhist monks, who the police say were guided by a Tibetan exile organization.

The arrests, announced Wednesday by Xinhua, the state news agency, are part of an increasingly desperate government campaign to stop the spate of suicidal protests through intimidation, jail time and rewards for those who cooperate with the police.

Human rights groups have criticized the crackdown as counterproductive, saying it will only fuel the desperation that has convinced 107 people to set themselves on fire since 2009. In February alone there have been seven self-immolations in Tibetan regions of China, including two teenagers who died together last week in Sichuan Province.

In recent weeks, the authorities have detained 70 people accused of helping organize, encourage or publicize self-immolations. Chinese courts have so far shown little leniency toward the accused, sentencing more than a dozen ethnic Tibetans to long prison terms, and in one case last month, a suspended death sentence.

Those jailed include a 20-year-old artist from Lhasa, the capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, who received two years in labor camp after the police found images of self-immolators on his cellphone during a routine check, Radio Free Asia reported last week.

The self-immolations have followed a grim pattern, with the Tibetans, many of them young monks, torching their fuel-soaked garments in public to protest Beijing’s hard-line policies in the region. Many also shout out for the return of the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader, as they are consumed by flames.

According to the brief Xinhua account, the five men arrested in Gansu Province were part of a conspiracy that involved a journalist from the Voice of America and the Tibetan Youth Congress, an exile group in India that advocates Tibetan independence.

The account said that one of the suspects, Karong Takchen, a 21-year-old monk, traveled from Sichuan to “organize self-immolation activities,” eventually convincing three people to join the protests in late October and early November. Working with three of the others, Xinhua said, the monk bought gasoline and photographed the men as they burned to death. The account described their crimes as “self-immolation homicide.”

Tsewang Rigzin, president of the Tibetan Youth Congress, called the accusations “baseless and fallacious,” saying the organization does not have members in China. He noted that the prosecutions of those arrested in recent months have often relied on forced confessions involving torture. Trials, he said, have been brief and in most cases, the accused have not had lawyers nor have they been allowed to speak in court.

“What the Chinese government needs to do is address the underlying grievances,” he said in an interview from Dharamsala, India. “Brute force will not resolve the problem.”
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« Reply #4824 on: Feb 28, 2013, 09:15 AM »

China claims U.S. hackers attacked military websites

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, February 28, 2013 9:21 EST

Hackers mainly based in the United States attacked two Chinese military websites, including the Defence Ministry page, an average of 144,000 times a month last year, the ministry said on Thursday.

China’s first account of attacks on its websites steps up a war of words between the powers, after a US security company said last week that a Chinese military unit was behind a series of hacking attacks on US firms.

“The Defense Ministry and China Military Online websites were hacked from overseas on average 144,000 times a month in 2012,” ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said on its website.

China Military Online is a People’s Liberation Army news website.

More than 62 percent of the attacks came from the United States, he said, adding that the number of hacking assaults on military websites “has risen steadily in recent years.”

He did not specify any entities from which the alleged attacks originated.

A report from US security-firm Mandiant said a unit of China’s People’s Liberation Army had stolen hundreds of terabytes of data from at least 141 organisations, mostly based in the United States.

China’s defence ministry said in an earlier statement that the report had “no factual basis”.

Geng called on US officials to “explain and clarify” what he said were recent US media reports that Washington would carry out “pre-emptive” cyber attacks and expand its online warfare capabilties.

Such efforts are “not conducive to the joint efforts of the international community to enhance network security”, he said.

Hacking accusations have strained ties between Washington and Beijing, with State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland saying this month that hacking comes up “in virtually every meeting we have with Chinese officials”.
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« Reply #4825 on: Feb 28, 2013, 09:17 AM »

February 27, 2013

U.S. Offers Training and Other Aid to Syrian Rebels


WASHINGTON — The United States is significantly stepping up its support for the Syrian opposition, senior administration officials said on Wednesday, helping to train rebels at a base in the region and for the first time offering armed groups nonlethal assistance and equipment that could help their military campaign.

The training mission, already under way, represents the deepest American involvement yet in the Syrian conflict, though the size and scope of the mission is not clear, nor is its host country. The offer of nonlethal assistance is expected to come from Secretary of State John Kerry at a meeting on Thursday in Rome with opposition leaders. Mr. Kerry is also expected to raise the prospect of direct financial aid, though officials cautioned that the White House still had to sign off on all the elements.

Before arriving in Rome on Wednesday, Mr. Kerry declared in Paris that the Syrian opposition needed additional assistance and indicated that the United States and its partners planned to provide some.

Under a broad definition of “nonlethal,” assistance to the opposition could include items like vehicles, communications equipment and night vision gear. The Obama administration has said it will not — at least for now — provide arms to the opposition.

One major goal of the administration is to help the opposition build up its credibility within Syria by providing traditional government services to the civilian population. Since the conflict erupted two years ago, the United States has sent $365 million in humanitarian aid to Syrians. American officials have been increasingly worried that extremist members of the resistance against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, notably the Al Nusra Front, which the United States has asserted is affiliated with Al Qaeda, will take control of portions of Syria and cement its authority by providing public services, much as Hezbollah has done in Lebanon.

“Some folks on the ground that we don’t support and whose interests do not align with ours are delivering some of that help,” Mr. Kerry said.

To blunt the power of extremist groups, the United States wants to help the Syrian Opposition Council, the coalition of Syrian resistance leaders it backs and helped organize, deliver basic services in areas that have been wrested from the control of the Assad government.

Another major goal in providing assistance is to jump-start negotiations over a political transition by sending a message to Mr. Assad that the rebels would ultimately prevail on the ground.

“He needs to know that he can’t shoot his way out of this,” Mr. Kerry said of Mr. Assad.

The main significance of the policy shift, officials said, is not just the type of equipment that would be sent to the opposition, but who the recipients would be.

Until now, none of the aid the United States has supplied has been sent to the Free Syrian Army fighters, who are doing battle with Mr. Assad. Rather, the distribution of assistance has been limited to local councils and unarmed groups. But this would change if the administration expanded its assistance.

What remains off the table, at least as far as the White House is concerned, are weapons. President Obama last year rejected a proposal by the Central Intelligence Agency, the State Department and the Pentagon to arm a select cadre of rebels. American officials indicated Wednesday that the White House was still opposed to providing weapons.

Still, one official said that the financing the United States planned to send to the resistance might indirectly help the rebels arm themselves as it might free up other funds to purchase weapons.

The United States is not the only nation that is planning to take the step of sending nonlethal assistance to armed groups. Last week, the European Union agreed to a British proposal that nonlethal equipment could be sent. Britain and other members are currently discussing precisely what sort of equipment would be allowed under the terms of the European decision.

“In the face of such murder and threat of instability, our policy cannot stay static as the weeks go by,” the British foreign secretary, William Hague, said after a meeting with Mr. Kerry in London on Monday. “We must significantly increase support for the Syrian opposition. We are preparing to do just that.”

The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, also called for increased support to the opposition after a meeting with Mr. Kerry in Paris on Wednesday, although he did not specify what sort of aid France planned to provide.

“If we want to have a new regime, we have to encourage the opposition,” Mr. Fabius said. “We have to help the situation to move.”

The comments of the secretary of state and allied officials have generated considerable expectations for the Thursday meeting, which will be attended by Moaz al-Khatib, the leader of the Syrian opposition coalition, and other coalition members.

Earlier this week, Mr. Khatib had balked at attending the meeting, reflecting the deep disappointment in the Syrian opposition over what it feels is the failure of major powers to help in its effort to defeat Mr. Assad. But he relented after a phone call from Mr. Kerry, which was followed up by a call from Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Mr. Kerry’s meeting with Mr. Khatib will be his first with the Syrian opposition leader. Mr. Kerry said the input from the opposition would enable the administration to assess what steps were needed.

Among the unanswered questions is how additional American aid would be channeled to the rebel groups. If it flows through the Supreme Military Council affiliated with the Syrian opposition coalition, some experts said, it may not reach the armed groups that are making the biggest gains against the Assad government.

“The problem is the Supreme Military Council does not have tentacles on the ground,” said Andrew J. Tabler, a Syria expert and senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “If you provide a bunch of bandages and body armor to them, it may not matter much.”

Still, Mr. Tabler said the administration’s decision to take this step was a welcome sign that its policy of steering clear of any military involvement in the conflict was no longer tenable.

“They’re still reluctant, so they’re moving incrementally,” he said. “But the Obama administration has to look at one reality: what they have done isn’t working.”

Mark Landler reported from Washington, and Michael R. Gordon from Rome.

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« Reply #4826 on: Feb 28, 2013, 09:19 AM »

Canada’s top court upholds hate speech ban

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 17:30 EST

Canada’s top court on Wednesday upheld a ban on hate speech contested by a Christian anti-gay activist, but struck down a section of the law also prohibiting belittling or ridiculing others.

The Supreme Court said in its decision that the hate speech ban “is a reasonable limit on freedom of religion and is demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

“The benefits of the suppression of hate speech and its harmful effects outweigh the detrimental effect of restricting expression which, by its nature, does little to promote the values underlying freedom of expression,” it said.

However the court also found that speech which “ridicules, belittles or otherwise affronts the dignity of (a person or group) does not rise to the level of ardent and extreme feelings constituting hatred.”

The case involved a self-described former drug-addict, petty criminal and homosexual-turned-Christian anti-gay activist Bill Whatcott, who was found guilty by a human rights tribunal of promoting hatred.

Whatcott had been ordered by the commission to pay Can$17,500 (US$17,000) to four people who complained that flyers he distributed in Saskatchewan province “promoted hatred against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation.”

He was also asked to stop distributing the pamphlets.

Two of the pamphlets blasted proposals to include information on homosexuality in school curriculum, calling it “filth and propaganda” amounting to “celebrating buggery.”

The other two were simply reprints of a page of classified advertisements with handwritten comments in the margins criticizing a local gay magazine for allowing ads for “men seeking boys.”

Dozens of civil liberties and religious groups argued before the Supreme Court on the case’s implications for freedom of speech and religion.

The high court upheld the commission’s ruling in regards to the first two flyers, concluding that passages contained in them “combine many of the hallmarks of hatred” identified in case law.

They portray gays and lesbians “as a menace that threatens the safety and well-being of others, makes reference to respected sources in an effort to lend credibility to the negative generalizations, and uses vilifying and derogatory representations to create a tone of hatred.”

The flyers also expressly called for anti-gay discrimination.

Whatcott’s conviction for distributing the second pair of flyers, however, was set aside.

The high court noted that after its ruling the hate speech act “will not capture all harmful expression” but will nab the worst of it, and that which has the potential to cause harm.

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« Reply #4827 on: Feb 28, 2013, 09:22 AM »

Millionaire plans to send man and woman to Mars and back

By Ian Sample, The Guardian
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 19:59 EST

A US millionaire who became the first private space tourist has unveiled ambitious plans to send a man and woman – probably a married couple – on a round trip to Mars when planetary alignment allows in 2018.

Dennis Tito, 72, a former rocket scientist who made his fortune through investments, said his Mission for America aims to spur a new era of space exploration.

Tito, who became the first private space tourist when he paid the Russians $20m (£13m) for a ticket to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2001, outlined his plans in Washington DC on Wednesday. He is not intending to fly himself.

Speculation over the details of the risky voyage has spread through the space community in recent weeks after the Inspiration Mars Foundation, a non-profit organisation formed by Tito, hinted at a Mars mission.

The trip will take advantage of the alignment of heavenly bodies in January 2018 to fly around Mars and return to Earth in the relatively short time of 501 days. The same opportunity will not arise again until 2031.

Tito said he would fund the mission until the end of 2014 and hoped to raise the rest of the money through donations from private investors and foundations, through media rights sales and potentially through selling scientific data to Nasa. “There is no time to lose,” he said. “Now is the time.”

Tito has put together a team with a pedigree, including Jonathan Clark, a former Nasa flight surgeon who is now an adviser at the National Space Medicine Biomedical Research Institute in Houston.

Keith Cowing, editor of the NasaWatch website, said: “Unlike the spate of space commerce companies that have flashed on and off the news in recent months, this effort has substantial cash behind it – at the onset. That fact alone moves this idea from giggle factor to the verge of credibility.”

The mission, likely to launch on 5 January 2018, aims to take a man and woman from the US on a flyby to within 100 miles of the Martian surface, and return them safely to Earth. The planned trajectory is known as a “free return”: once fired into space, the capsule will swing around Mars and come back to Earth regardless of what happens to its occupants.

“As a voyage of human discovery, this would be the most significant journey in the history of our species,” said Anu Ojha, director of the UK National Space Academy. “Their feasibility study shows that this is possible and with pretty much off-the-shelf hardware. It is extremely uncomfortable but it is doable.”

The feasibility study used a modified Dragon capsule from the private US space company, SpaceX, launched on one of the company’s Falcon heavy rockets. In transit, the astronauts will have use of an “inflatable habitat module” that will detach before Earth atmosphere re-entry. The actual capsule the pair will travel in, excluding the inflatable addition, is likely to be “the size of a toilet”, the authors said.

Continuing the lavatorial theme, they said they calculated the crew would need one toilet roll every three days.

The mission faces substantial hurdles. The human body adapts to space by losing muscle and bone, and astronauts need daily exercise on resistance machines to slow down the wasting. Finding room for those machines is crucial.

Then there is the radiation in space, which can damage organs and raise the risk of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

How the body and mind respond to deep space travel is essentially unknown, but the mission could provide much-needed information on how human physiology copes with the environment.

“The science return in terms of understanding Mars will be minimal, but the science return in terms of understanding human physiology will rewrite the textbooks,” Ojha said.

Another major threat comes from huge bursts of radiation that spray from the sun during solar flares or “coronal mass ejections”. The launch window coincides with a low in the cycling activity of the sun, but that only reduces the risk of a flare blasting the spacecraft. “If you get a coronal mass ejection, there is virtually nothing you can do about it,” Ojha said. Nasa took the risk during the Apollo era, but those missions were days long instead of months.

Many experts say the mission will stand or fall on Tito’s ability to raise funds. Tito said the cost would be similar to that of a mission to low Earth orbit – the realm of space occupied by the ISS – but did not give a full costing. But it is almost certain that he will not get rich from the mission.

He said: “Let me be clear, I will come out a lot poorer as a result of this mission but my grandchildren will come out a lot richer for the inspiration it will give them.” © Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #4828 on: Feb 28, 2013, 09:36 AM »

In the USA...

February 27, 2013 01:00 PM

Scalia Calls Voting Rights Act Perpetual 'Racial Entitlement'

By karoli

Today was the day that the Republican challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was argued before the Supreme Court. Arguments were fiery, but this particular quote from Justice Scalia was one worthy of Jim Crow. If ever there was a reason to preserve Section 5, Scalia articulated it. Via TPM:

    Roberts and Kennedy led the questioning challenging the Voting Right Act. Justice Sonia Sotomayor led the questioning defending it.

    Justice Antonin Scalia attributed the continued congressional reauthorization to a perpetual “racial entitlement” and suggested that it will be renewed into “perpetuity” because members of Congress would never let it lapse for fear for political repercussions.

    “I don’t think there is anything to gain by any senator by voting against this Act,” Scalia said. “This is not the kind of question you can leave to Congress. They’re going to lose votes if they vote against the Voting Rights Act. Even the name is wonderful.”

    The purpose of Section 5 was to proactively quash voter discrimination where it’s most likely to emanate, but conservatives argue that it has outlived its purpose and now discriminates against the mostly southern regions covered.

If we learned anything from 2010 and 2012, I'd like to think we learned that not only is Section 5 critical to holding free and fair elections, but that it should be expanded, not tossed out. Justice Scalia's remarks reinforce how important it is that this provision be preserved, since he sees voting rights as some sort of "entitlement" --at least, for some people.

Update: Here is the transcript of his remarks, courtesy of Daily Kos:

    JUSTICE SCALIA: ...This Court doesn't like to get involved in -- in racial questions such as this one. It's something that can be left -- left to Congress.

    The problem here, however, is suggested by the comment I made earlier, that the initial enactment of this legislation in a -- in a time when the need for it was so much more abundantly clear was -- in the Senate, there -- it was double-digits against it. And that was only a 5-year term.

    Then, it is reenacted 5 years later, again for a 5-year term. Double-digits against it in the Senate. Then it was reenacted for 7 years. Single digits against it. Then enacted for 25 years, 8 Senate votes against it.

    And this last enactment, not a single vote in the Senate against it. And the House is pretty much the same. Now, I don't think that's attributable to the fact that it is so much clearer now that we need this. I think it is attributable, very likely attributable, to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement. It's been written about. Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.

    I don't think there is anything to be gained by any Senator to vote against continuation of this act. And I am fairly confident it will be reenacted in perpetuity unless -- unless a court can say it does not comport with the Constitution. You have to show, when you are treating different States differently, that there's a good reason for it.

    That's the -- that's the concern that those of us who -- who have some questions about this statute have. It's -- it's a concern that this is not the kind of a question you can leave to Congress. There are certain districts in the House that are black districts by law just about now. And even the Virginia Senators, they have no interest in voting against this. The State government is not their government, and they are going to lose -- they are going to lose votes if they do not reenact the Voting Rights Act.

    Even the name of it is wonderful: The Voting Rights Act. Who is going to vote against that in the future?

Yeah, the name is wonderful. It's the foundation of that thing we call democracy.


February 28, 2013

Voting Law Decision Could Sharply Limit Scrutiny of Rules


WASHINGTON — If the Supreme Court strikes down or otherwise guts a centerpiece of the Voting Rights Act, there will be far less scrutiny of thousands of decisions each year about redrawing district lines, moving or closing polling places, changing voting hours or imposing voter identification requirements in areas that have a history of disenfranchising minority voters, voting law experts say.

A close look at the law demonstrates how a series of seemingly technical details amount to what is essentially a safeguard against violations in those states and regions covered by the law — most of which are in the South.

It also shows how that very bulwark comes at the cost of sharply tilting the playing field against those areas in ways that several conservative-leaning Supreme Court justices expressed alarm about during arguments on Wednesday.

The legal issue turns on two main parts of the act: Section Five, which covers jurisdictions with a history of discrimination, and Section Two, which covers the entire country. Both sections outlaw rules that intentionally discriminate against or otherwise disproportionately harm minority voters. Section Two would remain in effect even if the court strikes down Section Five.

But reliance only on Section Two would mean a crucial difference in how hard it may be to block a change in voting rules in an area that is currently covered by Section Five. Those jurisdictions, because of their history of discrimination, must prove that any proposed change would not make minority voters worse off.

By contrast, under Section Two, the burden of proof is on a plaintiff to demonstrate in court that a change would prevent minorities from having a fair opportunity to elect representatives of their choice.

“Getting rid of Section Five is not getting rid of voting rights; it would just make voting rights litigation look like normal lawsuits,” said Ilya Shapiro, a legal scholar at the Cato Institute, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the court to strike down Section Five. “It would mean that if the federal government claims people have been harmed, it would have to prove it.”

But J. Gerald Hebert, who formerly handled voting rights litigation for the Justice Department and is now in private practice, said that losing Section Five would be “devastating to protecting voting rights” because the costs of a lawsuit are so steep. Jon Greenbaum, the legal director for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said it would mean that the bulk of changes that now receive automatic scrutiny by the federal government could take effect without any review, eliminating a deterrent against mischief.

“Section Five makes all the voting changes public and transparent, because when they are submitted for preclearance, the Justice Department will call local folks in the community and get their take on it,” Mr. Greenbaum said. “If you have no Section Five, a lot of stuff will just go under the radar.”

One reason for the difference is that in places covered under Section Five, changes are automatically blocked until the proposal is reviewed and approved by the Justice Department or a panel of judges. In the interim, the old rules still apply.

By contrast, a plaintiff in a Section Two lawsuit must convince a court to issue a preliminary injunction to stop a change from taking effect.

Moreover, it is a “huge,” difference, Mr. Hebert said, that under Section Five, the starting premise is that the covered state or locality’s change may be discriminatory, and the state or locality bears the burden of proving otherwise. Under Section Two, a plaintiff must prove wrongdoing.

Since states or other places covered under Section Five must prove that their proposed changes are acceptable, they have a strong incentive to provide the data — voter rolls, driver’s license database and other demographic data — that is often necessary ton analyze the impact of a change, but can be costly and cumbersome to produce. In a Section Two case, the challenger must fight in court to obtain such data.

The decision-maker, too, is different. Places covered under Section Five must persuade people who live in or near Washington — either officials in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, or federal judges whose chambers are in the District of Columbia.

Lawsuits under Section Two are heard by local Federal District Court judges, like any other federal lawsuit.

Finally, there is a subtle but important difference in what counts as a discriminatory effect. Under Section Five, the baseline for analyzing the consequence of a proposed change is whether the jurisdiction can prove the change will not make minorities worse off than they were under the current rules.

Under Section Two, by contrast, the analysis starts fresh without any reference to the previous situation.

This difference can be significant in redistricting cases, where the Section Five standard makes it far simpler to argue that any map that reduces the number of districts where minority voters constitute a majority should be rejected.

Roger Clegg, the president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a nonprofit group that opposes affirmative action and joined another friend-of-the-court brief urging the court to overturn Section Five, argued that eliminating the Section Five standard in considering legislative district lines could be a good thing. He argued that its effect now is to coerce “racial gerrymandering” in drawing districts, which he said promoted polarization and was “inconsistent with the ideals of the civil rights movement.”

Richard Hasen, an election law specialist at the University of California, Irvine, law school, said he hoped the court upheld Section Five but believed that it would be struck down. Its mere existence, he said, has had a deterrent effect and “gives minority voters in covered jurisdictions a seat at the bargaining table” when election rules changes are proposed.

"If that seat is gone, the only thing minority voters will have to hang over elected officials’ heads is Section Two liability and constitutional liability, which are much tougher standards to win under,” he said. “But the most egregious things can still be challenged.”


Protests mark Supreme Court’s hearing of challenges to Voting Rights Act

By David Ferguson
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 13:22 EST

Protesters gathered outside the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday to mark the Court’s hearing of challenges to the Voting Rights Act. Raw Story spoke to Linda Sarsour, director of the Arab American Center of New York, who was on the scene Wednesday morning.

“We’re standing in front of the Supreme Court building waiting for the attorneys to come out,” said Sarsour. “There’s a pretty big rally here, I would say about 500 people.”

The crowd, she said, was startlingly diverse, made up of African-Americans, whites, Asians and Hispanics, as well as disability advocates and “a lot of elders and seniors, which is interesting. A lot of people talked about how there was a time when they couldn’t vote and now they’re here worrying that potentially this could be another time when they’re going to have to fight a fight they’ve already fought, back in the ’60s.”

In Wednesday’s case, an Alabama county is challenging Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which stipulates that states with a history of racial discrimination at the polls must consult the federal government before making changes to election law or procedures by way of a process known as “pre-clearance.” Alabama Republicans now argue that the law amounts to an infringement on the rights of whites.

During oral arguments on Wednesday, Justice Antonin Scalia called the Voting Rights Act a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.”

Nine states are boung by “pre-clearance” rules, Georgia, Alabama, Texas, Alaska, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia, as well as some parts of other states.

Icons of the Civil Rights movement were on hand at Wednesday’s rally to speak and to encourage voting rights advocates. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), head of the Progressive caucus, spoke to the crowd, as well as Rev. Jesse Jackson and MSNBC commentator Al Sharpton.

In spite of the seriousness of the threat to voting rights posed today, Sarsour described the mood of the rally, which began around 9:00 a.m. as “uplifting.” No one, she said, appeared to have come to the rally to oppose the VRA or to heckle its supporters.

“I don’t see any hecklers, yet,” she reported. “I was looking for them earlier because usually they’re around, but this particular rally, I’ve walked around it a couple of times and I haven’t seen any.”

Watch video of Rep. Grijalva’s speech, embedded below via YouTube:


February 27, 2013

Parties Focus on the Positive as Budget Cuts Draw Near


WASHINGTON — With time running short and little real effort under way to avert automatic budget cuts that take effect Friday, substantial and growing wings of both parties are learning to live with — if not love — the so-called sequester.

“It’s going to happen,” said Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio and a leading conservative voice in the House. “It’s not the end of the world.”

For weeks, President Obama has barnstormed the country, warning of the dire consequences of the cuts to military readiness, educators, air travel and first responders even as the White House acknowledges that some of the disruptions will take weeks to emerge.

The reverse side has gone unmentioned: Some of the most liberal members of Congress see the cuts as a rare opportunity to whittle down Pentagon spending. The poor are already shielded from the worst of the cuts, and the process could take pressure off the Democratic Party, at least in the short run, to tamper with Social Security and Medicare.

At the same time, the president gets some relief from the constant drumbeat of budget news to focus on his top policy priorities: immigration and gun control.

And Republicans, while denouncing the level of military cuts and the ham-handedness of the budget scythe, finally see the government shrinking in real dollars.

“There are certainly many of us who realize we have got to get spending under control,” said Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, who served on the joint Congressional committee that was appointed to reach a deficit deal to avert the cuts but failed. “This is a crude way to do it, but at least it’s moving in that direction.”

The bipartisan talking point has held that the $1.2 trillion in cuts over a decade, established in the 2011 Budget Control Act, were intended to be so onerous to both sides that they would force Republicans and Democrats to unite around a bipartisan, comprehensive deficit package that raised taxes and slowed entitlement spending.

In fact, almost the opposite has proved true. The sword of Damocles turns out to be made of Styrofoam.

“I don’t think it was effective,” said Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio and another member of the joint committee. “I said it at the time. I said it before the process. I said it after. We would have been better off without the sequester.”

Democrats involved in the negotiations were careful to make sure that the automatic spending cuts mostly exempted the disadvantaged. In back-room talks, Republicans pushed for a 4 percent cut to health care providers who serve Medicare patients. Democrats made it 2 percent, said Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland and a member of the joint panel.

Representative Xavier Becerra, Democrat of California and another member, said his party was not about to let the automatic cuts hit health care, after the long fight over the Affordable Care Act. Instead, they would follow a template established by earlier deficit deals.

“The Democratic side fought very hard to make sure the most vulnerable would not be hit as hard as they usually are,” he said.

Republicans protected uniformed military personnel and made sure no cuts would fall on the conduct of the war in Afghanistan. Most important, they made sure that failure to reach a bipartisan deal would not set off automatic tax increases, a decision that may have made the automatic cuts inevitable, Republican negotiators now concede.

“It was a subject of conversation: ‘Hey look, you guys are pushing us on tax increases, and our backstop right behind us is something that involves no tax increases, all cuts,’ ” Mr. Portman recalled. “And the Democrats were saying, ‘Hey, you guys are pushing us on doing more on entitlements. Our backstop right behind us says it all comes out of one of your favorite areas, defense.’ ”

The exemptions agreed to in 2011 will significantly worsen the sting for unprotected programs, especially in the Defense Department, which will face programmatic cuts as deep as 13 percent in the next seven months. But they also eased political fears on the left and right flanks of the parties.

Representative Raúl Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona and a leader of the House’s Progressive Caucus, said cuts in military spending would force the Pentagon to modernize and finally rein in excesses in contracting.

And while populations with the weakest political voices will be protected, the biggest hits will fall on members of the Democratic coalition with more political weight who can fend for themselves: research universities, environmentalists and the like. The virtues of government may become clearer to the American people, Mr. Grijalva said.

“Suddenly, everyone’s going to find themselves in the same boat as that Head Start kid that’s waiting in line,” he said. “That’s a real opportunity.”

That is not the official line, especially for Democrats, who still say that the coming cuts will be widely destructive. Even some of the strongest liberals in Congress say the protections in the plan and the military cuts are not enough to justify the damage.

“While the Democrats may be winning the political battle, Republicans are winning the ideological war,” said Senator Bernard Sanders, a liberal independent from Vermont. “The goal of the right wing is to essentially undo the Roosevelt era, the New Deal, substantially cut back on government, and in a sense, they are achieving that. This is a huge step.”

But some on the left have used it as a rallying cry. Twenty-one House Democrats have signed a letter saying that with the cuts in place, they will vote against “any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits” going forward. One House Democratic leader, speaking on the condition of anonymity, conceded this week that rallying the base against the cuts had been hampered by a left flank that has cheered them on.

Adam Green, a founder of the liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which organized the letter, said the military cuts, so focused on procurement, “could change the culture of defense contracting for decades to come.” He also said the coming cuts were already rallying the liberal base to hold the line on entitlements.

Representative Alan Grayson, a liberal Florida Democrat, agreed. “The sequester is going to raise the apparition again of the so-called grand bargain,” he said, referring to a deficit plan that raises taxes and cuts entitlements, “which isn’t grand and certainly isn’t a bargain.”


February 27, 2013

House Republicans Clear Path for Renewal of Violence Against Women Act


WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders bowed to pressure from within their own party and cleared a path for House passage on Thursday of the Senate’s bipartisan reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

The House Rules Committee on Tuesday night approved a bifurcated process to consider the legislation, which would broaden the landmark 1994 law. The House will vote on a Republican version on Thursday, which contains provisions that weaken a Senate version that empowers Native American courts to prosecute non-Indians accused of violence on tribal land. The House version also does not extend the reach of domestic violence programs to those in same-sex relationships.

If that version fails to win passage, the House will take up the Senate-passed version — at this point the most likely outcome. That would ensure a swift White House signing ceremony.

The Senate passed that version this month, 78 to 22, with 23 Republicans voting yes, up from 15 last year.

House conservatives maintain that the Senate provision on tribal courts is a dangerous and unconstitutional expansion of tribal power, and they preferred to keep the bill silent on same-sex couples. But the pressure, especially on the tribal issue, was bipartisan. Republican Representatives Darrell Issa of California and Tom Cole of Oklahoma, himself a Chickasaw, pressed hard to toughen the tribal courts language. Mr. Cole said Sunday he would try to bring the House bill down if he did not prevail.

Democrats are united against the Republican version, and Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader, has committed to passing a bipartisan version in the House or none at all.

Mr. Cole said Wednesday that House Republican leaders were in an impossible situation, with some conservatives likely to vote against even the watered-down House version and some moderates opposing the tribal and same-sex provisions. And, he said, “Democrats are united in opposition to the G.O.P. alternative, so these divisions make it exceptionally difficult to actually pass a bill.”


February 26, 2013

Rape on the Reservation



TWO Republicans running for Congressional seats last year offered opinions on “legitimate rape” or God-approved conceptions during rape, tainting their party with misogyny. Their candidacies tanked. Words matter.

Having lost the votes of many women, Republicans now have the chance to recover some trust. The Senate last week voted resoundingly to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, the 1994 law that recognized crimes like rape, domestic abuse and stalking as matters of human rights.

But House Republicans, who are scheduled to take up the bill today and vote on it Thursday, have objected to provisions that would enhance protections for American Indians, undocumented immigrants and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth, among other vulnerable populations.

Here in Minneapolis, a growing number of Native American women wear red shawls to powwows to honor survivors of sexual violence. The shawls, a traditional symbol of nurturing, flow toward the earth. The women seem cloaked in blood. People hush. Everyone rises, not only in respect, for we are jolted into personal memories and griefs. Men and children hold hands, acknowledging the outward spiral of the violations women suffer.

The Justice Department reports that one in three Native women is raped over her lifetime, while other sources report that many Native women are too demoralized to report rape.  Perhaps this is because federal prosecutors decline to prosecute 67 percent of sexual abuse cases, according to the Government Accountability Office. Further tearing at the social fabric of communities, a Native woman battered by her non-Native husband has no recourse for justice in tribal courts, even if both live on reservation ground. More than 80 percent of sex crimes on reservations are committed by non-Indian men, who are immune from prosecution by tribal courts.

The Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center says this gap in the law has attracted non-Indian habitual sexual predators to tribal areas. Alexandra Pierce, author of a 2009 report on sexual violence against Indian women in Minnesota, has found that there rapes on upstate reservations increase during hunting season. A non-Indian can drive up from the cities and be home in five hours. The tribal police can’t arrest him.

To protect Native women, tribal authorities must be able to apprehend, charge and try rapists — regardless of race. Tribal courts had such jurisdiction until 1978, when the Supreme Court ruled that they did not have inherent jurisdiction to try non-Indians without specific authorization from Congress. The Senate bill would restore limited jurisdiction over non-Indians suspected of perpetrating sex crimes, but even this unnerves some officials. “You’ve got to have a jury that is a reflection of society as a whole, and on an Indian reservation, it’s going to be made up of Indians, right?” said Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “So the non-Indian doesn’t get a fair trial.”

Leaving aside the fact that most Native defendants tried in the United States face Indian-free juries, and disregarding the fulsome notion that Native people can’t be impartial jurists, Mr. Grassley got his facts wrong. Most reservations have substantial non-Indian populations, and Native families are often mixed. The Senate version guarantees non-Indians the right to effective counsel and trial by an impartial jury.

Tribal judges know they must make impeccable decisions. They know that they are being watched closely and must defend their hard-won jurisdiction. Our courts and lawyers cherish every tool given by Congress. Nobody wants to blow it by convicting a non-Indian without overwhelming, unshakable evidence.

Since 1990, when Joseph R. Biden Jr., then a senator from Delaware, drafted the original legislation, the Violence Against Women Act has been parsed and pored over. During reauthorizations in 2000 and 2005, language on date rape and orders of protection was added. With each iteration, the act has become more effective, inclusive and powerful. Without it, the idea that some rape is “legitimate” could easily have been shrugged off by the electorate.

Some House Republicans maintain that Congress lacks the authority to subject non-Indians to criminal trials in tribal court, even though a Supreme Court opinion from 2004 suggests otherwise. Their version of the bill, as put forward by the majority leader, Eric Cantor of Virginia, would add further twists to the dead-end maze Native American women walk when confronting sexual violence. John Dossett, general counsel for the National Congress of American Indians, said it would create “more off ramps for defendants by adding multiple levels of removal and appeal, including the right to sue tribes.” A compromise backed by two other Republicans, Darrell Issa of California and Tom Cole of Oklahoma, is vastly preferable to the Cantor version. It would offer a non-Indian defendant the right to request removal of his case to a federal court if his rights were violated.

What seems like dry legislation can leave Native women at the mercy of their predators or provide a slim margin of hope for justice. As a Cheyenne proverb goes, a nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground.

If our hearts are on the ground, our country has failed us all. If we are safe, our country is safer. When the women in red shawls dance, they move with slow dignity, swaying gently, all ages, faces soft and eyes determined. Others join them, shaking hands to honor what they know, sharing it. We dance behind them and with them in the circle, often in tears, because at every gathering the red shawls increase, and the violence cuts deep.

Louise Erdrich is the author, most recently, of “The Round House.”


February 27, 2013

Trauma Sets Female Veterans Adrift Back Home


LOS ANGELES — In the caverns of her memory, Tiffany Jackson recalls the job she held, fleetingly, after leaving the military, when she still wore stylish flats and blouses with butterfly collars and worked in a high-rise with a million-dollar view.

Two years later, she had descended into anger and alcohol and left her job. She started hanging out with people who were using cocaine and became an addict herself, huddling against the wind on Skid Row here.

“You feel helpless to stop it,” she said of the cascade of events in which she went from having her own apartment to sleeping in seedy hotels and then, for a year, in the streets, where she joined the growing ranks of homeless female veterans.

Even as the Pentagon lifts the ban on women in combat roles, returning servicewomen are facing a battlefield of a different kind: they are now the fastest growing segment of the homeless population, an often-invisible group bouncing between sofa and air mattress, overnighting in public storage lockers, living in cars and learning to park inconspicuously on the outskirts of shopping centers to avoid the violence of the streets.

While male returnees become homeless largely because of substance abuse and mental illness, experts say that female veterans face those problems and more, including the search for family housing and an even harder time finding well-paying jobs. But a common pathway to homelessness for women, researchers and psychologists said, is military sexual trauma, or M.S.T., from assaults or harassment during their service, which can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sexual trauma set Ms. Jackson on her path. At first she thought she could put “the incident” behind her: that cool August evening outside Suwon Air Base in South Korea when, she said, a serviceman grabbed her by the throat in the ladies’ room of a bar and savagely raped her on the urine-soaked floor. But during the seven years she drifted in and out of homelessness, she found she could not forget.

Of 141,000 veterans nationwide who spent at least one night in a shelter in 2011, nearly 10 percent were women, according to the latest figures available from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, up from 7.5 percent in 2009. In part it is a reflection of the changing nature of the American military, where women now constitute 14 percent of active-duty forces and 18 percent of the Army National Guard and the Reserves.

But female veterans also face a complex “web of vulnerability,” said Dr. Donna L. Washington, a professor of medicine at U.C.L.A. and a physician at the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs medical center, who has studied the ways the women become homeless, including poverty and military sexual trauma.

Female veterans are far more likely to be single parents than men. Yet more than 60 percent of transitional housing programs receiving grants from the Department of Veterans Affairs did not accept children, or restricted their age and number, according to a 2011 report by the Government Accountability Office.

The lack of jobs for female veterans also contributes to homelessness. Jennifer Cortez, 26, who excelled as an Army sergeant, training and mentoring other soldiers, has had difficulty finding work since leaving active duty in 2011. She wakes up on an air mattress on her mother’s living room floor, beneath the 12 medals she garnered in eight years, including two tours in Iraq. Job listings at minimum wage leave her feeling bewildered. “You think, wow, really?” she said. “I served my country. So sweeping the floor is kind of hard.”

Not wanting to burden her family, she has lived briefly in her car, the only personal space she has.

Some homeless veterans marshal boot-camp survival skills, like Nancy Mitchell, of Missouri, 53, an Army veteran who spent years, off and on, living in a tent.

“That’s how we done it in basic,” she said.

Double Betrayal of Assault

Of more than two dozen female veterans interviewed by The New York Times,  16 said that they had been sexually assaulted in the service, and another said that she had been stalked. A study by Dr. Washington and colleagues found that 53 percent of homeless female veterans had experienced military sexual trauma, and that many women entered the military to escape family conflict and abuse.

For those hoping to better their lives, being sexually assaulted while serving their country is “a double betrayal of trust,” said Lori S. Katz, director of the Women’s Health Clinic at the V.A. Long Beach Healthcare System and co-founder of Renew, an innovative treatment program for female veterans with M.S.T. Reverberations from such experiences often set off a downward spiral for women into alcohol and substance abuse, depression and domestic violence, she added.

“It just pulls the skin off you,” said Patricia Goodman-Allen, a therapist in North Carolina and former Army Reserve officer who said she once retreated to a mobile home deep in the woods after such an assault.

Ms. Jackson won full disability compensation for post-traumatic stress as a disabling aftermath of her sexual trauma, although she was at first denied military benefits.

She grew up in a tough section of Compton, Calif., and served as a heavy equipment operator in the Army, exhilarated by her sense of mastery in a male-dominated environment. But after the rape — which she kept to herself, not even telling her family — her behavior changed. She assaulted a sergeant, resulting in disciplinary actions. Back home, she lost her job in sales after she passed out, drunk, during a business phone call. “It looked like I really had my stuff together,” she said. “But I was dying inside.”

She served three years in prison for drug dealing and finally confided in a prison psychiatrist, who helped her see that many of her bad decisions had been rooted in the sexual trauma.

“I realized I needed help,” she says today, stable finally at 32 and snug in her mother’s home in Palmdale, north of Los Angeles. “But to me breaking down was soft.”

Her lawyer, Melissa Tyner, with the nonprofit Inner City Law Center here, said that many female veterans, like Ms. Jackson, associate the V.A. with a military that failed to protect them and thus forgo needed therapy. Other women who did not serve overseas said they did not realize they were veterans. “This makes them much less stable and therefore less likely to be housed,” she said.

California, home to a quarter of the nation’s veterans, is also home to a quarter of its homeless veterans. In Greater Los Angeles, a 2011 survey found 909 homeless women among them, a 50 percent increase since 2009.

Lauren Felber was one. Her decision to enter the military was a self-preservation instinct: she said she was molested by her father throughout her youth. “He’s dead now,” she said curtly. She thought the Army would make her strong.

When Ms. Felber returned, a debilitating complication from shingles made attempts to work, including bartending and construction jobs, painful. She became addicted to painkillers including methadone. Her welcome staying on friends’ couches ran out, and she headed to Pershing Square, in downtown Los Angeles, resplendent with fountains and soaring palms. She slept on the steps. Sidewalk habitués schooled her on the ins and outs of free food. “On the street, everyone’s hustling, selling something, even if it’s friendship,” she said.

Ms. Felber spent seven months in Rotary House, a shelter run by Volunteers of America. In her journal she wrote, “I walk the streets of Skid Row and see myself in the faces of the obsolete.”

But life is finally on the upswing: she recently moved into an apartment through a program that provides permanent housing and other services, called Housing and Urban Development — Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program, or HUD-Vash. Having a place of her own, Ms. Felber said, felt so unreal that she piled blankets and slept on the floor, as she had on the streets. But gradually, walking around the bare rooms, she felt “an overwhelming sense of awe and gratitude.”

“I am fighting the fear of losing it,” she added, “while I place each new item, making it a home.”

Family Complications

Returning veterans face a Catch-22: Congress authorized the V.A. to take care of them, but not their families. Women wait an average of four months to secure stable housing, leaving those with children at higher risk for homelessness. Monica Figueroa, 22, a former Army parachutist, lived in a family member’s auto body shop in the Los Angeles area, bathing her baby, Alexander, in a sink used for oil and solvents until, with help, they found temporary housing.

Michelle Mathis, 30, a single mother of three, has bounced among seven temporary places since returning home in 2005 with a traumatic brain injury. Ms. Mathis, who served as a chemical specialist in Iraq, relies on a GPS device to help her remember the way to the grocery store and her children’s school.

She said she did not feel safe in a shelter with her children, so they live in a room rented from a friend who is herself facing eviction. The only place Ms. Mathis said she truly felt at home was with fellow veterans at the V.A. medical center. Because she cannot afford child care, she sees her doctors with her year-old son Makai in tow.

Transitional housing has traditionally been in dormitory settings, which worked when returnees were mostly single men. But a March 2012 report by the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General found bedrooms and bathrooms without locks.

Dr. Susan Angell, the executive director for Veterans Homeless Initiatives for the V.A., said that each site was individual and required a different approach, whether it meant putting up walls or installing card readers to beef up security. “There is no blanket solution,” she said. “It has to fit the environment. We really want the best and safest environment for any veteran that comes to us for care.”

Pledging to end veteran homelessness by 2015, the government is pouring millions of dollars into permanent voucher programs, like HUD-Vash, for the most chronically homeless veterans. Thirteen percent of those receiving vouchers are women, nearly a third of them with children, Dr. Angell said.

A newer V.A. program, with $300 million allocated by Congress, is aimed at prevention, providing short-term emergency money to help with down payments, utility bills and other issues. The government’s motivation is financial as well as patriotic: the V.A. estimates that the cost of care for a homeless veteran, including hospitalizations and reimbursement for community-based shelters, is three times greater than for a housed veteran. A pilot project providing free drop-in child care is under way at three V.A. medical centers.

Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, recently introduced legislation that would reimburse for child care in transitional housing for the first time.

An Emotional Battalion

But change in Washington can be glacial. And a sturdy roof is not always enough. On the outskirts of Long Beach, Calif., a national nonprofit group, U.S. Vets, created living quarters for at-risk families at Villages at Cabrillo, former naval housing, with a special program for homeless female veterans.

But the directors soon grew perplexed by the large number of women who were struggling to make it on their own.

“We began to understand that so many of them suffered from sexual trauma,” said Steve Peck, the group’s president and chief executive. “Their inability to cope with those feelings made it impossible for them to put one foot in front of the other.”

The result was Renew, a collaboration with the V.A.’s Long Beach center. It incorporates psychotherapy, journal writing and yoga, and it accepts women who have been screened for military sexual trauma. Each class of a dozen women lives together for 12 weeks while spending eight-hour days at a women’s mental health clinic, “where you can cry and not have to encounter a bunch of men with your mascara running,” as Dr. Katz put it.

With Dr. Katz and other guides, the women formed an emotional battalion, squaring off against unseen enemies: fear, loneliness, distrust, anger and, most insidious of all, the hardened heart.

At the program’s graduation in December, held in a therapy room, nine women spoke movingly of choosing strength over fragility. Cindi, an officer in the Air Force with a master’s degree, said she had been bullied and ostracized by a female superior. After leaving the military, she had tumbled into a violent marriage and did not want her last name used for her own safety. She had been couch-surfing for a while.

She grew up in a household brimming with neglect. In her workbook, Cindi drew an image of water boiling on a stove, representing her traumas, more powerful than her self-regard.

After years of disappointment, Cindi was finally ready to forge new ground.

“I am more than the sum of my experiences,” she read from her journal, seeming to evoke the story of every homeless veteran sister. “I am more than my past.”
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« Reply #4829 on: Mar 01, 2013, 07:34 AM »

Egypt’s opposition leaders turn down invitation to meet with John Kerry

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, March 1, 2013 7:49 EST

An Egyptian opposition head said he and colleague Mohamed ElBaradei have turned down invitations to meet Secretary of State John Kerry when he visits Cairo because of US pressure.

Hamdeen Sabahi, a leader of the National Salvation Front (NSF), said late Thursday that he and ElBaradei objected to Washington’s call for the opposition to reconsider its boycott of Egypt’s parliamentary election in April.

Kerry is expected in Egypt over the weekend.

“I received an invitation and turned it down, and Dr ElBaradei received an invitation and he turned it down,” Sabahi said in an interview with ONTV television channel.

“We want to send a message that we reject American pressure,” Sabahi added.

An aide of another NSF leader, former foreign minister Amr Mussa, said Mussa would also not attend a meeting with Kerry at which the opposition could be pressed to reconsider its boycott.

“We see that there is not way we can participate in the election, this is an NSF decision, and the unity of the NSF is our number one priority,” the aide told AFP, on condition of anonymity.

He said Mussa would instead send a representative.

The opposition has sought to ratchet the pressure on Islamist President Mohamed Morsi with a combination of street protests and a boycott of the election, to be held over three months.

The NSF had demanded guarantees that the election will be transparent as a condition to participate.

It has complained of what it sees as US support for Morsi, whom some NSF members backed in last June’s election against ousted leader Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq.

But they now accuse Morsi of having betrayed the values of the uprising which overthrew Mubarak in early 2011 and having sidelined liberals and Christians since he took power.

US President Barack Obama last week told Morsi in a phone conversation that he welcomed his “commitment” to represent all Egyptians but encouraged him and the opposition to find common ground.

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