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« Reply #8145 on: Aug 15, 2013, 06:51 AM »

Pakistan's 'disappeared': families go to court for compensation

A lawyer representing families of the 'disappeared' says there are 450 habeas corpus petitions seeking release of detainees

Jason Burke in Islamabad, Wednesday 14 August 2013 19.36 BST   

Every two weeks in recent months, a tired, middle-aged woman has made her way through the crowd of lawyers, policemen and detainees at the main courthouse in Peshawar, the restive Pakistani frontier city.

She is Hameeda Bibi, the mother of Farmanullah, and is an unlikely figure to be taking on Pakistan's powerful security services. Last week, she was in court once more to hear further discussion of how 1m Pakistani rupees (£6,400) should be paid to her in compensation by the state for the presumed murder of her son, a night watchman and vegetable seller who disappeared from their home in Nauthia, near Peshawar, last year and whose body, bearing torture marks, was found on a motorway 50 miles away.

"My son was picked up in broad daylight but returned in a sack," the 55-year-old widow said. "I think others should also do as I have done. I had only one son, the sole bread earner of my family, and I lost him. This money will help."

The cash has yet to be formally handed over, but the case has set an important precedent, giving hope to the families of thousands of others who have disappeared in unclear circumstances or are known to have died while in the custody of intelligence agencies.

Arif Jan, a lawyer for the families of the "disappeared", said there were 450 habeas corpus petitions – demanding the release of detainees alleged to be held by intelligence services in Pakistan – pending in Peshawar high court alone. "This case [of Hameeda Bibi] is a single case, but it is a step forward," he said.

Muhammad Yousaf, 45, the father of Amjad Ali, a farmer whose body was recovered from the tribal areas after he was missing for a year, said that he too would seek compensation.

"This amount should be enhanced as it will not meet the basic requirements of my son's family since he has left four children and a widow."

The Pakistani government, at federal or state level, has been reluctant to acknowledge responsibility and it has taken a new activism by courts to force the issue into the open.

"The provincial government was not agreeing to [this payment] but … we could not defy court orders and cannot stop people from claiming for compensation," said Naveed Akhtar, a senior government lawyer at Peshawar high court.

Observers say the judgment in favour of Hameeda Bibi would have been inconceivable until very recently and is in part due to the battered reputation of Pakistan's military among the public.

Most of the "disappeared" are thought to have been detained by the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the main military spy agency, which has led the effort against the Islamic extremists who kill thousands every year in Pakistan, and against militants fighting for greater autonomy for the resource-rich southwestern province of Balochistan.

But failures to find Osama bin Laden or to detect the successful US mission to kill the al-Qaida leader in his hideout in the northern garrison town of Abbottabad in May 2011, and to effectively combat extremist violence generally, have sapped popular support for all military institutions. This has encouraged activist judges and journalists to take on a previously "untouchable" target, say analysts.

"There is an unprecedented public debate on the role and efficacy of the armed forces," said Raza Rumi, an analyst and commentator in Islamabad. "It was just never discussed before and that is opening up space for all sorts of new developments."

This month, a leaked report by a government-appointed judicial commission, examining how Bin Laden was able to hide in Pakistan for almost a decade and how the US special forces were able to enter the country to kill him, was critical of the Pakistani military and intelligence services.

Others are questioning the proportion of government spending that goes to the military. Pakistan's defence budget is about 3% of the nation's GDP, according to the World Bank, considerably more than is spent on education.

Human rights groups accuse the ISI of torture, false detention and other abuses. Up to 4,000 people may still be held, they say, of whom around 700 have been identified.

Last year, Pakistani officials admitted large numbers of people were in detention, but claimed they held only individuals who security services were "100% sure" were involved in extremist violence. Now, however, officials deny that any individuals are detained, saying the numbers of supposed "disappeared" are vastly exaggerated and include individuals who have "run away from home, been coerced into militant groups or are common criminals on the run".

"I cannot speak about the past, but currently there is no one held," one official said on condition of anonymity.

The earliest secret detentions identified by campaigners date back to the early 1990s. But cases increased in late 2001 as Pakistani authorities moved against militant groups following the 9/11 attacks. Some detainees were handed to US services or interrogated in their presence.

The numbers of abductions rose dramatically between 2006 and 2007, when Pakistan became a victim of intense Islamic militant violence. They continued after the country returned to civilian rule in 2008.Any new accountability is very limited however. One recent case in Lahore resulted in police being granted an arrest warrant for a brigadier in the ISI named in witness statements during hearings about the disappearance of a businessman in 2005. The supreme court in Islamabad ruled that the warrant should not be executed out of "respect for the institution", the Daily Times newspaper reported.

And not everyone is interested in financial compensation. "I will never sell my brother's soul," said Noor Bacha, 45, whose younger brother has been missing from their home in a village in Mardan district, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, since September 2011.

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« Reply #8146 on: Aug 15, 2013, 06:53 AM »

Iraq car bombs kill at least 28 across Baghdad

One hundred wounded in five attacks including explosion near green zone diplomatic complex

Reuters in Baghdad, Thursday 15 August 2013 10.52 BST   

Five car bombs in Baghdad killed at least 28 people and wounded more than 100, Iraqi police sources said, with one attack close to the green zone diplomatic complex.

One bomb exploded 200 – 300 metres outside Baghdad's international zone, close to Iraq's foreign ministry, killing four and wounding 12 people, sources said.

The central zone is a highly fortified area of the capital, housing western embassies including the US mission. The nearby foreign ministry has been a frequent target of attacks.

Iraq is experiencing some of its worst violence since US troops left 18 months ago, with Sunni Islamist militants, including al-Qaida waging an insurgency against the Shia-led government.

Multiple car bombs explode each week, killing scores of people, and the government has launched a security crackdown to try to round up suspected militants.

Thursday's attacks targeted districts in central, eastern, northern and southern Baghdad, including Shia areas, police said.

One bomb, on a trailer carrying gas cylinders in al-Shurta al-Rabaa district, killed four and wounded 18.

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« Reply #8147 on: Aug 15, 2013, 06:56 AM »

China to stop using organs from executed prisoners in transplants

Widely criticised practice will be phased out from November as voluntary donor scheme is rolled out nationwide

Reuters in Beijing, Thursday 15 August 2013 10.29 BST   

China will start phasing out its decades-long practice of using the organs of executed prisoners for transplant operations from November, as it pushes to mandate the use of organs from ethical sources, a senior official said.

China is the only country that still systematically uses organs extracted from executed prisoners in transplants, a practice that has drawn widespread international criticism.

Many Chinese view the practice as a way for criminals to redeem themselves. But officials have recently spoken out against harvesting organs from dead inmates, saying it "tarnishes the image of China".

Huang Jiefu, head of the health ministry's organ transplant office, said it would begin enforcing the use of organs from voluntary donors allocated through a fledgling national programme at a meeting to be held in November.

"I am confident that before long all accredited hospitals will forfeit the use of prisoner organs," Huang said. He did not say how many of the 165 hospitals that are licensed for transplants would be among the first batch to stop using organs from executed prisoners.

Huang said the organ transplant committee would ensure that the "source of the organs for transplantation must meet the commonly accepted ethical standards in the world". That effectively meant the use of prisoners' organs at approved hospitals would come to an end, but the timeframe remained indefinite, he added.

China has launched pilot volunteer organ donor programmes in 25 provinces and municipalities with the aim of creating a nationwide voluntary scheme by the end of 2013. By the end of 2012, about 64% of transplanted organs in China came from executed prisoners and the number has dipped below 54% so far this year, according to figures provided by Huang.

At a meeting in August last year, Huang, who was deputy health minister at the time, told officials that top leaders had decided to reduce dependency on prisoners' organs, according to a transcript of the meeting obtained by Reuters. Rights groups say many organs are taken from prisoners without their consent or their family's knowledge, which the government denies.

Huang said more than 1,000 organ donors had come through the new system so far, benefiting at least 3,000 patients. Voluntary organ donation in China had risen from 63 cases in 2010 to an average of 130 a month this year, he added.

However, not all donated organs are currently allocated through the new programme, leaving room for human interference, one of the main challenges the reform faces.

Supply still falls far short of demand, due in part to the traditional Chinese belief that bodies should be buried or cremated intact. An estimated 300,000 patients a year are put on the waiting list for organ transplants and only about one in 30 will receive a transplant.

The shortage has driven a trade in illegal organ trafficking, and in 2007 the government banned organ transplants from living donors, except spouses, blood relatives and step or adopted family members.

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« Reply #8148 on: Aug 15, 2013, 06:58 AM »

August 14, 2013

Koreas Agree to Reopen Factory Park in North


SEOUL, South Korea — North and South Korea agreed on Wednesday to reopen a joint industrial complex in a sign that the two sides are inching toward a thaw after months of high tension earlier this year.

The breakthrough came during what the South billed as a final round of make-or-break negotiations on whether to restart or permanently shut down the Kaesong factory park, which had been the last remaining symbol of the two countries’ earlier economic cooperation.

The complex had been in operation for almost a decade, surviving through other periods of tension unlike other cross-border projects set up during a period of rapprochement and then halted one by one as relations soured in recent years. Kaesong’s future was thrown into uncertainty this year after North Korea pulled its workers out in April amid a crisis that began with the North’s third nuclear test and the resulting international sanctions. The South responded to the withdrawal of the workers by recalling its factory managers.

Relations have been less strained in recent months, which analysts attribute partly to pressure on the North from China, the country’s main benefactor, to stop provoking South Korea and the West. The United States had warned China that a failure to rein in the North would lead to a further buildup of American military in the region, anathema to the Chinese. The North may have had other reasons for re-engaging with the South, including that Pyongyang has long relied on the factory complex for much-needed hard currency and for tens of thousands of jobs. South Korea also recently promised $7.3 million worth of humanitarian aid for its impoverished neighbor, a conciliatory gesture that coincided with a call by the South for “one last round” of talks on restarting Kaesong.

Since last month, North and South Korea had held six earlier rounds of talks but had been unable to agree on the terms under which they could resume operations at the complex. They could find no compromise on the South Korean demand that the North take responsibility for monetary losses caused by the suspension of production and take steps to ensure that it would not shut the complex again for military or political reasons.

The breakthrough came Wednesday, when North Korea accepted an agreement under which the two Koreas “guarantee that the normal operation of the Kaesong industrial complex will not be affected by political situations under any circumstance.” The two sides also agreed to set up a joint panel to discuss compensating the South Korean companies for damages.

In another significant gain for the South, North Korea agreed to invite foreign investors into Kaesong and honor “international business standards” there, including allowing use of mobile phones and the Internet by South Korean factory managers. South Korea has insisted on bringing in foreign investors, saying that would make it more difficult for the North to use the complex as a political bargaining chip against the South.

At stake in the talks was more than the future of the Kaesong complex, where 123 South Korean companies employing 53,000 North Korean produced $470 million worth of textiles, electronic parts and other labor-intensive goods last year.

Analysts say that an agreement to reopen the complex will be an important test for inter-Korean relations under the young North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, and the new South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, after a decidedly rocky start.

“Kaesong is the one thing left,” John Delury, a North Korea expert at Yonsei University in Seoul, said of the significance of the factory complex in inter-Korean relations. Its failure to reopen would have had “severe implications” for North-South ties, he said.

The agreement Wednesday did not specify when the complex would resume operations.

In a statement released by her office, Ms. Park said, “I hope that the agreement today will be an occasion for South-North relations to make a fresh start.”

Pak Chol-su, the top North Korean negotiator, called the breakthrough “great news for our nation.”


August 15, 2013

South Korea Proposes Talks to Reunite War-Divided Families


SEOUL, South Korea — President Park Geun-hye of South Korea said Thursday that South and North Korea should resume arranging reunions of families separated by the Korean War six decades ago, and she renewed a proposal to build an “international peace park” straddling their heavily armed border.

Ms. Park’s conciliatory overtures came a day after the two Koreas agreed to reopen an idled joint industrial park in the North Korean border town of Kaesong, a deal that indicated that South Korea and North Korea were moving toward a thaw after months of tensions earlier this year. The Kaesong agreement also appeared to give impetus to Ms. Park’s “trustpolitik” policy, which calls for building trust with the North as a foundation for more serious negotiations on ending the North’s nuclear weapons programs in exchange for helping the country rebuild its economy.

“South and North Korea must leave mistrust and confrontation behind and open the door for a new era of peace and reunification on the Korean Peninsula,” Ms. Park said in her nationally televised speech Thursday, in observance of the anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule with the end of World War II. “If North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons program, we can open a new era on the peninsula and work together to ease the pain and difficulties of the North Korean people.”

Ms. Park proposed that reunions of separated families be held around the autumn holiday of Chuseok on Sept. 19, traditionally a time for family gatherings in both Koreas.

Since the division of Korea in 1945 and the Korean War of 1950-53, which ended in a stalemate, millions of Koreans have been separated from parents, siblings and children across the border, with no direct-mail service or telephone links between the two countries. Family reunions have been a highly emotional issue, as many aging Koreans who lived through the war have died without seeing their relatives again.

A series of family reunions was held during a period of inter-Korean rapprochement between 1998 and 2008, but there have been none since 2010, with relations between the Koreas having soured in recent years. Tens of thousands of elderly South Koreans are still on a waiting list to be selected by lottery for the reunion program if it is revived.

Last month North Korea proposed talks to arrange more family reunions. But it withdrew the offer after the South rejected a separate proposal to discuss resuming South Korean tours to a North Korean mountain, a program that ended in 2008 after North Korean soldiers shot and killed a South Korean tourist.

The South insists that it can discuss resuming that jointly operated tourism project only if the North apologizes for the killing of the tourist. Many South Korean conservatives also oppose the tourism program itself, which had served as an important source of hard currency for the North Korean government.

Ms. Park first proposed an “international peace park” inside the 2.5-mile-wide demilitarized zone in May, during a speech before the United States Congress. The zone, a neutral area bisecting the Korean Peninsula that was created to keep the rival Korean armies apart after the war, is one of the world’s most heavily militarized frontiers, guarded on both sides by minefields, barbed wire, tank traps and millions of battle-ready troops.

“The standoff around the DMZ has the potential to endanger global peace. We must defuse that danger,” Ms. Park said in her speech in May, urging Washington to join in the creation of such a park. “The demilitarized zone must live up to its name, a zone that strengthens the peace, not undermines it.”

Her government has yet to reveal details of her plan, and North Korea has yet to respond. Even if the North agreed to discuss the proposal, any effort to tinker with the tense Korean border would entail complicated negotiations with the North and could be highly controversial in the South.
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« Reply #8149 on: Aug 15, 2013, 07:03 AM »

08/14/2013 07:15 PM

On the Upswing: Is Europe Finally Coming Out of Recession?

By David Böcking

It's the moment many have been waiting for. After a year and a half of stagnation, there is once again economic growth in the euro zone. Other indicators also point to upswing. Could this be the end of the long winter?

It was a bold statement from Mario Draghi. "The worst is over," the European Central Bank chief said of the euro crisis in March 2012. He was wrong though -- at least with regard to the real economy. When Draghi made his prognosis, the combined economic output of the euro-zone countries had shrunk for the second consecutive quarter. Then it continued to slide downhill for another year.

But now, after the longest recession since the common currency's inception, the euro-zone economy is showing signs of new life. According to Eurostat estimates, the 17 euro-zone member states showed seasonally adjusted growth of 0.3 percent in the second quarter of 2013. Significantly, Germany saw growth of 0.7 percent, but France, too, came through with a surprisingly strong figure of 0.3 percent. In Portugal, the economy grew for the first time in two and a half years -- by as much as 1.1 percent.

The new data has prompted German economists to venture to make bold statements similar to those Draghi made a year and a half ago. "We are experiencing a trend reversal. The hardest part is behind us," Michael Hüther, head of the Cologne Institute for Economic Research, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. The chief economic forecaster at the Munich-based IFO Institute for Economic Research, Kai Carstensen, offered a similar analysis: "Everything is moving in the right direction -- upward."

In fact, the latest economic data aren't the only hopeful indicator:

    Companies in the euro zone are more optimistic now than they have been for the last year and a half. In July, the London-based Markit purchasing managers' index rose from 48.7 to 50.5 points, taking it above the threshold marking growth.

    In addition to business owners, consumers in the currency union are also getting more optimistic. Consumer confidence rose in July for the eighth consecutive month. In Germany, private consumption grew significantly, largely as a result of wage increases and rising employment.

    Some encouraging signs are also coming from the Southern European crisis countries. Prior to the economic growth just announced, Portugal, as well as Spain, has been able to report a drop in unemployment for the first time in two years. Both countries significantly reduced their unit labor costs and increased their exports. Even problem child Greece increased its exports and succeeded in reducing new government borrowing by more than half. The country's economy shrank by 4.6 percent, according to Greece's national statistics office -- but worse had been feared. No growth had been expected by Eurostat for Greece or Ireland.

    The at times dramatic situation on the bond markets has also calmed. The spread on interest rates for crisis countries and for Germany is much smaller than it was a year ago. On Tuesday, Italy and Spain both had reason to celebrate: Spreads on 10-year bonds from the countries compared to German bonds fell to a two-year low.

It is nevertheless too early for wholehearted jubilation. This is evident from the fact that the economies of other large euro-zone countries such as Italy (-0.2 percent) and Spain (-0.1 percent) continue to shrink -- albeit less sharply than in previous months. It would be "very surprising" if euro-zone growth were to continue throughout the year, says Jens Boysen-Hogrefe of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. Still, he adds, "the outlook for 2014 is improving significantly."

Other factors, as well, indicate that the recovery won't be as rapid as might be hoped:

    At the end of 2012, the economies of many countries declined significantly -- a drop that continued into the first three months of 2013. The current increase in many countries has to be seen in the context of that development. "It was unlikely that we were going to stay in a permanent recession," says Boysen-Hogrefe. And in Germany, the construction industry is working to make up for a slow-down during the harsh winter. "A noticeable proportion (of growth) is coming from a backlog," says IFO economist Carstensen.

    Unemployment remains Europe's most crucial problem. With an unemployment rate of 12.1 percent in July, joblessness within the euro zone has climbed to its highest level since that data began being collected in 1995. The fact that in countries like Greece and Spain more than one in four people is jobless accounts for some seemingly positive indicators. Labor costs decrease, because fewer productive workers are laid off. And trade balances with other countries improve, because Southern Europeans are able to consume less.
    The improved situation is largely due to the European Central Bank. Its low interest rate policy is fuelling the stock market. Its announcement of unlimited bond purchases has curbed speculation. At the same time, neither measure solves the problems of the crisis countries. The fact is that they could lead to delays in reforms and encourage new bubbles.

    The state of the global economy remains uncertain. According to the latest World Economic Climate survey by Munich economic think tank Ifo, the mood has improved significantly in Europe and particularly in the United States. But in Asia, it deteriorated again after a strong improvement in the second quarter. The current uncertainty could be pegged to worsening forecasts for China. The government in Beijing has signalled that it may embark on economic stimulus programs in order to defend its planned growth of 7 percent. At the same time, though, it has only just begun to tighten regulations for financial markets that are overheated in many areas. "Cleaning up the mess is one thing," says Ifo economist Carstensen. "The other is the question of what is actually happened with the capital."

All things considered, though, things do appear to be improving in the euro zone. And this could fuel hopes in struggling member states that Germany may ease its demands for austerity after the Sept. 22 election.

Yet Cologne Institute for Economic Research head Hüther doesn't believe Berlin will budge. The German government, he notes, could argue that the developments show that austerity has worked. "The crisis countries can't say we need more -- and we can't say that we will give less," he says.

Boysen-Hogrefe doesn't expect any significant change in policy either. "The European Commission is already turning a blind eye or two," the Kiel Institute for the World Economy economist says. "And I don't get the feeling that politicians in Berlin are grabbing the emergency hotline to Brussels every time either."


Eurozone exits recession: the view from the top ... and bottom

Our correspondents report on business life in Germany, France, Italy, Greece and Ireland

Josie Le Blond (Germany), Kim Willsher (France), Helena Smith (Greece), Henry McDonald (Ireland) and Lizzy Davies (Italy)
The Guardian, Wednesday 14 August 2013 19.48 BST   

A fastfood shop in Thessaloniki city centre, Greece.
A fast food shop in Thessaloniki city centre, Greece Photograph: Giannis Papanikos/ Giannis Papanikos/Demotix/Corbis
The view from the top of the eurozone


For one of the 340,000 small- and medium-sized businesses that make up Germany's renowned Mittelstand economy, Wednesday's figures proved the wisdom of sticking doggedly to long-term goals. Phoenix Contact, an electronics manufacturer based in Blomberg in central Germany, decided not to take the axe to its operations in southern Europe when the eurozone tipped into crisis.

"In Europe last year, growth was flat," said Frank Stührenberg, vice-president of global sales at Phoenix Contact. "And in southern Europe, we were seeing minus growth." Yet rather than desert Europe completely for its more profitable American or Asian markets, the firm kept its workforce and waited for recovery.

"We didn't take our people out of Spain for example, we even put more investment in. And that's paying out returns now," he said.

And as Wednesday's figures show Europe's crisis economies slowly picking up, the Mittelstand economy is set to reap the benefits. Steady increases in investment in energy and transport infrastructure in southern Europe have already bolstered Phoenix Contact in Italy and Spain this year, where the firm is finally seeing growth after years of losses, said Stührenberg.

"We're benefiting from that as a subcontractor," he said, "everybody in Germany is profiting a bit now from this."

Mittelstand companies like Stührenberg's employer have not been complacent, and have used the dead time waiting for European recovery to scan the horizon for the next big innovations. For Phoenix Contact this means focusing on Germany's future as a leading producer of renewable energy.

Now seeing annual growth of around 4.5%, the company – which supports a global workforce of 12,800 – is, like the rest of the German economy, "not about to sit back and relax," said Stührenberg.


News that the eurozone's second largest economy had exited recession came as an unexpected fillip for France's socialist government, which has based its 2014 budget on 0.2% annual growth. Official data showed that the economy grew by 0.5% in the second quarter. The French finance minister, Pierre Moscovici, said: "The figure, higher than available forecasts, confirms that the French economy has come out of recession, which was already hinted at in recent surveys and figures for industrial production, consumption and foreign trade, and amplifies the encouraging signs of recovery."

The manufacturing sector was particularly dynamic, showing 2% growth in the second quarter, with production in the automobile and aeronautic industries leaping by 8.2% in the second quarter.

The view from the bottom of the eurozone


Like many Greeks, Kostas Xexakis was left bewildered by the news that the eurozone recession is officially over. For the 62-year-old framer, working out of a two-room atelier in Athens' Kolonaki district, the downturn feels anything but over and he counts himself lucky: he still has a job and a few customers to boot.

"In no way could you possibly say the recession has ended," he said. "Everyone I know is squeezed and with unemployment at more than 27% I don't see things getting better anytime soon." The Green economy contracted by 4.6% on an annualised basis in the second quarter of 2013 – the 20th consecutive quarter of decline.

Across Athens tens of thousands of family-owned businesses and shops – once the lifeblood of the Greek economy – have been forced to close, their shuttered exteriors one of the most visible signs of the collateral damage wrought by the nation's worst crisis in modern times.

In upmarket Kolonaki, Xexakis does not have that problem. But work has dropped dramatically, and like all Greek businessmen he has been hard hit by reduced earnings, consumer prices that have remained stubbornly high, and a cascade of "emergency" taxes enforced in a bid to increase revenue.

Echoing a widely held view, Xexakis believes things will only begin to improve when international creditors propping up the economy decide to ease off on the austerity that has plunged Greece into ever deeper recession. "Our only hope, unfortunately, lies with Germany deciding to give us a break because, clearly, austerity isn't working," he insisted.


In the heart of Ireland's traditional folk music scene, in county Clare on the west coast, there are signs of a recovery in the country's struggling services sector. Donal Minihane, owner of the Hotel Doolin, has seen an upturn in European visitors for the first time in years. "We saw people coming to us from all over Europe and the UK and even the United States. But there were a huge amount of European visitors for the first time in many years."

Situated at the edge of Doolin village, the hotel has enjoyed a spike in tourist numbers this year with room rates now up by 15% and an increase in staff to 80. Having staged three festivals at the hotel this year – for lovers of literature, beer and folk music – Minihane is optimistic that business is starting to take off and that perhaps the worst of the recession in Ireland is over.

"Next year is looking very good, especially the weddings market. I have no vacancies in 2014 from May to October."


The eurozone's exit from recession comes amid cautious predictions in its third-largest economy that an eight-quarter long recession there may soon be over, too. Enrico Letta's government is predicting a return to modest growth by the end of the year. That hope was boosted by news the economy contracted less than expected in the second quarter, by 0.2%.

"For the time being we still have some domestic headwinds which are weighing on growth," said Marco Valil, chief eurozone economist for UniCredit in Milan. "But we think that in the course of the year we will see Italy exiting the recession."

He said the drivers of this modest recovery would be an easing of fiscal consolidation, low inflation and improving global growth due to improvements in Italy's top two trading partners – Germany and France.

For the moment, however, the spumante will be kept on ice. Italy's longest recession since the second world war has seen unemployment rise to over 12%, with youth joblessness at over 39%.


Bad economic news for Europe is good news for Merkel and Cameron

These figures are proof not of a European recovery, but of the right's ability to exploit grim times in a way that eludes the left

Martin Kettle   
The Guardian, Wednesday 14 August 2013 20.30 BST   

All politicians and observers of politics agree on one thing. A reputation for economic competence matters. In modern politics, economic competence is the sine qua non. Without such a reputation political credibility is lost, and difficult to regain – and election victory is out of reach. With such a reputation, it is possible to pursue other goals and sometimes to receive the benefit of the doubt, retaining trust and votes even when things go wrong.

In Britain David Cameron and George Osborne gained a tremendous boost this week when a Guardian-ICM poll showed their economic competence reputation had soared by 12 points since June. Even if the increase only takes the proportion of the electorate saying that Cameron and Osborne are better economic mangers than Ed Miliband and Ed Balls (whose numbers also increased a little in the same poll) to a relatively modest 40%, it still remains a hefty advantage that shapes the political mood.

Admittedly, the polls' broader picture for the Tories is not so clear cut, so there is an element of self-deception in the renewed Tory optimism. Labour is still doing better overall than the Conservatives in voting surveys, and the pro-Labour advantage of the electoral system means the Tories are still eight to 10 points short of the kind of ratings that would translate into a working majority in 2015. But that economic competence rating is priceless all the same. To adapt Mr Micawber, the Tories know they have a good reputation and are therefore happy. Labour know they have a bad reputation and are therefore miserable.

Wednesday's economic figures from the eurozone will have something of the same impact on politics across the European Union as a recent succession of modest improvements in UK economic indicators (the fall in unemployment being the latest) is having for the governing parties here. To be sure, eurozone GDP in the second quarter of 2013 grew by only a relatively footling 0.3%, concealing all sorts of continuing crises and sufferings behind strong performances from Germany and France. But after six quarters without growth, it can be presented as a turn in the tide. And it comes at a perfect moment for Angela Merkel, six weeks away from a crucial German general election.

Yet you do not have to look at the economic indicators for long, and compare them with the mood of the political parties across Europe, to see that something doesn't really add up in all this. Call it, if you like, the narcissism of small economic differences.

No country in Europe is really enjoying a period of economic prosperity worthy of the name. Unemployment in the UK may be down by 4,000 in the second quarter – but it is still more than 2.5 million, which at just under 8% is very nearly the highest that it has been in 20 years.

In the eurozone the unemployment rate is much higher than here, at 11.4% in June 2013, with Greece and Spain both posting jobless rates of more than 26%. Neither in the UK nor in the eurozone is the level of growth sufficient to have a significant impact on jobs. The result is that most Europeans, and most Britons, are continuing to face a squeeze on their real incomes. Falling real wages – down 5.5% in value in the UK since 2010 – mean that Europeans will have relatively less money to pay their bills – not just in 2013, but almost certainly throughout 2014.

All this adds up to a disjunction that needs explaining. On the one hand, the economic performance and prospects of Europe are fragile. As in the UK, recovery is modest, marginal and contingent. There is no evidence yet of a sustained upward trend of recovery, let alone of a return to the levels of annual postwar economic growth to which we and our parents all became accustomed for most of the past half-century. Our region – and in this sense we are just as much a part of it as though we had been in the eurozone from day one – remains in very much the same economic crisis that has gripped us since the financial crash of 2008.

On the other hand, Cameron and Osborne are heading for the beach buoyed by genuinely strong economic competence ratings, while Merkel is serenely on course to be rewarded with a hugely important electoral victory next month. This means two things – and possibly both at the same time.

First, in grim economic conditions and with public opinion persuaded that deficit cuts take priority over protecting the public sector, even a marginal piece of "good news" wins a disproportionate political reward for the centre-right. But second, these figures are flimsy by any standards. In reality, this is neither an economic recovery, nor is it proof of economic competence. Such claims are there to be taken apart by skilful oppositions who know what they want.

Economic competence, as Andrew Gamble wrote in an important recent essay, is not fixed or tangible. There is rightwing competence and leftwing competence, and some other shades in between. Competence is made up of perceptions, including those of the media, as well as economic indicators. These perceptions are not fixed, either. They adapt in all kinds of different circumstances. Competence is more easily displayed in good times than bad. And governments have to navigate these in an international as well as a national context. Cameron and Osborne have thus been able to throw the blame for Britain's troubles on the eurozone, while Merkel can blame those of Germany on the Greeks. This makes voters thankful for small mercies.

But what can a centre-left opposition offer instead? This is the question that Miliband tried to answer by focusing on the "cost of living crisis" – before the egg hit him. It is the same question that Germany's SPD, with its programme of higher taxes, has just six weeks to answer, and the one that also faces all the centre-left parties in Europe in their own way. In the end, the question is the moral one that Gamble poses. What kind of society and what kind of economy does the centre-left value, and what are its policies for achieving them in current circumstances?

These are difficult questions, not the easy ones that some pretend. The answers do not lie in the past. But until there are answers that respond both to the current crisis and to the lessons of past failures – the current evidence suggests that both economic competence and the political rewards which flow from that reputation will remain an elusive dream for the European left.

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« Last Edit: Aug 15, 2013, 07:11 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #8150 on: Aug 15, 2013, 07:05 AM »

Spoon in underwear saving youths from forced marriage

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, August 15, 2013 7:47 EDT

As Britain puts airport staff on alert to spot potential victims of forced marriage, one campaigning group says the trick of putting a spoon in their underwear has saved some youngsters from a forced union in their South Asian ancestral homelands.

The concealed spoon sets off the metal detector at the airport in Britain and the teenagers can be taken away from their parents to be searched — a last chance to escape a largely hidden practice wrecking the lives of unknown thousands of British youths.

The British school summer holidays, now well under way, mark a peak in reports of young people — typically girls aged 15 and 16 — being taken abroad on “holiday”, for a marriage without consent, the government says.

The bleep at airport security may be the last chance they get to escape a marriage to someone they have never met in a country they have never seen.

The spoon trick is the brainchild of the Karma Nirvana charity, which supports victims and survivors of forced marriage and honour-based abuse.

Based in Derby, central England, it fields 6,500 calls per year from around Britain but has almost reached that point so far in 2013 as awareness of the issue grows.

When petrified youngsters ring, “if they don’t know exactly when it may happen or if it’s going to happen, we advise them to put a spoon in their underwear,” said Natasha Rattu, Karma Nirvana’s operations manager.

“When they go though security, it will highlight this object in a private area and, if 16 or over, they will be taken to a safe space where they have that one last opportunity to disclose they’re being forced to marry,” she told AFP.

“We’ve had people ring and that it’s helped them and got them out of a dangerous situation. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to do with your family around you — but they won’t be aware you have done it. It’s a safe way.”

The charity is working with airports — so far London Heathrow, Liverpool and Glasgow, with Birmingham to come — to spot potential signs, such as one-way tickets, the time of year, age of the person and whether they look uncomfortable.

“These are quite general points, but there are things that if you look collectively lead you to believe something more sinister is going on,” said Rattu.

People who come forward can be escorted out of a secure airport exit to help outside.

Marriages without consent, or their refusal, have led to suicides and so-called honour killings, shocking a nation widely deemed to have successfully absorbed immigrant communities and customs.

Officials fear the number of victims coming forward is just the tip of the iceberg, with few community leaders prepared to speak out and risk losing their support base.

One woman, whose identity was protected by Essex Police in southeast England, was forced to get married in India.

She said she was threatened by her father “because he said if I thought about running away he would find me and kill me”.

“I was shipped off with a total stranger.

“That night I was raped by my husband and this abuse continued for about eight and half years of my life.”

She eventually fled.

Last year, the Foreign Office’s Forced Marriage Unit dealt with some 1,500 cases — 18 percent of them men.

A third of cases involved children aged under 17. The oldest victim was aged 71; the youngest just two.

The cases related to 60 countries: almost half were linked to Pakistan, 11 percent to Bangladesh, eight percent to India, and two percent to Afghanistan. Other countries were Somalia, Turkey and Iraq.

Calls to Karma Nirvana tend to spike before the British school summer holidays and again at the end, said Rattu.

“The holidays are a really good time for young people to go missing because there is nobody accounting for where they are at school,” she said.

Since Ramadan ended last week, calls have risen again, including one from an 18-year-old who has fallen pregnant and her family is trying force her into marriage to conceal it.

Burdened by South Asian codes of “izzat”, or family honour, youngsters can be under extreme physical and emotional duress to marry relatives in a culture and country they were not brought up in.

If they refuse, they are often threatened with being thrown out of the family — or worse.

“It really takes a brave person to stand up against their family,” said Rattu

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« Reply #8151 on: Aug 15, 2013, 07:16 AM »

Swiss launch competition to find new national anthem

Thousands of Swiss people invited to suggest a new anthem, with a cash prize for the winner

What should a modern national anthem say? Add your suggestions in the comment thread

Alex Marshall, Wednesday 14 August 2013 11.55 BST   

Thousands of Swiss people will soon be racking their brains for words that rhyme with Alps, cuckoo clocks and chocolate, after the country launched a search for a new national anthem.

The Swiss Public Welfare Society, which aims to foster national belonging and highlight social issues, wants to replace the "outdated and awkward" lyrics in the Swiss Psalm.

"The Psalm has more or less nothing to do with Switzerland," said Lukas Niederberger, who is leading the search. "It's a nice song to God, a great hymn, but it doesn't say anything about our society's virtues or values."

The Psalm has been Switzerland's anthem since 1981, but politicians and commentators have repeatedly criticised it for sounding more like a biblical weather forecast than an anthem.

"When the morning skies grow red …thou, o Lord, appearest in their light," it starts, before continuing: "When the Alps glow bright with splendour, pray to Him to surrender."

The competition opens on 1 January and will last six months. Entries may be in any of the country's four official languages, German, French, Italian and Romansch, the last of which is spoken by about 60,000 people. Foreigners may enter if they live in Switzerland.

The winning lyrics, which will attract a prize of 10,000 Swiss francs (£7,000), will be submitted to the country's parliament for approval in 2015. This is to allow time for the anthem's tune to be rewritten if need be, and for the words to be translated into all the country's languages.

Niederberger said he did not mind receiving entries that touched on Swiss cliches such as army knives and cuckoo clocks. "We'll consider anything as long as it's not racist, sexist or too nationalist. But what we want is something that talks about the values in our constitution," he added. These included freedom, democracy and openness.

Niederberger does not think it possible that none of the entries will be good enough. "But we are free to say there isn't a winner. If that happens, we'll probably wait five years and try again."

This will not be the first time the Swiss have changed their anthem. The country's original anthem was When You Call, My Fatherland (Rufst Du, Mein Vaterland), but that was dropped because it was sung to the same tune as God Save the Queen and led to confusion at sports events.

While various musicians and politicians have called for the Psalm to be replaced and have written alternative tunes, no search has been carried out on this scale before.• Do you have what it takes to write a national anthem? Write your suggestions for Switzerland's new anthem in the comments, in English or any of the country's four official languages.

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« Reply #8152 on: Aug 15, 2013, 07:18 AM »

How the maverick Christiane Taubira is transforming French politics

From fighting for same-sex marriage legislation to reforming the law as justice minister, she has blazed her own trail

Agnès Poirier, Wednesday 14 August 2013 16.09 BST      

The first black woman to run in France's presidential elections in 2002, Christiane Taubira, is an unstoppable force. France's current justice minister is also the heroine of French gay people for having fought tooth and nail in parliament in favour of same-sex marriage, and the nemesis of its fierce opponents who still demonstrate against a law they consider "legal but not legitimate".

French Guiana-born Taubira is not your average politician. She can be histrionic like Boris Johnson, and certainly shares his taste for verve and his skill for faultless speeches without notes. During the marathon debates that took place day and night at the French national assembly over same-sex marriage, she quoted poets René Char and Paul Ricoeur but also négritude writers such as Aimé Césaire and Léon Gontran Damas.

Her rhetorical style is a cross between gospel and opera and, with a voice like Billie Holiday, according to French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, she has left more than one parliamentarian gobsmacked. Unlike Johnson, however, she's always elegant and dressed to the nines. But they are both mavericks. Him of the British right, her of the French left. Brilliant and unpredictable, they are the kind of public figures who inspire awe, adoration even, but also considerable irk.

In 2002, during the presidential campaign, Taubira was for instance reported as saying: "Fortunately I have strong inhibitions – if not I'd be wringing some people's necks like chickens." Not precisely wise for an aspiring head of state.

An MP for 20 years and a divorced mother of four children, Taubira is too independent to belong to one party. Over the years, she has drifted from one small party to another, always keeping to the left of the political spectrum. Today she's "affiliated" to François Hollande's Socialist party. But as she recently confided to the New York Times: "I can't stand having a boss. My conscience is my boss, and my conscience dictates rules that are extremely, I'd say, grand – they're rough but beautiful." President Hollande won't mind, nor will most of the French people – they have come to know her, that's the way she is.

Before setting the tenor of same-sex marriage parliamentary debates, she left her mark in 2001 with a law that bears her name. The Taubira law recognises the slave trade and slavery as a crime against humanity. Today, as justice minister, she's trying to mend relations in the judiciary, especially after Nicolas Sarkozy's antagonistic five years in power, which got both lawyers and magistrates up in arms against an arsenal of repressive measures that left little time to prevent.

She has, however, been increasingly at loggerheads with the energetic interior minister Manuel Valls, a rising star of the French Socialist party, who positioned himself at the right of the party. He is in favour of strict sentencing, especially for career criminals and repeat offenders, while she has always championed a humanist reform of the prison and penal system. The criminal law reform is her next battle; no doubt she will fight hard to advance, as she calls them, her "rough but beautiful" ideas.

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« Reply #8153 on: Aug 15, 2013, 07:19 AM »

Vitali Klitschko reaches for a new ring to fight in: Ukraine's presidency

World heavyweight boxing champion and MP tells reporters, ahead of fight in Mexico, he is keen to run for president in 2015

Staff and agencies Kiev
The Guardian, Wednesday 14 August 2013 19.22 BST   

First he was a boxer, and a brainy one at that – the first heavyweight champion to hold a PhD. Then he was an MP, winning a seat in the Ukrainian parliament last year after promising to shake up the political establishment.

Now Vitali Klitschko is reportedly keen to run for president in Ukraine, with a promise to modernise the country and improve the lives of ordinary Ukrainians.

During a trip to Mexico to discuss his next fight, the reigning WBC heavyweight champion, said he would run for president in 2015, according to the World Boxing Council. His office would not confirm the report. But Klitschko, 42, has become one of Ukraine's most popular MPs with a reformist agenda and a stellar sporting career behind him.

Klitschko was elected to parliament last autumn as part of the pro-western party Udar. Since then, he has campaigned against what he calls authoritarian moves by President Viktor Yanukovych, such as the jailing of former Ukrainian prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko. His supporters are known in Ukraine as the "disappointed" – people who don't believe in the authorities or the opposition and feel bitterly let down by the failure of the 2004 Orange revolution.

In an interview with the Guardian last year, Klitschko said: "Many people want to be the president, many people. But it's not enough. If some candidate doesn't have support of the people it's no more than a wish."

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« Reply #8154 on: Aug 15, 2013, 07:21 AM »

Google: don't expect privacy when sending to Gmail

Critics call revelation 'a stunning admission' as Google makes claim in court filing in attempt to head off class action lawsuit

Dominic Rushe in New York
The Guardian, Thursday 15 August 2013   

People sending email to any of Google's 425 million Gmail users have no "reasonable expectation" that their communications are confidential, the internet giant has said in a court filing.

Consumer Watchdog, the advocacy group that uncovered the filing, called the revelation a "stunning admission." It comes as Google and its peers are under pressure to explain their role in the National Security Agency's (NSA) mass surveillance of US citizens and foreign nationals.

"Google has finally admitted they don't respect privacy," said John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog's privacy project director. "People should take them at their word; if you care about your email correspondents' privacy, don't use Gmail."

Google set out its case last month in an attempt to dismiss a class action lawsuit that accuses the tech giant of breaking wire tap laws when it scans emails sent from non-Google accounts in order to target ads to Gmail users.

That suit, filed in May, claims Google "unlawfully opens up, reads, and acquires the content of people's private email messages". It quotes Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman: "Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it."

The suit claims: "Unbeknown to millions of people, on a daily basis and for years, Google has systematically and intentionally crossed the 'creepy line' to read private email messages containing information you don't want anyone to know, and to acquire, collect, or mine valuable information from that mail."

In its motion to dismiss the case, Google said the plaintiffs were making "an attempt to criminalise ordinary business practices" that have been part of Gmail's service since its introduction. Google said "all users of email must necessarily expect that their emails will be subject to automated processing."

According to Google: "Just as a sender of a letter to a business colleague cannot be surprised that the recipient's assistant opens the letter, people who use web-based email today cannot be surprised if their communications are processed by the recipient's ECS [electronic communications service] provider in the course of delivery."

Citing another privacy case, Google's lawyers said "too little is asserted in the complaint about the particular relationship between the parties, and the particular circumstances of the [communications at issue], to lead to the plausible conclusion that an objectively reasonable expectation of confidentiality would have attended such a communication."

A Google spokesperson said on Wednesday evening: "We take our users' privacy and security very seriously; recent reports claiming otherwise are simply untrue.

"We have built industry-leading security and privacy features into Gmail — and no matter who sends an email to a Gmail user, those protections apply."

Simpson, a long-term Google critic, said: "Google's brief uses a wrong-headed analogy; sending an email is like giving a letter to the Post Office. I expect the Post Office to deliver the letter based on the address written on the envelope. I don't expect the mail carrier to open my letter and read it.

"Similarly, when I send an email, I expect it to be delivered to the intended recipient with a Gmail account based on the email address; why would I expect its content will be intercepted by Google and read?"

• This story was corrected on 14 August to make clear that Google's court filing was referring to users of other email providers who email Gmail users – and not to the Gmail users themselves.

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« Reply #8155 on: Aug 15, 2013, 07:24 AM »

The Christian Science Monitor

What happened to Shackleton's sunken ship?

By Elizabeth Barber, Contributor / August 14, 2013 at 11:56 am EDT

In 1914, Ernest Shackleton set sail from England aboard Endurance, bound for the southernmost of the world’s oceans. The ship's name was a telling one, fitting the explorer's commitment to doing something big and dangerous after another adventurer, three years earlier, had reached the South Pole first, scooping his goal. After that, the only thing to be done was to go farther – literally, farther: Shackleton planned to make the South Pole a mere pit stop as he and his team crossed the entire continent on foot.

But in January of 1915, the Endurance stuck fast in the Weddell Sea’s ice. And in September, succumbing to the squeeze of the ice, the ship went down. Shackleton and his crew would go on to make a months-long and 800-mile mission to South Georgia. They would endure; they would make it back to England.

But what about Endurance? Is the ship still in the Southern Ocean? And in what condition?

A team of scientists studying the geographical distribution of wood-eating worms and whale bone-eating worms has now offered a new clue as to what Shackleton’s ship might look like after about 98 years on the ocean floor.

The researchers, whose findings are published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, submerged a sample of wood and whale bones into waters off the Antarctic shelf, near Deception Island, for one year. When the samples were pulled up, the bones were packed with worms that represent two new species of Osedax worms, a category of whale bone-eating worms that are sometimes saddled with the alarming moniker “zombie worms” – or, perhaps even more worrying, just “bone-eating worms,” without the “whale” qualifier.

But the wood was clean, absent of the Xylophaga mollusk that has since 1733 been documented feasting on doomed ships all around the world. In fact, just the Baltic and the Black seas had previously been known to be free of the animal, a destructive one to historical preservation. Scientists now believed that the Antarctic Circumpolar Current might be a barrier to mollusks infiltrating the Southern Ocean and its wooden wreckage, acting something like a velvet rope cordoning off prized artifacts from museum visitors.

While the scientists cautioned that the experiment lasted just one year, and that the mollusks might need more time to settle on a submerged slab of wood, they also said that the results were encouraging news for the archaeological survival of the shipwrecks dotting this unforgiving corner of Earth: Shackleton’s Endurance might have endured the rot and wear of almost 100 years beneath the bone-cold ocean.

"The results do indeed suggest that the Endurance, and other wooden shipwrecks of historical interest, may indeed be relatively well preserved in Antarctica waters," said Craig Smith, a professor of oceanography at the University of Hawaii. "There may a trove of historical information to be gained by locating some of these old wrecks."

The worms found on the whale bones are two new species called Osedax antarcticus and Osedax deceptionensis, a find that broadens the believed habitats of the unusual worms to even the world’s unfriendliest corridors. Until now, Osedax worms had been found only as far southward as the Falkland Islands, though they had been documented in the Arctic, suggesting that cold water might not be a barrier to their survival.

Osedax worms are identifiable by their streaming red tips, like a mane of red-gold hair whipping upwards at the front of a speedboat. The worms don’t have eyes, stomachs, or mouths, and so must burrow their roots deep into a whale’s bones to access the digested lipids that helpful bacteria have made accessible to them there.

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« Reply #8156 on: Aug 15, 2013, 07:25 AM »

The Bronze Age collapse was caused by climate change: study

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, August 14, 2013 20:06 EDT

A cold, dry spell that lasted hundreds of years may have driven the collapse of Eastern Mediterranean civilizations in the 13th century BC, researchers in France said Wednesday.

In the Late Bronze Age, powerful kingdoms spanned lands that are now Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, Syria, Turkey, Israel and the Palestinian territories, but they collapsed suddenly around 1200 BC.

Archeologists have long debated the reasons behind their fall, often citing economic factors.

But in the past few years, more research has come to light indicating that natural factors, including a wintry drought, may have dried up agriculture, caused famine and forced people into war.

The latest findings, published in the open-access journal PLoS One, are based on an analysis of sediment from an ancient lake in southeastern Cyprus by lead researcher David Kaniewski of the University of Paul Sabatier in Toulouse.

Kaniewski found evidence of a 300-year drought beginning around 3,200 years ago in pollen grains derived from sediments of the Larnaca Salt Lake complex.

Changes in carbon isotopes and local plant species suggest that the series of four lakes were once a sea harbor at the heart of trade routes in the region, offering a new piece of the puzzle that suggests a history of environmental changes drove the region into a dark age.

“This climate shift caused crop failures, death and famine, which precipitated or hastened socio-economic crises and forced regional human migrations at the end of the Late Bronze Age in the Eastern Mediterranean and southwest Asia,” the study said.

Other researchers have found related evidence of a climate shift in sea surface temperatures and a two degree Celsius drop around the same time in the northern hemisphere.

Just why these changes occurred remains a matter of debate.

Some scientists suggest they may have been caused by a period of increased solar activity, which shifted the jet stream in the North Atlantic and led to drought by cooling the oceans and decreasing rainfall.

A similar climate event is believed to have happened in medieval times.

“The jury is still out on that one,” said Lee Drake, an adjunct professor at the University of New Mexico whose own research has shown a drop in sea surface temperatures in the Mediterranean coincided with the Greek Dark Ages in the same period.

“If sea surface temperatures drop, then less water evaporates and less water precipitates over land. This period of cooler temperatures seems to be consistent with the Greek Dark Ages of about 400 years,” he told AFP.

“If you can imagine this complex Greek civilization sitting on top of a bucket, then climate came and kicked it out from under them, and there was really nothing that they could have done,” he said.

“You have got cities full of people and now you can only feed half of them. Go.”

Drake said the latest research helps explain the mythology of the Sea Peoples, or raiders who invaded land, and offers a fuller picture of what happened and why.

“We have pieced together from Hittite texts and Egyptian texts an idea of the world that existed then but it was really an entire civilization, a state-run society with kings, vassals, serfs, armies that disappeared with very little trace at the end of the Late Bronze Age,” he said.

“It adds a tremendous amount of weight to the argument that what ended these civilizations was climate change.”

Drake said it is still unclear why, if the temperature change was global, the Mediterranean responded so dramatically.

“That is something I think it very important to understand because it is not inconceivable that it could happen again.”

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« Reply #8157 on: Aug 15, 2013, 07:49 AM »

In the USA..

The Economist explains

Why does America have such a big prison population?

Aug 14th 2013, 23:50 by J.F. | ATLANTA

“TOO many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law-enforcement reason.” The person who said that was neither a defence lawyer, nor a prisoners’-rights advocate, nor a European looking down his nose across the Atlantic. It was instead America’s top law-enforcement official, Eric Holder, the attorney general. On Monday Mr Holder announced several changes to federal prison policy, the most important of which was that federal prosecutors will no longer charge low-level, non-violent drug offenders with crimes that trigger “draconian” mandatory-minimum sentences. But how did America’s prison population become so unmanageably huge?

America has around 5% of the world’s population, and 25% of its prisoners. Roughly one in every 107 American adults is behind bars, a rate nearly five times that of Britain, seven times that of France and 24 times that of India. Its prison population has more than tripled since 1980. The growth rate has been even faster in the federal prison system: from around 24,000—its level, more or less, from the 1940s until the early 1980s—to more than 219,000 today.

Probably the biggest driver of this growth has been ever-harsher drug penalties. In response to the crack epidemic of the 1980s, Congress and state legislatures began passing laws that meted out mandatory-minimum sentences for drug-related crimes. These were intended to help nab major traffickers, but the sentences were triggered by the possession of tiny quantities of drugs: five grams of crack, for instance, resulted in a mandatory-minimum sentence of five years. Conspiracy laws made everyone involved in a drug-running operation legally liable for all of the operation’s activities: a child hired for a few dollars a day to act as a lookout at the door of a crack house was on the hook for all the drugs sold in that house and all the crimes associated with their sale. These sorts of laws kept America’s prison population growing even as its crime rate declined.

The tide began to turn around ten years ago when, in classic Nixon-to-China fashion, hang-’em-high Texas passed a law sending low-level, non-violent drug offenders to treatment rather than prison. The reform movement gained steam when the financial crisis hit: incarcerating people is expensive. Since 2007 more than half of America’s states have enacted some form of criminal-justice reform, and since 2008 the number of Americans behind bars has dipped slightly. How much of a dent Mr Holder’s policy shift will make remains unclear: it applies only to federal prisons, and around 90% of incarcerated Americans are in state and local lockups. But it’s a good start


August 14, 2013

The Challenge of Helping the Uninsured Find Coverage


OAKTON, Va. — Cyndy Dailey held a job fair at her nonprofit agency here last weekend, with a major caveat: she did not yet know if she could hire.

Like many organizations across the country, Ms. Daily’s agency, Northern Virginia Family Service, is hoping to win a federal grant to help uninsured people in the state sign up for coverage under President Obama’s health care law. With the money, she hopes to hire at least a handful of “navigators” — a new category of worker created under the law to educate consumers about new health insurance options and, starting in October, to walk them through the enrollment process.

Navigators are seen as crucial to the success of the law. As the Jan. 1 deadline approaches when most Americans will be required to have health coverage or pay a fine,  navigators are supposed to explain away confusion and fear among the legions of uninsured, helping them understand how new health insurance markets will work and whether they will qualify for subsidies to help with the cost of coverage.

But as the navigator effort gets under way across the country, it is clear that their impact will vary from state to state, with wide discrepancies in how much will be spent to hire and train navigators and how many people they will be able to reach. Many will be operating on shoestring budgets, with extremely tight time frames and hostile political climates.

“There’s definitely going to be a tremendous difference, not only in navigators but also in marketing funds,” said Andy Hyman, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “So what we’re going to have to see in states with fewer funds is a lot more ingenuity.”

Maryland is spending $24 million on a program that will soon dispatch 325 navigators and assisters around the state. Colorado is investing $17 million on 400 “coverage guides,” and New York is spending $27 million on a similar effort.

But in states like Virginia, which declined to build their own insurance markets under the law and ceded the task to the federal government, navigators will not have much money to get the word out. The Obama administration has promised up to $54 million for navigators in the 34 states where the federal government is setting up all or part of the markets. The grants are to be awarded Thursday.

In Virginia, up to $1.4 million will be distributed to navigator groups, which may include nonprofit community organizations, trade groups, chambers of commerce, unions and other public and private entities.

“It is what it is,” Ms. Dailey said about the comparatively tiny budget for navigators in her state. “All we can do is make our best effort.”

Her agency has asked for $495,000, about a third of the total navigator funds allocated for Virginia. That would cover the equivalent of seven and a half full-time navigators (some may end up working part-time), computers and other equipment for them to do their jobs, informational materials, marketing, and continuing outreach events in five counties.

The federal government did not anticipate having to cover the cost of running the insurance markets in 34 states, which is why it has only $54 million — transferred from a fund for public health prevention programs — for navigators in those states. The health care law set aside much more money for states that built their own markets, assuming that most would do so.

To fill in the gaps, other organizations will also be working to get the word out and helping people sign up for health plans through the new markets. About 1,200 community health centers around the country, which provide medical care for the uninsured, have received a total of $150 million in federal money to help with outreach and enrollment. Virginia’s health centers received $2.5 million.

In addition, many groups that did not apply for navigator funds will nonetheless help educate the uninsured about their options, connect them with navigators or point them toward the new insurance markets.

Insurance agents or brokers may also help people sign up for coverage through the markets; insurance companies selling plans through the markets will also play a role. Northern Virginia Family Service plans to enlist a network of partner organizations, many of whom already work with the uninsured, to help with outreach and enrollment or provide space and other resources.

“Other local groups may have funding or be in a position to get volunteers to do some of this work,” said Christine Barber, a senior policy analyst at Community Catalyst, a consumer advocacy group. “Everyone is anxious to know who the navigators are so that other groups can partner with them, know who to refer people to, know how to flesh out their coalitions and their outreach.”

Navigators, who will also help small businesses and their employees learn about and enroll in health plans offered through the new markets, cannot recommend any particular health plan or receive compensation from an insurance company. They will get at least 20 hours of training and take a certification test.

Opponents of the health care law have nonetheless questioned whether navigators will know enough to help consumers understand the complexities of insurance coverage, and whether they can be trusted with the personal data that consumers will include in applications for coverage.

Ms. Dailey said her agency planned to run background checks on navigators and have them sign off on ethics policies, adding, “We will do a good job because we have all these protocols in place.”

Once the federal grants are awarded, recipients will have to move quickly to hire and train navigators and set their outreach plans in motion. Judy Robinson, whose small nonprofit group in Charlottesville, Va., hopes to win a grant to hire three navigators who would team up with at least a dozen volunteers, said she was excited about the possibility despite the pressure.

Ms. Robinson said her group, the Jefferson Area Board for Aging, was already getting calls from uninsured residents seeking information about the new insurance market.

“I’m a planner, I like to anticipate things, so it is a little hard for me,” she said. “But I’m just going to try to let go, go with the flow of it and not be upset not to have it all in place.”

Ms. Dailey said her “contingent-upon-award” job fair for navigators last weekend drew about 20 people, including retirees, recent college graduates and people with compelling personal stories about health care and insurance.

“My hope would certainly be that we could do fast-track interviews,” she said. “I think I have a good pool of folks.”


August 14, 2013

Pine Ridge Reservation Votes to End Alcohol Ban


For practically as long as the Oglala Sioux have lived on the Pine Ridge reservation, alcohol has been seen as one of the tribe’s greatest enemies.

Over the years, it has been illegally smuggled onto the reservation and blamed for crime, poverty, family estrangements, fatal car accidents, suicides and unemployment.

Now, alcohol is sowing resentment and division within the tribe as the people of Pine Ridge have voted to legalize its sale.

Tribal election officials on Wednesday evening confirmed that tribal members, in a public referendum, had voted to overturn the ban on possessing and selling alcohol on the reservation. The vote tally was 1,843 in favor of legalization and 1,678 against it, according to the election commission.

Tribal members will have three days to challenge the result, but the election chairman, Francis Pumpkin Seed, said the burden to get a vote struck down was high in that whoever complains would have to prove that election law was violated.

While supporters say legalization will allow them to regulate alcohol and earn money from sales, critics worry that it will only worsen the tribe’s problems.

“How far are we going to let it go?” asked Bryan Brewer, the tribal president, who is staunchly against legalizing alcohol. “How many more children are going to be murdered because of this?”

There have been protest marches by those opposed to ending prohibition, and the police have said people had received death threats.

Because of threats, the ballots were transferred to a secure location after the polls closed Tuesday so they could be counted.

Those supporting the initiative said opening shops that sold alcohol on the reservation would allow the tribe to keep a share of Pine Ridge’s money on the reservation that is now being spent in liquor stores in towns bordering it. Further, they argued that the tax proceeds from alcohol sales could be used to bolster the Oglala Sioux’s alcohol treatment programs. It remained unclear how much money allowing alcohol sales would produce for the reservation, which is one of the poorest places in the country and has unemployment rates estimated at more than 80 percent.

“Not legalizing it is just the status quo,” said Robert Ecoffey, 58, who worked in law enforcement on the tribe and served as a superintendent for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. “You have all of the issues and none of the resources to help deal with it.”

But that argument was unconvincing to Mr. Brewer.

“We’re going to use alcohol money to spend on alcohol issues,” he said. “That doesn’t make sense to me. I consider this blood money that the tribe will be getting. I hate to accept it.”

Solving the alcohol problem, he said, requires educating children, returning to the roots of tribal culture and creating jobs through economic development. Instead, he said, the tribal council, the federal government and the people of Pine Ridge have turned a blind eye to the problem.

The United States government has traditionally banned alcohol on reservations, but during the past 20 years, as more tribes have opened casinos — which are the leading economic drivers on many reservations — those prohibitions have been relaxed by tribes. Still, many reservations continue to limit alcohol sales and consumption to casinos.

Even the smell of alcohol on a person’s breath in Pine Ridge has been cause for arrest. But despite the ban, alcohol — particularly beer — is plentiful on Pine Ridge. Most comes from stores that sell alcohol in the tiny town of Whiteclay, just across the Nebraska border from the reservation. Four stores in Whiteclay sell millions of cans of beer and malt liquor a year, almost all of it to the Oglala Sioux of Pine Ridge. Lawsuits, boycotts, police safety checks and protests organized by the tribe have all failed to close the stores or to put a significant dent in their business.

Ron Duke, Pine Ridge’s chief of police, said that while he did not personally support opening the reservation up to alcohol sales, legalizing it would free his officers from responding to calls in which there is a complaint about an inebriated person or the presence of alcohol inside a home — which he said took up the vast majority of an officer’s time.

But Chief Duke said that he expected the easier availability of alcohol to lead to a sharp rise in violence, which will challenge a department whose 37 officers are responsible for patrolling an area larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined.

Like the majority of families on the reservation, Chief Duke, 63, said alcohol has had a devastating impact on his family. He said that he managed to avoid alcohol until he was 16, but was soon drinking heavily, like many among his family and friends.

During his 20s, he said, it was common for him to leave work at a beef packing plant in Nebraska, spend hours in a bar drinking until closing time at 2 a.m. and then return to work at 6 a.m.

Chief Duke said he finally gave up alcohol when he turned 31. But alcohol’s ill fortune caught up to some members of his family. Two of his daughters, he said, were killed in drunken-driving accidents in the 1990s.


Republicans’ big problem with crazy

By Michael Cohen, The Guardian
Thursday, August 15, 2013 8:22 EDT

The GOP establishment pandered to Tea Party extremism to win the 2010 midterm elections. Now, it’s reaping the whirlwind

If you’re looking for a Republican congressman who truly embodies the ethos of the Tea Party, Maryland Representative Andy Harris is a pretty good pick.

Harris, you see, is no fan of “big government” and he’s definitely not a fan of Rinos (“Republicans in name only”).

Harris made a national name for himself in 2008, when he successfully launched a primary campaign against insufficiently conservative 18-year congressional veteran Wayne Gilchrest. Although Harris lost in the general election, he was more successful two years later, joining his Tea Party contingent in the House of Representatives.

As a congressman, Harris has had a difficult time finding a single government program or legislative initiative he doesn’t hate. He opposed the debt limit deal in the summer of 2011; he was one of the handful of Republicans to vote against the fiscal cliff deal in January 2013; he’s against immigration reform, foreign aid, more money for Pell grants, and even the Violence Against Women Act.

And, of course, he hates Obamacare.

This record of conservative allegiance would, you might imagine, inoculate Harris from Tea Party criticism. Yet, earlier this month, in a town hall meeting in his home district, he was assailed by his constituents – for not being strident and uncompromising enough.

“You guys are being nice guys” and “I want to see more defiance!” were just some of the accusations hurled at the congressman in a heated session that included questions about the supposed IRS scandal and the current lodestar of conservative lunacy – Benghazi.

Harris is not alone.

Blake Farenthold, another Tea Party Republican from Texas, who voted against the fiscal cliff deal as well, and told constituents “there are several [cabinet] departments we could completely get rid of”, was assailed by “birthers” for the GOP’s failure to impeach President Obama. (His defense was not that impeachment would be insane, but that it would be infeasible.) Tea Partiers in North Carolina pummeled Congressman Robert Pittenger for refusing to support defunding Obamacare even thought he has supported a number of bills repealing Obamacare.

Indeed, across the nation, Republican senators and congressmen are finding themselves under withering assault from Tea Party critics.

After three and a half years of legislative hostage-taking and policy nihilism and unceasing, uncompromising obstructionism of President Obama’s agenda, the message from the Tea Party is a simple one: we want more crazy.

So what’s going on here? Quite simply, Republicans are being destroyed by the rightwing monster they created.

Although, once upon a time, the divide in the GOP was between moderates and conservatives; today, the intra-party cleavage is between the Republican establishment and the lunatic fringe. And the fringe is not so fringe-y.

For years, the GOP establishment mined this wellspring of racial and economic anxiety. They railed against gay marriage and abortion; attacked big government and out-of-control federal spending and demonized welfare and social programs.

But once in office, Republicans had a funny way of never really carrying through with their tough rhetoric. Rather than do away with social security or Medicare – they strengthened it and expanded it. Rather than slash government spending or the size of the federal bureaucracy – they increased it. The more visceral imperative for Republican officeholders was to provide tax breaks for their wealthy supporters, weaken regulation (be it financial, environmental or workplace) and, above all, hold on to their political power. Going after sacred cows like social insurance programs or popular spending programs, or working to enact abortion restrictions, were political nonstarters (or were quickly shelved once they became political liabilities).

Then, in 2009, things began to take a turn. With the election of Barack Obama, Republicans found themselves with a new political adversary uniquely capable of upsetting the far right – and the GOP made sure this was exactly what happened. Playing on fears of social change, racial anxiety and expanding big government, Republican leaders inveighed against the evils of Obamacare and the president’s alleged profligate spending.

They pulled out every stop to thwart Obama’s legislative agenda, and even went far down the political rabbit hole as they flirted with “birtherism”, charges of socialism, and allegations that the president was a secret Muslim. In the process, they both enraged and energized the party’s most radical followers.

The result was a short-term political victory (control of the House of Representatives, won in the 2010 midterms) – but an increasingly long-term political headache, like the one playing out in GOP town hall meetings across America right now. The establishment players in Congress found themselves with a host of new Tea Partier colleagues little interested in following the usual GOP script of compromise in the name of political necessity. They were willing to undermine the full faith and credit of the US government in order to force draconian spending cuts upon the White House. They’ve continued their assault on Obamacare, voting to repeal it 40 times, and now, one of the group’s biggest bomb-throwers, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, is talking about shutting down the government in order to defund it. They’ve allowed sequestration – and its devastating affect on communities across the country – to continue. And they have resisted any and all effort to moderate the party’s image, dragging the Republican establishment under the bus with them.

On immigration reform, the Tea Party contingent has made clear that the Senate immigration bill is dead-in-the-water – thus, gravely undermining national GOP efforts to improve the party’s image among Hispanic voters. On abortion rights, state legislatures filled with ultra-conservatives continue to pass legislation restricting access to reproductive health services and, in the process, further devastated the party’s already poor relationship with women voters. In the struggle between those who want to moderate the party (albeit only slightly) and those who want to ride the train straight to crazy-ville, the latter are winning.

Finally, they’ve turned their guns on their own leaders and, in the process, driven the party more and more toward their uncompromising positions.

With deadlines coming soon on a possible government shutdown and an extension of the debt limit, Republican leaders like Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who is facing a Tea Party primary challenge are under growing pressure to not get off the politically suicidal path on which they find themselves – but instead to stay the course.

The result of all this is more dysfunction, more budgetary shutdowns and more political black eyes for a Republican party unable to reason with its most ideologically fervent followers. None of this should really be unexpected. If you’re going to tell radical conservatives that Obamacare is the worst thing to ever happen to America, is it really a surprise that those same extremists are not going to meekly nod when you tell them that it’s now a fact of life? If you’re going to tell voters that government debt is destroying the country, is it really a surprise when those voters demand that every step must be taken to reduce it?

Any hope that the defeat of Mitt Romney in November 2012 would begin to drain the GOP’s fever swamp has gone by the wayside – and Republicans have no one to blame but themselves. In nurturing and radicalizing its extremist fringe – in pursuit of short-term gain – the Republican establishment created a political Frankenstein. Increasingly, however, it looks as though the monster’s first victim is going to be them. © Guardian News and Media 2013


House Republican Demands The Government Be Shut Down Unless Obamacare Is Defunded

By: Jason Easley
Aug. 14th, 2013

The effort to force a government shut down unless the ACA is defunded gained another supporter as Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) was emphatic that he will not vote the fund the government unless Obamacare is defunded.

Rep. McClintock said:

    What happens is as we approach the end of the fiscal year on September 30th and the authorization for the federal government to spend money expires, we face the prospect of a government shutdown if something doesn’t happen, and that something is a continuing resolution which essentially puts aside all of that painstaking work on the appropriations bills, has gone into months and months of deliberations, and they simply kick the can down the road for another year. So, I’ve been committed. I told the House leadership, I will cut you a lot of slack on the appropriations bills. I understand they have to be reconciled with the Senate, this is a compromising process, they have to be approved by the president. But I am not going to vote for any more continuing resolutions that simply kick that can down the road. Now, I’ll make one exception to that, and that is if we can get a provision in the continuing resolution that defunds Obamacare this year…

    For example, they’ve delayed the president has asserted a horrifying and unconstitutional authority to choose which laws he enforces and parts of the law he enforces. Now remember, Article II of the constitution sets up the presidency. What’s the president’s singular responsibility? To see that the laws are faithfully executed. That’s in his oath. He’s not allowed to nullify those laws that he finds objectionable, but that is exactly what he is doing. So he is now temporarily nullifying the requirement that your employer buy an Obamacare health plan…

President Obama is doing absolutely nothing illegal by delaying implementation. Yesterday, Rand Paul claimed that the president was illegally rewriting legislation, but McClintock is claiming that the president is illegally temporarily nullifying laws. A law can not be temporarily nullified. It is either nullified or it isn’t. Temporary nullification is another fantasy term that Republicans have invented because delaying the implementation of the law isn’t a crime.

Most congressional Republicans are disagreeing with the idea that the government should be shutdown unless Obamacare is defunded. Republican Sen. Ron Johnson said that it will be virtually impossible to defund Obamacare.

It is pretty easy to see where this government shutdown standoff is heading. House Republicans want to shutdown the government, Senate Republicans are divided. If the government shuts down President Obama will turn up the heat, cut a favorable deal with a handful of Senate Republicans, and wait for John Boehner’s fractured House to cave.

There will be no defunding of the ACA, and it is a pretty safe bet that before the end of the year Speaker Boehner will try to soothe the angry natives by holding another meaningless vote on repealing or defunding Obamacare.


A Party Gone Mad – Today’s Republicans are Yesterday’s Fascists

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Aug. 14th, 2013

Growing up, I always wondered how an entire nation could go mad. I was thinking about Nazi Germany, and millions of good, decent Germans, seeming to lose their minds for Hitler and National Socialism and its repressive brutality.

I never thought I was see it for myself. It would be a long time, I told myself, before a nation would lose itself again as Germany had in the 30s.

Then came the 2008 elections and the Tea Party. It is painful and shocking to witness people you would assume to be as rational as you flip on Fox News and – as Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar used to say on Wayne’s World – go “mental.”

It turns out people can absolutely believe impossible things and they can be quite fanatical about it. The facts are right there; I can see them plain as day. Why can’t they?

Fox News is absolutely part of the problem. Everywhere you go, it’s on. It’s like a national propaganda channel. Joseph Göbbels would have wet himself at having such power in his hands. People sit in restaurants all across the nation and listen to lie after lie – all unsubstantiated and invented out of whole cloth – pass the lips of Fox News commentators.

Imagine how much easier would have been Hitler’s job if he had been able to do the same, rather than standing on street corners giving speeches and passing out leaflets.

All the Tea Party represents is repackaged fascism. The message is the same: real Americans instead of real Germans and familiar enemies, like Muslims instead of Jews (they share a hatred of gays); out-of-control paranoia and conspiracy theories like stabs in the back and betrayal; the view of women (real American – aka white women) as breeders of a master race; and a mission from God to restore the nation’s greatness.

America for Americans is no different than Hitler’s Germany for Germans. They even have the same overblown sense of nationalism: Deutschland über alles and American exceptionalism share a low-brow wavelength.

Nor is it a coincidence that both National Socialists and Tea Partiers happen to be white and predominantly male.

I really thought I would get through my life time without seeing it for myself. I wish I had, because though it helps me understand how it could happen, it does not bode well for the world my children will inherit.

You have only to peruse sites like Right Wing Watch to see how bad things are. The idiocy of their claims come right out of the same adherence to 19th century pseudoscientific principles sprinkled with nods to the actual Bronze Age of 3500 years ago, give or take.

It is not so long ago that people assumed superstition would not make a comeback. But it has. Every time I hear some Republican pooh-pooh global warming – like Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA) a few days ago saying that global warming is a fraud and a plot to institute global government (remember what I said about paranoid conspiracy theories?), or Rush Limbaugh saying if you believe in God you can’t believe in global warming – I wait expectantly for the germ theory of medicine to get thrown under the bus.

After all, we have Catholics in California worshipfully claiming liquid from a tree are God’s tears when what it actually is, is lice excrement.

And that’s not all: we already have gay animal demons explaining homosexual behavior in thousands of species of wild animals, and God, not tectonics, explaining earthquakes and volcanoes, while God, not global weather patterns, explain hurricanes and typhoons.

Goodbye germs. Welcome back the demon-haunted world Carl Sagan once warned us against. I never thought I’d see a major American political party get all Nazi either, so I’m not putting good money on the germ theory. Sorry guys.

No, Hitler didn’t like science either. He wanted “German” science just as today’s conservatives want “Christian” science.

Look, you shouldn’t have to be a liberal to think fascism is a bad thing. Republicans should think so too, and once upon a time, they did. But those Republicans aren’t in power anymore. To the point they still exist at all they exist as RINOs (Republicans in name only) and like Dick Lugar – who, let’s face it, while hardly a moderate looked sane by comparison – find themselves suddenly without jobs.

There are perfectly sane Christians out there and there have been perfectly sane Christians all through history, folks who lived alongside their Pagan neighbors, and who nowadays live alongside their liberal neighbors, alongside their gay neighbors, alongside their Muslim neighbors, and alongside their feminist neighbors.

Sadly, history has shown that the moderates seldom prevail. The reason is simple: they are not ruthless zealots. They’re average folks who just want to get along and so like all those same folks in Germany of the 1930s, they get trampled underfoot in the rush to kill the constructed Other of the moment. If theocracy does not prevail, some worldly power co-opting the Church prevails.

Even Hitler, after all, said he was doing the Almighty’s work and whatever disparaging remarks he might have made about Christianity, he made those same remarks about Paganism, and he paid his tithes to the Catholic Church till the day he died.

Benjamin Franklin said of mobs, “A mob’s a monster; heads enough but no brains,” and we’ve seen that to be true of Tea Party rally after Tea Party rally. Not all of these people are ideologues just as not all Germans who cheered for Hitler were Nazis.

It turns out General George S. Patton was right in 1945 to compare the Nazi Party to the Republicans and Democrats, because there isn’t as much difference between them as we would like to believe.

Patton was reprimanded, but who knew, after all, that in just a little more than half a century, the Republicans would themselves become Nazis?


Science Deniers And the Stupidity Caused by Being Blinded By Faith

By: Rmuse
Aug. 14th, 2013

For most lay-persons intelligence can be difficult to quantify, but they likely comprehend that being educated does not necessarily mean a person is intelligent any more than being intelligent means someone is well-educated. Some universally accepted indicators of intelligence are logic, abstract thought, understanding, communication, problem solving, and the ability to come to conclusions based on facts as opposed to someone basing their knowledge on faith.  Faith is belief in something that is not based on facts or empirical data, and most religious scholars argue faith’s proper domain should be restricted to questions that cannot be settled by evidence. Unfortunately, there is surprisingly large segment of Americans that believe their faith informs facts and evidence and it calls into question their level of intelligence.

In a recent poll, it was revealed that 70% of Georgia Republicans and 53% of all Georgia voters believed the Christian bible creation story is factual, and as stunning as the numbers are in Georgia, nationwide 46% of Americans adhere to the creation story as reality. Now, it is not to say that Americans who believe in creationism are unintelligent, but because their belief is founded on faith that cannot be proven and they vote according to that faith, they support politicians and policies that put the entire nation in peril and calls into question their level of intelligence.

It is doubtful that many people would openly assert that belief in creationism indicts a person as stupid or bad, although there are valid arguments to support that assumption, but it does put them in opposition to established science that epitomizes stupidity and is bad for America. Over the weekend, the danger inherent with people in positions of power who oppose established science exposed itself in the person of Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) who is vice-chair of the House Science Committee; he is also an adherent of the Christian religion. Rohrabacher spoke at a town hall on Saturday and stated categorically that “global warming is a total fraud,” and continued that “so much money has gone to science research projects they use to intimidate all of us into changing our lives and our freedom to make our choices on transportation and everything else.” It is doubtful that Rohrabacher’s assertion did not resonate with the ‘creationist crowd’ whose ignorance drives their suspicion of scientific evidence proving global warming is real, and it likely reinforced their opposition to climate science regardless they see and feel global warming’s effects. That is the consequence and danger of faith-based belief systems; they allow fanatics and charlatans to cater to and manipulate the unintelligent true believers.

In a new review of 63 studies conducted over the past century, researchers found that people with higher intelligence are less likely to fall for religious faith-facts and scriptural mythos. The psychologists reviewing decades and decades of research defined intelligence as the “ability to reason, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, and learn from experience” that they concluded described analytical and reasoned forms of intellect. Conversely, they defined religiosity as belief in the supernatural, obedience to this supernatural, and affirming their belief in the supernatural through blind adherence to unproven and false faith-facts. The danger for a society like America is that unwavering obedience based on faith makes religious devotees easy targets for conservatives who promulgate science-fear and take advantage of religious-faith to convince the faithful to vote against their, and all Americans’ best interests. The assault on women’s right to choose their own reproductive health is a prime example.

Despite the Christian bible and medical science does not consider a fetus a person until it breathes air, Republicans have little trouble convincing the same people who believe in creation that because they attach the words “sanctity of human life” to anti-women’s legislation, it may as well have been hand-delivered by their deity directly to GOP legislators. In fact, regardless that universally accepted biological science (and common sense) dictates otherwise, the personhood movement, many Republicans, and Christian conservatives are so blinded by faith they seriously regard a single-celled organism (zygote) a feeling and cognitive person. One has to question the intelligence of any human (regardless of education) who thinks a sperm cell penetrating an ovum is a person, but then again one questions the intelligence of believing Earth was hand-crafted by a deity in six days and is six-thousand years old.

The opposition to gay rights is founded in religious dogma and evangelicals contend homosexuality is a lifestyle choice despite evidence that gays are born gay. However, scientists who discovered genetic evidence proving homosexuality is not a choice are up against evangelicals and Republicans who deride science leaving the unintelligent little choice but to reject science the same as they reject overwhelming evidence of evolutionary biology. However, Republicans, religious right leaders, and their creationist followers only reject science that contradicts policies that empower their religious supporters and enrich their campaign donors.

The hypocrisy inherent in creationists, climate change deniers, and anti-choice advocates who abhor science because it disproves their faith-beliefs is simply stunning. The suspicion, hatred, and fear of science never crops up when faith-based devotees require emergency medical treatment or highly specialized and scientifically researched intervention to save their lives. Indeed, the oil industry that spends hundreds-of-millions of dollars discrediting scientific research as a total fraud are highly-invested in and solely dependent on science to extract their product from the Earth. Either science is legitimate, valuable, and a necessary part of life or it is a total fraud liberals use to frighten and control conservatives, but it cannot be both. Maybe if the faithful and anti-science crowd abandoned modern medicine, electricity, and motorized transportation they could be taken seriously, but their faith is only as strong as they need it to be to impose their will and beliefs on other Americans.

It is mindboggling there are so many Americans opposed to science and steeped in myth and superstition in the 21st century. Most Americans embrace science and appreciate scientists’ work that society is reliant on despite conservative claims it is a liberal plot to frighten and control the people. Part of the problem is a 40-year conservative campaign to demean science as a corrupt institution existing by virtue of liberal deceit, and it helps drives their objection to climate science because “if the left is responsible for science, it’s responsible for climate science which is another attempt to expand government power.” As bizarre and utterly ridiculous as that assertion seems, it has found a home in the same 46% of Americans who embrace that other bizarre and utterly ridiculous assertion; creationism.

One hesitates to automatically dismiss creationists as unintelligent and lacking in cognitive skills such as the ability to reason or comprehend complex ideas, but just barely. However, when so-called intelligent Americans see the effects of global climate change right before their eyes and believe Republicans who claim it is a total fraud, one can only assume they are either blinded by faith or inherently stupid. At this point, it is impossible to believe for a nanosecond they are that blinded by their faith.

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« Reply #8158 on: Aug 16, 2013, 05:53 AM »

Obama leads muted international condemnation as Egyptian death toll soars

US president stops short of suspending military aid as clashes between security forces and Brotherhood supporters rage on

Patrick Kingsley in Cairo, Martin Chulov in London and Dan Roberts in Washington, Friday 16 August 2013 08.39 BST   

Egyptian security forces clashed with supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood for a second day on Thursday as muted international condemnation led by Barack Obama failed to quell violence now said to have killed at least 638 people and wounded many thousands more.

The death toll from the ongoing crackdown is likely to be far higher, with many bodies remaining unaccounted for in mosques near the scene of the two major assaults on Brotherhood sit-ins on Wednesday.

The violence achieved its aim of clearing both protest sites but led to widespread rage and revenge attacks by supporters of the Brotherhood who torched a number of government buildings.

In the early hours of Friday the Brotherhood called for a nationwide "millions' march of anger" after noon prayers, Reuters reported.

"Despite the pain and sorrow over the loss of our martyrs, the latest coup makers' crime has increased our determination to end them," the Islamist group said in a statement.

In a counter move, a loose liberal and leftist coalition, the National Salvation Front, called on Egyptians to protest on Friday against "obvious terrorism actions" conducted by the Brotherhood.

The government warned it would turn its guns on anyone who attacked the police or public institutions after protesters torched a government building in Cairo on Thursday.

Responding to the army's brutal crackdown on protesters, Obama announced the cancellation of joint US military exercises with Egypt in a carefully calibrated rebuke that stopped short of a more significant suspension of aid.

The US president interrupted his family vacation on Martha's Vineyard to condemn the bloodshed, but stressed that any move toward peaceful democracy was a difficult process that could take decades.

"We appreciate the complexity of the situation," he said. "We recognise that change takes time. There are going to be false starts and difficult days. We know that democratic transitions are measured not in months or even years, but sometimes in generations."

Egypt's presidency said early on Friday Obama's remarks were not based on "facts" and would strengthen and encourage violent groups, Reuters reported.

His statement disappointed many in the diplomatic community who had hoped for a suspension, or even cancellation of $1.3bn in annual US military aid to Egypt, but the administration is anxious to retain this link for future leverage over the generals.

"If I'm an Egyptian general, I take notice and think President Obama is trying to take the least painful step to demonstrate to various constituencies in the US that he means what he says about democracy in Egypt," said Amy Hawthorne, who until recently was an Egypt policy official at the State Department. "But only the least painful step, so we won't take him that seriously."

The White House's limited intervention came as clashes took place for a second day in the capital Cairo, where an angry crowd stormed a security building in Giza and sporadic fighting was reported in at least four other parts of the country, including central Egypt where at least one police station and several churches were torched.

In Beni Suef, a southern city, locals said demonstrators attacked the security headquarters and a Coptic school. In Ismaïlia, a city near the Suez Canal, protesters backing the ousted president Mohamed Morsi attempted to attack a police station with a car, while Brotherhood members held a protest after the start of the evening curfew.

Overall, though, violence was markedly lower than on Wednesday – a day that appeared to be worse than the fears of some politicians and even Brotherhood backers, who had been bracing for an imminent attack on their hubs in north-eastern and western Cairo.

Bodies were still being counted in three mosques, three hospitals and two morgues, said Brotherhood spokesman Gehad el-Haddad early on Thursday, hours after a major assault led by interior ministry forces left behind scenes of shocking carnage at two sites used by supporters for the past six weeks.

Morgue officials struggled to cope with the number of bodies arriving at the premises. As a result, dozens of decaying bodies lay in coffins outside, relatives piling them with ice to stop the rot. Many claimed the police had refused to record their deaths as murder.

By daybreak, both protest sites were ravaged wastelands. Throughout Thursday, cleaners picked through the wreckage-strewn remains of the sites in an attempt to create a sense of normality. Protesters who had been encamped there had all fled or been arrested. Several groups made symbolic attempts to establish new hubs elsewhere in Cairo, but Brotherhood leaders continued to call on supporters to refrain from violence and hold only peaceful demonstrations.

Meanwhile, Egypt's military-backed interim government remained defiant, pledging in a statement to confront "terrorist actions and sabotage", laying the blame for the violence at the feet of the Brotherhood.

"The cabinet expressed its determination to confront the terrorist actions and sabotage by elements of the Muslim Brotherhood organisation," it said. "These actions are carried out as part of a criminal plan that clearly aims at toppling the state." State television quoted the interior ministry as saying the security forces would again use live ammunition to counter any attacks against themselves or public buildings.

The curfew that had been announced in a declaration of emergency that was imposed across the country for 30 days will now be imposed from 9pm to 6am.

In the street outside Cairo's Zeinhom morgue, families of victims vowed to resist the new curfew, refusing to leave the street until their relatives' bodies were accepted by the mortuary. "Curse the curfew," said Atef Fatih, whose brother was shot dead on Thursday. "We don't care about it. We will wait until they let the body inside."

Brotherhood leaders warned they could not restrain the anger of supporters across the country and said they feared the outbreak of more widespread violence in coming weeks as the full scale of the massacre in Cairo sinks in.

Christian leaders said that violence against Egypt's minority Coptic community was now at its highest for many decades. Islamists have angrily denounced Egypt's Christians as having given political cover to the new government, which was ushered into power by military chief, General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who ordered his officers to arrest Morsi and his aides on 3 July.

The six-week standoff between the state and the Brotherhood failed to reach any form of compromise, setting the scene for the violent clashes of this week. Brotherhood leaders had persistently said that the protest sites in Cairo would remain peaceful. Two earlier assaults by security forces had led to an estimated 300 deaths.

Morsi has been held incommunicado on a military base throughout the crisis. He is understood to have threatened to start a hunger strike should security forces carry through with their threat to attack both protest sites.


Cairo: Egyptian PM defends crackdown as death toll rises

Hazem Beblawi says Egypt cannot move forward without security, and interior minister says protesters incited violence

Patrick Kingsley in Cairo, Thursday 15 August 2013 14.01 BST   

Egypt's interim government and its backers remain defiant amid a rising death toll and widespread international condemnation of Wednesday's massacre of Islamist supporters of the ousted president Mohamed Morsi – the country's third mass killing in six weeks.

The prime minister, Hazem Beblawi, said the crackdown was essential to create stability, and praised security forces for what he characterised as maximum restraint – despite Egypt's health ministry on Thursday saying 525 had died in the violence that ensued when pro-Morsi camps on either side of Cairo were cleared.

"Egypt cannot move forward, especially economically, in the absence of security," Beblawi said in a televised statement. In 2011 Beblawi resigned from a previous government after a massacre of Coptic Christians.

The interior minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, said the protesters had "threatened national security, incited violence and tortured and killed people". Protesters at both camps had been largely peaceful.

The vice-president, Mohamed ElBaradei, appointed last month in an attempt to give the new military regime a respectable face, resigned in protest at Wednesday's events.

But in an indication that public sentiment remains strongly behind the military, even the liberal coalition he once led, the National Salvation Front, distanced itself from his decision and saluted the police's actions. A television host later called for ElBaradei to be placed under house arrest.

Dissenting voices were few and far between. But Egypt's Revolutionary Socialists, active during the 2011 uprising against the Mubarak regime, said the day's events were counter-revolutionary; "part of a plan to liquidate the Egyptian revolution and restore the military-police state of the Mubarak regime".

The first night of a dusk-till-dawn curfew – enacted under Mubarak-era laws – achieved mixed results. The usually bustling streets of central Cairo were largely empty on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Military roadblocks restricted access between parts of the city.

Elsewhere Islamists vowed to defy the curfew, and there were reports of clashes outside the finance ministry and other parts of Cairo. Fighting spread to several provinces.

On Wednesday, several Christian churches were reported to have been attacked. Christians, who make up 10% of Egypt's population, are blamed by some Islamists for Morsi's downfall.

The United States has led a chorus of international concern about the crackdown, publicly condemning the violence that resulted in the worst loss of life on a single day since the overthrow of Morsi.

The White House said "the world is watching", but there was still no sign that the US was prepared to characterise Morsi's removal by the army as a coup – which would trigger an automatic congressional ban on $1.3bn (£834m) in annual aid to the Egyptian military.

Britain's foreign secretary, William Hague, said he was "deeply concerned" at the escalating violence and unrest. "I am disappointed that compromise has not been possible. I condemn the use of force in clearing protests and call on the security forces to act with restraint," he said.

Lady Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, who met Morsi in his place of detention this month, said in a statement: "Confrontation and violence is not the way forward to resolve key political issues. I deplore the loss of lives, injuries and destruction in Cairo and other places in Egypt."

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, condemned the violence and urged an effort at "inclusive reconciliation". France and Germany also called for dialogue.

The strongest language came from Turkey, whose government has been a firm supporter of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. It urged the Arab League to act quickly to stop a "massacre" and the prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan, called for the UN security council to meet.

Iran warned of the risk of civil war. Rachid Ghannouchi, president of Tunisia's governing moderate Islamist party, Ennahda, called the crackdown an "abject crime". He expressed solidarity with the pro-Morsi backers' efforts to "recover their freedom and oppose the coup d'etat".

At least 51 Muslim Brotherhood supporters were killed on 8 July in a raid on a pro-Morsi sit-in and at least 65 at the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque three weeks later.


08/16/2013 12:29 PM

Propaganda Trap: Egyptian Elite Succumb to the Hate Virus

By Ulrike Putz in Cairo

Just weeks ago, they decried police violence and the heavy-handed state apparatus. Now, after over 600 members of the Muslim Brotherhood were killed on Wednesday, the Egyptian elite is silent. Those who dare to voice empathy are given a hostile reception.

Egyptian Amir Salim has the classic profile of a revolutionary. As a politically engaged young lawyer, he specialized in human rights cases, a focus which earned him nine trips to jail under Hosni Mubarak. When the revolt against the aging despot gained traction in 2011, Salim quickly became one of its spokesmen. After Mubarak's fall, he founded an organization which promulgated the creation of a civilian state free from military meddling. In a book published in 2012, he dissected the structures of Mubarak's police state.

Now, the same police that Salim attacked so vehemently in his book, has responded to demonstrations in Cairo with shocking brutality. At least 623 people, the vast majority of them civilians, were killed in street battles earlier this week.

And what is Salim doing? Sitting in a popular café in the Cairo city center, he says things like this: "The Muslim Brothers are a sickness and the police have to eradicate them." And: "The police and the army were only defending themselves." He adds that "the problem will only have been solved when the last Muslim Brother who causes problems is locked away in prison." When asked about the obvious human rights violations perpetrated on the dead and wounded, he said: "And what about the rights of those who live near the protest camps? What about their right to be able to enjoy their apartment?"

Welcome to Egypt under General Abd al-Fattah al-Sissi. The country is so polarized that people are no longer able to feel any empathy whatsoever for others. It is a country in which the smartest and most critically thinking intellectuals are now spewing little more than propaganda, with people on both sides of the deep political divide displaying a penchant for simplification, vilification and agitation. Those who ask critical questions run the risk of being physically attacked, an experience that many foreign journalists have encountered in recent days.

Another Step toward Civil War

Wednesday's bloodbath would seem to have done little to bring people to their senses. Tahrir Square, where pro-democracy activists gathered as recently as just a few weeks ago to protest violence perpetrated by the country's security forces, is completely empty. And the Muslim Brotherhood, instead of seeking to limit violence within its ranks, is amplifying its rage. Each day, the country seems to be taking another step toward civil war.

It is, of course, hardly surprising that people on both sides would fall into the propaganda trap. Egypt was deeply marked by the 30 years of autocracy under Mubarak. A healthy mistrust for simplistic sloganeering, as seen in more established democracies, remains rare. It is, however, shocking that even those who see themselves as the country's educated elite are marching in step.

One of them is Khaled Daud, spokesman for the National Salvation Front, a collection of 11 liberal political parties. He says that the attack on the Muslim Brotherhood sit-in camps on Wednesday could definitely not be called a massacre. The protesters could have left of their own free will. By refusing to do so, they hold responsibility for the deaths. "We don't condemn what happened."

Then, however, his conscience did kick in and he added that his comments were merely the party line and that he personally sees things differently. "Nothing can justify the deaths," he said. "You can't simply explain away the high number of casualties. Police used brutal, excessive force. It is a catastrophe."

Bombarded by Messages of Hate

Daud says though that such views are not widespread. "The majority of Egyptians think the Brotherhood should be dealt with even more severely," he says, adding that few have understanding for Mohammed ElBaradei, the opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who resigned from the transition government as a result of the bloodbath on Wednesday. Since then, Egyptian liberals have been blasting him as a traitor.

One of the few who has publicly voiced respect for ElBaradei's decision is Ashrif Arubi. An engineer by profession, Arubi is a co-founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, which played a significant role in the toppling of the Mubarak regime. "ElBaradei has principles and I think that is good," he says. But ever since Arubi posted his view on social media, he has been bombarded by messages of hate.

Arubi and others in his camp would like to organize a demonstration against the kind of violence that took place in Cairo on Wednesday. "We are opposed to the ways the police cleared the camps," he says. But he adds that the timing for such a protest isn't right -- it would be too dangerous. "People are happy that the Brothers were killed. They see it as revenge," 33-year-old Arubi says. He blames the state-controlled media for brainwashing people.

"My greatest fear seems to have come true," the activist says. "The Egyptians no longer see the authorities as their opponents. The enemy is now those Egyptians with other views."


08/15/2013 07:04 PM

An Arab Nightmare: West Dithers Over Taking a Side in Egypt

A Commentary by Erich Follath

Egypt's political unravelling puts the West in a tight spot. Its reaction to this week's massacre will affect its image in the Arab world for many years to come. So far, it has been anything but assertive.

When historical turning points present themselves, there's no avoiding the need for decisive action. Now that the Egyptian armed forces -- with the backing and the approval of a subservient civil government -- has brutally clamped down on protests by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Western world is at a crossroads. It is irrelevant if the number of casualties is 500 or over 1,000, depending on which source is to be believed. The reaction to this week's massacre in Cairo will be key to the reputations of the United States and Europe in Arab states and the Muslim world in general for years to come. Its credibility and influence are at stake.

As is often the case, the issue is not how much outrage and sympathy is triggered by shocking images of seriously injured men, helpless elderly women and crying children. The issue is how to balance realpolitik with human rights.

Do we want to issue stern diplomatic warnings and return to dialogue with a strongman at the top of the Egyptian government with blood on his hands but the clout to bring a modicum of stability to the country and the region, and a foreign policy stance that dovetails with ours?

Or do we want to issue stern diplomatic warnings against pushing the Muslim Brotherhood underground, thereby turning them into martyrs, and instead call for them to be supported in their rights -- even though the fundamentalist ideology of these bearded men is so alien to us and undoubtedly at least partly responsible for the current political turmoil?

It is already apparent that there are two winners and one tragic loser in this crisis -- one a terrorist, one a general and one a Nobel Prize winner.


One of the winners is 62-year-old Aiman al-Zawahiri. The son of a professor of medicine from the Nile Delta, he was a surgeon himself who in the early 1970s joined the Muslim Brotherhood, which was outlawed at the time. Before too long he came to see them as insufficiently radical and helped found the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. In 1981, Zawahiri was arrested in connection with plans for a coup and was severely tortured in jail. After his release, he left Eygpt and joined Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaida in Afghanistan, taking over its leadership after his killing in June 2011. Since then, he has regularly released video messages from the underground.

In one of them, dating back some 18 months, he voiced disgust at his former brothers-in-arms, accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of what he called a "treasonous" acceptance of the "rules of the West." Zawahiri was incensed by the fact that the movement protested against the autocratic rule of former President Hosni Mubarak alongside liberals and leftists and then took part in democratic elections -- a move that is anathema to Islamist terrorists, who reject democracy.

Then, when the ultra-conservative movement's candidate Mohamed Morsi became the country's first freely elected president in June 2012, Zawahiri seemed to be once and for all on the losing side. The West applauded. The Egyptian armed forces stayed in their barracks. At first.

A Disastrous Year

But the year that followed proved disastrous, with Morsi failing utterly to be the "leader for all Egyptians" he had promised to be. He signed an Islamist constitution into law, weakened the courts and harassed the media. His incompetence destroyed an already ailing economy. The opposition took to the streets, with 22 million Egyptians signing a petition calling for his resignation.

On July 3, the armed forces removed the president from office, placed him under house arrest and is now planning to put him on trial. Most Egyptians were relieved. There was talk of a "second revolution" but the development was essentially a coup. It was immediately obvious that the Muslim Brotherhood would never simply sit back and allow themselves to be stripped of power. They organized daily demonstrations and set up protest camps. Not so very different to what they did 18 months previously with liberals and leftists.

Not all the members of the Muslim Brotherhood stuck to their official aim of non-violent resistance. The movement appeared to have lost its direction. Then, last week, the Egyptian armed forces launched a violent crackdown against radicals who had urged supporters to embrace martyrdom.

Terrorist leader Zawahiri probably feels vindicated. A triumphant, "I told you so"-message could be delivered from his secret hideout any day. In his eyes, elections are for fantasists, only respected by the military and the West if they are won by secular parties they approve of. Such as the military coup in Algeria in 1991 --- backed by the West -- and the election in Gaza in 2006, when the West isolated the radical victors. Cairo in 2013 is no different.

The New Strongman

The second winner of this bloody crackdown is 59-year-old Abd al-Fattah al-Sissi, who has emerged as Egypt's military strongman. His official role is as defense minister in the interim civilian government, but he clearly has what it takes to be the man of the hour. He was the one who called for mass protests against the organizers of "terrorism" -- the Muslim Brotherhood, in other words. He was the one who skillfully fanned the flames of nationalist fervor, evoking the era of his idol Nasser, who established himself as the pre-eminent Arab leader. He was the one who pledged to restore "order," jobs and economic stability. Combined with the militant intervention against the broadly reviled Muslim Brotherhood, this has, without a doubt, made him the most popular man in Egypt at the moment. But also the most controversial. Clearly, he only pays lip service to democracy.

General Sissi is considered to be a strictly devout Muslim and a guardian of fundamentalist morals -- indeed, he has been linked to the unspeakable virginity tests carried out at Tahrir Square. But good relations with the United States and the well-being of the Egyptian army were more important to him. Sissi attended the "war course" at the United States Army War College in Carlisle in 2006 and as since enjoyed very close personal contacts inside the Pentagon. In his own country, the army commander in chief has to take pains to ensure that the privileges of his fellow officers remain untouched.

The military is by far the most important economic power in Egypt, controlling hotels, gas stations, electronics companies and even noodle factories. It's a state within a state -- members of the military don't even vote because in Egypt they are held in a class above everything else. Anyone who tries to interfere with this gravy train is quickly moved out of the way.

Sisi, the victor, now says, wholeheartedly and generously, that he wants to keep the army forces in the barracks and to return the country to democracy according to a set schedule. But for now he has imposed a state of emergency for the next month, which gives him all the power in the world. Now things can be "cleaned."

A Major Loss for ElBaradei

The biggest, most tragic loser in the poker game for power in Egypt is 71-year-old Mohamed ElBaradei. The son of a prominent family of lawyers in Cairo, he studied both in Egypt and the United States. For more than 12 years, he served as the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, which monitors nuclear non-proliferation under the tutelage of the United Nations. In 2005, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on behalf of the organization. When he retired from the IAEA in November 2009 after 12 years at its helm, most assumed the global citizen would quietly settle in his house in southern France and, at most, keep himself busy with speeches at leading universities and writing books. But political upheaval in his home country led him to pursue a different course. He moved to Cairo and got involved with the liberal, anti-Mubarak opposition.

In 2012, he founded his own Constitution Party. But the intellectual will never be a man of the people. After the Muslim Brotherhood's election victory, he found himself on the side of those who felt he needed to be offered a chance politically. Their failure was extremely difficult for ElBaradei -- and he considered Morsi's dismissal to be unavoidable and also supported the putsch (although he didn't want to think of it as such). "We had no other choice," he told SPIEGEL in an interview last month.

It was only after he was pressured to do so for some time and out of fear of the threat of a civil war that he finally agreed to assume the post of vice president in a non-elected government. He was also conscious of the fact that he would serve as its democratic calling card, making it clear in the interview that as "an important part of our society," the Muslim Brotherhood has to be included in the process of democratization. He added that former President Morsi "must be treated with dignity" and riots must be prevented from happening. "My red line is this," he said, "I don't align myself with anyone who ignores tolerance and democracy."

This red line was clearly and bloodily crossed on Wednesday. A visibly shocked ElBaradei said, "It has become too difficult to continue bearing responsibility for decisions I do not agree with and whose consequences I fear." He said he believed peaceful means for ending the clash in society had not been exhausted. What remains an open question is whether it was naiveté that allowed ElBaradei to express publicly on several occasions that he thought the military really would go back to the barracks and relinquish any direct political control. In this way, ElBaradei became a figure straight out of a Greek tragedy: He wanted to get involved in Egyptian politics because he believed he would also be perceived as guilty if he failed to do so. But he also has a responsibility to bear because, in his high position, he was unable to prevent the impending disaster despite considerable efforts.

Arab Spring Euphoria Has Subsided

The fronts in Egypt are clearly defined and the euphoria surrounding the awakening that came with the Arab Spring has subsided. Tunisia is threatened with failure, Libya is slipping back to its traditional tribal structures. And all those experts who had always warned that it would take a long time for democratic structures to develop in the Arab World and who pointed to the aftermath of the French Revolution as an example will no longer be speaking of minor aberrances -- instead, the entire project is being put to the test.

This goes to show that real progress is not a matter of free elections or the right to assemble, but of the checks and balances of functioning state organizations.

So what should the West do?

"In the end, the West will back the winning side," Emad Shahin, a professor of politics at the American University in Cairo, told the New York Times. "That is how dictators think, and to a certain extent it is true."

"If it looks like the US effectively colluded in a counterrevolution, then all the talk about democracy and Islam, about a new American relationship with the Islamic world, will be judged to have been the height of hypocrisy," Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst and counter-terrorism expert who now advises President Obama, told the New York Times.

If Obama wants to avoid this happening, his administration will need to be more assertive than it is currently being, and make it clear to the Egyptian armed forces that democracy entails freedom and rights even to its political opponents -- and that if it continues to refuse to talk to the Muslim Brotherhood, the US will withdraw $1.3 billion of annual military aid.

Erich Follath is SPIEGEL's diplomatic correspondent.

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August 15, 2013

Deadly Blast Rocks a Hezbollah Stronghold in Lebanon


BEIRUT, Lebanon — A blast from a powerful car bomb tore through a southern suburb of this city on Thursday, killing at least 18 people and wounding nearly 300 in the heart of a stronghold of Hezbollah, the militant Shiite movement that has the country’s strongest military force.

The evening blast, which set apartment buildings ablaze and scattered bodies in the street, was the deadliest bombing in Lebanon in more than eight years and raised fears that the country was slipping into a new era of political violence.

Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, Najib Mikati, declared Friday a national day of mourning.

There were no credible claims of responsibility, but many here saw the bombing — and a similar attack nearby last month — as spillover from the civil war in neighboring Syria. Hezbollah has become increasingly involved there, sending fighters to back President Bashar al-Assad against the predominantly Sunni rebels seeking his overthrow. That involvement has enraged Sunnis in both countries, and many said they suspected that extremists among them had used the blasts to strike back.

“It was clear that this was an attack on Hezbollah,” said Moussa Ghamloush, 54, who was standing outside his restaurant, around the corner from the blast site. He had been in the kitchen when the explosion “shook the earth” and sent glass flying.

“This is all because of the fighting in Syria,” Mr. Ghamloush said, accusing Al Qaeda and an extremist Syrian group linked to it, the Nusra Front.

The explosion, near a complex often used for Hezbollah rallies in the Ruwais neighborhood, tore a hole in the street between two tall apartment buildings, blew the fronts off shops and burned a dozen cars, flipping some on top of others. Witnesses reported seeing bodies in the street afterward, one hanging from some scaffolding down the block.

Fires raged inside the buildings, and smoke poured from their blown-out windows. Fire trucks packed the streets, as men from the neighborhood, some wielding automatic rifles, tried to clear the streets to allow water trucks to enter and ambulances to leave with the dead and wounded.

The fires and damage to the buildings made it hard for rescue crews to evacuate residents. Hours after the blast, men wearing face masks to block the smoke were still searching the upper floors with flashlights, taking residents to windows to be lowered to the street in the fire trucks’ elevator towers.

Hezbollah’s control of the area, where most residents are Shiites, is clear. Large posters of the group’s “martyrs” adorn lampposts, and after the blast, men belonging to the movement, carrying guns and walkie-talkies, blocked the main highway exit leading to the site and many roads nearby.

When asked whom they blamed for the blast, many residents listed the group’s enemies: Israel, against which it has fought numerous wars; Al Qaeda, which considers Shiites heretics; Syria’s rebels, which resent the group’s support for Mr. Assad; and the Persian Gulf states Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which support the Syrian uprising.

Talal Atrissi, a Lebanese political analyst, said he did not rule out Israeli involvement. Israel, along with the United States and the European Union, considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization, and it has assassinated many of its leaders. The bombing took place one day before Hezbollah’s annual commemoration of its one-month war with Israel in 2006.

But he said there were plenty of others who wanted to harm the group, mostly Sunnis who oppose its involvement in Syria. “Hezbollah has many enemies,” he said. “It is an open war against Hezbollah.”

Aware of the threat, Hezbollah had stepped up security in the area, residents said, after the bombing last month, in the nearby neighborhood of Bir al-Abed, which wounded more than 50 people.

A Sunni resident who asked that his name not be published out of fear of Hezbollah said that after the July attack, Hezbollah members checked every outsider who entered the area and passed out business cards with phone numbers that residents could call to report strangers. Residents said the attack on Thursday did not affect their support for the group.

“They don’t want Hezbollah here,” said Bushra Hijazi, who lives nearby. “But as long as Hezbollah is here, we feel safe.”

The attack was the deadliest in Lebanon since a car bombing in February 2005 killed the country’s prime minister, Rafik Hariri, and 22 others. Last October, a car bombing in a Christian neighborhood in Beirut killed a powerful intelligence official who was viewed as an enemy of Syria, along with seven others. Many suspected that Syria and Hezbollah had planned the attack.

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