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« Reply #3870 on: Jan 05, 2013, 09:00 AM »

Hitler statue in Holocaust site stirs controversy

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, January 4, 2013 18:07 EST

Poland’s chief rabbi on Friday voiced outrage over a statue of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler kneeling at a Holocaust site in Warsaw, part of an installation by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan.

“When it comes to showing the figure of Hitler, we have an extra special responsibility to be sensitive to those who suffered because of what Hitler created, to Holocaust survivors, to non-Jewish survivors, to those who didn’t survive,” Rabbi Michael Schudrich told AFP.

“To place it right here, on Prozna Street, part of the old Warsaw ghetto, is lacking in that sensitivity and therefore it creates a problem for me,” Schudrich said.

The wax statue depicts Adolf Hitler with a child’s body dressed in a grey suit, kneeling in prayer. It was installed in a courtyard of the former Warsaw Ghetto in mid-November.

Only the back of the statue is visible, and the figure goes unnoticed by most passers-by.

Cattelan was invited to create the installation titled “Him” by Warsaw’s Centre for Contemporary Art.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem also recently slammed locating the statue “in the centre of what was the Warsaw Ghetto as a tasteless misuse of art, which insults the Nazis’ victims.”

“A ‘praying’ Hitler purposely placed in the centre of the area of the Warsaw Ghetto is a total distortion of the history of World War II and the Holocaust,” Efraim Zuroff, the centre’s director, said in a statement published on its website.

A year after its invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany imprisoned nearly half a million Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto inside a walled-off four-square-kilometre (1.5-square-mile) area of the city, mostly around its traditional Jewish quarter.

About 100,000 were to die inside from starvation, disease or summary execution, while others were deported to death camps. The Nazis razed the site in 1943 after the failed Ghetto Uprising.


Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp sees record number of visitors in 2012

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, January 4, 2013 13:38 EST

The number of visitors to the World War II Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp soared to a record 1.43 million in 2012, the museum at the site in southern Poland said Friday.

“This is a record in the 65-year history of this museum. We’ve received over a million visitors each year over the last six years,” it said in a statement published on its website.

Some 1.1 million people, including a million Jews from across Europe were killed by Nazi Germany in Auschwitz-Birkenau between 1940 and 1945. The other victims were mostly non-Jewish Poles, gypsies and Soviet prisoners.

“Over the last decade, Auschwitz has become a central site of Shoah remembrance for all of Europe, reflecting the importance of the history of the Holocaust,” museum director Piotr Cywinski said.

“It’s educational dimension underscores the challenges which our societies still face,” he added.

Last year over half a million Poles visited the site which has become symbolic of the Holocaust, followed by 150,000 British citizens, 100,000 Americans, 85,000 Italians and 75,000 Germans, the statement said.

Some 68,000 visitors came from Israel, 62,000 from France, 54,000 from Spain, 48,000 from the Czech Republic and 46,000 from South Korea, among others, it added, also noting its website received 1.5 million hits in 2012.

The vast majority of visitors were young people ranging from school children to university students.

« Last Edit: Jan 05, 2013, 09:21 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #3871 on: Jan 05, 2013, 09:07 AM »

01/04/2013 03:55 PM

The Polish Gadfly: A Lawyer's Quest for Clarity on the Smolensk Plane Crash

By Jan Puhl

The 2010 plane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 96 others in Russia remains a traumatizing memory for many Poles. It's also one that won't rest until allegations that bodies were mixed up by Russian authorities are cleared up. A Berlin-based lawyer sees the scandal as a Russian affront to Poland's honor.

Warsaw's Powazki Cemetery is Poland's pantheon, the place where national heroes are buried. The country has produced a number of such figures, most recently on April 10, 2010, the day that the plane carrying then President Lech Kaczynski crashed after it clipped a birch tree while landing in thick fog in Smolensk, Russia. Kaczynski and 96 other dignitaries -- including military, church and political leaders -- died in the accident.

They had been on their way to a memorial service for the 22,000 Polish people murdered by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's secret police at the Katyn Massacre in 1940. This made the tragedy of the plane crash a very Polish catastrophe, and since then many Poles have been unable to come to terms with it.

Stefan Hambura is one of them. The lawyer with both a German and Polish passport, who runs a successful law firm in Berlin, represents a number of the crash victims' relatives. His tenacity is partially to thank for keeping the crash on Poland's agenda -- and for the fact that Prime Minister Donald Tusk has a problem on his hands.

Doubts Among Relatives

Hambura's clients include the relatives of former dissident Stefan Malek, who was laid to rest with much patriotic pomp at the Powaski Cemetery after he was killed in the crash. At least, that's what has been thought until now.

But earthmovers will soon arrive at his gravesite, and the heavy, black marble slabs will be lifted to remove the coffin below. Then a DNA test will reveal who really lies inside. "Doubts arose among the family when they studied the autopsy report from Russia a bit more closely," Hambura says. "It could also be a different corpse."

Malek's isn't the first Smolensk victim's gravesite to be exhumed. In August the lawyer helped determine that Russian investigators had confused the remains of Anna Walentynowicz with those of another woman. Walentynowicz was a union activist at the Gdansk shipyard protests of 1980 and an icon of the protest movement Solidarnosc. And she is just one of nearly a dozen crash victims who have been exhumed so far because relatives fear the bodies they buried may have been the wrong ones. Most recently, the graves of two clerics were opened.

Private Campaign

In Hambura's opinion, the confusion over the bodies is about more than just macabre blunders -- it's an affront to Poland's honor. The country, already scarred by history, has been humiliated by Russia and then abandoned by the rest of Europe, he says. "If Americans or Brits had died, the outcry would have spanned the globe," he adds. "Think of Lockerbie." Instead, he points to the fact that after the crash, Brussels declined to appoint an international commission to investigate the Smolensk tragedy.

Hambura is a rather short man with a moustache and quirky designer glasses who likes to meet at the upscale Borchardt Restaurant in central Berlin. Those who eat here want to prove that they belong to the capital's political elite. Michel Friedman, who resigned as a conservative politician and head of the European Jewish Congress after a drugs and prostitution scandal in 2003, is sitting at the neighboring table.

The issue of belonging has cropped up elsewhere in Hamburas' life. Born in Gliwice, Poland in 1961, he and his parents moved to Germany in 1979. "In communist Poland, we faced discrimination as members of the German minority," he says. "Then in Germany I was suddenly the Pole who had to face the question, 'What are you doing here?'"

Now, as a lawyer, Hambura steps up when Poles feel they've been done wrong by Germans. He also engages in personal campaigns, as he's doing now in his defense of a Polish import company in Rostock against German customs officials.

"The Germans know nothing about their immediate neighbors, and err on the side of feeling superior to them," Hambura says with a subtle Polish accent, adding that eight years of Polish EU membership hasn't changed this.

A 'Germanization Policy'

In Germany, Hambura has developed a reputation as the legal champion of conservative Polish nationalists, who are led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the twin brother of the late President Lech Kaczynski, who died in Smolensk. Humbura is helping to establish a "Polish Trust" to rival the Prussian Trust, a German organization devoted to claiming compensation for the descendants of those ethnic Germans expelled from present-day Poland and elsewhere after World War II.

He has also represented Polish parents who felt discriminated against by youth services after they divorced their German spouses. Kaczynski's conservative Law and Justice party (PiS) is convinced that German authorities practice "Germanization policies" in such matters, granting only the German parents custody rights.

For years, Hambura has been trying to gain recognition as a "national minority" for the some 1.1 million people of Polish origin living in Germany. His last big idea was to create a political party in Germany for Poles, but the project is on hold due to a lack of supporters.

Furthermore, the Smolensk cases are keeping Hambura busy, particularly since two investigative committees concluded that a long list of mistakes by the Polish pilots and Russian air traffic controllers led to the accident. For their part, Kaczynski and his supporters are convinced that it was an attack by Russia.

'Miserable Disaster Management'

Hambura, however, is smart enough not to subscribe to conspiracy theories. "I just ask questions," he says. About why the black box from the airplane's wreckage still remains in Russian hands, for example. And why the military prosecutors in Warsaw first denied reports that TNT traces were found in the wreckage, only to confirm it just weeks later. Or, how the victims bodies could have been mixed up.

One thing is certain for him, though. "The disaster management of the government in Warsaw was miserable," he says. The fact that polls now show that a majority of Poles would agree is in part due to his efforts, in addition to the fact that Prime Minister Tusk, a supporter of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, is losing popularity.

"Many Poles believe that Tusk failed in Smolensk," Hambura says. "They are now wondering how he is supposed to master the economic crisis, which is now making itself felt" in Poland too, he says, adding that the next government in Warsaw will hopefully be a different one. "And probably much more conservative and critical of Germany."

As to the question of whether he feels more German or Polish, Hambura thinks for a while. "I am sitting on the fence," he answers in Polish. "And that can sometimes hurt quite a bit."

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« Reply #3872 on: Jan 05, 2013, 09:14 AM »

01/04/2013 06:05 PM

3-D Printing: Technology May Bring New Industrial Revolution

By Marcel Rosenbach and Christian Schüle

3-D printing technology, used industrially for the last few decades, is poised to break into the mass market. Its endless and swiftly developing possibilities -- from entrepreneurial manufacturing to the potential sculpting of human organs -- could become the next industrial revolution.

When the TV series Star Trek first brought the starship Enterprise into German living rooms, the concept of a replicator was pure science fiction, a fantastical utopian vision we might experience one day centuries in the future. Replicators, something of a mixture between computer and miniature factory, were capable of creating food and replacement parts from next to nothing. They were highly practical devices, since Captain Kirk couldn't exactly take along a lot of supplies for his journeys through outer space. That futuristic vision, though, has receded far into the past -- overtaken by the present.

The real-world replicator-like technology poised to revolutionize the world is known as 3-D printing, though that term is misleading, since the process has little to do with printing. Three-dimensional printers can be as small as a suitcase or as large as a telephone booth, depending on the object they are meant to faithfully replicate from a 3-D computer blueprint. Inside the machine, the product is assembled by stacking extremely thin layers of material on top of one another, sort of like reassembling an apple that has been cut into super-fine slices.

Many different technological routes can be taken to reach the same goal. In one variation, nozzles spray liquid material into layers. Another method, which produces even better results, aims laser beams at finely powdered material, causing the grains to fuse together at precisely the spot where the beam hits. All 3-D printing techniques, however, follow the same principle: The object grows layer by layer, each one just a few hundredths of a millimeter thick, until it acquires the desired shape. This technique can be applied to steel, plastic, titanium, aluminum and many other metals.

Assembling, screwing together, adhering, welding -- all these processes are rendered obsolete when even the most complex shapes can be produced by a single machine using this casting technique. The end result can be an artificial hip, a hearing aid, a cell phone case, customized footwear or even the Urbee, a prototype car that has been making a splash.

Engineers at the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) have used this technique to print out an entire bicycle that only needs added tires and a chain to be fully functional. British researchers, meanwhile, have printed a maneuverable drone with a rear-engine drive. Printed components are also used in Formula 1 racing and at NASA. Dental laboratories use 3-D printers to produce crowns, while doctors experiment with artificial heart tissue. Filmmakers also print animation models and automotive parts suppliers create replacement parts.

A Slow Process

The printing of electronic components is even in the works. American corporation Xerox, for example, has developed a silver ink that functions as an electrical conductor and can be printed directly onto plastic or other materials, making it possible to integrate simple circuits into printed objects.

Given the potentially vast global impact of this new technology, it's surprising that so far only around two dozen companies dominate the market. Along with US giants 3-D Systems and Stratasys, about 10 German companies provide this technology, some of them market leaders in their respective segments, for example Eos and Concept Laser, both in the southern state of Bavaria.

Some of these German 3-D printing specialists are growing at a rate that has some industry experts hoping this nascent digital industrial age will finally see the emergence of new innovation drivers "made in Germany." German companies are seen as leaders, especially when it comes to 3-D printing of metals.

The possibilities in this field are theoretically unlimited, since in principle almost any object can be printed as long as precise digital data for it exist. Most of these printers are turned to industrial uses, massive machines that can cost €1 million or more, but there is also a growing amateur scene of hobbyists who print toy figurines, spare parts for their coffee machines or even individually designed coffee cups, working out of their basements and using printers they assemble themselves for €500 ($650).

The only limits are set by the selection of materials, the space needed for each individual printed object and one other very important factor: time. Three-dimensional printing as currently practiced is a long, slow process.

This technology is in its infancy, but the parallels to the emerging computer industry of the 1970s are hard to miss. Then, too, the first machines were clunky and their operation complicated, but their evolution happened quickly and in giant leaps.

Widespread Applications

An expert panel under US President Barack Obama sees 3-D printing as a "megatrend of the future" and the US government is putting hundreds of millions of dollars toward developing the new technology. Industrial giants including Boeing, Siemens, General Electric (GE), Samsung, Canon and Daimler are all experimenting with the related production methods.

Among the leaders in such developments is German manufacturer Eos, located in an industrial park in Krailling, a town of 8,000 near Munich. In the foyer of the company's headquarters stands a life-sized statue of the Greek goddess of victory Nike. The statue is an exact reproduction of an ancient original, down to the cracks and weathering in the material, and was produced in an Eos printer from a scan of the original museum piece.

A printed violin is also displayed in a case in the entrance area. This object's mechanical birth was about a day's work for a 3-D printer. The only extra steps necessary were to mount a few small components and strings. Music experts can hear the difference when the instrument is played. But a layperson just hears a violin.

This Bavarian high-tech company specializes in 3-D printers for industrial use, large machines that resemble oversized refrigerators or industrial ovens. Depending on their size, equipment and capabilities, these printers can cost anywhere from €150,000 to over €1 million.

The three-dimensional printing process Eos uses is known as laser sintering. Companies have been using this technique for 25 years, especially for quickly and cheaply developing prototypes and design studies, which is how Eos CEO Hans Langer first encountered the technology. A physicist who wrote his doctoral dissertation on laser technology, Langer founded Eos in 1989 and constructed his first 3-D printer for automobile manufacturer BMW, which used it to produce new car model prototypes from synthetic resin.

Other auto manufacturers, including those producing Formula 1 cars, now use the technology as well. "It's safe to assume that every auto racing team works with components from our printers," Langer says.

'Unlimited Potential'

Eos is now the global market leader in its field. The company's sales have doubled over the last three years, reaching €105 million ($138 million). At the moment the total sales volume of this market remains fairly modest at $1.3 billion, but if the trend continues, it will multiply rapidly. Wohlers Associates, a 3-D printing industry consulting firm, expects that number to triple by 2015, and to reach $6.5 billion by 2019.

"I absolutely believe this will come to be very important," says Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of global conglomerate GE. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who made his own fortune in new technologies, calls 3-D printing "an exciting new industry with virtually unlimited potential" and one that "could completely revolutionize manufacturing." Assuming that 3-D printing technology continues to develop at the same rapid pace, it could indeed be revolutionary for a number of reasons:

Considerably fewer production steps, fewer tools needed and lower materials costs all spell enormous cost savings. With products no longer needing to be cut from the materials from which they are made, some 3-D printers require just 10 percent the amount of plastic or metal that conventional methods such as milling do.

Companies will no longer be tied to the economies of scale that make mass production necessary for reducing costs. Even small production batches can be profitable.

More innovative products can be brought onto the market, since this method makes it easy to try out new ideas cheaply.

Changing a product's design no longer means the entire assembly line must be reworked as well. This shortens product cycles considerably and makes it possible to introduce improvements more quickly.

Sustainability a Major Motivator
One area in which 3-D printers show a promising future, and are already being put to use, is in the construction of replacement parts. One BMW manager couldn't find an original spare part for his old motorcycle -- so he simply had the item's design reconstructed on a computer, then printed it using an Eos device.

Another considerable advantage to applying this new technology to industrial uses is that the hollow spaces and internal struts in printed objects make them both more stable and lighter than the same products when manufactured conventionally -- a combination that is generally difficult to achieve.

"An artificial hip manufactured the traditional way is much heavier than a printed one, which weights just 200 grams (seven ounces)," says Eos head Langer.

This same factor is what makes 3-D printing so appealing for airplane manufacturers such as EADS, with its subsidiary Airbus. Langer is proud to display the design for a hinge that will weigh 60 percent less than those currently in use -- and less weight means less fuel consumption. "Sustainability is a major driver in our industry," Langer says. When designing new components on the computer, he often draws on ideas found in nature. "Birds' bones are incredibly light and incredibly stabile," he points out.

Another far more difficult application of 3-D printing currently being tested is the creation of complete fuel injector nozzles for airplane turbines, produced in a single printing process. Langer calculates that such printed nozzles would allow jet planes to fly up to 2 percent more efficiently, saving millions of euros over the lifecycle of each plane. So far, printed components have only been used inside the cabins of airplanes.

Medical Advances

Significant progress has also been made in the materials that can be used in 3-D printing, with even objects made from organic matter now possible. Scientists are working on assembling human cells in 3-D printers, composed from materials that the human body uses, such as sugar. Biologists have also been able to print veins and working heart tissue. Eventually the production of entire organs may be possible.

Pharmaceutical researchers are also experimenting with printing individually tailored medications. A computer provides the formula and the printer composes the pill from individual ingredients according to the patient's particular needs. This technique has already proven successful for simple formulations such as the painkiller ibuprofen.

The technology has long since proven its benefits when it comes to low-priced customized production in the medical field. It is significantly faster and easier, for example, to print dental prostheses than to have a dental technician shape them by hand. And these prostheses can be printed using whichever materiel the patient desires. For example, one team of surgeons printed an artificial lower jaw for a patient from titanium.

Similar progress is also occurring in the 3-D printing of movable parts. In one example, scientists at American university MIT have printed a functional clock. And Mark Little, director of global research at GE, confidently declares, "One day, we will be able to print an engine."

Staying Ahead of Asia

Some even see 3-D printing technology as an opportunity for Europe and the US to reclaim at least certain areas of industrial manufacturing from Asia. These miniature factories require both less material and fewer employees to run them, which makes the production process cheaper. One or two skilled workers are enough to run a professional-grade printer.

Financial hurdles for entrepreneurs looking to enter the market will also be much lower, since it's no longer necessary to construct entire assembly lines before production can begin. Instead, it's possible to first test innovations on a smaller scale, then increase production of those products that prove successful.

The new technology offers great opportunities for any manufacturer, but it also poses serious risks. The 3-D printing process makes it easier for inventors to enter the market, but it makes things easier for copycats as well.

What will the implications be for a German mechanical engineering company when its clients in Mexico or Vietnam no longer need to import replacement parts from Stuttgart, but instead can acquire the digital 3-D blueprint and print their own parts? What will the implications be when a computer file is all that's needed to copy WMF silverware or Gucci sunglasses? One American company has already patented a copy protection mechanism for 3-D printing, and the mass market is likely to follow.

Devices for home use have long since joined professional 3-D printers on the market. American manufacturer MakerBot opened its first store in Manhattan a few months ago, where it sells beginners' models for around $2,000. These machines, which are about the size of a crate of beer and print objects from the same plastic from which Legos are made, are certainly not nearly as highly developed or precise as the industrial devices manufactured by Eos, but they are enough to allow a hobbyist to design and produce anything from chess pieces to jewelry.

From Personalalized Products to Space

Certainly the same concerns causing sleepless nights for intellectual property experts are also giving others cause for celebration -- and allowing new business models to emerge. "This is the democratization of production," says Peter Weijmarshausen, CEO of Shapeways, the leader in 3-D printing for personalized manufacturing. "Anyone can produce their own dream product." Shapeways, which began as a project of Dutch company Philips, allows its customers either to upload their own designs to the company website or to select from various templates, and the company then manufactures the desired product using 3-D printers.

Shapeways produced 1.5 million objects for its customers this past year, including self-designed jewelry, iPhone cases, lampshades and vases. In the coming year, the company expects that number to reach 6 or 7 million, with its products made from around 30 different materials. This autumn Shapeways opened a new production facility in the New York City borough of Queens, with long rows of 3-D printers of many different types. Many of the printers are indeed "made in Germany," manufactured by Eos in Krailling.

The next big step, Weijmarshausen hopes, will be clothing produced by 3-D printers, tailored exactly to fit each customer's individual figure. "And of course shoes, custom-made for each pair of feet," he adds. Still, such consumer-designed products are likely to remain a smaller operation compared to all the technology's potential industrial applications.

Researchers in California, meanwhile, are testing out printing concrete components to be used in house construction. And NASA, the US space agency, is drawing ever closer to Captain Kirk's Star Trek utopia, using this technology to print engine components for its new Space Launch System. NASA, too, is relying on 3-D laser printing technology made in Bavaria -- the project uses systems manufactured by Concept Laser in Lichtenfels.

Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein

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« Reply #3873 on: Jan 05, 2013, 09:17 AM »

The Christian Science Monitor

What's going on around Andromeda? Curious structure puzzles scientists

Scientists have found 13 dwarf galaxies orbiting the Andromeda galaxy in what appears to be a fairly narrow ring. That makes no sense according to current models of galaxy formation.

By By Pete Spotts, Staff writer   
posted January 4, 2013 at 7:33 pm EST

Thirteen dwarf galaxies are playing a cosmic-scale game of Ring Around Andromeda, forming an enormous structure astronomers have never seen before and are hard-pressed to explain with current theories of how galaxies form and evolve.

According to current theories, the small galaxies, which contain as many as a few tens of billions of stars each, should be randomly arranged around the Andromeda galaxy.

Instead, they orbit Andromeda within a plane more than 1 million light-years across and about 30,000 light-years thick. For comparison, the latest estimates of Andromeda's girth put its diameter at more than 220,000 light-years.

The ring, if it can be called that, represents "the largest organized structure in what we call the local group of galaxies," says Michael Rich, a research astronomer at the University of California at Los Angeles and a member of the team reporting the results in the Jan. 3 issue of the journal Nature. The local group consists of more than 54 galaxies, including dwarfs, about 10 million light-years across.

Such rings don't appear when astrophysicists run their models of galaxy evolution, or when they model the local group's formation, he says. In addition, Andromeda and the Milky Way, the two most massive galaxies in the group, appear to be headed for a collision in about 4.5 billion years. The two galaxies are but 2.5 million light-years away and closing.

"Given all of this, we don't have a clear explanation for why this structure exists," Dr. Rich says.

Coming up with an explanation will be challenging. Andromeda was the only galaxy close enough to make the observation possible. But researchers would like to find more of these extended rings.

Larger numbers would provide increasingly rigorous real-world tests of any explanations scientists devise, notes Chris Stoughton, an astronomer at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill., who was not a member of the team that discovered the ring.

In particular, he says, an understanding of these structures could help researchers unravel the mysteries of dark matter – a form of matter that provides the cocoons in which galaxies form and grow, as well as the scaffolding along which galaxies are distributed in the cosmos.

Dark matter earned its "dark" label because it emits no light or any other form of directly detectable radiation. Its presence is inferred by its gravitational effect on the matter astronomers can see.

**The team discovering the rings – led by Rodrigo Ibata of the Strasbourg Astronomical Observatory in France and Geraint Lewis at the University of Sydney in Australia – identified 27 dwarf galaxies in all orbiting Andromeda, also called M31. Thirteen of the dwarf galaxies shared a common orbital plane around Andromeda, and one was offset from the plane of M31's spiral arms by a significant degree.

Other teams had seen hints of the structure in the past, but this new work appears to build the most convincing case.

"They found a beautiful structure ... and did a very nice job of data analysis," Dr. Stoughton says.

Based on the distance from M31, the dwarfs orbit once every 5.5 billion years, the team estimates. Moreover, the stars in the dwarf galaxies are old, suggesting that if the dwarfs formed where they are, "the structure is ancient."

Dr. Ibata's team has offered up two broad explanations for the presence of Andromeda's ring of dwarfs.

One posits that M31's gravity attracted a group of dwarf galaxies in a single event, and perhaps the team just caught a lucky viewing angle as the dwarfs filed filament-like into the gravitational grasp of their new mistress.

The other is that they formed in place during the merger of two ancient gas-rich galaxies – a process that can form coherent streamers of stars in lesser mergers. Or perhaps during M31's birth, smaller halos of gas-bearing dark matter were captured by the more massive halo in which M31 formed.

Each explanation has problems, however, the researchers say.

With galactic 13 dwarfs on the same quest, the research appears to have put Ibata and his team their own unexpected journey.

**The discovery is a result of the Pan-Andromeda Archaeological Survey, an international effort at galactic exploration – focusing on M31. The team made its optical observations with the 4 meter Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Studies of the dwarfs' motions required a sensitive spectrometer bolted to the back of one of two 10-meter telescopes at the Keck Observatory, which shares the same summit.

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« Reply #3874 on: Jan 05, 2013, 09:51 AM »

In the USA...

Obama warns congressional Republicans on ‘dangerous game’ with debt ceiling

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, January 5, 2013 7:38 EST

US President Barack Obama on Saturday warned congressional Republicans against what he called a “dangerous game” with the country’s economy as lawmakers prepared for a new battle over the national debt ceiling.

“As I said earlier this week, one thing I will not compromise over is whether or not Congress should pay the tab for a bill they’ve already racked up,” the president said in his weekly radio and Internet address.

“If Congress refuses to give the United States the ability to pay its bills on time, the consequences for the entire global economy could be catastrophic,” he pointed out.

Obama recalled that the US economy “suffered” and congressional Republicans clashed over national debt in 2011, a row that resulted in a downgrade of the US credit rating.

“Our families and our businesses cannot afford that dangerous game again,” the president said.

The United States reached its legal borrowing limit of $16.4 trillion on Monday. Now Congress has about two months to raise the debt ceiling to allow more government borrowing or risk causing the government to default on its bills and financial obligations.

A bipartisan “fiscal cliff” deal passed by Congress later in the week did not address the debt ceiling issue.

Republicans, who accepted this deal without any significant spending cut, are now demanding concessions on expenditures in return for allowing the ceiling to rise.

House Speaker John Boehner has warned the Republicans will ask for “significant spending cuts” and reforms of expensive programs like Social Security and Medicare that provide pensions and health care services for the nation’s seniors.

Obama said he was for spending cuts without shortchanging things like education, job training, research and technology.

“But spending cuts must be balanced with more reforms to our tax code,” he said. “The wealthiest individuals and the biggest corporations shouldn’t be able to take advantage of loopholes and deductions that aren’t available to most Americans.”


January 05, 2013 07:00 AM

The Next Self-Made Crisis

By Mike Lux

There is a great deal of angst and worry among progressives about what is going to happen in two months, when the Republicans will once again try to hold the economy hostage so they can cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education, and everything else in the federal budget that helps low- and middle-income folks. It is of course a bad situation when you have one branch of the government eager to blow up the economy to do bad things that more than 80 percent of Americans oppose, but we need to spend a lot less time worrying and a lot more time organizing.

We can beat these guys, and beat them badly, if we have a focused and aggressive strategy.

There are four things progressives should do right now. The first relates to the President. I understand the disappointment we're feeling about his kicking the can down the road another two months, and the leverage lost on the revenue side. And I was very critical of the President’s willingness to swap cuts in Social Security benefits for a deal in this last go-around, and will fight him with every ounce of energy if he proposes any such thing again. But right now is the worst possible time to be raising doubts about this President’s willingness to hang tough in a negotiation as some of my friends in the progressive movement are doing.

The Republicans need to know that the President is deadly serious when he says he won’t negotiate on the debt ceiling, and that the entire progressive movement and Democratic party have his back on this. No negotiation whatsoever. Period and end of sentence.

In the 2011 situation and in the fiscal cliff drama, the President made clear from the first that he was ready, willing, and eager to negotiate, and negotiate he did. But Obama knows that we can’t keep running from one ridiculous self-made crisis to the next, so he has drawn a line in the sand, and progressives need to back him to the hilt. Let’s take him at his word, and expect that he will deliver: no negotiation over whether government will pay the bills it has already incurred. To send the economy into a massive panic, to put the good faith and credit of our country at risk, so that Republicans can cut Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and education is not acceptable to the American people, and the Republicans will quickly figure that out.

I've been very tough on the President at times over the last four years, and I’m sure I will have some choice words for him at some point down the line, but I admire the fact that he has essentially put his manhood on the line on this issue. If he backs down and starts negotiating, he will look terrible, be seen as very weak, and he knows it. He knows he can’t afford to blink, and progressives should back him 100%: no negotiation whatsoever on the debt ceiling.

Speaking of lines in the sand, the second thing progressives need to do is to mount an all-out, serious, no-holds-barred campaign around no more cuts to those things in the budget that help the bottom 98%. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits should all be off the table. Education, student loans, Head Start, health care, the SNAP and WIC programs have to be as well. Low and middle income Americans have lost jobs, had their wages frozen or decline, had the cost of basic necessities like groceries and health care and gas prices skyrocket, had their homes drop badly in value, and have taken round after round of devastating cuts in government programs that directly help them. It is neither morally nor economically right that they would be the ones who get hurt by budget cuts. And cuts to these programs are generally quite unpopular, in some cases by percentages of more than 80% against. If politicians feel the need to cut government spending, there are plenty of bloated military contracts and subsidies to agribusiness and oil companies, but don’t you dare touch the things that help middle- and low-income folks.

This needs to be a serious campaign, like the campaign against Social Security privatization in 2005, or the campaign HCAN organized on health care reform. We need to build a firestorm that walls off these programs from more cuts, that makes that idea fundamentally unacceptable and politically explosive. And we need to tell the leaders of both parties: we will fight you with everything we’ve got if you don’t keep your hands off the things that matter the most to us.

Third, in every forum we have, we need to keep resolutely bringing this back to jobs. We should keep asking the questions: How, exactly, does threatening to stop paying our bills create jobs? How does cutting Social Security create jobs? Why are politicians obsessed with cuts for middle class programs instead of creating new jobs? What we need, as many of my friends in the blogosphere keep saying, are jobs, not cuts. In fact, as Bill Clinton proved beyond a shadow of a doubt, the best way to cut the deficit and create a surplus is to create lots of decent paying jobs. So every single time some right-wing blowhard is talking about cuts, ask them exactly how that cut creates a job, and remind people that 60 percent of the deficit right now is due to the lack of jobs in the economy.

Finally, we need to be very clear: we are not done extracting tax revenue from big corporations and the top two percent. There are hundreds of billions of dollars in big corporate loopholes we need to close; we should have a financial transactions tax on speculative Wall Street trading and a carbon tax to help do something about global warming; and yes, we can still raise more from individual rates and the inheritance tax.

After all, the Republicans keep going back and raising the same old bad ideas over and over again, we can certainly revisit the good ideas.

Progressives need to stop worrying about what deals might be cut, and start organizing to make it impossible to cut the bad deals we are afraid of. The President has laid out in the clearest possible way that he won’t negotiate with these economic hostage takers, and we should make clear we have his back. We have to make clear to every politician and every pundit: we need jobs, not cuts to the things the bottom 98 percent most rely on, and we need more tax revenue from big business and the top two percent.

Click to watch:


January 3, 2013

Battles of the Budget


The centrist fantasy of a Grand Bargain on the budget never had a chance. Even if some kind of bargain had supposedly been reached, key players would soon have reneged on the deal — probably the next time a Republican occupied the White House.

For the reality is that our two major political parties are engaged in a fierce struggle over the future shape of American society. Democrats want to preserve the legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — and add to them what every other advanced country has: a more or less universal guarantee of essential health care. Republicans want to roll all of that back, making room for drastically lower taxes on the wealthy. Yes, it’s essentially a class war.

The fight over the fiscal cliff was just one battle in that war. It ended, arguably, in a tactical victory for Democrats. The question is whether it was a Pyrrhic victory that set the stage for a larger defeat.

Why do I say that it was a tactical victory? Mainly because of what didn’t happen: There were no benefit cuts.

This was by no means a foregone conclusion. In 2011, the Obama administration was reportedly willing to raise the age of Medicare eligibility, a terrible and cruel policy idea. This time around, it was willing to cut Social Security benefits by changing the formula for cost-of-living adjustments, a less terrible idea that would nonetheless have imposed a lot of hardship — and probably have been politically disastrous as well. In the end, however, it didn’t happen. And progressives, always worried that President Obama seems much too willing to compromise about fundamentals, breathed a sigh of relief.

There were also some actual positives from a progressive point of view. Expanded unemployment benefits were given another year to run, a huge benefit to many families and a significant boost to our economic prospects (because this is money that will be spent, and hence help preserve jobs). Other benefits to lower-income families were given another five years — although, unfortunately, the payroll tax break was allowed to expire, which will hurt both working families and job creation.

The biggest progressive gripe about the legislation is that Mr. Obama extracted less revenue from the affluent than expected — about $600 billion versus $800 billion over the next decade. In perspective, however, this isn’t that big a deal. Put it this way: A reasonable estimate is that gross domestic product over the next 10 years will be around $200 trillion. So if the revenue take had matched expectations, it would still have amounted to only 0.4 percent of G.D.P.; as it turned out, this was reduced to 0.3 percent. Either way, it wouldn’t make much difference in the fights over revenue versus spending still to come.

Oh, and not only did Republicans vote for a tax increase for the first time in decades, the overall result of the tax changes now taking effect — which include new taxes associated with Obamacare as well as the new legislation — will be a significant reduction in income inequality, with the top 1 percent and even more so the top 0.1 percent taking a much bigger hit than middle-income families.

So why are many progressives — myself included — feeling very apprehensive? Because we’re worried about the confrontations to come.

According to the normal rules of politics, Republicans should have very little bargaining power at this point. With Democrats holding the White House and the Senate, the G.O.P. can’t pass legislation; and since the biggest progressive policy priority of recent years, health reform, is already law, Republicans wouldn’t seem to have many bargaining chips.

But the G.O.P. retains the power to destroy, in particular by refusing to raise the debt limit — which could cause a financial crisis. And Republicans have made it clear that they plan to use their destructive power to extract major policy concessions.

Now, the president has said that he won’t negotiate on that basis, and rightly so. Threatening to hurt tens of millions of innocent victims unless you get your way — which is what the G.O.P. strategy boils down to — shouldn’t be treated as a legitimate political tactic.

But will Mr. Obama stick to his anti-blackmail position as the moment of truth approaches? He blinked during the 2011 debt limit confrontation. And the last few days of the fiscal cliff negotiations were also marked by a clear unwillingness on his part to let the deadline expire. Since the consequences of a missed deadline on the debt limit would potentially be much worse, this bodes ill for administration resolve in the clinch.

So, as I said, in a tactical sense the fiscal cliff ended in a modest victory for the White House. But that victory could all too easily turn into defeat in just a few weeks.


January 4, 2013

Congress Passes a $9.7 Billion Storm Relief Measure


WASHINGTON — Under intense pressure from New York and New Jersey, Congress adopted legislation on Friday that would provide $9.7 billion to cover insurance claims filed by people whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.

The measure is the first, and least controversial, portion of a much larger aid package sought by the affected states to help homeowners and local governments recover costs associated with the storm. The House has pledged to take up the balance of the aid package on Jan. 15.

The House passed the insurance measure 354 to 67; it then cleared the Senate by unanimous consent. President Obama is expected to sign the measure into law.

In the House, all of the votes against the aid came from Republicans, who have objected that no cuts in other programs had been identified to pay for the measure despite the nation’s long-term deficit problem. The 67 Republicans who voted against the measure included 17 freshman lawmakers, suggesting that the new class will provide support to the sizable group of anti-spending conservatives already in the House.

Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, brought the bill to the House floor after he drew criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike for adjourning the previous Congress earlier this week without taking up a $60.4 billion aid bill that the Senate had passed to finance recovery efforts in the hurricane-battered states. Among those most critical of Mr. Boehner were several leading Republicans, including Representative Peter T. King of Long Island, who is a senior member of Congress, and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who is a possible presidential contender in 2016.

The bill adopted on Friday would give the National Flood Insurance Program the authority to borrow $9.7 billion to fill claims stemming from damage caused by Hurricane Sandy and other disasters. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which administers the flood insurance program, recently notified Congress that it would run out of money within the next week to cover claims filed by individuals.

“The administration is pleased that Congress has taken action to ensure that FEMA continues to have the funds to cover flood insurance claims, including over 100,000 claims from Hurricane Sandy the agency has already received,” Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman, said in a statement. “We continue to urge Congress to take up and pass the full supplemental request submitted last year to ensure affected communities have the support they need for longer term recovery.”

Congress’s action did not fully mollify lawmakers from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and other states struck by the storm. Some officials continued to criticize the chamber’s leadership for failing to act more quickly on the larger aid package, saying it provided the necessary financing to help the region rebuild.

“I am optimistic and worried,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York. “Optimistic because there is pressure on the House to produce. Worried because I know how difficult it is to get things through the Congress.”

Mr. Christie and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, a Democrat, issued a similarly cautious statement.

“Today’s action by the House was a necessary and critical first step towards delivering aid to the people of New Jersey and New York,” they said. “While we are pleased with this progress, today was just a down payment, and it is now time to go even further and pass the final and more complete, clean disaster aid bill.”

The overall measure would provide money to help homeowners and small-business owners rebuild; to repair bridges, tunnels and transportation systems; to reimburse local governments for overtime costs of police, fire and other emergency services; and to replenish shorelines. It also would finance an assortment of longer-term projects that would help the region prepare for future storms.

Some Republicans have been critical of the size of the proposed aid package, and have suggested that it includes unnecessary spending on items that are not directly related to the hurricane, like $150 million for fisheries in Alaska and $2 million for museum roofs in Washington. Representative Frank A. LoBiondo, Republican of New Jersey, said Friday that the measure going before the House later this month would “strip out the extraneous spending directed to states not affected by the storm.”

“Today’s vote is a key step in getting critical federal assistance to the residents, businesses and communities devastated by Hurricane Sandy,” Mr. LoBiondo said in a statement. “I hope my colleagues recognize politics has no place when dealing with a disaster and that the overwhelming bipartisan support demonstrated today is present as the remaining federal aid is considered.”

In the House debate leading up to the vote on Friday, several lawmakers said it had taken too long for Congress to provide federal aid to the region and urged the speaker to make good on his pledge to bring the $51 billion aid package to the floor later this month.

“We have been waiting for 11 weeks,” said Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, a Democrat from New York City. “It is long overdue.”


67 Republicans vote against partial funding for Hurricane Sandy relief

By Stephen C. Webster

Friday, January 4, 2013 12:47 EST

After days of anger directed at House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH), the House of Representatives on Friday passed a bill that puts a small down payment on Hurricane Sandy relief efforts — over the objections of 67 Republican lawmakers.

The $9.7 billion package passed Friday is intended to pay for flood insurance claims, but little else. Funding requests from New York, Connecticut and New Jersey alone add up to more than $83 billion.

The bill passed by a vote of 354 to 67, with the only opposition coming from members of the Republican Party. The Senate has already approved a much larger $60 billion relief package.

A second relief bill for an additional $51 billion is set for a vote later this month, but it is not clear if the speaker will be able to corral enough Republicans into supporting it.

An earlier vote on the full $60 billion relief package was cancelled this week amid talks on tax rates, triggering fury from east coast Republicans.

“It has now been 66 days since Hurricane Sandy hit and 27 days since President Obama put forth a responsible aid proposal that passed with a bipartisan vote in the Senate while the House has failed to even bring it to the floor,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said on Wednesday. “This failure to come to the aid of Americans following a severe and devastating natural disaster is unprecedented.”


Obama poised to nominate Chuck Hagel as defense secretary

By Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian
Friday, January 4, 2013 17:48 EST

Move likely to prompt strong opposition from Republicans who feel Hagel, a former GOP senator, is too liberal on foreign policy

Barack Obama is poised to nominate as defence secretary early next week a Vietnam combat veteran and former Republican senator, Chuck Hagel, in a move that would provoke strong opposition from Republicans and spark a tough nomination battle.

Hagel, though he was a Republican senator, takes a liberal position on many foreign policy issues and was one of the leading voices in his party against George W Bush’s Iraq policy.

He had been approached by the White House about replacing Leon Panetta as defence secretary and successfully vetted.

Obama, in an interview last Sunday, spoke highly of him but said he had not made up his mind. “I’ve served with Chuck Hagel. I know him. He is a patriot. He is somebody who has done extraordinary work both in the United States senate, somebody who served this country with valour in Vietnam,” Obama said.

Various sources in the administration and friends of Hagel said the president finally made his decision last week and an announcement will be made on Monday or Tuesday. NBC also said it had confirmed the news.

Others who had been considered included the former under-secretary for defence Michele Flournoy.

Obama announced before Christmas that senator John Kerry will replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. While Kerry will almost certainly sail through the nomination process, Hagel’s hearings are likely to be more awkward.

The main opposition to his appointment comes from Republicans, who see him as insufficiently supportive of Israel and intent on recalibrating the US position to take more account of Arab opinion.

As a former infantry sergeant, Hagel takes a dovish approach to conflict, being a strong advocate of talks with Iran rather than military strikes over its disputed nuclear programme, potentially the biggest foreign policy issue of Obama’s second term.

As defence secretary, Hagel would not be directly responsible for either diplomatic moves involving Israel-Palestine or Iran. But as defence secretary he would have a voice at the table. In the case of Iran, he would also have to provide the military muscle to back up diplomatic moves by Obama and Kerry.

One of his biggest challenges for the incoming defence secretary will be be to oversee a huge reduction in spending planned for the Pentagon. Even though US involvement in the war in Iraq is over and its role in Afghanistan winding down, the administration is seeking deep cuts, especially in big, expensive air and sea projects, one that would be heavy resisted by the defence industry and by members of Congress who fear job losses in their states and districts.

Republicans predict there will be few votes for Hagel from their side in the nomination process.

GOP senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, told Fox last week that though all of them liked Hagel as a person, “I think a lot of Republicans and Democrats are very concerned about Chuck Hagel’s positions on Iran sanctions, his views towards Israel, Hamas and Hizbollah – and there is wide and deep concern about his policies”. © Guardian News and Media 2013


January 4, 2013

Job Creation Is Still Steady Despite Worry


Despite concerns about looming tax increases and government spending cuts, American employers added 155,000 jobs in December. Employees also enjoyed slightly faster wage growth and worked longer hours, which could bode well for future hiring.

The job growth, almost exactly equal to the average monthly growth in the last two years, was enough to keep the unemployment rate steady at 7.8 percent, the Labor Department reported on Friday. But it was not enough to reduce the backlog of 12.2 million jobless workers, underscoring the challenge facing Washington politicians as they continue to wrestle over how to address the budget deficit.

“Job creation might firm a little bit, but it’s still looking nothing like the typical recovery year we’ve had in deep recessions in the past,” said John Ryding, chief economist at RDQ Economics. “There’s nothing in the deal to do that,” he said, referring to Congress’s Jan. 1 compromise on taxes, “and nothing in this latest jobs report to suggest that. We’re a long way short of the 300,000 job growth that we need.”

If anything, the most visible debt-related options that policy makers are discussing could slow down economic and job growth, which, at its existing pace, would take seven years to reduce the unemployment rate to its prerecession level. The $110 billion in across-the-board federal spending cuts scheduled for March 1, for example, might provoke layoffs by local governments, military contractors and other companies that depend on federal funds.

A showdown over the debt ceiling expected in late February could also damage business confidence, as it did the last time Congress nearly allowed a default on the nation’s debts in August 2011.

“We may be seeing the calm before the storm right now,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomic Advisors, noting that a recent survey from the National Federation of Independent Business found that alarmingly few small companies planned to hire in the coming months. “Small businesses are wringing their hands in horror at what’s going on in Washington.”

A best case for the economy, many analysts say, would involve a swift and civil Congressional agreement that raised the debt ceiling immediately. It would also address the country’s long-term debt challenges, like Medicare costs, without sudden or draconian fiscal tightening this year.

Given the uncertainty over what Congress will do, estimates of the unemployment rate’s path this year vary wildly. The more optimistic forecasts for the end of 2013 predict that unemployment will fall to just above 7 percent, which would be considerably below its most recent peak of 10 percent in October 2009, but still higher than its prerecession level of 5 percent.

The job gains in December were driven by hiring in health care, food services, construction and manufacturing. The last two industries were probably helped by rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy.

Aside from the wild card of what happens in Washington, some encouraging trends in the economy — including the housing recovery, looser credit for small businesses, a rebound in China and pent-up demand for new automobiles — suggest that businesses have good reason to speed up hiring.

Congress’s last-minute deal to raise taxes this week will offset some of these sources of growth, since higher taxes trim how much money consumers have available each month.

President Obama’s proposals to spend more money on infrastructure projects and other measures intended to spur hiring are fiercely opposed by Republican deficit hawks. The fiscal compromise reached this week did include one modest form of stimulus, though: a one-year renewal of the federal government’s emergency unemployment benefits program. That program allows workers to continue receiving benefits for up to 73 weeks, depending on the unemployment rate in the state where they live, and stimulates economic activity because unemployment benefits are spent almost immediately.

The extension was a tremendous relief to the two million workers who would otherwise have lost their benefits this week.

“We woke up on Wednesday morning and saw the news and just said, ‘Thank God, thank God, thank God,’ and then went out and went food shopping because we knew we had money coming in,” said Gina Shadis, 56, of Newton, N.J.

Both she and her husband, Stephen, were laid off within the last 14 months from jobs they had held for more than a decade: she from a quality assurance manager position at an environmental testing lab, and he as foreman and senior master technician at an auto dealership. They are each receiving $548 a week in federal jobless benefits, or about a quarter of their pay at their most recent jobs.

“It has just been such a traumatic time,” Ms. Shadis said. “You wake up in the morning with shoulders tense and head aching because you didn’t sleep the night before from worrying.”

More than six million workers have exhausted their unemployment benefits since the recession began in December 2007, according to the National Employment Law Project, a labor advocacy group.

Millions of workers are sitting on the sidelines and so are not counted in the tally of unemployed. Some are merely waiting for the job market to improve, and others are trying to invest in new skills to appeal to employers who are already hiring.

“I have a few prospects who say they want me to work for them when I graduate,” said Jordan Douglas, a 24-year-old single mother in Pampa, Tex., who is enrolled in a special program that allows her to receive jobless benefits while attending school full time to become a registered nurse. She receives $792 in benefits every two weeks, a little less than half of what she earned in an administrative position at the nursing home that laid her off last year.

Ms. Douglas calculates that her federal jobless benefits will run out the very last week of nursing school.

“This had to have been a sign from God that I had to do this, since it all worked out so well,” she said.


January 4, 2013

Massachusetts Plans Stricter Control of Compounding Pharmacies


BOSTON — New laws to strengthen state control of compounding pharmacies were proposed on Friday by Gov. Deval Patrick, in hopes of preventing another public health disaster like the current outbreak of meningitis caused by a contaminated drug made in Massachusetts.

The laws will be among the strongest in the country, said Kevin Outterson, a law professor at Boston University and a member of the expert panel that advised the state on how to curb abuses by companies like the New England Compounding Center, the Framingham pharmacy that made the tainted drug responsible for the nationwide meningitis outbreak.

The legislation would establish strict licensing requirements for compounding sterile drugs; let the state assess fines against pharmacies that break its rules; protect whistle-blowers who work in compounding pharmacies; and reorganize the state pharmacy board to include more members who are independent of the industry and fewer who are part of it.

Alec Loftus, a spokesman for the state’s Office of Health and Human Services, said that Mr. Patrick expected the new legislation to be passed quickly.

Daniel Carpenter, a professor of government at Harvard, said the proposed laws seemed sound and comprehensive. But he warned that if other states did not take similar steps, compounding pharmacies engaging in shoddy practices would just move to places with the weakest laws and the least oversight.

“The remaining question is not what Massachusetts is doing or will do, but will there be a minimum level of regulation like this in the rest of the states?” Professor Carpenter said.

The meningitis outbreak, first detected in September, was caused by contaminated batches of a steroid, methylprednisolone acetate, made by the New England Compounding Center. The drug was injected into about 14,000 people’s spinal area to treat back and neck pain.

As of Dec. 28, 656 people in 19 states had become ill with meningitis or other infections, like severe internal abscesses in the area where the drug was injected. Some have had both meningitis and spinal infections. The case count is expected to keep rising. Thirty-nine have died.

The New England Compounding Center was shut down, and inspections found extensive contamination. Investigations uncovered a long history of questionable practices that had drawn warnings from the state and the Food and Drug Administration.

On Dec. 21, the company announced that it had filed for bankruptcy. Numerous lawsuits have been filed against it.

At the heart of the problem have been gaps in regulation that have allowed such companies to avoid both state and federal controls. The company called itself a pharmacy, and pharmacies are generally regulated by states, while large drug companies are regulated federally, by the Food and Drug Administration.

Compounding pharmacies mix their own drug preparations, like skin creams and cough syrups, supposedly for individual patients with special needs. But the New England Compounding Center began to act like a manufacturer, making and shipping large amounts of injectable drugs, for which sterility is essential. No state law required it to obtain a license for this type of large-scale compounding, to follow good manufacturing processes or to let the state know it was shipping all over the country.

Dr. Lauren Smith, interim commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, said the company “was a manufacturer in pharmacy clothing.”

Governor Patrick said, “The tragic meningitis outbreak has shown us all that the board’s governing authority has not kept up with an industry that has evolved from corner drugstores to the types of large manufacturers that have been at the center of so much harm.”

Dr. Smith said she thought the most important part of the new legislation was the requirement of a license for sterile compounding. “Now we are going to have the ability to develop specialty licenses that will allow us to track and identify those pharmacies that are engaged in different practices that could potentially put higher numbers of individuals at risk, such as those who engage in sterile compounding,” she said.

Professor Carpenter said a particularly powerful part of the proposal is that it requires licensure for out-of-state pharmacies that ship medication to Massachusetts. The state, he said, is a huge market for injectable drugs.

“Basically, if you think about the large hospitals, the amount of medical care that goes on in the state, it’s in a sense using the purchasing power of the state of Massachusetts to induce changes elsewhere,” he said.

The state has also taken other steps recently to rein in compounding, apart from the new legislation. It began conducting surprise inspections, and has required compounding pharmacies to report how much medication they are shipping and where, so that it can keep tabs on those that begin acting like manufacturers. It also requires the pharmacies to report when they become subjects of regulatory actions by other states or the federal government.

Abby Goodnough reported from Boston, and Denise Grady from New York.


January 4, 2013

F.D.A. Offers Broad New Rules to Fight Food Contamination


The Food and Drug Administration on Friday proposed two sweeping rules aimed at preventing the contamination of produce and processed foods, which has sickened tens of thousands of Americans annually in recent years.

The proposed rules represent a sea change in the way the agency polices food, a process that currently involves taking action after contamination has been identified. It is a long-awaited step toward codifying the food safety law that Congress passed two years ago.

Changes include requirements for better record keeping, contingency plans for handling outbreaks and measures that would prevent the spread of contaminants in the first place. While food producers would have latitude in determining how to execute the rules, farmers would have to ensure that water used in irrigation met certain standards and food processors would need to find ways to keep fresh food that may contain bacteria from coming into contact with food that has been cooked.

New safety measures might include requiring that farm workers wash their hands, installing portable toilets in fields and ensuring that foods are cooked at temperatures high enough to kill bacteria.

Whether consumers will ultimately bear some of the expense of the new rules was unclear, but the agency estimated that the proposals would cost food producers tens of thousands of dollars a year.

A big question to be resolved is whether Congress will approve the money necessary to support the oversight. President Obama requested $220 million in his 2013 budget, but Dr. Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the F.D.A., said “resources remain an ongoing concern.”

Nonetheless, agency officials were optimistic that the new rules would protect consumers better.

“These new rules really set the basic framework for a modern, science-based approach to food safety and shift us from a strategy of reacting to problems to a strategy for preventing problems,” Michael R. Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, said in an interview. The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for the safety of about 80 percent of the food that Americans consume. The rest falls to the Agriculture Department, which is responsible for meat, poultry and some eggs.

One in six Americans becomes ill from eating contaminated food each year, the government estimates; most of them recover without concern, but roughly 130,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die. The agency estimated the new rules could prevent about 1.75 million illnesses each year.

Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act in 2010 after a wave of incidents involving tainted eggs, peanut butter and spinach sickened thousands of people and led major food makers to join consumer advocates in demanding stronger government oversight.

But it took the Obama administration two years to move the rules through the regulatory agency, prompting complaints that the White House was more concerned about protecting itself from Republican criticism than about public safety.

Mr. Taylor said that the delay was a function of the wide variety of foods and the complexity of the food system. “Anything that is important and complicated will always take longer than you would like,” he said.

The first rule would require manufacturers of processed foods sold in the United States to come up with ways to reduce the risk of contamination. Food companies would be required to have a plan for correcting problems and for keeping records that government inspectors could audit.

An example might be to require the roasting of raw peanuts at a temperature guaranteed to kill salmonella, which has been a problem in nut butters in recent years. Roasted nuts would then have to be kept separate from raw nuts to further reduce the risk of contamination, said Sandra B. Eskin, director of the safe food campaign at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

“This is very good news for consumers,” Ms. Eskin said. “We applaud the administration’s action, which demonstrates its strong commitment to making our food safer.”

The second rule would apply to the harvesting and production of fruits and vegetables in an effort to combat bacterial contamination like E. coli, which is transmitted through feces. It would address what advocates refer to as the “four Ws” — water, waste, workers and wildlife.

Farmers would establish separate standards for ensuring the purity of water that touches, say, lettuce leaves and the water used to irrigate soil, which reaches plants only through their roots.

A farm or plant where vegetables are packaged might, for example, add lavatories to ensure that workers do not urinate in fields and post signs similar to those in restaurants that remind employees to wash their hands.

The food industry cautiously applauded the proposals, with most companies and industry groups noting that they would be poring over them and making comments as necessary in the coming weeks.

“Consumers expect industry and government to work together to provide Americans and consumers around the world with the safest possible products,” the Grocery Manufacturers Association said in a statement. The group added that the food safety act and putting it into effect “can serve as a role model for what can be achieved when the private and public sectors work together to achieve a common goal.”

The association noted that the government would have to issue more than 50 regulations to fully carry out the new law.

The businesses that must comply with the proposals may face new costs, but how much remains to be seen. Dr. Hamburg said that the measures might save businesses money in the long run, and that in many cases, they already take such precautions voluntarily.

The agency estimated that it would cost large individual farms as much as $30,000 a year to comply with the new rules, and the food manufacturing industry as a whole as much as $475 million a year. It said it would finance the regulations in part from savings within its budget and from fees for things like reinspections, which Congress has already authorized.

In a conference call with reporters, Mr. Taylor, the deputy commissioner, said some foods would require more attention than others. Fruits and vegetables destined for canning operations, for instance, might be subject to less stringent guidelines because they are processed using heat that would kill bacteria, unlike produce intended for raw consumption. Vegetables that are much more likely to be consumed cooked, like potatoes and artichokes, would be exempt from the rules, Mr. Taylor said.

“We were directed by Congress to establish risk-based standards that are practical, and we think this approach targets what will be significant from a public health standpoint,” he said. “If we get evidence to the contrary, we will make adjustments.”

While such precautions may seem obvious and some food producers and makers may already be taking them, there has not been any legal requirement they even consider doing so.

“We’re not going to relinquish all risk of contamination, but these steps will make us think more about what we can do to reduce it,” Mr. Taylor said.

After a 120-day period for public comment, the agency will complete the rules.

Other rules are pending, including one that would cover importers’ responsibilities for the safety of food products grown or made overseas. About 15 percent of food eaten by Americans — and an even higher percentage of produce — is imported.


January 4, 2013

Justices Take Case on Adoption of Indian Child


WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to consider cases concerning the adoption of American Indian children and whether federal judges may play a role in plea negotiations.

The adoption case involves a South Carolina couple who were ordered to turn over a 27-month-old girl they had cared for since birth to her biological father, an Indian, whom the girl had never met. The South Carolina Supreme Court, saying it was doing so “with a heavy heart,” ruled for the father, even as it acknowledged that the adoptive couple, Matt and Melanie Capobianco, were “ideal parents who have exhibited the ability to provide a loving family environment.”

Under South Carolina law, the majority said, the girl, Veronica, would have stayed with the Capobiancos. But federal law, under the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, calls for special procedures rooted in the sovereignty of Indian nations and a history of abusive child welfare practices involving Indian children.

Lawyers for the Capobiancos said the law did not apply because Veronica’s biological father, Dusten Brown, had relinquished his parental rights in a text message. Lawyers for Mr. Brown and his tribe, the Cherokee Nation, said that “extraordinary defects in the adoption process,” including efforts to conceal Veronica’s Indian heritage, were to blame for a case that had been “painful and personally difficult for all of the parties.”

The main question the justices have been asked to decide in the case, Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, No. 12-399, is whether the law applies when an unmarried mother who is not an Indian gives up her child for adoption. Some lower courts have said that the law kicks in only if the adoption breaks up an existing Indian family, others that it applies when an absent father is an Indian.

The court also agreed to hear United States v. Davila, No. 12-167, which concerns a guilty plea filed by Anthony Davila in a tax conspiracy case after pressure from a federal magistrate judge. There is no dispute that the judge violated a federal rule of criminal procedure, which says of plea negotiations that “the court must not participate in these discussions.”

The federal appeals court in Atlanta allowed Mr. Davila to withdraw his plea and face trial, saying there were good reasons for an “absolute ban on judicial participation.”

Other appeals courts have required defendants seeking to withdraw guilty pleas to show they were hurt by the judge’s participation, relying on another part of the rule.

The federal government urged the justices to resolve the conflict, saying that guilty pleas accounted for 97 percent of federal criminal convictions. Judges “cannot stay completely removed from all matters touching upon plea discussions,” the brief said, and so they will sometimes run afoul of the rule barring any participation.


January 4, 2013

Scare Adds to Fears That Clinton’s Work Has Taken Toll


WASHINGTON — When Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton fractured her right elbow after slipping in a State Department garage in June 2009, she returned to work in just a few days. Her arm in a sling, she juggled speeches and a trip to India and Thailand with physical therapy, rebuilding a joint held together with wire and pins.

It was vivid evidence of Mrs. Clinton’s indomitable stamina and work ethic — as a first lady, senator, presidential candidate and, for the past four years, the most widely traveled secretary of state in American history.

But after a fall at home in December that caused a concussion, and a subsequent diagnosis of a blood clot in her head, it has taken much longer for Mrs. Clinton to bounce back. She was released from a hospital in New York on Wednesday, accompanied by her daughter, Chelsea, and her husband, former President Bill Clinton. On Thursday, she told colleagues that she hoped to be in the office next week.

Her health scare, though, has reinforced the concerns of friends and colleagues that the years of punishing work and travel have taken a heavy toll. Even among her peers at the highest levels of government, Mrs. Clinton, 65, is renowned for her grueling schedule. Over the past four years, she was on the road for 401 days and spent the equivalent of 87 full days on a plane, according to the State Department’s Web site.

In one 48-hour marathon in 2009 that her aides still talk about, she traveled from talks with Palestinian leaders in Abu Dhabi to a midnight meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, then boarded a plane for Morocco, staying up all night to work on other issues, before going straight to a meeting of Arab leaders the next morning.

“So many people who know her have urged me to tell her not to work so hard,” said Melanne S. Verveer, who was Mrs. Clinton’s chief of staff when she was first lady and is now the State Department’s ambassador at large for women’s issues. “Well, that’s not easy to do when you’re Hillary Clinton. She doesn’t spare herself.”

It is not just a matter of duty, Ms. Verveer and others said. Mrs. Clinton genuinely relishes the work, pursuing a brand of personal diplomacy that, she argues, requires her to travel to more places than her predecessors.

While there is no medical evidence that Mrs. Clinton’s clot was caused by her herculean work habits, her cascade of recent health problems, beginning with a stomach virus, has prompted those who know her best to say that she desperately needs a long rest. Her first order of business after leaving the State Department in the coming weeks, they say, should be to take care of herself.

Some even wonder whether this setback will — or should — temper the feverish speculation that she will make another run for the White House in 2016.

“I am amazed at the number of women who come up to me and tell me she must run for president,” said Ellen Chesler, a New York author and a friend of Mrs. Clinton’s. “But perhaps this episode will alter things a bit.”

Given Mrs. Clinton’s enduring status as a role model, Ms. Chesler said women would be watching which path she decides to take, as they plan their own transitions out of the working world.

“Do remember that women of our generation are really the first to have worked through the life cycle in large numbers,” she added. “Many seem to be approaching retirement with dread.”

For now, aides say, Mrs. Clinton’s focus is on wrapping up her work at the State Department. She would like to take part in a town hall-style meeting, thank her staff and sit for some interviews. But first she has to get clearance from her doctors, who are watching her to make sure that the blood thinners they have prescribed for her clot are working.

Speaking to a meeting of a foreign policy advisory board from her home in Chappaqua, N.Y., on Thursday, Mrs. Clinton said she was crossing her fingers and encouraging her doctors to let her return next week. “I’m trying to be a compliant patient,” she said, according to a person who was in the room. “But that does require a certain level of patience, which I’ve had to cultivate over the last three and a half weeks.”

While convalescing, Mrs. Clinton has spoken with President Obama and has held a 30-minute call with Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, whom Mr. Obama nominated as her successor.

Mrs. Clinton also plans to testify, while still in office, about the deadly attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, making up for hearings in December that she missed because of her illness. Because the Senate will be in recess until Jan. 21, and it must then confirm Mr. Kerry, she is expected to stay on as secretary of state until the end of the month.

“She would have vastly preferred to testify that original date than go through the last 27 days,” said her senior adviser, Philippe Reines. “Only an imbecile would say otherwise,” he added, referring to charges by conservatives that Mrs. Clinton faked her illness to avoid the Congressional questioning.

But her illness has scuttled further travel, including hopes for a valedictory tour of Asia or the Middle East. Mrs. Clinton holds the record for the most countries visited by a secretary of state, 112, though her total of 956,733 air miles will fall short of the 1.06 million logged by her predecessor, Condoleezza Rice.

The travel demands caught Mrs. Clinton by surprise, especially in an era in which American officials can communicate via videoconference calls. But the technology, she has said, paradoxically puts a bigger premium on actually showing up. And Mr. Obama has traveled abroad sparingly, raising the pressure on her to do more.

On many trips, Mrs. Clinton flew overnight and, after landing, went straight into a 12- or 16-hour day, sometimes getting a quick shower at the American ambassador’s residence. On a visit to South Asia in 2009, she spent three consecutive nights on her plane, an Air Force Boeing 757, which is equipped with a small cabin and a bed.

Unlike Ms. Rice, who is seven years her junior, Mrs. Clinton is not an exercise enthusiast. And her diet over the past four years has been a mix of exotic fare in distant capitals and airplane food. While the military stewards often prepared a bowl of cereal and berries, Mrs. Clinton faced her share of breakfast burritos.

“On these trips, you’re in all these different time zones, your body clock is way off schedule, you’re not routinely getting exercise, and you’re not eating healthy food,” said Lissa Muscatine, a former speechwriter who traveled with Mrs. Clinton. “On top of that, she has to be operating at the height of mental acuity at all times.”

Given Mrs. Clinton’s temperament, friends say there is little likelihood that she will ever take it easy.

Ms. Muscatine recalled that when Mrs. Clinton was racing to finish her memoir, she often spent a full day in the Senate, worked at home until midnight, and then held meetings about the book at her dining room table that stretched past 3 a.m.

“While we always thought of her as invincible and indestructible,” Ms. Muscatine said, “we all just really hoped there would be a point where she could stop going at that breakneck pace.”
« Last Edit: Jan 05, 2013, 10:08 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #3875 on: Jan 06, 2013, 07:17 AM »

Indian gang-rape victim’s blood ‘found on clothes of accused’

By Jason Burke, The Guardian
Saturday, January 5, 2013 21:16 EST

Prosecutor says five men charged with murder of 23-year-old student tried to destroy evidence by burning their clothes

Forensic evidence from the bus in which a 23-year-old Delhi student was gang-raped links the scene of the crime with men accused of her attack, a public prosecutor in the Indian capital claimed on Saturday.

Feelings are still running high in India following the incident three weeks ago, with calls for reforms of laws and policing, and a continuing debate on attitudes towards women.

Five men charged with rape and murder have been ordered to appear in court on Monday. It will be their first public appearance since being detained two days after the attack. They face the death penalty.

Public prosecutor Rajiv Mohan told a judge in the south Delhi suburb of Saket that the men had attempted to destroy evidence by burning their clothes, but that parts of the burnt material had been found to have traces of blood from the victim, who died in a Singapore hospital eight days ago.

The men’s trial is due to start in a week, in a new fast-track court inaugurated last week specifically to deal with sexual violence against women. The accused, aged between 19 and 35, are currently being held at Delhi’s Tihar prisons. A youth alleged to have taken part in the 16 December assault will be tried separately.

In his first interview since the attack the male friend of the victim has described how passersby left the pair lying unclothed and bleeding in the street for almost an hour.

The graphic account in a television interview is likely to add fuel to public anger at the death, in a country where official statistics show that a rape is reported every 20 minutes and where sexual harassment of women in public places is systematic.

The woman’s friend told the ZeeNews TV network that he was beaten unconscious before the pair were thrown off a bus they had boarded in the mistaken belief it would take them home after an evening watching the film Life of Pi at a nearby shopping centre cinema. The woman was raped for more than an hour and suffered internal injuries after an assault with an iron bar.

The pair lay on the roadside for about 45 minutes before three police vans arrived. Officers then spent a long time arguing about where to take them, the man said. “We kept shouting at the police, ‘Please give us some clothes,’ but they were busy deciding which police station our case should be registered at,” he said. Eventually, the officers fetched a sheet from a nearby hotel. He said they carried the victims to a police vehicle, despite their injuries.

Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said records showed the first police van reaching the scene four minutes after it was called. He said it left after seven minutes and arrived at a hospital within 24 minutes.

The friend described the pair’s attempts to call for help during the attack. “We were shouting, trying to make people hear us. But they switched off the lights of the bus,” he said, according to a transcript of the interview.

When they were finally thrown out at a roadside near the city’s airport, they pleaded with passersby for help, he added in the studio interview. A blue metal crutch was leaning against his chair.

“There were a few people who had gathered round, but nobody helped. My friend was grievously injured and bleeding profusely. We were without clothes. We tried to stop passersby. Several auto-rickshaws, cars and bikes slowed down but none stopped for about 25 minutes. Then someone called the police,” he said. The man also criticised delays and care at the public hospital where the pair were taken. He said they were again left without clothes or treatment for a long time.

Neither the woman nor her friend have been named and the TV channel that ran the interview is under investigation by police, who claim it has threatened their anonymity.

His revelations will fuel further criticism of authorities in India, who have alternated between promises of reform and a barely disguised contempt for the largely urban middle-class protesters who have taken to the streets over recent weeks. Huge gaps in the provision of security, healthcare and other basic services supposedly provided by the state have been exposed by the tragedy, deepening public anger.

Underground railway stations in Delhi have been closed to prevent gatherings in the city centre. Thousands of police were deployed to protect parliament buildings and the homes of senior officials after the news of the attack spread. Analysts point to a growing gulf between a government used to a traditional opaque and paternalist style of politics and the accountability demanded by new voters.

The victim’s friend called on the protests to continue. “If you can help someone, help them. If a single person had helped me that night, things would have been different. There is no need to close metro stations and stop the public from expressing themselves. People should be allowed to have faith in the system,” he said.

He also said he wished people had come to his friend’s help when she needed it: “You have to help people on the road when they need help.”

According to Indian newspapers, the victim had to give a detailed statement twice because of an administrative dispute between officials. Her friend said he lay on a stretcher for four days in a police station without medical assistance after the attack.

© Guardian News and Media 2013


January 6, 2013

Indian Rape Victim's Father Says He Wants Her Named


NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The father of an Indian student whose brutal rape provoked a global outcry said he wanted her name made public so she could be an inspiration to victims of sexual assault, a call that was quickly taken up by social media users and may pressure authorities to allow her identity to be revealed.

The 23-year-old physiotherapy student died on December 28 in a Singapore hospital, two weeks after a gang rape on a moving bus in New Delhi that ignited protests across India and neighboring countries and government promises of tougher punishments.

"We want the world to know her real name," the woman's father told Britain's Sunday People newspaper.

"My daughter didn't do anything wrong, she died while protecting herself," he added. "I am proud of her. Revealing her name will give courage to other women who have survived these attacks. They will find strength from my daughter."

The father's interview sparked widespread interest on social networking sites. Her name was the top trending topic among Indian Twitter users with many, including journalists and Bollywood actors, praising his decision to reveal her name.

Mainstream Indian media did not identify her, however, and she was still being referred to as "Amanat", an Urdu word meaning "treasure", by some TV channels.

A spokesman for Delhi Police declined to comment when asked if the authorities would take action against social networks or publications carrying the student's name.

There have been growing calls in India to name the victim. Politician Shashi Tharoor last week questioned the merit of keeping her anonymous, and suggested naming new anti-rape law after her, a proposal her father supported.

Indian law generally prohibits the identification of victims of sex crimes. The law is intended to protect victims' privacy and keep them from the media glare in a country where the social stigma associated with rape can be devastating.

The father later told Reuters he had no objections to the media using his daughter's name, but did not elaborate.


Five men have been charged with gang rape and murder and will appear in a New Delhi court on Monday to hear the charges.

Rajiv Mohan, a prosecutor in the case, said Singapore's Mount Elizabeth Hospital gave the cause of death as "septicaemia from multi-organ failure due to multiple organ injuries".

Mohan said the prosecution had matched DNA from her blood to blood found on the accused's clothes, and on hers, which one of the men had allegedly tried to burn to destroy evidence.

"The blood stain appearing on the burnt cloth has been tallied with the blood sample of the victim," Mohan told reporters on Saturday.

The British paper named the father and his daughter, saying that the father had given permission, but added that it would not publish a photo of her at the family's request. Reuters has opted not to identify the victim.

Mohan told Reuters the police and prosecution still had no intention of revealing her identity. The spokesman for Delhi police could not immediately be reached for comment.

"Even if family members have given their permission to disclose the victim's identity for a greater cause, we can't disclose her identity," Mohan said, citing section 228a of the Indian penal code.

Legal experts consulted by Reuters said a situation could arise where Indian media, wary of legal cases, chose not name her while foreign publications do.

Citing the same law, Delhi police have started legal proceedings against TV network Zee News after it ran an interview with a friend of the victim who was with her during the attack.

He accused the police of responding slowly and failing to cover the victim and himself after they were thrown from the bus without clothes and bleeding.

"The police is not taking any chances and wants to be in a controlling situation, scaring everybody off by filing (legal complaints)" said senior Supreme Court advocate Sanjay Hegde, who predicted such complaints were unlikely to lead to prosecution.


Despite huge public pressure to move quickly, it might take several weeks to formally begin the trial against the five men, public prosecutor Mohan said. He said the case could be concluded within four to five months.

A juvenile also accused of the assault will be tried separately. Mohan said police had recovered items stolen from the victim and her friend during the attack.

The protests and fierce public debate that followed the December 16 rape have revealed fissures between conservatives who blame a wave of sex crimes on a loss of traditional values and a growing middle class used to women playing a larger role in public life.

The head of a Hindu nationalist organisation linked to the main opposition force, the Bharatiya Janata Party, on Friday stoked debate by saying sex crimes and gang rapes mainly happened in urban India - a position not supported by facts.

"You go to villages and forests of the country and there will be no such incidents of gang rape or sex crimes. They are prevalent in some urban belts," said Mohan Bhagwat, the head of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

While per capita rape statistics are lower than in many nations, one case is reported in India every 20 minutes.

A global poll of experts last year by TrustLaw, a legal news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation, showed India to be the worst place among G20 countries to be a woman.

Activists say most sex crimes in India go unreported, and official data show that almost all go unpunished. Reported rape cases rose nearly 17 percent between 2007 and 2011.

(additional reporting by Tim Castle in LONDON and Arup Roychoudhury, Satarupa Bhattacharjya and Annie Banerji in NEW DELHI; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Alex Richardson)
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« Reply #3876 on: Jan 06, 2013, 07:25 AM »

Ana Matronic demands justice for South African woman raped and murdered for being a lesbian

Scissor Sisters singer supports Amnesty's Write for Rights campaign and its efforts to end violence against the gay community
The Observer, Sunday 6 January 2013 00.01 GMT   

Watch Ana Matronic of Scissor Sisters talk about her support for the Amnesty campaign.

Noxolo Nogwaza was just 24 years old when she was raped, beaten and stabbed to death on her way home from a night out with her friends in the South African township of Kwa Thema on 24 April 2011.

Her brutalised body was dumped in a shallow ditch. It appears that the only motive for the killing was that Noxolo was a lesbian.

Nearly two years after her death, little progress has been made on Noxolo's case and her killers remain at large.

Homophobia is still widespread in South Africa, despite its progressive laws. The constitution forbids discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and it is the only African country to have legalised homosexual marriage.

Nevertheless, Noxolo's assualt was the latest in a long series of vicious crimes against lesbians and gay men, and such attacks have created fear in the country's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.

Noxolo was an active member of the Ekurhuleni Pride Organising Committee, and had spoken out about her own sexuality. She and others had campaigned bravely for equal rights for LGBTI people.
Noxolo Nogwaza Noxolo Nogwaza, who was killed in Kwa Thema, South Africa, in 2011.

Amnesty supports campaigners in South Africa who are calling for an end to homophobia across the country, and features Noxolo in its Write for Rights letter-writing campaign.

Ana Matronic, lead singer of Scissor Sisters, supports Amnesty's call for justice for Noxolo's cause, and has seen the positive effect that the simple action of writing a letter can have on a person's life.

Ana said: "It is my dream of dreams to have everyone in the world be unafraid to be who they truly are and are able to express themselves. I believe we should accept each other for who we are.

"This is why I'm supporting this case. Noxolo was brave enough to stand up for her beliefs and paid the price with her life. We must now take action to demand justice for her."

Watch Ana's full interview below and if you would like to call for justice for Noxolo visit

Click to watch:

<iframe src="" width="400" height="300" frameborder="0" webkitAllowFullScreen mozallowfullscreen allowFullScreen></iframe>

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« Reply #3877 on: Jan 06, 2013, 07:31 AM »

Kosovo bars visit by Serbian president

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, January 5, 2013 18:30 EST

Kosovo on Saturday barred Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic from visiting the seat of Serbia’s Orthodox Church for the Eastern Rite’s Christmas next week saying it was a response to Belgrade denying entry to officials from Pristina.

“Nikolic will be able to visit Kosovo only when (he) provides reciprocity in visits for our leaders” to southern Serbia, where ethnic Albanians are a majority, Deputy Prime Minister Hajredin Kuci told journalists.

The decision was made “in consultation with international partners,” he added.

Earlier this week Nikolic asked the EU missions in both Belgrade and Pristina to arrange for him to visit the Gracanica monastery on Monday to attend a Serb Orthodox Christmas liturgy. It would have been Nikolic’s first visit to Kosovo since he took office last May.

The monastery, only some five kilometres (three miles) from Pristina, is the seat of Serbia’s Orthodox Church in Kosovo.

EU offices forwarded the request to the Kosovo government, which refused to allow the visit.

Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence in 2008, is recognised by nearly 100 countries. However, Belgrade still opposes the move and considers the territory its southern province.

Currently, Kosovo officials cannot visit Serbia because Belgrade does not recognise its institutions.

Despite the status dispute, Pristina and Belgrade in 2011 launched EU-brokered talks aimed at solving border demarcation, freedom of movement, energy and transportation issues that would facilitate the lives of Kosovo’s 1.8 million inhabitants.

The Serbian and Kosovo prime ministers, Ivica Dacic and Hashim Thaci, are to meet on January 17 in Brussels.

Improving ties with Kosovo is a main condition for Serbia to obtain a date for the start of EU accessions talks. Belgrade obtained candidate status in the 27-nation bloc in March 2012.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #3878 on: Jan 06, 2013, 07:44 AM »

Binyamin Netanyahu fights surge from rightwing opponent before poll

Naftali Bennett's Jewish Home party could gain powerful leverage after this month's vote in Israel

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
The Observer, Saturday 5 January 2013 19.07 GMT   

Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has been forced to recalibrate his election campaign in response to a downward spiral in opinion polls due to a surprise challenge from an ultra-nationalist startup millionaire and veteran of Israel's most elite commando unit.

New tactics are expected to be in evidence on Sunday when Netanyahu appears at a youth rally, following the panicked cancellation of an event on Thursday after dismal turnouts at two campaign rallies earlier in the week.

On the advice of his campaign strategist, US Republican adviser Arthur Finkelstein, the prime minister will stop making direct attacks on Naftali Bennett, whose far-right Jewish Home party has gained unexpected momentum. Assaults on the 40-year-old Bennett have boosted his electoral appeal, analysts say.

Netanyahu will focus instead on extreme rightwing and ultra-religious members of Jewish Home who are in contention to gain parliamentary seats in the election on 22 January – dubbed by some as the "list of lunatics". Bennett has said his candidates are "the best of the best".

The battle on the far right of the political spectrum has rattled Likud-Beiteinu, the electoral partnership forged between Netanyahu and the rightwing former foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, at the start of the campaign. Netanyahu is reported to have shouted at party workers last week, and Finkelstein flew in from the US a week ahead of schedule to advise on how to staunch the loss of voters.

A Jerusalem Post poll on Friday forecast 32 seats for Likud-Beiteinu in the 120-member parliament, down from a total of 42 currently held by the two parties and from Finkelstein's forecast of 47 at the time of the merger. Jewish Home was on course to win 16 seats, putting it within spitting distance of becoming Israel's second-largest party, a position at present held by Labour, who are predicted to take 17 seats. The Post poll followed the pattern of numerous recent surveys showing Bennett's party steadily gaining at the expense of Likud-Beiteinu.

Analysts say Bennett's support is strongest among voters under 40. Around a third of those saying they will back Jewish Home, which is strongly identified with the religious right, define themselves as secular. "Bennett's success comes from being young and fresh and offering hope and change," said pollster Rafi Smith.

Gil Hoffman, chief political correspondent of the Post, said: "Bennett is seen as a cool guy and salt of the earth. You couldn't come up with two things more respected in Israel than hi-tech success and serving in Sayeret Matkal [the elite special forces army unit] – and Bennett has both."

The son of US immigrants, Bennett made $145m from selling his hi-tech startup before becoming Netanyahu's chief of staff for four years until 2008. His politics are far right, nationalist and religious. He believes Jews have a God-given right to the whole of Eretz Israel – which includes the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza – and advocates the expansion of settlements.

According to Yedidia Stern of the Israel Democracy Institute, "a long-term change in Israeli society" underlies Bennett's immediate popularity. "More and more Israelis are strengthening their Jewish identity, not necessarily becoming more religious but becoming more connected to Jewish identity. We've seen it in academia and the media; now we're witnessing the political expression." The conviction among many Israelis that the Palestinians were unwilling to negotiate an acceptable peace settlement bolstered a belief that "we have to be strong. And to be strong in Israel means to be rightwing," said Stern.

Netanyahu remains on course to form the next coalition government and continue as prime minister, however. The rightwing bloc, including the small ultra-Orthodox parties, is expected to win 63-68 seats, giving it a majority, according to Smith. But if Jewish Home's success holds up, Bennett could find himself with powerful leverage in post-election horse trading and in contention to become a minister. However, Smith predicts the party could fall back in the polls over the next two weeks. "Bennett may have peaked too early. He will probably go down by a few seats unless Likud-Beiteinu continues with its misguided campaign against him. But he should still get 11-12 seats. Netanyahu knows he will still be prime minister, but may not succeed in his goal, which was to entrench and extend his power."

With just over two weeks to go before the election, 15-20% of voters are still undecided, said Smith.

Binyamin Netanyahu: strong man with a fearful heart

The Israeli prime minister talks tough on Iran and peace, but with an election looming, questions about who he is and whether he can be trusted are being asked

Peter Beaumont   
The Observer, Saturday 5 January 2013 19.11 GMT

On Friday, Yuval Diskin, chief of Israel's Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency until 2011, gave public voice to his concerns about the character of Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, who is expected to be comfortably re-elected in general elections on 22 January. "At play inside Netanyahu," Diskin complained, and not for the first time, "is a mix of ideology, a deep sense that he is a prince of a 'royal family' from the Jerusalem elite, alongside insecurity and a deep fear of taking responsibility." Netanyahu, he added pointedly, "has no strong core, no tough kernel about which you can say, 'Know what? In an extreme situation, in a crisis situation, I can follow him. I can trust him.'"

Diskin is not alone in being suspicious of what drives Bibi, as he is known. For despite his continuing popularity among large sections of Israel's electorate, Netanyahu, aged 63, remains someone whose real beliefs and motivations are somewhat opaque and whose authenticity – or otherwise – has long been debated.

He has been accused of being "manipulative", of "bending the rules" and of possessing a "self-belief" so strong that he struggles to comprehend how others could hold contradictory opinions. And how Netanyahu is viewed outside Israel and by Israelis is very different. If his reputation abroad is coloured by his desire to use force to dismantle the Iranian nuclear programme, by the tragedy of the recent conflict in Gaza, and the recent surge in settlement approvals, all occurring at a time when civil liberties in Israel itself have come under attack, his countrymen view him through an alternative prism.

Avishai Margalit, a philosophy professor and close friend of Netanyahu's war-hero brother, Yoni – killed in the raid on Entebbe to rescue 100 Israeli hostages in 1976 – has pondered this issue. "There has long been a question about Netanyahu, what is fake and what is real?

"I separate people into three categories," explained Margalit last week, before Diskin's intervention but, like the former intelligence chief, preoccupied with Bibi's "kernel". "There are people who are like onions with no core at all. Then there are people like avocados which are largely soft but with a core. Finally, there are olives which are harder and largely all core. Netanyahu is more of an avocado. Soft and a bit frightened."

If that is a surprising judgment on a man often criticised for his abrasive self-confidence who, reportedly, would like to bomb Iran, it is only one paradox in an often contradictory political psychology. For as Margalit admits, Netanyahu, who he has described as a "mythomaniac" prone to a sense of his own "grandeur", cleaves to extremely strongly held beliefs on issues that matter most to him.

The most significant figure in his political education, Margalit believes, was Netanyahu's father, Benzion, the Israeli historian and Greater Israel Zionist, who died last year never relinquishing the notion that the majority of Arabs – even Israeli Arabs – posed an existential threat to Israel. For the son, the notion of an Israel in perpetual danger is articulated in a twin set of convictions that no one doubts he holds: that Iran is an existential threat as serious to the Jewish people as Nazi Germany, and that Europe, in particular, fails to understand the threat facing it, too.

All that is packaged in a curious brand of conservatism. For while Bibi has been described as being a US neoconservative in the model of Dick Cheney on economic policy and on the unquestionable primacy of certain kinds of western political and cultural models, in other respects he is a small "c" conservative of a far older kind, anxious to avoid change and its risks.

This issue was taken up by Haaretz's editor-in-chief, Aluf Benn, writing a few days ago. "Netanyahu abhors risk and likes to present himself as a conservative. His campaign slogan – 'A strong prime minister' – is addressed to people who are happy with the situation and see no need for change."

Set against that, however, as Benn noted, is another appeal: to militarism. "Militarism," Benn added, "is what sets the centre apart from the left and the Arabs opposed to war, and that's the most important message of this election campaign."

As Benn points out, on his Facebook page Netanyahu has pictures of military jets, soldiers and of himself with Israel Defence Forces commanders. The tasks he has set himself on re-election are halting Iran's "nuclear programme" and building Israel's military while cutting government spending.

The question of the nature of Netanyahu's conservatism has been complicated by Israel's right-shifting political scene. Netanyahu's Likud party had something akin to its own Tea Party moment last autumn as Netanyahu faced a challenge from the right from his former chief of staff, Naftali Bennettcorrect, who has set up his own party. That, says Margalit, resulted in a Mitt Romneyesque moment in which the Israeli prime minister tacked hard to the right, not least over recent announcements regarding new settlement-building around Jerusalem. , that has left him struggling Netanyahu has since struggled to tack back – one of a number of strategic misclaculations during the campaign.

On the advice of his long-term US Republican campaign adviser, Arthur Finkelstein, who masterminded his first election in 1996, Netanyahu also bet heavily on the coalition he formed for the election with his ultra-nationalist former foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who was then forced to stand down weeks before the election after being indicted on charges of misconduct in public office. The consequence of that, and of the surprise emergence of Bennett, is that the 45-odd seats Finkelstein promised Netanyahu he would win in the merger have shrunk in polling to 33. All this barely months after Netanyahu prosecuted a conflict with Gaza many believed had strengthened his hand.

Perhaps the answer is that the exigencies of Israel's politics have shaped Netanyahu as much as he has shaped the country's move to the right. Educated partly in the US, where he has lived at various times, Netanyahu did his military service in the elite Sayeret Matkal, the same unit his brother would be commanding at the time of his death in 1976. Returning from a job as a management consultant in Boston, his first job in Israel was heading an anti-terrorism institute set up in his brother's name. His rise within LikudParty, which he joined in 1988, was rapid: he was elected prime minister, the youngest in Israel's history, for the first time in 1996 following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin a year before.

Although Netanyahu's first term in office would last only three years, coming to an end amid police allegations – never brought to court – of corruption and influence trading, the positions he took then have remained constant.

A vocal critic of the Oslo peace process, he opposed both any move to yield Arab districts of Jerusalem to a future Palestinian capital as well as a staged implementation of the peace process. Efraim Karsh, a revisionist Zionist historian who shares some of Netanyahu's concerns, explains his political rehabilitation as the result of a convergence with a decade-long disillusionment among Israeli voters with the peace process following the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000.

While he believes Netanyahu has not been given enough credit for bringing Likud to accept the two-state solution, – which Netanyahu endorsed in 2009 and recently recommitted himself to – he argues Bibi stands where the majority of Israelis do on the peace process.

"While most Israelis want a two-state solution, they recognise [as Netanyahu has argued] there is no Palestinian partner for peace and that he has no choice." On the domestic front, he has led one of the longest lasting and most stable coalitions in recent memory and steered economic growth in a period largely free from attacks launched from the West Bank. While Israelis might fret that they may be losing the argument internationally, it is a trade-off that, for now at least, they are prepared to accept.

It is an argument also made by psychologist Carlo Strenger, who has written a psychological profile of Israel. A liberal in favour of the two-state solution, while concerned about the health of Israeli democracy, he believes Netanyahu's popularity is the symptom of a growing "cognitive dissonance" in an electorate attached strongly to the notion they live in a democratic state yet prepared, as Strenger has argued, to "curtail democracy when it comes to Arabs and leftwing criticism of Israel".

"It is confusing," he told the Observer. "Even recent polls show the continuing trend. Two-thirds of Israelis support a two-state solution including the division of Jerusalem. But I think most Israelis are completely disillusioned with and allergic to the issue of the peace process. They don't want to hear about it. Part of that is because the left in Israel has not been able to answer a question – and that is how a Palestinian state on the West Bank based on the 1967 borders would be different to Gaza.

"Israelis say, – for heaven's sake! – we can't take that risk, so it is better to be in a holding pattern. They don't see Netanyahu as a raving ideological right winger but as a shrewd manager of a conflict." Strenger is certain: Netanyahu's small "c" conservatism and aversion to risk-taking would not apply to Iran if he had US support or sufficient military resources. "If he had the firepower and five carrier groups he'd finish Iran tomorrow. He is a small 'c' conservative out of necessity only."

The Netanyahu file

Born in 1949 in Tel Aviv to professor Benzion Netanyahu and his wife, Zila. He was educated in Israel and at Harvard and MIT. He served in the elite Sayeret Matkal, on active service in the IDF including during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. He entered Israeli politics in 1988 after a spell as Israeli ambassador to the UN, first becoming prime minister in 1996.

Best of times Despite retreating from Israeli politics under a cloud after his first period as prime minister, in 1999, his second period in office has marked one of the longest and most stable coalitions in recent Israeli political history.

Worst of times Netanyahu's political career was almost halted when police in 1997 recommended he should be charged for corruption and influence-peddling – a case that never came to trial, finally being dropped in 2009 for lack of evidence.

He says "No one yet knows what awaits the Jews in the 21st century, but we must make every effort to ensure that it is better than what befell them in the 20th, the century of the Holocaust."

They say "Not only has he made the Iranian issue the be-all and end-all, he's the one who created the warped connection between Iran and the Holocaust, between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Adolf Hitler. All these are clear manifestations of the messianic way the prime minister sees the problem, from both the Iranian and Israeli sides." Historian Avner Cohen


Israel's shift to the right will alienate those it needs most

Ahead of the Israeli elections, ultra-ultra-nationalists are surging in the polls. But diaspora Jews might recoil from their views

Jonathan Freedland   
The Guardian, Friday 4 January 2013 19.44 GMT   

In a week when the dead number 60,000 in Syria – a figure considered an underestimate by the UN body that produced it – it can seem like displacement activity to speak of any other topic in the region. It is Syria, surely, that matters most, a slaughter whose scale shames a world that does so little to stop it.

And yet there are other conflicts in the Middle East that cannot be ignored. Not one of the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973 or 1982 left a death toll of even half the current Syrian number, but Israel-Palestine still matters – to Israelis and Palestinians most of all, but also to the many millions around the world who feel bound up in their fate.

For now the focus is on the Israeli elections of 22 January. The polls suggest that a government ranked as one of the most rightwing in Israel's history is set to be replaced by one even further to the right. Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud – now merged with the party headed by his ultra-nationalist former foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman – is losing ground to the ultra-ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party. Even the more modest projections suggest Jewish Home will emerge as the third-largest party, one that Netanyahu will find very hard to exclude from his next coalition.

And what kind of outfit is Jewish Home? Take a look at its leader, Naftali Bennett, born of American parents and a champion of the West Bank settlers. He demands immediate annexation by Israel of 60% of the West Bank. In a 2010 TV debate he dismissed a Palestinian member of the Knesset in these terms: "When you were still climbing trees, we had a Jewish state here… We were here long before you."

Even if Bennett is kept out of coalition, Netanyahu will still head a more rightist government. The Likud's few remaining moderates were purged in recent internal elections, replaced by hardliners such as Moshe Feiglin. Here's what he told a reporter from the New Yorker: "You can't teach a monkey to speak and you can't teach an Arab to be democratic. You're dealing with a culture of thieves and robbers … The Arab destroys everything he touches." Not for nothing was Feiglin banned from entry to the UK in 2008.

Yet far from being ostracised, such overt racists are set to gain new seats at Israel's ruling table. The centre of gravity is about to shift so far rightward that Netanyahu and even Lieberman will look moderate by comparison. Why is this happening? The conventional explanation for recent rightwing electoral success has been a loss of faith by the Israeli public in the peace platform that once defined the left. The failure of the Camp David talks of 2000 and the response to the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from Gaza – a steady stream of Hamas rockets aimed at Israeli towns – discredited the very idea of land for peace. "We give them land, they give us war," was the bitter Israeli joke and the public resolved long ago that it won't be fooled again.

But that explanation does not fully account for the current lurch to what was once deemed the lunatic fringe. Instead, the blame can be shared evenly between the Israeli centre-left, Palestinian leaders and the international community. Ever since Yitzhak Rabin was murdered nearly 20 years ago, Israel's centre-left has failed to advance a vision of a modern, democratic country – one that would properly acknowledge and integrate those Palestinians living within the pre-1967 borders and no longer run the lives of those Palestinians living outside them, in the occupied territories. The Israeli Labour party typifies the problem, currently led by someone who prefers not to discuss the Palestinian question at all, focusing on "domestic issues." The centre-left created a vacuum and the nationalist right filled it.

As for the Palestinians, Daniel Levy, director for Middle East and North Africa at the European Council on Foreign Relations, suggests they have failed to play an ANC-style role, one that would "challenge the mainstream Israeli discourse". President Mahmoud Abbas makes threats of diminishing credibility – to dismantle the Palestinian Authority, for example – while Hamas's militancy succeeds only in closing Israeli ranks (even if its military wing has just taken the intriguing step of tweeting in Hebrew). Neither approach makes the Israeli public pause and think again. Meanwhile, the international community, administering only the rarest slap on the wrist, has made the status quo cost-free. Israeli voters can put Bennett or Feiglin into government without fearing any consequence. It's 20 years since the US last imposed any real price on settlement activity, with Bush the elder's threat to withdraw loan guarantees – a threat, incidentally, which prompted the Israeli electorate to eject the Likud and install Rabin as PM.

So we ought to brace ourselves for an ultra-right government, one divided between those pushing for immediate annexation and those who seek a less overt entrenchment of the status quo. The already moribund two-state solution will be all but buried.

But it's a new year and we can't afford to be downcast. There are two shafts of light to be spotted in this gloom. First, Levy welcomes what he believes will be a clarifying kind of polarisation: "The layers of camouflage will now be removed." The right will be exposed, the moderate fig-leaves of the past stripped away. Meanwhile, the centre-left will include a greater number of robust liberals and genuine democrats, the ex-Likudniks of the now-defunct Kadima party having mostly departed. Instead of clustering around an artificial middle ground, Israeli politics will present a clear left-right choice.

Second is the impact of all this on the Jewish diaspora, especially in the US. The American Jewish attachment to Israel is profound, but US Jews also tend to be liberal with a strong sense of social justice. They will find Feiglin and Bennett hard to stomach. The Haaretz blogger who asked, "Will 2013 be the year American Jews secede from Israel?" may have got ahead of himself. Diaspora Jews will not break from Israel, but they will surely recoil from this one, albeit dominant, Israeli political camp. Feiglin's Israel is not the Israel their parents taught them to love.

A shift is already visible, with pro-Israel columnists Tom Friedman and Jeffrey Goldberg both calling on President Obama to go ahead and nominate Chuck Hagel – the former senator unafraid to criticise Israel – as defence secretary, arguing that it's time Washington told Jerusalem a few home truths.

That Haaretz writer rightly declared that "American support, anchored by US Jewry, is the strategic asset which makes all other strategic assets possible". But that support has chiefly been for the ideal of a democratic, peace-seeking Israel. If Israelis vote for those who display contempt for both peace and democracy, for those set on the path of Israeli self-destruction, they will one day find that essential bedrock of support cracking beneath their feet.
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« Reply #3879 on: Jan 06, 2013, 07:53 AM »

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad delivers rare public speech

Assad pledges to continue fighting 'terrorist' violence in first public appearance since November

Ian Black, Middle East editor, Sunday 6 January 2013 12.48 GMT      

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad delivers speech to supporters at opera house in Damascus on Sunday Link to this video

Bashar al-Assad has pledged to continue fighting "terrorist" violence and urged foreign countries to end support for his enemies while also offering a national dialogue and a constitutional referendum to end Syria's bloody crisis.

The Syrian president used an hour-long speech in Damascus on Sunday to propose what he called a comprehensive plan that included an "expanded government". But there was no sign he was prepared to step down as the first stage of a political transition – a demand of all opposition groups. "I will go one day, but the country remains," he said.

The Syrian leader referred repeatedly to plots against his country and the role of al-Qaida, long portrayed as the leading element in what began as a popular uprising in March 2011. Syria was not facing a revolution but a "gang of criminals", he said.

"We are now in a state of war in every sense of the word," the president told supporters. "This war targets Syria using a handful of Syrians and many foreigners. Thus, this is a war to defend the nation."

It was hard to see how his latest speech offered even a glimmer of hope for a way out of the bloody impasse between the regime and rebels in a conflict which the UN said last week had claimed 60,000 lives over 21 months.

The opposition Syrian National Coalition said the closely watched address marked an end to the diplomatic effort being led by the UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi. "It was a waste of time. He said nothing constructive," a spokesman, Louay Safi, told al-Jazeera TV. "It was empty rhetoric." Walid al-Bunni, a veteran activist, said: "The genuine opposition inside and outside Syria won't accept the initiative."

Assad's speech was "beyond hypocritical", Britain's foreign secretary, William Hague, commented on Twitter. "Deaths, violence and oppression engulfing Syria are his own making, empty promises of reform fool no one."

Assad's last public comments were in November, when he told Russian TV he would "live and die in Syria". His last speech was in June 2012.

Sunday's speech from the stage of the Damascus opera house in the heart of the capital was punctuated by thunderous applause and loyalist chants from what was certainly a carefully selected audience. The city was described as being under a security lockdown before the event.

Reconciliation could take place only with those "who have not betrayed Syria", Assad declared, repeating that there was no partner for peace. There could not be simply a political solution, he insisted, but there had to be an end to violence and terror. There was loud cheering when he praised the bravery of the armed forces.

Assad said a national dialogue would draw up a new charter. This would be put to a national referendum that would be followed in turn by parliamentary elections and a general amnesty.

Opposition comment on social media was predictably scathing. The speech prompted one anti-Assad figure to tweet: "There is a saying in Arabic that goes along the lines of: 'He killed the man then walked in his funeral.'"

Assad also thanked Russia, China and Iran for supporting Syria in the face of hostility from the US, Britain and France.


Saudi and Egyptian leaders call for peaceful solution in Syria

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, January 5, 2013 16:30 EST

Saudi Arabia and Egypt on Saturday called for a peaceful solution to the conflict roiling Syria, but said the terms of a settlement to end the bloodshed there must be defined by the Syrian people.

“A peaceful solution in Syria is necessary and it is desired by Arab countries and the international community,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said at a joint news conference with his Egyptian counterpart Mohammed Kamel Amr.

“But the way out of the crisis and the conditions for a solution are the responsibility of the Syrian people.”

Amr expressed similar views.

“If a peaceful solution can stop the bloodshed it will be desirable, but ultimately it is the Syrian people who will decide how to solve their problems,” he said.

Saudi Arabia and Egypt, two Arab heavyweights, have repeatedly called for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad amid the raging violence gripping the country.

According to the United Nations the 21-month conflict has so far left more than 60,000 people dead.

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« Reply #3880 on: Jan 06, 2013, 07:57 AM »

January 5, 2013

Baath Leader Urges Sunnis to Protest Iraqi Premier


ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) — The most senior member of Saddam Hussein’s entourage who has not been captured has encouraged antigovernment Sunni Muslim protesters to stand their ground until Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is forced out.

The former official, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, is the leader of the Baath Party, which was banned after the United States-led invasion in 2003 that overthrew Mr. Hussein, a Sunni, and gave the majority Shiite Muslims a prominent role in the new government.

Over the past two weeks, tens of thousands of Sunnis, some waving Hussein-era flags, have staged demonstrations in a show of anger against Mr. Maliki, a Shiite whom they have accused of monopolizing power and marginalizing Sunnis.

“The people of Iraq and all its nationalist and Islamic forces support you until the realization of your just demands for the fall of the Safavid-Persian alliance,” said Mr. Douri, addressing the protesters in video broadcast on Al Arabiya television.

Safavid is a reference to the dynasty that ruled Shiite Iran, which was once known as Persia, from the 16th to 18th centuries and that at times controlled parts of modern-day Iraq.

Since Mr. Maliki came to office in 2006, Iraq has edged closer to Iran, which wields strong influence over several Iraqi Shiite parties.

The authenticity of the video could not be verified. Mr. Douri said he was speaking from Babil Province in Iraq.

After the 2003 invasion, Mr. Douri was ranked sixth on the United States military’s list of 55 most-wanted Iraqis, and a $10 million reward was offered for his capture.

He was the deputy leader of Iraq’s Revolutionary Command Council under Mr. Hussein and took over the Baath leadership after Mr. Hussein was executed in 2006. He has seldom been seen since 2003. In a statement in 2009, he called on Sunni insurgent groups to move into politics.
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« Reply #3881 on: Jan 06, 2013, 07:58 AM »

January 5, 2013

Leaders Plan Buffer Zone at Sudan Border


KHARTOUM, Sudan — The presidents of Sudan and South Sudan agreed on Saturday to set up a demilitarized zone along their disputed border, said an African Union mediator and Sudan’s state news agency.

Presidents Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan and Salva Kiir of South Sudan agreed in September to withdraw their armies from the border area between their countries. But neither side has done so. Instead, each accuses the other of supporting rebels in and near the border region. Tensions have boiled, and war nearly erupted in April.

On Saturday, at a meeting arranged by the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the two leaders agreed to carry out the terms of the September accord on issues related to borders, security and oil, according to the official Sudanese news agency, SUNA, and the African Union mediator, former President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa.

Mr. Mbeki said that Mr. Bashir and Mr. Kiir had agreed to “create the safe demilitarized border zone” and carry out “the existing agreements unconditionally,” according to Reuters.

The establishment of the roughly six-mile-wide buffer zone is seen as crucial to resuming the mutually needed flow of oil in South Sudan, which shut down production last year after a dispute with Sudan, which controls the pipelines, over transit fees.

Sayed el-Khatib, a member of Sudan’s delegation, emphasized that Saturday’s meeting would speed up the activation of previous agreements, SUNA reported.

SUNA also reported that Mr. Kiir said he had delinked his party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, from a wing of rebels operating in Sudan along the border. Sudan has accused South Sudan of supporting the northern group’s armed branch, which South Sudan has denied.

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011, but questions related to the sharing of oil wealth, the demarcation of borders and the disputed district of Abyei were left unresolved. On Saturday, the two sides reaffirmed plans to set up a joint committee to oversee Abyei and the establishment of a legislative council and police force there.
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« Reply #3882 on: Jan 06, 2013, 08:02 AM »

January 5, 2013

As Putin’s Grip Gets Tighter, a Time of Protest Fades in Russia


MOSCOW — As the final days of 2012 slipped away, no one at Denis Terekhov’s company was talking about the next antigovernment protest.

Compared with the same time last year — when Mr. Terekhov delivered an impromptu lecture on avoiding police detention — Moscow feels like Moscow again. Profits at this marketing firm have tripled, the corporate holiday party featured cocktails in an unnatural shade of blue, and his “office plankton,” as the city’s legion of desk workers are sometimes known, scattered to vacations as far as Bali and Paris.

Mr. Terekhov, who watched his employees as last year’s protests surged and ebbed, says it is now clear that they took part because it was fashionable, nothing more. They felt strongly about the anti-Putin rallies, he said, but “they also feel strong emotions about their iPhones.”

Still, judging from this group, it would be wrong to say nothing changed in the year that Vladimir V. Putin returned to the presidency. The fizzy excitement around last year’s street activism is entirely gone. But in its place is a deepening sense of alienation that poses its own long-term risk to the system.

Discussion of political activism in this office, an Internet marketing and communications firm called Social Networks Agency, is now coated with a rime of disappointment, as if a rare opportunity had been allowed to slip away. During the trial of the punk rock band Pussy Riot this past summer, Mr. Terekhov set aside one office as a screening room, where employees could watch a live stream of testimony with, as he put it, “laughter through tears.”

A space has been left by Pasha Elizarov, a project manager and opposition activist, who resigned and left Russia after investigators summoned him in connection with an inquiry into inciting a riot. He sent in his holiday greetings from Tanzania.

Their story is the story of a political season. Mr. Putin reclaimed the presidency last year in the face of unprecedented public opposition from people like these, young urban trendsetters who stepped in from the sidelines of politics to tell him his return was not welcome. The Kremlin acted to stop the protests; new laws prescribe draconian punishments for acts of dissent, and the courts have imprisoned a small number of activists. Mr. Putin and those around him have embraced a new, sharply conservative rhetoric, dismissing the urban protesters as traitors and blasphemers, enemies of Russia.

Last year’s protesters, who held out hope that Dmitri A. Medvedev would advance their agenda, are acutely aware that they are seen as outsiders. Irina Lukyanovich, 24, a copy editor who recently left the firm, said her peers were watching Russia’s leaders more closely now, and judging them more severely.

“It’s as if they are people from another planet,” Ms. Lukyanovich said. “It seems to me that in a year, the distance between them and us has gotten much greater.”

Yulia Fotchenko, an account director, sighed heavily when reminded of the elation she felt a year ago, when she stepped into the first large rally and her “consciousness was turned upside down.”

How does she feel now? Insulted, disappointed. As if nothing in Russia will change. She blames the protest leaders, who she said proved so unable to capitalize on the moment that the crowds will never trust them again. As for the sudden sense of community she felt, it proved fleeting.

“Suddenly we — a huge number of Internet hamsters — we decided that we had had enough, we got together and we went out,” Ms. Fotchenko said, using a slang term for Moscow’s digitally connected youth. “And then, whoops! We turned back into Internet hamsters, the leaders and all the rest of us. Because nothing happened.

“And now I feel despair which is even stronger, deeper, worse than it was before we began these actions,” she said.

Mr. Terekhov, 33, had been skeptical of the protests from the beginning, in part because he was left discouraged by his own brief career in opposition politics. A year ago, he made a point of warning his employees that by protesting they were facing serious risks, like riot police officers with truncheons. They needed to realize, he said, that “revolution is not a game.”

The risks went beyond truncheons, it turned out. On a Sunday evening in September, Mr. Terekhov received an e-mail from Mr. Elizarov, 27, the single high-profile political activist among his employees. Mr. Elizarov said he was resigning from his position as a project manager and was leaving Russia.

He had been summoned in a political prosecution, one that has been used to cast the protesters as dangerous radicals. So far, 19 people have been charged in the case dating to May 6, when a large anti-Putin march ended in a melee between the police and protesters. The only one to be sentenced, a man who inflicted no serious injury and cooperated with prosecutors, received four and a half years.

Investigators looked for Mr. Elizarov at home, and they then began to visit his relatives, one by one.

In an interview via Skype, Mr. Elizarov said he did not leave for political reasons. He had long dreamed about visiting East Africa, he said. But Mr. Terekhov said Mr. Elizarov’s decision had saved the firm the embarrassment of being associated with a notorious case.

“I would not have fired him, but he knows I have a lot of state contracts, and his status could have really interfered with our business,” Mr. Terekhov said. “The fact that he resigned, I consider it a very decent act from his side.”

Co-workers had a similarly philosophical attitude.

“I had this pure motherly instinct, ‘O.K., he’s safe there,’ ” Ms. Fotchenko said. “Because it’s scary. If you know a person personally, and the system knocks on his door — well, I would not wish this on anyone I know well. So he hid, and that’s fine.”

By the summer, as Mr. Putin tightened his grip, most in the office had concluded that the protests would not spread beyond Moscow’s chattering classes.

Even then, it was impossible to ignore politics; everyone was talking about politics. When testimony began in the trial of the activists from Pussy Riot, Mr. Terekhov served tea as his workers watched prosecutors request seven-year sentences for three women who had lip-synced a crude anti-Putin song at an Orthodox cathedral. The judge ultimately sentenced each to two years (one was released early).

He described the atmosphere in the room as one of “black humor, like sarcasm. Laughter through tears.” He reasoned that the screening was not exactly political; as marketers, they had a professional stake in the trial.

“From the point of view of international PR, if earlier Russia was associated with balalaika-matryoshka-caviar-Gorbachev-perestroika, now of course we have to add Pussy Riot,” Mr. Terekhov said, his distaste apparent. “Balalaikas, bears — they were fun. They were something you could joke about. But this is some sort of marvel from the Middle Ages.”

So this is where they are at the start of 2013: No one expects political change. But steps by the government are still setting off waves of indignation, expressed mainly over social networks.

Mr. Terekhov said the year’s third peak of political chatter, after the winter protests and the Pussy Riot trial, came last month, when the lower house of Parliament voted to ban adoption of Russian children by Americans. The ban was proposed in retaliation for the Magnitsky Act, newly enacted American legislation punishing Russian officials linked to human rights abuses. Mr. Terekhov said he viewed this — and many of the initiatives pushed through the legislature last year — as an improvisation by politicians who are trying to please Mr. Putin.

“I do not think that Putin is some kind of super-brain who is controlling everything,” he said. “It seems to me that some of the stupid things that are being done are being done not because Putin wants to eat children, but because there are a lot of stupid people around him, who took his return as a signal to tighten the screws.”

In truth, he had not expected Mr. Putin to sign the measure into law. With its passage, he said, “the die has been cast, there is no way back.”

As for Ms. Fotchenko, she said her plan was to “sit quietly, trying to separate my own self from politics.” She said she could not imagine taking part in any more protests, ever.

Then she hedged just a little.

“There is a chance the leaders will surprise us again and will succeed in waking me up,” she said. “Deep in my heart, I hope it may happen. If not — well, we will live the way we live now.”

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« Reply #3883 on: Jan 06, 2013, 08:10 AM »

Arson deaths in Chile spark anti-terror measures

President announces new anti-terrorist measures after attack on couple who owned land wanted by indigenous people

Associated Press in Santiago, Friday 4 January 2013 22.59 GMT   

An elderly couple whose family's landholdings in southern Chile have long been targeted by indigenous Mapuche people were killed in an arson attack on Friday. The president, Sebastián Piñera, quickly flew to the scene and announced fresh security measures, including the application of Chile's tough anti-terrorism law and the creation of a special police anti-terror unit backed by Chile's military.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack, which some Mapuche people repudiated as abhorrent. But Chile's interior minister said pamphlets condemning police violence and demanding the return of Mapuche lands were left at the scene. The presidentially appointed governor of the remote southern region of Araucania, Andres Molina, called the attackers "savages".

"This attack affects the entire country and causes gigantic damage, for the pain and the delays that it means for thousands of families who want to live in peace," Piñera said. "This government is united in its effort to combat terrorism that affects the region. We will not hesitate to apply the full weight of the law."

"It should be completely clear," Piñera added, "that this fight is not against the Mapuche people. It's with a minority of violent terrorists who must be fought with everything the law allows."

The regional police chief, Ivan Bezmalinovic, said the fire was started after Werner Luchsinger, 75, fired a weapon in self-defence and struck a man from the nearby Mapuche community of Juan Quintrupil.

Luchsinger's wife Vivian McKay called relatives for help during the attack, but when they arrived just 15 minutes later the house was already in flames and she didn't answer her phone, according to the victim's cousin, Jorge Luchsinger.

The attack began on Thursday night as one of many political protests around Chile commemorating the death five years ago of Mapuche activist Matias Catrileo, who was shot in the back by an officer who served a minor sentence and then rejoined the police. The Indians scattered pamphlets related to the anniversary while on the Luchsinger property, Andres Chadwick, the interior minister, said.

The victims' Lumahue ranch is just 16 miles (25 kilometres) from the spot where Catrileo was killed on 3 January 2008.

Many of Chile's Mapuche activist groups were silent on Friday about the murders, repeating instead their complaints about continuing police violence of the kind that killed Catrileo years ago.

But Venancio Conuepan, who described himself as a law student who comes from a long line of Mapuche leaders, wrote an editorial on Friday condemning the violence, rejecting the idea that armed conflict can win their demands, and calling for the killers to be identified and tried in court. He said the vast majority of the Mapuche people agree with him.

"Enough of people using violence in the name of the Mapuche people. Our grandfathers never covered their faces. The Mapuche created parliaments, and always put dialogue first," wrote Conuepan on Radio BioBio's web site, titling his editorial, "Although you don't believe me, I'm Mapuche and I'm not a terrorist."

The Luchsinger family has been among the most outspoken in defending the property rights of the region's landowners against ancestral land claims by the Mapuche. But Jorge said his cousin had taken a lower profile and refused police protection.

Lorena Fries, the director of Chile's official Human Rights Institute, warned Friday against cracking down using the anti-terror law, which allows for holding suspects in isolation without charges, using secret witnesses and other measures that have been discredited by Chile's courts in previous cases of Mapuche violence. Instead, she said Piñera should reach out to the Indians, and honor their demands for self-governance and the recovery of ancestral land. "Something has to be done so that everyone puts an end to the violence," she said.

The Mapuches' demands for land and autonomy date back centuries. They resisted Spanish and Chilean domination for more than 300 years before they were forced south to Araucania in 1881. Many of the 700,000 Mapuches who survive among Chile's 17 million people still live in Araucania. A small fraction have been rebelling for decades, destroying forestry equipment and torching trees. Governments on the left and right have sent in police while offering programmes that fall far short of their demands.

The Luchsinger family also arrived in Araucania in the late 1800s, from Switzerland, and benefited from the government's colonization policies for decades thereafter, becoming one of the largest landowners in Chile's Patagonia region. Their forestry and ranching companies now occupy vast stretches of southern Chile, and impoverished Mapuches live on the margins of their properties.

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« Reply #3884 on: Jan 06, 2013, 08:12 AM »

January 5, 2013

Decades of German Pacifism Yield to Bigger Military Role


BERLIN — When Chancellor Angela Merkel hosted a recent reception for military families, she greeted parents, wives and children whose loved ones were spending their holidays in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Kosovo and off the Horn of Africa. German deployments overseas, Ms. Merkel said, “will soon encompass the entire globe.”

On that same wintry afternoon, members of Parliament debated whether to add to the nearly 6,000 German troops currently serving abroad by sending up to 400 soldiers to Turkey, where they would operate two Patriot missile batteries to help protect their NATO ally from a potential escalation of the civil war across the border in Syria.

“For decades, we Germans have benefited from the fact that our partners gave us the feeling of reliable security,” Thomas de Maizière, Germany’s defense minister, said during the debate last month. “Now we are in a position and have the duty, even, to make our impact felt.”

Only a handful of shivering protesters passed out fliers in front of the Brandenburg Gate opposing the deployment. The vote easily passed in the Parliament two days later.

It was not that long ago that every German military action brought with it mass demonstrations, public hand-wringing and probing questions about the country’s militarist past. But the shadow of history continues to recede here and Germany is, for better or worse, quietly approaching a normal relationship with its armed forces.

For the past three years, Europe has been preoccupied with economic issues as the debt crisis threatened to sunder the euro currency union. But strategic military questions cannot be ignored indefinitely. The United States is increasingly shifting its focus to the Asia-Pacific region and reducing the number of troops stationed in Europe.

“Europe has more responsibility for its own security, and Germany has to step up to that, particularly considering its new economic power in Europe,” said Constanze Stelzenmüller, senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin.

Conscription was suspended indefinitely here in 2011 as part of a drive to professionalize and modernize the armed forces. In August, the Constitutional Court ruled for the first time that the German military could be deployed at home under exceptional circumstances, like in the wake of a terrorist attack.

“Naturally, a great deal has developed further in terms of the acceptance of deployments outside of this country and outside the NATO territory,” said Col. Ulrich Kirsch, chairman of the German Federal Armed Forces Association, which represents the interests of active and former military personnel. “But the Germans are, now as before, difficult to inspire for military operations.”

Military business is another matter. Germany is the world’s third-biggest arms exporter, behind only the United States and Russia, sending weapons not only to NATO members and allies like Israel but increasingly to the Middle East and beyond. As the business grows, critics at home question sales to undemocratic countries like Saudi Arabia.

Germany’s military industry employs an estimated 80,000 people, jobs Ms. Merkel wants to protect, especially less than a year before September’s parliamentary election. In October, German opposition helped doom the proposed merger of two aerospace giants, British-based BAE Systems and the consortium EADS, in part out of concern that German jobs and influence might be lost in the new entity.

Last month Der Spiegel, the influential newsmagazine, showed a grim-faced Ms. Merkel on the cover in a camouflage suit jacket with the headline “German Weapons for the World.” The magazine described the Merkel doctrine as deploying fewer German troops to conflict zones and instead strengthening partners by selling them arms. The German government approved military exports in excess of 10 billion euros, or over $13 billion, for the first time in 2011, the magazine reported.

That is an especially impressive feat considering that military expenditures in Western and Central Europe fell 1.9 percent in real terms that year, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Those cuts have “prompted unease in many quarters that European countries risk losing global influence as they fall further behind the United States in military capabilities,” the institute said in its most recent annual report on military spending, “while rising powers such as China rapidly catch up and even overtake them.”

Germany’s path forward could well determine the shape of Europe’s military affairs for years to come. Whether that is through a growing leadership role and the assumption of more responsibility for regional security or a limited, some say cynical, emphasis on protecting its own interests still remains to be seen.

“Germany is back in the game as one of the most important countries in the Western Hemisphere, but the kind of responsibility that goes with that is not really reflected in German government behavior,” said Olaf Böhnke, head of the Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “If Germany wants to be in a leadership position, you need stronger military engagement.”

German troops have been in Afghanistan for more than a decade, but mostly restricted to the safer northern part of the country. The Bundeswehr, Germany’s army, sent its first Tiger attack helicopters to Afghanistan in December. On Tuesday the army announced that it had not suffered a single fatality in 2012 in Afghanistan.

“This conflict-averse basic attitude still remains, and one has to deal with it,” said Martin Kahl, a political scientist at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg. “People feel safer than before. There is no enemy on the European continent who could lead a classic conflict.”

After World War II, West German politicians rejected military force for any goal other than self-defense, and a strong pacifist streak developed in the public. The end of the cold war brought the beginning of a long period of halting change. Allies, particularly in the United States, have repeatedly called for Germany to take more responsibility and a larger share of the burden.

“I don’t think it’s healthy for the future of Europe to give Germany this refuge where Germany handles the economy and doesn’t have to deal with the dirty stuff,” Mr. Böhnke said.

The biggest turning point was probably when Germany participated in airstrikes in the Kosovo war in 1999, a break with the taboo against offensive operations.

Even as Germany exports arms around the world, idealism about the use of force by German soldiers remains. In May 2010, Germany’s president, Horst Köhler, gave an interview to German public radio saying that society needed to recognize the sacrifices and contributions of the military. A broader political discussion was necessary, Mr. Köhler said, about the military’s role.

“A country of our size,” Mr. Köhler said, “with its focus on exports and thus reliance on foreign trade, must be aware that military deployments are necessary in an emergency to protect our interests, for example, when it comes to trade routes, for example, when it comes to preventing regional instabilities that could negatively influence our trade, jobs and incomes.”

A public outcry ensued, and Mr. Köhler resigned. But the German Navy was essentially already doing what Mr. Köhler described in his comments, as part of the multinational mission to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia. The government announced plans to suspend conscription just a few months after Mr. Köhler quit.

Parliament made it official in 2011, toppling in the process another of the remaining hurdles between Germany and a normal military.

“The suspension of conscription officially recognized the fact that the German Army had become a professional army,” said Ms. Stelzenmüller from the German Marshall Fund. “These are people who get paid for putting themselves in harm’s way, just like other Western armies.”

Chris Cottrell and Victor Homola contributed reporting.
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