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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1082010 times)
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« Reply #3375 on: Dec 07, 2012, 07:16 AM »

Greece: Most corrupt in Europe: An unenviable accolade

6 December 2012
To Vima, The Guardian   
The NGO Transparency International, on December 5, published its 2012 Corruption Perception Index, which measures the perceived levels of public sector corruption worldwide. Unsurprisingly, Finland and Denmark share the top rank. Also unsurprisingly, Somalia and North Korea share the lowest. Among the countries of the European Union, Greece is the lowest ranked at 94 (out of 176) at the same level as Djibouti and Columbia. It is 19 slots below the second lowest ranked EU country, Bulgaria.

This ranking is "totally wrong" and "unconvincing", argues Greek daily To Vima because "Transparency International doesn't investigate the problem but collects the impressions of citizens." Thererfore, the paper notes –

    In this time of crisis, of the agreement [on debt reduction signed with the IMF, the EU and the ECB] and of an unprecedented recession, in which public opinion is bombarded with bad news and endless references to economic scandals, what else could the citizens say? That doesn't mean that corruption has increased or become more entrenched. How could there be more corruption in a country in which the economy is in disarray, in which the recession is at 7 per cent, in which the banks are paralysed and in which public works are on hold? This report does not hold water, that is clear. It is time to end this luxurious nonsense, hiding behind erudite titles such as the NGO Transparency. They are not telling the truth. The government must react quickly.

This view is questioned by Costas Bakouris, president of Transparency's Greek office. In a comment piece in The Guardian, he explains that no later than last week, the European Commission and Transparency International Greece,

    presented a plan for tackling corruption in the country. Looking at today's Corruption Perceptions Index, it becomes imperative that the anti-corruption initiatives presented at the conference are implemented promptly.

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« Reply #3376 on: Dec 07, 2012, 07:18 AM »

12/06/2012 05:57 PM

Banning the NPD German Governors Agree on Legal Challenge

Governors from Germany's 16 states gave their unanimous support Thursday for a legal bid to ban the country's far-right NPD party. But Chancellor Angela Merkel and members of her cabinet are skeptical that a court challenge will work. The last one, in 2003, failed.

Governors from Germany's 16 federal states unanimously agreed Thursday to support a new legal attempt to ban the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD).

The governors, acting on the recommendation of their state interior ministers, who met in Rostock Wednesday, agreed to the move at a meeting in Berlin and will recommend that the Bundesrat, Germany's upper legislative chamber which represents the states, support the measure.

"The evidence, from our point of view, is clear," said Christine Lieberknecht, governor of the eastern state of Thuringia and a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Torsten Albig, the governor of the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein and a Social Democrat (SPD), welcomed the decision. "It is important that the constitutional body, the Bundesrat, follows this path and in doing so sends a strong signal against this racist and fascist party," Albig told the news agency DPA.

The Bundesrat is expected to vote on the issue on Dec. 14.

Lessons from 2003

A prior legal bid to ban the party, which was supported by the Bundesrat, the Bundestag, and the federal government, failed in 2003. The Federal Constitutional Court threw out the case over the issue of government informants in the party's ranks. The court argued that the policies of the far-right party were being formed, in part, by undercover government agents.

Federal authorities cut their ties to government informants in the party this year to help pave the way for another ban attempt. But Merkel and members of her cabinet, including Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, are skeptical that another attempt would succeed in banning the party and remain concerned that a failed bid would only serve to further embolden the party's members.

Last week, a 141-page report on the strength of the case against the NPD was issued by a working group of central and regional authorities.

Support for another attempt at banning the party grew after revelations last year that a neo-Nazi terror cell called the National Socialist Underground (NSU) had allegedly been responsible for the murder of nine shopkeepers of Turkish and Greek origin and a policewoman over the course of more than a decade.

NPD in State Parliaments

Matthias Platzeck (SPD), governor of the eastern state of Brandenburg surrounding Berlin, said a ban of the far-right party was not enough to effectively combat right-wing extremism.

"We also need every demonstration against neo-Nazi marches, every repudiation of racist statements, and all expressions of solidarity with the victims of right-wing violence," he said.

The NPD currently holds seats in the parliaments of two eastern German states: Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

On Thursday, representatives of the NPD in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania left the parliament's chamber as the state body observed a moment of silence in memory of the victims of the NSU terror cell.

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« Reply #3377 on: Dec 07, 2012, 07:21 AM »

Prime Minister Gillard: End of the world is coming, good luck

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, December 6, 2012 17:24 EST

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard weighed into the debate about whether the world will end on December 21 under the Mayan calendar in a spoof video about Korean pop and flesh-eating zombies.

In a one-minute video address recorded for the youth radio station Triple J, a sombre-looking Gillard said the pending apocalypse was at hand despite there being no proof found by the “best and brightest” government scientists.

“My dear remaining fellow Australians, the end of the world is coming,” she said, tongue in cheek.

“Whether the final blow comes from flesh-eating zombies, demonic hell-beasts or from the total triumph of K-Pop, if you know one thing about me it is this — I will always fight for you to the very end.”

The prime minister said there was a bright side to Armageddon, which she noted had not come as a result of the much-hyped Y2K millennium computer bug in the year 2000 or due to Australia’s corporate pollution tax.

“At least this means I won’t have to do Q and A again,” she said, referring to a weekly current affairs talk show.

“Good luck to you all.”

Gillard recorded the message for a special “end of the world” programme being broadcast on Triple J Friday after Australian science writer Karl Kruszelnicki warned December 7 was the world’s real end-date.

Kruszelnicki, a renowned author and science commentator, said he reached the date by putting the Mayan and Gregorian calendar into a complex algorithm combining mathematics and comedy.

The video went viral on social media after being uploaded to YouTube, with most people seeing the funny side, although a few questioned whether it was a waste of taxpayers’ money.

Triple J host Tom Ballard admitted he had been surprised when Gillard agreed to take part “but I’m grateful because everyone needs to be warned and informed”, joking that he understood she had now retreated to a bunker.

“I don’t think it’s hilarious at all, I think it’s a very serious matter and people are worried,” Ballard told AFP.

He said he was anticipating “zombies, natural disasters, people not getting along very well, being quite mean to each other, and of course all the world’s religions proving to be false” when the end came on Friday.

It is not the first time Gillard has enjoyed Internet fame — footage of a fiery speech in parliament in which she accused her conservative opponent of sexism and misogyny in October has been viewed more the two million times.

December 21 represents the end of a cycle in the Mayan long count calendar that began in the year 3114 before Christ.

A doomsday industry has boomed in Hollywood around the notion that the calendar’s end will bring the fiery end of human civilisation, with the blockbuster “2012″ depicting Earth being swallowed by floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

The Mayan culture enjoyed a golden age between 250 AD and 900 AD in present-day Mexico and Central America, before its steady decline and the arrival of Spanish imperialists in the 16th century.

Click to watch:

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« Reply #3378 on: Dec 07, 2012, 07:27 AM »

12/06/2012 04:03 PM

Mystery on the Nile: Re-Examining Nefertiti's Likeness and Life

By Matthias Schulz

German excavators discovered the famous bust of Nefertiti in Egypt 100 years ago. As an anniversary exhibition kicks off in Berlin, new findings are altering old ideas about Germany's controversial acquisition of the bust and the story of the legendary beauty herself.

In wartime, the course of the world is often accelerated in odd ways. To the sounds of sword thrusts and the thunder of cannons, entire empires have been dispersed, and fates brought together and accumulated. As if in stop motion, heroes have been born and destroyed once again.

But there was a time when things were completely different. The revolution of the Pharaoh and sun guru Akhenaton, who devised a light theology with his wife Nefertiti and, in 1350 B.C., declared the solar disk "Aton" to be the only god, was followed by a period of sluggish peace, filled with flute music and endless caresses. The whole thing was so odd that Egyptologist Jan Assmann refers to it as the "entry of the improbable into history."

The peculiar rulers of what was then the richest nation on earth lived in the newly founded Nile capital Akhetaton ("Horizon of Aton"). Servants carried them on a throne made of electrum. Pharaoh Akhenaton liked to be portrayed as having a fat stomach, while Nefertiti wore transparent robes that hardly covered her pubic mound.

Then came damnation. Angry successors destroyed the images of the heretics, their names were obliterated and almost all traces were removed.

This is why it was such a surprise when excavator Ludwig Borchardt, equipped with a license to excavate owned by Berlin cloth manufacturer James Simon, discovered more than 20 likenesses from the clan of star worshippers. He had sailed upriver from Cairo to uncover the ruins of the mysterious solar city, known today as Amarna. Borchardt was Germany's relic hunter, reporting his finds directly to the chancellor of the German Reich.

At the ancient estate of court sculptor Thutmose, he was rewarded with the discovery of precious objects that can only be compared with those found in the tomb of Tutankhamen. Magnificent statues and portraits were brought out, depicting faces full of exhilaration and life. Such individually shaped and accomplished sculptures had never been seen before in the Nile Valley.

They were all bald. Presumably, the courtiers of Akhetaton, population of 50,000, had shaved off their hair to make it easier to wear heavy wigs. It also protected them from vermin.

A Sensational Discovery

The most important find occurred on Dec. 6, 1912. Shortly after the lunch break, Borchardt received a note telling him to go to building P 47.2, room 19, where Ahmed al-Sanussi, a foreman, was in the process of uncovering a "flesh-colored neck with red bands painted onto it."

Because it was about to get dark, the sensational artifact was placed in a nearby tent, and Heidelberg professor Hermann Ranke was assigned to stand guard. He later told American students that he had slept next to the beautiful Nefertiti.

But what exactly happened on those balmy winter days on the banks of the Nile? How did the Germans manage to spirit away this terrific icon and take it to Berlin? There was soon talk of a "mistake," and then of deception and fraud. Even back then in the Weimar Republic there was bitter dispute about Nefertiti's ownership.

The questions were revived a few years ago by Egypt's then Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs Zahi Hawass, when he demanded the return of the Nefertiti bust. He charged that the bust had been covered "with mud" and then smuggled out of the country.

A document by an eyewitness provides an insight into how the haggling in the desert sand took place. Borchardt's behavior was savvy and almost devious in the tug-of-war for the pharaoh's wife. A legal reassessment of whether he broke the law may now even be necessary.

The owners of the bust, however, are tired of the debate. They prefer to celebrate. To mark the 100th anniversary of the discovery, a major exhibition is taking place at the Egyptian Museum, which is encompassed by the Neues Museum on Berlin's Museum Island. "In the Light of Amarna," which begins on Dec. 7, is devoted to the epoch when Egypt's conservative guiding principles were briefly upended and mankind invented monotheism.

The solar enigma of Amarna is exhibited in an 820-square-meter (8,826-square-foot) space, with artifacts on loan from Paris and New York. At the center of it all is the bust, 50 centimeters tall, whose "anxious charm" once delighted German author Thomas Mann. The queen is portrayed with almond eyes and a swan's neck. Her crown is blue, like the hair of Aton.

What an archetype of the erotic. Mona Lisa seems pasty by comparison.

The left eye is missing. Although the excavator had workers sift through the rubble and even promised a finder's fee of five pounds, the iris, made of black wax and rock crystal, was not found.

Computer tomography images reveal the level of skill employed by the sculptor more than 3,300 years ago. First, he carved the face of Nefertiti from a piece of limestone. Then he covered it with plaster, smoothed out the nose, removed small creases and narrowed the cheeks.

A Fascinating Era

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke called the result "enchanting." The French Egyptologist Christian Jacq praised the "radiant grandeur" of the bust, whose "smile is animated with an inner light."

But of what use are such hymns of praise? Who was the historic figure behind the regent, who lived shortly after the Stone Age, and her husband -- the epitome of ugliness -- who impregnated his own daughters?

Critics say that the enchantress from the faraway pyramid nation has been viewed from an overly "modern" perspective until now. Doesn't her face also seem cold and dismissive? A cobra, prepared to strike, was originally mounted on the front of the crown. The appropriate reaction to the sculpture, writes US art historian Camille Paglia, is fear.

Egyptologist Christian Bayer recently discovered a fragment that perfectly matches the original in a Cairo museum. It's a copy. Bayer suspects that the bust was used for purposes of mass production, an official propaganda image of sorts -- not unlike the images of Josef Stalin.

Even more confusing is the fact that archeologists are now familiar with more than 100 images of Nefertiti. She is portrayed as a sphinx, with thick lips, trampling down her enemies, as an older woman with stretch marks -- and even with male facial features.

So who exactly was Nefertiti? The answer is made more difficult by the fact that Amarna is like a vortex in which all traditions and habitual ways of thinking were destroyed. Even gender boundaries were broken down. Not surprisingly, the study of this strange era is particularly interesting.

Experts have deciphered scratched-out inscriptions and reconstructed destroyed funerary reliefs chiseled away by angry counterrevolutionaries. In Amarna, British archeologist Barry Kemp is exposing the buildings and food remnants of the Aton sect. He has found piles of pig feces, suggesting that Nefertiti may have been fond of eating pork.

False Assumptions

The genetic analysis of mummies of the 18th dynasty performed in 2010 led to a quantum leap in new knowledge, and helped to explain the blood bonds of the Nefertiti clan.

The many details are gradually coalescing into an overall picture of the graceful queen. It is a biography filled with lust for power, intrigues and surprising twists and turns.

For example, it was believed until now that the queen had died after the 13th year of her husband's reign. The plague was raging in the Nile Valley at the time. According to a Babylonian clay tablet, an Amarna queen was one of the victims of the Black Death.

But a black ink inscription was recently uncovered in a quarry near the Nile. The writing is from the 16th year of Akhenaton's reign and mentions Nefertiti, suggesting that she lived longer than was previously believed.

In fact, there are indications that she actually outlived her husband and then ascended to the throne under the tongue twister of a name "Anchetcheprure-Neferneferuaton" -- something no woman had ever dared to do.

In a new book, German cultural scientist Franz Maciejewski attempts to provide a broad picture of the regent's life and death. According to Maciejewski, the woman stopped at nothing. The cliché of the "apolitical first lady," the author writes, is completely false.

In Safe Hands
But there is little evidence of the current debate over the beautiful queen in the Berlin exhibition. Visitors walk past panels with such scintillating labels as "Akhetaton, from its founding until today," passing through an obstacle course of broken jars and crumbly pieces of palace stucco.

Nevertheless, the exhibition is worth a visit. Ludwig Borchardt had roughly 5,500 objects brought to Berlin. The remains offer only a hint of how flamboyantly furnished the private chambers of the sun guru once were.

But craftsmen are still working in the exhibition rooms. They're behind schedule, because museum officials in Berlin, frightened by the poltergeist Hawass, were planning to let the anniversary pass with little fanfare. Only after the Egyptian Museum in Cairo was looted during the unrest of the Arab spring could the Germans convincingly say: Look, the bust is in safe hands here.

But now time is not on their side. Much of the show feels too dry. The description of the find, presented on the lower level, also has its shortcomings. The most exciting aspects are not mentioned. In reality, the day on which the artifacts were divided up in Amarna resembled a poker game. Gustave Lefebvre, the Inspector for Middle Egypt for the Egyptian Antiquities Service, had travelled to the site on Jan. 20, 1913, to divide the excavated objects "à moitié exacte" (exactly in half).

The secretary of the German Oriental Society, Bruno Güterbock, who was present at the event, wrote a report that SPIEGEL has now obtained. According to the document, the guest was first taken an office, where he looked at photos of all the finds. He was shown an image of Nefertiti that was "not exactly the most advantageous photograph."

Borchardt later mentioned that he had cunningly chosen the image detail "so that one cannot recognize the full beauty of the bust, although it is sufficient to refute, if necessary, any later talk among third parties about concealment."

Then he handed the visitor the preliminary list dividing up the finds. The Nefertiti bust was at the top of the right column, followed by about 25 plaster statues.

Ten stone artifacts were listed in the left column, beginning with a colorful "folding altar." It too was a very unusual work. The stele depicted Akhenaton and Nefertiti with their children. At the time, there was only one comparable specimen worldwide, and it was in Berlin.

A Guilty Conscience?

The bargaining began. Lefebvre accepted the "approximate equivalency" of the two halves. He also accepted the proposal to give the plaster pieces to the Germans and keep the seemingly more valuable stone busts in Egypt.

But the list of finds obscured an important point. Although Borchardt knew that the Nefertiti bust had a stone core, he described the material as consisting entirely of "plaster." Güterbock, the secretary, had already expressed his "concerns" earlier, describing what he called an "obfuscation of the material."

But Borchardt ignored Güterbock's objections, arguing that if a different conclusion were reached later on, he would simply say that he had "been mistaken at first."

Then the chief negotiators walked into the warehouse, where the finds were displayed in open crates but, as Güterbock writes, "not exactly in the best light." Lefebvre could have lifted the Nefertiti bust out of its crate, but he didn't. After a "superficial examination of the originals," he gave his blessing to the entire arrangement.

But were the German's deceptive tactics truly objectionable? It was the eve of World War I, and the major powers were not exactly feeling generous. Haggling was a widespread practice.

Borchardt must have been plagued by a guilty conscience, though. Otherwise he wouldn't have refused to publicly exhibit the bust. After being shipped to Germany, it was initially placed under lock and key. Only Kaiser Wilhelm II, as the supreme patron of the Oriental Society, received a copy as a Christmas gift.

It wasn't until 1924 that the director of the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, Heinrich Schäfer, held an exhibition -- against Borchardt's will.

The show was met with admiration abroad, but it also triggered resentment. The director of the Department of Antiquities in Cairo, Pierre Lacau, demanded the immediate return of the artifacts. "I believe we are defenseless, legally speaking," he wrote, but he also cited "moral" reasons, and he imposed sanctions. In 1925, he barred Germans from excavating in Egypt. It was a tough blow.

In the end, Schäfer agreed to make an exchange. But the press got wind of the imminent deal in 1930, setting off a storm of outrage. The plan was stopped.

Nevertheless, the issue continued to simmer, even under the Nazis. On Oct. 4, 1933, the Prussian Prime Minister, Hermann Göring, decided to give the bust to Egyptian King Fuad I as a gift. Hitler, furious over his pudgy fellow Nazi's effort to go over his head, had his aides give him a detailed account of the matter five days later, and then cancelled everything.

It is also on record that during a lunch in March 1934, Joseph Goebbels tried to convince Hitler of the propaganda value of turning over the bust to Egypt. But he was unsuccessful. Hitler had other plans for the Nefertiti bust. "I will build her a museum in Berlin," he said.

It is not without a certain irony that one of the worst criminals of all time preserved the "most beautiful woman" for Germany, though it has no bearing on the legal validity of the agreement that was used to divide up the Borchardt find.

Did Borchardt Forge Artifacts?

However, a seemingly farfetched accusation remains to be cleared up. The renowned Egyptologist Rolf Krauss, a curator at the Egyptian Museum in Berlin for more than 20 years and the custodian of the Nefertiti bust, claims that the folding altar used as compensation for the bust was fake.

Krauss theorizes that Borchardt, consumed with ambition, had the magnificent panel, with which he enticed Lefebvre, made by skilled stonemasons in Cairo.

But could the excavator have been capable of such contemptuous fraud? Some, who believe Borchardt was a hatchet man, say he could.

It is true that the scholar had been working at the German consulate general in Cairo since 1899. His official title was "academic attaché." But in reality Borchardt's job -- in the struggle against the other imperialistic powers, England, France and the United States -- was to fill Germany's museums with treasures from the days of the pharaohs.

His approach was often crude. In 1908, British Egyptologist Alan Gardiner accused him of "tactless and brusque behavior." Gardiner also claimed that the German had established a network of academic spies in the Nile Valley.

When confronted at home, the accused admitted that he had illegitimately acquired "a large number of photographs, drawings, private letters and foreign documents, and so on." In a letter to the foreign ministry, a colleague complained that a man who had "compromised German academia in such a way cannot remain in his position."

But the Indiana Jones of the German Empire survived the scandal. He was simply too good at what did. Borchardt often roamed through the souks of Cairo, where bearded merchants offered stolen antiquities for sale, as well as fakes made to look old with etching acid. Borchardt himself described the dealers' tricks. For example, it was common that "the men scratch off old paint, crush it and apply it with a binding agent."

There is even evidence that Borchardt made forgeries himself when he was a student. He imitated a cuneiform tablet and wrote logarithms onto it. A scholar fell for the practical joke.

Its interest peaked by the rumors, the restoration laboratory (set up by Italians) in Cairo examined the folding altar some time ago. When it was placed under ultraviolet light, it turned out that the supposed weathering was only a "darker base color" that had been painted onto the limestone.

"I think this is absolute proof of forgery," says Egyptologist Christian Loeben. His colleague Dietrich Wildung, however, calls the whole thing "rubbish."

Because the laboratory analysis remains unpublished to this day, the accusation cannot be thoroughly evaluated. It remains unclear how honestly Borchardt behaved 100 years ago when, using picks and shovels, he exposed the astonishing monuments from an era when the world held its breath and Akhenaton brought down the gods.

'Mistress of Joy'

It is becoming increasingly clear that Nefertiti played a central role in this revolt. In the Aton cult, she played the part of the giver of life: erotic, fertile and scantily clad.

It is unclear when the young couple met. The girl was probably from a family in the provincial city of Akhmim that was closely related to the royal family. Nefertiti's aunt appears to have been nothing less than the "Great Royal Consort" of the ruling Pharaoh Amenhotep III, Akhenaton's father.

Her own father had a successful career, rising to the rank of general of the chariot force. The daughter was also characterized by a love of horses. Reliefs show her driving a two-wheeled horse and buggy, while others depict her standing upright in a magnificent carriage.

The realm along the Nile was in its prime at the time, its colonial territories extending from Sudan to the Euphrates. Akhenaton's father fancied himself a builder, who created "greatness without limits," as well as temples with "walls of gold, tiles of silver and flagpoles that stretched up to the stars."

Then his son ascended the throne. He was a dreamer. He had studied in Heliopolis, where the Benben stone, the strange, ancient sacred stone of the solar cult, stood. Akhenaton wrote poetry. An analysis of his skeleton showed that he was 1.6 meters (5'3") tall and had crooked teeth. It is unlikely that the young man immediately instigated an intellectual coup. In fact, it was more likely his mother, the royal widow Tiye, who was pulling the strings in the background. Images show her looking sullen and frowning -- a woman to be feared. Tiye may have selected her son's wife, choosing her own niece.

No one knows exactly when the girl from Akhmim arrived by ship on the Nile in the capital Thebes, where she was carried into the harem on a litter. A statue depicts the couple as teenagers. She is wearing a collar of precious stones. Her face, still pudgy, is that of a 14-year-old girl.

But Akhenaton was in love. "Mistress of joy," he called her, "lovely to contemplate; one rejoices to hear her voice." She became pregnant soon afterwards.

Outside, on the streets of Thebes, massive changes were underway. The young king had workers hurriedly build a giant temple for Aton. It was more than 600 meters long.

In another temple, images of Nefertiti hung resplendent on colorful murals, which depicted her alone, giving offerings of thanks as the "mistress of Aton."

It was unheard of, a violation of taboos. One of the principles of the kingdom of the pharaohs was that women could not become priests. They were excluded from salvation.

An Unhappy Queen
But that changed, and women also began to exert growing influence on the affairs of state. In fact, politics at the court of Amarna had almost feminist features. Around the fifth year of his rule, the spineless Akhenaton elevated his wife to the position of co-regent. The old establishment in Thebes was furious.

This was probably one of the reasons the pharaoh came up with the plan to leave the capital. Downstream, along a remote Nile inlet, his engineers marked off a 16-by-13-kilometer site, where a new and magnificent city was to be built.

Nefertiti apparently didn't like the idea. Thebes offered parties with dancing dwarves, musical orchestras and trained monkeys. Angered by her complaints, her husband said: "And the queen shall not say to me: Look, there is a more beautiful place for Akhetaton in a different spot."

Against her will, the couple moved to the new city. In a carriage made of electrum, the couple made their way to the desert valley. The new palace was directly adjacent to the main road, which was 30 meters wide.

The queen attended religious services in the morning, when the sun rose above the cliffs of Amarna. There were hundreds of altars in the large temple to Aton. Large numbers of animals were sacrificed there at dawn.

"Your beams are on the inside of the sea," the great Aton chant, written by the pharaoh himself, begins. "You are lifetime itself. We live through you. The eyes are directed at your beauty, until you set."

The ceremonies contained not a word about the destructive aspect of the sun, about its searing heat, which triggers droughts and famines.

Instead, cuddling was the order of the day. Reliefs show the royal couple kissing and caressing each other. Sometimes they are nibbling on skewers. Then they are sitting at home with the children. Intimacy became part of the political program. Or did the prophets of light simply lose all shame?

In the year 12, a great banquet was held at Amarna. Tribute bearers from Cyprus and Crete, and from Syria and Mycenae, came to Amarna to pay homage to the beautiful queen. Nevertheless, the great queen was not happy. She had given birth to six children -- all girls.

A Mysterious Female Pharaoh

This was probably why Akhenaten often strayed in his older years. He was desperate to father a noble-blooded male heir to the throne. There are indications that he initially impregnated his mother and then married three of his daughters. But it was only his own sister who gave him a male heir. The name of the infant was Tutankhamen.

The heretic died soon afterwards, leaving behind a state that was coming apart at the seams. Foreign armies had invaded the country in the north. The old elites -- the priests and the generals -- were in the mood to stage a coup.

Ironically, it was in this situation that Nefertiti apparently ventured to go it alone. It is clear that after Akhenaton's death, a mysterious, female pharaoh took control of the land of the pyramids for 14 months. A case can be made that it was Nefertiti.

She apparently hazarded another political coup that could hardly have been more audacious. To keep her enemies at home in check, she enlisted the help of the king of the Hittites, Suppiluliuma, who lived about 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) away in Hattusa, in what is now modern Turkey.

The clay tablet state archive discovered in Hattusa contained a letter from a certain "Dahamunzu." The word is derived from "Ta hemet nesw" (Egyptian for "the wife of the king"). Could Nefertiti have written the letter?

"My husband has died, and I have no son," the woman wrote to the king of the Hittites, "but it is said that your sons are numerous." Then she boldly states her request: She wants to marry one of the princes.

A New Story Takes Shape

What an offer it was. The Hittites immediately sent their chancellor to the Nile. After months of inquiries, he returned home with another message from the pharaoh, in which she proposed a pact of sorts. After the wedding, her letter reads, "the two great countries will be only one country."

It was high treason.

"The idea that a woman in ancient Egypt would conduct such correspondence is so crazy as to be almost unbelievable," says Egyptologist Bayer.

Finally, the chosen "Prince Zannanza" set out for Egypt. He crossed the mountains of Anatolia and rode down along the coast. But he had hardly reached "Kemet," the "Black Land," as the Egyptians called their country, when he was murdered by assassins.

It was the end. All messages fell silent after that. There are indications that Nefertiti was violently deposed in the turmoil of the counter-revolution. Her mummy disappeared.

A fascinating historical scenario is rising from the waters of the Nile. It appears that the legendary queen has finished serving her time as the world's first cover girl and a well-behaved darling. A new story is taking shape, one in which the beauty was more likely a beast.

Anyone who wants to look her directly in the eye should pay a visit to the Neues Museum in Berlin soon. There, the ostracized queen sits under glass, surrounded by specimens from the lost city of the sun that have never been shown before.

Whether the precious bust will stay at the museum, eternal and unshakeable, remains to be seen. If it were returned to Cairo, Germany would lose a world-class treasure of antiquity. The statue's insurance value alone is $390 million.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #3379 on: Dec 07, 2012, 07:58 AM »

In the USA....

Democrats watch in awe as McConnell filibusters himself

By Eric W. Dolan
Thursday, December 6, 2012 17:12 EST

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced legislation to raise the debt ceiling on Thursday, apparently with the intent of showing that even Democrats would not support such a bill.

However, McConnell’s plan backfired after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) called for a vote on the legislation, which would have given the president the authority to raise the federal debt ceiling on his own. The top Senate Republican was forced to filibuster his own bill.

“What we have here is a case of Republicans here in the Senate once again not taking ‘yes’ for an answer,” Reid said, after McConnell announced his filibuster. “This morning the Republican leader asked consent to have a vote on this proposal, just now I told everyone we were willing to have that vote — up or down vote. Now the Republican leader objects to his own idea. So I guess we have a filibuster of his own bill, so I object.”

Apparently aware the incident would bring media attention, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) expressed astonishment at McConnell’s legislative antics.

“What just transpired deserves a word,” he remarked. “Sen. McConnell came to the floor this morning and offered a change in law that would help us avoid the kind of obstruction and the kind of show downs we’ve had in the past over the debt ceiling.”

Durbin explained “to those who don’t follow the Senate” that by calling for the legislation to be passed by a 60-vote majority, McConnell had filibustered the bill. He said this was probably the first time in history that a senator had filibuster his own proposal.

Reid and other Democrats have called for the Senate’s filibuster rules to be reformed, claiming that Republicans have abused the parliamentary procedure and obstructed lawmaking.

Click to watch:


Republicans Are Going Off the Rails and Heading Towards Irrelevance

By: Rmuse
December 6th, 2012

One of the most difficult, and often painful, experiences a human faces throughout their lifetime is the state of things as they actually exist, rather than as they may appear, are hoped for, or even imagined. A person who cannot, or will not, face reality is fooling themselves and eventually, when they can no longer elude reality, they either accept their situation and face their challenges responsibly, or go completely off the rails and bury themselves in delusion until they become irrelevant to whatever situation they refuse to face in the first place. Republicans have lived in an imaginary world over the past eleven years and avoided the reality that their economic “reality” is illusory at best and an abject failure at worst. Now, after losing an election to the President who campaigned on ending Republican gifts to the wealthiest Americans, the GOP will have to face the reality that the American people, and the country’s economic health, demands that the wealthy lose their lower tax rates. Instead of accepting their situation and acting responsibly, Republicans are going off the rails and heading toward irrelevance.

When Speaker of the House John Boehner proposed a counter offer to the President’s plan to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, he was obviously disabused of the reality that his proposal was precisely the plan that cost Willard Romney dearly in the general election. In fact, one could say that realistically, the list of spending cuts and alleged revenue increases was hardly a counter offer and more in line with the vagaries Romney attempted to sell the voters during the campaign. Whether or not Republicans like the President’s proposal, at least there were relatively specific tax measures and reductions in Medicare spending that warrant a closer analysis. Boehner’s offer was, at best, a list of figures attached to nebulous descriptions that left one wondering what things like health savings, mandatory savings, other discretionary savings, entitlement scale downs, and tax reform without increases meant. Chances are, even Republicans are unaware of what all the so-called “savings” are; regardless, it was not a real proposal or a counter offer. However, it certainly garnered outrage and criticism from conservatives who all but said Boehner was doing the President’s bidding.

If Boehner’s proposal avoids reality, then his conservative and Republican critics exist in a fantasy land where the concept of tax increases, or closing loopholes, represent the end of humanity. The Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity said, “Boehner’s deal leaves conservatives wanting,” and the Heritage Foundation claimed Boehner is “asking Republicans to go back on their promise to never raise taxes,” and Senator Jim DeMint said, “Speaker Boehner’s $880 billion tax hike will destroy American jobs and allow politicians to spend even more while not reducing the deficit by a single penny.” It is almost like the Republican establishment exists in a world where voters did not reject Republican’s economic assaults on the poor, middle class, and the elderly to protect the wealthy’s Bush-era tax cuts. Despite voters’ rejection of Republican’s adherence to tax cuts for the rich, they are clinging to them with their political lives and pushing severe austerity that has other nations laughing and predicting Republican proposals will destroy the fragile recovery and send the economy into deep recession.

German newspapers compare the Republican proposals to “Greece’s economic problems and the resulting austerity packages it passed that plunged the country into five straight years of recession. Germany, Europe and the world are hoping that the same fate is not in store for the U.S.” The German papers are reiterating what economist Paul Krugman has been arguing that “Greece should teach us that overly rapid deficit reduction during a period of economic weakness is a disastrous idea.”  Another paper claimed “balking at the President’s proposals is another way of saying Republicans are hypocrites and using the fiscal cliff to start an austerity crisis and deep recession.” In England, a financial expert editorialized that “Mr. Obama proposed a $1.6 trillion rise in tax revenues, and $400 billion in chiefly Medicare cuts as well as making increases in the sovereign debt ceiling automatic. It was a strong opening bid, and the Republicans need to think hard about their response and instead of playing chicken, Republicans should try governing.” The overwhelming consensus is that Republican intransigence is creating a crisis because of their institutional dysfunction that will damage the economy and make the American people pay the  price.

Republicans are going to have to face the reality that the wealthy are going to see their tax rates increase whether they like it or not. Either they accept, and try to work with, the President’s proposal and let the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire and extend tax cuts for 98% of the people, or the economy goes over the fiscal cliff and all the Bush cuts expire, including the wealthy’s. Boehner may have thought his reducing tax rates and “closing loopholes” would satisfy the President, but for two years Obama has pledged he will not allow Republicans to hold the middle class hostage again over tax cuts for the wealthy. Remember, when  Republicans passed the wealthy’s tax cuts, they intended for them  to sunset after ten years, and instead of honoring their own legislation, they are fantasizing that Democrats and the President will cave and perpetually extend, and reduce, tax rates for the richest Americans.

The GOP’s dream of never-ending tax cuts for the rich is coming to an end and it is none too soon. The Bush-era tax cuts were never paid for, and after eleven long years they are still going on the nation’s credit card that no amount of closing loopholes or severe austerity will reduce. Boehner is going to have to face his conservative critics and remind them that President Obama won re-election on the promise of making the wealthy pay higher taxes, and that deficit reduction is not going to be on the backs of the poor, middle class, and elderly while the wealthiest 2% continue benefiting from Republican’s who will either face reality and accept responsibility for their eleven year dream, or fade into irrelevance. It is 2012, and the state of things as they actually exist is that the President, Democrats, and American people will not abide one more day of tax cuts for the rich and whether the economy falls off the fiscal cliff, or Republicans face reality and compromise with the President, America’s nightmare of giving everything to the rich at the expense of the rest of the population is finally within sight whether Republicans see it or not.


President Obama Hits 53%, His Highest Job Approval Rating in 3 Years

By: Sarah Jones
December 6th, 2012

President at 53% Approval: Obama Gets Highest Job Approval Rating in 3 Years in New Poll

American voters approve of President Barack Obama’s job performance by 53-40 percent, his best approval rating in three years. By an even wider margin, 53 – 36 percent, “(T)hey trust the president and Democrats more than Republicans to avoid the “Fiscal Cliff,” according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

The Quinnipiac University National Poll was conducted between November 28 – December 3 and used live interviewers to call both landlines and cells.

Obama got his job approval support from 90% of Democrats and 51% of Independents, with Republicans only giving him 8% approval. Obama also has more approval than disapproval from all income groups, including those making over $250k a year.

In June of 2009, Obama had his high of a 59% approval rating with 31% disapproval and in October of 2011, he faced his low with 41% approval rating to a 55% disapproval.

Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, explained, “Nothing like winning an election to boost your job approval. President Barack Obama hasn’t had a score this good since his 52 – 40 percent approval rating May 5, 2011, right after the death of Osama bin Laden… This is only the second time in more than three years that President Obama has broken 50 percent. And voters see Republicans as more likely to be obstructionist, and have less confidence in their ability to come up with the right solution to the nation’s financial woes.”

The poll also shows Americans want to tax the rich (65-31%) and don’t want Medicare touched in the “fiscal cliff”, with 70-25% saying they don’t want cuts to Medicare spending.

In other words, Americans reject the Republican approach to balancing budgets. Not to suggest they reject a balanced approach, as 66% of Americans agree that we need to both generate more revenue via tax increases and cut spending. The issue then is cut spending on what. Exactly.

Even Republicans agree that signing a no-tax pledge as Republicans have done is a bad idea, with 85-10 % of Americans saying it’s a bad idea, including 77-15 % of Republicans agreeing.

The President has political capital to burn going into the fiscal cliff negotiations and there’s nothing Republicans can do about it. They lost the tax revenue issue when Obama made it a central part of his campaign. It also isn’t helping Republicans that their promises of trickle down glory from gifting the rich with less and less tax burdens never actually materialized.

The elected Tea Party Republicans bought their own angry tax rhetoric and are unwilling to give the public, including their own base of the Republican Party, what they want. Crazy much or do they only hear the most extreme voices, backed by the high dollars of the Koch brothers et al? The time has come to question whether or not the elected Republicans actually represent their own base at all, even in pretense.

Speaking of which, tea partyish-conservative media outlets are even waging war against Speaker John Boeher in hopes of getting everything done their way once again.


Obama warns of human cost of fiscal cliff

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, December 6, 2012 19:07 EST

President Barack Obama traveled to the suburban apartment of a high school teacher Thursday, to warn of the human cost of failing to solve the US “fiscal cliff” tax and austerity crisis.

Obama sat at the kitchen table of Tiffany Santana in Virginia to issue a new warning that he would not agree to any deal with Republicans that did not raise the top tax rate on the richest Americans.

The president said that Tiffany and Richard Santana and their family, including their son six-year-old Noah, had “dreams and ambitions” and were working hard to meet their responsibilities.

“For them to be burdened unnecessarily because Democrats and Republicans aren’t coming together to solve those problems gives you a sense of the costs on personal terms,” Obama said.

If there is no deal to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff,” a mix of automatic tax rises and massive spending cuts, taxes on all Americans will go up on January 1.

Obama wants to extend George W. Bush-era tax cuts for almost all Americans, but let the rates on the two percent of richest earners go up from 35 to 39.6 percent to finance cuts to the bloated deficit.

“The message we all want to send to Congress is this is a solvable problem,” Obama said, in the tidy apartment in the Virginia suburbs of Washington.

“(It’s) important we get this done now, we don’t wait. The closer it gets to the brink, the more stressed we’re going to be.”

“Everyone is going to have to share in some sacrifice. But it starts with folks who are in the best position to sacrifice.”

Tiffany Santana said that she can ill afford to pay higher taxes, saying the money she would lose next year would be the equivalent of two months’ rent.

Obama spoke to House of Representatives speaker John Boehner on Wednesday, but there are no clear signs that the two sides are any closer to narrowing their positions as they search for a compromise.

In what they bill as a concession, Republicans say they are willing to bring more revenue into the government, but insist it can only be done by closing tax loopholes and capping deductions.

Obama says such a method would not raise sufficient funds to significantly reduce the deficit and is insisting on rate hikes.

The president presented an initial offer last week, while Boehner presented a counter-bid. Both have been rejected outright by the other side.

The Republicans’ proposal would raise $800 billion in new revenue by closing tax loopholes and ending some deductions as part of the broader $2.2 trillion Republican package, including $1.2 trillion sliced from federal spending, with half of that coming directly from Medicare, the federal health program for the elderly.

Boehner insisted that Obama’s plan, including $1.6 trillion in new taxes and $600 billion in spending cuts, “couldn’t pass either house of the Congress.”


Originally published Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 10:15 AM

Obama seeks to put personal touch on cliff talks

Associated Press


President Barack Obama, trying to put a personal touch on "fiscal cliff" negotiations, visited a northern Virginia family's basement apartment Thursday to press his hard line on tax rate increases for the wealthy.

"We're in the midst of the Christmas season," Obama said, sitting at a table in the Santana family's Falls Church home. "I think the American people are counting on this getting solved. The closer it gets to the brink, the more stress there is going to be."

Obama and lawmakers have until the end of the year to avert across-the-board spending cuts and tax increases. The president reiterated the firm stance he has taken in recent days, warning that he's willing to let that economy-rattling double whammy take effect if Republicans don't drop their opposition to higher tax rates for the wealthy.

"Just to be clear, I'm not going to sign any package that somehow prevents the top rate from going up for the folks in the top 2 percent," Obama said. "But I do remain optimistic that we can get something done that is good for families like this one and is good for the American economy."

The president's quick trip - just a 15 minute drive from the White House - was part of an effort to rally public support for his tax proposals. The family whose home he visited is one of many that shared their stories online, at the White House's urging, of how they would be hurt if their taxes went up at the end of the year. The president will also travel to Detroit on Monday.

Obama and House Speaker John Boehner spoke on the phone Wednesday, their first known conversation in nearly a week. Neither side provided details of the call, but the White House said the lines of communication with Capitol Hill Republicans were open and there had been multiple conversations between staff.

Unless the president and Republicans reach a deal, George W. Bush-era tax rates will expire on all income earners on Jan. 1. Obama wants to continue them for 98 percent of Americans, while letting them expire on the upper income earners.

If Republicans try to block that effort, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said, the administration will "absolutely" let the country go over the fiscal cliff.

The size of the problem is so large it can't be solved without rates going up," he told CNBC on Wednesday.

Geithner drew a fierce response from Republicans. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah called his statement "stunning and irresponsible." He added, "Going over the fiscal cliff will put our economy, jobs, people's paychecks and retirement at risk, but that is what the White House wants, according to Secretary Geithner, if they don't get their way."

Economists inside and outside the government warn that failing to reach agreement on taxes and spending could land the economy back in recession.

Beyond his insistence that taxes increase on the wealthy, Obama has also warned Republicans not to inject the threat of a government default into negotiations over the fiscal cliff as a way of extracting concessions on spending cuts.

"It's not a game I will play," he said Wednesday, recalling the brinkmanship of last year in which a budget standoff pushed the Treasury to the edge of a first-ever default.

The White House reaffirmed Thursday that it did not believe the president had the authority through the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling by executive order. Democrats have previously suggested Obama could take that step.

Both sides say they want a compromise, although the administration's hand in bargaining is strengthened by polls showing public support for Obama's position on taxes, as well as by his re-election last month. The president is also working to rally the public to his side and has a trip scheduled to Detroit next week.

In a concession, Republican leaders have agreed to back increased tax revenue. Yet despite defections from within the rank and file, they have so far balked at Obama's demand that rates go up on income over $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples. They have also called for spending cuts and measures to slow the growth of government benefit programs. Earlier this week, they called for curbing the growth in Social Security cost-of-living increases, as well as delaying Medicare eligibility from 65 to 67, beginning in a decade.

Obama has said he will back spending cuts, including savings in Medicare, as part of a deal that includes the tax proposal that was a key part of his re-election bid.

Once Republicans yield on taxes, he told the Business Roundtable, "We can probably solve this in about a week; it's not that tough."

Republicans argue that they can raise about $800 billion in additional government revenue over a decade by closing loopholes and narrowing tax deductions on the wealthy, rather than raising income tax rates. They argue the rate increase would impose a particularly harmful impact on the economy and job creation at a time when the country is still struggling to recover fully from the deepest recession in decades.


December 6, 2012

In Talks on a Budget Deal, Boehner and Obama Stand Alone


WASHINGTON — At House Speaker John A. Boehner’s request, Senate leaders and Representative Nancy Pelosi have been excluded from talks to avert a fiscal crisis, leaving it to Mr. Boehner and President Obama alone to find a deal, Congressional aides say.

All sides, even the parties excluded, say clearing the negotiating room improves the chance of success. It adds complexity as the two negotiators consult separately with the leaders not in the room. But it also minimizes the number of people who need to say yes to an initial agreement.

“This is now the speaker and the president working this through,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat.

White House aides and the speaker’s staff, by mutual agreement, have largely shut down public communication about the talks to avert hundreds of billions of dollars in automatic tax increases and spending cuts set to begin in January if no deal can be reached. Both sides said on Thursday that lines of communication remained open.

For public consumption, Democrats and Republicans are engaging in an increasingly elaborate show of political theater. Mr. Obama on Thursday went to the home of a middle-income family in the Virginia suburbs of Washington to press for an extension of expiring tax cuts for the middle class — and for the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts on incomes over $250,000.

“Just to be clear, I’m not going to sign any package that somehow prevents the top rate from going up for folks at the top 2 percent,” Mr. Obama said. “But I do remain optimistic that we can get something done.”

On Capitol Hill, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, moved Thursday to vote on Mr. Obama’s proposal, in his broader deficit package, to permanently diminish Congress’s control over the federal government’s statutory borrowing limit, assuming that Democrats would break ranks and embarrass the president. Instead, Democratic leaders did a count, found they had 51 solid votes, and took Mr. McConnell up on what Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate majority leader, called “a positive development.”

Mr. McConnell then filibustered his own bill, objecting to a simple-majority vote and saying a change of such magnitude requires the assent of 60 senators.

“I do believe we made history on the Senate floor today,” Mr. Durbin said.

The government is expected to hit its borrowing limit in late January or early February, and it is an added complication in the deficit talks because some House Republicans say they will demand further spending cuts before they lift the debt ceiling. Mr. Obama has said that any deal on taxes and spending must ensure that there will not be another crisis over the debt ceiling early next year.

But the White House on Thursday gave Republicans assurances the president would not employ a potent weapon to get what he wants. Some Democrats, including former President Bill Clinton, have theorized that the Constitution gives the president the authority to raise the debt ceiling unilaterally, citing a clause in the 14th Amendment guaranteeing that the nation’s debts “shall not be questioned.”

Mr. Obama renounced such an assertion of authority on Thursday through his spokesman. “I can say that this administration does not believe that the 14th Amendment gives the president the power to ignore the debt ceiling,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, told reporters, reading from language that had been prepared for him.

Administration officials had long discounted the possibility that the president would claim such power, but Thursday’s statement seemed more definitive than any in the past.

The exclusion of Senators Reid and McConnell and Ms. Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, is a departure from last year’s search for a major deficit deal. Then, Obama-Boehner deficit talks coincided with side talks between Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader, which were followed by broader talks by a special bipartisan Congressional committee. All failed.

This time, while Mr. Boehner has made himself the sole focal point, aides say he has made sure a broad leadership team is behind him. He meets every morning while the House is in session with the full slate of Republican leaders, as well as the committee chairmen who would most likely implement a deal: Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, who heads the Budget Committee; Representative Dave Camp of Michigan, who leads the Ways and Means Committee; and Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, who heads the Energy and Commerce Committee.

White House officials have begun daily conference calls with the communications staffs of Mr. Reid and Ms. Pelosi. The White House communications director, Dan Pfeiffer, met with the Senate Democratic Caucus last week, and the director of the National Economic Council, Gene Sperling, spoke with the House Democrats late last month.

The arrangement has led to bipartisan grumbling. Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont, an independent and perhaps the Senate’s most liberal member, said on Thursday that Senate Democrats needed to find a way to make themselves more relevant to the search for a resolution to the fiscal standoff.

Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, has gone to the Senate floor repeatedly to denounce “secret” deficit talks.

“Shouldn’t the president lay out his plan?” Mr. Sessions asked. “He’s the president of the United States and the only one who represents everybody. Or will that remain a secret? Will it just be revealed to us on the eve of Christmas or on the eve of the new calendar year and we will be asked to vote for it like lemmings?”


Rep. Cole breaks with GOP: Middle-class tax cuts ‘a victory for common sense’

By Eric W. Dolan
Thursday, December 6, 2012 18:01 EST

Breaking with his party, Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) said Thursday that he supports a bill that extends tax cuts for the middle class.

“As long as we have the right to continue to discuss and debate and fight on other issues, lets do that,” he told Tom Ferraro of Reuters. “Lets take these people out of harm’s way and not worry about it. Lets also send the markets and the rest of the country a sign that, ‘Hey, there are somethings they can work together on, they can put people ahead of political posturing.’ I think it would actually help us in resolving the other issues.”

The Democrat-led Senate has already passed the tax break extension. But House Republicans, led by House Speaker John Boehner (OH), have said they will not pass any extension of the tax cuts that does not include the wealthiest Americans. Boehner has argued that raising taxes on top earners would hurt job growth.

Cole floated the idea of passing the middle-class tax cut extension weeks ago, but refused to say whether he expected Boehner to back the move. He said he supported the House Speaker regardless.

“I think it strengthens our position,” he added. “But more importantly, I think it is just the right thing to do. I think that it would actually astonish the country. We know we are never going to agree on everything, and the American people have voted for divided government, they ratified that decision in November, they’re the bosses around here, and so I think they basically told us to work together.”

“There are going to be some tough negotiations, but when we have something that we both essentially agree on, that taxes shouldn’t go up for this huge portion, we don’t disagree with that,” Cole continued. “Well then, why don’t we just in good faith embrace that. I don’t see this as a quote, ‘victory for the President.’ I see this as a victory for common sense and honestly I think it would make both sides look better.”


Boxer Takes Aim at GOP Election Games: Introduces a Bill to Prevent a Waiting Time of More Than One Hour

By: Sarah Jones
December 6th, 2012

President Obama promised to address election standards in his acceptance speech, and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) is stepping up by introducing a bill called the LINE Act (Lines Interfere with National Elections Act). The LINE Act is election reform legislation to address national standards for waiting times at the polls. “The bill explicitly states that the goal of minimum standards is to prevent a waiting time of more than one hour at any polling place.”

Imagine that.

I’m sure the voters in Florida, Ohio, Michigan and Virginia would appreciate not having to camp out in order to exercise their franchise.

In a statement, Ms. Boxer said, “It is unacceptable that many Americans had to wait in line for five, six or seven hours to cast their ballots. The LINE Act will help ensure that every American has an equal chance to vote without enduring hours-long delays at their polling places.”

According to Senator Boxer’s statement, the bill would “require the Attorney General, in consultation with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), to issue new national standards by January 1, 2014 regarding the minimum number of voting machines, election workers, and other election resources that are necessary to conduct Federal elections on Election Day and during early voting periods. The bill explicitly states that the goal of minimum standards is to prevent a waiting time of more than one hour at any polling place.”

One hour. That’s almost sane. But it gets better. Those states where a “substantial number of voters” had to wait longer than 90 minutes to vote in the 2012 election would be required to comply with a “remedial plan” to ensure it wouldn’t happen again.

Since we have several Florida Republicans saying on the record that the long lines were intended to prohibit Democrats from voting, it’s fair to say that if the lines are cut and more people vote, it wouldn’t be good for the Republican Party. Not that we needed Republicans to admit this in order to realize the purpose of their largely imaginary “voter fraud” justification for laws that make it harder to vote, but having evidence of intent is different than surmising intent.

No matter- many things are not good for the Republican Party, precisely because they are good for the citizens of this country. In other words, just because the GOP doesn’t like it when more people vote is no reason to continue to tolerate their election games. Everyone qualified to vote should have the ability to vote, and they shouldn’t have to wait in seven hour lines or face caging or intimidation in order to do it.

Any guesses as to how the Republican Party will vote on a bill to make voting easier for Americans? Right. But you can’t get anywhere unless you take the first step, and getting them on record as being against making voting sane is a worthwhile venture for future attempts to address the issue.

Then again, Reid reiterated his promise to change the filibuster rules yesterday, saying, “We’re going to change the rules. We cannot continue in this way.” He would most likely do that on the first day of the new legislative session in January (on which day the Standing Rules of the Senate can be changed with a simple majority vote), so it’s possible that we might see some real action out of this Senate after historic high levels of filibusters by Republicans (not to mention the secret holds and refusal to confirm appointees).


Michigan police pepper-spray, arrest protesters opposing ‘right to work’ law

By David Edwards
Dec 6, 2012

Michigan State Police say they were forced to use pepper spray and arrest at least four protesters who were opposing right to work legislation at the Michigan Capitol on Thursday.

Michigan State Police Inspector Gene Adamczyk told the Detroit Free Press that a number of protesters tried to rush the state Senate floor.

“When several of the individuals rushed the troopers, they used chemical munitions to disperse the crowd,” Adamczyk said. “It would be a lot worse if someone gets hurt and I failed to act.”

WILX reported that the Capitol building had been locked and at least four protesters were arrested during the incident. WILX reporter Brian Johnson estimated that there were around 500 protesters in the building.

Video posted by Michigan Senate Democrats showed Republican state Senator Tonya Schuitmaker angrily gaveling the Senate session into recess as the crowd became rowdy.

“Additionally, Republicans have called in countless State Police officers again today to guard their offices and question the public as they enter the Capitol to protest the Republican agenda,” the Democrats wrote. “Frankly, if you have to bring in a massive police presence in order to conduct business at the State Capitol, it might be time for Republicans to rethink what they’re doing.”

After initially calling the union-busting right to work legislation “too decisive,” Republican Gov. Rick Snyder on Thursday said that he would sign the bill if it came to his desk. The measure is expect to pass because Republicans control both the state Senate and state House.

“The goal isn’t to divide Michigan,” he said at a press conference. “It is to bring Michigan together.”

Snyder said that he now supported the legislation because it was about the “freedom to choose” and “fairness and equity in the workplace.”

Democratic lawmakers and unions, however, claimed that the bill would lower wages and reduce benefits for workers.

“Gov. Snyder campaigned on a promise of unity, but instead he’s ushering in an era of divisiveness across Michigan by launching an attack against working families,” U.S. Representative Gary Peters said in a statement on Thursday. “By trying to jam this through a lame duck session, Gov. Snyder is trying to prevent voters from seeing how he is dividing Michigan instead of working to ensure the future of our state during this fragile recovery.”


Michigan lawmaker slams Republicans in emotional labor rights speech

By Eric W. Dolan
Thursday, December 6, 2012 18:40 EST

Michigan Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday blasted Republicans for pushing “right to work” legislation through the state legislature.

The bill would prohibit unionized workplaces from requiring workers to contribute money to the union. The Michigan AFL-CIO has dubbed the legislation the “Freedom to Freeload bill” because it allows workers to benefit from collective bargaining agreements without being paying members of the union.

“You must be kind of embarrassed right now,” Whitmer said on the Senate floor. “Your floor leader doesn’t know the rules and your leader doesn’t even want his name on this bill. Well I have a simple question: Why are we here today?”

She noted the progress the labor movement had achieved over the last century, providing American workers with maternity benefits and other working conditions that most people now took for granted.

“Lets be clear, this legislation is petty and vindictive politics at its most disgusting,” Whitmer continued. “You began this two year session by attacking workers and their families with your emergency managers legislation that raised the ire of people around the state and brought thousands of protesters here to Lansing. And now for one of your final pieces of business in this legislative calendar, you want to pass ‘right to work’ legislation that hurts workers and our economy by lowering employee wages, benefits, and workplace protection. Another bow to big business and wealthy special interests at the cost of our people.”

Police officers pepper-sprayed pro-union protesters earlier in the day after Republican Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville closed the state Capitol.

Watch video, uploaded to YouTube by Michigan Democrats, below:


December 6, 2012

Tea Party Hero Is Leaving the Senate for a New Pulpit


WASHINGTON — With a disappointing election in his rear view mirror and a budget compromise he could never swallow on the horizon, Senator Jim DeMint, the conservative Republican from South Carolina who helped ignite the Tea Party movement, is leaving the Senate to become president of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group.

  Just two years into his second term, Mr. DeMint, 61, whom many in his own party partly blame for Republicans failing to win Senate control two elections in a row, announced on Thursday that he has opted for a platform and a payday that the United States Senate could never provide him.

His resignation also comes as Tea Party followers in Congress face new pressure to pull back from their uncompromising views in the election’s aftermath. He will depart with the start of the new Congress in January.

Come January, the occasional kingmaker, conservative hero and filibuster lover — he once forced the Senate to stay in town for a Saturday vote that he then chose to skip — will find himself with a space to continue his efforts to push the Republican Party to the right from the outside rather than the inside.

His imminent departure to head a well-financed organization with significant heft in conservative circles will allow him to oppose even more loudly a big budget deal that includes higher tax revenues sought by President Obama. Mr. DeMint has been a loud Republican critic of a deal proffered by House Speaker John A. Boehner to address the impending fiscal crisis by generating at least $800 billion in new tax revenue.

“I’m leaving the Senate now, but I’m not leaving the fight,” Mr. DeMint said in a statement. “I’ve decided to join the Heritage Foundation at a time when the conservative movement needs strong leadership in the battle of ideas.”

In a parting shot — or perhaps warning flare — Mr. DeMint on Thursday suggested to Rush Limbaugh that Mr. Boehner might need to watch his back. When asked if Mr. Boehner was forcing him out, Mr. DeMint replied, “It might work a little bit the other way, Rush.”

The job switch should have substantial financial benefits for Mr. DeMint, whose 2010 net worth, $65,000, was among the lowest in the Senate. Edwin J. Feulner, the current head of the foundation, in 2010 earned $1,098,612 in total compensation.

A hero to many Republicans for his campaign fund-raising abilities, Mr. DeMint frustrated Senate colleagues by eagerly backing Republican candidates like Sharron Angle of Nevada, Ken Buck of Colorado and Christine O’Donnell of Delaware in 2010, and Richard Mourdock of Indiana and Todd Akin of Missouri this year, contenders who proved too conservative to be elected statewide. Those losses set back Mr. DeMint’s effort to bring the fiery conservatism of the House to the Senate, though he did have a hand in electing Senators Mike Lee of Utah, Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas, who takes office next month.

“The truth is that Jim DeMint’s philosophy on everything from Medicare to women’s reproductive rights, as embodied by his handpicked candidates for Congress, has been rejected by voters,” said Senator Patty Murray of Washington, who headed the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee this year. Privately, so as not to inflame him, several Republicans also said Mr. DeMint’s departure would produce few tears among them.

Mr. DeMint’s leadership PAC, the Senate Conservatives Fund, spent $5.48 million in the 2010 and 2012 elections, and out of 27 races that it stepped into, his preferred candidate won either the primary or general election 8 times.

The costly Senate defeats, as well as Mr. DeMint’s proclivity for gumming up legislation on the floor, and his virtually nonexistent legislative productivity, stunted his chances for leadership in the Senate.

Gov. Nikki R. Haley of South Carolina, a Republican, will now be compelled to appoint a successor who would then run to maintain the seat in a special election in 2014, when Senator Lindsey Graham, the senior senator from the state and a fellow Republican, will also be up for re-election. Aides said that Ms. Haley was surprised by Mr. DeMint’s announcement.

South Carolina is a small state, politically speaking, and almost every Republican member of the House delegation, many of them close to Mr. DeMint politically and personally, are possible fill-ins.

Representative Tim Scott is a popular freshman from Charleston who is well known around the state from having served on Charleston County Council for 13 years and in the State House of Representatives for two years. The first black Republican to serve his state in Congress since Reconstruction, Mr. Scott could give Republicans a high-profile black member of the Senate, which has no black members from either party. Mr. Scott, who shares a political consultant with Ms. Haley, is believed to have other ambitions, including a possible run for governor.

While a fellow Republican freshman,  Mick Mulvaney, might also like the job, he does not have a close relationship to Ms. Haley in a job and state where such ties matter, and the delegation is expected to coalesce around Mr. Scott. What’s more, there are many Republicans in the state who would love to have a run at Mr. Scott’s seat.

Ms. Haley, who said that she would not appoint herself, is most likely to frame her choice around her own re-election efforts. She is a ripe target for a conservative primary challenge.

“Our state’s loss is the Heritage Foundation’s gain,” Ms. Haley said in a statement. “I wish Jim and Heritage all the best in continuing our shared commitment to America’s greatness.”

The distraction of a new seat may well benefit Mr. Graham, who has taken some positions on immigration and climate change that have drawn fire in his very conservative state. On the Senate floor Thursday, Mr. Graham said that his state was losing “a great strong conservative voice,” and that “on a personal level I’ve lost a colleague and friend.” Their relationship, he said, at times was “playing the good cop, the bad cop, but we were always trying to work together.”


December 6, 2012

Season Has Changed, but the Drought Endures


KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Even as the summer swelter has given way to frost, nearly two-thirds of the country remains in a drought, with forest fires still burning, winter crops choking in parched soil and barges nearly scraping the mucky bottoms of sunken rivers.

More than 62 percent of the continental United States is experiencing moderate to exceptional drought, according to the weekly Drought Monitor report released on Thursday, compared with just over 29 percent at this time last year.

Save for patches of California, Montana and Wyoming, the drought is expected to persist in most of the dry regions west of the Mississippi River over the next three months, according to the Seasonal Drought Outlook released Thursday by the National Weather Service.

“It’s not looking very promising right now,” said David Miskus, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s climate prediction center.

This is typically the driest time of the year, Mr. Miskus said, so precipitation will have to be far above normal levels to put a dent in regions that have been rain starved since the spring.

With the Great Plains — from southern South Dakota to the Texas Panhandle — enduring the most desiccated conditions, the agricultural sector is bracing for the hardest blow. Most of the Plains and the Mississippi River Valley had less than a quarter-inch of rain over the past week, according to the Drought Monitor.

The drought expanded across parts of Southeast Texas through central Louisiana in areas that had precipitation shortfalls of 8 to 14 inches over the past three months, the report said.

Just over a quarter of the nation’s wheat crop, planted mostly in September and October, was in poor or very poor condition, according to a report released last week by the United States Department of Agriculture. Those are the worst conditions since the department began keeping records in 1986, said Brad Rippey, a meteorologist with the department.

In Nebraska, where most of the state has been in an exceptional drought, farmers have reported planting their wheat in dry soil with the hope that rain or snow will eventually come and germinate the seeds and allow them to sprout, said Caroline Brauer, a spokeswoman for the Nebraska Wheat Board.

But for now, in some dehydrated fields, thin, green whiskers resembling grassy patches poke from the dusty ground, rather than the thick, wavy plants that typically sprout from a healthy wheat field.

The wheat harvest is not until next summer, so there is still time for it to bounce back. But a dry winter would make adequate precipitation in March and April that much more essential for the crop. And snow is also important to help insulate the wheat from extreme cold and wind during the winter.

Corn and soybean farmers are eager for precipitation to prepare the soil for their plantings in April.

“We know we got time ahead of us,” said Dennis McNinch, a corn and wheat farmer in west-central Kansas. But, he added: “Every day is a day closer to needing more moisture. That time will come that we’re going to have to get the tractors rolling and putting seed in the ground. We’ll just keep praying that next storm’s on its way.”

Perhaps the most unusual sign of the nagging drought is the 3,700-acre wildfire raging in the Rocky Mountains in northern Colorado.

The fire in Estes Park, which started in October from an illegal campfire, is burning at altitudes of 8,000 to 10,000 feet, on peaks that should be covered in snow right now.

The fire more than doubled in size on Saturday morning after 70 mile-per-hour winds swept through the area, forcing the evacuation of about 600 residences nearby, said Don Ferguson, a spokesman for the National Park Service.

The lack of moisture is also taxing water systems throughout the country, most notably the Mississippi River.

“If we continue to get or stay below normal for rainfall, and if the level continues to drop, we could even get close to or surpass the record low level on the river,” said Jim Kramper, a warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

This could spell trouble for barges that transport billions of dollars in agricultural products, chemicals, coal and petroleum products. The industry estimates that water levels could bring navigation closings between St. Louis and Cairo, Ill., before the end of December.

Debra Colbert, a spokeswoman for the Waterways Council, a group that lobbies on behalf of inland carriers, operators and ports, said, “We are headed for our own fiscal waterfall here.”

Steven Yaccino contributed reporting from Chicago and John Schwartz from New York.

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« Reply #3380 on: Dec 08, 2012, 06:53 AM »

 08 December 2012 - 11H42 

UK sees evidence Assad could use chemical weapons

AFP - British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Saturday said that there is evidence that the Syrian government could use its chemical weapons stocks in its conflict with rebels fighting to oust it.

"We are extremely concerned about the stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and we are also concerned about evidence during the last couple of weeks that the regime could use them," Hague told reporters in Manama on the sidelines of a regional security conference.

He said Britain had joined with the United States in delivering a strong message to President Bashar al-Assad's government.

"We have contingency plans concerning chemical weapons but will not disclose them," he added.

Hague said there were several "dangerous scenarios" for such weapons, including their "use by the regime, or falling in the hand of other people".

He said the option of military intervention in Syria had not been "ruled out" but Britain continued to support a peaceful transition.

He said it was not Britain's policy "to supply arms to any side in the Middle East" but added that the opposition fighters were "receiving arms and making progress on the ground".

"We will continue to give them strong practical assistance -- communication equipment and humanitarian assistance," the British minister said.

"I hope that the international community will be giving more support to the (opposition) coalition during the Marrakesh meeting," he said, referring to a meeting of the Friends of Syria group due to be held in the southern Moroccan city on December 12.

On Friday, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said any use of chemical weapons by President Bashar al-Assad's regime against the rebels would be an "outrageous crime."

Washington has said the use of chemical weapons would be a red line but that it fears battlefield advances by the rebels could prompt the Assad regime to use them, or that stocks could fall into the hands of groups hostile to the United States and its allies.

The Syrian government has insisted it would never resort to the use of chemical weapons in the 21-month conflict, which has killed more than 42,000 people, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.


December 7, 2012

Rebel Groups in Syria Make Framework for Military


ANTALYA, Turkey — Military commanders of the main Free Syrian Army units from all over Syria agreed Friday to a unified command structure, bowing to intense pressure from Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who the fighters said promised more advanced weapons once a central military council was in place.

The agreement, the product of three days of intensive talks among more than 260 rebel commanders, was a marked departure from previous attempts because it was built strictly around commanders from inside Syria.

Following the terms of the pact, the participants elected a 30-member Supreme Military Council, which then selected the chief of staff, Gen. Salim Idriss, by consensus. Previous attempts at unification all foundered on disagreements over the structure, tensions between officers inside and outside the country and the failure of donors to provide the weapons they promised.

But analysts warned that despite the atmosphere of comity, the agreement could still come unglued — fierce arguments from the meeting occasionally overflowed into the marble lobby of a luxury hotel here, where the rebel commanders with their beards, leather jackets and track suits made a sharp contrast to golfers and other guests.

“We accepted everything because they promised everything — even paradise,” Ahmad al-Qanatri, the commander of a military battalion in northern Idlib Province, said of the conference sponsors. “The structure is good, but all on condition we get something. I am not sure we will. If we see any rockets and missiles, it will probably be the ones fired at us.”

“From the outside you see all these victories and you think, ‘Wow!’ But I am fighting with nothing,” Mr. Qanatri added.

Several elements have transformed the chances for unity sticking this time around, participants said.

First, dozens of governments participating in the Friends of Syria meeting in Morocco on Wednesday want to see signs of a viable alternative government in order to extend recognition to the opposition coalition, reorganized less than a month ago. Coalition members are scheduled to meet in Cairo on Saturday to begin selecting a prime minister and a cabinet.

The United States in particular has emphasized that the coalition must show strong links to the interior forces, both the rebels and civilian society. Rebel commanders said that three representatives from the Central Intelligence Agency — one from headquarters, one from Turkey and another from Jordan — attended their discussions here but did not comment.

Second, there is a growing sense that extremist jihadist forces are beginning to eclipse the rest of the opposition with better weapons and fighters. But outside powers have been reluctant to provide much-demanded antiaircraft and antitank missiles until they are assured that the arsenal will not fall into the wrong hands if the rebels achieve their goal of toppling the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Third, rebel commanders said they were facing a stark new reality. Their advances in recent weeks have been built largely on fatigue and low morale among government soldiers, as well as on random weapons captured from military bases, they said.

But both the initial attempt to batter the ramparts of Damascus and the long struggle for Aleppo have given many commanders the sober sense that they had better obtain stronger weapons for any final showdown over the main government strongholds.

The meeting here concluded with twin promises between the commanders and their outside supporters. In exchange for unification, the main backers of the rebels said they would funnel money and weapons through the new military council rather than playing favorites among the groups, commanders said.

“Before, they were always trying to bring different factions to their side, they created divisions, but now they are helping to create unity,” said Gen. Abed Farzat, a military commander from Aleppo.

The pivotal countries present were Qatar — which provides most of the financing for coalition efforts — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Turkey, commanders said. Those countries are still likely to support their own favorites in the game of regional influence, but the main effort will be concentrated on the new leadership, analysts said. Britain and France also sent representatives.

The commanders present agreed to the formation of an internal leadership, led by the new chief of staff chosen here, General Idriss. The general, described by commanders as a former professor at Syria’s war college, had previously tried to link external and internal opposition efforts.

There was some grumbling among the commanders present that a few people given important posts had defected too recently to be considered reliable, but many fighters seemed pleased over all that their role was finally getting its due. Commanders from jihadist groups were not invited.

The new organization effectively replaced the loose network of defected officers who were considered leaders of the Free Syrian Army, many of them outside the country.

“They want people who obey orders,” said Col. Riad al-Asaad, long the head of the Free Syrian Army in exile in Turkey, who said foreign powers did not invite him to the meeting.

But the marked difference with the current structure was that it was built from the field commanders rather than imposed by Arab countries and the West.

“They are trying to build a leadership of credible ground forces, and I think that is a huge distinction,” said Elizabeth O’Bagy, an expert on the Syrian rebel groups at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington. “A lot of the people who are part of the new military leadership are influential and important leaders on the ground.”

In addition, a civilian will most likely be chosen as defense minister before the Marrakesh meeting. Two mentioned prominently are Mohamed al-Fares, who was an air force officer most famous as Syria’s first astronaut, sent aloft by the Soviets in 1987, and Manaf Tlass, the scion of a famous Sunni Muslim family.

Commanders said that Mr. Tlass was a favorite of the French and Saudis, but that they distrusted him both because of his senior military position under President Assad and because his father was defense minister for almost 30 years.

In tandem with the military conference, 95 members of local administrative councils from inside Syria meeting in Istanbul announced Thursday that they reached an agreement on a joint organizational structure and a uniform list of goals, with distributing humanitarian aid a priority.

But commanders said the tide can really turn only with better weapons — the cost in dead fighters and civilians is too high to keep battling the way they have been. Part of the agreement was rooted in fatigue, commanders said, and the desire to end civilian suffering.

Commanders said this was especially true in Damascus, where the government can be expected to make a fierce last stand, throwing into battle its best airplanes and tanks, which up to now have been used sparingly.

“We still lack the powerful weapons that are needed for the battles that are coming,” said Abu Ghassan, a field commander from Damascus using only his nickname. “We have not really opened the front line there yet. We have only shaken the rose a little bit to get the smell.”


December 7, 2012

Amid Battles in Suburbs, Syrian Rebels Warn Travelers to Avoid Damascus Airport


BEIRUT, Lebanon — As fighting raged in the suburbs of the Syrian capital, Damascus, and gunfire could be heard from the city center, rebels seeking the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad were reported Friday to have declared the main airport a “fair target,” warning travelers that they used it at their peril.

Against the backdrop of battlefield uncertainty, diplomacy also seemed to have made little perceptible progress. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton repeated calls for the ouster of Mr. Assad, but said there had been no “great breakthrough” in talks she held Thursday in Dublin with her Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, and Lakhdar Brahimi, the special Syria envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League.

“It was an important meeting, but just the beginning,” she said, speaking in Belfast, Northern Ireland, before flying back to Washington.

“I don’t think anyone believes that there was some great breakthrough,” she said. “Nobody should have any illusions about how hard this remains. But all of us with any influence on the process, with any influence on the regime or the opposition, needs to be engaged with Brahimi for a concerted, sincere push to see what is possible.

“The advancing developments on the ground are increasingly dangerous,” she said.

“The United States stands with the Syrian people in insisting that any transition process result in a unified, democratic Syria in which all citizens are represented,” Mrs. Clinton continued. “And a future of this kind cannot possibly include Assad. So we go into these discussions with a clear sense of what we want to see accomplished, but a realistic understanding of how difficult it still is.”

Russia has been Mr. Assad’s most durable backer throughout the crisis and has resisted efforts to push him out of power. After the Dublin talks, Mr. Lavrov was quoted as saying that he would not make “optimistic predictions” and that Mr. Brahimi, the special envoy, knows that the chance of success is “far from 100 percent.”

The bleak assessment came as government and rebel forces were locked in sustained battle, particularly to the south of Damascus, where in recent days the airport has been caught up in fighting for the capital’s suburbs and has been closed to civilian flights for days at a time.

Apart from its importance as a logistical center, the airport, 12 miles south of Damascus, holds symbolic value. Its loss would bolster the rebels’ ability to depict Mr. Assad as isolated and beleaguered.

Nabil al-Amir, a spokesman for an insurgent military group attacking the airport, said rebels “who have been putting the airport under siege decided yesterday that the airport is a fair target,” Reuters reported.

“The airport is now full of armored vehicles and soldiers,” Mr. Amir said, seeming to suggest that it was firmly in government control. “Civilians who approach it now do so at their own risk.”

News reports also suggested that government forces were seeking to bring in reinforcements for a counterattack intended to reverse rebel gains on the fringes of the city.

The rebel threat seemed to deepen the uncertainties of the military campaign for Damascus, where visiting reporters say that the sound of government artillery pounding outlying suburbs can be clearly heard from the city center — once a haven of tranquillity even as the uprising against Mr. Assad evolved from peaceful protest in March 2011 to civil war.

Activists said government forces backed by tanks were heading toward two southwestern suburbs, covering their effort to advance with rocket and mortar fire.

Overnight, sounds of gunfire were heard in central Damascus near a major road, Baghdad Street.

On the southern edge of the city, in Tadamon, where antigovernment sentiment is strong and clashes have taken place all week, rebel fighters took control of a checkpoint, the Local Coordinating Committees, an antigovernment activist network, reported.

In the central city of Homs, a car bomb exploded just before noon near a mosque in the wealthy residential area of Inshaat, neighboring the restive Baba Amr neighborhood, and many people were reported wounded, residents and activists said.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility, but a demonstration denouncing the government broke out shortly afterward.

“I woke to the explosion,” a 35-year-old resident said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “When I went down I saw a car on fire. The guys started a demonstration and we started chanting. Ten minutes later the security started shooting at us, so we ran away. Now I’m sure we should be armed next time.”

The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said during a visit to a refugee camp in Islahiye, Turkey, that all parties to the conflict should halt violence before any discussions about a political transition. Mr. Ban also chided the international community for failing to provide enough money for humanitarian relief for Syrian refugees, which placed a heavier burden on Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. The available funds cover only half of the cost of the response plan, he said.

“I appeal to the international community, do not close your eyes when people are suffering,” Mr. Ban said. “We have to help them.”

Anne Barnard reported from Beirut, Alan Cowell from London and Michael R. Gordon from Belfast, Northern Ireland. Hala Droubi contributed reporting from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Sebnem Arsu from Islahiye, Turkey.

* 08syria-articleLarge.jpg (53.89 KB, 600x385 - viewed 130 times.)
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« Reply #3381 on: Dec 08, 2012, 06:55 AM »

12/07/2012 02:47 PM

The World from Berlin: 'The Arab Spring Is Turning into a Hard Winter'

In the face of growing opposition, Egyptian President Morsi has pledged to forge ahead with his polarizing constitution and defended the decrees that have granted him near absolute power. German editorialists say that without a compromise, the latest round of violence won't be the last.

This week Egypt has seen the worst outbreak of violence since the Arab Spring demonstrations that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak's regime two years ago. Six people were killed and hundreds injured when opposition protestors and supporters of President Mohammed Morsi clashed on Wednesday night. And with more demonstrations planned for Friday after midday prayers, there are fears that the rift between the two sides will only deepen.

Despite the unrest, embattled President Morsi stood his ground in a nationally televised address on Thursday night. The president, who is backed by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, said he was open to dialogue with the opposition starting on Saturday, but refused to withdraw decrees he issued last month that put his authority beyond judicial review. He also rejected demands that he postpone a Dec. 15 referendum on a draft constitution that would cement several tenants of Islamism into law.

But opposition leaders say that without those concessions they won't agree to talks.

United States President Barack Obama called Morsi on Thursday night to express concern for those who have been injured in the violence. According to a statement issued by the White House, the President made clear that the violence was unacceptable and urged both Morsi and the opposition to take part in a dialogue without preconditions.

But in his television address Morsi angrily defended his actions, saying that he was safeguarding the stability of the country and protecting Egypt's citizens. Opposition leaders, meanwhile, have expressed no interest in Morsi's invitation to talk and protests continued on Friday.

German commentaries on Friday say that with both sides unwilling to back down, the opportunity for reconciliation is dwindling.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"The only thing that Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood functionary who rose to become head of state, has proven, is his inability to facilitate the integration of Egypt's 85 million people. ... As a result, the inhibitions of the protestors have been lowered, the riots are becoming bloodier, and the demonstrations in front of the Presidential Palace and in Tahrir Square are again costing lives."

"Neither side can be counted on for understanding and both the opposition and the government are taking their fight to the street. The palace security tanks driving through Cairo recall Egypt's third facet of power: the army. If they were to come back, Egypt's entire political experiment will quickly come to an end -- both for the Islamists and the liberals."

The financial daily Handelsblatt writes:

"In light of the current polarization between the Islamists and the secular camps, Egypt now finds itself in a deep political crisis. The crisis contributes to the worsening of the country's long-standing and severe economic problems and weakens the role of Egypt in the region."

"As a result, Egypt appears to be condemned to pay a high price for political destruction and the spiritual stagnation of the former dictatorship. The country suffers from the incompetent governance of the Muslim Brotherhood and at the same time the immaturity of the opposition."

"Egypt needs a national, democratic consensus between its political powers instead of constant confrontation. That will only deepen the divide. And Morsi must reconcile with the opposition so that his time in office remains legitimate."

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"There is a prevailing notion that implies unbound, undivided and uncontrolled power is justifiable. In countries that for decades have known nothing other than autocracy or dictators, so the argument goes, a direct transition to a democratic, constitutional state is impossible. It's actually even dangerous, because people who have no experience with freedom will misuse it, and the consequences will be chaos and renewed violence. That's why these countries need a well-meaning autocrat that will lead the people with a strong hand and very, very slowly take them down the path towards a new period of democracy and division of powers. That is, at least, Russian President Vladimir Putin's narrative. It sounds good. The reality looks very different, though. That path towards democracy is rarely achieved."

"Morsi ... is an Islamist, but not a holy warrior. Rather, he is a crafty power-hungry politician. As such, he could be prepared to compromise. However that will only happen if he is dealing with adversaries who know what he wants, which is nowhere near the case. The Arab Spring is turning into a hard winter. Political forces in Egypt have not succeeded in winning time for an open process to found a democratic state."

The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Violence as a means of political confrontation is escalating and a calming of the situation is not in sight. For both sides the stakes are simply too high. The Muslim Brotherhood does not want to give up the power that they have gained. Supporters of the old regime and secular activists know that for the foreseeable future they will not be able to defeat them at the ballot box. President Morsi's advisors insist on a dialogue without preconditions. The chance of success is low, because neither side is prepared to move away from their maximum demands."

"As long as [Morsi] insists on a dialogue without preconditions and the other side has such specific preconditions, a dialogue will not be possible. Morsi's credibility now rises or falls with whether he can depoliticize the judges and break with the past. To bring about non-partisanship, however, is barely possible in such a heated atmosphere. Confrontations will continue for another round."

-- Renuka Rayasam
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« Reply #3382 on: Dec 08, 2012, 06:59 AM »

12/07/2012 05:24 PM

The Stubborn President: Morsi Fans the Flames of Hatred in Egypt

By Matthias Gebauer in Cairo

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi addressed his nation on Thursday night. But instead of striking a conciliatory tone aimed at calming the tense situation in his country, he continued to toe the Muslim Brotherhood line. More violence is almost sure to be the result, and Morsi himself shoulders the blame.

In the end, Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi took all of 35 minutes for his nationally televised speech Thursday night. And his intention was clear. During the entire day leading up to the appearance, Morsi's advisors had repeatedly explained that the president wanted to explain himself and his policies to the people of Egypt and to inject calm into what has become the most severe crisis since the revolution against his predecessor Hosni Mubarak.

And it was certainly entertaining. Originally, the palace had announced that the speech would take place at 6 p.m. on Thursday, but then the "Address to the Great Egyptian Nation" kept getting pushed back until finally, at 10:30 p.m., Morsi turned up on national television in front of an Egyptian flag.

He need not have made the effort. The Islamist president didn't accomplish a single one of his goals with his address, nor did he really try. Instead, his flowery rhetoric served merely to further deepen the deep divide between his supporters and the political oppositionfrom the youth movement, the left-leaning and secular parties and even the judiciary.

There wasn't a hint of real concessions to the opposition. Even the BBC abruptly shut off its live broadcast of the speech after seven minutes because it offered nothing new.

Morsi made no overtures to his opponents, instead repeating that he would not budge from the decrees he issued at the end of November, granting him broad authority and removing checks on his powers from the judiciary. He even said that he would stick to the December 15 date for the referendum on the hastily composed Islamist constitution.

Given such a hard-line approach, Morsi's empty calls for national dialogue are farcical. He invited opposition leaders to meet him at the presidential palace on Saturday at 12:30 p.m., but was rebuffed. The opposition does not believe Morsi is prepared to make any concessions, and called for more demonstrations instead.

No Compromises

Morsi's short reign continues to polarize the nation. During his telvision appearance, he blamed the opposition for the Wednesday night orgy of violence which erupted on the streets outside his presidential palace, the bloodiest clash in the country since the fall of Mubarak in the spring of 2011. In reality, of course, both sides are to blame, with Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood eagerly chasing their political opponents through streets of the upscale Heliopolis district for hours. They too abused those they managed to catch.

Still, Morsi sought to blame prominent opposition leaders for the escalation and even referenced mysterious "foreign powers" -- just like his despotic predecessor Mubarak.

The speech, however, did provide clarity on one point: Morsi remains intent on strictly following the course of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Islamist group wants to see their man, who won a narrow victory in summer elections, to put Egypt on the path to fundamentalist Islam. And the Muslim Brotherhood is in no mood for compromise. After more than 80 years in the political underground, Brotherhood leaders have decided to seize their chance.

And Morsi increasingly looks the part of a fainthearted Brotherhood puppet. He appears to have accepted his country's descent into violence, making more clashes on the streets of Cairo inevitable.

A New Escalation is Unavoidable

Indeed, confrontations followed Morsi's speech almost immediately. On the east side of the capital, a group rallied outside Muslim Brotherhood headquarters before scuffling with the police and breaking into the building. Damage was limited, but it was nonetheless symbolic. The rioters had barely been dispelled before the Muslim Brotherhood set its propaganda machine in motion. In a Facebook posting, they said that their headquarters were in flames, and the news went around the world.

More such incidents are to be expected. The Brotherhood has become well practiced at presenting itself as the blameless victim and as the sole protector of democracy in Egypt.

On Friday, thousands of pious Brotherhood supporters carried the dead from Wednesday's clashes into the enormous Al-Azhar Mosque in central Cairo to their graves and praised them as innocent martyrs in the fight for democracy and a new Egypt.

But there could be more violence this weekend and beyond. The opposition has also called for additional demonstrations and the depth of animosity makes further injuries and even deaths a real possibility.

With his stubborn attitude, President Morsi carries primary responsibility for this development. With his speech, Morsi wasted the last chance for reconciliation in Egypt's post revolutionary experiment.


December 7, 2012

U.N. Rights Chief Cites ‘Disastrous’ Situation in Egypt


GENEVA — Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, expressed alarm on Friday at the rising casualty toll in Egypt’s deepening political turmoil and said flaws in the substance of its draft constitution and the process of preparing it were a major cause of the “disastrous situation” unfolding there that has resulted in at least six deaths.

The constitution proposed by President Mohamed Morsi, which is to be put to a referendum next week, includes “very worrying omissions and ambiguities” that could mean it is weaker than the 1971 Constitution introduced under ousted President Hosni Mubarak it is supposed to replace.

Speaking out on Egypt for the third time in a week, Ms. Pillay praised the new constitution for restricting the president to two four-year terms and for the freedom that it provides to set up civil associations and institutions simply by notifying the authorities rather than by seeking their permission.

But Ms. Pillay, in a statement, expressed dismay over the new constitution’s failure to give legal standing to a range of international treaties that protect civil and political rights and forbid torture and racial or gender discrimination. That failure opens the way to national laws that may conflict with Egypt’s international obligations, legal experts in her office warn.

Many of the new constitution’s provisions referred to existing laws that are out of step with international human rights norms, Ms. Pillay said, and concentrate powers in the hands of the president that could undermine the independence of the judiciary.

The new charter, she said, guarantees equality but does not explicitly prohibit discrimination on grounds of sex, religion or origin. It guarantees freedom of religion but only specifies three faiths Ms. Pillay added. And while it provides some protection for press freedom, that is “ taken back with certain clauses dealing with national security,” Mona Rishmawi, a legal and constitutional expert in Ms. Pillay’s office, said.

People had the right to protest peacefully, Ms. Pillay reminded Mr. Morsi this week, and since his government had come to power on the back of similar protest it should be “particularly sensitive to the need to protect protesters’ rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”
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« Reply #3383 on: Dec 08, 2012, 07:05 AM »

12/07/2012 01:55 PM

An Explosive Legacy: Travels with a Bomb Disposal Unit in Libya

By Till Mayer

The war in Libya is over, but life is still dangerous. The country is littered with unexploded ordinance from the 2011 rebellion that overthrew autocrat Moammar Gadhafi. Efforts to encourage militias to forfeit their weapons have made little progress.

The olive tree casts a long shadow. It's shortly before the harvest, and the branches are heavily laden with black fruit. But this idyllic image is deceptive. It was almost as if the war had started all over again, and it's a miracle that Medad Ali Kamadin's old red tractor wasn't blown to bits, and that the farmer isn't lying dead next to the wreckage in his field. "I heard a metallic scratching noise when I was plowing. When I turned around, I saw them," says the 55-year-old, pointing to the artillery shells sticking out of the ground near the olive tree.

"Unbelievable. And you drove over them with the plow?" asks Joma Sabti, shaking his head. Then he and his coworker, Wedad Dwini, "fence in" the site, making a rectangle around it with red-and-white plastic tape. Sabti gives the farmer a flyer and warns him not to let children get too close.

Sabti, a member of the hotline team of Handicap International (HI), routinely visits farmers like Kamadin. In fact, hardly a day goes by without someone calling the hotline to say that he or she has found a shell, a bomb or some ammunition. The young man responds to the calls by securing the site where the explosives were found. Members of HI's bomb-disposal unit come to the site later on, and if they are unable to disarm the fuse, they take the unexploded ordnance (UXO) with them. If that isn't an option, the explosives are detonated on site.

On some days, Sabti and Dwini also stand in front of classrooms, telling wide-eyed pupils about how a shell can rip off an entire arm. "Children are often victims. They think these terrible things are toys," says Sabti. The HI programs conducted by the German national association, which range from educating people about the dangers of UXO to bomb disposal, are funded by the German Foreign Ministry. There are eight national associations in the HI network.

The Remnants of War

"This here was a giant battlefield in the uprising against Gadhafi," says Sabti, as we drive away along a bumpy road. Burned-out tanks are lined up on the nearby asphalt road. But the fighting in 2011 left behind something far more dangerous.

The next call to the hotline is from someone close by. Thousands of shells landed in fields near the village of Dafnia, a suburb of Misurata. Both sides fired on each other almost incessantly.

For Mohammed Hwiedi, the fighting left behind fear and a field full of shrapnel, including twisted pieces of rockets, the remains of rocket-propelled grenades and missiles. When members of the HI team walk across the field, they step across countless pieces of war debris. "I will not work the field until every square meter of soil has been declared safe," says the farmer. But that could take some time. There are still countless pieces of UXO in the area surrounding Misurata. Meanwhile, Hwiedi doesn't know how he will support his family in the long term. "I have to be able to cultivate my fields soon. Our savings have almost run out," said the 55-year-old, hanging his head.

Paul McCullough is familiar with the hardships of farmers like Hwiedi. The 50-year-old former British soldier works for HI in Misurata, where he defuses the deadly remnants of the civil war. "It's unbelievable to see what a massive number of weapons are in circulation in Libya. It appears that Gadhafi bought up all the weapons he could get his hands on. The arsenals were looted in the civil war, and now they pose a threat to the civilian population," McCullough says. Attempts to secure the arsenals at the end of the war failed miserably. The consequences are still hard to predict today.

Collecting Weapons

McCullough drives an SUV along Tripoli Street, which served as the front for months during the civil war. Today, the street is a continuous line of ruins, of facades torn apart by machine-gun and rocket fire. Residents have placed a random assortment of weapons in front of one building as a memorial of sorts. A rocket launcher, still loaded with a live rocket, stands by the side of the road. McCullough angrily shakes his head.

On the bright side, the first renovations are finally getting underway. A restaurant has just opened in a former ruin. The owner, who serves pizza and kebabs, has defiantly named it Stalingrad.

McCullough is on a collection trip. After he and his team pick up a Katyusha rocket from a container on the city's outskirts and load it onto the bed of their pickup truck, they will drive to a collection point operated by the militia. It runs the show in Misurata and has placed two containers for UXO in front of one of its bases. "It's next to an elementary school, of all things," says McCullough, as they move the war debris -- artillery rounds and another rocket -- from the containers and to the truck.

Then they continue to the day's final destination, an abandoned military facility near the airport, where McCullough points out what he means when he says that the country is flooded with weapons. Defused shells -- supplied by Russia, China, Bulgaria, Belgium and other countries -- lie in tightly packed rows. There are also phosphorus bombs and rocket-propelled grenades, part of a broad assortment of war material accumulated over the decades. The HI team is defusing the explosives, which will later be detonated in giant pits in the desert.

One member of the HI team holds up a device that was the nightmare of Western intelligence services: a very small anti-aircraft missile that can easily bring down a passenger jet. Thousands of the portable systems were reportedly stored in Libyan warehouses, and many of them have now gone missing.

Militias Yet to Be Demobilized

Behind the rows of explosive devices, the silhouettes of bunkers merge together in the shimmering heat. NATO bombers did a thorough job here, blowing up the ammunition bunkers with their meter-thick walls. Some of the contents did not explode immediately, but instead were thrown hundreds of meters into the surrounding area. "And that is our problem today," says McCullough. The bomb disposal team is finished for the day. It was a long, hot day. "It's crazy when you think of all the useful things that could have been done with the money this junk cost," McCullough says as we part ways.

As night falls over Misurata, shots can be heard all over the place. "It's Thursday, so there are many parties and weddings," an old man in a pastry shop says reassuringly in broken English. None of the customers reacts to the shots, which keep hammering away in the distance. The celebratory gunfire has caused many accidents, prompting the newly elected government to launch programs to collect weapons. Indeed, demobilizing the militias remains one of the hottest topics among Libyans.

The old man has also heard about the government's weapons-collection programs. "I saw someone handing in a tank on television," he says with a smile. "He probably has another one behind his house."

Hasam Attaeb makes it clear that his AK-47 isn't just for celebratory gunfire. The 22-year-old fought in the local militia against Gadhafi's troops, and he didn't turn in his weapon once the war was over. The militia members are still heavily armed, and Attaeb doesn't leave the impression that this will change anytime soon. "I will continue until we have total peace in Libya," he says.

In a few days, Attaeb will be sent out on a mission -- to someplace in the south, he says vaguely. He doesn't want to say more than that, but he does add that he finally wants a regular job so that he can feed his family. "That's what I expect from the free and new Libya."

When the revolution began, 30 percent of young people were unemployed. Many young ex-revolutionaries complain that nothing has improved. They are all men with weapons in their hands.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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« Reply #3384 on: Dec 08, 2012, 07:14 AM »

12/07/2012 04:33 PM

Cautious Hope: A Moment of Dialogue in the Chaos of Congo

By Thilo Thielke

After withdrawing from the provincial capital of Goma on Monday, the rebel group M23 was scheduled to meet for talks with Congolese officials in Uganda on Friday. Although they have enjoyed a rare week of peace, residents of eastern Congo are fearful of what failed negotiations might bring.

Sitting in the well-tended garden of the Caritas Hotel, rebel officer Amani Kabasha was in a good mood, enjoying his victory over the Congolese army. "In the port of Goma alone, 500 tons of military equipment are now in our hands," boasted the man from the rebel group known as the M23. "Now we have missiles, lots of ammunition, even a tank." Kabasha allowed his gaze to sweep over the hotel grounds, which his men commandeered after taking the city of Goma, then out toward Lake Kivu and the Virunga Mountains.

M23's top brass, under Col. Sultani Makenga, took up residence in this paradise after capturing Goma on Nov. 20. The United Nations has referred to Makenga and the group's other commanders as "notorious killers." On December 3, these rebels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo retreated from Goma, taking their spoils into the surrounding mountains and marching farther north. They did so on the condition that Congo's government negotiate with them, but they have reportedly only withdrawn to positions 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) from the provincial capital rather than the 20 kilometers they agreed to.

There, they can wait to see what concessions embattled President Joseph Kabila, in the faraway capital of Kinshasa, is willing to make to restore peace to the mineral-rich eastern part of his country. The rebels don't know yet precisely how the conflict might continue, but their demands are clear: They want money, and they want land.

Negotiations between M23 and the Congolese government were scheduled to begin in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, on Friday. However, M23 president Jean-Marie Runiga told the AFP on Friday that delays were expected, and that the talks might actually start on Sunday.

A Confusing Nightmare

"More than 200,000 Tutsis have had to flee the violence in Congo and are now living in camps in Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania," Kabasha claimed. No one can verify that number. The officer maintained that the camps exist and that the Tutsis there "want to return to Congo -- that's what we're fighting for." The goal is to gain more land to the west, mainly for the benefit of the Tutsis currently living in densely populated Rwanda.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo covers an enormous area compared to its tiny eastern neighbor, Rwanda, which has been under the firm-handed control of Paul Kagame, a Tutsi, since 1994. War has raged in the eastern part of Congo for some 15 years. Tutsi militias roam the area, looking for natural resources and enemy Hutu militias. The Tutsi militias' enemies also include members of the government's demoralized army and various Mai-Mai militia groups.

Congo can be a confusing nightmare of a place. The country is as big as Western Europe but home to just 70 million people, who in turn belong to 400 ethnic groups and speak nearly as many different languages. People here are fighting for their lives, and alliances shift as quickly as the names of the militias. The M23, for example, previously belonged to a rebel group run by Gen. Laurent Nkunda, then became part of the Congolese army, but is now once again fighting against the army.

In most cases, though, the dividing lines pit Hutus against Tutsis. And, in all of this, there is one constant: The people to suffer most are civilians, who often don't even know who is currently attacking whom.

Child Soldiers

Three hundred kilometers (185 miles) north of Goma, long military convoys were rumbling through Beni. The small trading town is important to the Congolese army because trucks transporting the country's rich supply of natural resources -- gold, diamonds, coltan, cassiterite, nickel, copper and tropical wood -- pass through here on their way past the Rwenzori Mountains and into Uganda.

To Elvis Sikiline, a 17-year-old resident of Beni, it looked very much like war had found him again. For a year now, Sikiline has participated in a program run by the World Vision organization that helps former child soldiers. Together with Jonathan Kibondo, another former child soldier, Sikiline runs a small carpentry shop, where the two young men build beds and tables. Now Sikiline was consumed by fear that the militias might come back, abduct him and force him to fight again -- as they did seven years ago.

Sikiline was just 10 at the time, selling peanuts at a small street-side movie theater in the city of Butembo. "One evening, men with guns stormed in and took all the children," he said. Together with 20 other boys, Sikiline was thrown onto the back of a truck and driven into the woods.

"We learned we were now under the control of a Mai-Mai militia that was fighting against the Tutsis," Sikiline said. "After a week, we had to make a decision: If we joined the fighters now, they would eventually set us free." Two boys refused -- and were killed in front of the others: one hanged, the other shot. Then the group marched on with its new recruits.

For the next three months, the boys learned how to fire assault rifles and anti-tank rockets. Then they were full members of the militia, 19 children at war. They traveled through the forests, attacked villages, stole cattle and raped women. Before each battle, militia members rubbed their skin with plants that were supposed to make them invulnerable or drank a bitter brew thought to improve one's shooting.

Sometimes they fought against the government and sometimes for it, but they almost always fought against the hated Tutsis. "I killed many Tutsis," Sikiline said -- Tutsis like those who make up the majority of the M23. At night, the boy was plagued by nightmares. He thought about his father, a soldier with the government's army. Had he perhaps been forced to fight against his own father? "We drank a lot of beer and smoked pot to drive away those thoughts," he said.

Elvis Skiline's friend Jonathan Kibondo volunteered to join the Mai-Mai when he was 10. His father had died shortly beforehand, which "made life hard," Kibondo said. So, one day, the boy packed a few clothes and set off to join a militia. His is not an uncommon story in Congo, where Mai-Mai leaders promise their fighters food, money, weapons and adventure. Many families voluntarily send their children to join these bands, which in return promise a bit of protection in the endless war.

Kibondo's main job was to cook for the fighters, but he also fought. This confusing and terrible experience lasted six years. One day, sent to fetch water from a river, he simply ran away. He made it back to his city and found his mother's house. She thought he had died.

Last week, both of them were praying that war would pass them by this time.

Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein

* Amani Kabasha.jpg (22.43 KB, 520x250 - viewed 130 times.)
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« Reply #3385 on: Dec 08, 2012, 07:19 AM »

 08 December 2012 - 08H47 

Serbian minister asks US to keep up military assistance

AFP - Serbia's defense minister, who once served in a government that waged war with the United States and NATO, has asked his American counterpart to keep up US military assistance to his country and to maintain a troop presence in Kosovo, officials said.

Aleksandar Vucic, who once cracked down on dissent as information minister under ex-president Slobodan Milosevic and who belongs to an ultra-nationalist political party, expressed appreciation for US security ties and appealed to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in talks at the Pentagon Friday to continue $8 million in annual military assistance, US officials told AFP.

Both Vucic and Panetta, who served as chief-of-staff under former US president Bill Clinton who ordered bombing raids against Serbia in 1999 over Kosovo, marveled at how their conversation would have been impossible not long ago.

"I never thought I would be sitting here saying this to you," Vucic reportedly told Panetta, according to US officials who attended the meeting and spoke on condition of anonymity.

"But we thank the United States, we want you to continue your assistance to us and to work with us."

Vucic told Panetta that not in his "wildest dreams would have I imagined that I would be sitting here across from the US secretary of defense."

For his part, Panetta said that "I wouldn't have thought as chief of staff to Bill Clinton that I would be sitting across from you saying Serbia could be a force for peace in the region," according to the account provided by US officials.

The Pentagon said in a statement that the two defense chiefs "exchanged ideas on ways to deepen cooperation between the US and Serbia" and that Panetta thanked Belgrade for sending peacekeeping troops for UN missions in Cyprus and Lebanon.

Vucic said Serbia appreciates the training, officer exchanges and other defense cooperation provided by Washington since 2006.

"I think they want the assistance that we've been providing them, to help modernize and get their military up to NATO standards, to continue," one US defense official said.

Serbia is not a full member of the NATO military alliance but belongs to its "Partnership for Peace" program which provides for a range of cooperation on defence and security issues.

The NATO alliance waged a 78-day air war against Serbia to end Belgrade's repression of the then province of Kosovo, whose independence has been recognized by 90 states, including the United States.

Thirteen years since NATO's air strikes, Serbia still rejects Kosovo's unilateral 2008 proclamation of independence.

But Vucic struck a moderate tone on Kosovo during his talks at the Pentagon, suggesting the more nationalist-minded government elected earlier this year would stick by agreements made by the previous ruling coalition.

"If he means what he says....that could be really important. They're 100 percent committed to what previous governemnt agreed on Kosovo," the US official said.

As information minister in 1998, Vucic presided over legislation that outlawed the broadcast of Serbian-language services from foreign news services and introduced steep fines for independent reporters who spoke against the government.
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« Reply #3386 on: Dec 08, 2012, 07:22 AM »

 08 December 2012 - 02H58 

Fresh riots in Belfast despite Clinton's plea for calm

AFP - Rioting broke out in Belfast late on Friday in the latest flare of violence in Northern Ireland, just hours after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the troubled British province urging peace.

Tensions have risen in Northern Ireland since Belfast's council voted on Monday not to fly the British flag all year round, angering Protestant loyalists who believe Northern Ireland should retain strong links to Britain.

Eight police officers were injured as they clashed with hundreds of loyalists close to the city centre on Friday night and five people were arrested, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said.

Two cars were set alight while eyewitnesses said protesters hurled stones, bricks and bottles at the police.

"This behaviour is unacceptable. These people are wrecking their own communities and putting lives at risk," said Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr of the PSNI.

"This mob violence cannot continue. I am urgently appealing to politicians and those with influence to do what they can to put a stop to this."

Loyalists have held nightly protests in several parts of Northern Ireland since councillors ruled that the British flag can only fly above Belfast's City Hall for a maximum of 17 days a year.

There are plans for a major demonstration against the flag ruling in central Belfast on Saturday.

Police said some 1,000 people rioted on Monday leaving 15 police officers injured, and Belfast lawmaker Naomi Long received a death threat on Friday for her non-sectarian Alliance party's support for the change in flag policy.

Two bombs were also found in other parts of Northern Ireland in a sign of the lingering sectarian tensions despite the peace process, which largely ended three decades of sectarian violence in the 1990s.

The fresh unrest came after Clinton visited Belfast, winning praise from Northern Irish First Minister Peter Robinson and his deputy Martin McGuinness for her role in the peace process, and condemning the renewed spate of violence.

"There can be no place in the new Northern Ireland for any violence. Any remnants of the past must be quickly condemned," she told a press conference.

Robinson and McGuinness praised America's top diplomat and her husband, the former US president Bill Clinton, for their role in ending the bloodshed between loyalists and Catholic republicans.

Bill Clinton was a key player in the peace process during the 1990s, and the support the Clintons had given Northern Ireland in helping to bring jobs to the province would "never be forgotten", McGuinness said.

"Both Hillary and Bill Clinton have been absolutely vital voices for us in our process and that is something that has to be recognised, over many, many years."

Some 3,500 people died in the three decades of violence between Northern Irish Protestants favouring continued union with Britain, and Catholics seeking a unified Ireland.

A 1998 peace agreement largely ended the conflict, but sporadic unrest and bomb threats continue as dissident offshoots remain violently opposed to the power-sharing government in Belfast, formed of Catholic and Protestant parties.
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« Reply #3387 on: Dec 08, 2012, 07:27 AM »

08 December 2012 - 01H59 

US extends exemptions for Asian powers to Iran oil sanctions

AFP - The United States on Friday extended exemptions from sanctions designed to choke Iran's oil exports to nine major economic powers, including China, Taiwan, India and South Korea.

The Obama administration ruled that the economies concerned had taken steps to reduce imports of Iranian oil, so their financial institutions would not face measures under US law designed to punish Tehran's nuclear program.

The nine economies involved in the decision are those of China, India, Malaysia, South Korea, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Taiwan.

They were granted exemptions to US sanctions legislation starting in June, and President Barack Obama is bound by law to reconfirm the exemptions every six months.

The administration styles the exemptions as a sign that its effort to build pressure and isolate Iran by throttling its petrochemical sector is working as part of tough diplomacy with other world powers on the nuclear issue.

"Iran's oil production fell by one million barrels per day in September and October 2012, compared to the same period in 2011," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement.

"This has reduced Iran's export volumes and oil revenues, which fund not only the nuclear program but its support for terror and destabilizing actions in the region.

"The message to the Iranian regime from the international community is clear: take concrete actions to satisfy the concerns of the international community through negotiations ... or face increasing isolation and pressure."

Under a law approved last year, the United States threatened to penalize foreign financial institutions over transactions with Iran's central bank, which handles sales of the country's key export.

A number of countries were angered by the US law, arguing that only the UN Security Council has the right to impose sanctions and that the reductions in oil would jeopardize an already shaky global economic recovery.

Under the determination process, Obama must conclude that the production of extra supplies by oil producing nations, global economic conditions and available spare capacity mean oil markets can bear reduced inputs from Iran.

The administration move came a week after the US Senate approved new economic sanctions aimed at further crippling Iran's energy, shipping and port sectors.

Tehran said the move contradicted US assertions that it favored talks on a nuclear program Washington says is geared to producing weapons -- a charge Iran denies.

Obama has said he prefers a negotiated solution to the nuclear standoff through a dual-approach policy of diplomacy and pressure, adopted by six major world powers engaging Tehran since 2009.

But he has refused to rule out military action. Israel says it also reserves the right to launch a multilateral strike at Iranian nuclear installations.

Talks have stalled in recent months, with the last high-level round all but failing in Moscow in June and though negotiations were expected to resume in December, there has been no announcement so far.

Several rounds of US and EU sanctions have undermined Iran's economy, exacerbating economic woes and halving all-important oil exports.
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« Reply #3388 on: Dec 08, 2012, 07:30 AM »

December 7, 2012

Dismayed at Google’s Privacy Policy, European Group Is Weighing Censure


European data protection officials are drafting plans to censure Google over its online privacy policy if the company does not meet the demands of regulators to revise it.

In a two-day closed-door meeting this week in Brussels of the European Union’s 27 national data protection officials, the group mapped a preliminary strategy, including the possibility of testing Google’s compliance with national privacy laws in countries like Ireland, Belgium and Finland, where the company operates data centers. That was the word from a person close to the discussions, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The group may issue a public statement next week on the matter.

The group is focusing on new guidelines Google adopted this year for collecting information on individuals. Under the new policy, when people are logged into a Google account, the company can use information shared on one service in other Google services. For example, Google could show people an ad on YouTube based on what they have searched for, or fix the spelling of a friend’s name in a Google search based on information from Gmail.

When the guidelines were announced, they were sharply criticized in Europe. Data protection officials from various countries asked the French regulator, C.N.I.L., to study them. In mid-October, that regulator released a report criticizing the guidelines as allowing an “uncontrolled combination of data.”

The 27 European regulators wrote a letter to Larry Page, the chief executive of Google, asking the company to modify the new policy, which governs dozens of Google services — among them the search engine, Android mobile phone apps and YouTube videos. The regulators want Google to give users a better sense of what personal data is being collected and to allow them to better control how that information is shared with advertisers.

C.N.I.L. said the method of combining information from Google’s search engine, YouTube, the Google Plus social network and other services “suggests the absence of any limit concerning the scope of collection and the potential uses of the personal data.”

Google made nearly all of its $37.9 billion in sales revenue in 2011 from Internet advertising, which relies in part on the collection and analysis of user data to produce ads aimed at individual consumers.

When C.N.I.L. released its report, Google said it would study the analysis. But the company also asserted that its method of handling consumer data was legal under European Union rules. At a conference in Arizona in October, Mr. Page defended the guidelines.

So far the company, which also ran afoul of European regulators in 2010 for its collection of personal data from home Wi-Fi routers in the Street View controversy, has not responded formally to the report by the French regulator.

On Friday, a Google spokesman in Brussels, Alistair Verney, referred to the company’s previous statement in October, which said Google was reviewing the French recommendations. “Our new privacy policy demonstrates our longstanding commitment to protecting our users’ information and creating great products,” the Google statement said at the time. “We are confident that our privacy notices respect European law.”

When C.N.I.L. presented its analysis in October, the chairwoman of the French regulator, Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, gave the search engine “three to four months” — roughly until mid-February — to respond to its recommendations.

Among other things, C.N.I.L. asked Google to heed European restrictions on mixing certain data and to heed Europe’s rules for obtaining consent from consumers before collecting personal data.

Google users in Europe cannot use the search engine’s services unless they agree to accept the company’s privacy policy.

But C.N.I.L. argued in its review that the opt-in disclaimer, which is legal under United States law, was too broad. It also said consumers should be given clearer information and be allowed to individually authorize or reject the collection of certain kinds of data.

While European lawmakers coordinate European Union data protection from Brussels, privacy law is enforced on the national level.

That decentralization is why regulators are considering taking action within a few nations — most likely in countries where Google has physical operations and where national courts could be asked to enforce penalties.

But whether any actions, if they do eventually take place, result in anything other than minor sanctions remains to be seen. In general, European national regulators are limited to privacy violation fines of only a few hundred thousand euros against companies or individuals.

A proposed update to European Union data protection law would give regulators the ability to assess much larger fines of as much as 2 percent of a company’s annual sales — which based on Google’s financial performance would equate to about $760 million, based on 2011 revenue of $37.9 billion.

But it is unclear how soon, if ever, those higher penalties will be adopted.

Another person with knowledge of the regulators’ discussion this week emphasized that the group was still hoping Google would adapt its rules in Europe to conform with the Continent’s restrictions on data mining.

“We still have a lot of time left before we come to this juncture,” said another person with knowledge of the group’s discussions, citing the spring deadline for Google’s formal response. “Let’s wait and see what happens.”
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« Reply #3389 on: Dec 08, 2012, 07:32 AM »

December 7, 2012

Italy's Government Nears the End as Party Loses Faith


MILAN — The secretary of Italy’s largest political party said Friday that the technocratic government of Prime Minister Mario Monti had run its course, paving the way toward early elections.

Angelino Alfano, the secretary of the People of Liberty party, told the lower house of Parliament that his party would not bring down the government, “because we don’t want to send the institutions and the country into ruin.” But he made clear that the party would no longer support Mr. Monti, who has headed an emergency government with bipartisan support for more than a year.

On Thursday, People of Liberty signaled their disapproval of Mr. Monti’s economic policies by walking out on an important vote.

President Giorgio Napolitano, who has the power to dissolve Parliament and call for elections, met with the speakers of both houses of Parliament on Friday as well as with leaders of several political parties to discuss the situation. The mandate of the current Parliament ends in April.

Mr. Napolitano made clear Thursday that he expected Parliament to approve various measures, including a 2013 budget, before the end of the year, calling for an orderly conclusion to the legislation.

So far, Mr. Monti and his technocrats have appeared unaffected by the brewing turmoil. “The government’s commitment has not been touched by the current atmosphere,” Justice Minister Paola Severino said Friday.

People of Liberty’s decision hints at the return to politics of its founder, Silvio Berlusconi, who stepped down as prime minister in November 2011 amid personal and political turmoil. After repeatedly vowing that he would not seek re-election, Mr. Berlusconi on Wednesday abruptly accused his successor of dragging Italy “to the brink of a precipice,” a situation that had led supporters to call for Mr. Berlusconi’s return to politics, he said.

“Attacking Monti is viewed by him as the fastest way to create consensus, but it looks quite irresponsible,” said Massimo Franco, a political analyst with the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera. “Berlusconi doesn’t expect to win, he just wants to create a group that will help him to survive and defend his interests.”

Mr. Berlusconi, 76, was recently convicted of tax fraud and is facing trial on accusations that he paid for sex with a minor. Yet he has retained control of his party, which was unable to anoint a credible alternative leader in the year after Mr. Berlusconi’s resignation.

Any election is likely to be won by the Democratic Party, which has 30.3 percent support, according to a poll by the SWG institute for RAI television, enough to become the primary party in Italy, but far short of the 50 percent needed to form a Parliamentary majority, so deals will have to be struck with minor parties.

Mr. Berlusconi’s party still has supporters — it is polling at nearly 14 percent — and he is likely to attract the votes of a segment of the electorate unhappy with Mr. Monti’s reforms, said Giovanni Orsina, who teaches political science at Luiss University in Rome. Mr. Monti, who has been credited with restoring the country’s credibility with financial markets, “put out the fire but he also created some malaise,” Mr. Orsina said, citing new property taxes.

The open question remains how many people will desert the polls after recent electoral walkouts in local ballots have suggested that Italians are fed up with their political class. There have been widespread calls for change — of candidates and of ideas — which explain in part the popularity of a new anti-establishment party lead by comic Beppe Grillo that is polling at 19.7 percent.

Italians seem mostly resigned. “We are being hit by the crisis so badly — a crisis that did not start last year — that we aren’t even following these developments day by day, said Cinzia Bellisario, 38, strolling down a Rome street on Friday. “We don't trust these politicians anymore, we don't want to see the same faces in Parliament over and over again. We really want things to change, now.”

Gaia Pianigiani contributed reporting from Rome.
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