November 23, 2012
Code Found on Pigeon Baffles British Cryptographers
By ALAN COWELL
They have eavesdropped on the enemy for decades, tracking messages from Hitler’s high command and the Soviet K.G.B. and on to the murky, modern world of satellites and cyberspace. But a lowly and yet mysterious carrier pigeon may have them baffled.
Britain’s code-breakers acknowledged Friday that an encrypted handwritten message from World War II, found on the leg of a long-dead carrier pigeon in a household chimney in southern England, has thwarted all their efforts to decode it since it was sent to them last month.
As the bird’s story made headlines, pigeon specialists said they believed it may have been flying home from British units in France around the time of the D-Day landing in 1944 when it somehow expired in the chimney at the 17th-century home where it was found in the village of Bletchingley, south of London.
After sustained pressure from pigeon fanciers, Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, its code-breaking and communications interception unit in Gloucestershire, agreed to try to crack the code. But on Friday the secretive organization acknowledged that it had been unable to do so.
“The sorts of code that were constructed during operations were designed only to be able to be read by the senders and the recipients,” a historian at the organization told the British Broadcasting Corporation.
“Unless we get rather more idea than we have about who sent this message and who it was sent to, we are not going to be able to find out what the underlying code was,” said the historian, who was identified only as Tony under the organization’s secrecy protocols.
Code breakers, he said, believed that there could be two possibilities about the encryption of the message, both of them requiring greater knowledge about the identity of those who devised or used the code.
One possibility, he said, was that it was based on a so-called one-time pad that uses a random set of letters, known only to the sender and the recipient, to convert plain text into code and is then destroyed.
“If it’s only used once and it’s properly random, and it’s properly guarded by the sender and the recipient, it’s unbreakable,” the historian said.
Alternatively, if the message was based on a code book designed specifically for a single operation or mission, then the code breakers were “unlikely” to crack it, the historian said. “These codes are not designed to be casually or easily broken.”
It took a campaign of many years to get officials to pay attention. The pigeon’s skeleton was initially found in 1982 by David Martin, a retired probation officer, when he was cleaning out a chimney at his home in Bletchingley as part of a renovation. The message, identifying the pigeon by the code name 40TW194, had been folded into a small scarlet capsule attached to its leg.
“Without access to the relevant code books and details of any additional encryption used, it will remain impossible to decrypt,” the Government Communications Headquarters said in a news release. “Although it is disappointing that we cannot yet read the message brought back by a brave carrier pigeon, it is a tribute to the skills of the wartime code makers that, despite working under severe pressure, they devised a code that was undecipherable both then and now.”
Mr. Martin said he was skeptical of the idea that the agency had been unable to crack the code. “I think there’s something about that message that is either sensitive or does not reflect well” on British special forces operating behind enemy lines in wartime France, he said in a telephone interview. “I’m convinced that it’s an important message and a secret message.”
There was some indication on Friday, though, that the agency was not taking 40TW194’s code as seriously as, say, tracking satellite phone communications between militants in the Hindu Kush.
One of the most “helpful” ideas about the code, according to Tony, the agency’s historian, had come from an unidentified member of the public. That person suggested that, with Christmas coming and thoughts turning, in the West at least, to a red-robed, white-bearded, reindeer-drawn bearer of gifts skilled at accessing homes through their chimneys, the first two words of the message might be “Dear Santa.”
Walmart hit by Black Friday strikes across 46 states, say protesters
By Dominic Rushe, The Guardian
Friday, November 23, 2012 13:59 EST
Retail giant Walmart has been hit by protests and staff walkouts at stores across the US on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day in the retail calendar.
The actions began Thursday, as workers protested the retail giant’s decision to open on Thanksgiving, which is traditionally a national holiday, and what they claim are attempts by Walmart to silence protests from workers. Industrial action continued Friday, with organisers claiming 1,000 protests in 46 states.
Walmart workers in Atlanta, Miami, Dallas, Wisconsin, California’s Bay Area, Chicago, Washington DC and other cities took part in the walk out, protesting wages and work conditions. The demonstrations were co-ordinated by OUR Walmart, a workers’ group that last month led the first strikes that the retail giant had experienced.
OUR Walmart workers claimed the retailer was intimidating those who protest working conditions at the retailer.
Walmart countered that it had had its best Black Friday ever and that the majority of protesters were not Walmart workers.
“Only 26 protests occurred at stores last night and many of them did not include any Walmart associates,” said Bill Simon, Walmart’s US president and chief executive officer. “We had very safe and successful Black Friday events at our stores across the country and heard overwhelmingly positive feedback from our customers,” Simon said.
He added that the retailer estimated less than 50 Walmart workers had taken part in the protests. “In fact, this year, roughly the same number of associates missed their scheduled shift as last year,” Simon said.
But protesters disputed the retailer’s numbers.
Dan Schlademan, director at lobby group Making Change at Walmart, said “hundreds and hundreds” of workers were taking action.
He said as a result of protests, Walmart workers had seen their employment terminated, threatened with having their hours cut and that the labor board was now investigating 35 specific violations of the national labor relations act.
Schlademan said more actions were planned for the holiday season. “This has been an amazing moment but we are just at the starting point of what we are doing,” he said.
Mary Pat Tifft, an OUR Walmart member and 24-year associate who led a protest on Thursday evening in Kenosha, Wisconsin. said: “For Walmart associates this has been the best Black Friday ever. We stood together for respect across the country.”
“Walmart has spent the last 50 years pushing its way on workers and communities. In just one year, leaders of OUR Walmart and Warehouse Workers United have begun to prove that change is coming to the world’s largest employer.”
“Our voices are being heard,” said Colby Harris, an OUR Walmart member and three-year associate who walked off the job in Lancaster, Texas, on Thursday evening. “And thousands of people in our cities and towns and all across the country are joining our calls for change at Walmart. We are overwhelmed by the support and proud of what we’ve achieved so quickly and about where we are headed.”
Catholic charity shuns Walmart’s ‘blood money’
By Stephen C. Webster
Friday, November 23, 2012 10:16 EST
A Catholic charity in Tucson, Arizona said Thursday that it would not accept a gift of $2,000 from mega-retailer Walmart, calling the offer “blood money.”
“We feel that even though Walmart has low prices, they pay lousy wages, they’re anti-union and they have a detrimental effect on the survival of small businesses,” Brian Flagg, who runs the Casa Maria Free Kitchen in Tucson, told The Arizona Daily Star. “We consider that blood money.”
Flagg said it wasn’t just him making that decision, either. After consulting the charity’s board, they decided it was only appropriate they turn down the money, a first for the group. “The consensus was not to accept the money,” he reportedly added. “Hopefully we’re modeling good Catholic, Christian behavior.”
Critics often cite Walmart for having a detrimental effect on the small business community in areas where it sets up new stores, which often employ workers for minimum wage, offering little in the way of benefits. The retailer has even been caught actively helping employees sign up for food stamps (PDF), much of which is returned to Walmart through actual food purchases.
Workers also say they are often overlooked for raises and paid minimal amounts for long hours — a key reason the famously anti-union retailer was being targeted on Black Friday by organized strikes in nine states.
A Walmart spokesperson told the Star that the company has given more than $345,000 to Tucson organizations that support community needs. “Our pay and benefits typically meet or exceed what’s offered by the majority of our competitors; we promote from within, our turnover rate is below the industry average and our associates’ satisfaction scores have trended higher over the past few years,” the spokesperson added.
Brown Friday: Why do people poop in retail stores?
By David Ferguson
Friday, November 23, 2012 16:53 EST
Unless you’ve worked in retail, you’ve probably never heard of it. If you have worked in retail, then you know that sometimes, if you will, shit gets real. For some unfathomable reason, people poop in retail clothing stores, particularly in fitting rooms and inside the circular clothing racks called “rounders,” but other times they’ll just do it in a corner or, perversely, on the floor right next to the toilet.
As a former employee of Gap, Inc. and Borders Books, this reporter can confirm that the phenomenon exists. With depressing frequency, often during the busiest and most hectic times of the year — Black Friday weekend and the weeks before Christmas — sales employees or managers will open a fitting room door, or brush aside a pile of clothes to find that some shopper, large or small, has defecated and left the results behind.
Amanda Atkinson of Athens, Georgia worked in retail for nine holiday seasons as an Old Navy sales associate. She found messes in fitting rooms and in the store’s public restrooms, some of which were truly staggering.
“Obviously you had the ones in the bathroom,” she said, where people would miss the toilet entirely, clog the toilets and walk away, “or they would go out of their way to smear their poop on the walls.”
The worst thing she said she encountered was on the Saturday night of one Black Friday weekend. “There were clothes on the ground everywhere” in one of the store’s “Clearance” areas. Hundreds, if not thousands of shoppers had come through, many trying on items right in the section and then just flinging them to the floor.
“There was a pile of clothes that, like, three people could have slept on, it was so big,” she said. As she dug deeper into the pile, the first thing that hit her was the smell.
“Somebody had gone out of their way to stuff into the very center of the pile, not the bottom, mind you, but the dead center of the pile, a shitty diaper,” she said. “To the point that we couldn’t do anything with the clothes, we had to throw it all out. We couldn’t even go through the clothes and see what we were throwing out because it was just too much of a biohazard. We just threw it all in trash bags and took it outside.”
Alison, who works at an independent bookstore in Lexington, Kentucky, declined to give her last name, but told of an event that occurred in her store, recently, in which an older gentleman “who bought no fewer than ten copies of Shit My Dad Says — and not at the same time,” disappeared into the store bathroom, then departed without her knowing.
“So about ten minutes later, I go back there to check things out,” she said, “Bathroom’s empty, but there’s an odor, for sure. I walk in and I look in the toilet, and it’s completely clean.”
Then, she looked down.
“And all of a sudden I realized there was shit all over the floor. Not only did the guy shit on the floor, but he stepped in it and tracked it through as he left,” she said.
She and her manager tackled the mess. They haven’t seen the customer since.
Raw Story contacted psychologist Jeanne Dugas to find out if perhaps this phenomenon is among the panoply of recognized human fetishes, if maybe the desire to shit undetected in a public place is akin to the thrill that some people get from having sex in a location where they might get caught. In fact, it was the first time she had ever heard of the practice.
“They do what?” she asked. “Really?”
When asked if there might be a particular psychological motivation involved, Dugas replied, “I tell you, I’m at a loss. A, I’ve never heard of that before and B, Holy cow!”
She said that the most charitable explanation she could offer would be that they were unable to make it to the rest room in time to get back for a particular sale item, or maybe they just weren’t up to the fight through the throng of holiday shoppers. To her, however, the acts sound more like aggression.
“I mean, it is, literally, ‘dumping’ on the store,” she said.
“Really, though?” she asked, still grappling with the notion. “People really do that? It’s, like, a thing?”
Indeed it is, and for thousands of retail workers across the country and perhaps around the world, it’s just one more element of the abiding joy that is the holiday sales season. If it’s not the top of the list, then it’s certainly there at Number 2.
Supreme Court nears same sex marriage decision on DOMA-related cases
By Karen McVeigh, The Guardian
Friday, November 23, 2012 12:57 EST
The nine judges of the US Supreme Court will decide next week whether to consider the constitutionality of same-sex marriage – a keenly awaited choice that will have far-reaching implications for thousands of legally married gay couples across the United States.
Activists are hoping that shifting public opinion on the issue, most recently demonstrated by election-day victories in all four states where same sex-marriage measures were on the ballot, will convince the judges to take on the issue.
Up for decision is a set of cases relating to the Defense of Marriage Act (Doma), a 1996 law which states that every time any federal law refers to marriage, it means only that between a man and a woman. Same-sex couples who are legally married in one of nine states or Washington DC are thus denied the benefits or opportunities afforded by marriage to opposite-sex couples.
Five federal courts have ruled that Doma is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court could decide to take on one or more of these cases. The judges will also decide whether to consider an appeal from supporters ofCalifornia‘s Proposition 8, a voter-approved amendment to the state constitution which seeks to ban same-sex marriage. Another petition before the justices relates to the state of Arizona, which is seeking to revive a state law that is similar to Doma.
Four Supreme Court justices must agree a case in order for the court to take it. They can take up all of the measures before them, none of them or some. The justices are expected to announce a decision on 30 November.
Advocates of marriage equality are hoping that the tide of public opinion that has been demonstrated by polls over this year will persuade the justices to strike down Doma. Last year, the Obama administration decided not to defend the law in court, believing it to be unconstitutional.
Brian Moulton, legal director of Human Rights Watch, a marriage-equality group, said that the election-night victories had underlined the need for a Supreme Court decision on Doma, because of the growing number of couples who will be affected by a federal law that discriminates against them.
Moulton said: “The number of couples who are married at the state level who will not be recognised because of Doma will get bigger and bigger, so the scope of the problem will grow. That might influence the question of whether to resolve the issue.”
He said he was optimistic that the judges would decided to take up the issue: “The justices are people as well and they read the newspapers. That gives them a sense of where the country is going on these issues.”
Two of the Doma cases, both brought against the federal office of personnel management, relate to the denial of healthcare benefits to same-sex spouses. Gill v United States Office of Personnel Management is from the First Circuit in Boston and Golinski v OPM is from the Ninth Circuit. In each of these cases, the Court of Appeal held that Doma violated equal protection rights.
Gill was considered with another Doma case, Massachusetts v United States Department of Health and Human Services, in which the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Doma’s denial of federal recognition to lawfully-married same-sex couples violated the US constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws.
The Supreme Court is widely expected to take one of the cases, but predicting an outcome is difficult. If, for instance, the Supreme Court declines to take the Gill and Massachusetts cases, the First Circuit decision would stand. However, it would apply only to the states in that Circuit – Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
Douglas Nejaime, an associate professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said Doma was important but pointed out that it does not have wider implications for states where same-sex marriage is illegal.
Nejaime said: “The reason that the popular vote on election night figures into this is it shows the court that more states are recognising same-sex marriage. If they overturn Doma it just means that those couples will be recognised federally. It wouldn’t have any impact on states where they don’t recognise same-sex marriage.”
More controversial, he said, was the question of whether the justices decide to take on Proposition 8. It is exclusive to California, so it is less likely the justices will take it up. Both a federal trial court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional. However, the Ninth Circuit found that it was the unique circumstances of California that made adopting Proposition 8 a violation of the US constitution.
If, as many predict, the justices decline to consider an appeal from supporters of Proposition 8, same-sex couples would again be permitted to marry in California, as was the case for a few months in 2008 before the passage of the proposition. Because of the size of the state, such a decision would at a stroke dramatically boost the number of gay couples in the nation who would be able to legally marry.
Nejaime said that the court had several options regarding Proposition 8, including upholding it along the narrow focus of the Ninth Circuit ruling. “If they went behind the Ninth Circuit, we would only have same-sex marriage in states that already have domestic partnerships or civil union. The broadest ruling would be to say all of the states where same-sex marriage is not allowed is unconstitutional – but I don’t think the court is ready to go there.”
If the justices decide not to take the case, California could begin issuing marriage licences within days.
Wendy Goffe, a lawyer in Seattle who has written on the issue, also believes that the justices will decline the Proposition 8 case.
Goffe said: “I’m not convinced they would take it because the Supreme Court [is] very much in support of state rights.”
Citing the decision by the Supreme Court in January to uphold controversial parts of an immigration law in Arizona, she said: “If you look at the Arizona decision – where they took that and upheld the case and that is a terrible law, but they said it’s not our place to mix in with the state. The only way they might pick up Prop 8 is if they make a decision to take all the cases before it. But that would lead to a big mess. It could take decades.”
November 23, 2012
With Stickers, a Petition and Even a Middle Name, Secession Fever Hits Texas
By MANNY FERNANDEZ
HOUSTON — In the weeks since President Obama’s re-election, Republicans around the country have been wondering how to proceed. Some conservatives in Texas have been asking a far more pointed question: how to secede.
Secession fever has struck parts of Texas, which Mitt Romney won by nearly 1.3 million votes.
Sales of bumper stickers reading “Secede” — one for $2, or three for $5 — have increased at TexasSecede.com. In East Texas, a Republican official sent out an e-mail newsletter saying it was time for Texas and Vermont to each “go her own way in peace” and sign a free-trade agreement among the states.
A petition calling for secession that was filed by a Texas man on a White House Web site has received tens of thousands of signatures, and the Obama administration must now issue a response. And Larry Scott Kilgore, a perennial Republican candidate from Arlington, a Dallas suburb, announced that he was running for governor in 2014 and would legally change his name to Larry Secede Kilgore, with Secede in capital letters. As his Web page, secedekilgore.com, puts it: “Secession! All other issues can be dealt with later.”
In Texas, talk of secession in recent years has steadily shifted to the center from the fringe right. It has emerged as an echo of the state Republican leadership’s anti-Washington, pro-Texas-sovereignty mantra on a variety of issues, including health care and environmental regulations. For some Texans, the renewed interest in the subject serves simply as comic relief after a crushing election defeat.
But for other proponents of secession and its sister ideology, Texas nationalism — a focus of the Texas Nationalist Movement and other groups that want the state to become an independent nation, as it was in the 1830s and 1840s — it is a far more serious matter.
The official in East Texas, Peter Morrison, the treasurer of the Hardin County Republican Party, said in a statement that he had received overwhelming support from conservative Texans and overwhelming opposition from liberals outside the state in response to his comments in his newsletter. He said that it may take time for “people to appreciate that the fundamental cultural differences between Texas and other parts of the United States may be best addressed by an amicable divorce, a peaceful separation.”
The online petitions — created on the We the People platform at petitions.whitehouse.gov — are required to receive 25,000 signatures in 30 days for the White House to respond. The Texas petition, created Nov. 9 by a man identified as Micah H. of Arlington, had received more than 116,000 signatures by Friday. It asks the Obama administration to “peacefully grant” the withdrawal of Texas, and describes doing so as “practically feasible,” given the state’s large economy.
Residents in other states, including Alabama, Florida, Colorado, Louisiana and Oklahoma, have submitted similar petitions, though none have received as many signatures as the one from Texas.
A White House official said every petition that crossed the signature threshold would be reviewed and would receive a response, though it was unclear precisely when Micah H. would receive his answer.
Gov. Rick Perry, who twice made public remarks in 2009 suggesting that he was sympathetic to the secessionist cause, will not be signing the petition. “Governor Perry believes in the greatness of our union, and nothing should be done to change it,” a spokeswoman, Catherine Frazier, said in a statement. “But he also shares the frustrations many Americans have with our federal government.”
The secession movement in Texas is divergent, with differences in goals and tactics. One group, the Republic of Texas, says that secession is unnecessary because, it claims, Texas is an independent nation that was illegally annexed by the United States in 1845. (The group’s leader and other followers waged a weeklong standoff with the Texas Rangers in 1997 that left one of its members dead.) Mr. Kilgore, the candidate who is changing his middle name, said he had not signed the White House petition because he did not believe that Texans needed to ask Washington for permission to leave.
“Our economy is about 30 percent larger than that of Australia,” said Mr. Kilgore, 48, a telecommunications contractor. “Australia can survive on their own, and I don’t think we’ll have any problem at all surviving on our own in Texas.”
Few of the public calls for secession have addressed the messy details, like what would happen to the state’s many federal courthouses, prisons, military bases and parklands. No one has said what would become of Kevin Patteson, the director of the state’s Office of State-Federal Relations, and no one has asked the Texas residents who received tens of millions of dollars in federal aid after destructive wildfires last year for their thoughts on the subject.
But all the secession talk has intrigued liberals as well. Caleb M. of Austin started his own petition on the White House Web site. He asked the federal government to allow Austin to withdraw from Texas and remain part of the United States, “in the event that Texas is successful in the current bid to secede.” It had more than 8,000 signatures as of Friday.
November 23, 2012
Pipeline Protest Draws Pepper Spray From Deputies
By SAUL ELBEIN
WELLS, Tex. — The first construction workers to arrive at TransCanada’s Keystone XL construction site on Monday morning found climbing ropes tied to their equipment. Three protesters had hung platforms from pine trees, hoisted them 50 feet into the air and secured them to TransCanada construction equipment. Then they had shimmied up. The equipment could not be moved without pulling the protesters out of the trees.
At another site down the road, workers found four protesters kneeling on the pipeline easement, their arms locked through the treads of two bulldozers.
By 10 o’clock, a group of about 40 protesters had gathered along the shoulder of the highway. They chanted “Go back to Canada” and waved signs with messages like “TransCanada: No eminent domain for private gain” and “Don’t mix Canadian tar with Texas water.”
It is a scene that has become common in East Texas in the last two months. Since September, when construction began on the Keystone, the Tar Sands Blockade, a grass-roots coalition of East Texas landowners and environmental advocates from across the country, has been waging a nonviolent guerrilla campaign against the pipeline. About every week since construction began, blockade volunteers have locked themselves to construction equipment in protest. So far, 43 have been arrested. But on Monday, protesters who were not locked to equipment were pepper-sprayed as well, the first such incident, according to Ron Seifert, a spokesman for the Tar Sands Blockade.
The protesters have come from across the country. Some are young activists from the coasts, veterans of the Occupy movement and other environmental campaigns who believe that developing the Alberta tar sands will seriously aggravate climate change. Many are locals angered by what they see as TransCanada’s highhanded treatment of landowners.
“I don’t like how they’ve treated people,” said 75-year-old Jeanette Singleton of nearby Nacogdoches, who was worried about the Keystone’s effect on the Angelina River. “If you don’t want to sign, they just take your land from you. It doesn’t seem right.”
TransCanada has attracted particular ire for its use of eminent domain to take easements from landowners who did not want to sign. Many landowners who eventually did sign say they did so out of fear of having their land seized otherwise.
This widespread landowner resentment has created a fertile ground for the blockade’s resistance to the pipeline. The protests on Monday took place with the support of the landowners whose property the easement crossed.
TransCanada has fought back against the protests by hiring off-duty police officers to patrol its pipeline easements, arresting any trespassers. (That has included, in one case, the owner of the land the easement went through.) The company has also filed civil suits against protesters and the landowners who have supported them.
When TransCanada’s construction workers found the protesters on Monday, they called the police. Deputies from the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department arrived at the site where the four protesters were locked to tractors and asked them to unlock themselves. When the protesters refused, the deputies administered pepper spray.
After the deputies cut the first pair free, they moved them over to a backhoe, where they left them for more than an hour while they tried to free the second pair. Unable to do so, they pepper-sprayed the second pair until they unlocked themselves.
Around noon, on the advice of a lawyer, the landowners hosting the sit-in revoked the protesters’ permission to be there. Sheriff’s deputies came with a cherry picker on a flatbed truck to remove the protesters from the trees. When other protesters blocked the truck, deputies warned them to get out of the road and then began firing pepper spray into the crowd. Ms. Singleton was unable to get out of the road in time and was hit in the face with the spray.
One by one, the tree sitters were arrested
After the police had left, protesters sat her in a wheelchair on the shoulder of the highway and dabbed her eyes with milk of magnesia to alleviate the burning.
“I don’t believe it,” Ms. Singleton kept saying. “I just don’t believe it.”
A TransCanada spokesman said the company had nothing to do with the police response.
“TransCanada doesn’t determine who to arrest or how to handle a situation,” said the spokesman, David Dodson. “When there’s contact with protesters, we contact law enforcement, and law enforcement takes appropriate action.”
Originally published Saturday, November 24, 2012 at 5:33 PM
Egypt's judiciary balks at Morsi power grab
The absolute-power decree issued Thursday has exacerbated anger already brewing against Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, from which he hails, ever since he took office in June as Egypt's first freely elected president.
By HAMZA HENDAWI and AYA BATRAWY
The Associated Press
CAIRO — Prominent Egyptian democracy advocate Mohamed ElBaradei warned Saturday of increasing turmoil that could lead to the military stepping in unless the Islamist president rescinds his new, near absolute powers.
The country's long fragmented opposition, meanwhile, sought to unite and inspire new protests. Egypt's liberal and secular forces — long divided, weakened and uncertain amid the rise of Islamist parties — are seeking to rally in response to the decree issued last week by President Mohammed Morsi. The president granted himself sweeping powers to "protect the revolution" and made himself immune to judicial oversight.
The judiciary, the main target of Morsi's edict, pushed back Saturday. The country's highest body of judges, the Supreme Judical Council, called his decree an "unprecedented assault," and called for courts nationwide to suspend all but their most vital activities in protest.
State news media reported that judges and prosecutors had walked out in Alexandria, and there were other news reports of walkouts in Qulubiya and Beheira, but those could not be confirmed.
Outside the high-court building in Cairo, several hundred demonstrators rallied against Morsi on Saturday, chanting, "Leave! Leave!" echoing the slogan used against former leader Hosni Mubarak in last year's uprising that ousted him. Police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of young men who were shooting flares outside the court.
The decree issued Thursday has exacerbated anger already brewing against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, from which he hails, ever since he took office in June as Egypt's first freely elected president. Critics accuse the Brotherhood — which has dominated elections the past year — and other Islamists of monopolizing power and doing little to bring real change or address Egypt's mounting economic and security woes.
Morsi supporters said his decree was necessary to prevent the courts, which had dissolved the elected lower house of Parliament, from disbanding the assembly writing the new constitution. Like Parliament, the assembly is dominated by Islamists.
Morsi accuses Mubarak loyalists in the judiciary of seeking to thwart the revolution's goals and barred the judiciary from disbanding the constitutional assembly, or Parliament's upper house.
Morsi, who has the support of a small circle of judges, has said his decree is temporary and will be withdrawn when a constitution is approved, likely next year.
In an interview, ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace laureate, raised alarm over the impact of Morsi's rulings, saying he had become "a new pharaoh."
"There is a good deal of anger, chaos, confusion. Violence is spreading to many places and state authority is starting to erode slowly," he said. "We hope that we can manage to do a smooth transition without plunging the country into a cycle of violence. But I don't see this happening without Mr. Morsi rescinding all of this."
Speaking of Egypt's powerful military, ElBaradei said: "You cannot exclude that the army will intervene to restore law and order" if the situation gets out of hand.
Anti-Morsi factions are divided. They are made up of revolutionary youth activists, new liberal political parties that have struggled to build a public base and figures from the Mubarak era, and all distrust each other. The judiciary is also an uncomfortable cause for some to back, since it includes many Mubarak appointees even Morsi opponents criticize.
Morsi opponents say the decree gave him near dictatorial powers, neutering the judiciary when he already holds executive and legislative powers.
One of his most controversial moves gave him the right to take any steps to stop "threats to the revolution," wording that activists say recalls Mubarak-era emergency laws.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in nationwide protests Friday, sparking clashes between anti- and pro-Morsi crowds in several cities that left more than 200 people wounded.
On Saturday, new clashes also erupted in the southern city of Assiut. Morsi opponents and members of the Muslim Brotherhood swung sticks and threw stones outside the offices of the Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, leaving at least seven injured.
ElBaradei and six other prominent liberal leaders announced the formation of a National Salvation Front aimed at rallying all non-Islamist groups together to force Morsi to rescind his decree.
The National Salvation Front leadership includes several who ran against Morsi in this year's presidential race: Hamdeen Sabahi; former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa; and moderate Islamist Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fotouh. ElBaradei says the group is also pushing for the creation of a new constitutional assembly and a unity government.
In addition to demanding the dissolution of the constitutional assembly, the group said it would not speak with Morsi until he withdrew his decree. "We will not enter into a dialogue about anything while this constitutional declaration remains intact and in force," Moussa said.
ElBaradei said it would be a long process to persuade Morsi he "cannot get away with murder."
"There is no middle ground, no dialogue before he rescinds this declaration. There is no room for dialogue until then."
The Freedom and Justice Party, once headed by Morsi, said Saturday that the president's decision protects the revolution from former government figures who have tried to erode elected institutions and were threatening to dissolve the constitutional assembly.
Morsi's declaration also removed Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, the prosecutor general first appointed by Mubarak.
Mahmoud told a crowd of cheering judges at the high-court building in Cairo that the presidential decree was "null and void."
Several hundred protesters remained in Cairo's Tahrir Square late Saturday, where a number of tents were erected.
Material from The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times is included in this report.
Originally published Saturday, November 24, 2012 at 4:57 AM
ElBaradei warns of Egypt turmoil from Morsi decree
By HAMZA HENDAWI and AYA BATRAWY
Prominent Egyptian democracy advocate Mohammed ElBaradei warned Saturday of increasing turmoil that could potentially lead to the military stepping in unless the Islamist president rescinds his new, near absolute powers, as the country's long fragmented opposition sought to unite and rally new protests.
Egypt's liberal and secular forces - long divided, weakened and uncertain amid the rise of Islamist parties to power - are seeking to rally themselves in response to the decrees issued this week by President Mohammed Morsi. The president granted himself sweeping powers to "protect the revolution" and made himself immune to judicial oversight.
The judiciary, which was the main target of Morsi's edicts, pushed back Saturday. The country's highest body of judges, the Supreme Judical Council, called his decrees an "unprecedented assault." Courts in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria announced a work suspension until the decrees are lifted.
Outside the high court building in Cairo, several hundred demonstrators rallied against Morsi, chanting, "Leave! Leave!" echoing the slogan used against former leader Hosni Mubarak in last year's uprising that ousted him. Police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of young men who were shooting flares outside the court.
The edicts issued Wednesday have galvanized anger brewing against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, from which he hails, ever since he took office in June as Egypt's first freely elected president. Critics accuse the Brotherhood - which has dominated elections the past year - and other Islamists of monopolizing power and doing little to bring real reform or address Egypt's mounting economic and security woes.
Oppositon groups have called for new nationwide rallies Tuesday - and the Muslim Brotherhood has called for rallies supporting Morsi the same day, setting the stage for new violence.
Morsi supporters counter that the edicts were necessary to prevent the courts, which already dissolved the elected lower house of parliament, from further holding up moves to stability by disbanding the assembly writing the new constitution, as judges were considering doing. Like parliament was, the assembly is dominated by Islamists. Morsi accuses Mubarak loyalists in the judiciary of seeking to thwart the revolution's goals and barred the judiciary from disbanding the constitutional assembly or parliament's upper house.
In an interview with a handful of journalists, including The Associated Press, Nobel Peace laureate ElBaradei raised alarm over the impact of Morsi's rulings, saying he had become "a new pharaoh."
"There is a good deal of anger, chaos, confusion. Violence is spreading to many places and state authority is starting to erode slowly," he said. "We hope that we can manage to do a smooth transition without plunging the country into a cycle of violence. But I don't see this happening without Mr. Morsi rescinding all of this."
Speaking of Egypt's powerful military, ElBaradei said, "I am sure they are as worried as everyone else. You cannot exclude that the army will intervene to restore law and order" if the situation gets out of hand.
But anti-Morsi factions are chronically divided, with revolutionary youth activists, new liberal political parties that have struggled to build a public base and figures from the Mubarak era, all of whom distrust each other. The judiciary is also an uncomfortable cause for some to back, since it includes many Mubarak appointees who even Morsi opponents criticize as too tied to the old regime.
Opponents say the edicts gave Morsi near dictatorial powers, neutering the judiciary when he already holds both executive and legislative powers. One of his most controversial edicts gave him the right to take any steps to stop "threats to the revolution," vague wording that activists say harkens back to Mubarak-era emergency laws.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in nationwide protests on Friday, sparking clashes between anti-and pro-Morsi crowds in several cities that left more than 200 people wounded.
On Saturday, new clashed broke out in the southern city of Assiut. Morsi opponents and members of the Muslim Brotherhood swung sticks and threw stones at each other outside the offices of the Brotherhood's political party, leaving at least seven injured.
ElBaradei and a six other prominent liberal leaders have announced the formation of a National Salvation Front aimed at rallying all non-Islamist groups together to force Morsi to rescind his edicts.
The National Salvation Front leadership includes several who ran against Morsi in this year's presidential race - Hamdeen Sabahi, who finished a close third, former foreign minister Amr Moussa and moderate Islamist Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fotouh. ElBaradei says the group is also pushing for the creation of a new constitutional assembly and a unity government.
ElBaradei said it would be a long process to persuade Morsi that he "cannot get away with murder."
"There is no middle ground, no dialogue before he rescinds this declaration. There is no room for dialogue until then."
The grouping seems to represent a newly assertive political foray by ElBaradei, the former chief of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency. ElBaradei returned to Egypt in the year before Mubarak's fall, speaking out against his rule, and was influential with many of the youth groups that launched the anti-Mubarak revolution.
But since Mubarak's fall, he has been criticized by some as too Westernized, elite and Hamlet-ish, reluctant to fully assert himself as an opposition leader.
The Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice political party, once headed by Morsi, said Saturday in a statement that the president's decision protects the revolution against former regime figures who have tried to erode elected institutions and were threatening to dissolve the constitutional assembly.
The Brotherhood warned in another statement that there were forces trying to overthrow the elected president in order to return to power. It said Morsi has a mandate to lead, having defeated one of Mubarak's former prime ministers this summer in a closely contested election.
Morsi's edicts also removed Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, the prosecutor general first appointed by Mubarak, who many Egyptians accused of not prosecuting former regime figures strongly enough.
Speaking to a gathering of judges cheering support for him at the high court building in Cairo, Mahmoud warned of a "vicious campaign" against state institutions. He also said judicial authorities are looking into the legality of the decision to remove him - setting up a Catch-22 of legitimacy, since under Morsi's decree, the courts cannot overturn any of his decisions.
"I thank you for your support of judicial independence," he told the judges.
"Morsi will have to reverse his decision to avoid the anger of the people," said Ahmed Badrawy, a labor ministry employee protesting at the courthouse. "We do not want to have an Iranian system here," he added, referring to fears that hardcore Islamists may try to turn Egypt into a theocracy.
Several hundred protesters remained in Cairo's Tahrir Square Saturday, where a number of tents have been erected in a sit-in following nearly a week of clashes with riot police.
Brian Rohan contributed to this report from Cairo.
November 24, 2012
Hamas Claim Complicates Talk of Truce With Israel
By JODI RUDOREN
GAZA — Confusion continued Saturday over the status of cease-fire talks Egypt is conducting between Hamas and Israel, as the Hamas prime minister announced progress regarding restrictions on the movements of fishermen and farmers in the border area, which the Israeli prime minister’s office denied.
One day after Israeli soldiers killed a Palestinian and wounded nine others as they approached the fence on Gaza’s eastern border, some Gaza fishermen said they had ventured past the three-nautical-mile limit, long imposed by Israel, without provoking an Israeli response. The fishermen’s gambit followed an announcement by the office of the Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniya, that the Egyptian intelligence service, which brokered the initial cease-fire deal announced in Cairo last week, told him the limit had been extended to six nautical miles.
But Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, said Saturday that “nothing has changed on the ground or at sea until it is agreed to by Israel and Egypt.” He declined to discuss whether a meeting had been set for Monday, as the Hamas statement said, on the question of Palestinian movements in the so-called buffer zone, the 1,000-foot strip of land on Gaza’s northern and eastern borders where the shooting broke out on Friday.
“The arrangements negotiated with Egypt led to an immediate cessation of hostile activities,” Mr. Regev said. “All other factors will be negotiated in an expeditious manner directly with the Egyptians.”
The mixed messages raised the question of whether Hamas might be trying to provoke the Israelis to break the cease-fire, or perhaps to establish new facts on the ground — farmers tilling the borderland, fishermen fishing farther out — that would increase its leverage in negotiations.
“Hamas is definitely trying to score points here,” said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Al Azhar University in Gaza City. “Hamas is trying to say that the cease-fire is in the interest of Hamas and is in the interest of the Palestinians, that the cease-fire agreement is going to gradually put an end to the siege.”
Mr. Abusada noted that Mahmoud Zahar, a high-ranking Hamas leader, had told Arab-speaking reporters at a news conference that Gaza militants had shot down seven Israeli aircraft during the eight-day conflict, something Mr. Abusada called “a big lie.”
“We know this didn’t happen, so this is part of raising morale, part of playing with the emotions of Palestinians,” Mr. Abusada said, suggesting that the Hamas statement on fishermen and border zones had a similar purpose. “It’s like waging psychological warfare on Israel, that Israel is giving in to the Palestinians, and also on the Palestinian side that Hamas won this war on all levels.”
Nizar Ayyash, the leader of the Gaza fishermen’s syndicate, said that after the Hamas statement, seven or eight large boats sailed out six miles into the sea on Saturday, encountering no resistance from Israeli gunboats that patrol the waters. Mr. Ayyash said that even six miles out, the sea is too sandy, and that during sardine season, the best catch was about 15 nautical miles from the coast. “Any mile we gain is our right,” he added.
With Egypt erupting in turmoil over a decree issued Thursday by President Mohamed Morsi granting himself broad powers unchecked by judicial review, the prospects for further negotiations on the buffer zone, fishing and the expansion of Gaza’s border crossings for people and goods are also unclear.
“Morsi is definitely preoccupied with internal Egyptian problems. He is definitely overwhelmed,” Mr. Abusada said. “That’s where the Egyptian intelligence role comes back. The Egyptian intelligence service is the Egyptian side who has been intervening and coordinating.”
Fares Akram contributed reporting.
Originally published Saturday, November 24, 2012 at 8:35 PM
Confusion over cease-fire boundaries prevail in Gaza
The mixed messages regarding the Israel-Hamas cease-fire raised the question of whether Hamas might be trying to provoke the Israelis to break the deal.
By JODI RUDOREN
The New York Times
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Confusion continued Saturday over the status of cease-fire talks Egypt is conducting between Hamas and Israel, as the Hamas prime minister announced progress regarding restrictions on the movements of fishermen and farmers in the border area, progress the Israeli prime minister's office denied.
One day after Israeli soldiers killed a Palestinian and wounded 19 as they approached the fence on Gaza's eastern border, some Gaza fishermen said they had ventured past the 3-nautical-mile limit, long imposed by Israel, without provoking an Israeli response.
The fishermen's move followed an announcement by the office of the Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniya, that the Egyptian intelligence service, which brokered the initial cease-fire deal announced in Cairo last week, told him the limit had been extended to 6 nautical miles.
But Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, said Saturday that "nothing has changed on the ground or at sea until it is agreed to by Israel and Egypt."
He declined to discuss whether a meeting had been set for Monday, as the Hamas statement said, on the question of Palestinian movements in the so-called buffer zone, the 1,000-foot strip of land on Gaza's northern and eastern borders where the shooting erupted Friday.
The mixed messages raised the question of whether Hamas might be trying to provoke the Israelis to break the cease-fire, or perhaps to establish new facts on the ground — farmers tilling the borderland, fishermen fishing farther out — that would increase its leverage in negotiations.
"Hamas is definitely trying to score points here," said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Al Azhar University in Gaza City. "Hamas is trying to say that the cease-fire is in the interest of Hamas and is in the interest of the Palestinians, that the cease-fire agreement is going to gradually put an end to the siege."
In another sign of trouble for the cease-fire talks, Moussa Abu Marzouk — the No. 2 leader of Hamas — said the group will not stop arming itself because only a strong arsenal, not negotiations, can extract concessions from Israel.
Abu Marzouk said Saturday that the group would not disarm, arguing that recent Palestinian history has shown negotiations with Israel lead nowhere unless backed by force."There is no way to relinquish weapons," Abu Marzouk said in his office on the outskirts of Cairo. "These weapons protected us and there is no way to stop obtaining and manufacturing them."
One thing free of confusion Saturday was the return to school of thousands of Gaza children for the first time since the cease-fire took hold late Wednesday. About half of Gaza's 1.6 million people are children.
In 245 U.N.-run schools, the day was dedicated to letting children share what they experienced, in hopes of helping them deal with trauma, educators said.
Meanwhile, with Egypt in turmoil over a decree issued last week by President Mohammed Morsi granting himself broad powers unchecked by judicial review, the prospects for further negotiations on the buffer zone, fishing and the expansion of Gaza's border crossings for people and goods remained unclear.
"Morsi is definitely preoccupied with internal Egyptian problems, he is definitely overwhelmed," Abusada said.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.
November 24, 2012
A Fragile Cease-Fire Achieved by Leaving Thorny Issues Unresolved
By MICHAEL R. GORDON
WASHINGTON — As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton headed to the Middle East last Tuesday, news reports from Cairo advertised that an agreement was at hand. A quick round of calls by an aide on the plane to American diplomats in Egypt and Israel made it clear that the excitement was premature: formidable differences remained.
In a whirlwind series of meetings over the ensuing days, President Obama and Mrs. Clinton played an instrumental role in sealing the accord, a review of those meetings suggests. But it is also clear that the cease-fire announced Wednesday was achieved by deferring some of the toughest issues, including the pace and conditions under which Gaza’s border crossings might be opened.
American officials assert that they have helped lay a foundation for progress, including a provision for meetings between Egyptian and Israeli officials on the thorny remaining issues. But that will require careful attention in the days and weeks ahead.
The Obama administration did not rush to send Mrs. Clinton to the region. After more than a day of deliberation by administration officials, Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton discussed the question at lunch in Myanmar last Monday.
The United States had strong influence with Israel and Egypt, whose leaders were close to Hamas. But administration officials did not want to dispatch Mrs. Clinton only to see the fighting escalate and the United States’ credibility diminished.
That night, Mr. Obama made two calls to President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt and one to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. Ambassadors in Egypt and Israel were instructed to take discreet soundings about what a visit by Mrs. Clinton might accomplish.
By Tuesday morning, the Americans had traveled to Cambodia for an Asian summit meeting. At an 8:30 a.m. meeting with Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama decided that she should make the trip. The logistics were more complex than some officials realized. With a crush of heads of state jamming the Phnom Penh airport with their jets, the secretary of state’s plane had been parked in Thailand. So the aircraft had to be refueled and flown to Cambodia, and the crew had to meet standards for rest before it could take off for the Middle East.
As Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, announced the trip around 3 p.m., Mrs. Clinton and her staff were driving to the Phnom Penh airport. Her plane had to slow down as it was approaching India so that American officials could complete arrangements to fly through India’s airspace. Mr. Obama called Mr. Morsi to get an update and assured him that Mrs. Clinton was on the way.
Israel was the first stop. At 11 p.m., Mrs. Clinton and her team met with Mr. Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials in his office in a session that lasted until 1:30 a.m.
The Egyptians had submitted a draft proposal, clearly influenced by Hamas, and the Israelis suggested changes. One subject under discussion was the scope of military activities that were to cease. Other issues concerned how to deal with Hamas’s demands that border crossings be opened and Gaza residents be given free access to a buffer zone Israel had decreed near the Gaza-Israel border, as well as Israel’s insistence that steps be taken to halt the smuggling of rockets into Gaza.
On Wednesday, Mrs. Clinton went to Ramallah to meet with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, while members of her staff stayed behind in Jerusalem to work with the Israelis on the Gaza text. A cease-fire was always the goal, but in public American officials talked about securing a “de-escalation” of the conflict, a more vague and less demanding objective.
Returning to Jerusalem, Mrs. Clinton met again with Mr. Netanyahu. After checking with the White House, she told the Israeli prime minister that Mr. Obama was prepared to call him to recommend that he accept the cease-fire, which was being criticized by some of the prime minister’s opponents who argued that it would never last.
Mr. Obama was also prepared to pledge increased financial support for the Israeli Iron Dome antimissile system, which has received significant financing from the United States, and to promise stepped-up efforts to stop the smuggling of rockets into Gaza. A written summary of the presidential call, she said, would be released to make public the American commitments.
Mr. Netanyahu indicated that if the Americans could get the Egyptians to go along with certain changes the Americans and Israelis had discussed, there would probably be a deal.
The next stop was Cairo. Armed with the Egyptian text on which proposed changes were marked, Mrs. Clinton sat down with Mr. Morsi and his top aides. The Americans were eager to seal the deal before events on the ground got out of control.
After the Egyptians agreed to some of the changes, Mrs. Clinton went to an empty conference room in the presidential compound and called Mr. Netanyahu on her cellphone to secure his approval as servants hauled in platters of food for an event later that day. The Egyptians, meanwhile, consulted with Hamas.
After the deal was struck, Mr. Obama called Mr. Netanyahu, as promised, and then Mr. Morsi.
The accord called for an end to “hostilities,” including targeted assassinations, but did not refer explicitly to Israeli reconnaissance flights of Gaza, Middle East experts note. It stated that issues like opening border crossings and allowing Gaza residents near the border with Israel “shall be dealt with after 24 hours from the start of cease-fire.” But the accord did not stipulate when such steps would be taken. Instead, they were to be a matter of discussion between the Egyptians and the Israelis.
The ambiguity provided room for differing interpretations by Hamas and Israel over the pace for taking such steps and the conditions under which they would be put into effect. The Israeli insistence that the smuggling of rockets into Gaza be stopped was referred to elliptically as “other matters” that might also be taken up by the two sides.
As Mrs. Clinton headed to the airport in Cairo for the flight to Washington, one aide said, she was not exuberant. The cease-fire seemed fragile, and the agreement was just a step toward resolving the underlying tensions over Gaza.
« Last Edit: Nov 25, 2012, 08:44 AM by Rad »
November 24, 2012
Cold Ravages Syria Refugees as Aid Falters
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
MDOUKHA, Lebanon — The winds spilling down off snow-covered Mount Hermon, bearing the first nip of winter, rattled the broken windows of an abandoned elementary school where Syrian refugees are huddled in this Bekaa Valley hamlet.
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians displaced by the war, many of them stumbling out of Syria during the summer wearing little more than T-shirts and flip-flops, now face the onslaught of winter with inadequate shelter, senior government officials and aid organizations say.
“It will be winter outside and winter inside,” said Mohamed Khair al-Oraiby, a burly 27-year-old who fled here over the summer with his wife and two infants. “We already wake up early because it is so cold.”
With temperatures already plunging to zero overnight in the hills framing this valley, the humanitarian crisis facing millions of displaced Syrians is deepening. More than a million people in need of aid remain out of reach of international relief efforts, the United Nations says.
The inability of international aid groups to cope with the crisis, which has mushroomed in recent months, is partly a question of access to war zones.
More than 400,000 people have fled Syria, and 1.2 million have been driven from their homes within the country, according to the United Nations refugee agency. Some 2.5 million people need humanitarian assistance, and the number keeps climbing. The United Nations said it had reached only one million of them.
But efforts have also been hampered by lack of resources. The United Nations is seeking some $487 million for refugees across the region, of which about 35 percent has been collected.
“The capacity of the international donor community to support the crisis is not happening at the same speed at which the crisis is unfolding,” said Panos Moumtzis, the regional coordinator for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Neighboring countries coping with the influx are developing their own plans: Jordan is seeking about $700 million, and Turkey, which has spent $400 million of its own money on state-of-the-art camps with three hot meals daily, is also now seeking aid.
Inside Syria, conditions are even worse. The distribution of aid is plagued by problems of access, security and a lack of organizations to carry out the work, according to aid officials.
Most deploy from Damascus, where fighting has been so fierce in recent weeks that aid workers have occasionally been instructed not to leave their houses. Some areas have fallen under the sway of shadowy jihadist forces that eye Western aid organizations as espionage networks.
In November, the International Committee of the Red Cross finally negotiated brief access to the old city of Homs with the fundamentalist militia that controls it. The locals jeered the relief workers for taking more than four months to reach them.
“We’ve been besieged for months,” yelled a man wearing camouflage fatigues in a video of the visit posted on YouTube, giving the thumbs-down sign. “Now it occurs to you to come? We don’t want you, we don’t want your food, and we don’t want anything from you.”
At least 20 areas within Syria are unreachable because of fighting, aid officials said. Vast swaths of countryside are also inaccessible, including much of the north, because the roads from Damascus are too dangerous.
Families in provincial Idlib are reverting to old methods to survive. In some villages lacking electricity for months, for example, residents have built wood-fired ovens in their backyards, and daylight now sets the rhythm of their lives. They sleep soon after sunset and rise at dawn.
Relief planning is difficult because numbers are elusive and communication is haphazard. In the long-embattled city of Homs, for example, the United Nations listed 223,000 people as receiving monthly food rations, which it used as the number of people in need. But when a fighting lull enabled the Syrian Red Crescent to take a survey, 492,000 people sought assistance.
The Syrian government has allowed only eight foreign aid organizations to operate; all were already working in Syria before the uprising started in March 2011, helping Iraqi refugees. Seven employees of the Syrian Red Crescent have been killed.
The largest aid donors are the United States, at $8.5 million, and Britain, at $7.8 million. The wealthy Arab gulf states have contributed little via the United Nations system, with the exception of Kuwait, which has contributed $1 million.
Now the cold is adding another layer of need. Middle Eastern winters can be bitter, with snow in some areas and chilly winds slamming across the deserts.
Since only about 35 percent of the $70 million budgeted for winterization has been funded, only the most vulnerable third of the population will get help, Mr. Moumtzis said. Or as one senior diplomat put it, the refugees will be fed, “but not generously,” and they will be clothed, but “they will be cold.”
Efforts at triage are readily evident. In the Bekaa Valley, 10 to 15 families arrive daily, United Nations officials said, and 75 percent are women and children.
“Can we get those other 150 houses moving? Because the terrible winter temperatures are here!” pleaded Ahmed Fledy, the deputy mayor of the northern Bekaa Valley town of Ersal, to an aid worker entering his office.
The town of about 27,000 people, 12 miles from Syria, has absorbed more than 10,000 refugees. Some are housed 10 and more to a room in 250 drafty cinder-block dwellings with no windows or doors. Clinics are reporting a sudden rise in problems like skin diseases spread by having too many people living together with insufficient hygiene.
A shortage of donated blankets meant distributing just three or four per family, not the goal of one per person. Qatar donated heating stoves, but enough for only about half the families.
Three schools have absorbed 300 Syrian children, but 2,600 more want in, Mr. Fledy said.
In Lebanon, which has banned tent camps, most refugees have been housed in private homes, and are scattered among some 500 towns, said Ninette Kelley, the United Nations refugee representative in Lebanon.
The official explanation for the ban was that it wanted to avoid repeating the experience of Palestinian refugees in 1948; 12 camps built for them have become permanent cities, filled with up to 250,000 stateless people.
But the other key reason was that Syria’s allies in the Lebanese government wanted to avoid such visible symbols of the violence that Syria was raining on its own people. “The government called them guests, as if they were here to enjoy the parks and nightclubs,” said Khaled Daher, a Parliament member opposed to Syria.
But with 128,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, the government has reached a consensus that it is a humanitarian issue. Officials hope the worst is over, but they are bracing for the day that serious fighting erupts in Damascus, the capital.
On the first day of extensive violence in Damascus last July, 18,000 people crossed into Lebanon in one day.
But there are mounting concerns in all four neighboring states that have accepted large number of refugees about just how many thousands more they can absorb, and for how long.
“There is a growing concern about security and political stability,” Mr. Moumtzis said. Syria’s neighbors have so far kept their borders open, he noted, but they are beginning to ask, “Where do we draw the line, because this could affect our own stability?”
Hwaida Saad contributed from Ersal, Lebanon, and Hania Mourtada from Beirut, Lebanon.
November 24, 2012
On This, 2 Sides Agree: Fighting Hardened Positions
By JODI RUDOREN and ISABEL KERSHNER
GAZA — The eight days of fighting between Hamas and Israel left more than 160 Palestinians and six Israelis dead, but there may be another casualty from the sudden burst of violence: whatever small chance there was for reviving a long-moribund peace process.
Emboldened by landing rockets near Tel Aviv and Jerusalem — and by the backing of Egypt and other regional powers — Hamas, the militant Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip, has emerged as the dominant force in a divided Palestinian leadership, its resistance mantra drowning out messages of more moderate groups. The word “peace” has hardly been heard in public here since the shelling stopped, never mind “two-state solution.”
In a sermonlike speech laced with Koranic verses, the Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniya, promised on Thursday to “establish an independent state on all Palestine land,” foreboding words from the leader of an organization whose charter prophesies Israel’s elimination. On Saturday, one of his top deputies, Mahmoud Zahar, added that Hamas would “continue getting arms” in “preparation for the next battle” and called on Arab and Muslim nations to provide Gaza with money and weapons.
While that would undo the main accomplishment of Israel’s operation, Hamas’s swagger might just make things easier for Israel’s hawkish leadership.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long insisted that negotiations are stalled because he lacks a willing partner for peace — even when he was dealing with the moderate president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. That argument might be more convincing if Hamas, which the United States and Europe consider a terrorist organization, remains ascendant. .
“Israel and the Palestinians have been far from any deal for some time, and this just makes it farther away,” said Nathan Thrall, Middle East analyst for the International Crisis Group. “Prospects for a two-state solution are on the losing end,” Mr. Thrall’s group said in an after-action report published Friday. “Then again, what else is new?”
Hamas’s strengthened position might even pave the way for unilateral actions by Israel sought by some on the right — annexing parts of the West Bank, for example, or shutting off Gaza more completely — that redraw the political landscape, analysts say.
“I see many on the Israeli right who have an interest in this reality,” said Shlomo Brom, director of the program on Israel-Palestinian relations at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “If, like Netanyahu, you don’t want an agreement or you don’t believe in one,” he added, “it is very comfortable for them that Hamas is there.”
Left in the rubble after a week of relentless rocket fire into Israel and the Israeli bombing of more than a thousand targets in Gaza was the type of introspection that might lead to compromise. The violence, instead, exposed one of the unsettling realities of a conflict that has defied resolution for decades. Both sides deeply believe they are winning, and that they are right.
This latest round of hostilities seems only to have reinforced those ideas, causing Palestinians even in West Bank universities with little Hamas presence to raise the faction’s signature green flag, and leaving some Israelis asking whether the assault on Gaza stopped short.
Even the intervention of Egypt’s president, Mohamed Morsi — an Islamist praised by the Obama administration for his pragmatism in helping halt the fighting — could in the end reinforce the status quo. He held out the promise of helping to negotiate a long-term cease-fire, and perhaps bring a better standard of living to Gaza by opening borders and easing other restrictions. But Mr. Morsi, who shares Hamas’s roots in the Muslim Brotherhood, did not talk about a two-state solution, instead giving rhetorical support to Hamas and its ideology.
The Obama administration held out hope that in the future Mr. Morsi could be a voice for change, but officials were most intent on the practical prospect of having a partner in maintaining stability in the absence of a real push for peace on the ground.
“Egypt now has a degree of responsibility for preventing violence between two actors over which its control is very, very limited,” Daniel Levy, a left-leaning analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in a commentary published Friday. Mr. Morsi, he added, “is likely to remind his Western friends that if they are unable to use a period of quiet to deliver broader progress on Israeli de-occupation, then he cannot be held fully responsible for the consequences later on.”
Analysts say that the recent episode highlights what they say is Israel’s lack of a long-term strategy either for dealing with Hamas and Gaza or for re-engaging with Mr. Abbas, who is expected to head to the United Nations on Thursday seeking largely symbolic status as an observer state. Israel’s ultranationalist foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has denounced that effort as “diplomatic terrorism,” and threatened countermeasures as drastic as trying to collapse the Palestinian Authority. After the recent conflict, an official in the prime minister’s office said, “it is almost ridiculous that Abbas is going to the United Nations for recognition of his state when he has no control whatsoever over what goes on in Gaza.”
Efraim Halevy, former chief of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, said that Israel had three alternatives in Gaza: to destroy Hamas, leaving the enclave to its more radical groups; to reoccupy the area, which it evacuated in 2005; or to start a process where the hostile environment is slowly reduced by preventing the influx of new weapons into Gaza while allowing Hamas to increase its civilian political role.
“After the elections are over, Israel will have to sit down and ask itself, ‘Where do we go from here?’ ” Mr. Halevy said in an interview.
The most promising prospect for any sort of compromise appears to be among the divided Palestinian factions, rather than between them and Israel. But there are mixed messages on this front as well.
Ahmed Yousef, an analyst close to the Hamas leaders, said in an interview Friday that Mr. Abbas had spoken frequently in recent days with Khaled Meshal, Hamas’s top political leader, and that “the whole mood has been changed” after several years of failed reconciliation attempts. But at a news conference on Saturday, Mr. Zahar, the high-level Hamas official, was full of venom for Mr. Abbas, blaming him for the Israeli blockade on Gaza and accusing him of capitulating to Israel and the United States.
With momentum not only from the recent fighting but also from the increased regional support that began with the visit to Gaza last month by the emir of Qatar and his $400 million purse, Hamas is likely to have the upper hand in any such reconciliation. Even moderate leaders in the West Bank, controlled by the rival Palestinian Authority, said last week said the vision going forward is about resistance rather than negotiation.
Still, Mr. Yousef, a former Haniya adviser who now runs a research organization, offered some hints at moderation himself. He said Hamas, which has opposed the United Nations bid almost as vociferously as Israel, would no longer speak against it. Asked about his vision for a Palestinian state, Mr. Yousef’s contours echoed those of Mr. Abbas: 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the capital.
As for recognizing Israel, he said, “We’ll talk about it when we have a Palestinian state.”
November 24, 2012
Congo Rebels Ignore Appeal to Quit Attack
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo — Regional leaders meeting in Uganda on Saturday called on Congolese rebels to “stop all war activities and withdraw from Goma,” but the rebels did not seem interested in that.
Instead, they continued their advance on more government territory, sending troops in several directions to surround the small town of Minova, a steppingstone toward the next big prize, Bukavu, one of the largest cities in eastern Congo.
The Congolese Army, which has been routed in just about every battle in recent weeks, was massing troops around Minova on Saturday and beefing up its ranks by drawing on notorious militias that have been accused of raping and killing civilians.
Clashes could break out at any moment, the rebels said Saturday night, with rebel and government positions just a few miles apart.
“Why should we negotiate with the government?” said Bertrand Bisimwa, a spokesman for the rebel group, called the M23. “They are talking peace but showing us the hand of war.”
The rebels, who are widely believed to be backed by Rwanda and have also been accused of war crimes, took Goma, a provincial capital, on Tuesday.
Since then, they have continued their push toward other strategic cities in eastern Congo.
Regional leaders are very concerned that Congo could be descending into another period of heavy warfare and widespread displacement similar to what it suffered in the mid- to late-1990s when rebel groups and foreign armies carved this vast country into fiefs.
On Saturday, Congo’s president, Joseph Kabila, met with presidents from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda in Kampala, Uganda’s capital.
The presidents issued a communiqué at the end of the meeting, outlining several steps toward peace, including having the Congolese government listen to the “legitimate grievances” of the rebels and the establishment of a “composite force” made up of rebel fighters, government soldiers and a neutral army to control Goma’s airport.
Arafat body to be dug up Tuesday for poison test
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, November 24, 2012 9:58 EST
The body of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat will be exhumed on Tuesday to undergo poison tests, the head of the Palestinian inquiry team said on Saturday.
“The tomb will be opened on November 27 and experts will take samples the same day within a matter of a few hours,” Tawfiq Tirawi told reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
He said a reburial ceremony would be held later the same day.
Basque separatists ready to disband if certain conditions met
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, November 24, 2012 18:00 EST
Spain’s armed Basque separatist group ETA said Saturday it was ready to discuss disbanding and to negotiate with France and Spain if certain conditions are met, in a statement published on a Basque news site.
The group, which last year said it had abandoned violence after a four-decade campaign for an independent homeland that claimed more than 800 lives, said one outstanding issue was the transfer of Basque prisoners to jails closer to home.
ETA wanted to discuss “formulas and timetables” to bring home prisoners and Basque political exiles; disarmament and the break-up of its armed structures; and the demobilisation of ETA members.
The statement ran on Naiz.info, the website of the Basque newspaper Gara.
Until Saturday’s statement, the group had refused to announce its dissolution and disarmament, as demanded by Spain and France.
But weakened by a series of arrests in France and Spain in recent years, ETA said Saturday it was ready to “listen to and analyse” proposals from Madrid and Paris.
The two governments would have a “precise knowledge” of its positions, it added.
Gara said it would publish the full statement in its Sunday edition.
ETA has been placed on a list of terrorist organisations by the United States and the European Union and has been blamed for the deaths of 829 people. Its last attack on Spanish soil was in August 2009.
It has persistently called for around 700 Basque prisoners incarcerated in jails across Spain to be transferred back to prisons in the Basque region so they can be closer to their families.
Frustration in Morocco, a year after elections
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, November 24, 2012 18:00 EST
Morocco’s moderate Islamist Party of Justice and Development swept to power in historic elections last year in the wake of Arab Spring protests that brought hopes of change.
But a year on, analysts say disappointment is growing at the slow pace of reform, compounded by doubts about how much power the palace has devolved and looming economic woes, with unemployed youths marching daily in the capital.
The PJD’s triumph in the November 25 2011 poll followed constitutional changes introduced by King Mohammed VI to curb his near-absolute powers, and campaign pledges to tackle widespread poverty, endemic corruption and a lop-sided economy.
Those steps succeeded in hollowing out support for the February 20 protest movement, prompting party officials to hail a “third way” that delivered Morocco from political chaos and proved it was an “exception” in the region.
But scores of demonstrators have been jailed this year, amid international concerns about their confessions being obtained through torture, and police often employ violent tactics to scatter the protests by jobless graduates.
Diplomats say the democratic provisions of the new constitution have led to meaningful institutional changes.
“Parliament is stronger and livelier, and has amended controversial legislation, while the National Human Rights Council is starting to deliver,” said one Western diplomat in Rabat.
“But there are large swathes of government business that are still influenced by the palace, and that continues to cause a lot of frustration among those who would like reform to move faster.”
Abdelilah Benkirane, the Islamist leader of the coalition government formed in January, insisted last month that democracy in Morocco was advancing slowly but surely. The king, he said, “is the head of state and… therefore my boss.”
All the signs suggest the king remains popular among Moroccans.
But the frustrations of the reformist camp, including over the pervasive interests in the economy of the monarch and his inner circle, the makhzen, are palpable.
So too is the determination of the authorities to suppress any criticism of what has long been a taboo subject.
Security forces aggressively dispersed a protest outside parliament last Sunday against the king’s proposed spending budget for 2013, of nearly 2.6 billion dirhams (234 million euros/$301 million), deemed extravagant by the demonstrators amid worsening economic hardship.
Unemployment remains stubbornly high, rising in the third quarter from 9.1 to 9.4 percent year-on-year, official figures showed, although the World Bank says the proportion of youths out of work is far worse at around 30 percent.
Prominent PJD sympathisers have started to raise their voices in criticism of the party, with politically active businessman Karim Tazi saying the electoral slogan of the PJD “All against corruption and absolutism” rings hollow today.
But despite these perceived failings, the Islamists appear to have retained much of their grass-roots support, winning legislative by-elections in Tangiers and Marrakesh in early October.
Political scientist Mohammed Madani believes the party’s lasting popularity is due to its clear desire to help ordinary Moroccans, many of whom accept that it is very limited in what it can do, and to the lack of viable alternatives.
“I think people continue to support the PJD because they know the government doesn’t have a free hand,” he said.
PJD officials claim the steps taken to battle corruption as a key achievement, notably the lists it has published of those benefiting from privilege, through the awarding of public contracts, and the mechanisms set up to scrutinise accounts and prosecute offenders.
Communications Minister Mustapha Khalfi also proudly refers to the numerous spending projects targeting the marginalised sectors of society and mentions the plans to reform to Morocco’s compensation fund.
The richest 20 percent, he points out, consume 43 percent of Morocco’s costly state subsidies.
“It’s only been 10 months. In reality, we are working on and launching projects that have an impact on the daily lives of Moroccans. But at the same time there are challenges,” Khalfi told AFP.
Others are less optimistic, saying corruption, economic hardship and social exclusion remain pressing problems in the kingdom.
“At the moment we don’t have any real, meaningful social and economic reforms, which means the problems are still there, and they are serious,” said Madani.
Africa’s first woman bishop admits ‘world is watching’
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, November 24, 2012 13:54 EST
While the Church of England wrings its hands over the appointment of women bishops, Africa’s first woman Anglican bishop is determined to get on with the job without being hung up on the gender debate.
“All leaders are ordained by God,” said 61-year-old Swazi primate Ellinah Wamukoya, skimming over the very topic that has brought her worldwide attention.
“It is not like any other post where you apply. Here God calls you and you respond to that call. If you do respond, your mind should be focused on what God says to the position to which He has called you,” she told AFP.
“I have responded to the call of God.”
But the timing of that call could hardly have been more dramatic, or contentious.
Her enthronement as Anglican bishop of the Diocese of Swaziland last Saturday came in the very week the Anglicans’ mother church, the Church of England, very publicly voted not to allow women bishops.
The outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams described opposition to the move as “wilfully blind.”
Wamukoya’s immediate task will be to oversee 42 reverends of the Church both spiritually and in financial management — no mean feat amid speculation that the Swazi Church is in a financial quagmire.
But Wamukoya is aware that her role has far wider implications. Failure is certain to be leapt upon as evidence of women’s unsuitability for the post.
“I know that the whole world is looking up to me to see if I will deliver,” she said.
She hopes her experience of running a political office as chief executive officer of the Manzini Municipality — Swaziland’s financial hub — will hold her in good stead.
But she must also tread a moral tightrope.
Despite her appointment, the Anglican Church in Africa remains highly conservative. Many Church norms exclude women from decision-making.
Even if the Church of England is not inspired by her appointment, Gender Links Swaziland director Ncane Maziya hopes that women in the small kingdom will be.
Wamukoya’s appointment could provide inspiration to women who need to tap into leadership positions, Maziya said.
On a host of other issues she may face strong orthodoxy.
Tip-toeing out onto that moral tightrope, Wamukoya somewhat diplomatically describes the Church’s stance on same-sex marriage as “discerning.”
While the Swazi Church does not officiate gay marriage ceremonies and same-sex marriage is illegal under Swaziland’s basic laws, Wamukoya maintained that the Church cannot attempt to enforce policy on the issue.
“The state is one thing, but as children of God, apart from the laws of the state, we go by what God says to us,” she said.
Saudi-backed Austrian interfaith facility faces criticism
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, November 24, 2012 20:30 EST
A new interreligious dialogue centre backed by Saudi Arabia is stirring up controversy in Vienna and abroad even before its official inauguration.
The King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue — in short KAICIID — will officially open its doors on Monday.
But critics say that the centre — entirely financed by Saudi Arabia and named after its king, who initiated the idea — could be used by Riyadh to spread the radical brand of Islam known as Wahhabism, and divert attention from human rights violations and lack of religious freedom at home.
Monday’s glitzy inauguration at Vienna’s Hofburg Palace will be attended by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and top representatives of the world’s leading religions.
Ahead of the event, the centre has gone on a media offensive to convince observers of its impartiality.
Set up jointly by Saudia Arabia, Spain and Austria, the KAICIID will have the status of an international organisation. That will bring it the privileges and tax breaks afforded to the likes of the United Nations, OPEC and the Organisation of Security of Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
“One of the main reasons why it was thought of as an international organisation is that through a founding document, we can rule out that one member state or one religious community dominates the centre,” Austria’s foreign ministry said.
Despite Riyadh stepping in to finance the centre for the first three years, there will be “zero politics, zero influence in the centre,” KAICIID secretary-general Faisal bin Abdulrahman bin Muaammar, a former Saudi deputy education minister, told journalists.
The centre’s decision-making body, a nine-member board of directors including leading representatives of Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism, will make sure of that, he said.
The KAICIID’s stated mission is to act “as a hub, facilitating interreligious and intercultural dialogue and understanding, to enhance cooperation, respect for diversity, justice and peace.”
Asked if the centre would comment on current issues such as the recent anti-Islam video that sparked deadly protests in the Muslim world or the earlier Mohammed caricatures, Muaammar told AFP it would not be political.
“We are not going to follow every incident… we don’t want to just react like a political body,” he said.
“The problems in the last few years have been handled by politicians. Now let us use the wisdom of religious people.”
A statement from the Vatican on Friday said it had accepted an invitation to participate as a “founding observer” and a high-level delegation will attend the centre’s inauguration.
Annual conferences entitled “The Image of The Other” will look at stereotypes and misconceptions in education, the media and the Internet. A fellowship programme will bring together applicants from different religions to work and learn from each other.
A yearly budget of 10-15 million euros ($12.9-19.3 million) will cover these programmes as well as a staff of 25 at the Vienna centre.
Critics remain unconvinced however.
Liberal Muslim Initiative in Austria (ILMOe) said it believed that “this dubious Wahhabist centre in Vienna” will “only serve Saudi Arabia’s political and religious interests abroad, under the guise of dialogue” and that its sole aim was to make Riyadh “respectable.”
Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, the Orthodox Church’s representative on the KAICIID board, also highlighted Riyadh’s poor human rights record in an interview with Austria’s Catholic news agency Kathpress.
The next three years will be “a trial period” for the centre, he said.
After that, the KAICIID will look for other sources of funding and it could also diversify further by bringing in new member states on top of the founding three, officials insist.
Some observers hope the centre might eventually help Saudi Arabia implement reforms at home.
The ultra-conservative kingdom currently bans any form of worship other than Islam. It has also come under fire for its application of Islamic sharia law, which includes executing by the sword people convicted of murder, apostasy or armed robbery.
“We are facing some criticism here, we are facing some criticism in Saudi Arabia… but dialogue is the answer for this,” said Muaammar.
“The centre is open for all the critics. I invite them to come and see how the centre runs.”
November 24, 2012 03:00 PMU.N. Report: Already Too Late To Avert Worst Of Global Warming
By Susie Madrak
I'd really like to know what our nation's leaders plan to do about this. Not that I don't love drought, firestorms, tornadoes and massive hurricanes, it just might be nice to do something so they don't happen as often -- but they don't seem all that interested. Maybe someone should do something about that?
Global greenhouse-gas emissions already have passed the point where the worst effects of global warming could be averted, and they are still rising, according to the third annual United Nations report on the so-called emissions gap.
Some countries have made pledges to help reverse this trend by lowering their emissions. However, the report by the U.N. Environment Programme warns that the gap between these pledges and reductions necessary to cap average global warming at 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2020 continues to widen.
"In addition we have one year less to close it," said Niklas Höhne, one of the UNEP report's lead authors.
The report, released shortly before an annual round of climate talks set to begin on Monday (Nov. 26) in Qatar, seeks to balance a heightened sense of urgency with a positive message.
"It is technically feasible and economically feasible that the gap can be closed," Höhne, director of energy and climate policy at the independent research and consulting company Ecofys, told LiveScience.
In 2009, at a meeting in Copenhagen, international negotiators agreed to the goal of capping global warming at 2 degrees C by 2020. Following the meeting, some nations submitted pledges to cut their emissions. The United States, for example, pledged to bring its emissions to about 17 percent below the 2005 level.
In the years since, nations have not made any substantial change to their pledges.
The UNEP report highlights the gap between these pledges and cuts needed put the world on a "likely" path to stay below the 2-degree target. It calculates that the annual emission rate by 2020 should be no more than 48.5 gigatons (44 metric gigatons) of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=RM7PrULcqEU#
« Last Edit: Nov 25, 2012, 08:38 AM by Rad »
November 24, 2012
Swallowing Rain Forest, Cities Surge in Amazon
By SIMON ROMERO
PARAUAPEBAS, Brazil — The Amazon has been viewed for ages as a vast quilt of rain forest interspersed by remote river outposts. But the surging population growth of cities in the jungle is turning that rural vision on its head and alarming scientists, as an array of new industrial projects transforms the Amazon into Brazil’s fastest-growing region.
The torrid expansion of rain forest cities is visible in places like Parauapebas, which has changed in a generation from an obscure frontier settlement with gold miners and gunfights to a sprawling urban area with an air-conditioned shopping mall, gated communities and a dealership selling Chevy pickup trucks.
Scientists are studying such developments and focusing on the demands on the resources of the Amazon, the world’s largest remaining area of tropical forest. Though Brazilian officials have historically viewed the colonization of the Amazon as a matter of national security — military rulers built roads to the forest under the slogan “Occupy it to avoid surrendering it” — deforestation in the region already ranks among the largest contributors to global greenhouse-gas emissions.
Brazil has shifted away from colonization, but policies that regularize land claims by squatters still lure migrants to the Amazon. And while the country has recently made progress in curbing deforestation, largely by enforcing logging laws and carving out protected forest areas, biologists and other climate researchers fear that the sharp increase in migration to cities in the Amazon, which now has a population approaching 25 million, could erode those gains.
“More population leads to more deforestation,” said Philip M. Fearnside, a researcher at the National Institute for Amazon Research in Manaus, an Amazonian city that registered by far the fastest growth of Brazil’s 10 largest cities from 2000 to 2010. The number of residents grew 22 percent to 1.7 million, according to government statistics.
Of the 19 Brazilian cities that the latest census indicates have doubled in population over the past decade, 10 are in the Amazon. Altogether, the region’s population climbed 23 percent from 2000 to 2010, while Brazil as a whole grew just 12 percent.
Various factors are fueling this growth, among them larger family sizes and the Amazon’s high levels of poverty in comparison with other regions that draw people to the cities for work. While Brazil’s birthrate has fallen to 1.86 children per woman, one of the lowest in Latin America, the Amazon has Brazil’s highest rate, at 2.42.
Then there is the region’s economic allure.
Sinop, a city of 111,000 people in Mato Grosso State, grew about 50 percent in the past decade as soybean farmers expanded operations there. Fiscal incentives for manufacturing promote growth in Manaus and satellite towns like Manacapuru and Rio Preto da Eva. Logging still provides the lifeblood for growing towns along BR-163, an important Amazon highway now being paved.
Elsewhere in the Amazon, the biggest linchpins for the fast-growing cities are major energy and industrial projects. The construction of dozens of hydroelectric projects, including sprawling dams that have drawn protests, are luring manual laborers from around Brazil to cities like Pôrto Velho, in Rondônia State, and Altamira, in Pará.
Here in Parauapebas, also in Pará, an open-pit iron ore mine provides thousands of jobs. Plans for additional mines here, supported largely by forecasts of robust demand in China, have lured many to this corner of the Amazon in search of work. Just since the 2010 census, the city’s population has swelled to an estimated 220,000 from 154,000.
“This entire area was thick, almost impenetrable, jungle,” said Oriovaldo Mateus, an engineer who arrived here in 1981 to work for Vale, the Brazilian mining giant. That was about the time that the authorities cut a road through the forest, making the settlement of Parauapebas feasible. By the early 1990s, he said, it had muddy roads, brothels and more than 25,000 people.
“Now, Brazil’s future is in Parauapebas and other cities of the Amazon,” said Mr. Mateus, 62, who heads the city’s business association and owns a company that leases mining equipment. He boasted that on some frenetic days, as many as two homes are built each hour to meet surging demand in the city’s settlements.
Indeed, the streets of Parauapebas pulse with vitality. People shout to be heard along Rua 24 de Março, a traffic-clogged thoroughfare reverberating with the buzzing of motorcycle taxis, Pentecostal preachers bellowing warnings of sin and car stereos blaring eletromelody, the thumping electronic music style popular in this part of the Amazon.
Venture to the outskirts of Parauapebas, and slums of wooden shacks stretch to the horizon. One area where squatters have put down stakes is called Nova Vitória. With about 1,200 such homes, it is a magnet for strivers.
“I came here because the economic conditions are strong,” said Francisco Amorim da Silva, 20, who arrived in August from Marabá, another Amazonian city. Already, he has a small store selling basic foods like rice and beans and household items like laundry detergent.
Asked how much investment it takes to start such an operation, Mr. Amorim da Silva whipped out an iPhone and did the math, calculating the cost of a barren lot, building materials and a bit of start-up capital, which he said he obtained from selling a used Honda motorcycle. “Four thousand reais,” he replied, or about $2,000.
Some researchers have argued that in addition to allowing migrants to raise their living standards, migration to cities in tropical countries might actually reduce forest loss by depopulating certain rural areas, allowing tropical forests to regrow. But others contend that the migration may increase deforestation by permitting cattle ranchers, already responsible for razing big portions of forest, to acquire lands held by small cultivators.
The soaring population growth in some cities in the Amazon — called the “world’s last great settlement frontier” by Brian J. Godfrey, a geography professor at Vassar College who is the co-author of “Rainforest Cities” — is intensifying an urbanization that has been advancing for decades. For more than 20 years, a majority of the Brazilian Amazon’s population has lived in urban areas.
“It’s great that people are moving out of poverty, but one of the things we need to understand when people move out of poverty is there is a larger demand on resources,” said Mitchell Aide, a University of Puerto Rico biology professor, whose research has shown that deforestation has occurred on a larger scale than reforestation in Brazil’s Amazon over the past decade.
Such environmental worries seem far from the minds of those who arrive here in Parauapebas. These days, a train comes three times a week from Maranhão in northeast Brazil, delivering hundreds of people each time. On a recent humid night, Maria Antonia Santos, 34, arrived with her six children from Zé Doca, a city more than 16 hours away.
As she lugged her family’s possessions in plastic bags, she explained her motivation: “I was told this is the best place in Brazil to start on life again.”
Taylor Barnes contributed reporting from Rio de Janeiro.
November 24, 2012
Cellphones Reshape Prostitution in India, and Complicate Efforts to Prevent AIDS
By GARDINER HARRIS
MUMBAI, India — Millions once bought sex in the narrow alleys of Kamathipura, a vast red-light district here. But prostitutes with inexpensive mobile phones are luring customers elsewhere, and that is endangering the astonishing progress India has made against AIDS.
Indeed, the recent closings of hundreds of ancient brothels, while something of an economic victory for prostitutes, may one day cost them, and many others, their lives.
“The place where sex happens turns out to be an important H.I.V. prevention point,” said Saggurti Niranjan, program associate of the Population Council. “And when we don’t know where that is, we can’t help stop the transmission.”
Cellphones, those tiny gateways to modernity, have recently allowed prostitutes to shed the shackles of brothel madams and strike out on their own. But that independence has made prostitutes far harder for government and safe-sex counselors to trace. And without the advice and free condoms those counselors provide, prostitutes and their customers are returning to dangerous ways.
Studies show that prostitutes who rely on cellphones are more susceptible to H.I.V. because they are far less likely than their brothel-based peers to require their clients to wear condoms.
In interviews, prostitutes said they had surrendered some control in the bedroom in exchange for far more control over their incomes.
“Now, I get the full cash in my hand before we start,” said Neelan, a prostitute with four children whose side business in sex work is unknown to her husband and neighbors. (Neelan is a professional name, not her real one.)
“Earlier, if the customer got scared and didn’t go all the way, the madam might not charge the full amount,” she explained. “But if they back out now, I say that I have removed all my clothes and am going to keep the money.”
India has been the world’s most surprising AIDS success story. Though infections did not appear in India until 1986, many predicted the nation would soon become the epidemic’s focal point. In 2002, the C.I.A.’s National Intelligence Council predicted that India would have as many as 25 million AIDS cases by 2010. Instead, India now has about 1.5 million.
An important reason the disease never took extensive hold in India is that most women here have fewer sexual partners than in many other developing countries. Just as important was an intensive effort underwritten by the World Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to target high-risk groups like prostitutes, gay men and intravenous drug users.
But the Gates Foundation is now largely ending its oversight and support for AIDS prevention in India, just as efforts directed at prostitutes are becoming much more difficult. Experts say it is too early to identify how much H.I.V. infections might rise.
“Nowadays, the mobility of sex workers is huge, and contacting them is very difficult,” said Ashok Alexander, the former director in India of the Gates Foundation. “It’s a totally different challenge, and the strategies will also have to change.”
An example of the strategies that had been working can be found in Delhi’s red-light district on Garstin Bastion Road near the old Delhi railway station, where brothels have thrived since the 16th century. A walk through dark alleys, past blind beggars and up narrow, steep and deeply worn stone staircases brings customers into brightly lighted rooms teeming with scores of women brushing each other’s hair, trying on new dresses, eating snacks, performing the latest Bollywood dances, tending small children and disappearing into tiny bedrooms with nervous men who come out moments later buttoning their trousers.
A 2009 government survey found 2,000 prostitutes at Garstin Bastion (also known as G. B.) Road who served about 8,000 men a day. The government estimated that if it could deliver as many as 320,000 free condoms each month and train dozens of prostitutes to counsel safe-sex practices to their peers, AIDS infections could be significantly reduced. Instead of broadcasting safe-sex messages across the country — an expensive and inefficient strategy commonly employed in much of the world — it encircled Garstin Bastion with a firebreak of posters with messages like “Don’t take a risk, use a condom” and “When a condom is in, risk is out.”
Surprising many international AIDS experts, these and related tactics worked. Studies showed that condom use among clients of prostitutes soared.
“To the credit of the Indian strategists, their focus on these high-risk groups paid off,” said Dr. Peter Piot, the former executive director of U.N.AIDS and now director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. A number of other countries, following India’s example, have achieved impressive results over the past decade as well, according to the latest United Nations report, which was released last week.
But now that mobile phones are untethering prostitution from brothels, those targeted measures are threatened. At the same time, the advent of cellphones seems to be expanding the sex marketplace — luring more women into part-time sex work and persuading more men to pay for sex. Cellphone-based massage and escort services are mushrooming across India.
“There may now be clients who may not have otherwise availed themselves of the services but do so now because it is easier and more private,” said Suneeta Krishnan, a senior epidemiologist with Research Triangle Institute of North Carolina.
The changes have led to a steep drop in business on Delhi’s Garstin Bastion Road and have nearly destroyed Mumbai’s Kamathipura district, where brothels had thrived since the 18th century.
Champa, a wrinkled madam with silver toe rings, bangles on her wrists and henna-dyed hair, has for 50 years owned a brothel in a narrow lane here. But like many other industries where information technology has undermined the role of middlemen between buyers and sellers, Champa’s business is withering.
“It’s the end of Kamathipura,” Champa said with a resigned wave as she squatted on the floor of her entryway.
She once had as many as 20 prostitutes living in her nine-bedroom brothel; she now has three, she said. Worse, at least from her point of view, the women working for her collect their own fees and offer her just $2 a day to rent one of her tiny bedrooms. As recently as five years ago, Champa — she has just one name — collected $2 for every client served.
As Champa spoke, several garishly dressed young women walked through the brothel’s tiny foyer to sweep and water the hard dirt floor just outside. The lane was teeming with laborers, uniformed schoolchildren, and veiled matrons. The prostitutes soon settled onto benches and teased the men getting haircuts at a nearby outdoor barbershop.
There were once 75 brothels on this lane; now there are eight. Kamathipura had as many as 50,000 prostitutes in the 1990s but now has fewer than 5,000, according to city officials and nongovernmental organizations.
Kamathipura’s destruction is partly a tale of urban renewal. India’s rapid development has turned former slums into sought-after addresses, and rising land values led many brothel owners to sell out.
But just as important has been the spread of cellphones into the hands of nearly three out of four Indians. Five years ago, cellphones were still a middle-class accouterment. Fierce competition led prices to plunge, and now even trash pickers and rickshaw drivers answer pocket phones.
But not all has changed. Vicious madams still exist, human trafficking is still rampant, village girls are still duped into the trade, and some brothels still thrive. Most prostitutes are illiterate, come from lower castes and are poor. But cellphones have given them a measure of power they did not have before.
“I’m happy that mobile phones are so popular and that I have this opportunity,” said Kushi, a mother who got into secret, part-time prostitution after she left her abusive and alcoholic husband. (Kushi is her work name.) She has three to four clients a week and charges each about $20, she said, compared with a typical price of $4 in cheap brothels.
“Cellphones allow the women to keep much more of their money,” Mr. Niranjan of the Population Council said. “But they make H.I.V. prevention programs more challenging.”
Sruthi Gottipati contributed reporting in Mumbai and New Delhi.
November 24, 2012
Vladka Meed, Who Infiltrated Warsaw Ghetto, Dies at 90
By JOSEPH BERGER
Vladka Meed, who with her flawless Polish and Aryan good looks was able to smuggle pistols, gasoline for firebombs and even dynamite to the Jewish fighters inside the Warsaw Ghetto, and who after the war became an impassioned leader in the national effort to educate children about the Holocaust, died Wednesday in Phoenix. She was 90.
She died after a steady decline from Alzheimer’s disease, said her son, Dr. Steven Meed.
With her husband, Benjamin, and a handful of other survivors, Mrs. Meed took a leading role in efforts to get the world to acknowledge what the Nazis had done to the Jews of Europe. It was a difficult proposition, given the impulse of so many people after World War II to put the slaughter behind them.
The Meeds helped start the Warsaw Ghetto Resistance Organization in 1962 and then the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, which, beginning in 1981, rallied thousands to reunions in Jerusalem and in several American cities. These events sometimes featured American presidents, and the resulting attention inspired films, books and courses and contributed to the creation of museums in Washington and New York.
Mrs. Meed’s resistance work started with the deportation of 265,000 Jews from Warsaw to the Treblinka death camp and continued after the uprising by the ghetto’s besieged remnants. She told her story in Yiddish in her 1948 book, “On Both Sides of the Wall,” one of the first published eyewitness accounts. It was translated into English, German and at least three other languages, is still in print, and was a central source of the 2001 television movie “Uprising.”
When the Germans walled off a portion of Warsaw, she was still a teenager. Working as a machine operator sewing Nazi uniforms, she grew increasingly dejected watching the deportations in 1942 that included her mother, a 13-year-old brother and a married sister. But she responded resourcefully to a call for armed resistance.
With her brownish hair and prominent cheekbones, she could pose as a gentile, so the Jewish underground asked her to live on the Christian side of the wall and become a courier. Born Feigele Peltel on Dec. 29, 1921, she took the Polish nickname Vladka.
Women were often preferred as couriers, she said in a 1983 interview. “If a man in the underground went on a mission, he could be recognized as a Jew by his circumcision,” she said. “A woman’s body might be searched, but it could not give that information.”
She was soon buying bullets, pistols, even dynamite, and carrying them, as well as money and essential information, to the Jewish side of the wall. Sometimes she became part of a Polish ghetto work detail, sometimes she bribed her way across and sometimes she clambered over the wall. With death all but certain, she once recalled, “there was very little left to fear.”
Several times, she smuggled Jewish children out of the ghetto and into the homes of sympathetic Christian families. According to Michael Berenbaum, a leading Holocaust scholar, she helped pass on to the Polish underground the startling news about Treblinka — that trains filled with Jews were returning empty, that no food was being shipped and that there was an omnipresent stench of corpses.
The ghetto uprising, in which lightly armed young fighters took on the Nazis by firing from hide-outs in buildings and sewers, began in January 1943 and continued for four months, though Mrs. Meed did not take part in the final battle in April. She had been ordered to remain outside the walls for future missions, and as the rebellion ended she saw the smoke billowing from the ghetto while pretending to enjoy a carousel ride.
“Aryan Warsaw hardly lifted a finger to help” the Jews, she wrote in her memoir.
After the uprising, she continued to work for the underground, carrying provisions and money hidden in her shoes and bra to Jews in hiding. In 1944, she married Mr. Meed, another courier. He died in 2006. In addition to her son, Mrs. Meed, who lived in Manhattan, is survived by a daughter, Dr. Anna Scherzer of Phoenix, and five grandchildren.
The Meeds were on one of the first boats carrying survivors to reach New York, and she was invited to lecture about her experience and about the Eastern European Yiddish culture that the Nazis virtually destroyed.
As her husband prospered in an export-import business, they were able to start organizations that brought the survivors — often feeling isolated, even within the Jewish community — together and gave them a potent identity.
In the mid-1980s, with the Holocaust beginning to become part of the American curriculum, Mrs. Meed arranged with the American Federation of Teachers and other groups to train teachers in Holocaust education. Every year a few dozen teachers would take a three-and-a-half-week program in Israel and Poland on teaching the Holocaust, including visits to the death camps and to the Warsaw that Mrs. Meed knew so intimately.
The program continues, and Steven Meed estimates that 750 teachers have been through it.
In a 1988 interview, Mrs. Meed explained her motivation.
“Our ranks are getting thinner and thinner,” she said, “and we were thinking how and who will continue to tell the story, but to tell the story in the right way.”