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« Reply #4455 on: Feb 07, 2013, 08:30 AM »


India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
February 7, 2013, 6:41 am

Economic Growth in India to Fall to 5 Percent

By NEHA THIRANI BAGRI

India's gross domestic product is expected to drop significantly to 5 percent for the fiscal year ending in March, according to advance estimates released by India's Central Statistics Office on Thursday, declining from the 6.2 percent growth rate seen in 2011-2012.

The estimate by the Central Statistics Office represents a marked drop from earlier projections. In January, the central bank projected G.D.P. growth of 5.5 percent for the current fiscal year, a decline from an earlier estimate of 5.8 percent.

The provisional estimates are contingent upon the "anticipated level of agricultural and industrial production, analysis of budget estimates of government expenditure and performance of key sectors like, railways, transport other than railways, communication, banking and insurance, available so far," the report said.

According to Thursday's data, national income registered a growth rate of 4.2 percent in the current fiscal year, compared to 6.1 percent in the previous year, and per-capita income grew at a rate of 2.9 percent, compared to 4.7 percent growth last year. Meanwhile, capital investment in the country is expected to drop to 2.48 percent from 4.39 percent in the previous year.

Slow growth may be attributed to the sluggish performance of the manufacturing, agriculture and services sectors. The manufacturing sector is expected to grow by 1.9 percent this year, while India's farm sector is projected to grow at an estimated 1.8 percent.

The services sector saw a decline in its growth rate from previous years, expanding by 6.6 percent, the lowest in over a decade. Other sectors that are expected to have performed relatively poorly include electricity, gas and water supply (4.9 percent growth) and mining and quarrying (0.4 percent growth).

Sectors that have performed relatively well with a growth rate of over 5 percent are construction, the trade, hotels, transport and communication sector, the financing, insurance, real estate and business services sector, and the community, social and personal services sector.

As India prepares for a national election in 2014, slowing economic growth is putting pressure on the current government to push for reform. The projection of 5 percent G.D.P. growth is the lowest figure since 2002-2003, when the G.D.P. grew at 4 percent, after which the Indian economy grew at an average of 6 percent each year.

This year, the government has taken measures to rein in the fiscal deficit to 5.3 percent of G.D.P., has raised the price of fertilizer and diesel, and has allowed further foreign investment in the retail sector by opening up the insurance, pension and aviation sectors for foreign investment. On Jan. 29, India's central bank lowered its benchmark interest rate for the first time in nine months to fuel higher growth.

If India continues on the reform path, analysts believe that strong growth will resume in the coming year.

"The government's advance estimates for real G.D.P. growth at 4.9 percent is disappointing, especially coming on the back of a downward revision in growth for fiscal year 2012 from 6.5 percent to 6.2 percent," said Ms. Bhupali Gursale, an economist at Angel Broking. "On a positive note, though, with the government pushing ahead its reform agenda, the outlook for growth in fiscal year 2014 is likely to improve."


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« Reply #4456 on: Feb 07, 2013, 08:35 AM »


Indian investors are forcing Ethiopians off their land

Thousands of Ethiopians are being relocated or have already fled as their land is sold off to foreign investors without their consent

John Vidal in Delhi
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 7 February 2013 00.07 GMT   

Ethiopia's leasing of 600,000 hectares (1.5m acres) of prime farmland to Indian companies has led to intimidation, repression, detentions, rapes, beatings, environmental destruction, and the imprisonment of journalists and political objectors, according to a new report.

Research by the US-based Oakland Institute suggests many thousands of Ethiopians are in the process of being relocated or have fled to neighbouring countries after their traditional land has been handed to foreign investors without their consent. The situation is likely to deteriorate further as companies start to gear up their operations and the government persues plans to lease as much as 15% of the land in some regions, says Oakland.

In a flurry of new reports about global "landgrabbing" this week, Oxfam said on Thursday that investors were deliberately targeting the weakest-governed countries to buy cheap land. The 23 least-developed countries of the world account for more than half the thousands of recorded deals completed between 2000 and 2011, it said. Deals involving approximately 200m ha of land are believed to have been negotiated, mostly to the advantage of speculators and often to the detriment of communities, in the last few years.

In what is thought to be one of the first "south-south" demonstrations of concern over land deals, this week Ethiopian activists came to Delhi to urge Indian investors and corporations to stop buying land and to actively prevent human rights abuses being committed by the Ethiopian authorities.

"The Indian government and corporations cannot hide behind the Ethiopian government, which is clearly in violation of human rights laws," said Anuradha Mittal, director of the Oakland Institute. "Foreign investors must conduct impact assessments to avoid the adverse impacts of their activities."

Ethiopian activists based in UK and Canada warned Indian investors that their money was at risk. "Foreign investors cannot close their eyes. When people are pushed to the edge they will fight back. No group knows this better than the Indians", said Obang Metho, head of grassroots social justice movement Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE), which claims 130,000 supporters in Ethiopia and elsewhere.

Speaking in Delhi, Metho said: "Working with African dictators who are stealing from the people is risky, unsustainable and wrong. We welcome Indian investment but not [this] daylight robbery. These companies should be accountable under Indian law."

Nyikaw Ochalla, director of the London-based Anywaa Survival Organisation, said: "People are being turned into day labourers doing backbreaking work while living in extreme poverty. The government's plans ... depend on tactics of displacement, increased food insecurity, destitution and destruction of the environment."

Ochall, who said he was in daily direct contact with communities affected by "landgrabbing" across Ethiopia, said that the relocations would only add to hunger and conflict.

"Communities that have survived by fishing and moving to higher ground to grow maize are being relocated and say they are now becoming dependent on government for food aid. They are saying they will never leave and that the government will have to kill them. I call on the Indian authorities and the public to stop this pillage."

Karuturi Global, the Indian farm conglomerate and one of the world's largest rose growers, which has leased 350,000 ha in Gambella province to grow palm oil, cereals maize and biofuel crops for under $1.10 per hectare per year, declined to comment. A spokesman said: "This has nothing to do with us."

Ethiopia has leased an area the size of France to foreign investors since 2008. Of this, 600,000 ha has been handed on 99-year leases to 10 large Indian companies. Many smaller companies are believed to have also taken long leases. Indian companies are said to be investing about $5bn in Ethiopian farmland, but little is expected to benefit Ethiopia directly. According to Oakland, the companies have been handed generous tax breaks and incentives as well as some of the cheapest land in the world.

The Ethiopian government defended its policies. "Ethiopia needs to develop to fight poverty, increase food supplies and improve livelihoods and is doing so in a sustainable way," said a spokeswoman for the government in london. She pointed out that 45% of Ethiopia's 1.14m sq miles of land is arable and only 15% is in use.

The phenomenon of Indian companies "grabbing" land in Africa is an extension of what has happened in the last 30 years in India itself, said Ashish Kothari, author of a new book on the growing reach of Indian businesses.

"In recent years the country has seen a massive transfer of land and natural resources from the rural poor to the wealthy. Around 60m people have been displaced in India by large scale industrial developments. Around 40% of the people affected have been indigenous peoples", he said.

These include dams, mines, tourist developments, ports, steel plants and massive irrigation schemes.

According to Oakland, the Ethiopian "land rush" is part of a global phenomenon that has seen around 200m ha of land leased or sold to foreign investors in the last three years.

The sales in Africa, Latin America and Asia have been led by farm conglomerates, but are backed by western hedge and pension funds, speculators and universities. Many Middle Eastern governments have backed them with loans and guarantees.

Barbara Stocking, the chief executive of Oxfam, which is holding a day of action against landgrabs on Thursday, called on the World Bank to temporarily freeze all land investments in large scale agriculture to ensure its policies did not encourage landgrabs.

"Poor governance allows investors to secure land quickly and cheaply for profit. Investors seem to be cherry-picking countries with weak rules and regulations because they are easy targets. This can spell disaster for communities if these deals result in their homes and livelihoods being grabbed."

Oxfam will be placing huge "Sold" signs on the Sydney harbour bridge, the Lincoln memorial in Washington and the Colosseum in Rome to mark its action day.

********

Ethiopia dam project is devastating the lives of remote indigenous groups

Pastoralists living in the Omo valley are being forcibly relocated, imprisoned and killed due to plans to build a massive dam that will turn the region into a major centre for commercial farming

John Vidal in Delhi
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 7 February 2013 00.10 GMT   

Human rights abuses in Ethiopia's Lower Omo valley are said to be rampant, with tribal leaders imprisoned, dozens of people killed and troops cracking down on dissent ahead of the building of a massive dam, which is forcing the relocation of some of the most remote tribes in Africa.

The valley, a Unesco world heritage site renowned for its isolated cultures and ethnic groups, is home to 200,000 pastoralist farmers including the Kwegu, Bodi, Mutsi and Nyangatom tribes. These groups all depend on the Omo river, which flows through their traditional land on its way to Lake Turkana in Kenya.

But their way of life, which has remained largely unchanged in thousands of years, is now being devastated by the Ethiopian government's plans to turn the Omo valley into a powerhouse of large commercial farming. Malaysian, Indian and other foreign companies have been allocated vast areas of land and water resources to grow palm oils, cereals and other crops.

So far, says US-based Oakland Institute in a new report, 445,000 hectares (1.1m acres) have been earmarked for plantations, which will be irrigated by the $2bn (about £1.3bn) Gibe dam. This is expected to eventually double the energy capacity of Ethiopia, storing water in a large lake that will feed irrigation projects.

More than 2,000 soldiers are said to have been drafted into the area downstream of the dam and most of the Omo valley is now off limits to foreigners. But evidence collected in the last few months by an Oakland researcher, suggests that relocations, killings and repression are now common.

"I was walking peacefully in my field when soldiers began shooting me for no good reason. I was shot with a bullet in my knee. That day 11 people were killed and the soldiers threw four bodies off Dima village bridge. They were eaten by hyenas," one man said.

"Here in Koka, the roads that we the Suri people have built were destroyed by the plantation's trucks. Nothing is done to help us," said another. "They diverted the water to their fields and there is nothing left for us to drink. We have no choice but to go to the mountains. It is dangerous now."

The report is impossible to verify, but it reinforces other accounts of human rights violations in the area.

The government, which denies human rights abuses, claims that 150,000 jobs will be created by the plantations, but the Oakland researcher could find little evidence of people employed.

"In Suri, the government is said to have cleared much of the grass and trees to allow the Malaysian investors to establish their plantations. Water has been diverted leaving the Suri with nothing for their cattle," says the report.

"Entire families had to leave their land. The elderly could often not walk any more, they were suffering so badly. We are threatened by famine, we have less milk, less maize. Without good pastures we are nothing. The military hunts us so we flee into the forest," one tribesman said.

According to Kenyan NGO Friends of Lake Turkana, more than 60 Suri people were killed last May. "Following the violation of their rights, the Suri took arms an engaged the government forces. The government killed 54 Suri in the marketplace in Maji; it is estimated that 65 people died in the massacre. Suri people are being arrested randomly and sentenced to 18, 20 and 25 years in prison for obscure crimes.

According to the report, every bulldozer operated by a Malaysian plantation company is now guarded by several soldiers. This follows the alleged killing of 17 people near the plantation in October 2012.

"Four Suri chiefs were thrown into prison in August. Visits are forbidden," one Suri tribesman told the researcher, who has asked to remain anonymous. "We fear the worst."



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« Reply #4457 on: Feb 07, 2013, 08:40 AM »

February 6, 2013

Putin’s Vision of Olympic Glory Meets a More Earthbound Reality in Sochi

By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
IHT

SOCHI, Russia — Cranes, dump trucks and more than 70,000 construction workers are now toiling 24 hours a day to transform this once sleepy Black Sea resort into its new role as sleek host of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Russian officials have said the games a year from now will be the most expensive ever, costing more than $50 billion. It is a staggering sum that would easily eclipse the record $42 billion spent by China on the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, and reflects the outsize ambitions of President Vladimir V. Putin, who has made the Olympics a pet project.

Dozens of new transit hubs, including hulking rail stations and glittering glass-and-steel airline terminals, are at various stages of completion. Laborers are laying hundreds of miles of roadways, renovating thousands of hotel rooms and building thousands more. Then there are the 13 official sites, split between a coastal complex and a mountain complex. They include a 40,000-seat stadium, two hockey arenas, two skating arenas and an “Ice Cube” for curling, as well as sites for skiing, snowboarding, a biathlon and other outdoor events.

Mr. Putin, who arrived here this week to trumpet the one-year countdown, zipped from place to place on Wednesday for briefings and updates. And though he expressed some concerns about cost overruns in the mountain events, there is no doubt that a certain amount of exorbitance and grandiosity have been part of his plan from the beginning.

“Why did Putin decide to put his personality at stake, his prestige at stake, while bidding for a town having zero Olympic sites?,” Mr. Putin’s personal spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, asked in a long conversation with reporters on Wednesday, in which he defended the spending even as he insisted that the $50 billion figure was overstated. “This kind of huge event is a perfect opportunity to have the whole region developed.”

He called the scope of the project comparable to the “reconstruction of cities and towns after World War II.”

Parts of Sochi look less like a postwar reconstruction zone and more like the target of a sustained assault by rampaging aliens. In some places, cavernous pits open deep into the ground. In others, unfinished elevated train tracks halt in midair. Scaffolding abounds. Some neighborhoods are filled with so much latticed steelwork they make the city of 350,000 look like a child’s outsized Erector Set.

Towering cranes are such a fixture that many have been laced with neon lights, decorating the night sky with streaks of color.

As with any enormous investment, there are risks. Just as Mr. Putin arrived with a government entourage and leaders of the International Olympic Committee, warm weather and a snow drought forced cancellation of world championship skiing and snowboarding events, set to start on Thursday.

Sochi, known as the capital of the Russian Riviera with its palm-lined promenades, beaches and Soviet-era sanitariums, is the first subtropical host of the winter games. That is remotely plausible only because the city sits at the foot of the Caucasus Mountains, the site of most of the outdoor events.

Besides purchasing a large arsenal of snow cannons, organizers plan to warehouse huge amounts of snow well in advance to ensure against any shortage.

Weather, however, is hardly the only wild card.

While Mr. Putin has embraced the role of host to secure Russia’s place on the world stage and add yet another chapter to his legacy, his critics see Russia’s role as inviting international scrutiny on issues like human rights and civil liberties, especially after recent steps by the Kremlin to suppress political dissent and curtail foreign influences.

On Wednesday, in the first major international criticism of Russia’s handling of the Olympics, Human Rights Watch issued a report citing numerous abuses of migrant workers, many from the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, who have been brought in by the thousands.

“Migrant workers said employers subjected them to a range of abuses and exploitation,” the report states, “including: failing to pay full wages; excessively delaying payment of wages, and in some cases failing to pay any wages at all; withholding identity documents, such as passports and work permits; failing to provide employment contracts, or failure to respect terms of a contract; and requiring excessive working hours.”

The report, based on interviews with more than 60 workers, said that in many cases “employer-provided housing was overcrowded and employer-provided meals were inadequate.”

The International Olympics Committee said in a statement that it had raised the issue and that OlympStroi, the umbrella company responsible for official construction in Sochi, had done 1,300 inspections, finding only a small number of violations.

Domestically, complaints have been mounting for months.

Local journalists say they have been barred from reporting anything that hints at criticism of the Olympics. Sergey K. Belov, the former editor of the Chernomorskaya Zdravnitsa newspaper, closed in August 2011 ostensibly for financial reasons, said he believed that tough coverage of the Olympics was also a factor. “For all I know,” Mr. Belov said, “criticizing the Olympics is taboo from top to bottom.”

Environmentalists have cited illegal dumping, destruction of forests and wildlife, and other violations. Dozens of residents say they have been forcibly relocated from their homes without adequate compensation, while thousands of others accepted payments and agreed to move to make way for construction.

While local criticism of the Olympics is hardly unique to Sochi, some complaints have been addressed with classic Russian heavy-handedness. On Wednesday evening, a half-hour before a scheduled news conference about property disputes, organizers of the event were ejected from the hotel conference room they had booked and forced to gather on the street.

The games also pose serious security concerns, largely because of neighboring Abkhazia, a disputed territory that has sought independence from Georgia, and the North Caucasus, a hotbed of Islamist insurgency.

Athletes arriving for trial events have reported large numbers of heavily armed riot police, frequent checkpoints and repeated requests to show credentials not only to gain access to athletic venues but also to exit or enter their living quarters.

“Don’t expect to go anywhere without your credential,” Holly Brooks, an Alaskan who was here as part of the United States cross country ski team, wrote last week in an article for The Anchorage Daily News. “After having to show my accreditation at least 50 times daily, I find myself subconsciously wearing it to do simple things like brushing my teeth — in my own bathroom.”

Of course there has been fierce debate among Russians — and no small amount of outrage — over the cost of the games.

After Dmitri Kozak, the deputy prime minister in charge of the Sochi planning, announced that total costs were projected to exceed $50 billion, a blogger, Egor Bychkov, offered an alternative list of things the Russian government could buy to promote sports in the country. It included a new 25-meter-long swimming pool in each of Russia’s 1,100 cities; an “ice palace,” for skating in every city; and a 10,000-seat sports arena with artificial turf.

“Instead,” he wrote, “we are going to witness an expensive fireworks show that has nothing to do with the development of sports in the country.”

Mr. Putin and other supporters of the games have made clear that they view the pride and prestige of hosting the Olympics to be priceless. It is Russia’s first Winter Olympics and its first Olympics since the summer games of 1980 in Moscow, when the United States led a boycott to protest the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.

Mr. Peskov, the president’s spokesman, said Russia was prepared for efforts to politicize the 2014 games — perhaps even, he suggested, by Americans who still harbor cold war stereotypes. But he said Russia, and Mr. Putin, were intent on using the games to showcase its true self. “Like all countries in the world — a country open to everyone, a country trying to attract tourists, trying to attract investments.”

Nikolay Khalip contributed reporting.


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« Reply #4458 on: Feb 07, 2013, 08:43 AM »

Russian divers fail to find Loch Ness monster during record dive

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, February 6, 2013 12:43 EST

Russian explorers claimed a record Wednesday in diving to the bottom of a remote lake at the coldest time of the year but said they could not find its most famed inhabitant, a mythical Loch Ness-style monster.

The team dived to the bottom of the remote Labynkyr lake in the Yakutia region of Siberia in the middle of winter, with the outside temperature minus 45 degrees Celsius (minus 49 Fahrenheit), local authorities said in a statement.

The lake is in the region of the Oimyakon village in Yakutia, which is the coldest inhabited place on earth and where temperatures have been known to exceed minus 70 C.

“A world record has been established. For the first time in history, a human being has carried out a dive in the toughest place on earth at the coldest time of the year,” the local Yakutia authorities said in a statement.

They said that the team had gathered unique material about climactic systems in the permafrost region.

The remote lake is shrouded in mystery largely because of reports from a Soviet-era expedition which claimed to have seen a mysterious animal that some believed to be a relic of the dinosaur era.

The episode gave rise to the lake’s nickname as the “Russian Loch Ness” after the Scottish loch which is also home to a mythical and so far unconfirmed beast.

The team “did not meet a monster at the bottom of the lake,” the Russian Geographical Society said, adding that it was trying to register the achievement in the Guinness Book of Records.

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« Reply #4459 on: Feb 07, 2013, 08:45 AM »

Earth-like planets may be closer than thought: study

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, February 6, 2013 18:49 EST

Scientists looking for habitable planets may not have to stray far from our galactic neighborhood, said a new study Wednesday, which calculated an Earth-size planet could be orbiting a red dwarf as near as 13 light years away.

“We thought we would have to search vast distances to find an Earth-like planet. Now we realize another Earth is probably in our own backyard, waiting to be spotted,” said Harvard astronomer and lead author Courtney Dressing.

The researchers based their calculations on planets already discovered by the US super-telescope Kepler, focusing on the question of which “red dwarf” stars could have potentially habitable Earth-size planets in their orbits.

Red dwarfs are smaller, cooler and fainter than our solar system’s sun — and they are also the most commonly found stars in our galaxy, making up about three of every four stars in the Milky Way.

Kepler casts its gaze on around 158,000 stars and, based on the analysis by Dressing and her team, the telescope has identified 95 planetary candidates orbiting red dwarf stars.

But most of those planets weren’t quite the right size or temperature to support life, so the researchers narrowed the candidates to just three that were both warm and approximately Earth-sized.

Projecting outward based on the estimated 75 billion red dwarf stars in our galaxy, they arrived at the prediction that around six percent of red dwarfs should have an Earth-like planet, and the nearest one could be just 13 light years away.

“We now know the rate of occurrence of habitable planets around the most common stars in our galaxy,” said co-author David Charbonneau.

“That rate implies that it will be significantly easier to search for life beyond the solar system than we previously thought.”

A light year is equivalent to around 5.8 trillion miles (9.46 trillion kilometers), or the distance light can travel in a year.

So 13 light years away is hardly a quick jaunt.

But it’s a whole lot closer than the 300-600 light years between us and the planet candidates Kepler has spotted to date in the so-called “habitable zone” where liquid water is capable of existing and thus supporting life.

The characteristics of red dwarfs make it relatively easy to spot planets orbiting them from far away — a process that relies on identifying dim spots created when the planet passes in front of its star.

But the researchers said scientists may have to dedicate a small space-based telescope, or a large network of ground-based ones, to looking for a nearby planet, since the larger space telescopes are aimed at further stars.

Dressing also cautioned that an Earth-like planet orbiting a red dwarf would look quite different from the green-and-blue one we call home, but said the differences didn’t rule out the existance of life.

“You don’t need an Earth clone to have life,” Dressing said.


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« Reply #4460 on: Feb 07, 2013, 08:48 AM »

February 6, 2013

Scientists Find Life in the Cold and Dark Under Antarctic Ice

By JAMES GORMAN
IHT

For the first time, scientists report, they have found bacteria living in the cold and dark deep under the Antarctic ice, a discovery that might advance knowledge of how life could survive on other planets or moons and that offers the first glimpse of a vast ecosystem of microscopic life in underground lakes in Antarctica.

A network of hundreds of lakes lies sandwiched between the continent’s land and the ice that covers it, and scientists had thought that it could harbor life. The discovery is the first confirmation.

“It transforms the way we view the Antarctic continent,” said John C. Priscu of Montana State University, a leader of the scientific expedition.

After drilling through a half-mile of ice into the 23-square-mile, 5-foot-deep Lake Whillans, the expedition scientists recovered water and sediment samples that showed clear signs of life, Dr. Priscu said, speaking from McMurdo Station in Antarctica on Tuesday. They saw cells under a microscope, and chemical tests showed that the cells were alive and metabolizing energy.

Dr. Priscu said that every precaution had been taken to prevent contamination of the lake with bacteria from the surface or the overlying ice. In addition, he said, the concentrations of life were higher in the lake than in the borehole, and there were signs of life in the lake bottom’s sediment, which would be sealed off from contamination.

Much more study, including DNA analysis, is needed to determine what kinds of bacteria have been found and how they live, Dr. Priscu said. There is no sunlight, so the bacteria must depend on organic material that has drifted into the lake from other sources — for instance, decaying microbes from melting glaciers — or on minerals in the rock of the Antarctic continent.

Chris McKay, a NASA senior scientist, said in an e-mail that such analysis could determine if the bacteria in Lake Whillans have implications for the possible discovery of extraterrestrial life. “If it was using a local energy source, it would be interesting,” he said. “If it’s just consuming organics carried in from elsewhere, it is of much less interest.” The reason, he said, is that elsewhere in the solar system where there is good evidence of liquid water under thick ice sheets, life would have to depend on minerals alone. “There is not going to be oxygen on other worlds,” Mr. McKay said.

Slawek Tulaczyk of the University of California, Santa Cruz, another leader of the science expedition, said that samples were drawn from as deep as four feet in the sediment, and that oxygen decreased with the depth of the sample.

The scientific project, called Wissard, for Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling, was years in the planning and is one of three efforts to investigate the lakes that lie under the Antarctic ice.

A year ago, a Russian expedition penetrated the surface of Lake Vostok, under two miles of ice. They found hints of life on samples from the drill bit, but contamination from the kerosene drilling fluid was a possibility. This year they recovered samples of frozen lake water that are yet to be analyzed.

A British effort to reach Lake Ellsworth, under a mile of ice, was called off in December because of equipment problems.

The American effort, supported by $10 million from the National Science Foundation and other grants, focused on Lake Whillans, which is quite different from the other two lakes. It lies under a half-mile of ice, less than the others, and its water is replenished in about a decade, scientists believe, with meltwater from overlying ice. Lake Vostok is much more sealed off from the surface and is thought to take 10,000 years for its waters to renew. Lake Ellsworth may turn over in about 700 years.

Although Lake Whillans may be more reachable than the other two, doing anything in Antarctica is enormously difficult. It took a tractor convoy 12 days to take the drill and other equipment more than 500 miles over the Ross Ice Shelf to the drilling site from the American research station at McMurdo.

The scientists had four days to collect samples and obtain images of the lake. Several lines of evidence convinced them that they had found microbial life in the lake. First, they saw cells under the microscope and confirmed that DNA was present.

Then they measured evidence of an enzyme that is important in metabolism and a chemical called ATP, for adenosine triphosphate. Molecules of ATP are essentially packets of energy, and their presence was a further indication that the bacteria were living. Further, they found that concentrations of ATP were higher in the lake water than in the water in the borehole, which, Dr. Priscu said, meant that there was more life in the lake and argued against any contamination.

Much further study will be done before scientific results are published and other scientists can look at all the data. Dr. Priscu said that new tests were being done each day, but that DNA tests would have to wait until the scientists returned to the United States.

“Our stateside DNA sequence work will tell us who they are,” he said of the microbes, “and, together with other experiments, tell us how they make a living.”

But he said he was confident that the researchers had achieved the first glimpse of an ecosystem that had been completely unknown. “It’s the world’s largest wetland,” Dr. Priscu said.


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« Reply #4461 on: Feb 07, 2013, 09:23 AM »

In the USA....

Kerry: I want to work for peace

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, February 6, 2013 18:16 EST

John Kerry was publicly sworn in as secretary of state Wednesday, vowing to work for peace but pledging to do what is needed to stand up to “extremism, terrorism, chaos and evil.”

“I am proud to take on this job because I want to work for peace and because the values and ideals of our nation are really what represents the best of the possibilities of life here on earth,” Kerry told the audience.

But he warned that “while my preference is for peaceful resolution to conflict, my journey has also taught me that when remedies are exhausted, we must be prepared to defend our cause and do what is necessary to stand up to extremism, terrorism, chaos and evil.”

Kerry was first sworn in as secretary of state at a small, private ceremony on Capitol Hill on Friday, less than two hours after Hillary Clinton stepped down from the job.

On Wednesday, Vice President Joe Biden administered the oath of office to Kerry, his long-time friend from the days when they were both in the US Senate, at a ceremony attended by former secretary of state Madeleine Albright.

Other senators, including John McCain, were among the audience, listening as Biden praised Kerry’s integrity and his credentials to be America’s top diplomat.

Biden said he regretted only that Kerry had not been sworn in as president in 2004, after he lost to George W. Bush in the elections.

“How different the world might be today had that occurred?” Biden mused, adding 10 or 12 years ago, he might have been the one being sworn in as secretary of state.

But shaking himself from his reverie, he exclaimed: “It’s John Kerry’s time again.”

Kerry’s speech was short on any specific foreign policy priorities, although he dismissed critics who maintain America should turn inward as it deals with its own domestic and economic problems.

“This is not a time for America to retreat. This is a time for us to continue to lead,” Kerry said.

The world was facing “unparalleled technology, unprecedented growth in the number of young people,” as well as “unleashed sectarian strife and religious extremism,” he warned.

“Unless we stay vigilant, these forces threaten to unravel whole nation states and create greater pockets of instability than we have seen in recent times. This is our challenge.”

He urged the United States “to join with other nations, to pool our resources, our talents, our thinking, and to create order where there is none and to fix, or try to fix, what is broken.”

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Bernie Sanders Exposes the Dirty Secret that a Few Wealthy People Control Congress

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Feb. 5th, 2013

Bernie Sanders has spilled the beans on Congress. Sen. Sanders said, “The Congress of the United States of America is controlled by a handful of extraordinarily wealthy people and corporations.”

Transcript:

    Tavis: To your point about Citizens United, one of the ways that we might push back on this money being the mother’s milk of all of our politics notion, one of the way to push back on that would be some real, some serious, campaign finance reform.

    There was hope back in the day that the president might eventually get around to that, but both he and Romney, you know, just played by the rules the last time around. So the politics get flooded with $6 billion, $8 billion dollars of money into these various pots. So it raises this question. What evidence do you because I don’t see any as yet?

    What evidence do you see that this president this time around is serious? I’ve not heard him in any interviews say anything about campaign finance reform as one of his priorities. How do we get to that if this president, with all the money he raised, won’t ever put campaign finance reform on the table?

    Sanders: Well, Tavis, you’re raising exactly the right questions and the answers are difficult. To my mind, the only way we move this country, number one, in overturning Citizens United, number two, moving the public funding of elections, is through a very, very strong grassroots movement that gives the president an offer and members of Congress an offer they can’t refuse. People have got to understand that the issue in Congress is not what the media talks about on why can’t Democrats and Republicans get along.

    That is not the issue. The issue is that, to a very significant degree, the Congress of the United States of America is controlled by a handful of extraordinarily wealthy people and corporations, Wall Street being at the top of that list. And unless we address that issue, I fear very much for the middle class. I fear very much for our kids, for low income people and for seniors.

    Give you just one example, one example. You have this business round table which is the organization representing the CEOs of major corporations in America. These guys, without exception, make huge amounts of money.

    Some of them are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. All of them have these great retirement packages that the average American could not even dream of. Couple of weeks ago, they made an announcement that it is their view that we should raise the Social Security age to 70 and the Medicare eligibility age to 70 as well.

    Can you conceive of the arrogance of these people who are at the top one-tenth of one percent of the income stratum telling working families that, before they can collect Social Security, they got to be 70, before they can get Medicare? So all of this is about the continuation of a class warfare being perpetrated by people who have incredible wealth, incredible power. Citizens United makes it even worse.

    And at the end of the day, unless we have a strong grassroots political movement which says, excuse me, we’re not going to maintain this incredibly unequal distribution of wealth and income in America. Excuse me, the United States government is supposed to represent all of the people, our kids and the elderly and workers, not just billionaires. Until we have that movement, I doubt very much that you’re going to see the kind of political changes in Washington that we need.

It is a not a stretch of the imagination to assume that the few wealthy people who control Congress are many of the same individuals who were on Sanders’ list of the 26 billionaires who tried to buy the 2012 election. Sen. Sanders was correct. The way to take back our elections is to get all of the special interest money out of politics.

The reason why the Republicans who control the House can blatantly ignore the will of majority of Americans is because the American people aren’t their constituency. The only constituents that matter to House Republicans are those right wing billionaires and corporations who keep the campaign coffers full.

If you want to get rid of ALEC, the Koch brothers, and the over sized political influence of the wealthy, public financing of our elections is the way to do it. The American people are frustrated by a paralyzed Congress, but they don’t seem to understand why Congress is stuck. Members of Congress mouth all sorts of platitudes and cliches about the democracy and the American people at election time, but in our current political system campaign donations matter more than people.

Sen. Sanders destroyed the illusion that Congress works for the people. The current Congress works for no one, but their donors. The needs of the people come last in this Congress, and Bernie Sanders was not afraid to tell you why.

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This is such a perfect example of the corporate media in America not telling people the actual truth ..

February 06, 2013 11:00 AM

The Washington Post Can't Even Get A Basic News Story Right

By Susie Madrak
RawStory

Here's Ed Schultz, raging about this situation last year.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x71WMuYCL2c&feature=player_embedded

No, it's not your imagination. The Washington Post far too frequently slants their "news" stories in service of a pro-conservative, pro-corporate, pro-privatization agenda - whether on purpose or through sheer carelessness, it's hard to say. But this is only the latest example:

    The financially struggling U.S. Postal Service plans to stop delivering mail on Saturdays starting Aug. 1, the agency is set to announce Wednesday.

    This means that for the first time Americans will receive mail only five days a week, a significant shift for the storied mail agency that has suffered tens of billions of dollars in losses in recent years with the advent of the Internet and e-commerce.

Gee, that sounds right. There couldn't possibly be anything more to the story! After all, everyone you know uses email, so the internet killed it. I mean, those things you buy from eBay (another thriving internet business) must arrive by magic, right?

    USPS plans to continue Saturday delivery of packages, which remain a profitable and growing part of the delivery business. Canceling Saturday mail deliveries will save USPS $2 billion annually, according to congressional and postal officials, who confirmed the news ahead of a formal announcement later Wednesday.

    [...] The Postal Service said that it suffered a $15.9 billion net loss for fiscal 2012, which ended Sept. 30. That’s three times the loss recorded a year earlier.

As a former editor, I can tell you for a fact: As a group, reporters are some of the laziest people in the world. So if they get a press release about something like this, it is highly unlikely the reporter will engage his or her brain enough to probe into the reasons behind the story, because (as I said), reporters are lazy. (The pre-written narrative is "the internet killed the post office.") So the copy editor is supposed to corral the staffer and either get them to fill in those gaps, or do it themselves.

Except that with massive layoffs in the newspaper industry, it is also likely that unqualified, inexperienced staffers are now working the copy desk.

Here's what the story is missing:

    The problem lies elsewhere: the 2006 congressional mandate that the USPS pre-fund future retiree health benefits for the next 75 years, and do so within a decade, an obligation no other public agency or private firm faces. The roughly $5.5 billion annual payments since 2007 — $21 billion total — are the difference between a positive and negative ledger.


Why would the Republican-controlled Congress pass such an absurd requirement? Why, it's almost as if they were trying to put the Postal Service out of business!

Well, it's really a twofer. First, they want to break up the federal unions. And second, they want to privatize the post office and give those plum contracts to their good buddies at FedEx and UPS.

But you're not going to read that in the Washington Post. And to be fair, you probably won't get that context in the Times, either. That librul media!

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February 6, 2013

Democrats Seek to Stave Off $1 Trillion in Cuts

By JONATHAN WEISMAN and ELISABETH BUMILLER
NYT

WASHINGTON — With at least one million jobs on the line, Senate Democrats on Wednesday said they were closing in on legislation to temporarily head off nearly $1 trillion in cuts that were already affecting Pentagon decision-making and could force significant reductions in staffing and services across the government.

Despite strong resistance from Republican leaders to new tax revenues, Democrats said that they expected the onset of federal furloughs and layoffs on March 1 to make Republicans more receptive to an emerging solution that would combine spending cuts with revenue from closing tax loopholes. Lawmakers were being spurred by increasingly dire warnings from top Pentagon officials about the implications of the automatic reductions.

“This is not a game; this is reality,” Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said emphatically in a speech at Georgetown University on Wednesday, as he warned that the cuts would curtail American naval operations in the western Pacific by as much as a third and force one-month furloughs for as many as 800,000 Defense Department civilian employees starting this spring.

“These steps would seriously damage the fragile American economy, and they would degrade our ability to respond to crisis precisely at a time of rising instability across the globe,” he said.

Within hours of the speech, the Pentagon announced that the pending budget cuts had forced it to delay the deployment of a second aircraft carrier to the crucial Persian Gulf, leaving only one near the Strait of Hormuz and the coastline of Iran after March. Because of the tensions in the region, the Pentagon has kept two carriers in the area for most of the last two years.

At a closed-door retreat in Annapolis, Md., this week, Senate Democratic leaders struck a populist tone. They suggested they could rally public support for a measure that would temporarily suspend the cuts by limiting tax breaks for oil and gas exploration, reducing the tax advantages for wealthy private-equity employees who pay a lower 20 percent capital gains rate on much of their income, and ending tax deductions for the cost of moving business functions overseas.

A presentation by Senator Patty Murray of Washington, who spoke along with Senators Max Baucus of Montana and Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, described the income gains of the richest 1 percent of Americans amid rising poverty and stagnating middle-class incomes.

“Republicans ultimately have to choose whether they are more interested in protecting tax breaks for Big Oil and other special interests, or protecting defense spending and the economy,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

Republican leaders are no less firm that the cuts will come into force in three weeks unless Democrats agree to equivalent spending cuts elsewhere in the budget, without tax increases.

“At some point, Washington has to deal with its spending problem,” Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio said Wednesday. “I’ve watched them kick this can down the road for 22 years since I’ve been here. I’ve had enough of it. It’s time to act.”

While federal officials have historically warned of government disruptions to avoid cutbacks, the potential impact of the cuts is being cited by both parties. Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said the military side alone would eliminate 350,000 jobs directly, and 650,000 more that depend on the government programs.

Domestic programs, from the National Institutes of Health to the Department of Education, would be hit nearly as hard. The Army would cut intelligence and surveillance aircraft and pull back on efforts to counter roadside bombs. Defense Department furloughs would potentially begin as early as April and would cut one work day a week from the Pentagon’s vast civilian work force for the next six months. The employees would face a corresponding 20 percent cut in pay.

At a House Democratic retreat in Virginia on Thursday, Representative Nita Lowey of New York is expected to lay out the domestic side. About 10 percent of the Federal Aviation Administration’s 40,000 workers would be furloughed. Because meat and poultry inspectors would be kept home, food plants that cannot operate without them would have to be shuttered. Coast Guard air and surface operations would be down nearly 25 percent.

Wait times at the nation’s busiest airports could rise as much as three hours with the furloughing of customs agents. Some 70,000 children would be dropped from Head Start. And as Republicans continue to delve into the deaths of four Americans at the American Mission in Benghazi, Libya, the State Department would have to absorb a $168 million cut to embassy security.

Both parties are showing cracks in their resolve. Some Republicans with large military installations in their districts said they could support a postponement in the military cuts while negotiations continued on a broader deficit reduction plan. Fearing for Hill Air Force Base, Representative Rob Bishop, Republican of Utah, did not rule out supporting a Senate bill that closed tax loopholes and cut spending to stave off the cuts.

“It would depend on what the details are,” he said.

Republican leaders of the Senate and the House Armed Services Committees proposed Wednesday to cancel the Pentagon cuts for 2013 by applying savings from a 10 percent cut in the federal work force over the next decade.

Most of the Armed Services Republican leaders were steadfast in their opposition to any more tax increases to resolve the impasse. After describing the situation as “desperate,” Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate committee, added, “It’s not desperate enough to raise taxes.”

The cuts were required in 2011 when a special House-Senate committee was unable to come up with a compromise plan to reduce the deficit.

But Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said both parties bear responsibility for agreeing to the cuts to force a bipartisan deficit deal that remains out of reach.

“We got into this mess together,” he said. “We’re going to have to get out of it together.”

House Democrats produced legislation that would stave off the cuts through Sept. 30 by ending direct subsidy payments to agribusinesses, eliminating tax breaks for oil and gas companies, and establishing a minimum 30-percent effective tax rate on annual incomes over $1 million.

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February 6, 2013

New Rove Effort Has G.O.P. Aflame

By JEFF ZELENY
NYT

WASHINGTON — Their battle with Democrats will have to wait. For now, Republicans have their hands full fighting one another.

The strategist Karl Rove and his allies are under withering criticism for creating the Conservative Victory Project, their effort to help rebuild the Republican Party and win control of the Senate. Their pledge to take sides in primary races in an effort to pick candidates they see as more electable has set off a fierce backlash from conservative activists.

“This is not Tea Party versus establishment,” Mr. Rove said, defending his new project on Fox News. “I don’t want a fight.”

Yet a fight has broken out this week across the conservative media spectrum, with Mr. Rove drawing the ire of Tea Party leaders and commentators who suggest that he and other party strategists are the problem, rather than the solution, to the challenges facing Republicans.

The Congressional elections may be 21 months away, but the dispute has taken on sudden urgency as primary contests are already taking shape, particularly in open Senate races. Republicans must pick up six seats to win a majority.

In Georgia, the contest to fill the seat of Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Republican who is retiring, drew its first contender on Wednesday as Representative Paul Broun announced his intention to run. His candidacy was welcomed more by Democrats than Republicans in Washington, largely because of a string of comments Mr. Broun has made that worry his party’s leaders about whether he has the discipline and broad appeal to win a general election.

Mr. Broun, a physician on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, attracted attention last fall for saying that “evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory — all of that is lies straight from the pit of hell.”

A former member of that committee is Todd Akin of Missouri, a Republican whose bid to move up to the Senate failed last year after he contended that “legitimate rape” rarely causes pregnancy. His defeat was one of many by Republicans that led American Crossroads, the “super PAC,” to create the Conservative Victory Project.

The project is intended to counter the work of other organizations that have helped defeat establishment Republican candidates over the last two election cycles. It is the most vigorous effort yet by Republicans to try to impose discipline on the party, particularly in House and Senate primary races.

Several other Republicans in Georgia are considering running for the Senate. But the search for what kind of candidates the party should put forward — as well as whether leaders in Washington and the party’s top donors should even be involved in primary races — has focused new attention on the Republican infighting.

Chris Chocola, the president of Club for Growth, the conservative group that has taken an active role in Republican primaries, criticized the new effort by Mr. Rove. Mr. Chocola said it was incorrect to suggest that candidates backed by Tea Party groups were the only ones to lose last year, pointing to establishment Republicans defeated in Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

He said the “electability argument” Republican leaders make in Washington had produced candidates who have not been able to inspire conservative activists.

“It’s those pesky voters,” Mr. Chocola said in an interview. “They get to decide who the nominee is.”

The Conservative Victory Project, which will be run by Steven J. Law, Mr. Rove and the donors who built American Crossroads into the largest Republican super PAC of the 2012 election cycle, will start by intensely vetting prospective contenders for Congressional races. They said that they would raise tens of millions of dollars and run television advertising against any candidate who is seen as too flawed to win a general election.

“A disastrous candidate can lose anywhere,” said Mr. Law, the president of American Crossroads. “We have to be very careful about candidate selection even in deep red states.”

As the Republican feuding intensified, the party’s national chairman, Reince Priebus, indicated that he had no plans to step in as a referee. He sought to straddle both sides of the argument, saying that it was nothing new for Republican groups to get involved in primary races.

“Primaries can be a healthy process,” Mr. Priebus said in a statement on Wednesday, “and it’s positive to see any efforts to help support and elect conservative candidates.”

But the Republican acrimony has consumed conservative talk radio, cable television and blogs for much of the week. Mr. Rove has taken a thrashing, particularly from the radio host Mark Levin, who suggested that Mr. Rove and his allies needed “a hard, swift kick” off the public stage.

David N. Bossie, president of the conservative group Citizens United, wrote a piece on the Big Government Web site that declared, “The Civil War Has Begun.”

“This battle will be a long, hard slog against the establishment,” Mr. Bossie wrote, comparing the party’s conflict to the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

The testiness became personal on Wednesday when Mr. Bossie and the leaders of two dozen conservative groups released a letter to American Crossroads calling for the dismissal of its spokesman, Jonathan Collegio, because he called the veteran conservative activist Brent Bozell “a hater” in a radio interview.

“You obviously mean to have a war with conservatives and the Tea Party,” the letter said. “Let it start here.”

**********

February 6, 2013

Obama’s Choice to Lead Interior Dept. Has Oil Sector and Conservation Credentials

By JOHN M. BRODER
NYT

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Wednesday nominated Sally Jewell, the chief executive of Recreational Equipment Inc., to lead the Interior Department, with a vow that she will balance the agency’s sometimes conflicting mandates to promote resource development and preserve the nation’s natural heritage.

If confirmed, Ms. Jewell, a former oil company engineer and longtime advocate for conservation and outdoor recreation, will take over a department that has been embroiled in controversy over the regulation of oil and gas on public lands and in the Gulf of Mexico and Arctic Ocean. She also will be the steward of hundreds of millions of acres of public lands, from the Everglades of Florida to the Cascades of Washington State.

Ms. Jewell, 56, who also had a 19-year career as a commercial banker, took over as chief executive of REI in 2005. The company, which is based in Kent, Wash., just south of Seattle, has since grown to nearly $2 billion a year in sales.

She is in line to replace Ken Salazar, who has led the department since the beginning of the Obama administration.

The president must also fill vacancies at other major agencies that deal with energy and environmental issues — at the Energy and Transportation Departments and the Environmental Protection Agency. The White House gave no indication on Wednesday that any of those appointments are imminent.

While introducing Ms. Jewell at the White House, Mr. Obama alluded to the tensions that have divided the Interior Department’s mission for decades. He said that she is an expert on energy and climate change issues as well as an avid outdoorswoman and a former oil company worker in Oklahoma and Colorado.

“She knows the link between conservation and good jobs,” the president said. “She knows that there’s no contradiction between being good stewards of the land and our economic progress, that, in fact, those two things need to go hand in hand.”

Ms. Jewell spoke briefly, saying she was humbled and energized by the appointment and looked forward to meeting the senators who will vote on her confirmation.

She can expect sharp questioning during those hearings about her approach to resource development — oil, gas and minerals, but also solar and wind power — on public lands. Republicans in Congress have criticized the Obama administration for holding back public lands from oil and gas leasing and for imposing overly restrictive regulations on hydraulic fracturing and other extraction methods.

Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the senior Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said she was not yet ready to judge Ms. Jewell’s credentials. “I look forward to hearing about the qualifications Ms. Jewell has that make her a suitable candidate to run such an important agency, and how she plans to restore balance to the Interior Department,” Ms. Murkowski said in a statement.

Ms. Jewell will also face scrutiny from environmental and conservation advocates who will want to know about her approach to the preservation of public lands.

Ms. Jewell, a native of the Seattle area and a graduate of the University of Washington with a degree in mechanical engineering, has been a lifelong outdoors enthusiast. As a child she sailed in the Puget Sound and camped throughout the Pacific Northwest, according to a 2005 profile in The Seattle Times.

In 2011, she introduced President Obama at the White House conference on “America’s Great Outdoor Initiative,” noting that the $289 billion outdoor-recreation industry is the source of 6.5 million jobs.

Ms. Jewell and her husband, Warren, have made political contributions of nearly $100,000 since the mid-1990s, almost exclusively to Democratic candidates and causes. She contributed to two groups that supported the successful 2012 effort to legalize same-sex marriage in Washington State.

The Interior Department post has traditionally gone to a politician from the Western United States, like Mr. Salazar, a former senator from Colorado. Under President George W. Bush, Gale A. Norton, a former attorney general of Colorado, and Dirk Kempthorne, a former governor and senator from Idaho, served in the position.

Ms. Jewell, if confirmed, would represent a different model, a corporate executive with experience in both resource exploitation and conservation.

Douglas W. Walker, a former chairman of the board at REI and a climbing partner of Ms. Jewell’s, said she is an avid climber, kayaker and sailor who has climbed Mount Rainier in Washington State and Mount Vinson in Antarctica.

Mr. Obama referred to her South Pole adventures.

“And when Sally is confirmed, I’m willing to bet that she will be the first secretary of the interior who frequently hikes Mailbox Peak in her native Washington State and who once spent a month climbing mountains in Antarctica,” he said, “which is just not something I’d think of doing, because it seems like it’d be cold, and I was born in Hawaii.”

Stephanie Clifford contributed reporting from New York.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: February 6, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated the year that Ken Salazar and Barack Obama entered the Senate. It was 2005, not 2004.  (They were elected in 2004.)

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February 6, 2013

A Hospital Offers a Grisly Lesson on Gun Violence

By JON HURDLE
NYT

PHILADELPHIA — In a darkened classroom, 15 eighth graders gasped as a photograph appeared on the screen in front of them. It showed a dead man whose jaw had been destroyed by a shotgun blast, leaving the lower half of his face a shapeless, bloody mess.

Next came a picture of the bullet-perforated legs of someone who had been shot with an AK-47 assault rifle, and then one of the bloated abdomen of a gunshot victim with internal injuries so grievous that the patient had to be fitted with a colostomy bag to replace intestines that can no longer function normally.

These are among about 500 gunshot victims who are treated each year at Temple University Hospital, an institution in the heart of impoverished, crime-ridden North Philadelphia. While President Obama and Congressional leaders debate legislation intended to prevent mass killings like the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., the hospital is trying to slow the rate of street killings by helping teenagers understand the realities of gun violence.

The unusual program, called Cradle to Grave, brings in youths from across Philadelphia in the hope that an unflinching look at the effects that guns have in their community will deter young people from reaching for a gun to settle personal scores, and will help them recognize that gun violence is not the glamorous business sometimes depicted in television shows and rap music.

The program is open to all schools in the city, but about two-thirds of the participants were referred by officials from the juvenile justice system. Children younger than 13 are not normally admitted. So far, about 7,000 teenagers have participated since it began in 2006, and despite the graphic content, no parent has ever complained, said Scott P. Charles, the hospital’s trauma outreach coordinator.

“In seven and a half years, I have never had a parent say, ‘I can’t believe what you just showed my child,’ ” Mr. Charles said.

On a recent day the eighth graders, students from nearby Kenderton School, gathered around Mr. Charles at the start of a two-hour visit. Most said they knew someone who had been shot.

“Our goal here isn’t to scare you straight,” Mr. Charles told them. “We’re just trying to give you an education.”

According to police statistics, 331 people were killed in the city in 2012, equaling the highest total since 2008, and the fourth consecutive year of increase. Eighty-six percent of them were killed by firearms, the police say.

Still, the number of killings in the city of about 1.5 million residents has dropped from a high of 406 in 2006, when national news media started calling the city Killadelphia.

In a 2010 paper published in the medical journal Injury, Dr. Amy J. Goldberg, the hospital’s chief of trauma and surgical critical care, and others cited data showing that students’ inclination toward violence decreased after participating in the Cradle to Grave program, especially among those classified as having an “aggressive response to shame.”

“These results suggest that hospitals offer a unique opportunity to address the public health crisis posed by inner-city firearm violence,” the study said.

The program starts with a visit to the hospital’s trauma bay, the first stop for gunshot victims — half of them under 25 — who are brought to the hospital from North Philadelphia’s streets at an average rate of more than one a day.

As the 13- and 14-year-olds gathered around a gurney on a recent visit, Mr. Charles told the story of Lamont Adams, 16, who died at the hospital after being shot 14 times by another boy who believed Lamont had snitched about a street dice game that was broken up by police officers.

Lamont arrived in the trauma bay with 24 gunshot wounds, 10 more than the 14 rounds that had been emptied into him, because some of the shots had also exited his body, in some cases leaving indentations in the sidewalk, Mr. Charles told the students.

In case his verbal description was not sufficiently vivid, Mr. Charles asked Justin Robinson, 13, to play the part of Lamont. The boy lay down on an empty body bag. Mr. Charles attached 24 circular red stickers to Justin’s clothing to represent the wounds in Lamont’s body.

Mr. Charles told the students that the wounds he finds most moving were those in the boy’s hands. “He holds up his hands and begs the boy to stop shooting,” Mr. Charles said. “He had not prepared himself for how terrible this would be.”

The narrative was then taken up by Dr. Goldberg, who told the children that by the time Lamont arrived in the trauma bay, he was not breathing, so surgeons — without the use of anesthetics — quickly inserted a breathing tube into his windpipe.

Neither did he have a pulse but that did not stop the doctors from inserting a tube into his groin to replace the blood he was losing, and then to open his chest in the hope of restarting his heart — which turned out to have three or four holes in it, Dr. Goldberg said. She held up a stainless steel rib-spreader.

As the details of Lamont’s story unfolded, one girl struggled to keep her composure. Another hid her face in her friend’s shoulder. Lamont died about 15 minutes after arriving at the hospital, underscoring that prevention of gun violence is a lot better than trying to cure its effects, Dr. Goldberg concluded.

“Who do you think has the best chance of saving your life?” she asked the students. “You do.”

Despite the grisly images, most of the students said afterward that people should still be allowed to own guns for self-defense, although not assault weapons. Mahogany Johnson, 14, said she is in favor of a street ban on semiautomatic weapons like AK-47 assault rifles, which she said should be used “only in the woods.” Jabriel Steward, 14, said, “Everybody should be allowed to have one gun for protection, for self-defense.”

But Feliciana Asada, 14, said more students should be given the opportunity to participate in Cradle to Grave. “Programs like this need to be installed in schools,” she said.

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February 6, 2013

Two-Tax Rise Tests Wealthy in California

By ADAM NAGOURNEY
NYT

PALO ALTO, Calif. — It is getting awfully expensive to be a millionaire in California.

With the new year, big earners are confronting a 51.9 percent federal-state income tax hit on earnings over $1 million, the result of a confluence of new tax-the-rich levies imposed by California and Congress in the closing days of 2012. That is officially the highest in the nation. And at 13.3 percent, the top-tier California income tax is, in addition to being higher than any other state, the steepest it has been since World War II.

Though no one expects traffic jams at 30,000 feet as panicked millionaires make for the state line, the wealthy are once again grumbling about abandoning California for less punishing tax climates. Phil Mickelson, the golfer who collects purses in excess of $1 million, suggested that he might become the latest in a line of athletes and entertainment figures, among them Tiger Woods, who left California for states like Florida, which has no personal income tax.

The Republican governor of Texas, Rick Perry, firing a new shot in an old interstate war, began putting radio advertisements on the air in California this week summoning burdened businesses his way. “I have a message for California business: Come check out Texas,” Mr. Perry said.

Blood, it seems, is in the water.

“Are you looking to leave California because of the recent tax increase?” a CNN Money correspondent posted online in an inquiry this week. “You could be profiled in an upcoming story.”

For all its many attributes, California has long been a state defined by high taxes and the people who hate them; conservatives here were successfully organizing against taxes before anyone heard of the Tea Party. Yet this milestone — or perhaps millstone — has sneaked up as an unpleasant surprise for the rich, a cloud in the sky at a time when the state budget has come back into balance (in no small part because of the aforementioned tax increase) and the state economy seems to be snapping back to life.

Mr. Mickelson later apologized for discussing the topic, though that did not prevent Mr. Perry from sending him a message on Twitter: “Hey Phil ... Texas is home to liberty and low taxes ... we would love to have you as well!!” Conservatives and antitax activists have cited Mr. Mickelson’s remarks as evidence of what they have long argued are the costs California pays for having such a high tax burden.

“It’s definitely the highest in the United States,” said David Kline, a vice president of the California Taxpayers Association, a taxpayers’ advocacy organization. “What we like to point out to people is that there are states with absolutely no personal income tax — so if you moved from California to Florida, and you are in a high-income bracket, you are automatically giving yourself a 13.3 percent raise.”

For what it is worth, California’s big earners can deduct their state taxes from their federal returns, or at least for the time being: were Congress to repeal that deduction, which is now under discussion, the actual tax burden would be 52.9 percent. The top rate in California has been as high as 15 percent and as low as 6 percent, and the combined rate has been higher at times, like when federal income taxes spiked to pay for wars.

Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat who urged voters to approve the latest state income tax surcharge, dismissed Mr. Perry’s poaching as political trickery, suggesting that high earners consider other factors in deciding where to locate. “People invest their money where these big things have occurred,” he told reporters. “The ideas, the structures, the climate, the opportunity is right here on the Pacific Rim.”

Some of those earners seem at least resigned to the tax burden as a cost of being able to live in California rather than, say, Texas.

“I am happy to pay my taxes, whatever they are: no problem with me,” said David Geffen, the entertainment mogul, who owns estates on the oceanfront in Malibu and on the hedge-lined streets of Beverly Hills. He said he thought it could hurt the business climate, but added, “I don’t think anybody of means is really going to move because of it.”

Cristobal Young, an assistant professor of sociology with the Center on Poverty and Inequality at Stanford, conducted a study last fall that concluded that tax rates had little effect on where millionaires choose to live.

Mr. Young said he suspected that few, if any, millionaires would leave or stay away because of the tax increase. More likely, he said, they would find ways of reducing their tax burden, with loopholes or income avoidance, or simply reduce their work.

“I suspect the accountants are busier this year, but I don’t think the moving companies are getting a boost,” Mr. Young said. “Moving out of state is actually one of the most costly responses they could make. California’s high-income earners are clustered in coastal cities far from state borders. Moving to Nevada or Texas or Florida is a very big life change, and means leaving behind family, friends, colleagues and business connections.”

The burden represents a political reality both here and in Washington: while there might be a new willingness to raise taxes to deal with governmental shortfalls, the target of those new taxes is the wealthy.

In December, Congress agreed to increase federal income taxes on income over $400,000 a year. In November, California voters approved the temporary state income tax surcharge, establishing the top marginal tax rate at 12.3 percent. There is also is a 1 percent millionaire surcharge for mental health programs.

The median rate paid by average taxpayers is significantly lower. Still, this new round of upper-income taxes lifted California to the top of the tax mountain, said Gerald Prante, an economist at Lynchburg College in Virginia, who published a report on marginal tax rates across the country. Right behind California is New York City, which has a 51.7 percent marginal rate. (The rest of New York State has a slightly lower rate because the city imposes a personal income tax.)

Hawaii ranks third, and seven states do not have a personal income tax at all.

Mr. Prante also said there was little evidence that the high taxes he charted had chased anyone out of California. “Has one person ever moved?” he said. “Obviously, yes. But how big an effect is it? Taxes aren’t the only thing that matters when people move.”

But Bradley R. Schiller, a professor of economics at the University of Nevada, Reno, said the argument that high taxes were not pushing people defied the obvious. The French actor Gerard Depardieu recently left his home country to avoid what he described as a severe increase in income taxes, drawing criticism from France and his fellow citizens. Accordingly, Mr. Schiller said, high-profile millionaires are unlikely to want to draw attention to decisions to leave for states with lower taxes, thus making the migration harder to track.

“Taxes have to be a very important of the equation,” Mr. Schiller said. “If you are talking about an income tax of 13 percent on a millionaire in California and an income tax rate of zero percent on a millionaire in Nevada, to argue that it doesn’t affect a millionaire’s locations decision is to say all millionaires must be stupid.”

Mr. Schiller, who was born in California, now lives in Nevada.

********

Jerry Brown Says Rick Perry’s Criticism is ‘Not a burp. It’s barely a fart’

By: Sarah Jones
PoliticusUSA
Feb. 5th, 2013

California Democratic Governor Jerry Brown is not impressed with Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry.

The business war between Texas and California continues. Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry released a $24,000 radio ad campaign in California (because everyone listens to radio these days) one day ago, slamming California’s business climate.

In his 30-second ad, Gov. Perry knocks Brown for the recent tax hike that balanced the California budget, saying, “Building a business is tough, but I hear building a business in California is next to impossible. I have a message for California businesses. Come check out Texas.”

Reporters wanted reaction from Brown today. According to the Sacramento Bee, the Governor quipped, “It’s not a serious story, guys. It’s not a burp. It’s barely a fart.”

Watch a segment of the press conference here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUA5ttWcyNE&feature=player_embedded

Pardon me if I revel in Governor Perry’s ad campaign being reduced to “barely a fart”, but this is the guy whose campaign staff called me “scandalous trash” after I reported on stock holdings of his in a company that was at the time the largest distributor of pornography (you might think that made him scandalous trash, but thats not how Republicans roll – the woman is always to blame for the actions of the man). At any rate, I believe scandalous trash ranks above farts, albeit by a slim margin.

Brown asked who would want to move from California to Lubbock, Texas. He said, “They aren’t going to go to Lubbock or someplace like that.” True enough. California is full of gorgeous cities and towns and the weather is almost perfection. However, Texas does have Austin. They had the incomparable Betty Buckley as well, but she is now in London for “Dear World.”

Brown sank one in deep from the state of entertainment (aka, one of our largest exports), “If they want to get in the game, let them spend $25 million on radio and television. Then I’ll take them seriously.”

Indeed. That’s how they roll in California — don’t bother them with your measly, not even a fart, 24,000 dollar radio buys. They are very busy and important, with their balanced budget and their scandalous trash. Mean old liberal elites.

Your move, Perry.

**********

February 6, 2013

Trial of Former College Quarterback Accused of Rape Starts Friday in Montana

By JIM ROBBINS
NYT

HELENA, Mont. — The trial of Jordan Johnson, a former starting quarterback at the University of Montana accused of raping an acquaintance, begins in Missoula, Mont., on Friday, extending a cloud of scandal that has hung over the campus for two years.

Mr. Johnson faces one count of sexual intercourse without consent and, if convicted, a sentence of anywhere from 2-to-4 years to 100 years in prison. Mr. Johnson, who has denied the accusation, would also have to register as a sex offender for life.

A series of accusations of sexual assault and other crimes, many involving members of the university’s hugely popular football team, the Grizzlies, have overshadowed the college town of Missoula, in the mountains of western Montana. Claims that accusations had been ignored, covered up or played down by university and law enforcement officials also contributed.

E-mails released last year, for example, showed that one university official, James Foley, sought a way under the student conduct code to punish a woman who had publicly claimed that she was sexually assaulted by four members of the football team. He also urged that officials stop calling the assault “gang rape” and refer to it as “date rape.” Mr. Foley has since moved to a different post.

In Mr. Johnson’s case, the woman said that in February 2012, Mr. Johnson raped her as they watched a movie together at a fellow student’s home, according to her affidavit. A report was made to the police in March 2012 and, after an investigation of several months, Mr. Johnson was charged in July.

In the affidavit, reported in The Missoulian, the city’s daily newspaper, the woman said that she sent a text message to a friend shortly after the encounter: “Omg ... I think I might have just gotten raped ... he kept pushing and pushing and I said no but he wouldn’t listen ... I just wanna cry ... Omg, what do I do!”

The next day she went to the University of Montana Student Assault Resource Center, and then to a medical exam.

Mr. Johnson’s lawyer, David Paoli, has said the sex was consensual. He did not return a phone call seeking comment.

The federal Justice Department is investigating how the university has handled claims of sexual assault. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is also investigating a sexual harassment complaint against members of the football team. And the N.C.A.A. is investigating the university on undisclosed matters.

Peggy Kuhr, a university spokeswoman, said that while neither the N.C.A.A. nor the Justice Department investigations had concluded, the controversy had prompted the university to make changes.

“We’ve been working all along, moving forward on campus safety,” she said. Among the changes is a mandatory online tutorial on the subject of sexual assault that students must take and pass.

The Department of Justice is also investigating how Missoula County prosecutors and the city police handled complaints of sexual assault.

In December 2010, a student told the police that she had lost consciousness while drinking and woke to find herself under assault by five men, including four football players. None were charged. In December 2011, three players were implicated in two other assaults and were not charged. City law enforcement officials have said the allegations often involve alcohol, memories are hazy and it is very difficult to bring charges.

In April of last year, the contracts of both the football coach, Robin Pflugrad, and the athletic director, Jim O’Day, were abruptly terminated without explanation.

Mr. Johnson’s trial comes on the heels of the sentencing of a former Grizzlies running back, Beau Donaldson, who pleaded guilty to raping a childhood friend in 2010 as she slept in his apartment. Last month, he was sentenced to 30 years in jail, with 20 suspended. He must serve two and half years before he is eligible for parole.

“We’ve had sex assaults, vandalism, beatings by football players,” said Pat Williams, a former congressman and a member of the Montana Board of Regents. “The university has recruited thugs for its football team, and this thuggery has got to stop.”

University officials say they are trying. The recently hired athletic director, Kent Haslam, said one of the most important changes is that coaches are no longer in charge of players who violate a new, clearer student athlete code of conduct. Instead, a violation is handled by a four-person committee consisting of athletic officials, including the senior women’s administrator.

Questions have been raised about whether Mr. Johnson can get a fair trial amid such controversy. Court officials have assembled an extra-large pool of 400 for the jury selection that begins Friday.

“You have to believe that the presumption of innocence is somehow affected,” said Milt Datsopoulos, who represented Mr. Donaldson and is also on the National Advisory Board for Grizzly Athletics, a booster organization. He believes that his client’s sentence was more severe than it would have been had there not been what he called “a toxic atmosphere” in Missoula.

“They made him a poster child for a supposed major problem,” Mr. Datsopoulos said of Mr. Donaldson. “I don’t think a problem exists.”
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« Reply #4462 on: Feb 08, 2013, 07:41 AM »


The Lede - The New York Times News Blog
February 6, 2013, 5:07 pm

Online Campaign Draws Attention to Case of Saudi Father Accused of Rape and Torture

By CHRISTINE HAUSER

Reports that a man in Saudi Arabia, who has appeared on television as a preacher, had raped and tortured to death his 5-year-old daughter have fueled outrage online about the way the legal system works in the conservative kingdom and about the lack of protections for domestic abuse victims.

The man, Fayhan al-Ghamdi, was accused of raping and torturing his daughter Lama, who died from her injuries in October. While Saudi news organizations have reported on the case, over the past week activists in the kingdom have used the Twitter hashtag #IamLama, and its Arabic language equivalent, to draw much more attention to it.

    The tortured abused and murdered daughter of the Saudi 'Islamic' preacher was only 5 years old. May your soul rest in peace, Lama #IAmLama

    - Sana2 Al-Yemen ✊✌ (@Sanasiino) 2 Feb 13

    Clergymen hiding behind religion and getting away with murder, literally. Is this our #Islam? #AnaLama #iAmLama

    - Ali Al Saeed (@alialsaeed) 6 Feb 13

    Crowds took to the streets in rage over the stupid film made and childishly produced about our Prophet (PBUH) but not for this? #AnaLama

    - Happiness. (@Farah_Khalil1) 6 Feb 13

The two female activists behind the campaign, Aziza al-Yousef and Manal al-Sharif, are known for their efforts to break the ban on driving by Saudi women. Last week, they posted a news release online in which they expressed dismay at a report that a court had ruled that the prosecution could seek a payment of "blood money" to the girl's mother, but that the time the defendant had served in prison since Lama's death would suffice as punishment.

    Press Release: #IAmLama SAUDI COURT: FATHER RAPES, TORTURES FIVE-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER TO DEATH ABSOLVED OF CHARGES http://t.co/FVH7xsGp

    - منال الشريف (@manal_alsharif) 2 Feb 13

As the activists behind the campaign did with the driving issue, in their comments on Lama's death they have pointed to underlying issues, namely, the tradition of male guardianship and the way domestic abuse is dealt with in the kingdom.

Pointing to a report in the Saudi newspaper Al Watan in January, the women wrote:

    The ruling is based on a Shariah argument that fathers cannot be executed for murdering their children, nor can husbands be executed for murdering their wives. Fathers and husbands who murder their children or wives are consistently sentenced to five to twelve years in prison at most. This leniency is not extended to mothers and wives. In the history of Saudi Arabia, there has only been one case in 2008 where a father and his second wife were executed for torturing his daughter to death.

    The courts' leniency towards male abusers and murderers reflects the larger problem of the male guardianship system in Saudi Arabia, wherein ALL women are considered minors and are automatically assigned to the care and judgment of their most immediate male relative. This guardianship gives the male relatives the power to sell girls legally into child marriages and to ban adult women from work, travel and obtaining medical operations.

In an interview with CNN this week, Ms. Yousef said that the case had shocked a broad spectrum of Saudi society.

The CNN report included footage of one of the man's appearances as a televangelist, in which he wept over the abuse of a boy.

While the Twitter campaign spread awareness about the case inside the kingdom and abroad, it remains unclear if the ruling on the limits on sentencing reported by Al Watan was final. In a post on the case for The Daily Beast, Bayan Perazzo said:

    it appears that the reports on this ruling were premature. Itmad AlSunaidi, a legal researcher at the Human Rights Association in Riyadh, told Asharq al-Awsat Tuesday that the hearing would begin this week, that no blood money sentence has been issued, and in a crime this big that no sentence would be called in just one session. Al Watan reported that the court session would be on February 5, and that it would be the first hearing where Lama's mother would have legal representation.

Ms. Perazzo, a professor in Saudi Arabia who blogs about the kingdom for the site Muftah, also noted that Asharq al-Awsat had reported that Dr. Mohammed Mehdi, the medical examiner in Lama's case, said in an interview that the "offender committed all sorts of physical abuse on the victim" and that the 5-year-old girl suffered from clear evidence of sexual abuse and rape, including "swelling in the region of the genitals and laceration in her anal area."

According to Ms. Perazzo, the case highlights "the flaws in Saudi Arabia's justice system, which leaves the fate of any individual in the hands of the judge."

"There exists no unified code of punishments in the country, thus similar crimes often result in very different punishments, as long as the judge can find some sort of justification for his decision in Islamic texts," she said. "The Saudi government's very rigid interpretation of Islam also leaves the possibility for these judges to base their ruling in religious texts with very weak sources, which are considered invalid in other Islamic interpretations."

The Saudi blogger Eman al-Nafjan, who helped draw attention to the case in a post last week, stressed that activists and the girl's mother simply want to make sure the father receives an appropriate punishment under the law.

    What human rights activists & Lama's mother want is that Fayhan Al Ghamdi get the maximum punishment. 1/3

    - Eman Al Nafjan (@Saudiwoman) 4 Feb 13

    But judge told the mother in initial session that all she has a claim to is her share of blood money & Fayhan's 4 months is enough. 2/3

    - Eman Al Nafjan (@Saudiwoman) 4 Feb 13

The case has emerged just as the annual Human Rights Watch World Report, released in January, noted that punishments in Saudi Arabia for domestic violence remained lax.

***********

Growing anger over girl's horrific death: Saudi Islamist preacher on trial in daughter's slaying

By Mohammed Jamjoom and Saad Abedine, CNN
February 7, 2013 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)

Watch this video: Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0uLDDZRU6A

Read a version of this story on Arabic.cnn.com.

(CNN) -- Outrage is mounting in Saudi Arabia about the case of a 5-year-old girl who died after allegedly being beaten and tortured by her father, who activists say is an Islamist preacher.

Lama Al-Ghamdi was admitted to King Saud Hospital in Riyadh last March after suffering extensive injuries, including broken ribs, a crushed skull, bruising and burns. Family, activists and officials say she died of her wounds in late October.

Lama's mother and several high-profile activists in Saudi Arabia accuse the girl's father, Fayhan Al-Ghamdi, of committing those crimes. Saudi Arabia's Human Rights Commission, a government-backed rights group, confirmed that Al-Ghamdi has been accused of torturing his daughter and that he is on trial for crimes leading to her death.

Attempts to reach Al-Ghamdi via activists, government officials and King Saud Hospital have been unsuccessful.

"My dear child is dead, and all I want now is justice so I can close my eyes and know she didn't die in vain," the mother, Syeda Mohammed Ali, told CNN. "She was brutally tortured in the most shocking ways."

Activists say Al-Ghamdi is an Islamist evangelist popular in Saudi Arabia for his televised appearances and for speaking on air about the rewards of repenting to God. But they also say he only fancies himself as a cleric and is not recognized by the clerical establishment.

Some media reports say that Al-Ghamdi was sentenced to pay blood money for Lama's death, and others say that he has been released from jail. But Mohammed Almadi, with the Human Rights Commission, told CNN that the father has been in prison for about eight months and has been accused of the torture that led to the girl's death.

Lama's mother says the next hearing in the case will take place in about two weeks.

"We have appointed a lawyer to assist the mother in the case," said Almadi, who added that there was a hearing Sunday and that the case is still under review. "Reports that the accused is out of prison are incorrect. The case is still actively being studied."

At the Sunday hearing, Lama's mother tried to bring her own case against Al-Ghamdi.

"The Human Rights Commission considers this case to be not just an assault against Lama," Almadi said, "but also an assault against every Saudi little girl. We are asking that the aggressor receive the maximum penalty."

Several activists and numerous local media reports say that Lama was also raped, but her mother denied that happened, despite saying that the father had burned Lama's rectum. Syeda said that Lama's father also was concerned about the virginity of his 5-year-old daughter.

Read related: Saudi Arabia objects to .gay and .islam domain names

"The father confessed to the abuse, the beating and torturing Lama in the most obnoxious manners," she said. "These are not some unfounded accusations, but everything is based on the medical examination by the hospital and the team of physicians who treated Lama when she was first admitted."

Syeda, who is divorced from Al-Ghamdi, says Lama's torture occurred while she was staying with her father. She added that Al-Ghamdi is now remarried with two more children and that "the state needs to even consider taking his two children from him and his wife away because I fear for their lives."

Aziza Al-Yousef, a human rights activist and lecturer at King Saud University, who is in very close contact with Lama's mother, said this case highlights the urgent need for legislation in Saudi Arabia that would better protect women and children from domestic violence.

"We need to get some laws passed to protect women and children here. It's been difficult getting these laws passed," she said. "This case is a horrifying example of the kind of violence that can be faced by children here."

Prominent Saudi women's rights activist Manal Al-Sharif, who has launched an online campaign and created a Twitter hashtag, #IAmLAMA, expressed a similar sentiment, explaining how this case reflects once again how dire the situation is for women in Saudi Arabia, who must contend with a male guardianship system that she says infantilizes women and strips them of any power.

"In Saudi Arabia," Al-Sharif told CNN, "all women are considered minors and are automatically assigned to the care and judgment of their most immediate male relative."

Al-Sharif said Saudi courts tend to "show leniency toward male abusers," and she said she is concerned that might happen in this case as well.

Lama's mother says she wants to make sure this doesn't happen to other children.

"I want to address the king and urge him to consider my case and my daughter's case," she said, "because such brutality needs to be punished in order to set a clear example for anyone who dares to abuse and harm their children."


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« Reply #4463 on: Feb 08, 2013, 07:47 AM »

February 7, 2013

Indian Government Faulted on Child Sexual Abuse

By SRUTHI GOTTIPATI
IHT

NEW DELHI — Sexual abuse of children is “disturbingly common” in India, and the government’s response to it has fallen short, both in protecting children and in treating victims, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Thursday.

The group urged the government to better shield children from sexual abuse as part of a broad push for change after the death of a young woman who was gang-raped here in December. Although there are child protection laws on the books, including one passed last year, the rights organization said the measures were not properly enforced.

“Children are sexually abused by relatives at home, by people in their neighborhoods, at school and in residential facilities for orphans and other at-risk children,” said the 82-page report, titled “Breaking the Silence: Child Sexual Abuse in India.”

Yet most cases go unreported. A 2007 government-sponsored study, based on interviews with 12,500 children in 13 Indian states, said that 53 percent of the children reported having been sexually abused in some way, but only 3 percent of the cases were reported to the police.

“Children who bravely complain of sexual abuse are often dismissed or ignored by the police, medical staff and other authorities,” Meenakshi Ganguly, the director of Human Rights Watch in South Asia, said in a statement.

In response, the government acknowledged flaws in its child protection system, with the head of one government agency saying at a news briefing that in many cases the police or court officials did not accept that rape or incest had occurred.

“People have to be made aware of their rights, the procedures to be followed in registering a case in a police station, and insist that they get justice,” said Shantha Sinha, the chairwoman of the agency, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, The Associated Press reported.

In interviews with more than 100 people, Human Rights Watch found that the police, government officials and doctors were unprepared to deal with child sexual abuse cases and often made the situation worse by not believing the children’s accounts and subjecting them to humiliating medical examinations.

The rights group reported that in four cases, doctors used an unscientific “finger test” to examine girls who had been raped.

“The process is so traumatic that in some cases the children are better off not reporting” abuse, Ms. Ganguly said in an interview.

Sexual abuse of children happens everywhere, Ms. Ganguly said, but in India the official response to it seriously compounds the problem. In one episode, a 12-year-old girl who reported to the police that she had been raped by a man from a politically connected family was locked in jail for almost two weeks, the report found. The police insisted that she change her story, it said.

Activists called for more comprehensive reforms, arguing that the laws and the support system for children should be better integrated.

“It has to be holistic,” Hasina Kharbhih, a child rights activist, said in an interview.

Child sexual abuse, she said, “has devastating aftereffects which haunt the victims as they grow into adulthood.” She added that the enormity of such crimes was often not acknowledged in India.

One particular focus of the report is the sexual abuse of orphans and other at-risk children at residential care facilities. The rights group said that facilities in most parts of the country were not inspected often enough, and that many privately run ones were not even registered.

“As a result, the government has neither a record of all the orphanages and other institutions operating in the country nor a list of the children they are housing,” the report said. “Abuse occurs even in supposedly well-run and respected institutions because of poor monitoring.”

India has signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international treaty that protects children. The rights group noted that doing so obliged all levels of government to not only take steps to protect children against sexual abuse but to also offer a remedy when protections are violated.


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« Reply #4464 on: Feb 08, 2013, 07:50 AM »

Pussy Riot files case with top European rights court

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, February 7, 2013 9:51 EST

Two jailed members of punk band Pussy Riot have taken their case to Europe’s top rights court, arguing that their rights to freedom of speech and a fair trial have been violated, their lawyer said Thursday.

“A complaint has been sent to the European Court of Human Rights over violations of the European Convention on Human Rights by the court which delivered the verdict,” defence lawyer Irina Khrunova told AFP.

The treatment of the young women during the trial amounted to torture, said Khrunova, who is representing Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina.

“People whose fate was being decided in court, who had to concentrate their attention on the proceedings, were kept without access to the bathroom, without water (and) hot food.”

For the appeal, Khrunova has teamed up with Bulgarian lawyer Yonko Grozev whom she described as a “major specialist in European law.”

Alyokhina, Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich were sentenced last August to two years in prison for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred after they performed an anti-Vladimir Putin “punk prayer” in a Moscow cathedral.

Samutsevich was released on appeal with a suspended sentence in October because guards grabbed her before she could take part in the stunt performance.

Last year, Khrunova also filed a complaint to the same top court on Samutsevich’s behalf over the women’s arrest, the lack of a fair trial and inhuman treatment during the hearings.

Alyokhina is serving her prison sentence in the Perm region in the Urals, while Tolokonnikova was sent to the central region of Mordovia, known for its network of camps dating back to the Soviet era.

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« Reply #4465 on: Feb 08, 2013, 07:59 AM »

February 8, 2013

Tunisians Prepare for Burial of Slain Opposition Leader

By KAREEM FAHIM, DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK and ALAN COWELL

TUNIS — In a country quieted by the largest labor strike in decades, thousands of people started to gather early Friday for the funeral of Chokri Belaid, a leading opposition figure assassinated by unknown gunmen two days ago.

The killing of Mr. Belaid, a human rights activist who had been a harsh critic of the ruling Islamist-led party, has led to fears that polarization and growing political violence will imperil Tunisia’s transition, often held up as a model in the region.

********

Tunisia faces general strike after Belaid assassination sparks crisis

Protests erupt, prompting fears that country could see the kind of political polarisation it has managed to avoid since Ben Ali overthrow

Eileen Byrne in Tunis and Ian Black, Middle East editor
The Guardian, Friday 8 February 2013   

Tunisia is facing a general strike on Friday after angry protests triggered by the assassination of an opposition politician plunged the country into its biggest crisis since the revolution two years ago.

The UGTT, Tunisia's trade union federation, called the strike in protest at the murder of Chokri Belaid on Wednesday. It will be the first such strike since 1978 and there is now deep uncertainty and anxiety about how events will unfold.

Belaid, a secular, leftist human rights lawyer, was shot dead at close range on his way to work in an attack that was condemned by the government, blamed on extremists but claimed by nobody. The assailant fled on a motorbike pillion.

The killing has opened up the possibility that Tunisia could now see the kind of political polarisation that it has so far managed to avoid since the overthrow of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011.

Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the ruling Islamist party Ennahda, was among those condemning the murder of Belaid and urging Tunisians to unite against those who want to push the country towards "violence and chaos".

On Thursday police fired teargas to disperse 300 protesters who gathered near the interior ministry in central Tunis in driving rain chanting "the people demand the fall of the regime" – the trademark slogan of the Arab spring uprisings.

Protests were also held in the central mining town of Gafsa, where petrol bombs were thrown. The demonstration was organised by the Popular Front, a leftist alliance to which Belaid's Democratic Patriots party belonged. In Siliana, the office of Ennahda was burned down.

On Wednesday one policeman was killed in Tunis after being hit in the chest by rocks. Ennahda offices were attacked in Gafsa and several other towns.

In the capital protesters massed on the same broad, tree-lined central boulevard where just over two years ago anti-government protests led to the fall of Ben Ali, Tunisia's longtime dictator. That was the catalyst for the revolutions in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere in the region.

Police in Tunis were described as "very violent" by one Twitter user. The French embassy, surrounded by tanks, announced that all French schools will close down on Friday and Saturday. "Yesterday we were shocked but today the pain and the sadness have given way to anger and uncertainty," Jilani, a civil servant, told France 24. "Today we are heading towards the unknown."

Amid the rising tensions, Ennahda rejected a call by its own prime minister, Hamadi Jebali, to form a technocratic government to rule until elections, set for June 2013.

"The prime minister did not ask the opinion of his party," said Abdelhamid Jelassi, Ennahda's vice-president. "We in Ennahda believe Tunisia needs a political government now. We will continue discussions with other parties about forming a coalition government."

But analysts said such a coalition was unlikely to materialise since Ennahda's rivals would not want to be seen as close to it in the runup to new polls. The fear is that if civil unrest continues and the police cannot cope, the army might intervene.

Four opposition groups – including the Popular Front – announced that they were pulling out of the national constituent assembly in protest at the murder.

Opposition parties have said that the government should bear responsibility for the killing of Belaid as ministers had failed to curb intimidation, violence and threatening language used by radical preachers and on extremist websites.

Hamma Hammami, another leftist and associate of Belaid, suggested the killing might be part of a broader campaign. "This political assassination has been committed by parties which want this country to descend into chaos," he warned. "The government is responsible because it did not take the measures necessary to prevent the crime."

Ahmed Najib Chebbi, veteran leader of the centrist Republican party and a staunch critic of Islamists, told RTL that he was on a hit list and had been given official protection four months ago. Le Quotidien warned of the risk of "death squads" being unleashed to target political opponents. Judges and lawyers announced that they too were going on strike.

Political analyst Salem Labyed said the opposition appeared to want to leverage the crisis to its advantage. "It seems that the opposition wants to secure the maximum possible political gains but the fear is that the … crisis will deepen if things remain unclear at the political level," he said. "That could increase the anger of supporters of the secular opposition, which may go back to the streets again."

The French foreign minster, Laurent Fabius, expressed alarm at the Tunisian crisis. "The revolution at the beginning was a fight for dignity and freedom, but violence is taking over," he said on BFM-TV. "I want to offer France's support to those who want to end the violence. We cannot let closed-mindedness and violence take over."


“We are steadfast, like mountains,” mourners chanted in the Jebel Jalloud neighborhood, where they gathered the rain in preparing to march to the city’s largest cemetery.  “We do not fear assassination.”

A steady stream of supporters also traveled to Mr. Belaid’s home, where a circle of flowers and other mementos marked the spot where he was killed, raising fears of a broader conflagration.

  “I’m afraid the country will descend into chaos,” said Nuzha ben Yayha, a mourner who came to pay her respects.

The country’s labor federation called the first general strike in more than three decades for Friday to coincide with the burial, adding to a combustible mix of passions just two years after the overthrow of President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in early 2011 signaled the beginning of the Arab revolts sweeping the region.

The official TAP news agency said the national Army had been ordered to “secure” Mr. Belaid’s funeral “and ensure the protection of participants” while the trade union federation had called for a “peaceful” general strike “in order not to serve the objectives of Tunisia’s enemies who had planned Chokri Belaid’s assassination.”

The embassy of France, the former colonial power, said on its Web site that it would close its schools in the capital on Friday and Saturday for fear of renewed outbursts of violence.

On Thursday, protesters clashed with riot police officers in several cities. In Tunis, shuttered stores, tear gas and running street battles recreated the atmosphere of that uprising against former President Ben Ali but with none of the hope. Instead, many worried about a growing instability following the killing.

Adding to the uncertainties, Tunisia’s governing Islamist-led party on Thursday rejected a proposal by the prime minister to form a national unity government.

The announcement by the party, Ennahda, revealed growing strains within a movement that has promoted its blend of Islamist politics and pluralism as a model for the region. As it rejected the proposal by the prime minister, Hamadi Jebali, a member of Ennahda, the group also publicly rebuked one of its most senior leaders and rejected his efforts to calm the political crisis.

“The prime minister did not ask the opinion of his party,” Abdelhamid Jelassi, Ennahda’s vice president, said in a statement reported on the party’s Web site that rejected the proposal to replace the government with technocrats not affiliated with any party. “We in Ennahda believe Tunisia needs a political government now. We will continue discussions with other parties about forming a coalition government.”

The troubles in Tunisia unsettled the region and endangered a country that was credited with avoiding the chaos plaguing some its neighbors. In the same way some had held up Tunisia’s transition as an example, politicians in the region studied Mr. Belaid’s assassination and saw a broader warning.

Mr. Belaid’s death was seen as a blow to the country’s turbulent transition, raising the possibility that the political violence in Tunisia had reached a dangerous new level.

In the southern mining city of Gafsa, riots broke out and the police fired tear gas at demonstrators who threw stones, a local radio station reported. The city is known as a powerful base of support for Mr. Belaid, who was a fierce advocate for the miners.

A regional headquarters of Ennahda was burned down in the town of Siliana, according to local news media, one of more than a dozen party offices attacked by protesters in the last two days.

In one of the most disturbing aspects of the situation, Mr. Belaid had himself warned just before his death about Tunisia’s troubling turn toward violence and called for a national dialogue to combat it. He took special aim at Ennahda, accusing the Islamist group of turning a blind eye to crimes perpetrated by hard-line Islamists known as Salafis, including attacking Sufi shrines and liquor stores.

There have been no arrests in the killing, and no suspect has been identified. The governing party has condemned the assassination. Anxiety about the assassination reverberated in Egypt, where political feuds have been eclipsed by street clashes between protesters and the riot police. Security officials said plainclothes guards had been assigned to guard the homes of prominent opponents of Egypt’s Islamist-dominated government. The worries were amplified because of a fatwa issued by a hard-line Egyptian cleric saying that opponents of President Mohamed Morsi should be killed. The fatwa specifically mentioned Mohamed ElBaradei, a former United Nations diplomat and leader of Egypt’s largest secular-leaning opposition bloc, which led him to request the protection.

“Regime silent as another fatwa gives license to kill opposition in the name of Islam,” Mr. ElBaradei wrote in a Twitter message. “Religion yet again used and abused.”

On Thursday, Mr. Morsi addressed the issue in a speech, saying that political violence “has become one of the most important challenges that face the Arab Spring revolutions.”

In what seemed to be a direct challenge to religious hard-liners — as well as an attempt to avoid the criticism directed at Ennahda — he condemned those “who claim to speak for religion” and who “permit killing based on political differences.”

“This is terrorism itself,” he said.

Kareem Fahim reported from Tunis, David D. Kirkpatrick from Antakya, Turkey, and Alan Cowell from Paris. Monica Marks contributed reporting from Tunis, and Rick Gladstone from New York.


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« Reply #4466 on: Feb 08, 2013, 08:04 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
02/07/2013 05:55 PM

Bulgaria Attack: EU Leaders Mull Firmer Stance against Hezbollah

By James Kirchick

The US is urging EU countries to follow its lead in labelling Hezbollah a terrorist organization. Bulgaria's claim that the militant Lebanese group was behind a deadly attack on Israeli tourists in July already has EU leaders calling for action.

When a bomb exploded on a tourist bus in the Bulgarian Black Sea resort town of Burgas last July killing five Israelis and the Bulgarian bus driver, many immediately suspected that Hezbollah was behind the attack. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately pinned blame on the Lebanese Islamist Shiite militant group, asserting that the hit had been carried out by "Hezbollah, the long arm of Iran." American intelligence officials privately backed up that claim.

Now, a six-month investigation by the Bulgarian Interior Ministry lends new credibility to the suspicion that it was indeed Hezbollah that executed the fatal attack. Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov on Tuesday said there were "well-grounded reasons to suggest" that two men who helped plan the bombing -- one bearing an Australian passport and the other a Canadian one -- were Hezbollah members who had been living in Lebanon prior to traveling to Bulgaria.

"We have followed their entire activities in Australia and Canada, so we have information about financing and their membership in Hezbollah," Tsvetanov said at a news conference.

Hezbollah Rejects Allegations

The Shiite group, whose name literally means "Party of God" in Arabic, has rejected the allegations, with a deputy leader stating that this week's announcement was an Israeli plot "to intimidate people and countries against Hezbollah."

The revelations could have major implications for how the European Union deals with Hezbollah, which both the United States and Canada have deemed a terrorist organization. That designation permits both governments to outlaw Hezbollah's activities, freeze its bank accounts and monitor suspected members. Currently, just two EU countries have blacklisted the organization: the Netherlands and the United Kingdom (the latter of which has only banned what it determines to be Hezbollah's "military wing"). Throughout the rest of Europe, Hezbollah members can raise money, stage demonstrations and work unimpeded.

But with a suspected attack on European soil, EU policy toward the organization could soon change. "If the evidence proves to be true that Hezbollah is indeed responsible for this despicable attack, then consequences will have to follow," Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said in Berlin earlier this week. Whatever those consequences, they could deal a significant blow to the organization: A 2011 analysis conducted by Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, reported Hezbollah has nearly 1,000 members in the country.

Hand of Iran Looms Behind Hezbollah

Saba Farzan, a German-Iranian journalist and the head of Iran research with the Mideast Freedom Forum Berlin, said it may ultimately be the EU's antagonistic relationship with the Islamic Republic that tips the scales. "Especially since the issue of Hezbollah has a direct linkage to the Iran conflict, it is realistic that those policymakers who really want to act now come out on top," she said. However she added that the internal European debate over Hezbollah is far from over, and that "it remains to be seen if Chancellor Merkel and other heads of state in Europe will speak publicly in favor" of labeling it a terrorist group.

Such hesitancy was echoed by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, whose spokesperson issued a statement that did not even mention the group by name. "The terrorists who planned and carried out the Burgas attack must be brought to justice," it read, adding that "the High Representative underlines the need for a reflection over the outcome of (Bulgaria's) investigation." Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt ominously tweeted on Tuesday that "we need to reflect seriously on consequences of Bulgarian probe naming Hezbollah as behind terrorist attack."

'Calling It Terrorist Would Limit France's Ties with Beirut'

Opponents of designating Hezbollah as a terrorist organization -- a bloc led by France, Lebanon's former colonial power -- say the group's status as the most powerful political party in Lebanon, in addition to its social welfare work for Lebanese Shiites, is reason to hesitate before banning it as a terrorist outfit.

"Calling it terrorist would limit France's ties with Beirut and put French targets and personnel in Lebanon at risk of retaliation," Claude Moniquet, a former French intelligence official told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency this week. "The Bulgarian report doesn't alter this realpolitik. There were always plenty of smoking guns."

Changing the EU designation would require a unanimous vote by the regional bloc's 27 member states, a move that Washington has repeatedly urged its European allies to take.

Julien Barnes-Dacey, an expert on the Middle East at the European Council on Foreign Relations in London, predicted the EU would be "following the British track, whereby they differ between the political and military wings" of Hezbollah. "Because of the reluctance on the part of European states to fully isolate and sanction Hezbollah, that could be a compromise path forward," he said. But even a half-way measure such as this would be significant, Barnes-Dacey added, because "Hezbollah does give a lot of store to their ongoing relationship and communication with the Europeans. It is important to Hezbollah, it will leave a mark and it will isolate them politically."

Indeed, the Bulgarian Interior Minister seemed to presage just such a distinction by stating that the two men had been members of the group's armed faction. "What we can make as a justified conclusion is that the two persons whose identity we have established belonged to the military wing of Hezbollah," Tsvetanov said at the Tuesday press conference.

For decades, European governments have preferred to avoid confrontation with Hezbollah as long as its terrorism was not directed at continental targets. In spite of a 1983 Beirut bombing that killed 58 French peacekeepers and 241 American Marines, deadly attacks on Israeli and Jewish targets in Buenos Aires in 1992 and 1994 (which Argentine prosecutors pinned on the group), and its military support for the embattled Syrian regime of Bashar Assad (whom the EU has repeatedly called upon to step down), Brussels has resisted naming Hezbollah a terrorist outfit. But now that the Party of God has struck European soil, calls within the EU for a tougher stance against Hezbollah are growing.


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« Reply #4467 on: Feb 08, 2013, 08:14 AM »


Obama blocked US plan to arm Syrian rebels

Pentagon, CIA and state department favoured plan to help rebels, but president ruled it out, congressional hearing is told

Reuters in Washington
guardian.co.uk, Friday 8 February 2013 09.43 GMT

Pentagon leaders have said they supported a recommendation from the US state department and CIA to arm Syrian rebels, but Barack Obama ultimately decided against it.

The Obama administration has limited its support to non-lethal aid for the rebels who, despite receiving weapons from countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are poorly armed compared with the army and loyalist militias of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.

John McCain, a Republican senator who has championed greater US involvement, asked Pentagon leaders at a congressional hearing: "How many more have to die before you recommend military action?"

He then pressed the outgoing defence secretary, Leon Panetta, and General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the US military's joint chiefs of staff, about whether they backed the recommendation by the state department and CIA chiefs last year to arm the rebels.

Panetta and Dempsey said they had backed the recommendation and, later in the hearing, the defence secretary elaborated.

"Obviously there were a number of factors that were involved here that ultimately led to the president's decision to make [the aid] non-lethal," Panetta said, adding that he supported Obama's decision.

The comments were the first public acknowledgement of Pentagon support to arm the rebels since 2 February when the New York Times reported on the plan developed last summer by Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus, who have since left their jobs at the state department and CIA respectively.

The defence chiefs' testimony suggested White House opposition alone may have been enough to override the position of most major US foreign policy and security agencies.

The New York Times said the plan to arm and train rebels was rebuffed by the White House due to concerns that it could draw the United States into the Syrian conflict and that the arms could fall into the wrong hands.

The questions about US policy in Syria came during a hearing focusing on Libya, with Pentagon leaders defending their response to last year's deadly attack on the US consulate in Benghazi.

Republican politicians raised questions about whether the reaction was too slow and whether Obama was engaged enough during the incident, choosing to get updates on the crisis from staff instead of military leaders.

Panetta and Dempsey said US forces could not have reached Libya in time to prevent the deaths of the US ambassador and three other Americans on 11 September 2012, and insisted Obama was kept in the loop.

Panetta stressed that it was not the US military's responsibility to be able to immediately respond anywhere in the world to a crisis. There was no intelligence about a specific plan to attack the consulate, he and Dempsey noted.

"The United States military … is not and, frankly, should not be a 911 service capable of arriving on the scene within minutes to every possible contingency around the world," he said.

**********

Brennan rejects CIA torture claims in confident display at Senate hearing

Obama's nominee for CIA director suggests he was misled over value of waterboarding and forcefully defends drones policy

Chris McGreal in Washington
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 7 February 2013 23.16 GMT      

John Brennan denied at his Senate confirmation hearing as CIA director accusations that he played a central role in the agency's torture of suspected terrorists, and suggested he was misled as a CIA senior official over the value of information obtained through waterboarding.

Brennan faced lengthy questioning over the CIA's abduction and abuse of alleged terrorists at secret "black sites", following a confidential 6,000-page Senate report that Brennan described as "very concerning and disturbing" in its evidence that the agency misrepresented and lied about the value of "enhanced interrogation techniques".

Obama's nomination to be CIA director also made a forceful defence of the White House's drones policy, of which he has been a principal architect, saying that the public does not appreciate the "agony" the government goes through to avoid civilian deaths.

Brennan was pressed into a commitment to keep Congress informed on intelligence operations after lengthy battles with the White House over access to classified information, including the legal basis for the assassination of US citizens by drone.

Brennan handled the questions with confidence, in contrast with Chuck Hagel's disjointed appearance at his confirmation hearing for US defence secretary last week, and looked likely to win approval as CIA director.

Brennan was closely questioned about what he knew of the CIA's abduction and torture of suspected terrorists when he was the agency's executive deputy director after 9/11. It was put to him that another senior CIA official said Brennan helped "set the parameters" in devising enhanced interrogation techniques, known as EITs, and getting Justice Department authority for them.

Obama's nominee denied it, but acknowledged he knew about the programme and said he objected. Asked why he didn't intervene to stop it, he said that was not his job.

"I did not take steps to stop the CIA's use of those techniques. I was not in the chain of command of that programme," he said. "I was aware of the programme. I was CC'd in on some of those documents, but I had no oversight of it. I wasn't involved in its creation," he said.

"I had expressed my personal objections and views to some agency colleagues about certain of those EIT's, such as waterboarding, nudity and others where I professed my personal objections to it. But I did not try to stop it because it was something that was being done in a different part of the agency."

Brennan defended an interview with CBS in 2007 in which he said that IETs "saved lives" by gathering valuable intelligence.

"The reports I was getting subsequent to that and in the years after that, it was clearly my impression it was valuable information that was coming out," he said.

But he has since retreated from that view and told his confirmation hearing that the Senate's report on the CIA's detention and interrogation programme had disturbed him.

"There clearly were a number of things, many things, that I read in that report that were very concerning and disturbing to me. Ones that I would want to look into immediately if I were to be confirmed as CIA director. It talked about mismanagement of the programme, misrepresentation of information, providing inaccurate information, and it was rather damning in a lot of its language as far as the nature of these activities carried out," he said.

Although Brennan declined to call waterboarding torture, he pledged that under his direction the CIA will not again use such techniques.

Brennan also gave a repeated defence of the use of drones in the face of scepticism from some senators particularly over the legal authority for the president to order the killing of American citizens. Obama repeatedly refused to release the 50-page legal opinion giving him the power to sign off on the summary executions by drone, and only permitted members of the Senate intelligence committee to read it hours before the hearing after some threatened to hold up Brennan's confirmation.

Senator Ron Wyden pressed Brennan for more openness.

"It's the idea of giving any president unfettered power to kill an American without checks and balances that's so troubling. Every American has the right to know when their government believes it's allowed to kill them," he said.

Brennan said drones are only used as "a last resort to save lives" but agreed that "we need to optimise transparency while at the same time optimising secrecy" over the killings.

Brennan was also pressed over the CIA's refusal to reveal where it is carrying out drone strikes and promised to provide that information if he is confirmed as the agency's director.

Republican senator Susan Collins asked why the aim of the drone programme shifted from targeting al-Qaida's senior leadership to relatively junior figures in the organisation. Collins quoted the former US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, as saying the drone strikes "are hated on a visceral level even by people who have never seen one" and asked Brennan if they may backfire by creating a new wave of terrorists.

Brennan said it is a concern.

"I think that is something that we have to be very mindful of, in terms of what the reaction is," he said. But he also claimed in parts of Yemen, where "people are being held hostage to al-Qaida", the drone strikes are welcomed.



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« Reply #4468 on: Feb 08, 2013, 08:20 AM »

Kerry: North Korea’s nuclear tests increase potential for conflict

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, February 7, 2013 18:17 EST

US Secretary of State John Kerry warned on Thursday that North Korea’s expected nuclear tests only increase the risk of conflict and would do nothing to help the country’s stricken people.

Kerry made the remarks when he dropped in on a group of young students taking a foreign policy classroom in the State Department.

“You look at the problems we’re having with North Korea right now, questions of the imminency perhaps of another test, more missiles being fired, perhaps a nuclear test. To what end?” he asked.

“I mean, all that will happen is greater potential of conflict.”

North Korea has vowed to carry out a third nuclear test soon, and concerns have been raised over the type of fissile material used in the device.

Tests by Pyongyang in 2006 and 2009 involved plutonium, so a uranium detonation would prove that regime of new leader Kim Jong-Un has developed an additional way to make bombs.

“The people of North Korea are starving,” Kerry added, addressing the issue of North Korea for the first time since he took over as America’s top diplomat late on Friday.

“They desperately need to become more open and connected to the world instead of harboring some of the worst gulags in the world where people are tortured, and forced labor,” Kerry added.


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« Reply #4469 on: Feb 08, 2013, 08:22 AM »


China cracks down on Tibet protests

Beijing arrests 70 in ethnic Tibetan areas as it steps up efforts to blame Dalai Lama for self-immolations in protest at Chinese rule

Associated Press in Beijing
guardian.co.uk, Friday 8 February 2013 07.06 GMT   

China's government says it has detained 70 people in ethnic Tibetan areas as it cracks down on self-immolation protests against Chinese rule.

Beijing has stepped up its efforts to blame the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, for the protests, in which nearly 100 Tibetan monks, nuns and lay people have set themselves on fire since 2009.

The harsh measures are a sign new Chinese leaders installed in November are not easing up on Tibet despite international condemnation.

The protesters are calling for Beijing to allow greater religious freedom and the return from exile of the Dalai Lama, who lives in India.

The latest detentions took place in an ethnic Tibetan area of Qinghai province, which borders Tibet, the government's Xinhua news agency announced late on Thursday. It said 12 of those detained were formally arrested but gave no details of the charges.

Beijing has responded to the protests by sending in security forces to seal off areas and prevent information from getting out, arresting protesters' friends and seizing satellite TV dishes. Despite that, the pace of self-immolations accelerated in November as the ruling Communist party held a leadership transition.

The government has blamed the burnings on hostile foreign forces that want to separate Tibet from the mainland.

The burnings have galvanised many Tibetans, who see them as selfless acts of sacrifice, making it hard for authorities to denounce the immolators.

On Thursday, Voice of America, a US-government-financed broadcaster, denied accusations by Chinese state television and a government newspaper that it encouraged the burnings. The US state department has expressed concern about the "deteriorating human rights situation in Tibetan areas" and the use of criminal laws against people associated with protesters.

"Our concern is that there are deep grievances within the Tibetan population which are not being addressed openly and through dialogue by the Chinese government," said a department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland.

Nuland said Washington urged Beijing to "engage in a substantive dialogue" with the Dalai Lama. "We continue to call on Chinese government officials to permit Tibetans to express their grievances freely, publicly and peacefully, without fear of retribution," she said.


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