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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1081306 times)
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« Reply #7815 on: Jul 29, 2013, 06:52 AM »

Canoeist discovers uncharted waterfalls in Canada

Explorer Adam Shoalts hurtles down 12-metre falls on Again river in one of world's remotest areas

Kalyeena Makortoff   
The Guardian, Sunday 28 July 2013 15.27 BST   

In an age in which explorers are running out of wildernesses and life has been street-mapped to the ends of the earth, it is a rare moment indeed: the discovery of uncharted waterfalls on a river in a G8 country.

Adam Shoalts was canoeing along a section of the Again river in northern Canada when he found himself hurtling down 12 metres (40ft) into swirling white water. The tumble ruined his boat but piqued his curiosity. The waterfall could well be the largest discovered in Canada in 100 years. Shoalts went on to discover six other falls on the river.

"It's a pretty big deal that you still have unexplored territory in this day and age," said Shoalts, who is now planning to revisit his inadvertent discovery to plot and measure the falls. With financial backing from the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS), his work will be used to update maps for one of the least explored and most remote areas in the world.

"Many organisations are just sponsoring athletic contests, like going to the north pole … routes and journeys that have been done many times before," he said.

Since his first canoe expedition in 2004, Shoalts has uncovered petroglyphs (rock carvings) in British Columbia; spent 40 days cataloguing amphibians in the Amazon; and dodged polar bears on a newly paddled Again tributary that he hopes to name.

"Given the documentation of these waterfalls, we clearly still have gems to be revealed," said Michael Schmidt, the vice-chair of the RCGS expedition committee. "Perhaps it's not to the magnitude of what explorers would have seen 150 years ago. [But] there is still much to be discovered."

Returning to the falls he found last year will be a harrowing one-man journey for Shoalts, harking back to treacherous wildernesses faced by early explorers. The Hudson Bay lowlands are roughly the same size as Britain but with a population density of fewer than one person per 50 sq km.

Without adequate landing for float planes, reaching the Again's headwaters means skirting the dangerous Kattawagami river, which claimed a canoeist's life in 2006, paddling upstream against Shoalts's unnamed tributary and carrying a boat through the world's third largest wetland.

"I used to say that canoeing the river is the easy part because you have to go through such a nightmare to actually reach the thing," he said. "I guess that's the reason these areas … have been passed over or skipped."

But old mapping techniques share the blame, Schmidt explained. Our knowledge of the Again's topography, like that of much of Canada, relies on aerial photographs from the 1960s. The Geological Survey of Canada, responsible for topographic updates, will add Shoalts's plotted waterfalls pending verification from Spot satellite imagery.

"There's still a lot of work left to be done. That's reality," said Shoalts. "Canada's so vast. Even if I do this the rest of my life, all my work would still only be a drop in the bucket.

"We don't know the world nearly as well as we think we do."

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« Reply #7816 on: Jul 29, 2013, 06:57 AM »

Mysterious sealed coffin found near Richard III grave site in Leicester, England

By Maev Kennedy, The Guardian
Monday, July 29, 2013 7:41 EDT

Scientists and bone experts intend to open coffin under carefully controlled conditions over the coming winter

Another body has been recovered from the Leicester car park where the remains of Richard III were discovered last year – but while a king of England was bundled into a hastily dug hole slightly too short for his corpse, the mystery man was buried in splendour, his body sealed in a lead coffin placed in a handsome limestone sarcophagus.

The stone lid was lifted carefully by hand last week. Archaeologists from Leicester University expected to find a fragmentary skeleton, since the weight of the lid and centuries of soil on top of it had long since crushed the sides of the box. Instead, to their surprise, they discovered an inner lead coffin, carefully soldered on all sides, its lid decorated with a cross.

“It’s in remarkably good nick except for one end where we think water trickling down has degraded the lead, so we could just see the feet. They look to be in very good condition, so we hope to learn a lot more from the bones,” said the site director, Matthew Morris.

Last year in the first hour of the first day of excavation, Morris found what proved to be Richard’s body. The new remains, probably buried more than a century before Richard’s death on the Bosworth battlefield in 1485, are now in the same university laboratory where the king rested before a battery of tests revealed to the world that the last Plantagenet had indeed been found. The scientists and bone experts intend to open the coffin under carefully controlled conditions over the coming winter.

Morris has records of three named individuals also buried near Richard at the choir end of Grey Friars church, including the Monty Pythonish “knight called Mutton, sometime mayor of Leicester” – probably Sir William de Moton who died in the late 1350s. Two leaders of the English Franciscans, Peter Swynsfeld who died in 1272 and William of Nottingham who died in 1330, are also known to have been buried there. However, since Morris has already found seven burials it may never be possible to identify the bodies.

In the last month the team has ripped up the council car park again to find out more about the Grey Friars abbey, whose monks bravely claimed and buried the body of the dead king after it was humiliated on the battlefield and exposed naked in the town. “This is the site that keeps on giving,” Morris said.

They have also exposed more of Richard Herrick’s garden path. The wealthy local merchant bought the abbey ruins and built a house with a garden where, according to Christopher Wren, father of the famous architect, Herrick marked the site of the grave with an inscribed pillar. The newly found stretch, which incorporates rubble from the medieval buildings and even some Roman brick, points straight towards the grave.

Historians suggest that although Henry VII later paid for a monument over Richard’s grave – destroyed in the dissolution of the monasteries when the ruins were stripped of anything saleable, including what was probably a splendid monument for the mystery man – he may have hoped that in a minor church in a provincial town the last Plantaganet would soon be forgotten. In fact the cult of Richard lived on.

A small exhibition in the Guildhall, which will be expanded in the new visitor centre planned to open next year, contains many fake relics of the dead king, including a scrap of carved wood and textile claimed to be part of the bed where he spent his last night in the Blue Boar Inn – though actually the item dates to the 17th century. Likewise a sword allegedly left behind in the inn, which is really a theatrical prop joined to a genuinely ancient blade.

Despite passionate rival claims from York, Leicester intends to rebury the king magnificently next year. The cathedral, less than 100 yards from the grave where he lay hidden for so long, first announced plans for a simple memorial slab in the floor covering his new burial space, similar to the present memorial that was installed 30 years ago. Many, including members of the Richard III Society, felt the historic importance of the remains – and the worldwide interest in them – demanded something more elaborate, and the cathedral has now launched a £1m appeal for a handsome raised tomb.

© Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #7817 on: Jul 29, 2013, 07:18 AM »

In the USA...

Wyden calls Fisa court 'anachronistic' as pressure builds on Senate to act

Dick Durbin joins growing outcry among senators to rein in power of secretive court meant to serve as a check on NSA

Ed Pilkington in New York, Sunday 28 July 2013 18.25 BST      

Pressure is building within the US Senate for an overhaul of the secret court that is supposed to act as a check on the National Security Agency's executive power, with one prominent senator describing the judicial panel as "anachronistic" and outdated.

Ron Wyden, a Democratic senator for Oregon, said discussions were under way about how to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court, the body entrusted with providing oversight on the NSA and its metadata-collecting activities. He told C-Span's Newsmaker programme on Sunday that the court, which was set up in 1978 under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa), was ill-equipped to deal with the massive digital dragnet of millions of Americans' phone records developed by the NSA in recent years.

"In many particulars, the Fisa court is anachronistic – they are using processes that simply don't fit the times," Wyden said.

The Oregon senator is at the forefront of a growing chorus of political voices criticising the Fisa court for being biased towards the executive branch to the exclusion of all other positions. "It is the most one-sided legal process in the US, I don't know of any other legal system or court that doesn't highlight anything except one point of view – the executive point of view."

Wyden added: "When that point of view also dominates the thinking of justices, you've got a fairly combustible situation on your hands."

The court's secretive deliberations were first revealed in June by the Guardian which published its order approving the collection of phone Verizon phone records. The order was among a raft of top secret documents leaked to the Guardian and Washington Post by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Since the Guardian's disclosure, attention has grown on the composition and practices of the Fisa court. The New York Times has shown how the court has secretly expanded its operations until it now holds the status almost of a parallel supreme court.

The Times has also analysed the make-up of the court and discovered an alarming bias within the ranks of its judges in favour of government. More than a third of the justices appointed to the court since its inception have had executive branch experience.

On Sunday, the prominent Democratic senator for Illinois, Dick Durbin, added his voice to the mounting criticism of the Fisa court, telling ABC's This Week: "There should be a real court proceeding. In this case, it's fixed in a way, it's loaded. There's only one case coming before the Fisa, the government's case. Let's have an advocate for someone standing up for civil liberties to speak up about the privacy of Americans."

The outcry from Durbin and Wyden chimes with other moves within the US Senate to reform the way the court is constructed. Adam Schiff, a Democratic member of the House intelligence committee, has tabled legislation that would transfer the power to nominate judges to the court from the chief justice of the US supreme court, John Roberts, as is the current arrangement, to President Obama subject to senate approval.

The groundswell for reform received a boost from last week's narrow vote in the House of Representatives over a move to cut off federal funding for the NSA's metadata-gathering activities. The proposal to knock back the agency's collection of the phone records of millions of Americans was defeated by 217 to 205 votes, but more than half of the Democratic caucus in the House as well as 94 Republicans voted in favour of reform.

Wyden said that the vote has acted as a stimulus to discussions about NSA reform. "You are going to see a very strong and bipartisan effort in the Senate to pick up on the work of the House."

This week, the congressional debate about how to deal with anxieties over the NSA's data collection methods is certain to flair up again. On Wednesday, two congressional hearings will be held in which both sides of the argument are likely to be forcefully presented.

Those opposing positions were reflected in Sunday's political TV talk shows. Mike Rogers, chair of the Republican-led House intelligence committee, told NBC's Meet the Press that the NSA did not spy on Americans and that no names or addresses were included in its databases of phone records. "In this programme: zero privacy violations, 54 terrorist plots foiled – that's a pretty good record," he said.

Peter King, a congressman for New York, slammed fellow Republicans who had voted to cut off funding for the NSA sweep of phone records. "I thought it was absolutely disgraceful that so many Republicans voted to defund the NSA programme, which has done so much to protect our country," he told CNN.

On the other side of the argument, Mark Udall, Democratic senator from Colorado, told Face the Nation on CBS that he regarded the dragnet of phone records of millions of Americans as something that "comes close to being unconstitutional".


Greenwald: ‘I defy’ NSA officials to deny spying program details under oath

By David Edwards
Sunday, July 28, 2013 12:15 EDT

Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald on Sunday revealed that he would be publishing new details that backed up former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edwards Snowden’s claim that low-level analysts could listen to the phone calls of any American or even read President Barack Obama’s emails.

“The story that we’ve been working on for the last month that we’re publishing this week very clearly sets forth what these programs are that NSA analysts — low-level ones, not just one that work for the NSA, but private contractors like Mr. Snowden — are able to do,” Greenwald told ABC News host George Stephanopoulos. “The NSA has trillions of telephone calls and emails in their databases that they’ve collected over the last several years.”

He continued: “And what these programs are, are very simple screens, like the ones that supermarket clerks or shipping and receiving clerks use, where all an analyst has to do is enter an email address or an IP address, and it does two things. It searches that database and lets them listen to the calls or read the emails of everything that the NSA has stored, or look at the browsing histories or Google search terms that you’ve entered, and it also alerts them to any further activity that people connected to that email address or that IP address do in the future.

Greenwald insisted that it was “all done with no need to go to a court, with no need to even get supervisor approval on the part of the analyst.”

The columnist admitted that there were “legal constraints for how you can spy on Americans, you can’t target them without going to the FISA court.”

“But these systems allow analysts to listen to whatever emails they want, whatever telephone calls, browsing histories, Microsoft Word documents,” he pointed out. “It’s an incredibly powerful and invasive tool, exactly of the type that Mr. Snowden described.”

“NSA officials are going to be testifying before the Senate on Wednesday, and I defy them to deny that these programs work exactly as I just said.”


Paul Begala: Today’s Republican Party is ‘Neanderthals fighting with Cro-Magnons’

By David Edwards
Sunday, July 28, 2013 11:19 EDT

Democratic strategist Paul Begala on Sunday asserted that infighting between different factions of Republicans appeared just to be “Neanderthals fighting with Cro-Magnons” as the party lunged further and further to the right.

During a panel discussion on CNN, Democratic Pollster Cornell Belcher said that internal arguments about policies like National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance showed that Republicans were having difficulty reacting to social change in America.

“Unfortunately for us in Congress right now, you have this civil war unfolding in Congress and it’s making Congress completely dysfunctional,” Belcher explained. “America, your Congress does not work because of this civil war that’s going on.”

Begala added that the civil war also wasn’t working for the Republican Party politically.

“I checked, party identification — the percentage of Americans who call themselves Republicans — all-time low, lower than Watergate, only 21 percent say that they’re Republicans today,” Begala noted. “That’s a catastrophe.”

“Republicans have become more ideologically conservative, they’ve moved farther from the mainstream, and they’re more fractured,” he continued. “Usually when you become more extreme — more left in my party, more right in the Republicans’ — you at least get some cohesion. Here you have a much more conservative party than 20 years ago and a much more fractured party.”

“The Neanderthals are fighting with Cro-Magnons, the neoliths hate the paleoliths. It’s great. I love it as a Democrat.”


July 28, 2013

After Delayed Vote, E.P.A. Gains a Tough Leader to Tackle Climate Change


ANNAPOLIS, Md. — When Lisa P. Jackson announced at the end of last year that she was stepping down as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, President Obama faced a choice. He could play it safe by appointing her deputy or he could confront Congress head-on and signal a strong commitment to tackling climate change by appointing the agency’s head of air quality, Gina McCarthy.

“Why would you want me?” Ms. McCarthy said she asked the president when he offered her the top job. “Do you realize the rules I’ve done over the past three or four years?”

Ms. McCarthy, an earthy, tough-talking New Englander who drew criticism as the head of the agency’s air and radiation office during Mr. Obama’s first term, then ticked off a list of controversial air pollution regulations she had helped write: tough greenhouse gas standards for vehicles, a tighter ozone limit that the White House rejected, the first rule on mercury emissions from power plants, and a regulation on smokestack pollution that crosses state lines, which has been blocked by a federal court. She warned that earning confirmation from the Senate might be difficult and that safer choices were available.

The president told Ms. McCarthy that his environmental and presidential legacy would be incomplete without a serious effort to address climate change.

“I’m so glad he said that, because if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t have wanted this job,” she said. “It’s an issue I’ve worked on for so many years, and it just can’t wait.”

Mr. Obama’s decision to nominate Ms. McCarthy, 59, was an act of defiance to Congressional and industry opponents of meaningful action on climate change. It was also a sign of his determination to at least begin to put in place rules to reduce carbon pollution.

Ms. McCarthy was right about her confirmation. She was flooded with more than 1,000 questions from Senate Republicans, who held up a confirmation vote for 136 days, one of the longest delays of any of Mr. Obama’s senior nominees. She finally won approval on July 18 on a 59-to-40 vote, as part of a deal reached after Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, threatened to change Senate rules to prevent filibusters on executive branch nominations.

Six Republicans crossed the aisle to vote for her. One Democrat, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, voted against her, complaining that the administration was waging a “war on coal.”

Ms. McCarthy discussed the battles won and the battles yet to be waged on Wednesday, during her first trip outside Washington and her first extended interview as the E.P.A. administrator. Addressing employees at the Chesapeake Bay program office overlooking Annapolis harbor, she said the agency would play a crucial role in dealing with climate change, both in writing the rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing power plants and in helping communities adapt to the inevitable changes wrought by a warming planet.

She also said the agency had to do a better job of explaining its mission to hostile constituencies, including Congress and the agriculture, mining and utility industries.

“We need this agency to reinvent itself, to the extent an agency of 17,000 people can,” Ms. McCarthy said in a staff meeting in a waterfront conference room known as the Fish Shack. “I spend a lot of time protecting what we are doing rather than thinking about what we should be doing. The challenges of today are very different from the challenges of 40 years ago. Not every environmental problem deserves a rule.”

Ms. McCarthy said Mr. Obama had handed her an epic challenge in his address on climate change at Georgetown University in June. He said that in the face of resistance and inaction in Congress, he would use his executive authority to begin to rein in the emissions that are contributing to global warming. The most meaningful of those powers reside in the E.P.A., which will write regulations governing carbon emissions from power plants, the source of roughly 40 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas pollution.

Under the president’s timetable, the first of those rules, covering new fossil fuel plants, is due Sept. 20. The agency must produce draft standards for existing plants, a vastly more complex and controversial undertaking, by next June.

“We worked with him on the schedule,” Ms. McCarthy said, referring to the president. “He impressed on us how important it was to get started now. He said to get it done, and get it done right.”

Those rules will require a shift in power generation from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas, or development of new cost-effective means of capturing and storing carbon dioxide emissions. The regulations, along with proposed new rules governing coal-mining waste and the disposal of coal ash from power plants, are what Mr. Manchin and others mean when they say the E.P.A. is waging a war on coal.

Ms. McCarthy rejected the charge.

“We don’t have a war on coal,” she said. “We’re doing our business, which is to reduce pollution. We’re following the law.”

She declined to take a position on the Keystone XL oil pipeline, even though the E.P.A. has submitted two harsh critiques of the environmental impact statements produced by the State Department, which must rule on the pipeline project because it would span the border with Canada.

“That’s a matter for the Department of State, and I’m going to leave it there,” she said.

Ms. McCarthy is a proud native of the Boston area and a die-hard Red Sox fan. Before going to Washington, she served as a top environmental aide to a half-dozen governors of Massachusetts and Connecticut, including Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee.

She and her husband, Kenneth McCarey, a wholesale florist, have three adult children, all living in the Boston area. Her eldest, Daniel, 28, married two weeks ago.

In a video message to E.P.A. employees at the beginning of her first full week on the job, Ms. McCarthy looks straight into the camera and says in her thick Hub accent: “Last week was a big week, and I am so pumped. My son got married, our E.P.A. headquarters was renamed after President Clinton, and of course there was this little thing with the U.S. Senate and my confirmation.”

She thanked Robert Perciasepe, the E.P.A. deputy who served as acting administrator during the months of vacancy in the top job, and noted that Carol Browner, President Bill Clinton’s E.P.A. chief, had held the Bible at her swearing-in ceremony.

Ms. McCarthy also paid tribute to the workers in the E.P.A.’s air office, calling them dedicated, action-oriented and “supah smaht.” Those last two words have become something of a catchphrase at the E.P.A. in recent days, but Ms. McCarthy disavowed them.

“Somebody else wrote that,” she said later. “It should have been ‘wicked smaht.’ ”


July 28, 2013

Detroit Looks to Health Law to Ease Costs


As Detroit enters the federal bankruptcy process, the city is proposing a controversial plan for paring some of the $5.7 billion it owes in retiree health costs: pushing many of those too young to qualify for Medicare out of city-run coverage and into the new insurance markets that will soon be operating under the Obama health care law.

Officials say the plan would be part of a broader effort to save Detroit tens of millions of dollars in health costs each year, a major element in a restructuring package that must be approved by a bankruptcy judge. It is being watched closely by municipal leaders around the nation, many of whom complain of mounting, unsustainable prices for the health care promised to retired city workers.

Similar proposals that could shift public sector retirees into the new insurance markets, called exchanges, are already being planned or contemplated in places like Chicago; Sheboygan County, Wis.; and Stockton, Calif. While large employers that eliminate health benefits for full-time workers can be penalized under the health care law, retirees are a different matter.

“There’s fear and panic about what this means,” said Michael Underwood, 62, who retired from the Chicago Police Department after 30 years and has diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. Mr. Underwood, who says he began working for the city when employees did not pay into future Medicare coverage, is part of a group suing Chicago over its plan to phase many retirees out of city coverage during the next three and a half years. “I was promised health care for myself and my wife for life,” he said.

Unfunded retiree health care costs loom larger than ever for localities across the country, and the health law’s guarantee of federal subsidies to help people with modest incomes afford coverage has made the new insurance markets tantalizing for local governments. A study issued this year by the Pew Charitable Trusts found 61 of the nation’s major cities wrestling with $126 billion in retiree health costs, all but 6 percent of that unfunded.

“The Affordable Care Act does change the possibilities here dramatically,” said Neil Bomberg, a program director at the National League of Cities. “It offers a very high-quality, potentially very affordable way to get people into health care without the burden falling back onto the city and town.”

But if large numbers of localities follow that course, it could amount to a significant cost shift to the federal government. Authors of the health care law expected at least some shifting of retirees into the new insurance exchanges, said Timothy S. Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee University who closely follows the law. “But if a lot of them do, especially big state and local programs,” he said, “that’s going to be a huge cost for the United States government, and it’s mandatory spending.”

Many cities are also wrestling with unfunded pension programs for retirees. But health care has become an easier target for cuts, in part because of generally stronger legal protections for pensions. Still, changes to retiree health care are playing out in courtrooms. The suit Mr. Underwood joined, filed last week in Chicago, claims that the health care benefits were also protected.

The Chicago plan, announced in May, would phase some of the city’s 11,800 retirees and their family members not eligible for Medicare out of city coverage by 2017. While some may seek insurance through new employers or through their spouses’ workplaces, others will probably be shifted to the insurance exchanges. Much of the plan for the next few years is in flux, but the changes are expected to contribute to a larger effort to save Chicago $155 million to $175 million a year in retiree health care costs by 2017.

“With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, our retirees will have more options to meet their health care needs,” said Sarah Hamilton, a spokeswoman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, adding that most of the city’s retirees over 65 were already covered by Medicare. “We will ensure that they have all the information needed to navigate the options available going forward, while saving vital taxpayer dollars.”

Under the health care law, starting in October every state will have an online insurance market where people can shop for private plans. These policies will have to include 10 broad categories of benefits, including emergency services, hospitalization and prescription drugs.

People earning up to 400 percent of the poverty level can get federal subsidies to help with the cost of premiums, but only for policies bought through the new markets. The premiums will vary, depending on how much coverage a plan offers.

This year, 400 percent of the poverty level is $45,960 for an individual and $62,040 for two-person households.

Cities may also provide moderate monthly stipends to help retirees with the cost of health insurance bought through an exchange. Detroit, for instance, has proposed doing that.

But retirees say they worry about what the costs would actually amount to and whether the coverage would be as generous as some have received through city plans.

A 60-year-old single man with an income of $45,000 might have to pay $4,275 a year, or about 52 percent of his total annual premium, for a midpriced plan bought through an exchange, with the balance covered by the federal subsidies, according to an estimate by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan research group. A couple who are both 55 with a combined income of $60,000 might have to pay $5,700 a year, or 42 percent of their total premium. In both examples, additional out-of-pocket costs of up to $6,350 per person could apply, depending on how much medical care they needed.

Professor Jost said that even with subsidies, insurance policies bought through an exchange could be more expensive for retirees than public sector health plans. Most exchange customers are expected to choose plans that cover 60 percent to 70 percent of medical costs for the average person, compared with public sector plans that have sometimes covered much more.

“These are people who stayed in the public sector all their lives because the benefits were more generous,” he said.

Some city plans, like those in Detroit, cover 80 percent to 100 percent of costs, officials said.

“The truth is, my health care is very good, with only $20 for prescriptions and $10 co-pays to see a doctor,” said Thomas Berry, 60, a Detroit Police Department retiree. “That was part of the promise that was made, and I don’t want to lose it.”

But some municipal retirees could actually end up spending less on coverage bought through the online markets than they do now. Several states have already approved rates for health plans to be sold through the new markets that are lower than what analysts had expected. But rates have yet to be announced in many other states, including Illinois and Michigan.

In an added wrinkle for Detroit, Michigan is among the states that so far have opted out of expanding Medicaid under the health care law. In such states, people with incomes below the poverty level — $11,490 for an individual and $15,510 for a couple — would not be eligible for the federal subsidies to help buy coverage through an exchange.

The law’s authors had intended for such people to become eligible for Medicaid, if they did not have it already. But the Supreme Court ruled last year that the expansion was an option for states, not a requirement. This potentially leaves a group of retirees who would be ineligible for either Medicaid or a subsidy.

In any case, officials in Detroit and elsewhere say the old insurance plans are no longer feasible. Detroit has more than 19,000 retirees — nearly twice as many people as currently work for the city — and 7,500 of them are younger than 65.

“I’m applauding Detroit,” said Dan Miller, the controller in Harrisburg, Pa., who added that in the future a similar plan might interest his city, where a state-appointed receiver is seeking to restructure hundreds of millions of dollars of debt. “I’m hoping that Obamacare turns out to be a great solution, and I would love for our city to have the opportunity to do that.”


Republicans Are Gearing Up To Continue Their Senseless War on America

By: Rmuse
Jul. 27th, 2013

The term fight means to attempt to harm or gain power over an adversary by blows or with weapons, and regardless the motivation or reason for fighting, the goal is inflicting enough damage to destroy an enemy. The idea of fighting, or attempting to harm the government is appealing to America’s enemies, and in Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address he extolled the virtues of those who fought “to ensure the survival of America’s government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” It is likely that most citizens understand Washington is a metonym for the government that, according to Lincoln, is the people and most Americans would not advocate damaging it with blows or weapons. It is doubtless that few Americans expect their government representatives are in their position to harm the government, but that is precisely what Republicans are planning to tell their constituents they will do after returning from their August recess.

Since people are the government, when Republicans say they intend to “fight Washington” they are, in effect, intending to harm the people in keeping with their four-year anti-government and anti-American crusade. The American people pay for the government to function on their behalf including building and maintaining roads, bridges, schools, and hospitals, as well as protecting the people from both foreign and domestic aggressors. Few people could argue that Republicans don’t hate the government (and the people), and with help from  aggressors such as the US Chamber of Commerce, ALEC, and the libertarian Koch brothers they have spent the past four years damaging the institution they were elected to serve. Republicans did not have to announce they were fighting the government, and they will find allies to help inflict damage on it to neuter its ability to function for the people, but for the first time since the Civil War a segment of the population is being called to action to fight against their own government.

The Republican goal is clear; either Washington concedes to divest its power and transfer it to the wealthy and their corporations, or they will, one way or the other, destroy the government. Republicans claim they are “Fighting Washington for all Americans,” but anyone with half a brain comprehends they are fighting the people on behalf of corporations and the wealthy. In their playbook, Republicans assert they are fighting to spur economic growth, create jobs, dismantle the Affordable Care Act, kill regulations, and slash spending on domestic programs that help Americans. However, for over four years they have deliberately thwarted economic growth and killed jobs to make room for tax breaks for the wealthy, and they intend to cut spending on domestic programs to create hunger, homelessness, and a cycle of poverty tens-of-millions of Americans will never escape. Apparently, Republicans will not stop fighting the people until they disabuse them of any government they pay for with their hard-earned tax dollars.

Not satisfied with the damage they inflicted on the government, jobs, and people with the sequester, fiscal cliff, and debt ceiling fiasco in 2011, Republicans already laid out their ransom to raise the debt ceiling sometime near the end of October to allow the government to pay the bills Republicans already racked up. House Republicans are demanding the President institute the Paul Ryan budget that privatizes Medicare, cuts Social Security, pillages social safety nets, and gives the wealthy a 14.9% tax cut while raising taxes on the poorest Americans. In the Senate, Republicans intend to block any budget that includes funding for Affordable Care Act, and some imply they intend to hold out for a formal promise from the President that the debt ceiling will not be raised at all regardless it will destroy the full faith and credit of the United States. It is no exaggeration that those Republicans demanding the debt ceiling not be raised intend bankrupting the federal government to put it in the same situation Detroit finds itself. Bankrupting the government will end Republicans’ fight to destroy it so they can hand it to their paymasters on Wall Street, the oil industry, and corporations.

Americans can hardly take any more Republican assaults on government. They have eliminated funding for 47-million Americans’ (mostly children and the elderly) food assistance, cut funding for Meals on Wheels, ended housing assistance to put Americans on the streets, slashed funding for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), as well as vote to eliminate overtime pay to send more Americans into the ranks of poverty. In their drive to keep Americans unemployed Republicans blocked every Democratic jobs bill, any attempt to stop corporations from outsourcing  Americans’ jobs, and to keep the people ignorant cut education spending to the same level as Detroit’s emergency manager. Despite that America’s infrastructure ranks near the bottom of all developed countries, Republicans blocked every one of President Obama’s attempt to put millions of Americans back to work citing government overreach, and are unfazed their sequester cuts are on pace to kill millions more jobs.

What is stunning is that despite Republican obstruction and intransigence created an ineffective Congress with the lowest approval rating in history that even many Republicans condemn, they are going to their constituents to recruit anti-government warriors to assist in their fight against Washington. Americans are beleaguered, hungry, and looking to Washington to do its job and help build an economy that creates jobs and provides them with a sense of security they can avoid falling into poverty, but Republican’s fight against Washington means the people will never be secure and leaves them with little to hope for beyond survival. It is tragic that the damage Republicans have already wreaked on the people is not enough, and it verifies that their goal is a nation of hungry, homeless peasants at the mercy of wealthy plutocrats. The real atrocity though, and a sad commentary, is that they are emboldened and despicable enough to announce their intent to fight the people and are willing to bankrupt the nation to gain power of their adversaries; the American people.


The Republican Plan to Violate the First Amendment by Establishing Religion

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Jul. 28th, 2013

HuelskampTim Huelskamp, our favorite batsh*t crazy Republican Representative from Kansas, is sponsoring an amendment (the Federal Marriage Amendment) to the Constitution that would define marriage as one man and one woman. The American Family Association, home to such crazies as Bryan Fischer, is all for it.

Undeterred by studies showing millennials leaving organized religion, that “young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people,” Huelskamp had promised such an amendment and he delivered on June 30 of this year. The last such attempt to force a religion down Americans’ throats failed in July 2006.

Just as a refresher, this is the wording of the proposed amendment:

    Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.

Huffington Post reported at the time that its sponsors included a bunch of people who have, apparently, never read the Bible:

    Its cosponsors include Republican Reps. Joe Barton (Texas), Jim Bridenstine (Okla.), Mo Brooks (Ala.), Paul Broun (Ga.), Jeff Duncan (S.C.), John Fleming (La.), Trent Franks (Ariz.), Louie Gohmert (Texas), Ralph Hall (Texas), Andy Harris (Md.), Randy Hultgren (Ill.), Sam Johnson (Texas), Walter Jones (N.C.), Jim Jordan (Ohio), James Lankford (Okla.), Mark Meadows (N.C.), Randy Neugebauer (Texas), Steven Palazzo (Miss.), Stevan Pearce (N.M.), Robert Pittenger (N.C.), Joe Pitts (Pa.), David Schweikert (Ariz.), Bill Shuster (Pa.), Chris Smith (N.J.), Steve Stockman (Texas), Tim Walberg (Mich.), Lynn Westmoreland (Ga.) and Frank Wolf (Va.)

(Someone, please send them each a copy – probably best to highlight the relevant passages for them. We’ll get to those in a moment).

The AFA’s president, Tim Wildmon, says, “We have a reached a frightening impasse, I fear the day just years from now when marriage has absolutely no definition at all.”

Funny thing that. Marriage has no definition in the Law of Moses Republicans love to point to as the basis for the Constitution. It is hardly surprising then – this is their own logic now – that if the Bible lacks such a definition the Constitution should lack one as well.

Just the other day, Ted Cruz told CBN that,

    “On marriage there is no issue in which we need to be more on our knees because the momentum is with the opponents of traditional marriage. We’re facing an assault on marriage.

He wants to pray to stop Marriage Equality. This, apparently, is his platform as would-be president of the United States. You can see right off that he has a lot to offer America. Not.

Wildmon worries obsessively that marriage will be so watered down it will become “meaningless.” Eventually, he says, “marriage won’t be anything but a freewill agreement between any two people, or more than two people.”

Guess what? That’s all marriage was for most of human history. Not a religious institution at all but a social convention to recognize alliances between families.

In other words, it is these Christian extremists who are trying to make marriage something it is not. This traditional marriage paradigm is an aberration – an anomaly.

Yet we find people like Bob Unruh and Joseph Farah of World Net Daily insisting that for all of history – all 6,000 years of it – marriage has been between one man and one woman:

    So why is one ‘lifestyle’ affirmed by the popular culture, the political class and the judiciary and the other is ignored – even to the point of jailing those who dare to practice it? This is not a rhetorical question. I really want an answer from someone who believes the right, just, moral course of action is to redefine marriage as an institution between any two people, regardless of their sex. It’s a question that deserves an answer as we march, without thought, into a brave new world of sexual revolution, casting aside 6,000 years of human tradition inspired by God’s law and an institution that has formed the cornerstone of civilization.

The trouble for Unruh and Farah is that the world isn’t 6,000 years old and human tradition goes back for as long as humans have been on the planet – about 250,000 years for homo sapiens. People were getting married long before the Bible says there were even people. And you can bet your bottom dollar they weren’t engaged only in “traditional” marriage.

And they are not defending their right to be married according to their biblical 6,000-year paradigm; they are demanding that the rest of us, Christian and non-Christian alike, abide with their religion-based bigotry.

In other words, they want to violate the First Amendment of the Constitution by making laws establishing religion.

Which shows you where their loyalties lie.

It is amusing to watch religious extremists like Wildmon and Huelskamp and Farah scramble to make marriage something that exists between one man and one woman. They cite biblical precedents but the Bible does not actually define marriage in that way. In fact, the Law of Moses allows for the marriage of one man to many women. Some folks don’t like that, but not liking a fact doesn’t make it untrue.

The Bible literally abounds with examples of polygamy practiced by its Jewish heroes, kings, and patriarchs and the Law of Moses in fact recognized and regulated it. For example, we find in Exodus 21:10 – you know, the part where God gives the Jews their laws – the very same laws Huelskamp and others pretend they are giving to us,

    If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish the food, clothing, or marital rights of the first wife.

And in Leviticus – again, a listing of the laws, we find (18:18),

    And you shall not take a woman as a rival to her sister, uncovering her nakedness while her sister is still alive.

In other words, there is nothing wrong with marrying another woman while already married. Just not the sister of your wife.

On the other hand, God’s law demands that a man marry his deceased brother’s wife – even if he already has a wife of his own (Deuteronomy 25:5-6).

And most telling of all, Deuteronomy 21:15-17:

    If a man has two wives, one of them loved and the other disliked, and if both the loved and the disliked have borne him sons, the firstborn being the son of the one who is disliked, then on the day when he wills his possessions to his sons, he is not permitted to treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the disliked, who is the firstborn.

In other words, it isn’t a problem that the guy has two wives and sons by multiple wives; the problem is in how he treats his offspring.

Jesus, it might be observed, never condemned polygamy. It was being practiced while he was alive. He could have mentioned it; would have if he didn’t approve, presumably. But he didn’t.

If you thought these people were batsh*t crazy before, you were wrong. The Supreme Court’s DOMA ruling really put them around the bend. They are more determined than ever to shove their faux-reality down the throats of their fellow citizens. Their battle cry seems to be “Reality be damned! This is what God wants even if God never actually said he wants this!”

They have no written evidence of course, since the Bible (meaning God) says something very different. But it’s what they say God wants, which isn’t the same thing at all, is it?

The amendment will never be passed. It isn’t even popular in Kansas. The American people don’t want it. Republicans know that. Huelskamp himself has said he recognizes that. There is no good explanation for wasting our time and our tax dollars on this nonsense when there are serious problems to be solved. The Republican Party did not get the message in 2008 and they did not get it in 2012. There is no good reason to suspect they will finally get it in 2016.

Instead, they think if they get “hipper worship bands” in church the young people will come back and if they get handsome guys and gals with great smiles to deliver their message of hate we will vote for them. Lacking the means of enrolling them all in a 12-step program, there isn’t much we can do to help them. We can only help ourselves by sending them repeated messages that their message is not wanted.


You Think George Zimmerman’s Bad; Wait Until You Get a Load of the 211 Crew

By: Dennis S
Jul. 28th, 2013

What now for God’s sake? It’s going on a dozen years since hundreds of people ignored Himalayan-sized clues and allowed a handful of zealots to bring down two mighty buildings and end 3,000 lives. What part of a student indifferent to learning how to land don’t you flight instructors understand???

Then along comes trillion dollar wars — one a complete waste of time, resources and young lives, another closing in on being a complete waste of time, resources and young lives, though the older lives (think Cheney) of the leadership and bottom lines of the Halliburton military corporate complexes dearly love such deadly and lengthy skirmishes.

The Middle-east is currently blowing up like BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and, for good measure, a couple of college-educated Muslim brothers decided the Boston Marathon was a natural venue to mortally vent over religious differences.

And how ’bout that Sanford, Florida doughboy vigilante, George Zimmerman, jumping out of his car, following an innocent black kid and killing him after which his legal team bulls**ts its way to an acquittal. Fits right in with the nation’s gun-goons with heaping arsenals of weaponry in their backyard chicken coops. And be assured that, thanks to “on the campaign contributions take” state legislators, everywhere you go, EVERYWHERE, chances are pretty good that some fool will be packing and itchen for his Zimmerman moment, or, quoting a variation of that bawdy Mae West line, “Is that a gun in your pocket or are you happy to see me?”

Now, there appears a scary and extremely violent new kid on the block. He’s been there a while with his tats and intense malevolence toward blacks (and others), you just haven’t noticed him. But several horrific incidents in Colorado, Texas and Ohio are bringing this vicious collection of misguided (mostly young) men to the fore. Prisons, gangs and hate are boiling cauldrons of ingredients for the type of violence that this breed represents. Aryan white supremacists organize in packs ostensibly to protect themselves in the event of a race war with blacks and Mexicans. While there’s more than a grain of truth in the need to surround yourself with your own kind in many prison environments, the white supremacist gangs stay together whether behind the walls or hitting the bricks.

That brings me to the most recent stampede of murders by these white supremacists that ironically include not one black victim. Here’s how it’s coming down. The first victim was the head of Colorado’s prison system, Tom Clements. He was shot point-blank when he answered his front door to a fake pizza delivery guy. The Denver Post reported that a white supremacists gang calling themselves 211 Crew appears to have been behind the hit. They were apparently angry with Clements for ordering Crew members at Limon Correctional Facility to be broken up and transferred to other prisons after continually raising racists hell. The State Corrections Department called the speculation by the Post “irresponsible.”

There’s another possible motive being floated that is truly intriguing. A Saudi prisoner, Homaidan al-Turki, being held on an 8-year-to-life sentence on slavery and sexual assault of his housekeeper charges, was recently turned down by Clements when he petitioned to return to Saudi Arabia. His ties to 211 Crew were paying them to protect him inside the walls. There remains the possibility that al-Turki ordered the hit to be carried out by 211 Crew members on the streets. A lawsuit has been filed on al-Turki’s behalf claiming that he’s been mistreated and isolated since Clement’s death.

Whatever the motive, this much we know. Clements is dead and 211 Crew appears to be in the thick of it. The UPI Website reports that we also pretty much know his killer, who is now dead, represents another interesting story. Authorities believe the fatal shot was fired by 211 Crew member Spencer Ebel. Ebel, 28, was killed in a car chase with law enforcement in Texas. A casing found at the scene of the Clement’s killing matched a casing from the gun that Ebel was carrying when he was killed. Ebel is also thought to be the killer of the pizza delivery man whose clothing he stole. The killer of Clements was wearing pizza delivery garb when he knocked on the door.

Ebel doesn’t fit the growing-up dirt-poor mold of a majority of really bad human beings. He had no story of poverty and neglect in his background. His father, an attorney was a former oil executive and ironically a good friend of current Colorado governor, John Hickenlooper. But a look at this CBS Ebel profile will dispel any notion that young Spencer was anything but pure evil.

You’ve got to feel for the father. He told CNN that his son had a bad streak and the family had “tried everything.”

Moving on, there was just a husband/wife arrest for a brutal double murder in a neighboring county of my beloved Upstate South Carolina homeland. Word is that the suspects were allegedly members of the white supremacist 41 Crew, a possible spin-off of 211 Crew. Neither one of their victims were black and they had no beef with one of the casualties, 51-year-old Gretchen Dawn Parker, who was shot and stabbed multiple times for the sin of being in the same room with the intended target, 59-year-old, Charles Marvin Parker, husband of Gretchen. Charles was also shot and stabbed multiple times.

In a variation of the “let’s kill blacks” theme, Jeremy Lee Moody, 30 and his wife, 36-year-old Christine, both apparently went after the husband because he was a registered sex offender. Both Moodys have been charged with two counts each of murder and other charges are pending. It was not particularly difficult to catch these two fiendish killers since they were unwittingly posing for surveillance cameras upon entering and exiting the victim’s property. I’m guessing they missed the front yard sign that read “Smile, you’re on camera.”

They had planned to kill Parker about a year ago, but Jeremy Moody told authorities that they “chickened out.” The couple had also planned to kill another local sex offender the day after their arrests.

So if you’re head isn’t already on a swivel with laughingly lax gun laws and a growing population of extremists ready to kill anybody, anywhere under the aegis of megalomaniac, self-anointed white supremacist cells, it should be now. On her Facebook page, Christine Moody posted the following, as quoted in my local newspaper; she was frustrated that her particular Crew was having trouble recruiting members because “most women around the area had had sex with n****rs and most men were drug addicts.

I should add that both she and her husband currently have drug charges pending. “God Bless America.”


President Obama Ruptures John Boehner’s Pipeline of Keystone XL Lies

By: Jason Easley
Jul. 28th, 2013

Transcript via The New York Times:

    NYT: A couple other quick subjects that are economic-related. Keystone pipeline — Republicans especially talk about that as a big job creator. You’ve said that you would approve it only if you could be assured it would not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon in the atmosphere. Is there anything that Canada could do or the oil companies could do to offset that as a way of helping you to reach that decision?   

    MR. OBAMA: Well, first of all, Michael, Republicans have said that this would be a big jobs generator. There is no evidence that that’s true. And my hope would be that any reporter who is looking at the facts would take the time to confirm that the most realistic estimates are this might create maybe 2,000 jobs during the construction of the pipeline — which might take a year or two — and then after that we’re talking about somewhere between 50 and 100 [chuckles] jobs in a economy of 150 million working people.

    NYT: Yet there are a number of unions who want you to approve this.

    MR. OBAMA: Well, look, they might like to see 2,000 jobs initially. But that is a blip relative to the need.

    So what we also know is, is that that oil is going to be piped down to the Gulf to be sold on the world oil markets, so it does not bring down gas prices here in the United States. In fact, it might actually cause some gas prices in the Midwest to go up where currently they can’t ship some of that oil to world markets.

    Now, having said that, there is a potential benefit for us integrating further with a reliable ally to the north our energy supplies. But I meant what I said; I’m going to evaluate this based on whether or not this is going to significantly contribute to carbon in our atmosphere. And there is no doubt that Canada at the source in those tar sands could potentially be doing more to mitigate carbon release.

Obama ripped apart every single one of House Speaker John Boehner’s Keystone XL lies. Boehner’s office is still putting out press releases claiming that the pipeline will create 20,000-100,000 jobs.

Boehner has also claimed that Keystone XL is critical to energy independence, “Listen, the Keystone pipeline is critically important for our energy supply. America is about to enjoy -or North America – about to enjoy energy independence here in the next seven or eight years. This is going to give our country a great advantage when it comes to manufacturing more goods here in America and exporting them around the world. So we need to continue to build pipelines, to expand refineries, and to expand the exploration of oil and gas in America.”

Barely a week goes by without Speaker Boehner whining about the need to approve Keystone XL right now. What Rep. Boehner never tells anyone when he discusses the project is that he stands to personally benefit from its approval. Boehner is invested in seven tar sands companies that will benefit from the pipeline’s construction. This is why Boehner keeps lying about the values and virtues of Keystone.

It is clear that the president isn’t buying any of what Boehner is selling on the pipeline. In fact, Obama is pushing back against the Speaker’s propaganda campaign.The president appears to see the pipeline for what it really is, a gift to Big Oil. Keystone won’t create jobs. It won’t bring gas prices down, and the pipeline definitely isn’t a path to energy independence.

If the upper part of the pipeline is constructed, it could be an environmental disaster waiting to happen. Keystone is bad policy, and represents the wrong direction for the country to be moving in. The president understands this. Obama could still approve the pipeline, but by knocking down all of the Republican talking points about its virtues, he has made a compelling case for why it should be rejected.

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« Reply #7818 on: Jul 30, 2013, 06:02 AM »

My sacking is an attack not just on journalism, but on Turkish democracy

Turkey needs freedom of expression more than ever. Erdoğan's clampdown could stop dead our transition to a liberal democracy

Yavuz Baydar   
The Guardian, Monday 29 July 2013 20.30 BST   

Last week I was fired from my job as independent ombudsman for the Turkish daily newspaper Sabah, following the censoring of my column.

I had worked for the newspaper in this position since 2004. I had been hired by its previous editorial management after having been – surprise, surprise – fired by the proprietor of Dogan Media Group for exposing a fabricated story about Kurds and the US (planted, apparently, by military top brass).

These two unhappy endings – first at Dogan, then at Sabah – are not simply unfortunate for me personally. Turkey, a country in transition, needs a free, independent media if it is to reach its goal of becoming a liberal democracy.

Soon after I was hired, Sabah was sold to Çalik Holding, a company with far too close a relationship to prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. This brought the question of editorial independence and objectivity to the fore. As ombudsman, my job was to deal with readers' complaints fairly and openly, and I now found myself having to deal with accusations of bias, and pro-government editorial lines.

At the earliest stages the new management had been made aware of the special status of Sabah in the Turkish press – as a pro-reform, liberal, modern daily, whose editorial line was in synch with the push for membership of the EU. One of Turkey's oldest and most vocal "mainstream" papers, Sabah had a very diverse readership, representing all the complex segments of Turkish society.

Yet, particularly after the 2011 general elections, its professional standards began to decline. Its reporting was increasingly perceived as pro-Erdoğan: this was clear from criticisms coming into my office. Such partisan journalism is anathema to the very DNA of Sabah.

I tried to relay this public perception in my column – this was met first with indifference by the management and then, more recently, with anger.

The more partisan the paper's editorial line, the more I, as ombudsman, came to be seen as an enemy. In May I received a warning about how I should "stop clashing with the newspaper".

The journalistic performance of the newspaper in the wake of the Gezi Park protests fell well below our readers' expectations, and this was reflected in my ombudsman's column, which is driven by readers' concerns. A column dated 24 June did not make it into the paper, due to intervention by Erdal Safak, the editor. Not only this, but Safak, in his own column, attacked the ombudsman in a piece of writing. The reputation of Sabah hit rock bottom.

After a two-week break, I sent in another column. This one was also rejected. Two days later, I was fired. The reason: I had expressed my views on press freedom in Turkey in an article in the New York Times.

What happened to me is just another brick in the wall of shame surrounding Turkey's media. The country's journalists are enslaved in newsrooms run by greedy and ruthless media proprietors, whose economic interests make them submissive to Erdoğan. Direct criticism of government policies on the Kurds, Syria, or corruption has led to many columnists being fired or "boycotted". The scope of democratic debate and dissemination of opinion has narrowed severely. Since the Gezi Park protests and the general unrest, more than 30 journalists have been fired, and many more reprimanded. Some of them tell me that they stopped tweeting, or even retweeting comments or links.

Turkey's media has always suffered from not having enough qualified journalists; this is now more of a problem than ever. But there is more at stake here than just the future of individuals. Turkey's democratic development is being observed with high hopes by the world. Its success or failure will have defining consequences for the region and beyond. The country needs freedom of expression and an independent media more than ever. But Erdogan is moving the country in the opposite direction: instead of enhancing media freedom, he and his media mogul allies are trying to suffocate it. A media under a political yoke will bring Turkey's transformation to a dead end.

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« Reply #7819 on: Jul 30, 2013, 06:05 AM »

Silvio Berlusconi: Italy's supreme court prepares for verdict on final appeal

Former PM could be barred from public office for five years if tax fraud conviction is upheld

Lizzy Davies in Rome, Monday 29 July 2013 15.09 BST   

Italy's supreme court is due to consider Silvio Berlusconi's final appeal against a tax fraud conviction which, if upheld, could see him barred from public office for five years and play havoc within the fragile coalition government.

In the most important legal verdict the former prime minister has pending, the court of cassation is scheduled to decide on Tuesday whether or not to confirm the convictions of two lower courts which have already found Berlusconi guilty of the charges – first in October last year and then again in May.

If the judges agree with those verdicts, they are likely to enforce the requested sentence of four years in prison and a five-year ban on holding public office. The former is unlikely to cause the 76-year-old to lose much sleep as prisoners of his age rarely go to jail in Italy and, due to a 2006 amnesty law, he would be more likely to spend a year under some form of house arrest. But the latter could effectively end the political career of a man who, for better or worse, still plays a highly influential role in his country's affairs.

As head of the centre-right Freedom People (PdL) party, the main partner in centre-left prime minister Enrico Letta's government, Berlusconi is still capable of bringing down the coalition by withdrawing his support, should the moment suit him.

However, as the date of the cassation hearing has approached, speculation has mounted that the decision could be postponed.

In an interview with the rightwing Libero newspaper on Sunday, which was subsequently dismissed by Berlusconi's entourage as an informal conversation, the billionaire media tycoon said he was optimistic the judges would acquit him. But if they did not, he added, with trademark bombast, he would dare them to put him behind bars.

"I will not go into exile like Bettino Craxi was forced to," he was quoted as saying, referring to Italy's disgraced former prime minister – and friend of Berlusconi – who fled to Tunisia and died in exile. "I will also not accept being handed over to social services, like a criminal that has to be re-educated," he said. "If they convict me, if they take on that responsibility, I'll go to jail."

Berlusconi has always denied the tax fraud charges, which date back more than a decade and are in connection with the purchase of broadcasting rights by his television empire, Mediaset.

He claims he is the victim of a persecution by a leftwing cabal of magistrates and blames them for his other legal travails, including the so-called Rubygate trial, in which he was found guilty last month of paying for sex with an underage prostitute and abusing his office to cover it up. He denies the charges and is appealing against the ruling.

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« Reply #7820 on: Jul 30, 2013, 06:10 AM »

07/30/2013 12:51 PM

Interim Profit Down: Deutsche Bank Suffers New Setback

Deutsche Bank reported lower-than-expected profits for the second quarter on Tuesday, underperforming US rivals like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Earnings suffered because more funds went to covering the costs of lawsuits against the bank.

Deutsche Bank has reported that it earned less than expected in this year's second quarter, posting a pre-tax profit of €792 million ($1.05 billion), down 18 percent year-on-year and 67 percent less than in the previous quarter.

Analysts had predicted a profit of more than €1.3 billion. The drop was caused by further provisions set aside for lawsuits against Germany's largest bank, which had already set aside some €2.5 billion for litigation risks resulting from a case brought by the Kirch media group, and others involving the Libor rate fixing scandal and mortgage deals in the US.

Now it's increasing that amount by a further €630 million. Net profit totalled €355 million, about half as much as in the weak second quarter of 2012 when the euro crisis hit earnings from investment banking.

Deutsche Bank's investment banking earnings rose by around 10 percent in the second quarter, but fell well short of the dream results earned by its US competitors.

Outperformed by US Peers

By comparison, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase & Co and Bank of America Corp have all beat analysts' profit expectations for the second quarter, thanks largely to strength in investment banking.

News of Deutsche Bank's poor second-quarter performance pushed its shares down as much as four percent in early trading on Tuesday.

"In the second quarter our core businesses performed well, our franchise remained strong, and we continued to reconfigure our platform to serve our clients more effectively," co-chief executives Anshu Jain and Jürgen Fitschen said in a statement.

They referred to a new code of conduct presented to their 100,000 staff last week in a bid to bring about cultural change in the bank, whose reputation has suffered from scandals, fraud allegations and accusations of reckless profiteering that contributed to the financial crisis.

"We took an important step toward our objective of placing Deutsche Bank at the forefront of cultural change with the launch of our new values and supporting beliefs," the CEOs said. "In the months ahead, together with our senior leaders from across Deutsche Bank, we will work on embedding these values."

Deutsche Bank also said it planned to reduce its balance sheet to help it meet requirements on its so-called leverage ratio -- a measure of indebtedness that supervisory authorities plan to focus more heavily on in future.

The bank has identified €250 billion worth of assets to cut in a bid to meet new bank safety rules.

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« Reply #7821 on: Jul 30, 2013, 06:11 AM »

07/29/2013 09:07 PM

'Killer Mandate': NSU Defense Attorney Leaves Firm and Berlin

German attorney Anja Sturm is one of three defense lawyers representing Beate Zschäpe, a suspected member of a murderous neo-Nazi terror cell. She says she has faced hostility from colleagues for taking the case and is now leaving the Berlin firm where she works.

It's not easy defending the woman at the center of the biggest trial seen in recent years in Germany. It certainly doesn't help if you are part of a trio that coincidentally carries the surnames Sturm, Stahl and Heer (Storm, Steel and Army), as the international press has noted, and if the main accusation in the case is that defendant Beate Zschäpe served as a member of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) -- a neo-Nazi terror cell responsible for the murder of 10 people, mostly men of Turkish origin. For defense lawyer Anja Sturm, the pressure has been so great that she has decided to leave the Berlin-based law firm where she works.

Late last year, before the trial began, Anja Sturm said she wanted to make a contribution to ensure that "this attack on our democratic system is answered with a particular emphasis on the fundamental principles of rule of law. I am defending a person and not her actions." But colleagues at Sturm's law firm in Berlin don't appear to share the same nuanced views about the case.

In an interview published on Monday, Sturm said she had decided to leave her Berlin law firm as well as the city, moving with her family to Cologne as a result of pressure surrounding the case. Sturm told the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel that she wasn't angry with the firm, but rather "deeply disappointed." She said she felt isolated at the firm and that the other lawyers had been worried her role as Zschäpe's lawyer would damage the company's reputation. Sturm claimed that one colleague even described the defense of Zschäpe as a "killer mandate" for the firm.

Sturm recently ran to become a member of the board of the local association of defense attorneys in Berlin, but she suffered a very clear defeat during the vote. She believes that rejection is directly related to her work defending Zschäpe. She said a few of her colleagues at the firm were very bothered by the fact that she is representing the suspected neo-Nazi. Sources within the Berlin legal scene said some attorneys had threatened to quit the association if Sturm were elected as a member of its board.

That may also be one reason Sturm only spoke to Tagesspiegel and is now remaining mum on the issue. "I don't want to make any more statements about the reason behind my decision to change law firms," Sturm said when contacted by SPIEGEL ONLINE journalists.

Axel Weimann, a founder of the law firm, told Tagesspiegel he had "advised" his colleague "for several reasons" not to represent Zschäpe. He said he had spoken of the burden of constantly having to "justify, both professionally and privately, a decision to take on a client whose positions you don't share, and would never yourself accept." He said the NSU trial consumed so much of Sturm's time that she couldn't be involved in other cases the firm was handling either.

However, in a statement released on Monday afternoon, Weimann and partner Peter Meyer said the law firm had neither criticized Sturm for taking on Zschäpe as a client nor acted in a hostile manner towards her. It stated that Sturm would leave the firm on July 31.

In Cologne, Sturm now plans to work for the firm of lawyer Wolfgang Heer, also a defense attorney on the case. The third lawyer representing Zschäpe is Koblenz-based Wolfgang Stahl. When asked about the new professional relationship, Heer said, "I am very pleased to work together with my colleague during the NSU trial and beyond. I see good prospects for both of us."

'To Defend This Case Is a Suicide Mission '

In Berlin, Christian Ströbele, a member of parliament with the Green Party, told SPIEGEL ONLINE that no one should be criticized for choosing to serve as a defense attorney for a client. "When we are dealing with a crime, every person in our constitutional state has the right to a defense and is required to be provided with a lawyer," he said.

Sturm herself is considered to be an assertive and experienced defense attorney who has already served clients in major cases in the business community connected to companies like German engineering giant Siemens, steelmaker ThyssenKrupp and mobile network provider Vodaphone. She has also been part of teams defending Islamists and organized crime. But one experienced defense attorney told SPIEGEL ONLINE, "To defend this case is a suicide mission. The three (attorneys) are going to go through hell."

Months ago, when Sturm was asked why she accepted the mandate to serve as Zschäpe's defense lawyer, she gave a very spontaneous reply: "It's a historic case and it is hugely exciting to be a part of it."

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« Reply #7822 on: Jul 30, 2013, 06:14 AM »

07/29/2013 06:15 PM

PR Tricks: Berlin Leaves Biggest NSA Questions Unanswered

Weeks after the NSA scandal, the German government is slowly breaking its silence on the issue. In the midst of the election campaign, Chancellery head Ronald Pofalla has been tasked with defusing the affair. So far, he hasn't answered the most pressing questions.

Last Thursday, Ronald Pofalla, Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff, spent almost three hours discussing the ongoing NSA surveillance scandal -- first before a German parliamentary committee and then in front of the press.

It was an attempt to take the offensive in the seventh week since documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the extent of the United States' global data surveillance operations -- as well as the cooperation of German intelligence services.

For a long time, Merkel tried to ride out the scandal surrounding the massive data collection operations of the American National Security Agency. Whenever she addressed the issue, she either spoke in vague terms ("there must always be a balance between freedom and security"), or she simply said that she could not seriously be expected to be involved in everything ("It isn't my job to delve into the details of Prism.")

But early last week, Merkel and her team decided on a change of strategy. So far, the scandal hasn't hurt her party, the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), in its campaign for September's national elections. In fact, recent polls even showed the CDU gaining a little ground. Nevertheless, the case has the potential to harm Merkel's image as a prudent leader. In the past, the chancellor has consistently emphasized that she keeps herself informed on current issues, even down to the details. But then Merkel declined to address the particulars of a surveillance program that half the country was talking about. Suddenly she was being described as a self-righteous politician with a couldn't-care-less attitude.

Facing the Public

This was one of the reasons Pofalla, who is also the senior Chancellery official tasked with coordinating Germany's intelligence activities, decided to address the sensitive subject. Last Monday, he volunteered to answer questions before the Parliamentary Control Panel, the body in German parliament, the Bundestag, assigned to keep tabs on the activities of the country's intelligence agencies. From the standpoint of Merkel's team, this has two advantages. On the one hand, it enabled Pofalla to avoid the embarrassing situation of being quoted by members of the leading opposition party, the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), in front of the committee. On the other hand, he is making himself the target for attacks from the opposition, taking the chancellor out of the line of fire.

But can the strategy succeed? Documents obtained by whistleblower Snowden, which SPIEGEL was able to view, raise a host of new questions. And during his appearance before the control committee, Pofalla used a trick that PR professionals like to use in tight situations: They deny accusations that no one has made, leaving the truly sensitive questions unanswered.

The heads of Germany's major intelligence services, Gerhard Schindler of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany's foreign intelligence agency, and Hans-Georg Maassen of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, its domestic counterpart, had already used the same trick before. A week ago, they responded to a SPIEGEL story in the mass-circulation Bild am Sonntag weekly, even though the SPIEGEL issue wasn't even on newsstands yet at that point.

It was an audacious move, because SPIEGEL had, of course, already given the two intelligence services the opportunities to respond to its inquiries. For instance, SPIEGEL wanted to know whether the two agencies use XKeyscore, US spy software that, according to documents from the Snowden archive, allow for extensive surveillance of digital data traffic.

Damage Control

Both agencies, as well as the federal government, were unwilling to talk to SPIEGEL about the issue. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution only issued a statement saying that it would not comment "on indiscretions" and "supposed details" of intelligence activities.

But when speaking to Bild am Sonntag, Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution President Maaßen suddenly became relatively talkative, even admitting that his agency does use XKeyscore, albeit only for test purposes. Neither does BND President Schindler deny the use of the software.

Then the intelligence chiefs went on the counteroffensive. "The transfer of millions of pieces of data a month from Germany to the NSA through the BND does not take place," Schindler said.

But that wasn't what SPIEGEL had reported. It was reported that the German agencies use a highly effective NSA surveillance software, and that this was not disclosed to the lawmakers on the Parliamentary Control Panel, even though the committee had already met four times since the surveillance scandal broke.

Pofalla resorted to a similar trick in another case. SPIEGEL had written that the BND had advocated a looser interpretation of Germany's strict data privacy laws, as stated in the NSA documents ("to relax interpretation of the privacy laws"). After appearing before the panel on Thursday, Pofalla declared that the "unbelievable accusations" that had been leveled against the German intelligence agencies had now been clearly refuted. "The German intelligence services operate in accordance with law and order," he said. But SPIEGEL hadn't even claimed that BND President Schindler was violating current law.

In the hearing before the control panel, the BND chief also confirmed that, from the standpoint of his agency, data privacy laws should be interpreted more loosely, and that this was also what he had said in the United States. But, he denied, in the form of an "official statement," wanting to soften German data privacy laws across the board.

On Thursday, Pofalla's line of defense was clear, namely that the German intelligence services are blameless, at least legally. "Data privacy laws are adhered to 100 percent of the time," he said.

More Questions Persist

If that's the case, the question arises as to how millions of pieces of communications data entered the NSA databases. But the issue was avoided on Thursday, because answering the question requires getting answers from the US government first.

But that didn't prevent the Chancellery chief from sowing doubts as to NSA surveillance activities. It remained to seen "whether and, if so, to what extent we in Germany" are affected, he said. Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich had made similar comments when he spoke of unconfirmed reports. And when speaking to journalists Hans-Peter Uhl, a politician with the CDU's Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), even went so far as to liken the scandal to the fake Hitler diaries the newsmagazine Stern published 30 years ago.

It was a bold move. More than seven weeks have passed since the first documents from the Snowden archive were published. At no point did the NSA question the authenticity of the documents. On the contrary, it sharply criticized the publication of materials it had classified as "top secret."

The same applies to reports on its Boundless Informant program. According to the documents on the program, the NSA had access to about 500 million data connections from Germany in December 2012 alone.

Secret Documents
Because of the current debate, SPIEGEL decided to publish the original documents from the Snowden archive that relate to Germany and a few neighboring countries (see photo gallery). The data to which the NSA had access in December are so-called metadata -- or information about which data connections were made and when.

To avert new misunderstandings, the fact that the NSA has access to this metadata doesn't mean that it actually analyzes all of the data sets. But merely the fact that it has access to and stores the data is problematic. Such data storage practices are incompatible with German law.

A category known as "Most Volume," under which two codes, US-987LA and US-987LB, are listed, is especially interesting. These are apparently the codes for the most important data collection methods and data collection sites, known as signals intelligence activity designators, or SIGADs.

Some of these SIGADs are now known. For instance, the often-cited Prism surveillance program, which provided the Americans with access to data from Germany, among other countries, was listed internally under code US-984XN. Two codes on the Germany chart published here are only referred to in general terms. According to the Snowden documents, the NSA also contracts out SIGADs for the technical surveillance activities of so-called "third parties."

New Issues for the Panel

This leads to new, volatile issues for the next two scheduled meetings of the Parliamentary Control Panel. The documents suggest that the NSA lists many countries as "third parties," both Germany and neighboring countries, like the Netherlands, Poland and Austria. However, the heads of the German intelligence agencies have repeatedly insisted that they do not support the Americans' surveillance operations. The question remains as to what the codes US-987LA and US-987B signify.

The opposition, at any rate, is sticking to its guns. "None of what Snowden claims has been disproven," says Steffen Bockhahn, a member of the panel for the Left Party. The SPD also hopes to continue to use the scandal to its advantage. "We will not hold back in the election campaign," says Thomas Oppermann, the parliamentary flood leader of the Social Democrats.

SPD chair Sigmar Gabriel has made clear his frustrations over his party's stalled progress in the campaign. Now he wants to use every opportunity to attack Merkel, even though SPD strategists concede that the surveillance scandal is unlikely to drum up voter support for the party.

This is why a growing number of voices in the SPD are now warning against opening up a new theater of operations in the campaign. "We shouldn't act as if the National Security Agency poses the greatest threat to people in Germany," former Interior Minister Otto Schily told SPIEGEL. "In fact, the greatest threat comes from terrorism and organized crime."

Chancellor Merkel knows that the surveillance scandal will be with her until the day of the election. Officials at the Chancellery are well aware that the subject is hotly debated in the Internet community, creating new hope for the Pirate Party. Chancellery head Pofalla plans to testify before the Parliamentary Control Panel again on Aug. 19. He promised lawmakers last Thursday that the US government would provide answers on the surveillance scandal by then.

So far, however, the Americans haven't even confirmed that US intelligence agencies operating on German soil are in compliance with German law, even through the Foreign Ministry is doing its utmost to obtain such assurances.


Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


07/29/2013 04:47 PM

John Podesta on the NSA Scandal: 'We Need Better Oversight'

In a SPIEGEL interview, Obama advisor John Podesta calls Europe's outrage over the NSA spying scandal hypocritical, but says America needs a national debate on surveillance laws too.

SPIEGEL: According to a recent survey, nearly three-quarters of Americans believe National Security Agency (NSA) spying is infringing on their privacy rights. A proposal to restrict such programs failed only by a narrow margin in Congress. Are Americans beginning to fear a surveillance state?

Podesta: We are in uncharted territory, facing rapid technological change that has simply swamped our existing legal regime. The media's focus in recent weeks has circled almost exclusively around Edward Snowden's attempt to earn the world record for longest airport layover. But the focus on Snowden distracts from what is most problematic about the information he provided to the media.

SPIEGEL: And that is?

Podesta: Unlike the last time we had a national conversation about the NSA and domestic surveillance during the days of "warrantless wiretapping" in 2005, a legal framework exists today to support PRISM and the other programs. Therefore, the challenge is not rooted in the NSA overstepping its legal boundaries. Instead, new products and services, increasing processing power, and the decreasing cost of storing huge amounts of data means that surveillance on an unprecedented scale is now not just technologically possible but is also financially feasible for the first time. It is past time for us to begin a new national debate about what we want our surveillance laws to permit, particularly in light of how rapidly technology and society are changing.

SPIEGEL: And you believe that this debate will also continue despite the failed legislative push in Congress?

Podesta: The American people have the right to know and understand the laws they live under. And they tend to demand answers sooner or later. Look at similar debates on targeted drone strikes: We have seen an alliance of leftists and rightists against drones out of fear they might be used for domestic purposes. Obama had to get out there with a public address on his national security policy and he managed to largely quiet these critics. In retrospect, the only question was why he waited so long to give that speech.

SPIEGEL: So you want the President Obama to give a similar speech on spying?

Podesta: He would be well-advised to engage in a public debate. But he should also establish a national commission to examine these challenges in full. Presidential commissions have a long history of thoroughly and impartially investigating many national security issues, from Pearl Harbour to 9/11. The commission should be tasked with offering recommendations for a flexible legal framework that can easily accommodate technological advances while maintaining respect for civil liberties. It could also examine private-sector activities.

SPIEGEL: What activities do you mean?

Podesta: At the same time that new technology is enabling governments to engage in surveillance that once wasn't technologically feasible, consumers are voluntarily disclosing piles of personal data to private corporations -- and these disclosures are governed by those lengthy terms-and-conditions agreements -- the ones where people click the "OK" button without giving it a second thought. Every time we post something about ourselves on Facebook, we're helping that company build a sophisticated profile of us that it uses to sell targeted ads. Meanwhile, our smartphones with built-in GPS technology track our locations and our phone companies and Internet providers collect metadata on every call we make and every person we email. In the United States, court decisions from the pre-Internet days suggest that the information we give away voluntarily to these companies can be obtained fairly easily by the government. That legal rule may have made sense in an age before Facebook and iPhones, but we need a serious examination of whether it still makes sense today.

SPIEGEL: You talk a lot about the rights of Americans. But Europeans are furious that the NSA can spy on them with barely any restrictions.

Podesta: We need better oversight of our surveillance agencies and we need increased transparency at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Surely we can meet our national security needs without sacrificing the respect for personal privacy that has long been a hallmark of American life. The president could quiet some of the international critics if he explained better what the US is doing.

SPIEGEL: Instead you hear in Washington that Europeans are "whiners" and "hypocrites".

Podesta: Well, I agree that European anger is largely hypocritical. Most of the governments there have known for a long time what the US has been doing and they have often cooperated closely and willingly. I understand why leaders in Europe need to speak out against PRISM and other programs, but they still act like hypocrites.

Interview conducted by Gregor Peter Schmitz

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« Reply #7823 on: Jul 30, 2013, 06:17 AM »

July 29, 2013

Mediating as French Culture and Economics Collide


PARIS — Aurélie Filippetti, the granddaughter of an Italian immigrant who worked in France’s coal mines, is finding her own way through the traps and tunnels of austerity and snobbery.

Just 41, a novelist who turned away from the Greens to join the larger Socialist Party, she has survived a tough first year as France’s minister of culture and communication, sitting in a chair once occupied by notables like André Malraux, Françoise Giroud, Jack Lang and most recently, Frédéric Mitterrand, the nephew of the former president.

It was Mr. Lang who said, “economy and culture — it’s the same fight,” and that has never been more true than now, when President François Hollande is struggling, against all the instincts of his Socialist Party, to bring down public spending and government debt.

Given the emotional and economic importance attached to French culture, it has always been a politically delicate job allocating the state’s largess, but it is especially tough to cut it. Ms. Filippetti has lately been deluged with criticism, much of it vague, for lacking leadership, imagination and vision. Mr. Mitterrand, who served in the center-right administration of President Nicolas Sarkozy but whispered to friends that Mr. Hollande would win the presidency, has been particularly harsh.

Ms. Filippetti “has a totally dogmatic approach to culture,” he told the newspaper Le Figaro at the end of June. “I have the sense of a dogmatic grid,” he said, especially in filling key posts at museums and theaters, which he compared to “feudalism.” The Socialists “are in denial of democracy and decide arbitrarily” on projects, Mr. Mitterrand said, while criticizing Ms. Filippetti simultaneously for an obsession with “democratizing” culture, making it more popular, which he likened to the snake in the Garden of Eden.

“The Socialists just don’t have a cultural vision,” he said. “Mr. Hollande is not interested in culture; it’s not in his DNA.”

In response, Ms. Filippetti said she found the accusations “inexplicable” and “a little sad.” It’s politics, she noted, a world of “low blows,” but “it’s a pity that Frédéric Mitterrand acts like that.” She accused him of seeking publicity, saying dismissively: “He’s preparing to launch his next book.”

Controversies over prestigious appointments come with the job. She was criticized, for example, for saying that she preferred to replace Henri Loyrette as head of the Louvre with a woman, suggesting Sylvie Ramond, director of the Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon. In the end, Mr. Hollande chose Jean-Luc Martinez, head of the Louvre’s antiquities department.

And the news media have tended to focus on her youth, her looks, her hair and her dress, and on some explicit sex scenes in her second novel.

In an interview, Ms. Filippetti asserted that she did have a vision of a more representative national culture, one that was less “extravagant,” tried to reach France’s poor and forgotten in the ghetto-like city suburbs and concentrated less on “prestige” projects so beloved by previous French presidents.

“We must radically alter this slightly too extravagant image of cultural policy, to awaken deep within all our regions an attachment to culture and the promotion of culture as a lever of economic attractiveness for our country,” she said.

Culture is an existential need and should be both protected and accessible to everyone, she said, especially given the growing uniformity of choices. “In this hour of globalization many people are lost,” she said. “We can’t find our identity alone in a silent world — it’s culture that allows the world to speak to us.” Why do people love Paris — or Florence or Venice — she asked. “Because when we walk there, the houses, the buildings speak to you.”

In the same vein, she is a fierce defender of France’s “cultural exception” — its system of quotas and subsidies for domestic production — in order to preserve “diversity” and an important French industry. France insists on excluding such subsidies from a proposed European-American free-trade agreement.

Part of the focus on her stems simply from the importance of the ministry she runs, and of the ideology behind it.

The Ministry of Culture, a creation of De Gaulle, is more important to the French than other, more utilitarian departments. Occupying a stunning building near the Louvre and the Palais Royal, the ministry is all about identity, patrimony, self-image and pride. There is an element of salesmanship, too, given how much France cultivates its reputation as a country of civilization, art, dance, cinema, museums and literature.

It is also a significant employer, with some 27,000 staff members and more than 1,200 museums catering to millions of visitors, as well as responsibility for architecture, historical monuments like the Eiffel Tower, libraries, archives, theaters and subsidies to both the printed press and the world of audiovisual entertainment.

State spending on culture fell this year and will go down an additional 2.8 percent in 2014, to an estimated $3.12 billion. “In a period of crisis, when there is high unemployment and we wait for some growth, everyone must participate in the budget effort,” she said.

She has a strategy, she asserted. “Today we must finish completely with this logic of ‘great works,’ of grand extravagant projects” and festivals, she said. All that was fine, even necessary, in the 1980s, she said. But today, “people are on the Internet, they communicate with social media, we don’t have the same needs anymore, and we’re in a period of financial crisis. We’re not at Versailles.”

While making cuts, however, she has tried “to fight inequalities,” keeping financing for the regions, especially for theater and art, “so the budget cuts don’t worsen the imbalance between Paris and the provinces.”

In outlying districts and suburbs, she said, she has emphasized teaching for young people in music and dance, and insisted on promoting “urban cultures.” For example, she said, “I adore hip-hop; I find it truly extraordinary” and praised the singers of “le rap, le slam,” who helped promote the creativity and modernity of the French language. “To defend a language, one has to make it live.”

That was one of the reasons, she said, she canceled a Sarkozy prestige project, a museum of French history. Besides being expensive, she said, “it would have given a completely linear vision, a little monochromatic, of the history of France, which is a pluralist history.”

Instead, she said, she put more money into the museum of immigration. It is “part of the recognition we give to those who live in the quartiers, because they are often of immigrant origin.”

As she is. Her grandfather and father were miners and Communists, and her first novel, “The Last Days of the Working Class,” published in 2003, is set in Lorraine, near where she grew up. Asked why so many in the depressed formerly industrial north have turned to the far right, instead of to the Socialist Party, she said that it was a region that had suffered from deindustrialization and also from history, with two German occupations.

“People really had the impression of being sacrificed, of sacrificing themselves for France, for the reconstruction of the country after the war,” she said.

“It corresponds to a very strong feeling of loss,” she said. With few jobs and weak unions, she said, “there is a very clear sense of abandonment — people find themselves alone.”

They also, she said, feel victimized by “Europe” and immigration. For such economic distress “we need a European response, and that does not exist, and I think there is a bitterness about that.”

Asked as a novelist what the experience of power has been, she said it was difficult to describe “this terrible shock that is the exercise of power.”

“There is a level of violence in interactions that is difficult to explain,” that would require Proust to describe it, she said.

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« Reply #7824 on: Jul 30, 2013, 06:19 AM »

Pakistani Taliban prison attack frees hundreds of inmates

Police say known terrorists are among hundreds set loose in daring raid by 70 militants on Dera Ismail Khan jail

Jason Burke, south Asia correspondent, and agencies, Tuesday 30 July 2013 12.24 BST   

Hundreds of prisoners have been freed by Islamists in Pakistan after a spectacular assault by extremists on a jail in the western city of Dera Ismail Khan.

The attack, at around 11.30pm on Monday, involved one large bomb – so loud it rattled windows miles away – to blow a hole in the jail's walls, followed by a mortar bombardment.

Around 70 gunmen, many dressed in police uniforms, then rushed through the gaps, throwing grenades and firing rocket-propelled grenades, killing six policemen and opening cells to free around 250 prisoners. Authorities said these included 24 wanted terrorists.

The attack, which came on the eve of voting for a new president in the troubled south Asian state, underlines once again the weakness of the Pakistani state and the inability of the country's law and order agencies to maintain security.

One strike last week targeted an office of the main spy agency, the ISI, while another killed more than 50 Shia Muslims. Six Shia Muslim prisoners – the vast majority of Pakistanis are Sunni – were killed in Monday night's assault.

The jail in Dera Ismail Khan, which lies next to Pakistan's restive semi-autonomous tribal areas, was heavily guarded. Many of the high-profile prisoners who escaped belong to the violent sectarian group Lashkar-e-Jangvi. A curfew has now been imposed and army units deployed.

One policeman said he had been rushing to the scene when he was challenged by two young boys holding rifles. "They told me to stop," Gul Mohammed said. "I told them I am a policeman, and that's when they opened fire." He added that he was shot three times.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, a coalition of local extremist groups, claimed responsibility for the attack. Eight of the attackers wore suicide vests, and two detonated their explosives, the spokesman told Associated Press by telephone from an undisclosed location.

The Pakistani Taliban have also claimed responsibility for the two attacks earlier this week and for the shootings of 10 mountaineers at base camp on a famous peak, Nanga Parbat, last month.

Hopes that the election of a new government, led by third-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, might lead to less violence, have been dashed. Some analysts have suggested that the ambivalent position taken towards the Taliban by some high-profile Pakistani politicians might have emboldened them.

Imran Khan, the former cricketer turned conservative prime ministerial candidate, has said that carrying out negotiations with the extremists is the only way to end violence in the restive western border zones. The attack also demonstrates the close links between the Pakistani Taliban and local sectarian groups.
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« Reply #7825 on: Jul 30, 2013, 06:24 AM »

July 29, 2013

Cambodian Opposition Rejects Election Results


PHNOM PENH — Cambodia faces a volatile and possibly prolonged political standoff after leaders of the opposition said on Monday that they rejected the preliminary results of Sunday’s election and accused the authoritarian government of Prime Minister Hun Sen of large-scale cheating to achieve a relatively narrow victory.

With a number of monitoring organizations describing widespread voting irregularities, Sam Rainsy, the leader of the newly energized opposition, said at a news conference that the party would seek help from foreign and Cambodian election experts to decide whether to call for a recount or new elections.

“We will not accept the result — we cannot accept the result,” he said. “The party in power cannot ignore us anymore.”

Mr. Sam Rainsy had initially announced a victory after the polls closed on Sunday but retracted his claim.

Mr. Hun Sen’s party, the Cambodian People’s Party, issued a statement late Sunday saying that preliminary results “clearly showed” that it had “won a victory,” and that the party had sufficient numbers to establish a new government.

But the results were the poorest showing for the governing party since 1998. The Cambodian People’s Party won 55 percent of the 123 seats in the National Assembly, according to the party’s Web site — a relatively narrow victory, and down from 73 percent of the seats in the last election, in 2008. Analysts said voter turnout was about 70 percent.

Mr. Hun Sen, 60, has been in power for 28 years, and the election on Sunday was one of the most closely contested of his career.

Kem Sokha, the vice president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, said an opposition victory was still possible.

“We have a chance to win,” Mr. Kem Sokha said. “It’s never been this close in our history.”

He appeared to issue a veiled threat to the government, saying he feared that “Cambodian people who don’t like the result will rise up and make chaos.”

The governing party’s statement on Sunday included an “appeal to all Cambodians to keep calm, maintain stability, security and good social order.” The opposition made a similar appeal for calm on Sunday after two police trucks were destroyed by protesters.

Phnom Penh was quiet on Monday, but some streets were shut by security forces, including the one leading to Mr. Hun Sen’s residence. The opposition won a majority of the votes in the capital, according to the preliminary results.

The Cambodia National Rescue Party was founded last year through a merger of Mr. Sam Rainsy’s party — named for him — and another group, and it has given the opposition a unified voice. It also effectively means that Cambodia has a two-party system for the first time since multiparty democracy was restored in the 1990s.

Mr. Sam Rainsy, who said the party had calculated that 1.2 million to 1.3 million would-be voters had been omitted from voter rolls, called for the creation of a special committee to deal with irregularities and to decide whether new balloting or recounting was necessary. He proposed that the committee include members of both parties, as well as independent election observers, both Cambodian and foreign, and that the committee finish its work before Aug. 31.

“We acknowledge that there were irregularities,” said Thun Saray, the president of the board of directors of Comfrel, a Cambodian election monitoring organization. He said there were many reports of duplicates in the voter rolls that appeared to have allowed more than one vote per person.

A survey by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, an American organization that promotes elections, found that at 60 percent of polling stations, citizens with adequate, valid documentation were turned away. And in a quarter of the polling stations, people were allowed to vote without a valid ID.

“The overall picture is both disenfranchisement, illegal voting and sporadic chaos at the polls,” said Laura Thornton, the head of the institute’s Cambodia office. “There needs to be an independent investigation into these irregularities.” She described the opposition’s proposal for a committee to investigate the election results as "reasonable.”

But analysts were also waiting for clearer signals from Mr. Hun Sen, who kept a low profile on Monday.

To his supporters, Mr. Hun Sen is a benefactor who has brought stability to the country. With help from the Vietnamese in 1979, he helped drive out the Khmer Rouge, whose genocidal policies led to the deaths of 1.7 million Cambodians.

But after the withdrawal of the Vietnamese and after United Nations-backed elections in 1993, Mr. Hun Sen accumulated unrivaled power and authority. Partly through effective control of the Khmer-language news media and the co-opting of the police, the army and business elites, his party has won every election since 1998.

Poypiti Amatatham contributed reporting.

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« Reply #7826 on: Jul 30, 2013, 06:27 AM »

India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
July 29, 2013, 8:23 am

After the Delhi Rape, Small Victories for Women in India’s Popular Culture


There are few better places to advertise products of mass appeal than the back of an auto-rickshaw. In the recent past, we have seen the gainful surface being used to sell, among other things, CDs of the self-help superstar Shiv Khera and books of the popular fiction phenomenon Chetan Bhagat.

Currently in Delhi, rickshaw rears are collectively employed by the Aam Aadmi Party to challenge the Delhi government about the safety of women. To make its point, the party is using posters that show angry protesters clashing with an impatient police in front of the India Gate. It may upset us to see the opportunistic party channel a public revolt it had nothing to do with, but Arvind Kejriwal, the party’s leader, has his eye on elections to Delhi’s assembly, and if earlier it was India Gate that represented the capital, now — as endorsed by no lesser authority than Bollywood — it’s water cannons at India Gate.

It is true that we needed a more realistic symbol for Delhi, with its well-known divides of power and resistance, than the stately monument. But is it our popular culture’s only contribution to “change” seven months after the horrific gang rape of a girl in Delhi jolted the national consciousness awake?

As everyone agreed in the crime’s wake, popular culture had a lot to account for. Furiously, advertisements, soap operas and popular cinema were scanned for signs of patriarchy and the respective industries were urged to be more responsible in their message. There are a number of ways in which the cultural establishment has since responded — consciously or not — revealing an enormous lot about both the scope and limits of our mainstream imagination.

In February, Gillette, a brand of shaving products known for its masculine appeal, released an ad that asked men to find the soldier in them — not to protect the country but to protect its women, because “when you respect women you respect the nation.” In March, Tata Tea’s socially conscious Jaago Re campaign got Shah Rukh Khan to pledge to run the female actor’s name above his own in film credits, because “auratein mardon se upar honi chahiye.” [“Women should be above men.”]

Also in March, Farhan Akhtar, an actor, director and film producer, kicked off an initiative called Men Against Rape and Discrimination, or M.A.R.D., which not-so-coincidentally is the Urdu word for “man”; the A in its logo resembled an upward-turned mustache as worn by many Rajputs. Through merchandise and concerts and an emotional poem by Javed Akhtar evoking terms like “aadar” (reverence), “izzat” (honor), “samman” (respect) and “suraksha” (protection), M.A.R.D. approached its objective exactly like most other popular interventions for better gender relations, which is by pushing chivalry on men, and not freedom, choice and equality for women.

It is even more ironic that their approach is the same as that of the conventional Bollywood film, where the hero’s masculinity is established through his ability to protect the women around him, and his hopelessness through the failure to do so. Ever since we started to see the male actor as hero, with no small contribution from Mr. Akhtar, the legendary scriptwriter, an Indian man has only been considered a mard if the women close to him could roam free without fear.

Even in a film as recent as “Singham” (2011), the title character’s machismo is revealed through his flattening with bare hands a bunch of goons who dared to bother the girl with him, after which he strides toward her with an inflated chest to return to her the ceremonial dupatta. Since what we need is for women to be able to roam freely, without needing male protection — whether in the form of a person or police — perhaps it is time to show them as doing so in the movies.

If it’s not easy to expect radical change from television in general, considering it is structured around the idea of routine, it’s nearly unreasonable to demand it of the current Indian programming. And it was without any expectation, or grand purpose, that on June 3 the popular Hindi entertainment channel Zee released “Connected Hum Tum,” a weekly prime-time reality show where six women in Mumbai – a radio host, a dentist who is also belly dancer, a brand manager, an aspiring actress, a corporate trainer and an activist for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights — take us, through self-handled mini cameras, inside their uniquely complex lives. Directed by Paromita Vohra, who has earlier made films about public toilets and gender identity, urban feminism and moral policing, “Connected Hum Tum” promised to show us “what being a woman in the year 2013 is all about.”

Preeti Kochar, the dentist-belly dancer, deals with her two conflicting careers on the one hand and troubles with mother-in-law on the other; Sonal Giani, the L.G.B.T. activist, is anxious about the hesitation of her partner, Jaanu, in validating their relationship; Pallavi Barman, the radio jockey, is reluctant to leave her imperfect but professionally fulfilling job to join her husband’s business as a glorified nobody. The show neither represents the majority of Indian women nor their dominant set of concerns, but what it does is present a painstakingly nuanced view of the worlds of its participants. And that’s why it’s important: in revealing how wildly complicated the lives of six randomly chosen women in one city are, it hints at how ignorant we are about the lives of those left out.

Later in June came “Raanjhanaa,” the film that has taken the debate about the links between popular culture and social norms back to its very basic: should the entertainment media really care? The movie is the story, set in Benares, of a man’s obsessive one-sided love for a woman, which wrecks the lives of everyone who gets sucked into it, including both of them. Although an instant hit, it has been criticized for making a hero of a man who, among other objectionable things, stalks the woman through most of the storyline.

“A man who won’t take ‘no’ for an answer ought to be an unlikely hero in this era of anti-rape protests,” wrote Lakshmi Chaudhry in one such assessment on Firstpost. In March, stalking was recognized as a crime at the recommendation of the Justice Verma Committee, set up a week after the gang rape to strengthen laws concerning sexual crimes against women.

Those associated with the film see it very differently. The director, Aanand L. Rai, claimed that in small towns stalking was not considered offensive, but seen as a sign of true love. In an elaborate defense of the film in The Hindu newspaper, Swara Bhaskar, a supporting actor, backed Mr. Rai’s view, insisting that the characters in “Raanjhanaa” behave just as people from its milieu (“largely socially conservative, patriarchal world of small-town India”) are wont to. Ms. Bhaskar also stressed that, contrary to the reading of a section of critics, the lead character’s actions weren’t glorified but shown as flawed, like that of a tragic male protagonist who hurts the very woman he loves. His “naïve innocence” rendered him endearing in her view.

It is a smooth argument, and one could be tempted to believe in the idea of naïve obsession and imagine a large gap between that and actual threat – but the problem is that the movie itself presents no such distinction between the two. Having grown up in small towns and in a culture where love was often expressed through following around its target, it is hard even for me to see something like a man’s threat to slit the wrist of a woman if she dared love someone else as usual small-town business.

It is equally difficult to interpret the male protagonist as flawed after the movie changes course in the second half, and he is shown as having shaken the political establishment in the capital by taking over a party of student revolutionaries fighting for rights of the dispossessed, like the farmers of Bhatta-Parsaul. Before dying a heroic death that makes the viewer blame the girl’s rejection of his love for his fate (“Now who wants to get up again? Who wants to make an effort to love, and have his heart broken?” he thinks aloud after collapsing), he even leads a crowd of protesters at India Gate in the face of a lathi-wielding, water cannon-firing police.

Yes, things have a long way to go.

Snigdha Poonam is Arts Editor at The Caravan. She is on Twitter at@snigdhapoonam

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« Reply #7827 on: Jul 30, 2013, 06:30 AM »

Middle East peace talks under way

Negotiations begin in earnest, with Obama and Kerry praising Israeli-Palestinian summit but warning of big challenges

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem and Paul Lewis in Washington, Tuesday 30 July 2013 06.57 BST      

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are beginning intensive talks in Washington on Tuesday aimed at reviving the moribund Middle East peace process amid warnings that this could be the last chance to reach an agreement to end the historic conflict.

As the two teams met on Monday evening for an iftar meal hosted by the US secretary of state, John Kerry, to mark the end of the Ramadan fast, the preliminary talks were welcomed in the first formal, albeit cautious, statement from President Barak Obama since the two sides agreed 10 days ago to sit down together.

"This is a promising step forward, though hard work and hard choices remain ahead," Obama said. "The most difficult work of these negotiations is ahead and I am hopeful that both the Israelis and Palestinians will approach these talks in good faith and with sustained focus and determination."

US sponsorship of the renewed talks, along with Kerry's personal drive and commitment, has been a critical factor in persuading the two sides to meet. Obama stressed that the US "stands ready to support them throughout these negotiations".

Tuesday's preliminary talks will focus on the remit, scope, location and timeframe of formal negotiations. If sufficient progress is made Kerry hopes to be able to announce the first face to face meeting between the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanayhu, and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, for almost three years.

Both sides have agreed to refrain from making public comments on the substance of the talks. However Abbas said in Cairo that a final agreement between the two sides must include a total Israeli military and civilian withdrawal from the territory of a future Palestinian state.

"In a final resolution we would not see the presence of a single Israeli – civilian or soldier – on our lands," Abbas said in a media briefing.

Israel has previously said it wants to keep a military presence in the Jordan Valley to create a security buffer between a Palestinian state and neighbouring Jordan.

Any formal negotiations that follow Tuesday's talks are expected to focus initially on the issue of borders. The Palestinians and the US want the pre-1967 line to be the basis for negotiations, with agreed land swaps to compensate for deviations. Israel has so far refused to commit to this.

Other, even more difficult, issues – such as the future of Jerusalem, which both sides want as a capital, and whether any of the 4.9m Palestinian refugees can return to their former homes, now in Israel – would have to be addressed over the coming months.

Obama's statement on Monday warmly endorsed Kerry's choice of Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel, as the US "envoy" during the talks, saying he brought "unique experience and insight to this role".

In announcing Indyk's appointment Kerry said: "He knows what has worked and he knows what hasn't worked. And he knows how important it is to get this right."

The secretary of state added: "Going forward it is no secret that this is a difficult process – if it was easy it would have happened a long time ago. It's no secret therefore that many difficult choices therefore lie ahead for the negotiators, and for the leaders, and as we seek reasonable compromises on tough, complicated, emotional and symbolic issues."

Indyk, a fellow at the Brookings Institution policy thinktank, said the objective of the talks was eventually to allow for "two states living side by side in peace and security". He described the goal as a "daunting and humbling challenge".

Indyk will be assisted by Frank Lowenstein, a former Senate foreign relations committee chief of staff who has aided Kerry in recent months in his concerted effort to persuade Israel and the Palestinians to get around the table, and Philip Gordon, a senior White House official.

The Israeli negotiating team is led by justice minister Tzipi Livni plus prime ministerial aide Isaac Molcho. Veteran negotiator Saeb Erekat is leading for the Palestinians, assisted by Mohammed Shtayyeh.

Tuesday's talks are expected to resume as early as 8am and conclude in the afternoon. The state department has described the meeting as "an opportunity to develop a procedural workplan for how the parties can proceed with the negotiations in the coming months".

Jen Psaki, the department's spokeswoman, said that both sides had agreed to a "timetable" of nine months, although she stressed it was "not a deadline".

She added: "Time is not our ally, which is why we are working so hard on this issue now. As time passes, the situation on the ground becomes more complicated. Mistrust deepens and hardens, and the conflict becomes even harder to resolve. It allows vacuums to be filled by bad actors who want to undermine our efforts."

A hurdle to the negotiators' meeting was cleared on Sunday when the Israeli cabinet agreed to release 104 long-term Palestinian prisoners , a decision which was highly controversial in Israel.
The first of four groups of prisoners are expected to be released shortly before Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan next week. The rest will be freed at staged intervals over the next nine months, assuming progress is made in negotiations.

Kerry referred to the "courage" of leaders in both Israel and Palestine overcoming reservations about the talks. He said of Netanyahu and Abbas: "I salute both of them for their willingness to make difficult decisions and to advocate within their own countries and with their own leadership teams."

Kerry then corrected himself: "Countries – the Palestinian territories," he said. It is the second time in the space of a week that Kerry has inadvertently referred to the Palestinian territory as a "country".

Kerry said it had taken "many hours and many trips" to resume the talks between the negotiating teams, which were on flights to Washington.

"I know the negotiations are going to be tough," he said. "But I also know that the consequences of not trying could be worse."


Former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk to oversee talks with Palestinians

John Kerry announced Indyk's appointment Monday morning, just hours before the 'tough' negotiations were to begin

Paul Lewis in Washington, Monday 29 July 2013 22.07 BST   

The US secretary of state John Kerry said on Monday that "tough" peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine will be faciliated by a former US ambassador to Israel.

Kerry said that Martin Indyk, president Bill Clinton's ambassador to Israel, had a deep appreciation of the Middle East conflict and the "art" of American diplomacy in the region, and would now serve as the US "envoy" during the talks.

"He knows what has worked, and he knows what hasn't worked," said Kerry, with Indyk stood by his side. "And he knows how important it is to get this right."

Kerry was speaking at the state department just hours before hosting an opening dinner between the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Washington, for the start of two days of talks.

"Going forward, it is no secret that this is a difficult process – if it was easy it would have happened a long time ago," he said. "It's no secret therefore that many difficult choices therefore lie ahead for the negotiators, and for the leaders, and as we seek reasonable compromises on tough, complicated, emotional and symbolic issues."

He added: "I think 'reasonable compromises' has to be a keystone for all of this effort."

Indyk, a fellow at the Brookings Institution policy think-tank, said the objective of the talks was eventually to allow for "two states, living side by side, in peace and security". He described the goal as a "daunting and humbling challenge".

Indyk will be assisted by Frank Lowenstein, a former Senate foreign relations committee chief of staff who has aided Kerry in recent months in his concerted effort to persuade Palestine and Israel to get around the table, and Philip Gordon, a senior White House official.

The agreement to rekindle the negotiation process was brokered on Sunday, after the Israeli cabinet agreed to release 104 long-term Palestinian prisoners. Kerry has made peace talks between Israel and Palestine a priority. Since February, he has flown to the region six times in search of a deal.

At 8pm on Monday, the talks will begin with the Israeli justice minister, Tzipi Livni, and Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, breaking the Ramadan fast at the private dinner, hosted by Kerry.

Negotiations will resume on Tuesday, as early as 8am, and should be concluded by the early afternoon. The talks are expected to cover only preliminary discussions, focusing on the location, remit and scope of further negotiations. Many observers are doubtful whether the negotiations will result in the kind of agreement that has eluded the sides for years.

The State Department has described the meeting as "an opportunity to develop a procedural workplan for how the parties can proceed with the negotiations in the coming months".

Jen Psaki, the department's spokeswoman, said that both sides had agreed to a "timetable" of nine months, although she stressed it was "not a deadline".

She added: "Time is not our ally, which is why we are working so hard on this issue now. As time passes, the situation on the ground becomes more complicated. Mistrust deepens and hardens, and the conflict becomes even harder to resolve. It allows vacuums to be filled by bad actors who want to undermine our efforts."

The decision to release the Palestinian prisoners has proved highly controversial in Israel. The first of four groups of prisoners is expected to be released shortly before Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan next week.

The rest will be freed at staged intervals over the next nine months, assuming progress is made in negotiations.

Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, told his cabinet over the weekend: "This moment is not easy for me. It is not easy for the ministers. It is not easy especially for the families, the bereaved families, whose heart I understand. But there are moments in which tough decisions must be made for the good of the country and this is one of those moments.

On Saturday he issued an "open letter to the citizens of Israel", which said "prime ministers from time to time make decisions that go against public opinion, when it is important for the country to do so".

Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, welcomed the Israeli decision, but said it was "an overdue step".

Kerry referred to the "courage" of leaders in both Israel and Palestine overcoming reservations about the talks. He said of Netanyahu and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: "I salute both of them for their willingness to make difficult decisions and to advocate within their own countries and with their own leadership teams."

Kerry then corrected himself: "Countries – the Palestinian territories," he said. It is the second time in the space of a week that Kerry has inadvertently referred to the Palestinian territory as a "country".

Kerry said it had taken "many hours and many trips" to resume the talks between the negotiating teams, which were on flights to Washington.

"I know the negotiations are going to be tough," he said. "But I also know that the consequences of not trying could be worse."

As Kerry and Indyk left the briefing, a reporter shouted: "What is different this time round?" Kerry turned, clasped his hands, and said: "We'll be talking to you going forward."

The White House did not rule out the chief negotiators meet with president Barack Obama when in Washington. Obama was scheduled to discuss the talks with Kerry on Monday.

"I am pleased that ambassador Martin Indyk will lead the US negotiating team as US special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations," Obama said in a statement.

"Ambassador Indyk brings unique experience and insight to this role, which will allow him to contribute immediately as the parties begin down the tough, but necessary, path of negotiations."

Obama said that his visit to the Middle East in March "reinforced my belief that peace is both possible and necessary". He added: "The most difficult work of these negotiations is ahead, and I am hopeful that both the Israelis and Palestinians will approach these talks in good faith and with sustained focus and determination."

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« Reply #7828 on: Jul 30, 2013, 06:35 AM »

Egypt restores feared secret police units

Military-backed government seems to have no intent of reforming practices that characterised both Mubarak and Morsi eras

Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
The Guardian, Monday 29 July 2013 20.44 BST   

Egypt's interim government was accused of attempting to return the country to the Mubarak era on Monday, after the country's interior ministry announced the resurrection of several controversial police units that were nominally shut down following the country's 2011 uprising and the interim prime minister was given the power to place the country in a state of emergency.

Egypt's state security investigations service, Mabahith Amn ad-Dawla, a wing of the police force under President Mubarak, and a symbol of police oppression, was supposedly closed in March 2011 – along with several units within it that investigated Islamist groups and opposition activists. The new national security service (NSS) was established in its place.

But following Saturday's massacre of at least 83 Islamists, interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim announced the reinstatement of the units, and referred to the NSS by its old name. He added that experienced police officers sidelined in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution would be brought back into the fold.

Police brutality also went unchecked under Morsi, who regularly failed to condemn police abuses committed during his presidency. But Ibrahim's move suggests he is using the ousting of Morsi – and a corresponding upsurge in support for Egypt's police – as a smokescreen for the re-introduction of pre-2011 practices.

Ibrahim's announcement came hours before Egypt's interim prime minister was given the power to place the country in a state of emergency – a hallmark of Egypt under Mubarak.

"It's a return to the Mubarak era," said Aida Seif el-Dawla, a prominent Egyptian human rights activist, and the executive director of a group that frequently supports victims of police brutality, the Nadeem centre for rehabilitation of victims of violence and torture.

"These units committed the most atrocious human rights violations," said el-Dawla. "Incommunicado detentions, killings outside the law. Those were the [units] that managed the killing of Islamists during the 1990s. It's an ugly authority that has never been brought to justice."

Karim Ennarah, a researcher on criminal justice and policing at the Egyptian initiative for personal rights (EIPR), said the units were never disbanded. But he said that Ibrahim may be using the current support for the police as a excuse for their public rehabilitation.

"These units for monitoring political groups are not back. They never went anywhere in the first place," said Ennarah. "The only thing that happened was that they changed the name. He's trying to use a situation where the factors on the ground make it easier to re-legitimise these units and police practices."

"Basically, nothing changed at state security [in 2011] except for the name," said Heba Morayef, Egypt director at Human Rights Watch. "So what is significant is that [Ibrahim] could announce this publicly. That would have been unthinkable in 2011. This kind of monitoring of political activity was considered one of the major ills of the Mubarak era. So the fact that he has come out and said this now reflects a new confidence on behalf of the interior ministry. They feel they have been returned to their pre-2011 status."

Hatred of the police was a major cause of the 2011 revolution, while their reform was one of its implicit demands. But the police's obvious enthusiasm for Morsi's fall has helped to rehabilitate them in the eyes of many. Uniformed officers were seen carrying anti-Morsi propaganda in the run-up to his departure, while police failed to protect the offices of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood.

Many policemen even marched against Morsi, and at some anti-Morsi rallies protesters chanted: "The police and the people are one hand."

On Friday, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians filled streets across the country to show their backing for the army and the police – after General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the army chief who forced Morsi from office on 3 July, asked for their backing to fight what he termed as terrorism. Ibrahim's announcement the next day hinted that he felt he had implicit public support for a crackdown on not just terrorists but religious and secular activism of all kinds.

"Our pride is back," one middle-ranking Cairo-based police officer told the Guardian, adding that state security's notorious treatment of detainees was reasonable given that, in his view, the detainees were unlikely to be innocent.

"Ninety per cent of the people I'm dealing with are guilty – so I will not deal with them nicely. I have to be tough, I have to be rough. And that's how state security behave – because 99% of the people they are dealing with are guilty.

"If you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear. The only people who should fear are the guilty ones – the ones who steal, the ones who kill, the ones who do deals with other countries. Like Morsi, who dealt with Hamas – and who wanted to sell Sinai to America," the officer added, referring to as-yet-unproven allegations that ex-president Morsi colluded with Palestinian Islamist group Hamas during the 2011 uprising.

While the police and army enjoy widespread support among the millions of Egyptians who called for Morsi's overthrow, a few Morsi opponents have refused to back the army's renewed involvement in politics, and the corresponding return to favour of the police.

A new protest movement called the Third Square has begun to assemble in a square in west Cairo – rejecting the authoritarianism of both the army and Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, and calling for a return to the true democratic values of the 2011 revolution. "Down with the Murshid [the Brotherhood's leader], down with military rule. No to the killers in state security," chanted around 75 Third Square protesters on Sunday night.

"We are here to complete the January 2011 revolution, to break down Mubarak's system," said Mahmoud Omar, a doctor. "We need to start a new democracy in Egypt. The Brotherhood model took us away from the revolution's goals – while we already had 60 years of living under the military." Mohamed Sobhi, another protester, added: "They are two sides of the same coin."


07/29/2013 06:40 PM

Revolution Redux: Political Stability Eludes Polarized Egypt

By Erich Follath

Amid renewed turbulence, Egyptian politics are at a critical turning point. With opposing movements at loggerheads over the country's next government, much is at stake for future generations, the Middle East and even the rest of the world.

Last Friday saw nationalist fervor and Islamist frenzy sweep through Cairo on a wave of whispered intrigue and paranoia. In a dramatic showdown combining elements of William Shakespeare and Dan Brown, tens of thousands of people gathered in Cairo's Nasr City district, a poor neighborhood with a large concentration of Muslim Brotherhood supporters. They carried signs criticizing "the betrayal" of former President Mohammed Morsi, their hero, who they claim was "wrongfully removed from office" and is now a "martyr" languishing in custody. For them, there is still only one solution to all of Egypt's problems: religion. "Islam will show us the way!" and "Down with the traitors from the military!" they chant.

They reserved particular rage for the arrest warrant against the deposed president. According to the warrant, Morsi could face treason charges for allegedly collaborating with the Palestinian group Hamas to "execute hostile acts." For his supporters in Nasr City, the claims are spurious.

Meanwhile on Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, a crowd of more than 100,000 anti-Morsi demonstrators gathered who accuse the former president of failing miserably and view his removal from office as the consummation of the Egyptian revolution. Their aim is a democratic new beginning and an economic recovery, supported by the powers of yesterday, the military leaders who helped keep Egypt's autocratic rulers in power for more than four decades.

"The army and the people go hand in hand! The Islamists are our undoing!" chanted the demonstrators, while every half hour, Egyptian television stations interrupted their Friday programming to broadcast the message of solidarity against the Muslim Brotherhood being preached by the generals and the transitional government.

By Monday, at least 72 people were killed during the clashes in Cairo, Egypt's health ministry said, also reporting that nine others had died in violence in Egypt's second largest city, Alexandria, putting the toll in two days of unrest at 81.

While Morsi's supporters said security forces had opened fire on unarmed protesters, the interior ministry insisted that only tear gas was used and blamed the clashes on Islamists.

Urgent Questions

Egypt, the most important country in the Arab world, is at a critical turning point, as it faces the question of whether the military, radical religious forces or liberals will gain the upper hand and assume control of the country. But for future generations in Egypt, the Middle East and even the rest of the world, there is much more at stake. Will millions of demonstrators, using the power of the street, decide on the country's form of government, or will it be up to the parliament and the representative institutions put into office by elections? What role will the Islamists play? Are the contradictions between the Koran and democracy insurmountable, and is violence a necessary component in solving these conflicts?

These are urgent questions that Muslims must confront. But the West, too, must take a position on whether and how it wishes to influence these processes. A look at the Arab past offers little reason for optimism.

Twenty-two years ago, Algeria experienced a highly fraught election campaign that pitted liberals against supporters of the military, and leftists against nationalists. But within the group that eventually won the country's 1991 election, the vote was extremely controversial. Although the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) captured 47 percent of votes in the first round of the election, the victors never formed a government. Instead, there was a military coup, a violation of the constitution to which the West lent its tacit support. The men from the radical wing of the FIS were triumphant. Democracy means compromise, and because they believed that only the faithful are in possession of the truth, compromise was impossible. They concluded that their place in society was in the underground, and that it was from there that they would disseminate the teachings that would lead to Algeria's salvation. Some FIS leaders were arrested, while others organized an illegal resistance movement. Many chose terror, to which the generals responded in kind. More than 100,000 people died in the ensuing conflict.

It is now more than 18 months since Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood joined forces with liberals and leftists on Tahrir Square, bringing down the military-backed, authoritarian region of then President Hosni Mubarak. A democratic conflict to win the favor of Egyptians ensued. Peace, justice and jobs were at the forefront, while religion seemingly played only a secondary role.

The Muslim Brotherhood seemed to be on the path to becoming a "normal" party, liberated from its early tendencies to engage in fundamental opposition. Not surprisingly, its behavior triggered outrage from Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian doctor and member of the Muslim Brotherhood at the beginning of his career, who later succeeded Osama bin Laden as the head of the al-Qaida terrorist organization. Zawahiri criticized the Muslim Brotherhood for what he called its "treasonous" acceptance of the "rules of the West." In June 2012, Zawahiri seemed to have ended up on the losing side of history. The Muslim Brotherhood had won the runoff election, and Morsi became Egypt's first democratically elected president. The West applauded. The military remained in its barracks, and the divided liberal forces initially accepted the fundamentalist Morsi as president.

Streetocracy Rules

At his inauguration, Morsi promised to be the "president of all Egyptians," and yet what followed was a disaster. He had an Islamic constitution drafted, his supporters temporarily blocked the country's independent Supreme Constitutional Court, and journalists critical of the Morsi government were persecuted. His opponents likened his behavior to that of a modern-day pharaoh. Most of all, however, he destroyed the country's already deeply ailing economy through sheer incompetence.

Popular opposition began to take shape. On the anniversary of Morsi's presidency, hundreds of thousands flooded into public squares in Egypt's major cities, and 22 million people signed a petition by the Tamarod grassroots movement calling for Morsi to resign, which he ignored. On July 3, the military removed the failed elected president from office and placed him under house arrest in an undisclosed location.

"We had no other choice," Nobel Peace Prize winner and current Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei said in a SPIEGEL interview three weeks ago. It was a popular coup, and most people in Egypt and the West were enthusiastic, or at least relieved. But it was a coup nonetheless, despite all semantic contortions by those with liberal leanings, who sought to reframe the events as a "second revolution." Everyone must have realized that the Islamists would now mobilize their own supporters, who still represent about a quarter of Egyptian society.

Currently, the only decisive question in Egyptian politics revolves around who is capable of bringing the largest number of people into the streets. The crowds supporting one side seek to shout down the crowds supporting the other, creating a conflict that is little more than a village brawl devoid of content, a form of government the Twitter community is called "Streetocracy."

And, once again, it is apparent that free elections or the right of assembly are not the primary elements of a democracy, but rather the checks and balances among functioning institutions. Erudite, worldly thinkers like ElBaradei hope that they will be able to send the soldiers back to their barracks, and the constitution promised by the generals has awakened cautious hope. But skepticism is very much in order.

At the end of last week, army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the new strongman in Cairo, called for mass rallies in Cairo against "terrorism," an indirect reference to the Muslim Brotherhood. Perhaps part of his plan was also to create a justification for new emergency laws. The overwhelmingly favorable press Sissi is currently receiving at home and abroad has glossed over the fact that, for example, he was responsible for the unspeakable "virginity tests" performed on young female protesters taken into custody in 2011. It is also not at all clear who is currently responsible for more egregious acts of terror.

The Islamists repeatedly engaged in provocative acts after being ousted from power, attacking police stations and advocating acts of murder. But according to research by both Human Rights Watch and the British newspaper The Guardian, the military was responsible for the worst bloodbath. In the early morning hours of July 8, soldiers shot into a crowd in front of the Republican Guard officers' club in Cairo, killing 54 demonstrators, most of them Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

The Need for Compromise

To defuse the situation, both the army and the Islamists would have to be willing to accept compromises. But the Islamists believe that Islam is the solution, while the military sees itself as the solution. Egypt's armed forces are traditionally interested in only one thing: maintaining stability in the country, by whatever means necessary, to ensure that they can continue to pursue their business interests. The military is by far the largest economic power in the country. It controls hotels and gas stations, and it produces most consumer goods. In Germany, it would be inconceivable for German soldiers to be packaging noodles or assembling TV screens in factories on military property, but it's a reality in Egypt. Anyone who interferes with the military's self-service operation is quickly swept out of the way. And as if it needed to prove its role as a state within a state, members of the military are not allowed to vote in Egypt. They are seen as being above the fray.

The Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand, is more of a state outside the state. Its members are not permitted to hold positions in the military or the police force, both traditionally secular institutions. Most have probably never truly accepted democracy and are now refusing to back away from their unbending demand that Morsi be reinstated. They like to see themselves in the role of martyrs and are spurred on by groups affiliated with al-Qaida, like the Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia. "When will the Muslim Brotherhood finally wake up from its deep sleep and realize how pointless the effort to change a society through institutions is?" the terrorists tweeted.

But it is impossible to run a country on the totalitarian principle that Islam is the answer to all questions, and that anyone who thinks otherwise must toe the party line. Seen in this light, religion and democracy are truly incompatible, as are military rule and democracy.

Turkey seemed to present a promising model of how faith and governance could be reconciled. The Islamist-conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP), led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, won several free elections, presided over an astonishing economic boom and at least partially allowed a free press. That was until Erdogan decided to essentially put an end to this experiment, had his security forces beat up protesters, persecuted journalists and severely curtailed civil liberties.

In Iran, where the Shiite theocracy has ruined the economy, the mullahs are despised as corrupt and incompetent. In Saudi Arabia, the Sunni Al Saud royal family, guardians of Islam's most sacred holy places in Mecca and Medina, faces a cynical youth that detests the opulent lives of the princes. In the Gaza Strip, residents are becoming increasingly critical of the ruling fundamentalist Hamas agitators.

Political Islam on the Decline

Political Islam, long feared as a counter-ideology in the West, is undoubtedly on the decline. In Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, a second prominent leftist liberal politician and opponent of the ruling Islamist Ennahda party, Mohammed Brahmi, was murdered last Thursday, raising questions of whether it was a deliberate provocation by the especially radical Salafists for not having a seat at the political table. On Friday, tens of thousands took to the streets in a general strike, and at least one protester died. There are some indications that what happened in Egypt is repeating itself in Tunisia, where an elected but incompetent Islamist regime is being ousted from power by crowds of protesters in the streets.

This is no reason to rejoice, because where Islamism has, at least formally, submitted to the rules of democracy, it was combatted with means that were not always democratic.

In Algeria, the Islamists were not allowed to come into power in the first place, and in Egypt they were ousted in a coup after being in office for one year. The fact that this happened is a tragedy. It strengthened all of the ultra-radicals, enabling them to draw attention away from their responsibilities. Perhaps the impatient, all those who felt the need to unleash a "second revolution" with the power of the street, will realize that it would have been better to allow the Muslim Brotherhood -- severely weakened in all opinion polls -- to finish their term in office and then hand them a crushing defeat in the next election.

"So far, we have proven only one thing: that we can overthrow regimes," said one of the few self-critical demonstrators on Tahrir Square. Being constructive is a different matter altogether. And what if the next government, despite good intentions, fails in the Herculean task of providing adequate jobs for the roughly 40 percent of Egypt's youth that are unemployed? Will there be more massive protests, only to be repeated a year later and be followed by another coup?

The West should set conditions for cooperation with the Egyptian military, such as the immediate release of senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and constitutional, transparent trials of those who incited violence. It should also demand an investigation of the brutal attacks committed by soldiers, especially the massacres on July 8. Until then, all economic aid and arms shipments should be suspended.

The United States government took a modest stab in this direction last week when it placed the delivery of four modern fighter jets to the Egyptian military on hold. And the German government, to its credit, is calling for fair treatment of the Islamists. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called the coup a "setback for democracy."

Most of the demonstrators in Egypt, regardless of which side they are on, are opposed to Western intervention. They are citizens of a deeply divided, polarized nation, either devoted fans of the Muslim Brotherhood or its hate-filled opponents. The arrest warrant against former President Morsi is valid for 15 days, at which point his fate may already have been decided: an indictment for serious crimes, house arrest or release.

On the other side liberals, in a strange alliance with the military, are not much more realistic when they dream of a flourishing economy, new jobs and a better future. At least seven demonstrators were killed in Alexandria on Friday night, and the Muslim Brotherhood claims that far more died in Cairo's Nasr City neighborhood. The government could have used a large military presence to seal off the main square, keeping the fanatics on both sides from attacking one another.

Whether the government will manage to prevent further escalation remains unclear. Over the weekend, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim announced that the pro-Morsi protests in Cairo would be dispersed.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


Morsi is safe and well, confirms EU's Catherine Ashton

Egyptian army agreed to Morsi's meeting with Lady Ashton, but authorities made sure his location was not disclosed

Patrick Kingsley in Cairo, Tuesday 30 July 2013 13.18 BST   

The EU's top diplomat has confirmed that Mohamed Morsi is safe and well following a two-hour meeting with Egypt's overthrown president – his first disclosed contact with the outside world since he was arrested by soldiers and held incommunicado in an unknown location on 3 July.

The EU's Catherine Ashton, a Labour peer, said that Morsi was aware of events going on outside, and that Egypt's army had freely agreed to their meeting. But Ashton said she did not know where he was being held – implying that the Egyptian authorities had made sure she could not see the route by which she arrived at the meeting. It has previously been suggested that Morsi is being held either inside a military prison, or at one of Cairo's several presidential palaces – or at the city's Tora prison, where Morsi's predecessor Hosni Mubarak is already held.

"We had a friendly, open and very frank discussion for the two hours I saw him," said Ashton.

"I don't know where he is – but I saw the facilities he has and we had a warm discussion, because as you know I've met with him many times before. I sent him many wishes from people here and he sent many wishes back – and of course I tried to let his family know that he is well."

Last week, Morsi's children said they had not seen or heard from Morsi since the start of his detention. "What is happening to President Morsi is a violation of his rights by all measures," Osama Morsi, the ex-president's son and lawyer told reporters at the time. "Our father is held incommunicado which contravenes the most basic of human rights conventions."

Baroness Ashton is in Cairo to try to negotiate an unlikely settlement between Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and the army, but demands and recent behaviour from both sides mean reconciliation is far from likely. The Brotherhood's core demand is for Morsi's return as president – a requisite the army will never agree to. Meanwhile the army have made negotiations almost impossible by mounting a crackdown on senior Muslim Brothers and killed dozens of their followers in two brutal massacres.

Morsi was held without charge for over three weeks before prosecutors revealed last Friday that the former president was under investigation for conspiring to help Palestinian Islamist group Hamas murder police officers during Egypt's 2011 uprising. A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood called the allegations "laughable".

With or without Ashton, Egypt's impasse looks set to continue. The Brotherhood is scheduled to defy the military's call for them to leave the streets with another mass protest in Cairo on Tuesday afternoon.

The army sees an end to such marches, and the closure of pro-Morsi sit-ins – such as the camp at east Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiya – as a prerequisite for negotiations. But the Brotherhood sees its street presence as its only safeguard against further crackdowns on their supporters.

"A lot of people are scared to go home because they know they will be arrested," said Mohamed Soudan, a spokesman for the Brotherhood's political wing, speaking at Rabaa in the early hours of Tuesday morning. "Don't tell me we should engage in the political process. There is no political process in Egypt."

"If we surrender, we will be killed," said Saad el-Husseiny, the governor of northern city Kafr el-Sheikh during Morsi's presidency.

Other senior Brothers argued that it was up to the military to compromise first, since their recent and brutal treatment of Morsi supporters gave the Brotherhood little faith in the army's intentions. "What have they compromised on?" said Gamal Heshmat, a member of the group's 19-strong governing body. "They've arrested thousands of us, killed hundreds, pursued our leaders, and shut down [sympathetic] television channels."

Critics of the Brotherhood accuse them of victimhood and of seeking martyrdom instead of realistic political solutions. Others also say they are hypocrites for having ignored the brutal treatment of protesters during Morsi's tenure.

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July 29, 2013

Tunisia Faces More Anger After an Ambush Kills Soldiers


TUNIS — At least eight Tunisian soldiers were killed Monday in an ambush on the country’s northwestern border, an area where Islamist rebels are known to be active, a presidential spokesman said. The government, increasingly embattled after days of public protests over the assassination of a left-wing politician last week, immediately called for three days of national mourning for the soldiers.

The unit was on patrol in Chaambi, a mountainous area bordering Algeria where Tunisian forces discovered militant training camps in April. Several soldiers were wounded then by mines that had been laid by the insurgents, shocking Tunisians, who are not used to rebel activity in their country. The latest casualties, eight dead and four wounded, will probably increase criticism of the government’s failure to curb crime and extremist groups. News agencies reported that three of the soldiers had had their throats cut.

Opposition groups have been demonstrating in the streets and calling for the government to resign after the left-wing politician, Mohamed Brahmi, was shot and killed outside his home in broad daylight last Thursday by two men on a motorcycle. The government has blamed a Salafist group and named the chief suspect as a Tunisian jihadi, Boubaker Hakim, who is on the run.

The Salafist group, Ansar al-Shariah, denied accusations that its members were involved in the assassination in a post on its Facebook page, according to the SITE monitoring service. The group’s leader, Abu Ayad, threatened the government if it continued to cast aspersions on him and his movement. The group’s members “warn you from the foolishness of making haste in distributing accusations,” his statement said, “because the country cannot bear entering into a dark tunnel that only God knows what its consequences will be.”

Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh of Tunisia rejected calls for his government to resign, but in a concession to the opposition he announced that elections would be held Dec. 17, on the third anniversary of the death of a fruit seller that first set off the Tunisian revolution in 2011, and the Arab Spring. Mr. Laarayedh said the government would stay in office to see through the transition.

“This government will stay in office: We are not clinging to power, but we have a duty and a responsibility that we will exercise to the end,” Mr. Laarayedh said on state television.

Yet the announcement may not be enough to end the protests. For a fifth day on Monday, demonstrators clashed with the police in Sidi Bouzid, the town where the 2011 revolution began. One demonstrator has been killed, hit in the head by a tear gas grenade.

A grouping of left-wing and nationalist parties, trade unions and youth groups are still calling for a government of national unity to replace the Islamist-led government. They accuse Ennahda, the moderate Islamist party that heads the government, of giving free rein to extremist groups. The attack on the soldiers on the border will provide them with further evidence of the government’s failure to fight terrorism.

So far the opposition groups do not appear to have the strength to bring down the government. One of the smaller parties in the governing coalition, Ettakatol, joined opposition calls for a government of national unity but has not actually quit the government. Sixty-four members of the National Constituent Assembly are boycotting proceedings but have not resigned their seats.
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