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« Reply #4620 on: Feb 17, 2013, 08:57 AM »

Ancient mysteries unveiled at Peru’s 5,000-year-old Temple of Fire

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, February 17, 2013 9:14 EST

The recent discovery of a ceremonial fireplace believed to be more than 5,000 years old sheds light on one of the oldest populated sites in the Americas.

The fireplace, dubbed the Temple of Fire, was discovered within the El Paraiso archeological complex in the Chillon valley, located just outside the bustling Peruvian capital.

Archeologists say the site is comparable in age to Caral, the oldest pre-Columbian site in the Americas that was inhabited between 2,600 – 2,100 BC. Caral is located some 200 kilometers (125 miles) to the north and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The fireplace was found when archeologists discovered a narrow entrance on a wing of El Paraiso’s central pyramid in January, when they were removing sand and stones.

“We quickly realized the importance of this discovery,” said Marco Guillen, the head archeologist at the site.

The entrance, measuring some 48 centimeters (19-inches) wide, leads to a chamber measuring eight by six meters (26 by 20 feet) where shellfish, grains, flowers and fruit were burned as offerings.

The stone walls inside “were covered with a fine coating of yellow soil, with traces of red paint,” Guillen said. “The smoke allowed the priests to connect with the gods.”

The temple has four levels, “each one older than the other,” Guillen said.

The find shows that the Andean world was more closely connected than previously thought — this early construction set a blueprint reproduced in the ancient mountain chain civilizations for the centuries to come.

The central pyramid is the only building uncovered in El Paraiso. Experts say there are 10 “architectural units” at the site that include temples, plazas and residences.

Archeologists believe that the central pyramid had a communal use, while two other structures — which at a glance look like sandy hills — include buildings that appear to be homes.

“We know little about the other units, because they have not yet been studied,” said Luis Caceres, head of archeology at the Ministry of Culture.

El Paraiso is spread across 50 hectares (125 acres) about two kilometers (1.2 miles) from the Pacific Ocean.

At the center of the site are stone platforms discovered by French archeologist Frederic Engel in 1965. Today parts of the archeological zone has been taken over by farmers and urban squatters, though locals have banded together to stop further encroachment.

Evidence uncovered by Engel lead experts to estimate that some 3,000 people could have lived in El Pariso, Guillen said. Experts are currently analyzing waste samples to find out what they ate.

Archeologists believe the ancient coastal civilizations raised crops including cotton, which they traded with coastal fishermen for food.

The discovery “demonstrates the importance of Lima from time immemorial,” long before the arrival of Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro, who founded the Peruvian capital in 1535, Deputy Culture Minister Rafael Varon told reporters when the discovery was announced on Tuesday.

“There is a lot to discover in order to untangle the mysteries held at El Pariso,” Guillen told AFP. “We need to know if below these structures there are even older ones.”

“We just began and already found the Temple of Fire,” he said.

The government of President Ollanta Humala has allocated $1.8 million over the next five years for research at the site.


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« Reply #4621 on: Feb 17, 2013, 09:00 AM »

World Bank warns economic powers: Climate change is real

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, February 16, 2013 19:00 EST

The president of the World Bank on Saturday warned the finance chiefs of the world’s leading economic powers that global warming is a real risk to the planet and already affecting the world economy in unprecedented ways.

Adressing the G20 finance ministers at their meeting in Moscow, Jim Yong Kim called on the world powers to “tackle the serious challenges presented by climate change.”

“These are not just risks. They represent real consequences,” said Kim, calling the lack of attention to the issue by finance ministers and central bank chiefs “a mistake”.

He said failing to tackle the challenges of climate change risked having “serious consequences for the economic outlook”.

“Damages and losses from natural disasters have more than tripled over the past 30 years,” said Kim, giving as examples the $45 billion of losses from the 2011 floods in Thailand, whose effects “spread across borders disrupting international supply chains.”

“Years of development efforts are often wiped out in days or even minutes,” Kim said, asking the G20 to “face climate change, which is a very real and present danger.”

The G20 finance ministers’ agenda in Moscow is dominated by concerns about competitive currency devaluations and a new drive by EU powers to force big business to pay a fair share of tax.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]


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« Reply #4622 on: Feb 17, 2013, 09:03 AM »


Chinese struggle through 'airpocalypse' smog

Pollution has hit record levels recently, prompting citizens to ask if they're paying for economic growth with their health

Jonathan Kaiman   
The Observer, Saturday 16 February 2013 19.47 GMT      

Hu Li's heart sank when she realised that she could gauge how close she was to home by the colour of the air. Driving 140 kilometres from Tianjin City to Beijing last week, she held her breath as the chalky-white horizon became a charcoal grey haze. The 39-year-old businesswoman has lived in Beijing for a decade, and this past month, she said, brought the worst air pollution she has ever seen. It gave her husband a hacking cough and left her seven-year-old daughter housebound. "I'm working here and my husband's working here, so we have no choice," she said. "But if we had a choice, we'd like to escape from Beijing."

A prolonged bout of heavy pollution over the last month, which returned with a vengeance for a day last week – called the "airpocalypse" or "airmageddon" by internet users – has fundamentally changed the way that Chinese people think about their country's toxic air. The event was worthy of its namesake. On one day, pollution levels were 30 times higher than levels deemed safe by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Flights were cancelled. Roads were closed. One hospital in east Beijing reported treating more than 900 children for respiratory issues. Bloomberg found that for most of January, Beijing's air was worse than that of an airport smoking lounge.

The smog's most threatening aspect is its high concentration of PM 2.5 – particulate matter that is small enough to lodge deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream, causing respiratory infections, asthma, lung cancer, cerebrovascular disease, and possibly damaging children's development. The WHO has estimated that outdoor air pollution accounts for two million deaths per year, 65% of them in Asia. Yet the smog has become more than a health hazard in China – it has become a symbol of widespread dissatisfaction with the government's growth-first development strategy. Feelings of resigned helplessness have given way to fear, anger, and society-wide pressure to change the status quo.

The Lunar New Year, which came last Sunday, usually coincides with clear blue skies – an estimated 9m cars depart from the capital, and its emissions-spewing factories shut down as workers go on holiday. Yet the smog came back with a vengeance on Wednesday. Environmental authorities sent text messages to Beijing residents urging them to mitigate the pollution by refraining from the long-held holiday tradition of lighting fireworks. According to state media, they took heed. Fireworks sales fell 37% compared with last year.

"PM 2.5 and data measurement issues with regard to air quality have entered into mainstream Chinese life," said Angel Hsu, a doctoral candidate at Yale University. Hsu has tracked usage of the term "PM 2.5" on Sina Weibo, China's most popular microblog, over the last two years. In January 2011, it was mentioned about 200 times. Last month, the number soared above three million.

In China, PM 2.5 has acquired a symbolic weight to parallel its medical gravitas. Young internet users post photos of themselves wearing air filtration face masks. One popular mask is hot pink; another looks like a panda bear. Last spring, Shanghai hosted a PM 2.5-themed rock music festival. A music video called "Beijing, Beijing (Big Fog Version)" went viral on video sharing websites. "Who is searching in the fog? Who is weeping in the fog? Who is living in the fog? Who is dying in the fog," A man croons over images of cars crawling along smog-choked highways.

Experts say that the last month's pollution was probably caused initially by a cold snap, forcing huge use of coal, followed by a rare temperature inversion, which trapped emissions under a blanket of warm air. Others say that it could be related to a prolonged period of high humidity, trapping particulate matter in the air. Pollution levels depend heavily on the force and direction of the wind. A strong north-eastern gust can blow the smog out to sea; a few stagnant hours are enough to make noon look like early evening.

The standard international measurement for air quality – the US Air Quality Index, or AQI – rates air quality on a scale of zero to 500. With experience, it becomes possible to guess the AQI in Beijing without looking at official readings. One hundred correlates to a thin grey gauze hovering above the horizon. When the index hits 200, the sky is visible only in a small patch directly overhead. An AQI reading of 300 blots out the sun, smothering the city in drab uniformity. When the AQI reached 755 on 12 January, the worst day on record, the air felt like industrial smoke – chemical-tasting, eye-watering.

On particularly smoggy days, the toxic cloud is visible in satellite photos. The worst of the last month's pollution stretched 1,100 miles south, closing highways near the south-western city Guiyang. When the smog clears, it doesn't simply vanish, but instead drifts to surrounding countries. January's smog spurred Japanese authorities to release health warnings to people living in the country's western cities. Traces of China's smog have been detected as far afield as California.

The Beijing municipal government has taken steps to curb the pollution, temporarily shutting down factories and ordering government cars off the roads. While propaganda authorities used to quash reports of air pollution for fear that they could spark social unrest, Chinese newspapers were allowed to report freely on the crisis. Shanghai's Environmental Protection Bureau has designed a cartoon accompaniment to its AQI readings – a pigtailed girl with big anime-style eyes, green-haired and smiling when the index reads "excellent" but maroon-haired and weepy when smog rolls in.

"I'm pretty optimistic that this happened at the right time to prompt the most action possible," said Deborah Seligsohn, an expert on China's environment at University of California, San Diego. President Xi Jinping took the reins of the Communist party in November; incoming prime minister Li Keqiang has promised to make environmental protection a focus of his tenure. Beijing authorities hope to wean the city off coal and implement stricter vehicle emissions standards by 2016.

Seligsohn added that changes would take a while. "If Beijing were surrounded by cities that were doing the same thing that Beijing was doing, it would be fine, but it isn't," she said. A short drive from central Beijing, the landscape fans out into sprawling, dusty plains, where farmers burn coal to heat their concrete homes. Small factories there often escape the notice of environmental watchdogs. PM 2.5, she explained, is produced by four airborne pollutants – sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxides, volatile organic compounds, and black carbon – each of which would require its own slew of regulations to curb.

People have begun to take protection into their own hands. "People are starting to treat air purifiers as a necessary appliance like a washing machine or computer," said Bi Xiuyan, a 56-year-old product salesperson for Amway. Bi has sold about 50 air purifiers in the last month, each of which costs £960, about twice the average monthly income for Beijing residents. "Everybody needs to breathe," she said.

Louie Cheng, the president of Shanghai-based Pure Living China, a small company that tests indoor air pollution, said that the current situation boosted the company's web traffic 30-fold. "Literally you can see it – this isn't compared with a year ago, this is compared with a month ago," he said. Cheng said that he helped start the company three years ago when an expat friend with an asthmatic daughter couldn't find a local company to competently test his house for pollutants. His client-base has tripled since January, and now includes more than half of Shanghai and Beijing's international schools. "It's just hard to keep up with the demand," he said.

Awareness of the problem has spread beyond major urban centres. Ma Shiying, who sells moist towelettes in the small coastal city of Weifang, Shandong province, heeded the government's warning and lit fewer fireworks this year. "Over the past few months, the whole world has begun to pay close attention to this problem," he said. "It's become impossible for anyone to ignore."

Yet interpretations of the issue vary. Eva Zhong, the head of exports for a fireworks manufacturer in Hunan province, said that the government's fireworks warnings were misplaced. "Fireworks are very innocent," she said. "Car exhaust is a far greater problem."

Despite the government figures, she added, her company's sales this year have been unscathed.


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« Reply #4623 on: Feb 17, 2013, 09:16 AM »


February 16, 2013

Pope Electors Are Sizing Up a Field of Peers

By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
IHT

There is no formal nominating process for choosing the man to succeed Pope Benedict XVI, and campaigning for oneself is counterproductive. But the cardinals who will file into the Sistine Chapel next month to elect a new leader of the Roman Catholic Church have been quietly sizing up potential candidates for years.

They were impressed when the young soon-to-be-cardinal of Manila, Luis Antonio Tagle, told bishops gathered for a momentous synod in Rome last October that the church should listen more and admit its mistakes. They took note a year ago when Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York delivered a winning address on evangelization to the College of Cardinals, the day before the pope gave him the red hat of a cardinal.

They deemed Cardinal Marc Ouellet a gracious host on their visits to the Vatican, where he guides the selection of bishops, but some said he practically put the crowd to sleep during his talk at the International Eucharistic Congress last June in Dublin.

These impressions, collected from interviews with a variety of church officials and experts, may influence the very intuitive, often unpredictable process the cardinals will use to decide who should lead the world’s largest church.

The cardinals will gather on March 1, one day after Benedict steps down and departs for Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer home in the hills outside Rome. The cardinals will meet every morning to discuss where the church is headed and, over lunches and dinners, take the measure of one another’s characters, talents and experiences, based on personal relationships and observations. But undoubtedly they will also consider geography, doctrinal approach and style.

By the time the 117 cardinal electors enter the conclave to choose the next pope, they must be ready to vote.

According to church rules, the conclave could begin on March 15, but the Vatican spokesman said Saturday that it may start even earlier. The cardinals, eager to finish the process by Palm Sunday on March 24, could reinterpret the mandatory 15-day waiting period, the spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said.

The waiting period was intended to allow time for cardinals to gather after the death of a pope, but because Benedict’s resignation has already been announced, the cardinals have advance notice and, in fact, many have already begun discussions by phone and e-mail.

“People are reluctant to speak about themselves,” said Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, who voted in the conclave that elected Benedict in 2005. “So you go to a friend and say, Can you tell me about cardinal so-and-so?”

“The questions are usually about the qualities you want to see in a pope. Is he a man of prayer, is he deeply rooted in the apostolic faith, can he govern, is he deeply concerned about the poor?” Cardinal George said in a telephone interview. “It matters far less where he happens to be living or where he’s from.”

The auditions begin in earnest on Sunday when Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, an Italian who is president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, is scheduled to preach the weeklong papal Lenten retreat, attended by Benedict and many of the cardinals and bishops who work in the Vatican. Preaching the Lenten retreat is a high honor, one bestowed on Karol Wojtyla and Joseph Ratzinger before they became Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

“It’s not only going to be seen as a sign of papal favor, but it will give him a platform,” said John Thavis, the retired Rome bureau chief for Catholic News Service, a church-affiliated news agency, and author of “The Vatican Diaries.” “People will be listening very carefully.”

“The way candidates come to the fore is generally not by what they’re doing in their local archdioceses, which is what matters most to their own people,” he said. “It’s what they do at the center of the universal church.”

The case of Cardinal Ravasi exemplifies the way the cardinals will sift and weigh a candidate’s attributes against the church’s needs. Church leaders now say their greatest challenge is to confront a rising wave of secularism in Europe, the United States and even Latin America, and Cardinal Ravasi has energetically engaged nonbelievers across Europe with high-profile events in cities like Stockholm; Paris; Tirana, Albania; and Bucharest, Romania.

At a time when many prelates say the church must learn to use social media to evangelize, he has more than 35,000 followers on Twitter.

However, to the cardinals and bishops in the Vatican, according to Sandro Magister, a Vatican expert at the magazine L’Espresso, “Ravasi is considered very ambitious and much too inclined to chase the applause of the public.”

The other Italians who are more solid candidates, Mr. Magister said, are Cardinal Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan and a theologian who has often addressed the challenges of secularism and Islam in Europe, and Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the archbishop of Genoa and president of the Italian bishops conference.

Personality may be pre-eminent, but geography has increasingly been a factor. With the church shrinking in Europe, and the majority of Catholics now living in Africa, Asia and Latin America, many Catholics are calling for the cardinals to turn the reins over to a leader from the global south. The church has never had a non-European pope in the modern era. (The last, according to Vatican records, was Gregory III, a Syrian, who served until 741.) Benedict has actually increased the percentage of cardinals from Italy and reduced the percentage from the developing world. But they do not necessarily vote in geographic blocs. The cardinals from Italy are said to be divided into factions, according to church experts in Rome, as are those from Latin America.

For those spoken of as front-runners, granting news media interviews in the weeks before a conclave can backfire, church observers say.

Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, already tarnished by having shown an unforgivingly anti-Islam video at a church event last year, probably hurt his chances recently by speaking to The Daily Telegraph of London as if he had already been elected pope: “It is going to be a life-changing experience, and I think that is what it has been for Benedict and those who have gone before us.”

In the past, the cardinals with posts in the Vatican bureaucracy had an advantage because they had spent more time with bishops visiting from around the world. Bishops elevated to cardinal are appointed to Vatican committees and see one another more frequently in Rome.

“The most important thing is personal contact,” said Msgr. James P. Moroney, rector of St. John’s Seminary, in Boston, and a liturgist who has worked in the Vatican and at the American bishops’ conference in Washington. “Someone’s reputation is very important, but when you establish a personal relationship, that’s when you really make up your mind.”

Benedict has intentionally created more opportunities for the cardinals to get to know one another before they elect the next pope, said Rocco Palmo, a Philadelphia writer who closely follows developments in the hierarchy on his blog, “Whispers in the Loggia.”

Benedict elevated new groups of cardinals five times during his eight-year papacy, and on all but one of those occasions he gathered the cardinals together for a daylong meeting before the formal elevation rite. It was at such a meeting in February 2012 that Cardinal Dolan won praise for his talk on evangelization, Mr. Palmo said. “The cardinals all got the chance to size each other up and listen to one another, and there was no seniority in terms of who could speak,” he said.

In the last conclave eight years ago, there were alliances of liberal and conservative cardinals. But this time, the spectrum has narrowed because 50 of the cardinals were created by John Paul II and 67 by Benedict, both doctrinal conservatives. (Cardinals age 80 and older cannot participate.)

“This time most of them are on the same page,” said Msgr. Anthony Figueiredo, director of the Institute for Continuing Theological Education at the North American College, in Rome.

“What’s going to be very key in this conclave is the person, the personality,” Monsignor Figueiredo said. “Is he a man who can really speak to the hearts of people in this secularized, de-Christianized world where people, let’s face it, are leaving the church and need to be attracted to the message?”

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As Africa rises, Europe loses grip on Catholic power base

After the resignation of Pope Benedict, African and Latin American cardinals could emerge as candidates to succeed him. Catholicism's European power base is under threat and the election of a new pope could be a historic moment for the church. Observer correspondents report from around the world

Afua Hirsch, Ghana   
The Observer, Sunday 17 February 2013          

The muted light of an African sunset filters into the high, pointed roof of Christ The King church in Accra, a wide, understated building just metres away from the seat of government in Ghana's capital city. Outside is one of the longest traffic jams in the country, but the rush hour chaos of filthy exhaust fumes, street hawkers and traffic police is somehow blocked out in the church, where densely packed pews of worshippers are cooled soothingly by the whirring of two dozen fans.

It is evening mass on Ash Wednesday and smart Accra residents have trickled towards Christ the King until even the chairs outside are full. Each one dips their fingers in holy water at the door, bows or curtseys before the statue of an alabaster Virgin Mary, and sits quietly in prayer or contemplation waiting for the service to start.

When it does, Father Campbell – the Irish priest who leads worship at Christ the King – speaks of the first day of Lent in the distinctive tones of his home country: "Lent in old English means 'spring' – spring is always beautiful. After a wet, cold winter, or early nights and cold, sombre days, spring comes with new life, birds returning from Africa, and buttercups…"

The scene painted by the priest is a world away from Ghana's year-round tropical heat, the destination for the birds whose flight from a wintry Europe Campbell describes. But no one seems to mind. For many of Ghana's 2.5 million Catholics, faith is unshakable.

"Here in Africa, we centre everything on God," says Akua, a 25-year-old fashion designer who has been attending mass at Christ the King all her life. "This was always in our African culture, but now that we have gotten to know so much about God and experience his works, we will never go back."

Ghanaian Catholicism is in the spotlight as never before following the tumultuous events in Rome last week, when Pope Benedict announced he would step down at the end of the month.

Shock at the announcement of the first papal resignation since 1415 immediately gave way to strong feelings of optimism that two cardinals from West Africa, Ghanaian Peter Turkson and Nigerian Francis Arinze, were frontline contenders to be next in line.

For worshippers such as Akua, it's a difficult thing to get one's head around. "For us it's strange that our Christianity is growing, while theirs is declining in Europe," she says. "They are the ones who brought Christianity to Africa! Are they trying to tell us that what we are doing is not the right thing? I feel that if they took the time to get back to God, most of their problems would cease."

At a large house set deep in a palm-tree laden garden in one of Accra's smartest suburbs, not far from Christ the King, one of the church's most prominent members describes his view that the Catholic church is an unshakable institution in this part of the world.

John Kufuor, former president of Ghana, is one of the country's best-known Catholics and displays his faith proudly, a large framed picture of Christ on the cross adorning his living room wall, nestled among pictures of him with George Bush and Condoleezza Rice, the King of Asante and other dignitaries from his time in office a decade ago.

"We Africans, even before we knew Christianity, have always believed in God. There is an adage in the Akan language – 'obi nkyere akwadaa Nyame' or 'nobody teaches a baby to believe in God'," he says. "We are born with the knowledge that there is a supernatural force –I believe it is inborn in us."

The belief for many that to be African is to be religious is one of the cultural factors which has helped the Catholic church to grow across the continent. There are now 30 million Catholics in the Democratic Republic of Congo alone – the 11th biggest Catholic population in the world – where 50% of the population is Catholic. There are almost 18 million Catholics in Nigeria, 10 million in Angola and 2.5 million in Ghana. The strength of the church is reinforced by an increasingly central role in education, health and other aspects of development.

"All churches in Africa are growing, and the Catholic church is the biggest and certainly the best organised and most structured and disciplined," says Paul Gifford, a Senegal-based emeritus professor of religion at the School of Oriental and African Studies, part of the University of London.
Nigerian Catholicism Monsignor Luke Adike blesses families at Our Lady of Rosary Emene Catholic church in Enugu, Nigeria, a country where the church has almost 18 million followers. Photograph: Barbara Davidson/Corbis

"In terms of its social involvement, it must be the single biggest development agency on the continent, with 12,000 infant schools, 33,000 primary schools, 10,000 secondary schools, and 20 universities in Africa. There are parts of DRC where anything that happens is because of the Catholic church, the state doesn't function there at all. Looking at the continent as a whole, I don't know of any other organisation that can come near that. It is without question one of the most salient social forces on the continent."

Many in Africa feel that, as the significance of the Catholic church in Africa continues to grow, so should the role of Africans within its centre of power, the Vatican.

"It would be very good to have an African pope," says Akua. "It would make people realise how much we Africans are getting involved in the Catholic church. People would realise that in countries like Nigeria and here in Ghana, we are not just about voodoo, we know about God too."

"I know Cardinal Turkson, and I would say he is a man of distinction," says Kufuor. "For him to have to have made it to the level he has in the Catholic church at his age is a phenomenal achievement. I'm a human being, I suffer from the frailties of man, including vanity, so naturally I would be very proud if a Ghanaian became the pope. But the selection of a pope is a phenomenon that I credit to God's destiny."

But not everyone agrees that the ever-higher profile of the church in Africa is a good thing. Some critics, even within the Catholic church, fear that the church is exceeding its proper role and attempting to act as a substitute for functioning institutions of state.

"The problem in our situation is that religion has become an excuse for the total collapse of the architecture of state," says Matthew Kukah, Bishop of Sokoto in Nigeria.

"In Nigeria the judiciary, the law enforcement agencies, the entire ruling elite is corrupt. The opening of the political space at the end of military rule has been accompanied by the insatiable expression of greed by political elite, who have turned out far more corrupt than the military ever were. And people like me are being called upon to help rebuild the society. I am not an elected official, this is not my role.

"There were times when religion responded to the social situation such as we found in South Africa under apartheid. But overthrowing apartheid is not the same as ridding the countries of corruption. Those are not things religion has the capacity to do."

"I think there's quite a danger that the Catholic church is too involved in development," says Gifford. "It's not just schools and clinics, but I imagine half the Aids care on the continent is provided by the Catholic church.

"It is so involved in those issues, that for so many African people their religious needs – the spirits, curses and witches that form their religious world view – the Catholic church is not so good at meeting. That is where the Pentecostal churches step up. Pentecostal church on a Sunday will identify a spirit that's causing your bankruptcy and cast it out."

The threat – or to use the old missionary terminology, "sheep stealing" – posed by the new Pentecostal and charismatic churches is something which young Catholics say troubles them deeply.

"We have a unique way of celebrating our mass. Wherever you are – Ghana, Nigeria, US or London, it's the same routine. But many of my Catholic friends have diverted to other churches. They enjoy the whole vibe, the charismatic way of fellowshipping, the whole noise thing," says Anthony, 27, also a member of Christ the King. "They think the Catholic church is too routine, they want the noise-making."

"It's very common in many parts of Africa that the Pentecostal churches have been 'sheep stealing'," says Matthew Engelke, senior lecturer in anthropology and an expert on African churches at the London School of Economics.

"One of the reasons is that the Pentecostal churches are seen to speak better to local cultural traditions and ideas of the spirit world. They take seriously the ideas of spirit possession, witchcraft and other things which – at least in some traditions of Catholicism – have been downplayed and denied."

But the fear among Catholics that their church is being overshadowed by newer, noisier churches still occurs within a context where the main complaint about Catholicism is that it is too powerful– something which church leaders elsewhere in the world may view enviously.

"The church here is strong, it is not going to decline, and I think it is time we had a black pope," says Anthony. "It's not that it matters if the pope is black or white, it's that so many ideas about God come from here. If we had one of our own in that position, those ideas might start to affect the church."

************

A black pope could result in mixed message over priestly celibacy

Objections to homosexuality would clash with cultural suspicions of a man without a woman in his life

John Hooper in Rome
The Observer, Sunday 17 February 2013   
       
When Pope Benedict addressed the clergy of Rome on Thursday, he chose to talk to them about the Second Vatican Council, perhaps the central event of his life.

He is among the last people alive to have taken part in that momentous gathering and it is a privilege of the long-lived to rewrite history. The then Joseph Ratzinger played a leading role in the revolutionary changes brought about by what Catholics call Vatican Two, but then did a theological U-turn after witnessing with horror the more secular upheaval of 1968.

He and his predecessor, John Paul II, have step-by-step reoriented the Catholic church to the point that it is nowadays an institution which might dismay the pope who convoked the Council, John XXIII, and reassure his austere predecessor Pius XII.

The change of direction has created a smaller, but more homogenous, church. Millions of the laity in Europe may have drifted away in despair at the gap between their lives and the Catholicism preached by the Vatican; priestly vocations in Europe may have fallen off a cliff, but those who remain – worshippers and clerics alike – are proud to belong to a conservative institution at odds with the times.

So the election to the papacy of a conservative African or Asian prelate would, in principle, be welcome to large sections of the church in Europe and the United States. Even for the dwindling minority of liberals, it would be a reminder to the world that, overall, Catholicism is growing, and at a faster rate than the global population.

But traditionally-minded Catholics might see one major change resulting from an African pope; the tradition of priestly celibacy.

Because of that tradition, combined with the contemporary intolerance of the laity towards unmarried relationships between priests and their "housekeepers", it would appear that the number of gay men in the Catholic priesthood has increased. Sharon Ferguson, chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, said: "A lot of gay young men brought up in Catholic households see the priesthood as a potential answer to the question: 'Why aren't you married yet?'" In one of his earliest moves, pope Benedict barred sexually active homosexual men from studying for the priesthood. Yet, three years ago, using hidden cameras, the Italian news weekly Panorama captured priests in Rome visiting gay clubs and bars and having sex.

That sort of thing would run into very vigorous opposition from the kind of no-nonsense African and Asian cardinals being touted as candidates for the throne of St Peter. Their attitude – of revulsion towards homosexuality – could, however, prompt a distinctly non-traditional reform. However, time and again, bishops on visits to Rome have stressed that, in many African cultures, a man without a woman beyond a certain age incites suspicion and lacks authority.

That puts a Catholic priest at a notable disadvantage to the local imam in many of the areas where Christianity is competing with Islam for ascendancy. And since that is one of the most important challenges facing the church, a black pope could put an end to priestly celibacy.

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Latin America is home to almost half the world's Catholics, but will struggle to produce the next pope

The continent has half a billion Christians – but only 21 of the 117 cardinals who will elect the next pontiff

Jonathan Watts in Rio de Janeiro
The Observer, Sunday 17 February 2013          

Almost as soon as Benedict XVI announced his resignation, Latin America was abuzz with speculation that the Catholic church would finally choose a pope from the continent with the most believers.

From the mayor of Mexico City to bishops and newspaper commentators in almost every country in the region, the prospects for a first Hispanic pontiff have been raised, weighed or boosted in newspapers, social networks and sermons.

Latin America is home to 41% of the world's 1.2 billion registered Catholics, but of the 117 cardinals who will decide the next pope, only 21 are from Latin America; almost half are from Europe.

For much of the past 50 years, swaths of Latin America have embraced a more socially active vision of the church's role in alleviating poverty and resisting dictatorships. "Liberation Theology" has proved highly controversial in the Vatican, where conservatives have been wary of the movement's overt Marxist sympathies. Before succeeding John Paul II, Benedict XVI proved his mettle by taking on the Liberation Theologians, whom he described as a "fundamental threat to the faith of the church".

None of the Latin American candidates is likely to introduce radical changes, though they could offer a change of tone and a continental shift in perspectives.

The best known is probably Argentine Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, who rose to public attention when he served as the voice of John Paul while the last pope was unable to speak due to Parkinson's disease. He also announced the pontiff's death. Now 69, Sandri, who speaks five languages, has held several senior positions in the Vatican, including his current role as head of the congregation of Oriental churches, which makes him responsible for Catholics in Bethlehem and elsewhere in the Holy Land. But some have noted that Sandri's star has been waning in recent years; his current role is less influential than the positions he occupied under John Paul.

If demographics were a major factor, then the leading Latin American candidate would probably be Odilo Pedro Scherer, the 63-year-old archbishop of Sao Paulo, the biggest city in Brazil and the continent.

The possibility of a first Hispanic pope has been widely picked up in the Brazilian media. The influential Veja magazine speculated that Scherer might be in the frame. There are five Brazilians among the 119 cardinals who are eligible to vote.

Brazil is the world's biggest Catholic nation with an estimated 150 million believers, 75% of the population. But this is a decline on the 90% recorded in the past – a result of secularism and a strong challenge by evangelical methodist groups and Islam but the country's importance to the church was evident in Benedict XVI's decision to make Sao Paulo the destination in 2007 of his first of his two trips to Latin America.





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« Reply #4624 on: Feb 17, 2013, 09:19 AM »


Iran confiscates Buddha statues in crackdown on 'cultural invasion'

Officials reportedly seizing statues from shops in Tehran to stop the promotion of Buddhism

Associated Press in Tehran
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 17 February 2013 13.32 GMT      

Buddha statues have joined Barbie dolls and characters from The Simpsons as banned items in Iran.

Officials are confiscating the statues from shops in the capital, Tehran, to stop the promotion of Buddhism, according to a report in the independent Arman daily.

The Islamic republic has long fought against items such as Barbie toys to block western influence, but this appears to be the first time authorities have shown an opposition to symbols from the east.

The newspaper quoted Saeed Jaberi Ansari, an official for the protection of Iran's cultural heritage, as calling the Buddha statues symbols of "cultural invasion".

He reportedly said authorities would not permit a specific belief to be promoted through such items. Ansari did not say how many Buddhas had been seized, but said the "cleansing" would continue.

Some Iranians buy Buddha statues to decorate their homes and cars. Most are made in China and come from Iranian free-trade zones in the Gulf.

"As I understand, none of the customers cared about Buddhism, they only bought it for decoration," said Reza Sanaei, a shopkeeper who sells the statues.

A customer, Marjan Arbabi, said she personally did not like the statues. "But my parents have a set of five Buddha statues at their home simply because they think the statues are beautiful," she said.

Under Iran's constitution, Christian and Jewish beliefs as well as Zoroastrianism are recognised alongside Islam, the official religion. The law says that in general the rights of all non-Muslims should be observed.

Some Islamists do not support the production of any statue, as they view it as a way to promote idols. In 2010 several statues depicting prominent Iranians disappeared from Tehran's streets and squares. Their disappearance was blamed on an unnamed group with a strict interpretation of Islam that forbids depiction of the human form in art.


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« Reply #4625 on: Feb 17, 2013, 09:24 AM »


February 16, 2013

Online Battle Over Sacred Scrolls, Real-World Consequences

By JOHN LELAND
IHT

There is a saying about academia that the disputes are so vicious because the stakes are so low. In the case of Raphael Haim Golb, a son of a Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, the last few years have provided ample support for the first half of the saying. But the second half is less accurate.

In his cluttered fifth-floor walk-up apartment in Greenwich Village, Mr. Golb, 53, is waiting to begin serving a six-month sentence for waging an Internet campaign against his father’s academic rivals, including sending e-mails under a rival professor’s name. The younger Mr. Golb, who has a Ph.D. from Harvard and a law degree from New York University, is six feet tall, 120 pounds; digressive, tightly wound, bookish; a gadfly, an irritant, an obsessive. If you saw him on the street, you might worry about his safety.

Between 2006 and 2009, he created more than 80 online aliases to advance his father’s views about the Dead Sea Scrolls against what he saw as a concerted effort to exclude them. Along the way, according to a jury and a panel of appellate court judges, he crossed from engaging in academic debate to committing a crime.

What he accomplished through this manner of intellectual warfare is, like the Dead Sea Scrolls themselves, a topic on which opinion is passionately diverse, with no shortage of bad blood.

“This has nothing to do with scholarly debate,” said Lawrence H. Schiffman, vice provost of Yeshiva University and a widely published authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls, who became the prime target of Mr. Golb’s online activities. “It has to do with criminal activity.

“Fraud, impersonation and harassment are criminal matters,” he continued. “This was actually designed to literally end my career.”

Mr. Golb’s father, Norman Golb, 85, a professor of Jewish History and Civilization at the University of Chicago, placed the wrong squarely on the other side. “The D.A. took a scholarly quarrel and makes a case against Raphael Golb and not against what those other people are doing, which was worse,” he said. “The vindictiveness, the anger, the ugliness, that’s O.K. because it comes from the other side.”

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a cache of 2,000-year-old texts and fragments discovered in caves near Qumran, in what is now the West Bank. Their discovery, beginning in 1947 and continuing for a decade, is one of the great archaeological finds of the mid-20th century, and from the start has been marked by controversy. Access to the scrolls was for decades limited to a select group of scholars, initially all Westerners and Christians, labeled by some critics as “the monopoly.” The first scholars attributed the scrolls to a Jewish sect called the Essenes, who were believed to have lived at Qumran in the first century A.D.

In 1980, Norman Golb published an article disputing the Essenes theory and its variants, arguing that no sect lived at Qumran and that the scrolls came from various libraries in Jerusalem and were hidden near Qumran when the Romans besieged Jerusalem around 70 A.D. The scrolls, he argued, provided a window not just on a narrow sect, but on a broad spectrum of early Judaic writing.

Dr. Golb’s views attracted limited support from other scholars, and none from any major academics in the United States. From his home in Chicago, where he has been teaching and publishing, he attributed this cold shoulder to non-scholarly factors. “The personal animus, I regret to say, has nothing to do with scholarship. It has to do with their anger that I came up with a new and more cogent view of the origin of the scrolls.”

Enter Dr. Golb’s younger son, Raphael.

In 2006 and 2007, when several American museums announced exhibits of the scrolls, Raphael Golb was incensed that his father’s theory had not been acknowledged in the shows. “They teach scorn for my father,” Mr. Golb said, accusing rival academics of “indoctrinating students in a culture of hatred.”

“This is a system where they suppress people by excluding them,” he added.

At the time, the younger Mr. Golb was researching a book about French secularism and working just enough as a real estate lawyer to pay his bills. He also received money from his parents. The Internet offered ways for him to argue his father’s case. He wouldn’t have to use his real name, which others “would simply use to smear my father,” he said. Instead, he could post under an alias — or four, five or six. He began posting comments on the museums’ Web sites, complaining that the exhibits were one-sided.

He started a blog; then another and another, each under a different name. The aliases begot other aliases, known on the Internet as sock puppets: 20, 40, 60, 80. The sock puppets debated with other posters, each time linking to other sock puppets to support their arguments, creating the impression of an army of engaged scholars espousing Norman Golb’s ideas. Using the alias Charles Gadda (from the Italian writer Carlo Emilio Gadda), Raphael Golb published articles on the citizen news Web site NowPublic and linked to them in comments and blog posts written under other aliases. The writings all championed Norman Golb as an honest scholar bucking a well-financed, self-serving conspiracy.

He acted as an online troll, stirring up controversy. “Was it appropriate for a scientific institution to allow a group of Christian academics to impose their agenda on an exhibit of ancient documents taking place under its auspices?” he asked of an exhibit at the San Diego Natural History Museum, in an Oct. 6, 2007, article. That article, he said, drew 16,000 views.

“They saw this happening and they were furious, because I was sabotaging their Internet campaign,” Raphael Golb said of the museums. His father’s rivals, he suspected, used sock puppets to answer his comments.

“It became a kind of war,” he said. “It was very ugly. But I was glad it was happening. I was like, this is great. This draws more attention to my father’s work.” To a family member he wrote, “they are faced with a dedicated, in-the-know adversary who is out to get them, and there’s simply nothing they can do about it.”

One of Mr. Golb’s targets was a graduate student named Robert R. Cargill, who created a virtual tour of Qumran for the San Diego museum.

Norman Golb posted an article on the Web site of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago complaining that the film’s script ignored his theory.

Raphael Golb went further, sending pseudonymous e-mails to Mr. Cargill’s professors at U.C.L.A.

“I said this person should be compelled to answer the published criticisms of his work at his Ph.D. defense,” Raphael Golb said. Some of the e-mail messages suggested that Mr. Cargill, who describes himself as agnostic, was a fundamentalist Christian and an anti-Semite.

Mr. Cargill, who is now 39 and an assistant professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Iowa, remembered Mr. Golb’s campaign as a frontal assault meant to thwart his career.

“Any time someone hears the name Robert Cargill, they hear, he’s anti-Semitic,” Mr. Cargill said. “Let’s say I’m applying for a job and I’m in a pool of 10 finalists. When they do background checking, they see this Cargill looks like he’s being criticized as anti-Semitic. We don’t know if it’s legitimate, but it’s safer to go with someone else.”

The e-mails kept coming. According to papers filed by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, from June 2007 to June 2009, Mr. Golb’s aliases Steve Frankel, Carlo Gadda, Don Matthews, David Kaplan, Emily Kaufman, Jesse Friedman and Robert Dworkin sent dozens of e-mails to hundreds of people at U.C.L.A., all attacking Mr. Cargill. “The volume of defendant’s alias creation,” the court papers read, “and his planning with others, speaks to the deliberate intent in conducting defendant’s operation.”

Mr. Cargill fought back. A typical e-mail message or blog post has an Internet protocol address that identifies the computer used to create it. Using simple software that identified the I.P. addresses, he traced the e-mails and blog posts of 82 aliases to the same few computers. Beneath one of Mr. Golb’s pseudonymous comments, he posted a message, using the pseudonym Raphael Joel, a combination of Mr. Golb’s first name and his brother’s. The message was: We know who you are.

His sock puppets, in other words, were taunting Mr. Golb’s sock puppets.

Ronald Kuby, a lawyer for Raphael Golb, last week disputed Mr. Cargill’s characterization of himself as an innocent victim, writing in an e-mail message that “he played a vile role in this case. Among other things, Cargill spend hundreds of hours obsessively tracking down ‘Charles Gadda’ because of the latter’s online criticisms, engaged in his own sock puppetry while concealing it and condemning Golb for the same thing.” Mr. Kuby added, “Cargill is probably a lot of fun to chat with, but he is more than capable of using his hurt puppy persona to manipulate the criminal justice system.”

Mr. Golb put it this way: “Cargill was stalking me.”

When an exhibit of the scrolls was scheduled for the Jewish Museum in New York in September 2008, Mr. Golb turned his sights on an old antagonist, Dr. Schiffman, who was scheduled to speak at the exhibit. Dr. Schiffman was then chairman of the Hebrew and Judaic studies department at N.Y.U. Dr. Schiffman, too, had a theory about the scrolls: that they belonged to a sect called the Sadducees, but that some came from other sources — a theory that Norman Golb said borrowed from his own. But unlike Dr. Golb, Dr. Schiffman was regularly invited to speak at conferences and on television. In 1992, Dr. Schiffman was among a group of scholars who accused one of Norman Golb’s protégés of plagiarism, damaging the young scholar’s career. Raphael Golb said the incident left him with “lingering bitterness” toward Dr. Schiffman. Norman Golb’s 1995 book, “Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?” included a long chapter criticizing Dr. Schiffman’s scholarship and accusing him of lifting ideas without credit.

Dr. Schiffman said of Norman Golb, “Almost nobody reads anything he writes.”

This time, in addition to using sock puppets, Raphael Golb said, he created an e-mail account with the address of Larry.Schiffman@gmail.com, and wrote to Dr. Schiffman’s employers, colleagues and students at N.Y.U., “confessing” to having plagiarized Norman Golb in developing his own ideas about the scrolls.

“Apparently, someone is intent on exposing a failing of mine that dates back almost fifteen years ago,” one e-mail read. “It is true that I should have cited Dr. Golb’s articles when using his arguments, and it is true that I misrepresented his ideas. But this is simply the politics of Dead Sea Scrolls studies. If I had given credit to this man, I would have been banned from conferences around the world.” The e-mail was signed, “Lawrence Schiffman, professor.”

Sitting among stacks of papers, books, conga drums, assorted sneakers and other clutter in his Greenwich Village apartment, a stone’s throw from N.Y.U., Raphael Golb said he had intended the e-mails as obvious parody — that no sentient person would believe a professor would write such things, or sign his missive “professor.” The distinction was important, Mr. Golb said, because the First Amendment protects parody. “I didn’t realize I was dealing with idiots,” Mr. Golb said.

But people did believe the e-mails were real, Dr. Schiffman said. “I was walking out of my office and a graduate student says to me, ‘I got your e-mail from last night.’ I said, ‘wait a minute, what e-mail?’ ”

Dr. Schiffman went to the F.B.I., contacting an agent he had advised on a prior case. “You know how the F.B.I. says, ‘once you’re one of ours, you’re always one of ours?’ ” he said. “It’s totally true. They told me the assistant D.A. to call. ‘Tell him you spoke to us.’ ”

Raphael Golb was naked and asleep when police officers came to his apartment early on the morning of March 5, 2009, arresting him on 51 charges of identity theft, aggravated harassment, criminal impersonation, forgery and unauthorized use of the computers in an N.Y.U. library. He had been up all of the previous night writing comments or blog posts under his various aliases. The officers seized Mr. Golb’s computers and led him handcuffed from his building. Waiving his rights to a lawyer and to remain silent, Mr. Gold denied sending any bogus e-mail messages, telling the investigators that Dr. Schiffman had filed a false complaint “out of maliciousness toward my father.” He added, “I find the guy a bit nauseating, to tell the truth.”

Mr. Golb later rejected a plea deal that would have kept him out of jail.

At his trial in September 2010, Mr. Golb admitted to all of his writings, but defended his use of pseudonyms as a time-honored vehicle for criticism and debate — and a staple of Internet culture. He wasn’t trying to defraud anybody or gain anything, his lawyers argued; he just wanted his father’s views represented. If he was guilty of slander or libel, his victims could sue him in civil court.

“I’m not saying anybody here acted well,” Mr. Kuby said. “I just don’t think anybody acted criminally.”

After a three-week trial, the jury ruled otherwise, finding Mr. Golb guilty on 30 of 31 counts, including two felonies. On Jan. 29 he lost again on appeal on all but one count. He is currently out on bail pending a decision by the State Supreme Court on whether or not to hear his appeal. Last week, he was granted permission to go to Chicago, where his father was in the hospital after a minor stroke.

But is Mr. Golb really a cybercriminal, or just a particularly noxious partisan in a constitutionally protected academic debate, using guerrilla methods to advance a minority viewpoint?

Dr. Schiffman said he had asked the prosecutors if they couldn’t just scare Mr. Golb. “Send some police in there to scare him and he’ll stop. They said, ‘you have to understand, we don’t do that. We investigate a crime, and if we find there’s a crime, we prosecute.’ ”

Mr. Golb remains disappointed that First Amendment advocates, including the New York Civil Liberties Union, have declined to support him, though they were asked. “I’m astonished at their silence,” he said. “I don’t want to inflate myself, but the consequences of this are obvious. When we start to allow prosecutors to act on behalf of resentful professors to whom no harm was done at all, it’s frightening.”

Mr. Kuby said he thought the issue hit too close to home: “Nazis marching in Skokie — great. Impersonating a professor in a debate about the Dead Sea Scrolls — not so great.”

The district attorney’s office declined to speak on the record about a pending case, but in a statement after the verdict in 2010, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the district attorney, said, “Using fictitious identities to impersonate victims is not what open academic debate seeks to foster,” adding: “It is true that the vast majority of identity thieves seek to steal their victims’ money, but in some cases, identity thieves maliciously intend to damage their victims’ reputations and harass them, while cowering in anonymity. Such was the case here.”

Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said that he had spoken with Mr. Kuby but could not remember the specifics of the conversations or of the First Amendment claims in the case.

With his felony conviction, Mr. Golb was disbarred; the trial also consumed most of his mother’s savings, he said. The prospect of prison shook him from his bravado.

“My real concern is if I’ll be able to handle it physically,” he said. “I don’t have a good back. I was once rushed to the hospital with neck spasms. Being in a confined environment, I don’t know how I’ll react to that. It’s possible I’ll go insane. It’s possible that I’ll be fine and just read my books and do some writing.”

Mr. Golb’s father and Dr. Schiffman remain in secure, tenured positions, unchanged by his actions. Raphael Golb said his only regret was the grief and expense caused to his mother. As he waited to learn if he would enter Rikers last week (he received a stay on Wednesday), he said, “All I can do is keep moving forward. I’m not sleeping well. It’s so ugly. There’s no need to read Kafka anymore. This is better.”


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« Reply #4626 on: Feb 17, 2013, 09:30 AM »

Bangladesh’s PM hints at backing ban of Islamic party

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, February 16, 2013 19:30 EST

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina indicated Saturday she would back a ban on the country’s largest Islamic party, as tens of thousands of people joined the funeral of an anti-Islamist blogger.

Hasina said after a meeting with the mourning relatives of Ahmed Rajib Haider that the Jamaat-e-Islami party, whose members are suspected in the blogger’s murder, had “no right to be in politics in free Bangladesh”.

Demonstrations championed by the country’s online activists have seen thousands take to the streets for the last two weeks demanding the execution of leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami party who are on trial for war crimes.

Rival protests by Islamists demanding a halt to the trials of Jamaat leaders including its chief and deputy chief over their role in the 1971 independence war have turned violent across the country, leaving 13 people dead.

Late on Friday Haider, an organiser of the anti-Islamist protests, was hacked to death with a machete near his Dhaka home.

Police have yet to comment on a possible motive, but his brother said Haider was targeted by Jamaat’s student wing for his online activities. Fellow blogger Shakil Ahmed said a pro-Jamaat website had last week named Haider as a target.

Hasina visited Haider’s home on Saturday and hinted in comments to reporters that she would back a ban for Jamaat.

“Anyone can assume who were behind this,” she said, alluding to Jamaat.

“Many claim they are a democratic political party, a democratic force. Now it is proved that they believe in terrorism not democracy, she said.

“We will do to them what is necessary. They have absolutely no right to be in politics in free Bangladesh.”

Thousands of people including war veterans joined the funeral late Saturday at Dhaka’s Shahbag intersection, where protests have been staged against Islamist groups since February 5.

Local police chief Sirajul Islam told AFP at least 50,000 people attended the funeral.

“We touched his coffin and vowed that we won’t leave the protests until the government finds his killers, and bans Jamaat and its student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir,” said blogger and protester Mahbubur Rahman.

Clashes between police and Islamists have intensified since last week after a senior Jamaat leader was sentenced to life imprisonment for mass murder.

Jamaat and the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party have said the trials are based on bogus charges and are part of a wider political vendetta.

The government rejects the accusations and says the trials are needed to heal wounds of the nine-month war in which it says three million people were killed, many by pro-Pakistani militia whose members allegedly included Jamaat officials.

The killing on Friday was the second attack in Dhaka against a blogger critical of Islamist groups in less than a month, after the stabbing of a self-styled online “militant atheist” by three unidentified men.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #4627 on: Feb 17, 2013, 09:33 AM »

February 16, 2013

Renewed Push for Afghans to Make Peace With Taliban

By ALISSA J. RUBIN and DECLAN WALSH
IHT

KABUL, Afghanistan — Suddenly, the effort to strike a deal with the Taliban is very publicly back on the front burner.

Frozen for months last year as another fighting season raged in Afghanistan, and as election-year politics consumed American attention, diplomats and political leaders from eight countries are now mounting the most concerted campaign to date to bring the Afghan government and its Taliban foes together to negotiate a peace deal.

The latest push came early this month at Chequers, the country residence of the British prime minister, David Cameron, who joined President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan in calling for fast-track peace talks. Weeks earlier in Washington, Mr. Karzai met with President Obama and committed publicly to have his representatives meet a Taliban delegation in Doha, Qatar, to start the process.

Yet so far the energized reach for peace has achieved little, officials say, except to cement a growing consensus that regional stability demands some sort of political settlement with the Taliban, after a war that cost tens of thousands of Afghan and Western lives and nearly a trillion dollars failed to put down the insurgency.

Interviews with more than two dozen officials involved in the effort suggest a fast-spinning process that has yet to gain real traction and seems to have little chance of achieving even its most limited goal: bringing the Afghan government and Taliban leadership together at the table before the bulk of the American fighting force leaves Afghanistan in 2014.

“The year 2014 has begun to be seen as a magical date, both inside and outside Afghanistan,” said Rangin Dadfar Spanta, the Afghan national security adviser. “It’s difficult to find what is realistic and what is illusion.”

That is not least because the major players — Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United States and the Taliban — have fundamentally different visions of how to achieve a post-2014 peace, according to accounts of setbacks in the process.

For the Afghans, the simple act of considering what a peace deal might look like has inflamed factional differences that are still raw two decades after the country’s civil war.

The Afghan High Peace Council, which Mr. Karzai has empowered to negotiate for his government, has put forward a document called “Peace Process Roadmap to 2015.” While many Afghan leaders say they have not seen the proposal, first reported by McClatchy in December, those who have view it as outlining a striking number of potential concessions to the Taliban and to Pakistan. They include provisions for the Taliban’s becoming a political party and anticipation that some of the most important government positions could be open to them, including provincial governorships, police chief jobs and cabinet positions.

Some Western commentators as well as Afghans view this as returning to the past or opening the door to a division of the country. Senior members of the powerful Tajik and Hazara factions, both of which suffered greatly under Taliban rule, charged that they had been left out of the deliberations. When they are asked about striking a peace deal, they make veiled references to a renewal of ethnic strife.

“The president is acting on an ethnic basis,” said Haji Mohammed Mohaqiq, a powerful ethnic Hazara leader from northern Afghanistan. “He is trying to win the hearts of a group of Taliban so they back him in the election.”

Mr. Karzai is a Pashtun, the ethnic group predominant in the Taliban. Mr. Spanta, the national security adviser, countered that any realistic attempt to end a war involves compromise. “I think peace in a country after 33 or 34 years has a price — a very heavy price,” he said. “But we are paying a heavy price every day with our lives.”

One factor fueling the peace drive is that Pakistan, long considered the Taliban’s silent sponsor, professes to have had a change of heart. For more than a year, Pakistani generals and ministers have assiduously courted their traditional rivals in Afghanistan, particularly from non-Pashtun ethnic groups, as part of a strategy that, they say, favors an inclusive democratic settlement after 2014 — even one that does not include the Taliban’s full return to power.

But Pakistan’s biggest public gesture so far — the release of 26 Taliban prisoners from Pakistani jails, intended as a trust-building measure to help the peace process — has been shadowed by the old mistrust and accusations of double-crossing.

The Pakistanis refused Afghan demands to release the prisoners into Afghan custody, arguing it would scare the Taliban away. “The moment we hand them over, it would be the end of the process,” said a senior Pakistani official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Instead, the Taliban prisoners were allowed to roam free, prompting fears from some Afghan and some American officials that they would simply return to the fight — at least two already have, according to one Western official. At Chequers, the Pakistanis agreed to give the Afghans one-week notice of all future prisoner releases.

“Pakistan is serious about facilitating the peace process,” said Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general and political commentator, citing growing fears that chaos in Afghanistan after 2014 would further destabilize his country.

But Mr. Masood added that the military was also hedging its bets by maintaining some Taliban links. “They want to retain a certain level of leverage in talks,” he said. “That’s the crucial nuance.”

Hopes for Pakistani cooperation dimmed further on Friday when Pakistan’s most senior cleric pulled out of a meeting planned for March with Afghan clerics in Kabul, after disagreements over the role of the Taliban. But Afghan clerics appeared to believe that the meeting would go forward, illustrating the tentative and equivocal nature of the peace effort. “We want them to invite the Afghan Taliban to the talks. Without them, peace is not possible in Afghanistan,” said Maulana Tahir Ashrafi, head of the Pakistan Ulema Council.

Afghan senior clerics said they remained hopeful that the talks would be held and that a majority of Pakistani clerics would attend.

The most immediate obstacle to talks is an apparent standoff between Mr. Karzai and the Taliban. The insurgents refuse to deal with Mr. Karzai, whom they have branded as an American “puppet.” The president, in turn, recently reiterated his demand that the Taliban must recognize the legitimacy of his government and speak to the High Peace Council, which he has appointed to negotiate with the insurgency and which has representatives from many Afghan factions.

Mr. Karzai, forever fearful of being sidelined by a Western-dominated talks process, has effectively banned the kind of informal discussions with Taliban leaders that have raised hopes over the past few months, including Afghan-centric conferences in France and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and, earlier, in Germany and Japan — even though those talks appeared helpful in easing tensions between longtime enemies.

Pressure from Mr. Karzai forced the United Nations to abandon a planned “Track Two” meeting, an unofficial diplomacy session involving Taliban representatives and Afghan political leaders, due to take place in Turkmenistan this month, diplomats in Kabul and Islamabad said.

Within the Taliban, a fierce debate is under way between commanders who support talks and those who have never given up on seeking military victory, instead biding time until the Americans are mostly gone, Taliban watchers say. The group’s leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, widely presumed to be sequestered at his hide-out inside Pakistan, has been silent on the subject. Even if he were to support a deal, it is unclear whether his movement is sufficiently united to stick to it.

The Americans have quietly pledged not to move forward without the Afghan government’s benediction, so previous efforts to build confidence with the Taliban by releasing some of their prisoners from the Guantánamo Bay prison camp are on hold, although the Americans retain the right to consider a prisoner release for strategic reasons of their own. An American soldier is being held by the Taliban, and there has been talk of a prisoner exchange to free him.

In Afghanistan, the fighting has continued in some places through the winter, and the start of the main spring fighting season is just weeks away.

“We are stuck here, trying to work out how to take it forward,” said a senior Western official in Kabul, discussing the talks process. But even Western diplomats hold different views on how best to advance, depending on whether they are based in Kabul or Islamabad, reflecting the different outlooks in two capitals that are barely an hour apart by airplane.

As the snows begin to melt in the high passes between Pakistan and Afghanistan, senior Afghan officials say they will be watching the Taliban’s moves closely to see if attacks this year slow down, remain the same or accelerate. In the absence of more concrete progress, that means that the pace of peace will, at least for now, most likely be determined by the forces of the war.

********

February 16, 2013

Karzai to Forbid Afghan Forces From Requesting Foreign Airstrikes

By ALISSA J. RUBIN
IHT

KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai said Saturday that he would issue a decree forbidding his military forces from turning to NATO or American forces to conduct airstrikes, and he condemned the use of torture on detainees by his security forces.

He made his comments in a speech at the Afghan National Military Academy in Kabul. It was the first time he had dwelt at such length and with such passion on human rights.

His proposed ban on Afghan troops from calling in airstrikes came after a joint Afghan-NATO attack last week in Kunar Province, in eastern Afghanistan, that killed four women, one man and five children, all of them civilians, according to local officials.

Mr. Karzai said Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the commander of the international coalition forces fighting the Taliban and other insurgents in Afghanistan, told him that the airstrike had been requested by the National Directorate of Security, the country’s intelligence service. The attack took place in the Shigal district, an area where two known Taliban commanders were visiting family members, Afghan officials have said.

“Our N.D.S. in their own country calls foreigners to assist them and bombard four or five Al Qaeda or Taliban,” Mr. Karzai said.

“It is very regrettable to hear this,” he added. “You are representing Afghan pride. How do you call for an airstrike from foreigners on your people?”

Civilian casualties in the war on the Taliban has long vexed Mr. Karzai and has been a major point of contention with American and NATO troops. New rules instituted by commanders from the International Security Assistance Force have minimized the loss of life, and the coalition has all but stopped air attacks on populated areas and on homes. The result has been a dramatic drop in civilian casualties caused by foreign forces.

Nevertheless, Afghan troops, who lack their own air support, still turn to foreign forces for help during pitched battles with the Taliban and other insurgents. It was not clear whether there would be exceptions to Mr. Karzai’s decree, but he was clearly dismayed that his own forces would be employing the very techniques he had worked so hard to persuade the West to abandon.

In an unusual move, the Afghan president also publicly acknowledged that torture was a problem in Afghan detention centers and pledged to halt it. In the past, the government has largely deflected charges of torture raised by human rights organizations, contending that any abuse was the work of a few bad actors.

But after a United Nations report released in January detailed abuses or torture at a number of detention sites around the country, Mr. Karzai took a closer and more independent look at the complaints.

He appointed a delegation to investigate the report’s validity, and when the inquiry confirmed many of the allegations, he ordered the security ministries to implement the team’s recommendations. He reiterated that order on Saturday. The recommendations include prosecuting perpetrators of torture, giving detainees access to defense lawyers, providing medical treatment for detainees who are ill or have been beaten, and videotaping all interrogations.

“Not only have foreigners tormented and punished Afghans, but our people have been terrorized and punished by our own sons too,” Mr. Karzai said. “The U.N. report showed that even after 10 years, our people are tortured and mistreated in prisons.”

The United Nations’ human rights office here emphasized the importance of Mr. Karzai’s attention to the issue.

“It is encouraging that the president appears to be personally taking the issue of human rights of all Afghans seriously,” said Georgette Gagnon, the office’s director of human rights. She added that the government should act immediately on the delegation’s recommendations. “We urge them to do so without delay,” she said.


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« Reply #4628 on: Feb 17, 2013, 09:36 AM »

February 16, 2013

In Mali, the Peril of Guerrilla War Looms

By PETER TINTI and ADAM NOSSITER
IHT

GAO, Mali — Aguissa Ag Badara, a former tour guide, now rides around the city on the back of a motorcycle looking for Islamist militants who may still be lurking about. He even wears a pin to advertise his mission. It reads, “Vigilance Brigade: Patrollers of Gao.”

“We said Mujao had infiltrated the population, but no one listened,” said Mr. Ag Badara, referring to the Islamist militants who attacked this strategic city last week. “We support the French, we support the Malian state and the African forces, but why are they only at the checkpoints and in their camps? The war is here in the streets.”

The battle for Mali is not over. Remnants of the militant forces that once controlled major towns have not simply burrowed into their rugged, mountain hideaways far to the north. They also appear to have taken refuge in smaller villages nearby, essentially pulling back to less-contested ground after the French-led intervention to oust them, residents and experts say.

That infiltration, in a string of neighboring villages along the Niger River, is what enabled last Sunday’s attack in the heart of Gao, a town of about 86,000 whose reconquest was a pivotal part of the French offensive last month. For hours, bullets flew as jihadists from around Gao pinned down French and Malian forces.

Control in the town itself has now been re-established, but Islamist fighters have blended imperceptibly with the local population around Gao. And much of that population, in the isolated villages, looks on them benevolently, say residents and experts who know the area well.

“The jihadists are still in the environs,” a Malian Army commander, Col. El Hajj Ag Gamou, said in a telephone interview from Gao. “They are certainly around. There are small caches of them, in hiding, 40, 80 miles from here.”

Their presence suggests potentially fertile ground for a sustained guerrilla conflict — something the French have said they are determined not to get enmeshed in. Though the lightning-quick French campaign in January succeeded in pushing the Islamists from major towns, it is far from clear how many fighters the French actually eliminated. Estimates of deaths, from both the French and the Malians, have been vague and inconsistent, and the jihadists are evidently still lurking in the shadows.

“These villages followed the jihadists when they first came to Gao,” said Oumar Moumouni, a schoolteacher in Gao who said he had lived for extended periods in the neighboring villages. “And the jihadists, they recruited many of the youth of Kadji and Gouzoureye,” he added, naming two of the villages.

“That’s the problem at Gao now; there are jihadists hiding in these villages,” Mr. Moumouni continued. “These are native jihadists. And the Malian military can’t tell the difference between them and the population,” he said.

Like others, he said he expected more attacks in Gao.

“These are villages that have pledged allegiance to the Mujao,” said Ousmane Maïga, another schoolteacher in Gao, referring to the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa. “They gave many of their sons over to it.”

“Barely three miles from Gao, there are villages where they are in hiding,” he continued. “After the first attacks” by the French, “I saw them on motorcycles, hiding among the thorn trees.”

Even in Gao itself, the jihadist fighters are thought to have faded into the populace. “The city is full of Mujao,” said Sadou Diallo, the mayor of Gao. “During the 10 months they were here, they benefited and integrated lots of youth. It is the 18-year-olds from Koranic schools, the talibé,” or disciples, “who believe that if they blow themselves up they go directly to paradise.”

The attack last Sunday began with a failed suicide bombing late the night before at an army checkpoint; a band of jihadists was spotted near the bomber. Some officials in Gao said the gunmen used the confusion of the bombing, in which the bomber blew himself up and wounded a Malian soldier, to enter the city; the army insisted the gunmen arrived by boat. In either case, the jihadists would not have traveled far.

“Most of them are natives of those villages,” said Kader Touré, who runs a radio station in Gao called Radio Annia. “We think they are being hidden by relatives, all along the river.”

For many years, these villages have practiced a strict form of Islam that is at odds with most of the looser practices in Gao itself, say experts and residents.

“There have been very conservative villages in that area for decades,” said Benjamin Soares, an expert on Islam and Mali at the African Studies Center in Leiden, the Netherlands. “Back to the 1940s in this region, there has been a broader movement to follow a more rigorous practice of Islam.”

That has made them particularly receptive to fleeing Mujao fighters, say residents of Gao, who characterize the villages as Wahhabi, after the conservative brand of Islam that originated in the Arabian Peninsula.

In Kadji, “a village I know well,” said Mr. Maïga, one of the teachers, “around 85 percent of the population have pledged allegiance to Wahhabism.” Mr. Maïga said he had ancestral roots in the area.

Mr. Touré, the director of Radio Annia, said, “Even before the arrival of the Islamists, they wanted to install a radical form of Shariah.” He added, “They have some extraordinary sets of rules governing daily conduct.”

“The imam is all-powerful,” he continued. “Everyone pledges allegiance to him. There is neither individual nor collective liberty. Women are veiled. This is radical Islam. An isolated life that has nothing to do with Mali.”

Others argued that local residents had joined the Islamists for personal gain or preservation, not out of religious conviction. One former fighter for Ansar Dine, another of the Islamist militant groups that seized northern Mali last year, said he had hoped to trade his militancy for a position in the Malian Army.

“I tried to join the Malian military many times but I failed the exam,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals against his family.

“My goal was only to receive training so that I could join the Malian Army once they came back to the north,” he explained, referring to past rebellions in which rebels were integrated into the army as part of postconflict reconciliation.

Another detainee being held in Gao confirmed that he was a member of Mujao, but he contended that he was forced to join.

“I was captured by Mujao, and I became their translator in order to save myself,” said the prisoner, who was handcuffed to a metal bench, dressed in tattered clothes and spoke on the condition of anonymity as six Malian soldiers looked on. “I swear to God I never received money or carried a gun. They wanted me because I speak all of the local languages.”

For much of the past week, Gao has been calm. On Wednesday, troops found what appeared to be a bomb-making factory. But residents fear the current calm could be deceptive.

“There is a real threat weighing on Gao,” said Mr. Moumouni, the other teacher.

Peter Tinti reported from Gao, and Adam Nossiter from Dakar, Senegal.


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« Reply #4629 on: Feb 17, 2013, 09:37 AM »

Netanyahu backs spying secrecy after Prisoner X death

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, February 17, 2013 9:29 EST

Exposure of intelligence activities can “badly damage” state security, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday in his first remarks on the arrest and death of a jailed Australian-Israeli with Mossad links.

In remarks to his outgoing cabinet, the Israeli prime minister insisted that the security forces be allowed to “quietly” get on with their jobs, in his first remarks on the mysterious spy saga which has dominated headlines in Israel and Australia.

“Overexposure of security and intelligence activities can damage, and damage badly, state security and that is why in every debate we must not underestimate the security interest,” he said in remarks communicated by his office.

“And in the reality in which Israel lives, it must be a central interest,” he said in a thinly veiled criticism of the media frenzy sparked by the exposure last week of the identity of Prisoner X — an Australian immigrant called Ben Zygier who worked for Israel’s Mossad spy agency.

According to a story broken last Tuesday by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), Zygier was found hanged in his cell in Ayalon prison near Tel Aviv in December 2010, in a case Israel went to extreme lengths to cover up.

It imposed a total media blackout on the case, but was forced to ease the restrictions after the story made headlines across the world, rendering the local gag order ineffective.

Netanyahu’s remarks were made shortly after Canberra said it was seeking answers from Israel over the circumstances of Zygier’s death.

Until now, the government had said nothing on matter, although Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon on Saturday insisted that Israel abided fully by the law, even in the case of security prisoners.

“I ask everyone: let the security forces continue to work quietly in order that we can carry on living in peace and security in Israel,” Netanyahu said.

“We are an exemplary democratic state and safeguard the rights of those under investigation and the rights of the individual no less than any other state.

“But we are also facing greater threats and challenges and therefore we need to ensure that we protect the normal working of our security branches,” he said, expressing “complete trust” in Israel’s security forces and legal system.

Earlier on Sunday, Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said his office was preparing a report looking at all communications between Australia and Israel, including between its security agencies.

“We have asked the Israeli government for a contribution to that report,” Carr told reporters. “We want to give them an opportunity to submit to us an explanation of how this tragic death came about.”

Also at the weekend, a senior Israeli official claimed Australia’s intelligence community was “deeply involved” in the case and had even interrogated Zygier on suspicion he was spying for the Jewish state.

In a separate development, Israel’s justice ministry was on Sunday mulling whether to allow publication of the inquest into Zygier’s death which rendered a verdict of suicide, press reports said.

According to Maariv newspaper, parts of the report were likely to be published later this week after Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein decides, in conjunction with Mossad and the military censor, which parts are to be redacted for security reasons.

In parallel, senior legal officials are also examining whether there should be any negligence charges levelled over Zygier’s death in a ruling expected in the coming weeks, the paper said.

“It was a failure. We failed to protect his life,” a senior official in the Israel Prisons Service (IPS) told the paper.

He said the assumption was that Zygier had hanged himself with a shirt in the bathroom of his cell, the one area not monitored by security cameras.

Zygier, who immigrated to Israel in around 2001 and at some point joined Mossad, is understood to have been arrested in February 2010 on charges which remain subject to a tight gag order.

Ten months later, he was found hanged in his cell despite the fact that it was under 24-hour electronic surveillance, sparking a welter of criticism and conspiracy theories in both Israel and Australia.
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« Reply #4630 on: Feb 17, 2013, 09:40 AM »


Sober, folksy and not a fan of bunga bunga: Italy's 'quiet man' Bersani holds key to country's future

Silvio Berlusconi's centre-left election opponent has been criticised for lacking charisma. As Europe looks on, Pier Luigi Bersani and the mogul are locked in a fight to the finish

Tom Kington in Rome
The Observer, Sunday 17 February 2013   
   
When Silvio Berlusconi put his foot in his mouth yet again last week, claiming that kickbacks were a normal part of doing business abroad, Italy waited for a crushing rebuke from his main opponent in this month's election.

But Pier Luigi Bersani is not a man for the cut and thrust of tough political campaigning and, as usual, failed to deliver the killer blow, managing instead the rather limp soundbite: "Enough with bribes, enough with Berlusconi."

It was no better than Bersani's normal service in front of TV cameras, where the head of Italy's centre-left coalition often looks distracted and uncomfortable. But a lot is riding on him becoming a credible rival to the three-time prime minister as millions of Italians, and even foreign governments, look to Bersani to stop a Berlusconi surge, which analysts fear could prompt political paralysis and take Europe and the global economy back to the brink of disaster.

The final polls allowed before the run-in to the elections next Sunday showed Berlusconi's support had risen to only five points behind Bersani's leading coalition, thanks to a skilful blitz on Italy's TV talk shows, where he is never lost for words. "At the very most, Bersani would do OK as the mayor of Bologna," was a choice putdown.

Bersani, 61, a former communist and son of a mechanic, has been a political activist since he organised, as a child, a strike of altar boys at his local church to protest at the priest's use of donation money. A fan of the rock group AC/DC and a philosophy graduate, he is married to a pharmacist from his home town in Emilia Romagna. It is all a far cry from Berlusconi's "bunga-bunga" parties and dalliances with showgirls.

As the leader of the Democratic party, Bersani has found himself accountable to the party's trade union backers, who last year resisted prime minister Mario Monti's attempts to reform the labour market. But he has proved a reformer himself, using his 18 months as a minister in Romano Prodi's 2006 government to cut the cost of using a mobile phone with legislation that challenged the cartel-like tendencies of Italy's operators – exactly the sort of reforms which many people think Monti's technocrat government should have passed more of last year.

But Bersani's drifting speeches, which he peppers with folksy sayings, have become the favourite target of comedians as the election nears. Even Berlusconi has won laughs by doing an impression of Bersani at a rally. Bersani may yet win the Italian parliament's lower house on 25 February, but he could be forced into a senate alliance with Monti to keep Berlusconi at bay.

Both Bersani and Monti promise reform of Italy's sclerotic economy, mixed with an easing up on tax hikes, although the deal could yet be ruined by Bersani's left-wing coalition ally, Nichi Vendola, who loathes Monti's love of austerity and has said he will refuse to be "the poodle" in a coalition.

That has left Bersani stuck in the middle, just as Berlusconi builds consensus by promising to pay back in cash a hated housing tax imposed by Monti last year and grabbed headlines by signing Mario Balotelli to his AC Milan side, with the former Manchester City striker making an immediate impact on the pitch.

Bersani and Monti will be grateful that television airtime for politicians is rationed in the runup to voting next weekend, while the Pope's resignation and a popular TV song contest have further reduced Berlusconi's chances to make shock promises on air.

But one politician who is continuing to pack piazzas up and down Italy could prove an equal threat. The comic Beppe Grillo, who rails against corrupt politicians and is profiting from a spate of big company scandals, already outpolls Monti, with 16%. He is not standing in the election, but the Five Star Movement party he co-founded is expected to fill about 10% of the seats in both the chamber of deputies and the senate.

Grillo was convicted after a 1980 traffic accident for manslaughter, which prohibits him, under his party's rules, from running for the top office. He said that his candidates – who have never served in parliament – were busy studying good governance before heading for the corridors of power, where they are expected to strip away encrusted parliamentary privileges.

"Grillini" could further weaken Bersani in the senate and obstruct lower house bills, increasing fears of a numerically weak Bersani-Monti coalition government collapsing within months.

This week, Grillo has planned a rally in Piazza San Giovanni in Rome, reportedly upsetting centre-left politicians who regularly hold rallies there. "The centre-left is now realising we are here, but it's too late," he said.
The candidates

Pier Luigi Bersani

Former communist and amenable centre-left coalition leader who makes Italians reach for the remoteinduces yawns. when he appears on TV, due to his chronic inability to drum up a soundbite. Nicknamed Gargamel by comedian Beppe Grillo after the balding baddie in the Smurfs.

Nichi Vendola

Gay governor of the southern region of Puglia, who heads the left-wing Left Ecology Freedom party. Nervous at the prospect of a post-election alliance with centrist Mario Monti.

Mario Monti

The outgoing prime minister, who was drafted in to run a technocrat government after Silvio Berlusconi resigned in November 2011. An economics professor and former EU commissioner, he was recently ridiculed for using the word "wow" in a tweet.

Silvio Berlusconi

Said this week on TV: "Kickbacks are a phenomenon that exist and it is useless to deny the existence of these necessary situations," before claiming the next day: "I never said the word kickbacks."Claims that he only wants to be economy minister, not prime minister, in a new government.

Beppe Grillo

Anti-graft comedian who created the on-line grassroots Five Star Movement, whose rallies fill piazzas. A manslaughter conviction bars him running for office, but his party members could win 10% of seats.


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« Reply #4631 on: Feb 17, 2013, 09:42 AM »

Sale of personal gene data condemned as ‘unethical and dangerous’

By Jamie Doward, The Observer
Sunday, February 17, 2013 9:47 EST

Critics say companies could acquire personal information that would identify NHS patients without their consent

Private firms will soon be able to buy people’s medical and genetic data without their consent and, in certain cases, acquire personal information that might enable them to identify individuals.

The revelation, which contradicts government claims that such material would be completely anonymous, has raised fears that pharmaceutical firms and insurance companies will be able to determine the identities of people susceptible to particular diseases. It has prompted claims that fundamental changes to the use of NHS patient data are being introduced without adequate public debate or regulatory oversight.

The government is keen for Britain to be at the forefront of the genetic revolution, a potential multibillion-pound industry. Last year David Cameron launched a £100m scheme to map the genomes of up to 100,000 people, saying it would help to save lives by delivering new treatments. The move was seen as the first step in the construction of a national human genome database.

Under the scheme, firms would be able to access the information at a cost, but ministers insist that all data will be strictly anonymous. However, material released under the Freedom of Information Act reveals that firms can invoke an appeal process to demand “patient-identifiable data”, such as age and postcode.

“Without a semblance of transparency, a national genetic database, connected to personal medical records and made available to the private sector, has been set up. Privacy laws have been redefined and our own genomic information is being commercialised,” said Edward Hockings, a bioethicist from the pressure group Ethics and Genetics, who made the FOI requests.

In a response to Hockings, the Department of Health confirmed: “While most researchers will only want access to effectively anonymised data, legal authority to access identifiable information may be provided through the consent of the citizens concerned or through legislation, such as section 251 of the NHS Act 2006.”

The department explained that section 251 approval can be granted “where consent cannot be obtained”. It said: “There are circumstances where it is very difficult to contact patients to seek their consent, or where it is vital that the data is identifiable.”

The threshold for what is considered “vital” is likely to be crucial in determining how easy it will be for people to protect their genetic data from being shared with third parties. Section 251 applications are currently granted around once a week to private companies and other organisations seeking NHS data. But Hockings predicted they would become significantly more frequent once the database had been built. He warned that companies could easily establish identities from the information obtained.

“People should decide for themselves if there is a clear medical advantage, individual benefit or public good in handing over our entire genome for purposes far beyond our knowledge,” he said.

People will be able to request that their genetic data is not shared. However, under proposals being studied by government they will be told only that they have the right to request that their confidential data is not used beyond their own care. The proposals explain that when their “wishes cannot be followed” they can expect to be told why.

Dr Helen Wallace, director of GeneWatch, which is critical of the plans to build the database, accused ministers of being “desperate”. “Building a DNA database of the whole population is an enormous waste of money and will lead to commercial exploitation of the vulnerable,” she said.

“Stealing genetic and medical information without consent is unethical and dangerous, allowing every individual to be tracked and their relatives to be identified.”However, the chief medical officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, said that understanding and harnessing genetic information offered “huge potential” to target effective treatments and develop cures. “The privacy and confidentiality of NHS patients will be paramount at every stage of fulfilling the government’s commitment to sequence 100,000 whole genomes,” she said.

A government-commissioned review looking into how best to balance people’s desire for their information to remain confidential with the benefits of sharing it with third parties will report later this year.

© Guardian News and Media 2013


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« Reply #4632 on: Feb 17, 2013, 09:44 AM »

Multiparton interactions at the Large Hadron Collider

By Jon Butterworth, The Guardian
Sunday, February 17, 2013 9:42 EST

Away from the high-profile Higgs hunting, a new paper sheds some light on the complex inner life of the proton, and how it affects results from CERN’s LHC

For most of the past two years, before it stopped last week for a while, the LHC was making protons collide head on with each other. The protons are made of of quarks and gluons, and most of the physics results we publish discussing each proton-proton collision as though it were a collision between a pair of these constituents. The rest of the proton – all those other quarks and gluons – is essentially just a nuisance.

However, a recent paper does something different. It measures what seem to be multiple quark and gluon collisions in the same proton-proton collisions.

This phenomena is known as “multi-parton interaction”. A “parton” is a part of the proton, as the name suggests. The term was introduced by Richard Feynman in 1969 to describe small pointlike bits (ok, parts) of very fast moving protons. Gell-Mann and Zweig had already proposed that hadrons were made of objects which Gell-Mann called quarks; but whether these were just mathematical tools to describe the symmetries of hadrons, or whether they had any more substantial reality was not clear.

“Substantial reality” is probably a trigger phrase for some philosophical types, so I should say immediately that what I mean by it is; could you see quarks by smashing things into them. This is the particle physics way. Indeed, Feynman’s partons were inspired by an experiment, at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, which did just that. Scattering electrons off protons showed strong evidence that there were actual partons inside. Subsequent work by Bjorken and Paschos showed that these partons shared many properties with quarks. Eventually, as people worked out the theory of the strong nuclear interaction – which binds protons, neutrons and atomic nuclei together – the conclusion that Feynman’s partons were nothing other than the quarks of Gell-Mann and Zweig plus the gluons which stick them together became inescapable*.

What this means that the distribution of partons inside the proton has to be understood at some level if you want to do physics at the LHC. Mostly we do this by using things called “Parton Density Functions”, which we know from data elsewhere (from the Stanford experiment and others, but most precisely from the more recent HERA collider). These functions describe the probability of finding a parton with a given momentum inside a proton. Most calculations for LHC processes would take one parton with some probability like this, and ignore the rest of them.

In this picture you can think of the LHC as a parton collider. All the correlations arising from the fact that the partons are bound up inside protons are ignored. But the proton is complex and important. In fact, most of the mass of the proton, and thus most of the visible mass of the universe, comes not from the Higgs but from the binding between partons, which is completely neglected in this picture.

This paper takes a step back from that approximation, and as I said, explicitly tries to measure some of the correlations between pairs of partons – multiparton interactions.

This is done by looking for events in which two things happen; the production of a W boson, and the production of a pair of hadronic jets. The idea is that, sometimes at least, the W is produced by one pair of partons, and the jets are the result of a collision between a different pair – but both happen in the same proton-proton collision.

One of the key distributions is this:

The vertical axis is the number of measured proton-proton events. Along the horizontal axis, the quantity “Delta jets” is the difference in the magnitude of the momenta of the two jets. If the jets have equal and opposite momenta, “Delta jets” is zero. This is because in general, a jet pair which comes from a parton-parton collision which did not involve a W boson would be balanced (since the incoming pair of partons have no momentum transverse to the beams). That’s why the blue histogram, which is a sample of events with only a pair of jets in them, is concentrated down at low values. In events which also produced a W boson, then the pair of jets can recoil against the W, they do not have to balance each other, and the distribution is much broader.

Anyhow, the fact that the resulting fit agrees better with the data than does the dotted histogram implies that their are “extra” pairs of jets in these events. The extra pairs are concentrated at low values of the “Delta jet” variable, and so most likely come from an additional parton-parton scatter taking place in the proton-proton scatter in which the W boson was produced.

There has already been plenty of evidence that multiparton interactions exist but this is the first time they have been measured at the LHC and one of the clearest observations of them anywhere to date. While it does not have the “eureka” feel of discovering a new boson, this paper may turn out to be one of the more influential ones from the LHC, eventually.

A rather mundane reason for this is that if two pairs of partons collide in a single proton-proton collision, this can lead to some very peculiar-looking events. Two “standard” collisions can gang up and look very non-standard, possibly leading you to thing you have found some physics beyond the Standard Model. (Probably supersymmetry.) So if you want to claim this, you need some understanding of the probability of multiparton interactions occurring in a single proton-proton collision.

But on top of that, the issue of how a strongly interacting quantum field theory gives rise to the proton, an ultra-stable bound state with a lifetime longer than the age of the universe, present in the heart of every atom of matter, is an exciting open question. It’s a problem being tackled from several experimental, theoretical and computational directions. I think understanding correlations between partons in high energy collisions will make an important contribution to this.

* There’s a nice account of this by two of the people who won the Nobel prize for it in this recent CERN courier.

© Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #4633 on: Feb 17, 2013, 09:47 AM »

February 13, 2013

How Napoleon Chagnon Became Our Most Controversial Anthropologist

By EMILY EAKIN
NYT

Among the hazards Napoleon Chagnon encountered in the Venezuelan jungle were a jaguar that would have mauled him had it not become confused by his mosquito net and a 15-foot anaconda that lunged from a stream over which he bent to drink. There were also hairy black spiders, rats that clambered up and down his hammock ropes and a trio of Yanomami tribesmen who tried to smash his skull with an ax while he slept. (The men abandoned their plan when they realized that Chagnon, a light sleeper, kept a loaded shotgun within arm’s reach.) These are impressive adversaries — “Indiana Jones had nothing on me,” is how Chagnon puts it — but by far his most tenacious foes have been members of his own profession.

At 74, Chagnon may be this country’s best-known living anthropologist; he is certainly its most maligned. His monograph, “Yanomamö: The Fierce People,” which has sold nearly a million copies since it was first published in 1968, established him as a serious scientist in the swashbuckling mode — “I looked up and gasped when I saw a dozen burly, naked, filthy, hideous men staring at us down the shafts of their drawn arrows!” — but it also embroiled him in controversy.

In turning the Yanomami into the world’s most famous “unacculturated” tribe, Chagnon also turned the romantic image of the “noble savage” on its head. Far from living in harmony with one another, the tribe engaged in frequent chest-pounding duels and deadly inter-village raids; violence or threat of violence dominated social life. The Yanomami, he declared, “live in a state of chronic warfare.”

The phrase may be the most contested in the history of anthropology. Colleagues accused him of exaggerating the violence, even of imagining it — a projection of his aggressive personality. As Chagnon’s fame grew — his book became a standard text in college courses — so did the complaints. No detail was too small to be debated, including the transliteration of the tribe’s name. As one commentator wrote: “Those who refer to the group as Yanomamö generally tend to be supporters of Chagnon’s work. Those who prefer Yanomami or Yanomama tend to take a more neutral or anti-Chagnon stance.”

In 2000, the simmering criticisms erupted in public with the release of “Darkness in El Dorado,” by the journalist Patrick Tierney. A true-life jungle horror story redolent with allusions to Conrad, the book charged Chagnon with grave misdeeds: not just fomenting violence but also fabricating data, staging documentary films and, most sensational, participating in a biomedical expedition that may have caused or worsened a measles epidemic that resulted in hundreds of Yanomami deaths. Advance word of the book was enough to plunge anthropology into a global public-relations crisis — a typical headline: “Scientist ‘Killed Amazon Indians to Test Race Theory.’ ” But even today, after thousands of pages of discussion, including a lengthy investigation by the American Anthropological Association (A.A.A.), there is no consensus about what, if anything, Chagnon did wrong.

Shut out of the jungle because he was so polarizing, he took early retirement from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1999. “The whole point of my existence as a human being and as an anthropologist was to do more and more research before this primitive world disappeared,” he told me bitterly. He spent much of the past decade working on a memoir instead, “Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes — the Yanomamö and the Anthropologists,” which comes out this month. It is less likely to settle the score than to reignite debate. “The subtitle is typical Chagnon,” says Leslie Sponsel, an anthropologist at the University of Hawaii and a longtime critic of Chagnon. “Some will interpret it as an insult to the Yanomami and to anthropology in general.” Sponsel despaired that what is known as “the fierce controversy” would ever be satisfactorily resolved. “It’s quicksand, a Pandora’s box,” he said. “It’s also to some degree a microcosm of anthropology.”

When Chagnon first went into the jungle, in 1964, the public image of anthropology was at its peak. Claude Lévi-Strauss’s “Tristes Tropiques,” his magisterial memoir of his years studying tribes in Brazil, had recently been translated into English, prompting Susan Sontag to declare anthropology “one of the rare intellectual vocations that do not demand a sacrifice of one’s manhood. Courage, love of adventure and physical hardiness — as well as brains — are used by it.” “Dead Birds” (1963), Robert Gardner’s depiction of ritual warfare among the Dani people of New Guinea, was greeted as a landmark of ethnographic filmmaking. In the “Stone Age” culture of the Dani, anthropologists believed they had a snapshot of human development at a crucial early stage, and rumors of other “uncontacted” tribes fueled fantasies of genuine discovery. Membership in the A.A.A. doubled between 1960, when Margaret Mead, the field’s pre-eminent authority, served a term as president, and 1968.

Chagnon was well cast for life in the field. A 26-year-old graduate student at the University of Michigan, he grew up poor in rural Port Austin, Mich., the second of 12 children. He was self-sufficient and handy with a shotgun — minimum requirements for surviving on jungle terrain where the nearest airstrip was several hours downstream by motorized canoe. “It’s the harshest environment in the world, physically speaking,” Kenneth Good, an anthropologist at New Jersey City University, who accompanied Chagnon to Venezuela in 1975 and eventually married a teenage Yanomami woman, told me. “I nearly died of malaria several times.”

Today, Chagnon’s own health is fragile. He had open-heart surgery in 2006 — “a likely consequence of the attacks on me,” he says — and suffers from a lung condition that keeps him tethered to a portable oxygen tank much of the time. Still, when I met him in January, at his home in a wooded subdivision near the University of Missouri in Columbia, where he and his wife, Carlene, had just moved so that he could take up a new position in the anthropology department, he had half a dozen pheasants in his freezer, quarry from a recent hunting expedition with his German shorthaired pointer, Darwin. “Pheasant breast on toast with butter is one of the more delicious breakfasts I’ve ever eaten,” he said solemnly.

In his baseball cap and faded jeans, with a thermos of Heineken at his side, he seemed a pointed rebuke to Ivory Tower decorum. The house, a cavernous brick two-story, was only partly furnished — the Chagnons had lived there all of 10 days. But elegantly arrayed along a ledge above the mantel were a couple dozen woven baskets, like so many households around the rim of a shabono — the vine-and-leaf structure that encloses an entire Yanomami village.

Chagnon’s account of his first encounter with the tribe is legendary: he crept through the low entrance of a shabono, startling a group of Yanomami warriors — the dozen “filthy, hideous men” — who had just concluded a bloody club fight with a neighboring village over the abduction of seven women. “Immense wads of green tobacco were stuck between their lower teeth and lips making them look even more hideous,” Chagnon wrote, “and strands of dark-green slime dripped or hung from their noses.” (The green snot was a side effect of ebene, a hallucinogen that the Yanomami blow into one another’s nostrils.)

By the end of that first day, Chagnon knew he needed to rethink what he had been taught. Apart from a handful of reports by missionaries and European ethnographers, little was known about the Yanomami, who were scattered among several hundred shabonos across roughly 70,000 square miles on the Venezuelan-Brazilian border. According to the reigning “cultural materialist” doctrine — which owed as much to Marx as to the noble-savage ideal — conflict among groups arose only when there was competition for strategic resources: food, tools, land. The Yanomami in Bisaasi-teri, the shabono that Chagnon had entered, appeared not to be lacking these things. They shouldn’t have been fighting with their neighbors, and certainly not over women — that kind of reproductive competition, cultural materialists claimed, had nothing to do with warfare. During Chagnon’s initial 17 months in the field, one nearby village was raided 25 times. “I began realizing that my training in Michigan was not all that it was supposed to be,” he said.

He spent his first few months trying to learn the villagers’ names and kinship ties, a standard practice at the time and a particular challenge in this case, given the Yanomami’s name taboos: to call someone by his name is often an insult, and the names of the dead aren’t supposed to be uttered at all. Chagnon rewarded informants with fish hooks, matches and, for men who really dished, knives and machetes. (The Yanomami made no metal tools themselves.) Then, on a visit to another village, Chagnon cautiously mentioned the names of the Bisaasi-teri headman and his wife. The residents burst out laughing. He realized that he’d been had: the names he’d been given were slang for genitalia.

Genealogies became Chagnon’s driving obsession. They were crucial for tracing patterns of reproduction — determining which men had the most offspring or how many had wives from other villages. By the end of his last trip to the jungle, in 1995, Chagnon had data on about 4,000 Yanomami, in some cases going back to the 19th century. “That’s what he lives for,” Raymond Hames, an anthropologist at the University of Nebraska who worked with Chagnon as a graduate student, told me. “To collect the data, update the data, crosscheck it. He’s incredibly meticulous.”

Genealogies could also be useful for understanding genetic variations within social groups — then a new avenue of research. Before leaving Ann Arbor, Chagnon met with James V. Neel, a prominent geneticist at the university’s medical school, to propose a collaboration. Neel was best known for his genetic studies of survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. But he was interested in indigenous populations, in part because, having never been exposed to atomic radiation, they could provide a base line for comparison. After taking samples of the Yanomani’s blood, Neel discovered that the tribe’s levels of heavy metals and other environmental toxins were similar to Westerners’. They also lacked immunity to measles. In 1968, Chagnon helped Neel’s team vaccinate 1,000 Yanomami against the disease, just as it broke out near Bisaasi-teri.

Chagnon believed that biology was essential to understanding the tribe’s warfare over women. After all, more women meant more opportunities to pass on genes through reproduction — a basic tenet of evolutionary thought. But biology had no place in the cultural-materialist paradigm. And explanations of human behavior that relied on evolutionary theory were typically met with suspicion in anthropological circles, a legacy of the American eugenics movement, which invoked Darwinian ideas to justify racist efforts to “improve” the gene pool. “The last bastions of resistance to evolutionary theory,” Chagnon told me, “are organized religion and cultural anthropology.”

Marvin Harris, the leading cultural materialist and a professor at Columbia, was adamant that the Yanomami could not be fighting over women, and in 1975, he threw down a gauntlet. One of Harris’s former students, Daniel Gross, had just published a paper arguing that a scarcity of animal protein led to conditions that favored violence among Amazonian tribes, a theory Harris enthusiastically adopted. Chagnon, who had taken a job at Penn State, and three graduate students met with Harris in New York, on their way to Venezuela. “Harris said, ‘If you can show me that the Yanomami get the protein equivalent of one Big Mac per day, I’ll eat my hat,’ ” recalled Chagnon, who accepted the challenge.

By then Chagnon was waging battles on several fronts. That year, the Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson published “Sociobiology,” to the dismay of many anthropologists, who were appalled by what they perceived as Wilson’s attempt to reduce human social behavior to an effect of genes. But Chagnon was excited by Wilson’s ideas, and in 1976 he and a colleague arranged for two sessions on sociobiology to take place at the annual A.A.A. convention. The evening before the sessions, several scholars moved to prohibit them. “Impassioned accusations of racism, fascism and Nazism punctuated the frenzied business meeting that night,” Chagnon writes in “Noble Savages.” Only after Margaret Mead denounced the motion as a “book burning” was it defeated.

At the same time, Chagnon’s portrayal of Yanomami aggression was meeting with increasing resistance. One theory had it that his habit of rewarding cooperative subjects with steel tools — common practice at the time — worsened conflicts. Jacques Lizot, a French anthropologist who spent more than 15 years in a village near Bisaasi-teri, wrote that he hoped to “revise the exaggerated representation that has been given of Yanomami violence. The Yanomami are warriors; they can be brutal and cruel, but they can also be delicate, sensitive and loving.” These latter traits also appeared, though less prominently, in Chagnon’s work. In “The Fierce People,” he recounts the night he became “emotionally close to the Yanomamö for the first time.” A village headman had been killed in a raid, and his brothers were audibly mourning his death. Moved, Chagnon lay quietly in his hammock, not wanting to intrude with his tape recorder or notebook. When asked why he was not “making a nuisance of himself as usual,” Chagnon explained that he was sad. This news was quickly passed around, and for the rest of the night he was treated with great deference: “I was hushuo, in a state of emotional disequilibrium, and had finally begun to act like a human being as far as they were concerned.”

What could have been fruitful academic debates became personal and nasty. It didn’t help that Chagnon could be arrogant and impolitic. “Oh, God, did we have some fights in the field,” says Raymond Hames, who accompanied him on the 1975 protein-challenge trip. “He’s pretty damn sure of himself.” Hames, who remains a close friend, says he and Chagnon “made it work out.” But this was not the case with others.

Kenneth Good was also on the trip and was delegated to study protein consumption at a village far upstream from Bisaasi-teri. Chagnon, he says, refused to give him a steel boat or replenish his anti-malaria pills and didn’t care that he capsized and was stranded without food for three days. “If he had behaved in a civil way, we could have been lifelong allies,” Good told me. (Chagnon says that Good’s demands were unreasonable: “He wasn’t civil to me from the very beginning. I took him into the most exciting field opportunity that existed in anthropology at the time, and he never even sent me a progress report.”)

After Good returned to the United States, he left Chagnon’s department and finished his dissertation with Harris. When the protein studies were finally published, the findings, perhaps unsurprisingly, were split: Good showed that the Yanomami in his village ate slightly less protein than what’s in a Big Mac; Chagnon and Hames showed that their group ate much more. Daniel Gross, who recently retired from the World Bank, says the debate remains unresolved. He pointed out that the Yanomami are about five feet tall, on average. “You have to wonder what accounts for their low stature,” he said. “It’s most likely not a genetic trait.”

Chagnon also fell out with Lizot, the French anthropologist, and with Timothy Asch, an ethnographic filmmaker with whom he collaborated on more than a dozen documentaries. The partnership yielded ingenious work, including “A Man Called ‘Bee’ ” (1974), in which the camera turns, for once, on the ethnographer. Chagnon strides into the middle of a shabono in a loincloth and faded high tops and strikes a warrior pose — a bearded Tarzan aping his subjects, to their audible delight. (The film’s title comes from Chagnon’s Yanomami nickname, “Shaki,” their word for a particularly pesky species of bee.) But by 1975, with the release of “The Ax Fight,” a prizewinning record of a Yanomami brawl, Chagnon and Asch’s own fighting, mostly over who should get top billing in the credits, had destroyed their relationship.

Nor did Chagnon manage to stay on good terms with the local Salesian priests, who, thanks to their influence in Caracas, had considerable say over which scientists got to work with the tribe. In 1993, Chagnon attacked the Salesians in an Op-Ed in The New York Times, charging that the Yanomami were using mission-issued guns to kill one another. The Salesians fought back, depositing anti-Chagnon leaflets at the annual A.A.A. convention and mailing packets of letters — including one from Lizot — to anthropology departments across the country, denouncing his claims.

Chagnon sensed that his access to the Yanomami was ending. Anthropology was changing, too. For more than a decade, the discipline had been engaged in a sweeping self-critique. In 1983, the New Zealand anthropologist Derek Freeman delivered a major blow when he published “Margaret Mead and Samoa,” charging that Mead had been duped by informants in her pioneering ethnography, “Coming of Age in Samoa.” Postmodern theory precipitated a crisis. Under the influence of Derrida and Foucault, cultural anthropologists turned their gaze on their own “texts” and were alarmed by what they saw. Ethnographies were not dispassionate records of cultural facts but rather unstable “fictions,” shot through with ideology and observer bias.

This postmodern turn coincided with the disappearance of anthropology’s traditional subjects — indigenous peoples. Even the Yanomami were becoming assimilated, going to mission schools, appearing on television in Caracas and flying to the United States to speak at academic conferences. Traditional fieldwork opportunities may have been drying up, but there was still plenty of work to do exposing anthropologists’ complicity in oppressing “the other.” As one scholar in the journal Current Anthropology put it, “Isn’t it odd that the true enemy of society turns out to be that guy in the office down the hall?”

One way to confront the field’s ethical dilemmas was to redefine the ethnographer’s role. A new generation of anthropologists came to see activism on their subjects’ behalf as a principal part of the job. Chagnon did not; to him, the Yanomami were invaluable data sets, not a human rights cause — at least not primarily. In 1988, he published a provocative article in Science. Drawing on his genealogies, he showed that Yanomami men who were killers had more wives and children than men who were not. Was the men’s aggression the main reason for their greater reproductive success? Chagnon suggested that the question deserved serious consideration. “Violence,” he speculated, “may be the principal driving force behind the evolution of culture.”

The article was seized on by the press, including two newspapers in Brazil, where illegal gold miners had begun invading Yanomami lands. The Brazilian Anthropological Association warned that Chagnon’s “dubious scientific conclusions” could have terrible political consequences: “Wide publicity about Yanomami ‘violence’ in racist terms . . . is being used by the powerful lobby of mining interests as an excuse for the invasion of these Indians’ lands.”

As Alcida Ramos, a Yanomami expert at the University of Brasilia, later explained to Science: “To do anthropology in Brazil is in itself a political act. We don’t separate our interests as anthropologists from our responsibility as citizens.” Her colleague Bruce Albert told Science that a plan by the Brazilian government to divide the tribe’s land into a series of disconnected “islands” was being justified by claims that, as the reporter put it, the Yanomami “are violent and need to be kept separate so they will stop killing each other.” Nevertheless, the reporter noted, Albert “cannot demonstrate a direct connection between Chagnon’s writings and the government’s Indian policy.”

Scientists have since endorsed Chagnon’s Science article. “It shouldn’t be a shocking finding,” Steven Pinker, the Harvard evolutionary psychologist who cites the paper in his book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined,” told me. “As a pattern in history, it’s well documented.” Pinker said that he was troubled by the notion that social scientists should suppress unflattering information about their subjects because it could be exploited by others. “This whole tactic is a terrible mistake: always putting your moral action in jeopardy of empirical findings,” he told me. “Once you have the equation that the Yanomami are nonviolent and deserve to be protected, the converse is that if they are violent they don’t deserve to be protected.”

Chagnon had alienated most of the anthropologists in Venezuela and Brazil who might have helped broker his visits to the tribe. In 1990, desperate to return to the jungle, he accepted an invitation from an old contact, Charles Brewer-Carías, to serve as an adviser to Fundafaci, a Venezuelan foundation established by Cecilia Matos, the consort of President Carlos Andrés Pérez, to help the country’s poor. The association proved disastrous for Chagnon. Brewer-Carías, a well-connected dentist and former Venezuelan youth minister, had been accused of illegally mining for gold on Yanomami land. (Brewer-Carías has denied the allegations.) “He’s a dapper opportunist,” Chagnon told me. “Charlie can talk his way into and out of just about everything.”

For months, Fundafaci helicopters flew in and out of some of the most pristine Yanomami settlements, ferrying researchers, television crews and the occasional wealthy tourist — as well as, inevitably, their germs. According to Patrick Tierney, during one helicopter landing, several Yanomami were injured when the roof of a shabono collapsed. Chagnon and Brewer-Carías also urged President Pérez to turn part of the region into a biosphere, which, Tierney writes, would have given them “a scientific monopoly over an area the size of Connecticut.” The A.A.A., which appointed an El Dorado task force to look into Tierney’s allegations, concluded that this charge could not be proved, since Pérez abandoned the Fundafaci proposal. But the task force was harshly critical of Chagnon, stating that his affiliation with Fundafaci “violated Venezuelan laws, associated his research with the activities of corrupt politicians and involved him in activities that endangered the health and well-being of the Yanomami.”

The adventure came to an end in 1993, when Pérez was impeached. Chagnon, characteristically, is unrepentant. “I got a year’s worth of data,” he said. “It was worth it for that reason.”

Was Fundafaci an isolated case of bad judgment, or part of a pattern of ethically egregious behavior? Tierney’s “Darkness in El Dorado,” which he spent more than a decade reporting, took the latter view and was eagerly anticipated by Chagnon’s critics: the moment when a rogue anthropologist would get a rare public comeuppance. In August 2000, while the book was still in galleys, Leslie Sponsel, of the University of Hawaii, and Terence Turner, an anthropologist at Cornell, sent an e-mail to the A.A.A.’s leadership, warning of an “impending scandal,” unparalleled in its “scale, ramifications and sheer criminality and corruption.” In lurid detail, they laid out the book’s major allegations, concluding: “This nightmarish story — a real anthropological heart of darkness beyond the imagining of even a Josef [sic] Conrad (though not, perhaps, a Josef Mengele) — will be seen (rightly in our view) by the public, as well as most anthropologists, as putting the whole discipline on trial.”

By November, when the A.A.A. met for its annual meeting, the scandal had hit the press, and “Darkness in El Dorado” had been excerpted in The New Yorker and named a finalist for the National Book Award. Much of the coverage focused on Tierney’s most sensational charges regarding the 1968 measles epidemic.

In his galleys, Tierney speculated that Neel, who died in 2000, hoped to simulate a measles epidemic among the Yanomami as part of a genetics experiment. In the published book, this theory was no longer explicit — Tierney had made last-minute changes — but it was insinuated. “Measles,” Tierney wrote, “was tailor-made for experiments.” Moreover, Neel’s choice of vaccine, Edmonston B, “was a bold decision from a research perspective” because it “provided a model much closer to real measles than other, safer vaccines, in the attempt to resolve the great genetic question of selective adaptation.” Although he quoted a leading measles researcher emphatically denying that measles vaccine can transmit the virus, he nevertheless maintained that it was “unclear whether the Edmonston B became transmissible or not.” (This line was excised from the paperback edition.) Tierney repeatedly faulted the expedition’s members for putting their scientific objectives ahead of the tribe’s health. By vaccinating the Yanomami against measles, he maintained, Neel and Chagnon may have been responsible for needless illness and death.

At an open-mike A.A.A. session, attendees, few of whom had read the book, weighed in on the controversy. Thomas Gregor and Daniel Gross later described the event in a damning article in American Anthropologist: “Virtually every aspect of [Chagnon’s] behavior, relevant or otherwise, was open for public dissection. One participant took the microphone and claimed that Chagnon had treated her rudely in the field during the 1960s. A colleague from Uganda praised Tierney’s book and suggested that Westerners manufactured the Ebola virus and disseminated it in his country, just as Chagnon and Neel had started the measles epidemic. Members of the audience applauded both speakers.” For Gregor, who recently retired as an anthropologist at Vanderbilt, the session was “a watershed moment.” “These are people who are supposed to be scientists,” he told me. “This had the look of an emotionally charged witch hunt.”

Within a few months, half a dozen academic institutions had refuted aspects of Tierney’s claims, including the International Genetic Epidemiology Society, whose statement reflected a growing consensus: “Far from causing an epidemic of measles, Neel did his utmost to protect the Yanomamö from the ravages of the impending epidemic by a vaccination program using a vaccine that was widely used at the time and administered in an appropriate manner.” (In an e-mail to me, Tierney defended his book, acknowledging only “several small errors,” concerning Neel’s work in Japan.)

The A.A.A.’s El Dorado task force was the most ambitious investigation to date but was undermined by a lack of due process. The group went so far as to interview Yanomami in Venezuela but, according to Chagnon, failed to give him an opportunity to respond to its verdicts. As Gregor and Gross put it, what the inquiry most clearly demonstrated was not Chagnon’s guilt or innocence but rather anthropology’s “culture of accusation,” a “tendency within the discipline to attack its own methods and practitioners.”

At least one task-force member had doubts about the exercise. In April 2002, shortly before the group released its report, Jane Hill, the task force’s chairwoman and a former president of the A.A.A. wrote an e-mail to a colleague in which she called Tierney’s book “just a piece of sleaze, that’s all there is to it (some cosmetic language will be used in the report, but we all agree on that).” Nevertheless, she said, the A.A.A. had to act: anthropologists’ work with indigenous groups in Latin America “was put seriously at risk by its accusations,” and “silence on the part of the A.A.A would have been interpreted as either assent or cowardice. Whether we’re doing the right thing will have to be judged by posterity.”

The e-mail is quoted in a paper by Alice Dreger that appeared in the journal Human Nature in 2011. Dreger, a professor of bioethics at Northwestern, was writing a book about scientific controversies in the Internet age, when she learned about the scandal in anthropology. She researched the case for a year, conducting 40 interviews, and by the time she published her paper, she considered Chagnon a friend, a fact reflected in her sometimes zealous tone. Among other things, she discovered that Tierney helped prepare a dossier critical of Chagnon, which he attributed to Leda Martins, a Brazilian anthropologist: “Leda’s dossier was an important resource for my research.” (Martins says that she translated the dossier into Portuguese.) But Dreger reserves her most withering remarks for the A.A.A. She told me, “All these people knew that Tierney’s book was a house of cards but proceeded anyway because they needed a ritualistic cleansing.”

In fairness, Tierney seems to have gotten some things right. The task force called his account of Chagnon’s Fundafaci episode one of the “better supported allegations.” And many have vouched for Tierney’s description of Jacques Lizot, Chagnon’s French rival, ensconced in the jungle with an entourage of Yanomami boys, whom he plied with trade goods in exchange for sex. (Lizot has said that the sex was between consenting adults.)

Yet it’s possible to imagine how a discipline seeking to expiate its sins could have overreached in Chagnon’s case. He was prominent and controversial, a sociobiologist who declined to put activism on a par with research. On the rare occasions that he adopted the mantle of advocate, the gesture typically backfired, as when he told a Brazilian magazine: “The real Indians get dirty, smell bad, use drugs, belch after they eat, covet and sometimes steal each other’s women, fornicate and make war. They are normal human beings. This is reason enough for them to deserve care and attention.” His critics, appalled by the first sentence, typically ignored the rest.

In this charged atmosphere, Tierney was to play a vital role: that of the impartial journalist who would give the discipline’s verdict on Chagnon the stamp of objectivity. Yet as Tierney himself admitted, he was not impartial. “I gradually changed from being an observer to being an advocate,” he wrote. “It was a completely inverted world, where traditional, objective journalism was no longer an option for me.” Was objectivity possible for anyone?

In 2005, the A.A.A.’s members agreed to rescind the task-force report, by a vote of 846 to 338. Daniel Gross called Chagnon to give him the news. “I saved that phone message for years,” Chagnon told me. “That was the point at which my emotional stability began to ascend.” Last spring, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences — a prestigious honor that he took as vindication. “A lot of anthropologists have red faces from the extent to which they advocated in support of the accusations against me,” he said.

Not every critic has conceded. “The charges have not all been disproven by any means,” Leslie Sponsel pointed out. Leda Martins, who teaches at Pitzer College in Los Angeles, was more circumspect. “The controversy is so big, and the devil is all in the details,” she said. “Unless you know where Chagnon was, in what village, and what he was doing — unless you know everything — it’s really hard to talk about it.” I told her I thought that Tierney was sure he’d found another Kurtz, another “Heart of Darkness.” “Patrick and Chagnon have some similar characteristics,” Martins replied. “How ironic is it that Patrick got carried away in the same way that Chagnon got carried away?”

By now, at least a few Yanomami have read both “The Fierce People” and “Darkness in El Dorado,” and many more have been told about their contents by people with varied agendas. During an interview with a member of the A.A.A.’s task force, Davi Kopenawa, a Brazilian Yanomami leader, was invited to pose some questions of his own. “I want to ask you about these American anthropologists,” he said. “Why are they fighting among themselves? Is it because of this book?”

The interviewer answered in the affirmative, and Kopenawa went on: “So, Chagnon made money using the name of the Yanomami. He sold his book. Lizot, too. I want to know how much they are making each month. How much does any anthropologist earn? And how much is Patrick making? Patrick must be happy. This is a lot of money. They may be fighting, but they are happy. They fight, and this makes them happy.”

Emily Eakin has written for The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books blog. Her last article for the magazine was on Jonathan Franzen.

Editor: Sheila Glaser


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In the USA...

February 16, 2013

California Eases Tone as Latinos Make Gains

By JENNIFER MEDINA
NYT

LOS ANGELES — A generation ago, California voters approved a ballot initiative that was seen as the most anti-immigrant law in the nation. Immigrants who had come to the country illegally would be ineligible to receive prenatal care, and their children would be barred from public schools.

But the law, which was later declared unconstitutional by the federal courts, never achieved the goal of its backers: to turn back the tide of immigrants pouring into the state. Instead, since the law was approved in 1994, the political and social reality has changed drastically across the state. Now, more California residents than ever before say that immigrants are a benefit to the state, according to public opinion polls from the Public Policy Institute of California.

As Congress begins debating an overhaul of the immigration system, many in California sense that the country is just now beginning to go through the same evolution the state experienced over the last two decades. For a generation of Republicans, Gov. Pete Wilson’s barrages on the impact of immigration in the 1990s spoke to their uneasiness with the way the state was changing. Now many California Republicans point to that as the beginning of their downfall.

Today, party leaders from both sides, and from all over the state, are calling for a softer approach and a wholesale change in federal policies.

The state’s changing attitudes are driven, in large part, by demographics. In 1990, Latinos made up 30 percent of the state’s population; they will make up 40 percent — more than any other ethnic group — by the end of this year, and 48 percent by 2050, according to projections made by the state this month. This year, for the first time, Latinos were the largest ethnic group applying to the University of California system.

Towns that just a decade ago were largely white now have Latino majorities. Latinos make up an important power base not only in urban centers like Los Angeles, but also in places that were once hostile to outsiders. There are dozens of city councils with a majority of Latino members, a Mexican-American is the mayor of Los Angeles and another is the leader of the State Assembly. Nearly all of the 15 California Republicans in Congress represent districts where at least a quarter of the residents are Latino.

“The political calculus has changed dramatically,” said Manuel Pastor, a demographer and professor of American studies at the University of Southern California. “Immigrants are an accepted part of public life here. And California is America fast-forward. What happened to our demographics between 1980 and 2000 is almost exactly what will happen to the rest of the country over the next 30 years.”

Proposition 187, the 1994 ballot initiative, prompted thousands of immigrants to register to vote and ignited a generation of activists, including dozens who now hold public office or run immigrant rights organizations that lobby for change in federal laws.

“The fact that the Republican Party got identified with anti-immigration has made things very difficult for them,” said Mark Baldassare, the president of the Public Policy Institute of California, which closely monitors shifts in the state. “It is what is going on nationally now, but California started much earlier.”

He continued: “Today, you would really be hard pressed to even think of a group that would come out in favor of putting that on the ballot, let alone something that would gain traction or be endorsed by a major party. It seems voters have moved on to looking for solutions to something they recognize as an ongoing situation here.”

Most political observers say California is nowhere near the end of its political transformation. The share of white voters, who tend to be older, is expected to continue to decrease, while Latinos and Asians will make up more of the electorate.

“The question for the party is, Where are you going to get your new voters from?” Mr. Baldassare said of Republicans.

Even in Orange County, widely seen as the most reliably conservative bastion in the state, Republican officials are changing their tone. Scott Baugh, the chairman of the county party, said that if the language did not change, his party would be relegated to permanent minority status.

“To constantly refer to undocumented immigrants as illegals is very hostile and self-righteous,” Mr. Baugh said. “Let’s point out that while crossing the border without documents is illegal, a federal misdemeanor, being in this country as an immigrant isn’t a criminal act.”

Still, when Mr. Baugh made similar comments at the party’s county convention recently, he was not met with wild applause. Indeed, one could be forgiven for mistaking him for a liberal, a notion he dismisses with a scoff.

“We have to be looking at basic notions of justice and equity and fairness,” he said. “In many instances, these immigrants have been hired by American companies, so if you want to hang your hat on the rule of law, focus on that.”

Latinos had long been concentrated in the urban centers and agricultural areas of the state. But they have continued to move to the suburbs, particularly in the Inland Empire, the suburbs east of Los Angeles. There, Latinos have driven rapid growth over the last decade and make up more than two-thirds of many cities. Experts estimate that more than half of the immigrants who entered the country illegally have been in the United States for more than a decade.

Even as the demographics changed steadily for decades, the shift in voters came more slowly. But in the most recent election, exit polls showed that Latinos made up 25 percent of the vote in California, compared with 9 percent in 1994, Mr. Baldassare said.

In the Legislature, which has 120 seats, the Latino caucus now consists of 24 members, more than double what it was two decades ago.

Ricardo Lara, the chairman of the caucus, said he traced his own political involvement directly to the anti-immigration sentiment in the 1990s.

“I was a freshman in college, and suddenly there was a blatant attack on people like my parents,” said Mr. Lara, who grew up in East Los Angeles with other Mexican immigrants. “The so-called sleeping giant has always been awake, but they’ve been in our schools and colleges, and now we are really starting to run things.”

Perhaps nobody has seen this more clearly than María Elena Durazo, the executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, where Latino service workers are the primary source of growth for unions. Proposition 187 was “the perfect storm to anger and motivate a big number of Latinos, and once we had them coming out, we made sure they kept voting,” she said.

“Nobody had ever gone out to new citizens in the immigrant community, to poor working-class immigrants, but they turned out to be very reliable voters for us,” Ms. Durazo said. “People were always talking about low enthusiasm, but that is not what we were ever seeing. Now the rest of the country is starting to catch up.”

Ms. Durazo recalled the huge May Day protests in 2006, when thousands of immigrants lined the streets of Los Angeles. At the time, she said, organizers made a strategic decision to discourage the waving of Mexican flags and instead handed out American flags on street corners.

“We wanted to project what we feel — we’re working people who love this country and are staying here,” she said. “For a long time, we were living in no more than four or five states, but now, we are in the smallest towns of Georgia and Alabama. And once we’re there, it gets harder to ignore or hope that immigrants will just go away.”

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February 16, 2013

The White House Continues Working on Immigration Legislation of Its Own

By MICHAEL D. SHEAR
NYT

WASHINGTON — The White House is working on early drafts of a comprehensive bill that would offer 11 million illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship along the lines of the principles that the president laid out in Las Vegas several weeks ago, administration officials said.

President Obama revealed last month that his administration had already drafted immigration legislation. But he said he preferred to let a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers work out their own bill that could also tighten border security and provide employers with a way to verify the citizenship status of workers.

White House aides said that Mr. Obama remained pleased with the progress being made on Capitol Hill toward a complete overhaul of the nation’s immigration system. But they said he would be prepared to submit legislation if the effort among lawmakers stalls.

“The president has made clear the principles upon which he believes any common-sense immigration reform effort should be based,” Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman, said in a statement. “We continue to work in support of a bipartisan effort, and while the president has made clear he will move forward if Congress fails to act, progress continues to be made and the administration has not prepared a final bill to submit.”

On Saturday, USA Today reported that it had obtained portions of the president’s draft legislation. The newspaper said the bill would allow illegal immigrants to become permanent residents within eight years and in the meantime apply for a “Lawful Prospective Immigrant” visa. Mr. Stevens and other White House officials declined to comment on specific details of the report.

Those details are similar to the statement of principles that the White House provided to reporters after Mr. Obama’s Las Vegas speech. A fact sheet said the president wanted to strengthen border security, provide “earned citizenship,” streamline legal immigration and crack down on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

“Immigrants living here illegally must be held responsible for their actions by passing national security and criminal background checks, paying taxes and a penalty, going to the back of the line, and learning English before they can earn their citizenship,” the fact sheet said. “There will be no uncertainty about their ability to become U.S. citizens if they meet these eligibility criteria.”

In a statement late Saturday night, Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, criticized Mr. Obama, saying that the details reported in the USA Today article represented legislation that “is half-baked and seriously flawed.”

“It would actually make our immigration problems worse,” he said. Mr. Rubio, who has been among the leading Republicans pushing for a comprehensive overhaul of immigration, predicted that a bill like the one reported would be “dead on arrival in Congress.”

But Demetrios G. Papademetriou, president of the Migration Policy Institute, an independent nonpartisan research center in Washington, said the eight-year temporary status for illegal immigrants in the document obtained by USA Today was “essentially the same as the probationary status” envisioned in a proposal developed by a bipartisan group of eight senators. During that probationary period, Mr. Papademetriou said, immigrants would have temporary visas with full work authorization.

The bipartisan Senate proposal calls for additional border security and more effective enforcement to curb illegal immigration. And it would require that “enforcement measures be complete before any immigrant on probationary status can earn a green card.” It was not immediately clear whether the White House would support such linkage.

Mr. Obama’s administration has been working on immigration legislation for years. But the issue shot to the top of the president’s second-term agenda after his re-election in November, when Hispanic voters backed him in large numbers. White House officials are betting that Republicans will be eager to embrace immigration changes as a way of repairing their image with an important voting bloc.

But getting legislation passed remains tricky, especially in the Republican-controlled House, and Mr. Obama has made it clear he will take a back seat to lawmakers if it will help. Negotiations are taking place among a bipartisan group of senators, a separate group in the House, and labor leaders and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, praised Mr. Obama’s tone on the issue last week, saying the president “actually doesn’t want to politicize this, which is conducive to getting something done.”

On Wednesday, the White House said Mr. Obama met with Democratic senators at the White House to get a status report on the pace of progress on the legislation. In a statement after the meeting, White House officials said the president reiterated his pledge to become more involved if necessary.

The statement said Mr. Obama told them “he expects the process to continue to move forward and stands ready to introduce his own legislation if Congress fails to act.”

It remains unclear how long the president is willing to wait. In interviews with Spanish-language television stations after his speech last month, Mr. Obama suggested that he wanted to see real progress by March, when lawmakers had said they hoped to have reached an agreement.

“If they can get a piece of legislation debated on the floor by March I think that’s a good timeline. And I think that can be accomplished,” he said on Univision last month. “I’m not going to lay down a particular date because I want to give them a little bit of room to debate. If it slips a week, that’s one thing. If it starts slipping three months, that’s a problem.”

Robert Pear contributed reporting.

**********
February 12, 2013

Do Illegal Immigrants Actually Hurt the U.S. Economy?

By ADAM DAVIDSON
NYT

Earlier this month I met Pedro Chan at his small apartment above an evangelical church in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood. Chan, who shares the place with three others, is short and muscular. He has a quiet voice and a patient demeanor that seems to have served him well on his journey to New York. In 2002, he left his Guatemalan village for a long trip through Mexico and, with the help of a smuggler, across the Texas border. In 2004, he made it to Brooklyn, where his uncle helped him find work on small construction crews.

These days, Chan helps skilled (and fully documented) carpenters, electricians and stucco installers do their jobs by carrying heavy things and cleaning the work site. For this, he earns up to $25,000 a year, which is considerably less than the average entry wage for New York City’s 100,000 or so documented construction workers. Chan’s boss, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that unless he learned a specialized skill, Chan would never be able to move up the income ladder. As long as there are thousands of undocumented workers competing for low-end jobs, salaries are more likely to fall than to rise.

As Congress debates the contours of immigration reform, many arguments have been made on economic grounds. Undocumented workers, some suggest, undercut wages and take jobs that would otherwise go to Americans. Worse, the argument goes, many use social programs, like hospitals and schools, that cost taxpayers and add to our $16 trillion national debt. Would deporting Pedro Chan and the other 11 million or so undocumented workers mean more jobs, lower taxes and a stronger economy?

Illegal immigration does have some undeniably negative economic effects. Similarly skilled native-born workers are faced with a choice of either accepting lower pay or not working in the field at all. Labor economists have concluded that undocumented workers have lowered the wages of U.S. adults without a high-school diploma — 25 million of them — by anywhere between 0.4 to 7.4 percent.

The impact on everyone else, though, is surprisingly positive. Giovanni Peri, an economist at the University of California, Davis, has written a series of influential papers comparing the labor markets in states with high immigration levels to those with low ones. He concluded that undocumented workers do not compete with skilled laborers — instead, they complement them. Economies, as Adam Smith argued in “Wealth of Nations,” work best when workers become specialized and divide up tasks among themselves. Pedro Chan’s ability to take care of routine tasks on a work site allows carpenters and electricians to focus on what they do best. In states with more undocumented immigrants, Peri said, skilled workers made more money and worked more hours; the economy’s productivity grew. From 1990 to 2007, undocumented workers increased legal workers’ pay in complementary jobs by up to 10 percent.

I saw this in action when Chan took me to his current work site, a two-story office building on Coney Island Avenue. The skilled workers had already installed wood flooring in a lawyer’s office and were off to the next job site. That left Chan to clean up the debris and to install a new toilet. As I looked around, I could see how we were on one end of an economic chain reaction. Chan’s boss no longer had to pay a highly skilled worker to perform basic tasks. That lowered the overall cost of construction, increasing the number of jobs the company could book, which meant more customers and more money. It reminded me of how so many restaurants operate. Without undocumented labor performing routine tasks, meals, which factor labor costs into the price, would be more expensive. There would also be fewer jobs for waiters and chefs.

Earlier that day, I was reminded of another seldom-discussed fact about immigrant life in the United States. Immigrants spend most of the money they make. Chan had broken down his monthly expenses: $400 a month in rent, another $30 or so for gas, electric and Internet. He sends some money home and tries to save a few thousand a year in his Citibank account, but he ends up spending more than $10,000 annually. That includes the $1,400 or so he pays the I.R.S. so that he can have a taxpayer I.D. number, which allows him to have a credit score so that he can rent an apartment or lease a car.

There are many ways to debate immigration, but when it comes to economics, there isn’t much of a debate at all. Nearly all economists, of all political persuasions, agree that immigrants — those here legally or not — benefit the overall economy. “That is not controversial,” Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, told me. Shierholz also said that “there is a consensus that, on average, the incomes of families in this country are increased by a small, but clearly positive amount, because of immigration.”

The benefit multiplies over the long haul. As the baby boomers retire, the post-boom generation’s burden to finance their retirement is greatly alleviated by undocumented immigrants. Stephen Goss, chief actuary for the Social Security Administration, told me that undocumented workers contribute about $15 billion a year to Social Security through payroll taxes. They only take out $1 billion (very few undocumented workers are eligible to receive benefits). Over the years, undocumented workers have contributed up to $300 billion, or nearly 10 percent, of the $2.7 trillion Social Security Trust Fund.

The problem, though, is that undocumented workers are not evenly distributed. In areas like southern Texas and Arizona and even parts of Brooklyn, undocumented immigrants impose a substantial net cost to local and state governments, Shierholz says. Immigrants use public assistance, medical care and schools. Some immigrant neighborhoods have particularly high crime rates. Jared Bernstein, a fellow at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, told me that these are also areas in which low-educated workers are most likely to face stiff competition from immigrants. It’s no wonder why so much political furor comes from these regions.

Undocumented workers represent a classic economic challenge with a fairly straightforward solution. Immigrants bring diffuse and hard-to-see benefits to average Americans while imposing more tangible costs on a few, Shierholz says. The dollar value of the benefits far outweigh the costs, so the government could just transfer extra funds to those local populations that need more help. One common proposal would grant amnesty to undocumented workers, which would create a sudden increase in tax payments. Simultaneously, the federal government could apply a percentage of those increased revenues to local governments.

But that, of course, seems politically improbable. Immigration is one of many problems — like another economic no-brainer: eliminating farm subsidies — in which broad economic benefits battle against a smaller, concentrated cost in one area. As immigration reform seems more likely than at any time in recent memory, it’s important to remember that it is not the economic realities that have changed. It’s the political ones.

Adam Davidson is co-founder of NPR’s “Planet Money,” a podcast and blog.

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February 16, 2013

Colleges Become Major Front in Fight Over Carrying Guns

By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA and SUSAN SAULNY
NYT

BOULDER, Colo. — Public colleges and universities have become a major front in the nation’s debate over guns as gun-rights advocates press to expand the right to carry concealed weapons, a campaign that gained steam after the 2007 shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, which left 33 people dead. And though guns remain banned from most state colleges, pro-gun forces, in a series of high-decibel legal and political battles, have made inroads on the issue in a handful of states, most recently Colorado.

But the clashes seem divorced from realities on campus. On both sides, arguments are built largely on anecdotal evidence and on behalf of a student population that shows little passion for the dispute. After a high-profile fight over guns at the University of Colorado, Boulder, a court ruling last winter forced the university to allow concealed weapons. Students and administrators said the new policy had made no noticeable difference in life on campus.

There has been no sign of a proliferation of guns, which are still prohibited in most dormitories. Although the university has offered a small number of housing units where students could keep guns, so far there have been no takers.

“I don’t think it’s a big concern for students,” said Rebecca Naccarato, 22, a senior from Pueblo. “I think students weren’t really even aware of how much noise there was about it.”

In 2004, the National Research Foundation reviewed extensive research and concluded that there was no clear evidence that making it easy for law-abiding people to carry concealed weapons increased or decreased violence. Still, that has not persuaded partisans on either side, and the debate flared again after mass killings like those last July at a theater in nearby Aurora and in December at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

Opponents of allowing the carrying of concealed weapons say it increases the risk of accidents, and of ordinary confrontations escalating to lethal force. Supporters say it gives pause to criminals, and a fighting chance to potential victims.

“If you had asked students the morning of the Virginia Tech shooting if they feel safe, I’m almost positive all of them would have said yes, but just a couple of hours later, those students found out that feeling safe is not the same as being safe,” said David Burnett, a spokesman for Students for Concealed Carry, a group that was formed after that shooting and has campaigned to overturn college gun bans in several states, including Colorado. “And smaller crimes are as much a reason for self-defense as spree killings.”

Mr. Burnett, 27, is an emergency medical technician and a nursing student at the University of Kentucky, Lexington, where he leaves a .45-caliber Glock pistol in the glove box of his Toyota because it is prohibited in class. His group, which says it has members on 130 campuses nationwide, sued his university in 2010, and the State Supreme Court ruled that employees and students may leave guns in cars parked on campus. Students for Concealed Carry, which is made up of volunteers and says it has no connection to the National Rifle Association or other gun rights organizations, considered the ruling a partial victory in its larger effort.

At the other end of the spectrum are students like Julie A. Gavran, a doctoral candidate in Dallas who is a coordinator at Students for Gun-Free Schools, a national group also founded after the Virginia Tech shooting. She says that one night years ago, when she was an undergraduate at Ohio Dominican University, a fellow student in a dormitory hallway aimed a gun at her face and pulled the trigger. The gun either jammed or was not loaded, Ms. Gavran said, and she lived to tell her story.

“Schools are actually the safest place to be,” she said, “because not having easy access to guns maintains that environment.”

On the whole, colleges and universities are safe and getting safer. According to the federal government, college campuses averaged about 18 homicides nationwide per year over the last decade, and more than 90 percent of violent crime against college students takes place off campus. The police at the University of Colorado campus here, with 30,000 students, 7,000 staff members and countless visitors, say that the last gun crime, a robbery, occurred in 2011, and the last homicide in the 1980s.

But each college is different. One plaintiff in the University of Colorado case, Martha Altman, 47, said she often felt unsafe walking to and from her car at night while working at a university facility in Aurora and taking classes at the downtown Denver campus — areas that are riskier than the Boulder campus.

Gun-rights advocates also note that the few schools where concealed weapons have been allowed for years, like the Colorado State University campuses, have not had resulting problems.

There is no way to know how many students or staff members at the University of Colorado have concealed weapon permits, which can be issued only to people 21 or older, but both sides agree that the number is small. Estimates range from 50 to 150.

Several of those who have publicly acknowledged having a permit also have extensive gun training, being military veterans or former police officers. Elisa Dahlberg, a 31-year-old senior, is both. “This campus is relatively safe; however, that doesn’t mean somebody won’t lose it,” Ms. Dahlberg said. “I’m pretty small, and I feel like it levels the playing field.”

One factor affecting campus attitudes is that highly educated people are more likely to have anti-gun views. In a Pew Research Center survey released in December, 66 percent of people with postgraduate degrees said prioritizing gun control was more important than protecting gun rights.

The number of Americans owning guns has declined for decades, especially in a younger generation that has less military or hunting experience than its predecessors. About 12 percent of adults under 35 keep a gun at home, less than half the rate for their elders, according to the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

Ms. Gavran, the gun-free schools advocate, believes that the push to allow weapons on campus is an attempt by gun-rights groups to reverse that trend. “I honestly believe the N.R.A. is trying to get a new generation of gun owners,” she said, “and by pushing more laws that will allow them to freely carry guns wherever they want, they’re able to make a new generation more open to gun ownership.”

Most states either prohibit firearms on public campuses or leave it up to the colleges and universities, which nearly always opt to ban them.

In 2004, Utah enacted a law explicitly extending concealed carry rights to public colleges and universities. In 2011, Mississippi and Wisconsin adopted laws allowing varying degrees of concealed carry at those states’ universities, and that same year a state appeals court in Oregon struck down a policy banning guns from public universities there.

And it was last March that Colorado’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the University of Colorado had been violating a 2003 state law by prohibiting concealed weapons. The change drew fierce protests from editorial writers and faculty members, and some professors still have signs posted outside their offices asking people not to enter armed.

Since then, however, nearly all students interviewed here described shades of gray, addressing practical concerns more than ideals.

Julia Millon, 21, a senior from Boston, said that the possibility of guns in classrooms initially “creeped out a lot of people,” but that she and others had come to see it as “not a very big deal.” She dislikes the idea of concealed weapons on campus, though she does not object to them elsewhere.

“I’ve never felt the need to protect myself on campus,” she said. “I personally don’t see the point of it.”

************

February 16, 2013

Stronger Gun-Control Measures Clear First Votes in the Colorado House

By DAN FROSCH
NYT

DENVER — Lawmakers moved closer on Friday to passing a package of new gun restrictions in Colorado, a state that has lived under the shadow of two of the worst mass shootings in United States history.

After hours of debate that lasted well into the evening, Colorado’s House of Representatives gave initial approval to legislation requiring background checks on private gun sales and placing limits on ammunition magazines — measures that were being watched nationally by advocates on both sides of the issue.

The bills were part of an array of gun proposals being pushed hard by state Democrats this year after the shooting at an Aurora movie theater last summer and the killings at an elementary school in Connecticut in December.

“There is a common thread that we see in these massacres,” said State Representative Rhonda Fields, a Democrat from Aurora who sponsored both pieces of legislation and whose son was shot to death in 2005. “They’re using high-capacity magazines so they can unleash as many bullets as they can, to kill as many people as they can, in our schools, our theaters and our churches.”

The debate over whether to enhance restrictions on firearms has become a contentious focal point of state legislative sessions around the country this year.

Perhaps nowhere has this been the case more than in Colorado, a state with deep conservative and independent streaks. But it is also a place that has been pondering tougher guns laws since the Columbine school shooting in 1999, and the increasing influence of Democratic lawmakers in recent years has made gun-control legislation a political possibility.

Friday’s debate on the House floor capped a week in which gun bills proposed by Democrats cleared several legislative committees, often after lengthy and emotional comments, mostly from proponents of gun rights. Republican legislators argued for hours against the measures, saying the proposed magazine limits — 15 rounds for guns and 8 for shotguns — were merely arbitrary and would have little effect on gun violence.

“It makes no difference to public safety if there are 10 rounds in a magazine, whether there are 15 rounds in a magazine or whether there are 30 rounds,” said State Representative Jared Wright, a Republican from Fruita.

Republicans also sharply criticized the background check proposal. Sales of antique guns and gifts of guns between immediate family members would be exempt under the measure.

Those buying guns from federally licensed gun dealers must already undergo a background check in Colorado, as they do in every other state under federal law.

“All this bill does is make us law-abiding citizens go through another hoop,” said State Representative Jerry Sonnenberg, a Republican from Sterling. “It doesn’t stop criminals, those that can’t get background checks, those that are felons, from breaking into my house and stealing my guns. Doesn’t stop them from meeting a guy down the street and buying a gun there.”

But with Democrats holding a majority in the House, both bills received preliminary approval. The bills must receive a final House vote, which could come as early as Monday, before heading to the State Senate, where Democrats also outnumber Republicans.

“We continue to hear that responsible gun owners do not commit crimes,” said State Representative Beth McCann, a Democrat from Denver who sponsored the background check legislation with Ms. Fields. “So it’s hard for me to understand how responsible gun owners would have any objections to this bill. All this is doing is requiring everyone to go through the same background check.”

According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Colorado would join California, New York and Rhode Island as states that require sweeping background checks on virtually all gun purchases.

Currently, only four states prohibit magazines that hold over 10 rounds, while New Jersey bans magazines with more than 15 rounds and Maryland those with more than 20, the group said.

Two other gun measures put forth by Colorado Democrats also received preliminary approval on Friday by House lawmakers. One bill would ban concealed weapons on college campuses. The other would charge gun buyers for background checks.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: February 16, 2013

An earlier picture caption incorrectly stated the city affiliation of State Representative Rhonda Fields, who sponsored the legislation. She represents Aurora, not Denver.

***********

February 16, 2013 07:51 AM

Weekly Address: The Plan For a Strong Middle Class

By Diane Sweet

Speaking from Hyde Park Academy in his hometown Chicago, President Obama says he wants to reignite the "true engine of America's economic growth, a rising, thriving middle class."

"Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions: How do we bring good jobs to America? How do we equip people with the skills those jobs require? And how do we make sure your hard work leads to a decent living?" Obama says in the address.

By launching manufacturing hubs across the country, the president says he believes it will "transform hard-hit regions into global centers of high-tech jobs and manufacturing." America should become a "magnet for new jobs," he says.

Obama explains that getting there should be simple.

"We need to make our tax code more competitive, ending tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, and rewarding companies that create jobs here at home. And we need to invest in the research and technology that will allow us to harness more of our own energy and put more people back to work repairing our crumbling roads and bridges," says. "These steps will help our businesses expand and create new jobs."

The president also notes his goals raising the minimum wage and providing every American child with "high-quality preschool," because, he says, "kids in these programs do better throughout their lives."

"These steps will help grow our economy and rebuild a rising, thriving middle class. And we can do it while shrinking our deficits. We don’t have to choose between the two, we just have to make smart choices," he said.

A full transcript of the President's remarks after the fold, or visit the White House website.

    Hi, everybody. This week, I’ve been traveling across the country – from North Carolina to Georgia to here at Hyde Park Academy in my hometown of Chicago – talking with folks about the important task I laid out in my State of the Union Address: reigniting the true engine of America’s economic growth – a rising, thriving middle class.

    Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions: How do we bring good jobs to America? How do we equip people with the skills those jobs require? And how do we make sure your hard work leads to a decent living?

    I believe all that starts by making America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing. After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the past three. What we need to do now is simple. We need to accelerate that trend. We need to launch manufacturing hubs across the country that will transform hard-hit regions into global centers of high-tech jobs and manufacturing. We need to make our tax code more competitive, ending tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, and rewarding companies that create jobs here at home. And we need to invest in the research and technology that will allow us to harness more of our own energy and put more people back to work repairing our crumbling roads and bridges.

    These steps will help our businesses expand and create new jobs. But we also need to provide every American with the skills and training they need to fill those jobs. Let’s start in the earliest years by offering high-quality preschool to every child in America, because we know kids in these programs do better throughout their lives. Let’s redesign our high schools so that our students graduate with skills that employers are looking for right now. And because taxpayers can’t continue to subsidize the soaring cost of higher education, I’ve called on Congress to take affordability and value into account when determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid.

    So those are steps we can take today to help bring good jobs to America and equip our people with the skills those jobs require. And that brings us to the third question – how do we make sure hard work leads to a decent living?

    No one in America should work full-time and raise their children in poverty. So let’s raise the minimum wage so that it’s a wage you can live on. And it’s time to harness the talents and ingenuity of hardworking immigrants by finally passing comprehensive immigration reform – securing our borders, establishing a responsible path to earned citizenship, and attracting the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs.

    These steps will help grow our economy and rebuild a rising, thriving middle class. And we can do it while shrinking our deficits. We don’t have to choose between the two – we just have to make smart choices.

    Over the last few years, both parties have worked together to reduce the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion – which puts us more than halfway towards the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists say we need to stabilize our finances. Now we need to finish the job.

    But I disagree with Republicans who think we should do that by making even bigger cuts to things like education and job training; Medicare and Social Security benefits. That would force our senior citizens and working families to bear the burden of deficit reduction while the wealthiest are asked to do nothing more. That won’t work. We can’t just cut our way to prosperity.

    Instead, I’ve proposed a balanced approach; one that makes responsible reforms to bring down the cost of health care and saves hundreds of billions of dollars by getting rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well-off and well-connected. And we should finally pursue bipartisan, comprehensive tax reform that encourages job creation and helps bring down the deficit.

    So we know what we need to do. All the steps I’ve mentioned are commonsense. And, together, they will help us grow our economy and strengthen our middle class.

    In the coming weeks and months, our work won’t be easy, and we won’t agree on everything. But America only moves forward when we do so together – when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations. That’s the American story. And that is how we will write the next great chapter – together.

    Thanks and have a great weekend.

Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTohsPYblis&feature=player_embedded
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