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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1079247 times)
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« Reply #4845 on: Mar 01, 2013, 08:46 AM »

03/01/2013 01:17 PM

Diary Rediscovered: Franz Ferdinand's Journey around the World

By Matthias Schulz

Franz Ferdinand, the Austrian archduke whose assassination triggered World War I, started a trip across the world in 1892. His newly published diary from the journey reveals a world of extremes, from island cannibals to skyscrapers.

He shot over 5,000 stags before a bullet ended his own life. Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria-Este, died on June 28, 1914 when a Serb nationalist fired two shots at his open motorcar as it drove through the streets of Sarajevo.

One bullet ruptured the archduke's windpipe, while the other penetrated his wife's abdomen. They both died.

The assassination cast the Belle Époque into a worldwide conflagration. But who was this man whose violent death triggered World War I? Historians have described the heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne as "volcanic" and "irascible." They have called his passion for hunting (he brought down 274,889 game animals) "feudal mass slaughter."

At the same time, however, he had plans for far-reaching reform in the Balkans. Karl Kraus, a contemporary Austrian writer and journalist, actually took a liking to the royal grouch and concluded that the archduke was not a warmonger.

Now, it's possible to take a fresh look at this contradictory figure. This week will see the publication of travel notes -- abridged and illustrated with original photos -- that Ferdinand made during a journey around the world.

In December 1892, Ferdinand, who was 28 years old at the time, set sail from the Mediterranean port of Trieste on board the SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth, a cruiser bound for North America via India. He was accompanied by over 400 people, ranging from a navy chaplain to a royal treasurer. During the voyage, "FF," which were his official initials, penned over 2,000 pages of notes. It is a nearly forgotten account of his adventures.

In his powerfully elegant style, the globetrotter describes the narrow streets of Aden and the allure of the South Pacific. He climbed the rubbish dump of Calcutta and lamented the exploitative colonial system of the Western powers. When he first caught sight of the Himalayas, he started to yodel.

The Wild West, which the archduke visited with only a small entourage, turned out to be the "disappointment of the tour." As editor Frank Gerbert explains: "The hoped-for grizzly bears refused to run in front of his rifle, cowboys cavalierly put their feet on the table in his presence, and smoking was prohibited everywhere."

The destruction of the wilderness also bothered FF. He wrote from Vancouver about a "ruthless war of extermination" fought against "500- to 600-year-old cedars, hemlocks and Douglas firs." The entire horizon, he noted, "is smoldering and glowing, and the sound of axes can be heard everywhere."

India and the Dutch East Indies

But this member of the Habsburg nobility was surely not an environmentalist. On the contrary, he loved to go hunting.

Even as he was approaching the coast of India, he fired into the water with a shotgun to kill skates and rays. Later, he bagged vultures, elephants, koalas -- and even skunks, storks and birds "whose ornithological classification I was unaware of." He described his battle against a monitor lizard on Ceylon as follows: "I approached the lizard as St. George approached the dragon."

Animal lovers may be satisfied to hear that this man paid for his trigger-happiness with permanent damage to his eardrum.

It was above all in India that the royal tourist found a captivating firing range. Near Delhi, his porters carried 87 tents -- some with bathing cabins and golden ceilings -- into the jungle. Shortly thereafter, the British governor of Nepal welcomed him when he arrived with an entourage of 203 working elephants for a tiger hunt in the foothills of the Himalayas.

When the gold-bedecked Nizam of Hyderabad invited him to dinner, the table bowed under the weight of exotic dishes. A flock of brightly colored birds flew out of the cake when it was cut. Later, they drank champagne in the jungle.

Only the music was not to the visitor's liking. The Indian orchestra had a "penchant for off-key, screeching clarinets and flutes," he noted reprovingly. He also wrote that the Austrian national anthem could "hardly be recognized" because "some of the musical imps playing for us were constantly a number of bars ahead of the rest."

There were also other places where the author paid no heed to political correctness: He thought the Chinese were "deceitful" and Bombay's fakirs were work-shy. He called the towers where the Parsi laid out their dead to be consumed by vultures "sites of human humiliation."

Nevertheless, he generally had an understanding for proper etiquette. He looked dapper in his white uniform, with a riding crop and mustache.

His hosts showed their appreciation with dashing parades. They shot off fireworks in his honor -- and he once even received a military salute from a Japanese mountain battery. It was only on the Moluccas that it was too much for Franz. A hoard of village children surrounded him and repeatedly sang "long may he live" in Dutch.

This occurred in the Dutch East Indies, which stretched all the way to New Guinea.

It was a part of the world where the one could live in style. In April, FF and his entourage arrived at Jakarta, where he shot a crocodile. Afterwards, he had an opportunity to admire "conspicuously pretty Dutch women" wearing knotted skirts in the humid heat.

However, the royal heir made no secret of how harshly the whites ruled at the time in Asia. Between 1825 and 1830, the Dutch had 200,000 people slaughtered to suppress a rebellion on Java.

When the ship attempted to call at Siam, the archduke -- who was suffering from diarrhea and tropical fever -- nearly witnessed a naval battle. French gunboats blocked the coast off of Bangkok and forced the Siamese king to cede control of Laos.

Colonial politics in action. The tourist had to change course.

Kangaroos, Prisoners and Cannibals
In Australia, he came across fresh signs of violence once again. Aborigines had just murdered 31 settlers. Amazingly enough, the guest showed sympathy for their actions. The attack, he explained, was only in revenge for the "often cruel way" in which the indigenous people "are forced from their ancestral lands and simply eradicated." He wrote that the settlers even left the Aborigines poisoned bread as "deadly bait."

But FF didn't let this spoil his hunting pleasure. At the invitation of large landowners, he boarded a special train into the Outback on a number of occasions to shoot kangaroos.

Later, on board his cruiser in the port of Sydney, he hosted a lavish party attended by 500 members of the city's high society. Everyone danced to the melody of "The Blue Danube" waltz by Johann Strauss.

But he was also attracted to the dark side of life: the filth of the prisons, the opium dens, the slaughterhouses and the execution sites. In June, he headed for a particularly gruesome destination: New Caledonia, an enormous prison at the time.

Some 8,000 prisoners lived on the island, crammed into 50-man barracks. Already when he arrived in the port, the future heir to the throne gazed into the grim faces of criminals building quay walls and breaking rocks. Others toiled in the nickel mines. If an inmate managed to escape into the forest, he was usually killed by the natives. Every fugitive brought a 25-franc reward.

The visitor even ventured to the offshore island of Nou, where there was a prison for those convicted of the most heinous crimes. In the windowless cells, he felt as if he were standing before "the dregs of humanity." His verdict: These individuals had, "without exception all behaved outrageously." At the end of his visit, he had the prison director explain the use of the guillotine.

Even stranger things lay ahead: On June 7, they dropped anchor in Owa Raha, an island in the Solomon Islands. Here, the crew was met by people who wore necklaces made of dogs' teeth and nose rings made of tortoiseshell -- and indulged in ritual cannibalism.

The Austrian delegation armed itself and penetrated the interior of the island, hacking its way through a jungle of palms, pandanus trees and climbing plants. In the undergrowth, FF bargained with a "dark cannibal woman" for a bag of betel nuts. He also obtained a spear in exchange for two cigarettes.

This weapon and 14,000 other souvenirs from the journey are now in the collection of the Museum for Ethnology in Vienna.

The return to the ship was a bit tricky. Part of the expedition lost its way and was surrounded by the "savages," whereupon the "ship's ensign" fired a shot straight into the crowd. It is possible, as the archduke wrote in his journal, that he "reacted too vigorously."

Japan and the Wild West

The hunting trips were over, at least for the time being. In Japan, Ferdinand was only able to feed goldfish. Instead of rich hunting grounds, he witnessed a nation in the throes of radical change, where the power of the samurai and the shoguns had long since faded. In 1853, the West had forced Japan to open its economy to outsiders.

"We no longer glance up to ideals, but rather at factory chimneys," the foreigner noted.

They called at the port of Nagasaki on August 2, then proceeded to see the Tenno, the emperor of Japan, in Tokyo -- traveling part of the distance by rickshaw. Armed guards lined the roads. There were even patrol boats at sea. The reason: Two years earlier, the czar's son, Nicholas, had been attacked by a Japanese policeman wielding a sword, and seriously wounded.

Dapper Franz was spared this treatment. He was only poked by a tattooist who pierced him 52,000 times with a needle to create a dragon on his arm. This marked the end of his state visit to Japan, and His Highness and a smaller entourage subsequently boarded a Canadian steamer bound for North America.

The blue blood immediately noticed a difference when he boarded the ship. Surly waiters served him. Instead of the "Radetzky March," they now heard the "stamping of blacks," he complained. Nonetheless, a "charming, little American woman" sweetened the passage for him by playing tennis on the upper deck.

This last stage of the journey, the New World, prompted the globetrotter's most emphatic observations. The scion of Austrian nobility had arrived in the land of quick money. Shortly after disembarking in Vancouver, and still shocked by the large-scale clearing of forests there, the visitor booked a rail journey clear across the Wild West.

The iron horse charged across the endless prairies. The Habsburg heir saw dying forests and ragged Indians pumped full of firewater -- and he was outraged at their disgrace and humiliation. While 423 Canadian reservations were "arable," he wrote that the US federal government was fobbing the Indians off with "worthless" land.

And he was constantly irked by the ills of the modern age: Hotels with bans on smoking, people without manners and restaurants with bad food. In Yellowstone Park, he saw families who drove their carriages through the countryside just for fun -- the archetype of recreational vehicle tourism.

In New York, the curious traveler strolled along Fifth Avenue and Broadway, with its fashion shops, jewelry stores and "stupefying traffic." He finally climbed the 94 meters (308 feet) to the top of the Pulitzer Building, the tallest building in the world at the time.

From this vantage point, he gazed at this bustling city of 3 million inhabitants and was seized with awe over the "almighty dollar." The "citizens of the Union," FF wrote, have the stuff "to be larger than life, to be Übermenschen."

But the visitor always mixed praise for the US with criticism. He said the country had a "heroic, enterprising spirit," but that this was "often enough coupled with unparalleled ruthlessness."

There were apparently also tactical reasons for all his complaints. While FF was in Manhattan, large influxes of immigrants were passing through the inspection station at Ellis Island, not far from the Statue of Liberty. Many of the newcomers came from the Alpine region, and this was a disquieting development for the ruling elite in Vienna.

The Austrian archduke did it differently -- he was traveling from west to east, back to the old country with its steaming, sweet desserts and anti-democratic customs, where everything seemed far more cordial and homelike to him. After 10 months of traveling, he finally reached his beloved Vienna, the city that he called "forever young."

How wrong he was. In reality, he returned to a country whose demise would soon become intertwined with his own.

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen

* Franz Ferdinand.jpg (54.48 KB, 860x320 - viewed 108 times.)
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« Reply #4846 on: Mar 01, 2013, 09:07 AM »

In the USA....

February 28, 2013

Boehner Halts Talks on Cuts, and House G.O.P. Cheers


WASHINGTON — Speaker John A. Boehner, the man who spent significant portions of the last Congress shuttling to and from the White House for fiscal talks with President Obama that ultimately failed twice to produce a grand bargain, has come around to the idea that the best negotiations are no negotiations.

As the president and Congressional Democrats have tried to force Mr. Boehner back to the table for talks to head off the automatic budget cuts set to take effect on Friday, Mr. Boehner has instead dug in deeper, refusing to even discuss an increase in revenue and insisting in his typical colorful language that it was time for the Senate to produce a measure aimed at the cuts.

“The revenue issue is now closed,” Mr. Boehner said Thursday, before the House left town for the weekend without acting on the cuts and a Senate attempt to avert them died. Mr. Boehner said the dispute with Democrats amounted to a question of “how much more money do we want to steal from the American people to fund more government.”

“I’m for no more,” he said.

While the frustrations of Congressional Democrats and Mr. Obama with Mr. Boehner are reaching a fever pitch, House Republicans could not be more pleased with their leader.

“We asked him to commit to us that when the cuts actually came on March 1, that he would stand firm and not give in, and he’s holding to that,” said Representative Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana and chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee. “I think Friday will be an important day that shows we’re finally willing to stand and fight for conservative principles and force Washington to start living within its means. And that will be a big victory.”

Representative Mick Mulvaney, a South Carolina Republican who was elected on the 2010 Tea Party wave and has had his differences with the speaker, was similarly complimentary toward Mr. Boehner.

“He’s doing exactly what he said he was going to do, and I think it’s working to our favor and to his,” Mr. Mulvaney said. “I get the feeling that our party is probably more unified right now than it has been at any time in the last several months.”

Mr. Boehner, in some ways, finds himself the leader of the House Republicans with nowhere to actually lead.

Among those who placed him in his post and could conceivably remove him, the test of his leadership seems to be how little action he takes. In a closed-door meeting and subsequent news conference this week, Mr. Boehner said the House was done negotiating over spending cuts until the Senate “begins to do something.”

Mr. Boehner began the new Congress on shaky footing, a seemingly chastened man. Speculation swirled that he might not be able to hold on to his speakership (he did), and he was forced to pass two major pieces of legislation — a last-minute New Year’s Eve deal to avert automatic tax increases, and a Hurricane Sandy relief bill — without the support of the majority of his conference through the help of Democratic votes. On Thursday, Mr. Boehner again moved a piece of legislation through the House without majority support from his rank and file — the Violence Against Women Act.

The result showed that conservatives seem willing to give him some running room on social issues as long as he holds firm on the fiscal front.

Amid clamoring from his more conservative members, Mr. Boehner eventually reaffirmed his own conservative principles, abandoning even the pretense of reaching a bipartisan solution on the spending cuts. He argued that the president had gotten his desired tax increases in the earlier showdown. And he promised no more one-on-one negotiating sessions meetings with Mr. Obama, whose political fortitude he questioned publicly and privately.

Mr. Boehner was set to meet Friday at the White House with the president and bipartisan Congressional leadership but made clear Thursday that the ball for now was solely in the Senate’s court.

The stalemate was foreshadowed at the Republican retreat in Williamsburg, Va., in January, where Mr. Boehner and his leadership team promised that in exchange for passing a short-term debt ceiling extension, they would force the Senate to pass a budget, as well as allow the spending cuts to go into effect.

“I think he realized the president of the United States was using him as a tool for his own benefit and was not actually in a partnership with him, and he also realized that we in the House were not happy with what was coming out of those negotiations,” said Representative Raúl R. Labrador, Republican of Idaho. “We were pretty blunt with him and the entire leadership team that we have to feel like we have a plan and a vision, and we’re following up on that plan and that vision.”

Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, said that on the whole, he thought the spending cuts were a welcome development for which Mr. Boehner deserves credit.

“If, in fact, we’re going to scale back discretionary spending by $85 billion, tell me when that’s ever happened before,” Mr. Jordan said. “Certainly not in the time I’ve been in Congress. So even though we’d have preferred it be done a little different and we’re open to flexibility, we want that savings, and we’re going to achieve it.”

Republican aides say privately that Mr. Boehner sees no need to negotiate; Republicans are in a good place, they argue, because they want spending cuts and those cuts are happening. But Mr. Boehner’s tough-guy stance has also opened him to criticism that he has negotiated himself into a position from which he can no longer effectively negotiate.

“John Boehner consistently paints himself into a corner and traps himself on cliffs, and that’s been the story of the speakership,” said Representative Steve Israel, Democrat of New York and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Though Mr. Obama’s public events in recent days have seemed intended to highlight what he says will be the impact of the spending cuts and to shame Republicans into negotiating a deal, House Republicans have stood their ground, saying they are done negotiating until the Senate passes its own spending cut legislation. (House Republicans have passed two alternative spending cut bills, though both were in the last Congress).

For Mr. Boehner, the consequences of allowing the sequester to take effect could be less damaging than the consequences of going back on his promise not to allow any new tax revenues.

“I don’t quite honestly think that Speaker Boehner would be speaker if that happens,” Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, told Fox News recently.

But for now Mr. Boehner seems not only to have engendered the good will of his conference but also to have locked in place the spending cuts Republicans have been fighting for.

“That’s a big win, to finally stand firm on cutting spending,” Mr. Scalise said.


United States braces for job-killing budget cuts

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, February 28, 2013 22:48 EST

The United States was braced for $85 billion in budget cuts due to hit Friday in a self-inflicted wound brought on by deep ideological antipathy between President Barack Obama and Republicans.

The cuts, which could cost a million jobs, will slice public services and threaten an economy that is already barely growing, and arrive with both sides agreeing on only one thing — that the other is to blame.

The hit to military and domestic spending, known as the sequester, was never supposed to happen, but was rather a doomsday device seen as so punishing that rival lawmakers would be forced to find a better compromise to cut the deficit.

But such is the dysfunction in gridlocked Washington that neither side tried very hard to get a deal, with Obama calling for tax revenue hikes on the wealthy and corporations — a demand Republicans flatly refused.

“Instead of closing a single tax loophole that benefits the well-off and well-connected, (Republicans) chose to cut vital services for children, seniors, our men and women in uniform and their families,” Obama said.

“They voted to let the entire burden of deficit reduction fall squarely on the middle class,” said the president, who has mounted a campaign-style blitz to leverage public opinion against Republicans on the issue.

Obama is required by law to order the budget sequester by 11.59 pm on Friday night, and the cuts are all due to be made by the end of the year unless a political deal can be reached.

He has called top Republican and Democratic leaders to the White House for a last-ditch effort to bridge the gaps on Friday, but few people in Washington believe the meeting is much more than a photo-op.

Republicans, who lost a showdown on raising tax rates on the rich late last year, have refused to accept any revenue raises — part of the “balanced” solution, also involving targeted spending cuts, that the president wants.

“We’ve laid our cards on the table,” Republican House speaker John Boehner said, explaining why his chamber would take no further action until the Democrat-controlled Senate does.

John Cornyn, the number two Senate Republican, said Obama and Democrats had overstated “apocalyptic predictions” of the impact of the sequester.

“They are predicting a disaster that will not occur,” Cornyn said.

The White House on Thursday admitted it would take time for the full impact of the sequester to be felt, as government workers get furlough notices and services, like education for special needs kids, are put at risk.

“You cannot responsibly cut $85 billion out of the budget in seven months without having … dramatic effects on the defense industry and civilian workers, on our national security readiness, on teachers,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

Going through the motions Thursday, senators failed to advance two bills — one Democratic, one Republican — to avert the sequester.

The best hope for a deal now lies in the parallel negotiations on a new bill to cover funding for government operations for fiscal year 2013 that must be completed by the end of March.

That bill may be the top focus of talks between Obama, Boehner, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and the top Senate and House Democrats Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi in the Oval Office on Friday.

The White House has warned that the indiscriminate cuts are written into law in such a way that their impact cannot be alleviated.

It warns that 800,000 civilian employees of the Defense Department will go on a mandatory furlough one day a week and the navy will trim voyages. The deployment of a second aircraft carrier to the Gulf has been canceled.

About 70,000 children less than five years old will be cut from the Head Start preschool program, resulting in the elimination of 14,000 teaching positions. Services for special needs kids will also take a hit.

Authorities warn that average wait times for passengers at US immigration will increase by 30-50 percent and may exceed four hours during peak times.

Security lines will also grow longer as the Transportation Security Administration enacts a hiring freeze, eliminates overtime and furloughs 50,000 employees.

The National Institutes of Health and other federally-funded scientists will have to delay or halt research and the Food and Drug Administration will conduct 2,100 fewer inspections, escalating the risk of food-borne illnesses.

The Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington estimates that one million jobs could be lost, and the Congressional Budget Office predicts growth could slip 0.7 percent.


Eric Cantor Admits That He and Paul Ryan Were the Driving Force Behind the Sequester

By: Jason Easley
Feb. 28th, 2013

Eric Cantor has confirmed that he and Paul Ryan talked John Boehner out of accepting a “Grand Bargain” with Obama in 2011. It was this rejection that led to the sequester.

In an interview with Ryan Lizza, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) confirmed that he and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) talked Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) out of accepting a “Grand Bargain” with President Obama.

Transcript from The New Yorker,

    LIZZA: There’s sort of a final meeting with Paul Ryan and you and Boehner where it seems like there’s a final sort of discussion about whether this offer needs to be rejected or not. The way it seems to be reported is—it seems like Boehner wanted to do it, you and Ryan sort of talked him out of it. Is that—

    CANTOR: I would say it’s a fair assessment, because, in the end, we felt that—well, let me back up, this is probably a longer answer. Yes, it’s probably an accurate conclusion.

Cantor confirmed what everyone who isn’t a Republican or Bob Woodward already knew. Republicans wanted a deal solely on their terms. House Republicans are directly responsible for the sequester, because they are the ones who walked away from the “Grand Bargain.” It has long been reported that Boehner wanted to do the deal, but he backed out at the last moment. Ryan and Cantor were always the prime suspects in the killing of the best shot at a compromise, and now we know that the suspicions were accurate.

In this context, it is doubly enraging to watch Paul Ryan blame Obama for the sequester. The president had a bargain almost completed, and Ryan helped kill it. It isn’t a coincidence that two individuals who have been huge fans of the sequester helped to kill a bargain.

The sequester doesn’t belong to President Obama. The sequester is the baby of Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor. As Cantor takes credit for the sequester, Virginia voters should keep in mind his role in costing his state hundreds of thousands of jobs. While analysts disagree on exactly how many jobs will be lost, Virginia is expected to be one of the three states most impacted by the sequester.

Eric Cantor may be proud of the damage his obstruction is about to inflict on the people of his state, but Virginians should be disgusted by Eric Cantor.


Paul Ryan Looked America In The Eye Today, and Completely Lied About the Sequester

By: Jason Easley
Feb. 28th, 2013

Rep. Paul Ryan went on CNBC today, looked straight into the camera, and completely lied about the sequester to the American people.

On CNBC’s Squawk Box, Rep. Paul Ryan was asked if there is anything going on behind the scenes that could avert the sequester.

Ryan answered, “As you know, the sequester was designed to force action to deal with the deficit and debt. We passed a bill 300 days ago to deal with this. As recently as December the Senate still hasn’t done anything. So I do expect the sequester to take effect, because the Senate hasn’t acted, the president is around the country campaigning instead of governing. So I think what you’ll see happen next week is we will pass an appropriations Measure that gives the administration more flexibility.”

What Ryan didn’t bother to mention was that the bill that the House passed 300 days ago is no longer valid because that action occurred in the previous Congress. In order to replace the sequester, the House would have to pass a new bill. The problem is that John Boehner won’t allow any sequester replacement bills to come to the House floor for a vote.

For Paul Ryan, lies are like Lay’s potato chips. He can’t stop at just one. While complaining that Obama moved the goalposts, Ryan told this whopper, “The president got the largest tax increase in American history eight weeks ago. Now he’s trying to move the goal post and say instead of spending cuts which the sequester is, ‘I need a bunch of tax increases’ for this, as well to fuel more spending.”

Just like they claimed Obamacare was the biggest tax increase in history, Republicans like Ryan are now claiming that the tax hike on the wealthy is the largest in history. The truth is that Obamacare is the sixth largest tax increase since 1968. The tax increase on the wealthy was nowhere near the largest in modern history. According to the Treasury Department, the biggest tax increase in the modern era belongs to Republican hero Ronald Reagan. President Reagan’s 1982 tax increase was 25% larger than Obama’s.

Paul Ryan looked America in the idea today, and totally lied about the sequester. Ryan lied about how we got here. He lied about his own advocacy for, and role in the sequester. He couldn’t even tell the truth about why the House refuses to act to replace the sequester.

As Rep. Keith Ellison said while taking Sean Hannity to the woodshed on his own show, “The president is telling the truth.” In a nutshell, that’s the problem for Ryan and his fellow House Republicans. Obama is telling the truth, and all they can do to counter these facts is to repeat their empty lies.


Racism Reaches the Levels of Government via Scalia’s Voting Rights Comments

By: Rmuse
Feb. 28th, 2013

An entitlement is guaranteed access to benefits based on established rights or legislation and a right is itself an entitlement associated with moral or social principles to the extent that an entitlement is made in accordance with a society’s legal framework. Typically, entitlements based on rights are founded on the concept of social equality or enfranchisement, but over the past four years Republicans gave the term entitlement a pejorative connotation referring to the notion an undeserving person believes they are owed a particular benefit without cause. Yesterday, a legal advocate for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Koch brothers cemented his position as a high-ranking Republican by using entitlement in a racially depreciatory context typical of extremist conservatives and it is a sign that racial bigotry permeates the highest levels of government.

Yesterday the Supreme Court began hearing arguments for why or why not, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) should be upheld. Section 5 stipulates that nine states, mostly in the South, would be free to change voting procedures after first getting permission from federal officials, and it incited Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to say that the landmark civil rights law amounted to “a perpetuation of racial entitlement.” For Scalia to claim the VRA is a perpetuation of racial entitlement, especially “perpetuation,” really means there was never a need for the Act to protect African Americans right to vote, and that they are getting an undeserved benefit. Americans at one time took pride that the right to vote extended to all citizens, including African Americans, because the right to vote is not an “entitlement” they do not deserve, but a fundamental right guaranteed by the law.

The last election revealed that in many Republican-controlled states the right to vote was being curtailed to disenfranchise African American voters using ALEC template legislation aimed at suppressing Democratic votes. The High Court’s Chief Justice, John Roberts, incredulously asked whether “the citizens in the South are more racist than citizens in the North,” and the answer is most likely yes, and it brings up an important point. The question the Court should be considering is not whether the VRA should be struck down, but should it be expanded to cover any state under Republican and ALEC’s control.

ALEC was instrumental in providing Republican-controlled states template legislation to disenfranchise disabled, low-income, elderly, people-of-color, and student voters who move frequently or do not drive by requiring all voters to show state-issued voter ID at the polls even though traditionally, counties accepted other residency proof without any significant problems. ALEC and the Koch brothers are staunch advocates of state’s rights that will allow Republicans to disqualify African American voters with impunity from the Federal authorities if the Supreme Court rules in favor of ALEC, the Kochs, and Republican attempts to rig and steal elections. Justice Scalia has close ties to the Koch brothers who are intricately connected to ALEC and it is not surprising he considers it an unearned entitlement for African Americans to have the right to vote freely because they typically vote for Democrats.

Scalia considers himself a constitutional originalist who has no regard for the Constitution as a living document that must be updated according to the necessities of the time such as African Americans having the right to vote, or being protected from racial barriers to voting that were not in the original document. For a renowned constitutional scholar, Scalia should be familiar with the Ninth Amendment that says, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people” and it addresses rights of the people that are not specifically enumerated in the Constitution, but are implied, or amended to include rights such as whether African Americans, as legal citizens of the United States, have the right to vote. Scalia’s despicable comment that the Voting Rights Act was a “perpetuation” of racial entitlement was perfectly normal in his mind; however, the idea that the Voting Rights Act granted African Americans special benefits at the polls was beyond the pale. Section 5 prohibited states from enacting laws that prevent African Americans from exercising their legal right to vote without special requirements such as ALEC’s voter ID and suppression laws being implemented in Republican-controlled states in Southern and Northern states.

Scalia’s comment was racially motivated to be sure, but he is setting the stage for casting his vote to strike down Section 5 of the VRA, and it is likely he and the corporate arm of the High Court (Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito) would strike down the entire VRA to deny the right to vote to people of color to prevent Democrats from winning elections if they thought they could get away with it. Scalia and Clarence Thomas have long-standing ties to the Koch brothers, ALEC, American Enterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation who support state’s rights to disenfranchise Democratic voters, and will go to any lengths to guarantee Republican victories in state and federal elections. However, one never imagined Scalia would openly declare his racism and disdain for the most basic of rights in an open and free democracy, but then again it is Antonin Scalia. He has spent the past four years openly campaigning for Republican causes and it is but one reason he is the least qualified man in America to decide the constitutionality of something as basic, and important, as the right to vote. Justices are appointed to the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution, but with Scalia it amounts to a “perpetuation of corporate entitlement” that ALEC, the Koch brothers, and Republicans will benefit from until the Supreme Court’s corporate wing dies or retires.


The Future of the Voting Rights Act Depends on One Supreme Court Justice

By: Adalia Woodbury
Feb. 27th, 2013

The Supreme Court heard arguments that will determine whether the court will uphold the Voting Rights Act or send us back to the days of Jim Crow.

The speculation doesn’t look good for the Voting Rights Act, with watchers speculating that Article 5 will be struck down 5-4 with Justice Kennedy joining with the conservative justices. In other words, the VRA’s future will depend on how which way Justice Kennedy swings.  Will he join with Republicans as he did to bring us the nightmare of Citizens’ United?  Or will he recognize that the VRA should be expanded – not struck down?

The SCOTUS Blog observed that Justice Kennedy’s questions reflected a concern about states’ rights, most notably when he asked:

    If Alabama wants to put up monuments to the heroes of civil rights, in order to “acknowledge the wrongs of its past,” the Justice asked, “is it better off doing it if’ it’s an own independent sovereign or if it’s under the trusteeship of the United States government?”

Also noted by the SCOTUS Blog,  Kennedy had similar concerns the last time the VRA was challenged.

    But those who had attended the Court’s last hearing on the constitutionality of the 1965 law, four years ago, could recall that Kennedy was equally disturbed then about the threat he saw to states’ rights, and yet the Court concluded that case without striking down the law.  It found a way to ease the burden of the law, for local governments, and left it at that.

Pete Williams of MSNBC noted: “The justices were apparently concerned with the fact that the law is too “backward looking” focused on the states with a history of racial discrimination. “Many of the justices said that the problems in the south aren’t as bad as they are in places in the north and it troubled them that the law doesn’t have any way to deal with that,”

Actually, this raises a valid concern in the sense that Republicans control state legislatures pass voter ID laws and other forms of vote suppressing that disproportionately affect racial minorities, as well as people in other demographics that are more likely to vote for Democrats than for Republicans.

However, striking down Article 5 would make the problem worse. Does anyone really believe that our gerrymandered House of Representatives will suddenly get to work on a voting rights act that is more expansive than it is now? They would do so at their own peril because the only real reason Republicans retain control of the House of Representatives are the very practices that Article 5 blocked.

Then we move on to the Chief Justice, who some speculate is another potential “swing vote.”

According to The Quincy Herald Whig

    Chief Justice John Roberts, a vocal skeptic of the use of race in all areas of public life, cited a variety of statistics that showed starker racial disparities in some aspects of voting in Massachusetts than in Mississippi. Then he asked the government’s top Supreme Court lawyer whether the Obama administration thinks “the citizens in the South are more racist than citizens in the North.

As the government’s top Supreme Court Attorney acknowledged, the answer is no.

Scalia somehow thinks the VRA is a “perpetuation of Racial entitlement”   In other words, Scalia favors the “perpetuation of racial entitlement” that is inherent the very policies the VRA blocked as recently as 2012.

Something Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s response to Scalia’s comments, reflected: ”Do you think Section 5 was voted for because it was a racial entitlement?” … “Do you think racial discrimination has ended?”

One need only look at the GOP’s tactics,  in 2012 as reflected in Florida and Michigan to affirm that racial discrimination is far from over.

We saw the evidence that millions of Americans wrongfully disenfranchised under voter ID laws  in search of the statistically non-existent problem of voter fraud.  We saw it as people waiting in line for 5 to 7 hours because of policies intended to slow the voting process and with it discourage voting.

We saw data that showed voter ID laws have a disproportionately adverse effect on racial minorities and other classes of people most likely to vote Democrat.

Racism was alive and well in 2006, when the VRA was last renewed by George W. Bush .  It lived in 2012.  Gerrymandering  made it possible for the GOP to control the House of Representatives, even though most Americans voted Democrat.  They tried to buy the Senate since they can’t gerrymander their way to victory there or buy it, as exhibited in Elizabeth Warren’s  victory over Tea Party darling, Scott Brown.  Hence, the GOP’s desire to repeal the 17th Amendment,  in favor of State legislatures appointing our Senators.

Teapublican controlled state legislatures continue to look for was to disenfranchise racial minorities and/or water down the value of their votes.  Republicans in Michigan and Pennsylvania are looking to change their winner take all formula to one that rewards the losing candidate.

Now that North Carolina has a Republican governor, it’s all but a certainty that the voter ID laws  that disproportionately disenfranchise, racial minorities along with seniors and the poor will pass.

In that respect, the Justices most likely to strike down the VRA understand the problem.  Racist election policies are no longer restricted to the south, suggesting a need to expand Article 5 of the VRA. Striking it down will only further entrench the very problem that Article 5 was designed to resolve.

Given that Justice Thomas thinks there’s something unconstitutional about mechanisms designed to prevent racism discrimination and Justice Scalia has it backwards when he says that Article Five is about “perpetuating racial entitlement” it’s pretty clear they will vote to strike down the VRA.  Alito is likely to join them. Roberts is less likely to go rogue and actually look at the law instead of the politics a second time around.  Justices Ginsberg, Breyer and Kagan are likely to join Sotomayor in favor of upholding the VRA.

That leaves us with the reality that the future of voting rights really lies in the hands of Justice Kennedy. His decision will depend on whether he places a higher priority on states to enact racist election laws, or the people who will inevitably be disenfranchised if the Voting Rights Act is struck down.

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« Reply #4847 on: Mar 02, 2013, 08:02 AM »

Student researchers discover building blocks of DNA in cosmic cloud

By Stephen C. Webster
Friday, March 1, 2013 12:04 EST

The beginnings of the beginnings of life, the fundamental building blocks of DNA and RNA, have been detected in cosmic clouds near the center of the Milky Way galaxy, student researchers at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) announced Thursday.

Using the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia to look closely at the Sagittarius B2 molecular cloud, students detected the radio signals generated by rotational transitions of two prebiotic molecules, cyanomethanimine and ethanamine, key to the formation of DNA and the amino acid alanine.

“Finding these molecules in an interstellar gas cloud means that important building blocks for DNA and amino acids can ‘seed’ newly-formed planets with the chemical precursors for life,” NRAO’s Anthony Remijan said in an advisory.

The NRAO team has been searching for molecules in space for years, discovering radio signals from over 700 different molecules which have yet to be identified. One of them, researchers announced in 2001, is alcohol. Researchers have also detected sugar in Sagittarius B2.

To identify cyanomethanimine and ethanamine, the team used new technology to study both molecules’ radio signals in the laboratory, then matched the data pattern to observations from signals in Sagittarius B2.

“We need to do further experiments to better understand how these reactions work, but it could be that some of the first key steps toward biological chemicals occurred on tiny ice grains,” Remijan added.

This video is from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, published Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013

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« Reply #4848 on: Mar 02, 2013, 08:06 AM »

American teenager designs compact nuclear reactor

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, March 1, 2013 7:36 EST

Eighteen-year-old Taylor Wilson has designed a compact nuclear reactor that could one day burn waste from old atomic weapons to power anything from homes and factories to space colonies.

The American teen, who gained fame four years ago after designing a fusion reactor he planned to build in the garage of his family’s home, shared his latest endeavor at a TED Conference in southern California on Thursday.

“It’s about bringing something old, fission, into the 21st Century,” Wilson said. “I think this has huge potential to change the world.”

He has designed a small reactor capable of generating 50-100 megawatts of electricity, enough to power as many as 100,000 homes.

The reactor can be made assembly-line style and powered by molten radioactive material from nuclear weapons, Wilson said. The relatively small, modular reactor can be shipped sealed with enough fuel to last for 30 years.

“You can plop them down anywhere in the world and they work, buried under the ground for security reasons,” he said, while detailing his design at TED.

“In the Cold War we built up this huge arsenal of nuclear weapons and we don’t need them anymore,” Wilson said. “It would be great if we could eat them up, and this reactor loves this stuff.”

His reactors are designed to spin turbines using gas instead of steam, meaning they operate at temperatures lower than those of typical nuclear reactors and don’t spew anything if there is a breach.

The fuel is in the form of molten salt, and the reactors don’t need to be pressurized, according to the teenager.

“In the event of an accident, you can just drain the core into a tank under the reactor with neutron absorbers and the reaction stops,” Wilson said.

“There is no inclination for the fission products to leave this reactor,” he said. “In an accident, the reactor may be toast, which is sorry for the power company, but there is no problem.”

Wilson, who graduated grade school in May, said he is putting off university to focus on a company he created to make Modular Fission Reactors.

He sees his competition as nations, particularly China, and the roadblocks ahead as political instead of technical.

Wilson planned to have a prototype ready in two years and a product to market in five years.

“Not only does it combat climate change, it can bring power to the developing world,” Wilson said with teenage optimism.

“Imagine having a compact reactor in a rocket designed by those planning to habitat other planets. Not only would you have power for propulsion, but power once you get there.”
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« Reply #4849 on: Mar 02, 2013, 08:10 AM »

03/01/2013 05:33 PM

Luxury Condos: Protesters Block Dismantling of Part of Berlin Wall

In 1989, the crowds yelled for the Berlin Wall to come down. But, on Friday, hundreds of protesters stopped workers from dismantling part of the longest remaining stretch of the Wall so that a luxury apartment complex could be built.

An estimated 400 demonstrators succeeded on Friday in halting construction workers from dismantling part of a historic stretch of the Berlin Wall. Plans call for relocating a roughly 20-meter (66-foot) section of the so-called East Side Gallery, the longest remaining part of the wall, so that a luxury apartment complex can be built on prime real estate along the River Spree.

The crew only removed one roughly 1.5-meter (5-foot) section before their work was halted. Demonstrators then filled the gap with a mock section of the wall.

The gallery dates back to early 1990, when about 120 international artists were invited to paint a 1.3-kilometer (0.8-mile) stretch of the Berlin Wall overlooking the River Spree.

The open-air gallery is close to the Ostbahnhof station in the trendy district of Friedrichshain. During the 28 years of the city's division, this stretch was on the interior eastern side of the elaborate border strip, so it did not bear any of the graffiti that covered the parts exposed to what was then West Berlin.

Today, the East Side Gallery is thought to be the biggest outdoor gallery in the world and has become a major tourist draw. In 2008, the city restored the paintings at a cost of more than €2 million ($2.6 million).

The Gentrification Debate

Despite its popularity, local city district chairman Franz Schulz told the daily Bild newspaper that historical preservation authorities had granted a construction firm permission to remove a section so that a road could be built to allow access to a new luxury apartment complex currently in development.

Volker Thoms, a spokesman for the developer Living Bauhaus, responded to the interruption by saying that work would resume in the "coming days." He also sought to allay public concerns, pointing out that the sections being removed would be set back up in the riverside park that runs behind the gallery.

"The artists aren't very happy about this," Thoms told the Associated Press. "But, in the end, their paintings and their art will not disappear; it will just not be in the wall, but behind it."

The dispute comes at a time when debate over gentrification is rife in the German capital. Rising rents and a squeeze on urban housing are undermining the democratic spirit that defined Berlin's image in the post-reunification era and made it a magnet for creative types. To many, the city is losing its unique appeal and selling out to investors.

"Is culture no longer worth anything?" read one banner held aloft by demonstrators at Friday's protests. Below it, in smaller letters, it said: "Die Yuppie Scum!"

Protecting a Symbol

"It's unbearable to see that the wall here is being so brutally torn down," artist Thierry Noir, whose painted section of the wall is one likely to be relocated, told the dpa news agency.

"We painted these images for future generations, as a memorial, and now it's simply being removed," he said.

Meanwhile, Antje Kapek, a trained urban planner and politician with the local Green Party, blamed the city government. "It is ignoring the historical, cultural and tourist significance of this gallery and memorial," she told the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel.

Her counterpart in the center-right Christian Democrats, Florian Graf, called for a "moratorium that would give us the time we need to let the building project go ahead as well as preserve the historic wall installation."

"It is a symbol of the city's identity," he said.

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« Reply #4850 on: Mar 02, 2013, 08:16 AM »

Eight South African police arrested over death of man dragged behind van

Investigators say second postmortem might be carried out on body of taxi driver Mido Macia to confirm how he died   

Jonathan Clayton in Johannesburg, Friday 1 March 2013 16.30 GMT   

Eight South African police officers have been arrested after a global outcry over the death of a Mozambican taxi driver who was handcuffed to the back of a police van and dragged along a street.

The officers were initially suspended from duty while the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) looked into the incident. They were later arrested.

Mido Macia, 27, a taxi driver and Mozambican national, was tied to the back of a police van and dragged along a street in Daveyton, on the southern outskirts of Johannesburg, on Tuesday.

Video footage of the incident was recorded by a bystander and broadcast on television and the internet. It has thrown an unwelcome spotlight on the South African police who are accused of incompetence, brutality and corruption.

It has also raised fresh concerns over the treatment of foreign nationals in the country. Dozens of foreigners fled attacks in 2008-09 in an outbreak of violent xenophobia.

Cameron Jacobs, the South Africa director of Human Rights Watch, said: "This is not the first time that we've seen acts of brutality or excessive force. It's also deeply concerning that this incident involved a foreign national. This may have played a part as, after all, this is something we have seen before in this country. Clearly, if you are 'different' you are more likely to be stopped by the police."

It appears the row broke out after Macia, who had lived in the country for 10 years, was accused of parking his minibus taxi on the wrong side of the road and blocking traffic. Police arrived and tried to bundle him into their van.

The police chief Riah Phiyega thanked people for revealing the "callous and unacceptable behaviour" of the officers, and said the police service "regretted and condemned the incident".

She said the force supported the principle that the "police be policed", adding: "We are equally outraged by what has happened … [this is] why we're taking steps we are."

The IPID said a second postmortem examination might be carried out on Macia's body. "The second autopsy is being considered. There have been so many allegations of assault, so this is just to confirm what happened," a spokesperson said.

President Jacob Zuma has condemned the incident as "horrific" and "unacceptable".

A small crowd, mostly women, gathered on Friday morning on Friday outside the police station where Macia died in the holding cells. Detainees there were quoted by the Daily Sun newspaper as saying the police had beaten him again in the cells. The police said he was set upon by other prisoners.

South Africa's police force was already under intense scrutiny after officers shot dead 34 miners during a strike last August. Its credibility was also dented when it emerged that the lead detective in the murder case against the athlete Oscar Pistorius was himself accused of attempted murder.

The police service said it would give its full support to the IPID as it looked into Macia's death. "We fully support the principle of police being policed and we shall be transparent about the outcome of the investigation," it said.

Justin Ndlovu, chair of the Benoni Taxi Association, told the BBC he had known Macia and last saw him last week. "He was a very humble guy; he leaves behind one child in South Africa," he said. "His brother died last year and he had become the guardian of his brother's wife and three children [also living in South Africa]."


South African police van death: spotlight needed if change is to come

We all know that the culture of police brutality, of guns in the homes of some of us, diminishes all of us. Yet we kept quiet

Justice Malala, Friday 1 March 2013 19.08 GMT          

South Africans are tired of being at the forefront of the global media. We have been there a lot lately – for all the wrong reasons.First it was the Marikana massacre, when the police gunned down 34 striking mineworkers within minutes last August. The Economist put us on its cover for that, saying we are in "sad decline". Then it was Oscar Pistorius shooting his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Time magazine has put us on the cover for that, bemoaning our violent culture.

And much was made of the news that the investigating officer in the case, Hilton Botha, is up on charges of shooting at a taxi with seven passengers on board. Not long before that was the gang rape and murder of 17-year-old Anene Booysen.

Now this: mobile-phone footage of Mozambican taxi driver Mido Macia handcuffed to the back of a police van and dragged behind it – after an alleged parking dispute – surfaced this week. On Friday eight police officers were arrested over Macia's death; but only after a global outcry.

The composite that emerges is disturbing: a country that is globally at the top of the pile for murder and rape (65,000 people were raped last year in a country of 50 million); an incompetent police force that is quick to pull the trigger; a populace awash with guns (Pistorius allegedly slept with one at his bedside and a rifle on the window sill). We are not nice people, are we?

But it is worth remembering that the majority of us do not sleep with guns by our bedside, and we sleep easy. Not many of us are rapists, or murder our wives. There are about 190,000 police officers in South Africa, and not all of them are brutes of the type who dragged Macia through the streets of Daveyton.

We just want the world to look away. We don't want to be in the spotlight. We want people to ask us about Nelson Mandela when we travel abroad, instead of asking about the crime rate.

Yet, whatever our aversion to being scrutinised so closely, the truth is that issues highlighted in the foreign media lately do cut to the deep problems that we have failed to deal with in South Africa. When the police dragged Macia behind a van this week, it was not as if these things do not happen.

They happen all the time. The most interesting part of the mobile-phone footage of Macia's ordeal was the fact that many of the spectators were using their phones to take pictures or videos.

The perpetrators were nonplussed by this. In fact, they turned up at work the next day and the day after as if nothing had happened. As one woman said, they expected applause from residents.

That is because they have been told by politicians since President Jacob Zuma ascended to power in 2009 that they should "act tough" against alleged lawbreakers.

"We cannot say to the police, retreat. We cannot say to South Africans, despair. Our job is to give people hope. Yes. Shoot the bastards. Hard-nut to crack, incorrigible bastards," said Zuma's then-deputy police minister Fikile Mbalula in 2009.

Since then numerous names have graced our front pages in cases of police brutality. Atlegang Aphane, a three-year-old, was shot and killed by a policeman allegedly because he suspected the boy was holding a gun. Olga Kekana was shot and killed by officers who suspected her of driving a stolen car. They gave no warning and they fled the scene. These officers are still in the South African police. They haven't been arrested. Then there was Marikana, a grotesque show in which the state arrested, and in some instances allegedly tortured, the survivors of the massacre – and charged them with the murder of their own comrades.

Police top brass said at the time the perpetrators should not be sorry for what happened.

This culture of acceptance of police brutality is what killed the taxi driver Mido Macia this week.

It will not end. In his state of the nation speech in February, Zuma promised an "iron fist" against protesters, without saying a word about police brutality.

We South Africans have kept quiet while this was being done in our name. In a sense, we are like the white South Africans who kept quiet while apartheid was being perpetrated in their name. We all know that the culture of police brutality, of guns in the homes of some of us, diminishes all of us. Yet we kept quiet, and are now fatigued by all the attention from across the globe.

It should continue. If South Africa is to halt the slide into wanton police brutality and ludicrously low convictions in cases of violence against women and children, then these cases have to come into the light – and the international spotlight, too.

We might not like it, but for this to stop – and for us not to lead the diminished lives we now live – the light has to continue to shine on South Africa.

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« Reply #4851 on: Mar 02, 2013, 08:28 AM »

Syria and Iran condemn US for offering support to anti-Assad rebels

Syrian foreign minister criticises 'double standards' after US announces it will provide non-lethal aid to opposition

Julian Borger and agencies, Saturday 2 March 2013 13.19 GMT   

Syria and Iran have condemned a move by the US to give non-lethal aid to rebels fighting to topple the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, accusing Washington of double standards.

"I do not understand how the United States can give support to groups that kill the Syrian people," the Syrian foreign minister, Walid al-Moualem, told a news conference on Saturday in Tehran with Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's foreign minister.

"This is nothing but a double-standard policy … One who seeks a political solution does not punish the Syrian people." The United States said on Thursday it would for the first time give non-lethal aid to Syrian rebels, describing the aid as a way to bolster the rebels' popular support.

The assistance will include medical supplies, food for rebel fighters and $60m to help the civil opposition provide basic services such as security, education and sanitation.

Iran's Salehi said the US move would prolong the Syrian conflict, an uprising-turned-civil war in which 70,000 people have been killed.

"If you really feel sorry about the ongoing situation in Syria you should force the opposition to sit at the negotiation table with the Syrian government and put an end to bloodshed," he said. "Why do you encourage the opposition to continue these acts of violence?"

Iran and Russia support Assad, while the US, Europe and Middle Eastern countries generally back the opposition.

Some European countries are expected to break with Washington and start supplying the Syrian rebels with weapons in the next few months, the representative of the Syrian opposition in Britain said.

The National Coalition's London representative, Walid Saffour, predicted that by the next meeting of the western and Arab Friends of Syria group in Turkey, due in late spring or early summer, "there will be a breakthrough that will end the restrictions of the European countries".

"This would be for the ammunition we require, the quality weapons we need to deter the Syrian regime from using aeroplanes and Scud missiles to bomb villages and bakeries," Saffour said. "We on the ground are advancing steadily but we are suffering from a lack of ammunition. We expect that to change at the next Friends of Syria meeting in Istanbul."

Another opposition figure involved in supplying the rebels said there had been a noticeable relaxation in recent days of the strict restrictions the US and Turkey had put on arms flows over the Turkish border. He claimed a Syrian army helicopter and a Mig warplane had been shot down in the past two days, for the first time by imported missiles.

"These were not weapons that had been captured from Syrian army bases as before. These were released from the Turkish warehouses. These are weapons the opposition had purchased previously but had not been allowed to take across the border," the opposition source said.

"Before, 23mm was the maximum calibre for anti-aircraft guns permitted and we were allowed to bring in RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] but not armour-piercing shells. But there is a major shift on the ground now. The policy is changing.

"I think the shift in American attitudes goes far beyond the official reports. I think that Washington knows it can no longer allow the to problem fester."


Syria crisis: European countries expected to start arming rebels

Syrian opposition representative in UK says 'breakthrough' is expected after relaxation of EU rules

Julian Borger, diplomatic editor, Friday 1 March 2013 18.04 GMT   

Some European countries are expected to break with Washington and start supplying the Syrian rebels with weapons in the next few months, the representative of the Syrian opposition in Britain has told the Guardian.

The National Coalition's London representative, Walid Saffour, predicted that by the next meeting of the western and Arab Friends of Syria group in Turkey, due in late spring or early summer, "there will be a breakthrough that will end the restrictions of the European countries".

"This would be for the ammunition we require, the quality weapons we need to deter the Syrian regime from using aeroplanes and Scud missiles to bomb villages and bakeries," Saffour said. "We on the ground are advancing steadily but we are suffering from a lack of ammunition. We expect that to change at the next Friends of Syria meeting in Istanbul."

Another opposition figure involved in supplying the rebels said there had been a noticeable relaxation in recent days of the strict restrictions the US and Turkey had put on arms flows over the Turkish border. He claimed a Syrian army helicopter and a Mig warplane had been shot down in the past two days, for the first time by imported missiles.

"These were not weapons that had been captured from Syrian army bases as before. These were released from the Turkish warehouses. These are weapons the opposition had purchased previously but had not been allowed to take across the border," the opposition source said.

"Before, 23mm was the maximum calibre for anti-aircraft guns permitted and we were allowed to bring in RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] but not armour-piercing shells. But there is a major shift on the ground now. The policy is changing.

"I think the shift in American attitudes goes far beyond the official reports. I think that Washington knows it can no longer allow to let the problem fester."

The EU formally changed its arms embargo on Syria on Thursday to allow the supply of armoured vehicles, non-lethal military equipment and technical aid to the opposition. The move came as the US secretary of state, John Kerry, made his first trip to a Muslim nation since taking office, visiting Ankara, where he met Turkish leaders to discuss Syria.

While Saffour did not name the countries he expected to supply arms, the British government, which took the lead in pushing for the relaxation of the sanctions, is expected to act swiftly in reaction to the new EU rules. Foreign secretary, William Hague, is due to make a statement to parliament next week detailing the new equipment and training the UK will give the rebels. The aid is expected to include civilian vehicles – reinforced to provide protection against shelling – of a kind the British government is already supplying to UN aid workers operating in Syria.

On British insistence, the EU embargo will come up for review in June and the UK is expected to push for a further relaxation in what can be provided to the opposition if there is no let-up in the two-year-old conflict, in which more than 70,000 people are estimated to have died.

Speaking at the Friends of Syria meeting in Rome on Thursday, Hague stressed military aid was possible in the future. "That will be an important decision, of course, and has its own risks, and that is why we haven't done that so far. But I don't rule that out," he said.

A British official said: "We are going to keep on raising the pressure on the Assad regime. The Friends of Syria meeting in Rome was not the end of a process. It is the beginning of a process."

Saffour, the National Coalition's representative, said: "If the EU embargo doesn't change, then some of the EU countries will change their policy – if not openly, then quietly." He said US officials had also told the coalition that the White House policy of providing non-lethal aid only would come under review in the next few months, as new members of Barack Obama's administration, such as Kerry and the defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, enter the internal debate.

There have been reports over the past few weeks that the flow of arms to rebel fighters has increased markedly, including some anti-tank weapons made in the former Yugoslavia. The Croatian government has denied reports that its arms industry supplied some of the weapons.

Ivica Nekic, the managing director of the Croatian arms export agency, said: "We would be aware of any sale from Croatia, and no Croatian weapons have been sold to anyone in Syria."

Asked about reports that Croatian arms were supplied through Saudi Arabia, Nekic said Croatia had only sold the Saudi military helmets and was in the process of negotiating a sale of pistols. Asked about other customers in the Middle East, Nekic said: "We sell to more than 50 countries around the world. I can't speculate on every country, and every sale we make. It would not be correct."

Muhannad Hadi, the World Food Programme's regional emergency co-ordinator for Syria and neighbouring countries, said the British donation of armoured cars had already saved the lives of WFP staff delivering food aid on both sides of the lines.

"They turned out to be a life-saving tool. Our weapons were attacked four times in the past several months, by mortar. And the thing is nobody was injured."

The WFP currently supplies food to 1.5 million people in Syria in all 14 of the country's governorates, and in many parts of the country there are pockets with unknown populations which are beyond the agency's reach because of fighting. Hadi said the WFP hoped to increase the number of recipients to 2 million this month and 2.5 million next month, but was facing a critical shortage of funding.

"If we don't have funds in May for Syria, there will be serious problems. There will be breaks in the pipeline. Food needs a lead time to bring it in, with shipping and logistics, so we need the funds very, very soon."


John Kerry to urge Turkey to patch up relations with Israel after Zionism row

Trip could be overshadowed by row over Turkish prime minister's comments that Zionism was a crime against humanity

Staff and Reuters in Ankara, Friday 1 March 2013 14.35 GMT   
The US secretary of state, John Kerry, will urge the Turkish prime minister to restore the country's "frozen" relationship with Israel on Friday, on his first trip to a Muslim nation since taking office.

The collapse of ties between the two countries have undermined US
hopes that Turkey could play a role as a broker in the broader region – Washington sees Turkey as the key player in supporting Syria's opposition and planning for the era after President Bashar al-Assad.

But the trip could be overshadowed by a row over comments made by the Turkish prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan, earlier this week, when he described Zionism as a crime against humanity.

Kerry is meeting Turkish leaders in talks meant to focus on Syria's civil war and bilateral interests from energy security to counter-terrorism.

But Erdogan's comment at a UN meeting in Vienna this week, condemned by his Israeli counterpart, the White House and UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, has clouded his trip.

"This was particularly offensive, frankly, to call Zionism a crime against humanity … It does have a corrosive effect [on relations]," a senior US official told reporters as Kerry flew to Ankara.

"I am sure the secretary will be very clear about how dismayed we were to hear it," the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

"To state the obvious, it complicates our ability to do all of the things that we want to do together when we have such a profound disagreement about such an important thing."

Kerry is expected to urge Turkey to attempt to restore relations with Israel. "The Turkey-Israel relationship is frozen," the US official said. "We want to see a normalization … not just for the sake of the two countries but for the sake of the region and, frankly, for the symbolism," he said.

"Not that long ago [you] had these two countries demonstrating that a majority Muslim country could have very positive and strong relations with the Jewish state and that was a sign for the region [of what was] possible."

Erdogan told the UN Alliance of Civilizations meeting in Vienna on Wednesday: "Just as with Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism, it has become necessary to view Islamophobia as a crime against humanity."

The head of Europe's main rabbinical group condemned his words as a "hateful attack" on Jews. Ties between Israel and mostly Muslim Turkey have been frosty since 2010, when Israeli marines killed nine Turks in fighting aboard a Palestinian aid ship that tried to breach Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip.

In recent weeks, there has been a run of reports in the Turkish and Israeli media about efforts to repair relations, including a senior diplomatic meeting last month in Rome and military equipment transfers.

The reports have not been confirmed by either government.

Officials said Syria would top the agenda when Kerry meets Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, building on the discussions in Rome between 11 mostly European and Arab nations within the "Friends of Syria" group.

After the Rome meeting, Kerry said on Thursday the United States would for the first time give non-lethal aid to the rebels and more than double support to the civilian opposition, although Western powers stopped short of pledging arms.

"We need to continue the discussion which took place in Rome ... in terms of the main goals there is no daylight between us and the Americans," a senior Turkish official said.

"A broad agreement was reached on supporting the opposition. Now our sides need to sit down and really flesh out what we can do to support them in order to change the balance on the ground," he said.

Turkey has been one of Assad's fiercest critics, hosting a Nato Patriot missile defence system, including two US batteries, to protect against a spillover of violence and leading calls for international intervention.

It has spent more than $600m sheltering refugees from the conflict that began almost two years ago, housing some 180,000 in camps near the border and tens of thousands more who are staying with relatives or in private accommodation.

Washington has given $385m in humanitarian aid for Syria but US president Barack Obama has so far refused to give arms, arguing it is difficult to prevent them from falling into the hands of militants who could use them on Western targets.

Turkey, too, has been reluctant to provide weapons, fearing direct intervention could cause the conflict to spill across its borders.


March 1, 2013

Syrian Rebel Leader Deals With Ties to Other Side



GEN. SALIM IDRIS, convinced that the last stand of the Syrian Army in the long, grisly fight to control Aleppo will take place soon at the Academy of Military Engineering, dreads the moment.

It is not just the 2,000 or so well-armed soldiers holed up there, inside the square-kilometer campus on Aleppo’s eastern outskirts. Nor is it the reinforced concrete bunkers built under every building to withstand an Israeli air raid.

The toughest part for him is his fondness for both the officers in charge and the campus itself. When he defected in July 2012, General Idris, now chief of staff of the rebel forces, was a brigadier in the Syrian Army and dean of the academy after teaching there for 20 years.

“I cannot imagine that we will attack the academy,” General Idris said in a wide-ranging interview in a hotel cafe. “All the officers inside the academy are my colleagues. I don’t want to fight against them; I don’t want to see them killed or injured. I hope they leave before we attack.”

General Idris, 55, a stocky figure with a neatly trimmed mustache who was wearing a dark suit and tie, said he planned to deploy outside the academy when the fight begins, to make one last-ditch attempt to convince his old colleagues to defect.

“We cannot do anything about it if they don’t,” he said with a shrug.

Much of Syria’s future rests on General Idris’s success on the battlefield. Critics say the newly unified command structure he presides over lacks both the ground presence and the heavy weapons that are so desperately needed. Without both, they say, it will be impossible for him to forge a cohesive force from the thousands of fractious, fiercely independent rebel brigades arrayed against the still formidable military of President Bashar al-Assad.

UNDER intense pressure from Western and Arab backers, hundreds of Free Syrian Army commanders gathered in Turkey last December to select a 30-member Supreme Military Council, which in turn chose General Idris as chief of staff.

They unified, grudgingly, because they were promised heavy weapons, they said, in particular antiaircraft and antitank weapons, and other, nonlethal aid.

Some has materialized, although not nearly enough to transform the rebel effort, General Idris said. Secretary of State John Kerry this week pledged $60 million in additional nonlethal aid and training. The general stressed that the rebels need weapons and ammunition to fight the government, but would take anything they could get.

“The fighter also needs food and medical aid and care and cotton and bandages and sterilizers — the fighters need to live,” he said in a brief phone interview from northern Syria. “I was just visiting one of the military field hospitals. I swear that the situation there would make your heart bleed. The hospitals are so basic with very limited resources.”

Previous American aid seemed to amount to a trickle of small, odd lots. The Americans gave him nine ordinary black and gray Toyota pickup trucks, for example. General Idris kept three to move around with his staff and turned over the rest to field commanders. The communications equipment provided is too weak to reach across the country, he said, so he uses Skype. There were enough fatigues from the United States for 10,000 soldiers, which were nowhere near enough, given the roughly 300,000 rebel fighters, he said.

In addition to planned training efforts by the Americans, General Idris is urging Washington to train handpicked commando teams to help secure Syria’s suspected stock of chemical weapons if the government teeters. As for financial support, General Idris said very little had been forthcoming.

“We were promised a lot,” he said, “but when the moment of truth arrives they think a lot and give very little.”

General Idris and various aides say that some 70 percent to 80 percent of the field commanders are loyal to the joint military command, but other opposition leaders and rebel commanders say the number shrinks continuously because of the credibility gap created by the lack of a reliable weapons supply.

“He is excellent, well respected and well liked — he has a clean past,” said Emad ad-Din al-Rashid, an opposition leader in Istanbul. “But the problem is that the Supreme Military Council is not a good representative of the battalions on the ground.”

There is also no shortage of field commanders who say the council leaders are too identified with the Assad government and have too little battlefield experience. “He is a professor, not a soldier, “ said Abu Abdelrahman al-Suri, the pseudonym of a commander of Ahrar al-Sham, a jihadi fighting movement.

General Idris and his officers bristle at such criticism, rattling off their years of military training and pointing out that they defected at great personal risk.

Like many Syrian officers, General Idris joined the military to escape poverty. He was one of nine children raised by a farmer who grew grain in a hamlet called al-Mubarakiyah, near Qattinah Lake just south of Homs.

HE left in 1977; eventually spending six years training in East Germany, where in 1990 he earned a Ph.D. in wireless communications. At the academy, he taught digital electronic design. He married and had five children, but planned to retire to his village.

An attack in May 2012 on al-Mubarakiyah pushed him to defect. He called the generals he knew in the area, hoping to ward off the assault. None called back. The army killed three people and arrested 70, including his wife’s only brother. He has never been released.

When news of the attack reached Aleppo, General Idris pretended to his fellow officers that nothing was amiss. “I could not tell them that the army came and destroyed the village — they would have arrested me, accused me of being a traitor who supported the revolution.”

He had just poured his savings into building his dream retirement house. It was destroyed, too. “I had not sat in my house for even an hour,” he said wistfully.

General Idris, soft-spoken and humble compared with many military men, said he received hundreds of telephone calls daily, some angry, from commanders across Syria.

He dispatches what he can. But he described a mysterious system whereby unknown donors pay money to arms dealers within Syria. When he requisitions supplies, the black marketers fill the orders if the accounts are full. He can usually get the Kalashnikov bullets, rocket-propelled grenades and small mortars that he needs. But if the accounts are empty, he gets nothing.

Many rebel battalion commanders were civilians before the uprising. Having organized a brigade from men in their villages, they balk at taking orders and refuse to coordinate attacks.

“They want everything from the chief of staff — weapons, ammunition, money,” General Idris said. “But if you ask them what did you do with the ammunition and weapons, and how did you spend the money, well, they don’t like any commander to ask them what they are doing. But we cannot work in this way.”

General Idris said he could work with most of the Islamist factions fighting in Syria, putting their number at about 50 percent of the rebels. The exception was al-Nusra Front, blacklisted by the United States. He said that they were helpful in the fight — estimating that they had 3,000 men — but it was the only group he labeled extremist.

For security, General Idris rarely sleeps in the same place for two nights running. He takes the dangers he faces with a little black humor, interrupting the interview to call his wife “to tell her that I am still alive.”

Over all, General Idris said he thought the war was progressing well for the rebels. The government was resorting to tactics like long-range Scud missile attacks because it lacked soldiers, he said, but the rebels need the supplies promised by Western and Arab leaders more than ever.

“I would like to say to the decision makers in these countries, you cannot only listen to the news about Syria and watch the TV, to see the massacres and the destruction and wait,” he said. “If you still delay the decision to support Syria, you might take the decision when it is too late. Then Syria will be like Somalia.”

Hala Droubi contributed reporting.

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« Reply #4852 on: Mar 02, 2013, 08:35 AM »

Africa: ‘France in Malian deadlock’

1 March 2013
Le Monde, 1 March 2013

According to Malian and Algerian TV, Abu Zeid, one of the principal leaders of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI) has been killed in the Franco-Malian operation in the north-east of Mali.

The unconfirmed news has come at a time when Operation Serval, which was launched by France on January 11, has now entered Ifoghas, a mountainous region close to the Algerian border.

Speaking on French radio, the country's Defence Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, spoke of this sanctuary for Islamic militias, saying, "it's problematic, because you have to comb the ground slowly, metre by metre."

In the rocks of the Adrar Tigharghar a crucial battle is engaged

Those who have had the opportunity there to agree on one point: Adrar Tigharghar seems to have been specially created by the god of rebellion for shelter combatants in war against conventional forces. In the rock, it flows abundant water, which grow thick vegetation, valuable benefits already in this region where aridity thirst and drink and hide are a matter of life or death.

In addition, the rocks have been carefully carved by nature to provide many shelters. Historically, Adrar Tigharghar was a place of refuge for the Tuareg rebellions fighting the army in Mali or colonial power, France. Today, it is in this massive book that is a crucial phase of the French military operation in progress against Islamist rebels allied to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb ( AQIM ).


The first part of the French intervention in Mali was a logistical challenge and speed of movement of an operation several weeks to disrupt AQIM allies across the country to the river Niger and major cities that located on its banks, from Timbuktu to Gao. The fighting in this period were marginal. Rebels avoided confrontation, leaving the cities after having suffered airstrikes. Some men of Mujao (Movement for Jihad in the uniqueness and Africa West) of Ansar Eddine (movement that has erupted since) and some of their allies AQIM are scattered in several areas northern Mali, from some neighboring countries, while trying to escape aerial surveillance.

They managed to reorganize part, reaching up attacks Gao and suicide bombings in several cities, from pockets of the country where they are the difficulties and the extent of ground to make elusive.


How to fight effectively in small groups almost constant movement, camouflaged in the landscape, avoiding contact except by messengers to come together to serve a target or to heat engines too for both thermal escape detection? These tactics weighed far on the future of French operation Serval, threatened dilution across an area larger than France. But Adrar Tigharghar may have served as informal capital to the arm ed shadows Islamists. This is where the second stage plays, crucial to the war in Mali, led by French troops and Chadian, with the help of some Touareg.

Poste de contrôle à l'entrée de Kidal, au sud du massif de l'Adrar, le 26 février.

Bilal for ag Cherif, the leader of the Tuareg rebellion of the MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) associated discreetly Franco-Chadian leading the fighting in the mountains: "There are many areas where AQIM is, to the west of Timbuktu, but Tigharghar is their anchor. This is where lies the bulk of their forces, as human material. Battle is currently a importance. "


Fighters seem to have found refuge in the mountains, which were made ​​up of stocks of ammunition, food and fuel in anticipation of a long war of harassment. The area, considered impregnable, could be a perfect launch pad for suicide operations or lightning attacks in the north. French forces are now operating with means land and air on which there is virtually no information. To make numbers and block the exits of solid Chadian allies are there to help. No soldier Mali has been associated with the transaction.

A notable Aguelhok, passing through Kidal, demonstrates the importance of ongoing operations: "There are French and Chadian troops on the ground, but also many strikes Tiger". He explains that Chadian forces entered by two different axes in the mountains to take in a pincer rebel groups. The size of the area where they operate have been reduced by two in the past two weeks. "Operations, now it is about an area of thirty kilometers eters on tren you," says an official at the bodies of security MNLA very involved in this case. According notable Aguelhoc two training camps Mujao were hit by airstrikes recently. Dozens of recruits from around Gao have been killed.

27 février. Le pick-up calciné du MNLA après l'explosion qui a touché Kidal, au sud du massif de l'Adrar.

Fighting in recent days, Chadian forces have been at the forefront. Who love them both heroic charges foot floor in open areas, which they call "the war in the Sahara", conducted aboard their pickup loaded to the muzzle of warriors, drums of gasoline and ammunition , firing RPG at close range on the enemy, here in an environment that has become a trap February 22. Sidi Mohammed ag Saghid says "Three Three" chef of safety MNLA, said: "Chadians advanced with a large column of about 200 vehicles. They are ambushed and the column was split in two. But then they launched their attack and they have hit the Islamists. "

In the Adrar Tigharg dr, intelligence plays a key role. French airstrikes aimed deposits, shelters or camps with specific information collected on the ground. A few days ago, a young boy Aguelhok, the nearest town, which asked pointing devices for airstrikes French, was surprised by the Islamist rebels and executed, according to the head of the local government says his fear when he heard the shots in the mountains deaf neighbor, while recognizing that the shots "move away". Tigharghar it is currently constitute a trap rock, finally, where would shut the biggest rebel Islamists? No witness outside could not approach the area in order to make account. This crucial battle is being fought far from view.


We can therefore assume that sorting qu'ébaucher is currently 's conduct between the best organized fighters, able to slip outwards and recruits less sharp. Well-informed local source, who just spend a few days in the bush in the vicinity of the Adrar, says: "The night is meant for small groups of three to five pickup advancing, lights off, to get out of rocks and take the direction of Algeria or Taoudenni. "

There are areas near Gao rebels near Ansongo. But the forces that leave Tighargâr is to the arid north, where the heat rising from day to day life and will soon military operations particularly difficult, it is possible to combatants isolated s' exfiltrate. This means for them to earn more distant areas to survive . That does not happen to other pockets rebels in Mali, but it could break some of the architecture of the guerrillas in northern Mali.


March 1, 2013

French and Chad Forces Strike Militants in the Mountains of Mali


DAKAR, Senegal — The French military struck at Islamist militants dug in along the remote, rocky mountain ranges of northern Mali over the last week, killing scores, a French military spokesman said Friday.

The week’s operations, conducted with Chadian troops, were a further sign that the French military intervention against the jihadists in Mali, initially viewed as a quick strike, was not winding down soon.

Meanwhile, the Chadian president, Idriss Déby Itno, said that Abu Zeid, the most important commander in Al Qaeda’s regional franchise, had been killed in combat, Mr. Déby’s communications director, Dieudonné Djonabaye, said Friday night.

The Algerian newspaper El Khabar asserted that samples from the corpse presumed to be that of Abu Zeid — he was of Algerian birth — had been sent to Algiers for testing against relatives; a senior Algerian official declined to confirm the report on Friday night.

Abu Zeid’s death would represent a significant blow to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, as he was considered the toughest, most resilient of the local Qaeda commanders, and the most ruthless. Abu Zeid is held responsible for the executions of at least two Western hostages in 2010 and 2009 — an elderly Frenchman and an elderly Briton — and his Qaeda unit is believed to be holding perhaps half a dozen other Western hostages. In addition, he has an extensive network of contacts throughout the region, allowing him to recruit in many countries, analysts said.

Abu Zeid had been spotted at Timbuktu during the Islamist ascendancy in northern Mali last year, and the harsh Shariah rule instituted there — public whippings, destruction of monuments, banning of music and other leisure activities — is attributed at least in part to him.

Still, hundreds of jihadist fighters remain in the mountains, said a senior official with the Tuareg rebel movement, which is playing a supporting role in the French military campaign. Analysts suggested though that the French and Chadian successes this week — as many as 130 terrorists killed in ground and air operations, according to the French spokesman — did not mean the French were getting bogged down in Mali, but rather that intelligence was improving and more extremists were being flushed out of their mountain retreats.

The French have some 1,200 soldiers in the region, and the Chadians 800, and they are concentrating their efforts on a 15-mile zone in the Adrar des Ifoghas, the rocky, barren mountains at Mali’s Algerian border, according to Col. Thierry Burkhard, the French military spokesman.

“From the beginning this has been the refuge of the region’s terrorist groups,” Colonel Burkhard said of the area around Tessalit, a settlement near the Algerian border. “Our objective is to comb through this zone, find the terrorist groups, then neutralize them.”

Colonel Burkhard said French forces alone had killed some 40 jihadists over the last week, while Chadian troops had eliminated perhaps 90. The French said there had been about 60 airstrikes, and about 10 of the jihadists’ vehicles had been destroyed.

“They are hanging on in a very determined fashion,” Colonel Burkhard said. “They are not looking to retreat. They want to hang on to their positions. They’ve been implanted in this region for a long time, and they’ve prepared the terrain. They’ve got foxholes, and they’ve got enough weapons to resist over the long term.”

Some 25 Chadian soldiers were killed in clashes with the jihadists last week — deaths that provoked Mr. Déby to call on other African nations to relieve Chad of some of the burden. Although other countries have deployed in Mali, they are generally well away from the fighting.

French and Chadian forces are carrying on the fight, more or less alone. “It’s not prolonged because of failure,” a Western defense attaché in the Malian capital, Bamako, said Friday night. “They are finding more jihadists. The French are very much keeping the tempo up. They are inflicting significant attrition,” but he added that the jihadists “are proving surprisingly resilient.”

Adam Nossiter reported from Dakar, Senegal, and Maïa de la Baume from Paris. Martin Zoutane contributed reporting from Ndjamena, Chad.

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« Reply #4853 on: Mar 02, 2013, 08:38 AM »

March 1, 2013

In Nigeria’s Largest City, Homeless Are Paying the Price of Progress


LAGOS, Nigeria — The young man with the crowbar stood on a heap of rubble — planks, pallets, remains of pots, bits of cardboard, wisps of clothing, chunks of concrete — indistinguishable from every other pile in a field of debris stretching far into the distance.

“This is the home I am staying in before Fashola demolished it,” said John Momoh, 28, looking down at the pile, referring to the governor of Lagos, Babatunde Fashola. Mr. Momoh, a driver, searched doggedly for anything salvageable — a nail, a board — in the mess.

Government backhoes came in and plowed through Mr. Momoh’s simple wooden dwelling and some 500 like it last Saturday, instantly making homeless perhaps 10,000 of Lagos’s poorest residents and destroying a decades-old slum, Badia East. For days, residents wandered the chaotic rubble-strewn field, near prime Lagos real estate.

They were dazed and angry. Small children slept on the muddy ground. Men climbed the mounds of rubble, searching. In intense heat, women, men and children said they were hungry and sleeping outside. The government had destroyed their present, they said, without making any provision for their future.

“I lost everything,” Mr. Momoh said. “We are trying to bring out some sticks, to look for our daily bread,” he said, poking the rubble. “We don’t have money to eat.”

A 30-year-old cook, Kingsley Saviouru, said: “They demolished everything. They didn’t give us anything. We are here, suffering.”

Under Lagos’s energetic governor, much lauded in the international financial media, this crowded megalopolis of high rises, filthy lagoons, fierce traffic jams and sprawling slums, home to perhaps 21 million people, has proclaimed its ambition to become the region’s, if not Africa’s, premier business center.

Infrastructure and housing projects abound, including a light-rail network whose trestles already vault crowded neighborhoods, and a vast upmarket Dubai-style shopping and housing development built out into the Atlantic Ocean, inaugurated last week by former President Bill Clinton. A new Porsche dealership has opened in the financial district.

In this gleaming vision, the old Lagos of slums has an uncertain future. Two-thirds of the city’s residents live in “informal” neighborhoods, as activists call them, while more than one million of the city’s poor have been forcibly ejected from their homes in largely unannounced, government slum clearances over the last 15 years, a leading activist group says.

Last summer, there was a brief outcry when government speedboats bearing machete-carrying men cleared out the floating neighborhood of Makoko, making some 30,000 people homeless. At the vast city dump at Ojota, where thousands eke out a living, shacks are cleared out frequently, residents complained.

The Nigerian government’s untender approach to its poor, who account for at least 70 percent of the population, was again on full display last Saturday at Badia East, where even more demolition — another 40,000 live there — is now threatened. The scene Saturday was classic: a black police vehicle pulled up early, armed, uniformed policemen sprang out to quell any restiveness, and the backhoes went to work under the eyes of dismayed residents, slashing through thin wood and concrete block.

Street toughs — called “Area Boys” in Lagos, and often employed by the state government’s demolition squad for around $10, activists said — got busy where the backhoes could not penetrate, smashing flimsy structures with sledgehammers and, Mr. Momoh and others said, stealing residents’ possessions.

Many said they were given 20 minutes, at most, to pack up their belongings.

“Everybody was running helter-skelter,” said a resident, Femi Aiyenuro, adding that those who went back in to retrieve possessions risked being beaten with rifle butts and batons. “They started beating people.”

What little that could be salvaged was piled along a railway line running along Badia’s edge.

“They were flogging me,” said Charity Julius, 27 and pregnant. She said she ran into her dwelling to fetch her baby boy, and once he was safely out, she ran back to gather as many possessions as she could. The police did not like that and beat her, she said, showing a bruise on her right arm as evidence.

The Lagos state commissioner for housing, Adedeji Olatubosun Jeje, provided a different version of events.

“It’s a regeneration of a slum,” he said. “We gave enough notification. The government intends to develop 1,008 housing units. What we removed was just shanties. Nobody was even living in those shanties. Maybe we had a couple of squatters living there.”

As for the new housing, “there’s not a chance they can afford it,” said Felix Morka, executive director of the Social and Economic Rights Action Center, a local economic rights group, adding that Badia residents earn under $100 a month on average. The World Bank had previously included Badia on a list of slum communities for upgrade, Mr. Morka noted.

That list is now moot. Within six hours, Badia East was gone.

“We don’t have anywhere to stay,” said Joy Austin, a mother of three. “Everybody is outside now. We don’t have anywhere to go.”

Her sleeping accommodation is now a filthy foam mattress placed on cardboard, in the mud; her children sleep under low torn mosquito nets.

A wig pokes out of the rubble; nearby are a few bras, a child’s toy gun, some CDs, a torn shirt, a crushed shampoo bottle, and some flip-flops. At the edge of the rubble-field, small boys played makeshift table tennis on two boards placed atop jerrycans while a young man pushed a wheelbarrow of salvaged wood with a small Nigerian flag tied to it. In the evening, boys who clambered barefoot over the upturned, nail-studded boards received painful wounds.

Mr. Morka, a Harvard-trained lawyer who is challenging the state government in court over the demolitions, said: “They want a Lagos that looks good, that feels good, that glitters. But they are well aware that Lagos is Lagos because of the people that live here. They are doing this without regard for the people who live here.”

That sentiment — that the government had, bewilderingly, declared open season on its own people — permeated the Badia residents.

“I don’t know the reason why they do all this,” said Ms. Austin, as other residents crowded around. “I don’t know why they break everything. We don’t expect it, now. People were still sleeping. We didn’t pack up anything.”

Mr. Aiyenuro, a security guard who said he had built his house himself, said: “We had thousands of people living here. Now, everything is destroyed.”

Nobody said they were leaving the area. “There’s a misguided belief that if you demolish the slum, they will just go back to the village,” said Megan Chapman, an American lawyer who works with Mr. Morka. “It’s completely untrue. They don’t just disappear.”

Here and there, hot anger at the governor, Mr. Fashola, flashed out of the crowd.

“We’re not criminals!” shouted Peter Patersoa, a 39-year-old bricklayer and father of a one-month-old. “Fashola is doing wrong work! He’s not doing good in Lagos State.”

Another crowd gathered. “We are hoping in God to favor us,” Mr. Aiyenuro said. “Please, we are suffering.”

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« Reply #4854 on: Mar 02, 2013, 09:00 AM »

Brazilian president confirms nuclear sub project as ‘defense deterrent’

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, March 1, 2013 20:00 EST

Brazil is set to join the select group of countries that have nuclear-powered submarines, President Dilma Rousseff said Friday.

Rousseff stressed Brazil was committed to peace but also needed its defense deterrent, as she inaugurated a naval shipyard in Rio de Janeiro state where the country’s first nuclear-powered sub is set to be built in partnership with France.

“We can say that with these installations we are entering the select club of countries with nuclear submarines: The United States, Russia, France, Britain and China,” said Rousseff.

Known as the Metallic Structures Construction Unit, the factory in the city of Itaguai near Rio de Janeiro is part of the ambitious ProSub program launched in 2008.

Under the scheme, France will supply Brazil with four conventional submarines and help develop the non-nuclear components of the South American powerhouse’s first nuclear-powered attack submarine.

Brazil already has the uranium enrichment technology required for producing nuclear fuel and wants to use it to power the submarine.

The 7.8 billion reais ($3.95 billion) ProSub program aims to protect the country’s 8,500-kilometer (5,280-mile) coastline and huge deep-water oil reserves.

The defense ministry said the first of the four conventional Scorpene-class subs will be delivered to the Brazilian Navy in 2017, while the nuclear-powered vessel will be commissioned in 2023.

“This alliance (with France) must be carefully watched by all those who are taking part because our mission is to ensure that this technology is transferred to us in line with the contract,” Rousseff said.

The 75-meter-long (246-foot) Scorpene is a diesel-electric attack submarine built by France’s DCNS naval defense firm for a variety of missions, including anti-submarine warfare, special operations and intelligence collection.

France is also vying to win a contract valued at between $4 and $7 billion for 36 multi-purpose combat aircraft to modernize the Brazilian air force.

The Rafale fighter, built by French firm Dassault Aviation, is up against US aviation giant Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet and Swedish manufacturer Saab’s Gripen.

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« Reply #4855 on: Mar 02, 2013, 09:03 AM »

March 1, 2013

The Holocaust Just Got More Shocking


THIRTEEN years ago, researchers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum began the grim task of documenting all the ghettos, slave labor sites, concentration camps and killing factories that the Nazis set up throughout Europe.

What they have found so far has shocked even scholars steeped in the history of the Holocaust.

The researchers have cataloged some 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe, spanning German-controlled areas from France to Russia and Germany itself, during Hitler’s reign of brutality from 1933 to 1945.

The figure is so staggering that even fellow Holocaust scholars had to make sure they had heard it correctly when the lead researchers previewed their findings at an academic forum in late January at the German Historical Institute in Washington.

“The numbers are so much higher than what we originally thought,” Hartmut Berghoff, director of the institute, said in an interview after learning of the new data.

“We knew before how horrible life in the camps and ghettos was,” he said, “but the numbers are unbelievable.”

The documented camps include not only “killing centers” but also thousands of forced labor camps, where prisoners manufactured war supplies; prisoner-of-war camps; sites euphemistically named “care” centers, where pregnant women were forced to have abortions or their babies were killed after birth; and brothels, where women were coerced into having sex with German military personnel.

Auschwitz and a handful of other concentration camps have come to symbolize the Nazi killing machine in the public consciousness. Likewise, the Nazi system for imprisoning Jewish families in hometown ghettos has become associated with a single site — the Warsaw Ghetto, famous for the 1943 uprising. But these sites, infamous though they are, represent only a minuscule fraction of the entire German network, the new research makes painfully clear.

The maps the researchers have created to identify the camps and ghettos turn wide sections of wartime Europe into black clusters of death, torture and slavery — centered in Germany and Poland, but reaching in all directions.

The lead editors on the project, Geoffrey Megargee and Martin Dean, estimate that 15 million to 20 million people died or were imprisoned in the sites that they have identified as part of a multivolume encyclopedia. (The Holocaust museum has published the first two, with five more planned by 2025.)

The existence of many individual camps and ghettos was previously known only on a fragmented, region-by-region basis. But the researchers, using data from some 400 contributors, have been documenting the entire scale for the first time, studying where they were located, how they were run, and what their purpose was.

The brutal experience of Henry Greenbaum, an 84-year-old Holocaust survivor who lives outside Washington, typifies the wide range of Nazi sites.

When Mr. Greenbaum, a volunteer at the Holocaust museum, tells visitors today about his wartime odyssey, listeners inevitably focus on his confinement of months at Auschwitz, the most notorious of all the camps.

But the images of the other camps where the Nazis imprisoned him are ingrained in his memory as deeply as the concentration camp number — A188991 — tattooed on his left forearm.

In an interview, he ticked off the locations in rapid fire, the details still vivid.

First came the Starachowice ghetto in his hometown in Poland, where the Germans herded his family and other local Jews in 1940, when he was just 12.

Next came a slave labor camp with six-foot-high fences outside the town, where he and a sister were moved while the rest of the family was sent to die at Treblinka. After his regular work shift at a factory, the Germans would force him and other prisoners to dig trenches that were used for dumping the bodies of victims. He was sent to Auschwitz, then removed to work at a chemical manufacturing plant in Poland known as Buna Monowitz, where he and some 50 other prisoners who had been held at the main camp at Auschwitz were taken to manufacture rubber and synthetic oil. And last was another slave labor camp at Flossenbürg, near the Czech border, where food was so scarce that the weight on his 5-foot-8-inch frame fell away to less than 100 pounds.

By the age of 17, Mr. Greenbaum had been enslaved in five camps in five years, and was on his way to a sixth, when American soldiers freed him in 1945. “Nobody even knows about these places,” Mr. Greenbaum said. “Everything should be documented. That’s very important. We try to tell the youngsters so that they know, and they’ll remember.”

The research could have legal implications as well by helping a small number of survivors document their continuing claims over unpaid insurance policies, looted property, seized land and other financial matters.

“HOW many claims have been rejected because the victims were in a camp that we didn’t even know about?” asked Sam Dubbin, a Florida lawyer who represents a group of survivors who are seeking to bring claims against European insurance companies.

Dr. Megargee, the lead researcher, said the project was changing the understanding among Holocaust scholars of how the camps and ghettos evolved.

As early as 1933, at the start of Hitler’s reign, the Third Reich established about 110 camps specifically designed to imprison some 10,000 political opponents and others, the researchers found. As Germany invaded and began occupying European neighbors, the use of camps and ghettos was expanded to confine and sometimes kill not only Jews but also homosexuals, Gypsies, Poles, Russians and many other ethnic groups in Eastern Europe. The camps and ghettos varied enormously in their mission, organization and size, depending on the Nazis’ needs, the researchers have found.

The biggest site identified is the infamous Warsaw Ghetto, which held about 500,000 people at its height. But as few as a dozen prisoners worked at one of the smallest camps, the München-Schwabing site in Germany. Small groups of prisoners were sent there from the Dachau concentration camp under armed guard. They were reportedly whipped and ordered to do manual labor at the home of a fervent Nazi patron known as “Sister Pia,” cleaning her house, tending her garden and even building children’s toys for her.

When the research began in 2000, Dr. Megargee said he expected to find perhaps 7,000 Nazi camps and ghettos, based on postwar estimates. But the numbers kept climbing — first to 11,500, then 20,000, then 30,000, and now 42,500.

The numbers astound: 30,000 slave labor camps; 1,150 Jewish ghettos; 980 concentration camps; 1,000 prisoner-of-war camps; 500 brothels filled with sex slaves; and thousands of other camps used for euthanizing the elderly and infirm, performing forced abortions, “Germanizing” prisoners or transporting victims to killing centers.

In Berlin alone, researchers have documented some 3,000 camps and so-called Jew houses, while Hamburg held 1,300 sites.

Dr. Dean, a co-researcher, said the findings left no doubt in his mind that many German citizens, despite the frequent claims of ignorance after the war, must have known about the widespread existence of the Nazi camps at the time.

“You literally could not go anywhere in Germany without running into forced labor camps, P.O.W. camps, concentration camps,” he said. “They were everywhere.”

Eric Lichtblau is a reporter for The New York Times in Washington and a visiting fellow at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

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« Reply #4856 on: Mar 02, 2013, 09:12 AM »

The Magical Realism of Norwegian Nights

The aurora borealis illuminates Olstind Mountain in Reinefjord, Arctic Norway. More Photos

Published: February 28, 2013

It was in the late ’80s that I saw the northern lights for the first time. I was 18 and had moved to an island in the far north of Norway to take a job as a teacher in a little school in one of the small villages up there. The village was located in the shadow of a steep, barren mountain chain, looking out on the Atlantic Ocean. Fewer than 300 people lived there, and almost all of them were involved in fishing, either as fishermen on small vessels, or as workers in the fish warehouse. It was an exposed place. One night a roof was ripped off and a camping trailer was overturned by high winds; some of the buildings had been fastened to guy wires. Everything came from the sea: the wind, the clouds, the rain, the waves and the fish, which were at the center of village life. Few of the houses had gardens; there was no buffer between civilization and nature. When you opened the door, it felt as if you were stepping out into nature, and that left its mark on the people who lived there. The social life was different from what I was used to; it was more raw and much more direct, but also warmer and more inclusive. Maybe because that’s all there was — a few clusters of buildings near the sea — and those who lived there were dependent on one another. A decade later I wrote a novel set in that place, and what stayed with me — aside from the odd social reality, in which, after only a few days, I became mercilessly entangled — what settled as a memory in my body was the light.

Multimedia: Slide Show God’s Light Show

Oh, that Arctic light, how concisely it delineates the world, with what unprecedented clarity: the sharp, rugged mountains against the clear blue sky, the green of the slopes, the small boats chugging in or out of the harbor, and onboard, the huge codfish from the depths, with their grayish-white skin and yellow eyes staring vacantly, or on the drying racks, where they hung by the thousands, slowly shriveling for later shipment to the southern lands. Everything was as sharp as a knife. And then came the fall and with it the dark that closed around the day, which got shorter and shorter. Soon it lasted only a few hours, as if caught between two walls of darkness moving closer and closer until everything was night. Except for a faint pulse of bluish light in the middle of the day, it was dark all the time, and living and working in that kind of darkness, a sort of eternal night, does something to a person’s relationship to reality; it becomes dreamlike, shadowlike, as if the world has come to an end. That’s when the northern lights appear, that’s when these great veils of light are drawn across the sky, and even if you know what the phenomenon is and why it occurs, the sight is still mysterious, immensely foreign. The first time I saw it, I was sitting in a car with a friend. We stopped and got out and stood there, staring, in the middle of the wilderness, spellbound like animals caught in a spotlight.

The northern lights compel your eyes upward. They’re impossible to ignore. A simple phenomenon, rays striking the atmosphere, no more mysterious than the beam from a flashlight — yet the lights convey a sense of being at the very edge of the world and looking out at the endless, empty universe through which we are all careening.

For those who lived on these islands, the light was part of their everyday life. The sun was another matter. After months of total darkness, the moment when the sun appeared for the first time was almost reverential, and during the spring and summer, when all darkness vanished and the sun shone in the sky both night and day, at times as red as blood, the mood in that tiny community was elated; people went out at night, stayed awake and drank. It was amazing, but it also felt dangerous, because the division between night and day is a border, perhaps the most fundamental one we have, and up there it was abolished, first in an eternal night, then in an eternal day.

Translated from the Norwegian by Tiina Nunnally.

A Guide to the Glow
The science behind the northern lights.

Auroras (which can happen at both the north and south poles) begin with the solar wind, a constant stream made up mostly of electrons and protons that flow from the sun. When this wind runs into the earth’s magnetic field, most of the particles just bounce off, but some penetrate as the magnetic field becomes distorted. Like a rubber band being stretched, the magnetic field eventually snaps back. When it does, energy is released in the form of electrically charged particles that shoot into the earth’s atmosphere. There, the particles run into atoms of gas, like oxygen and nitrogen, and the energy from those collisions is then released in the form of photons — which appears to us as light. Roughly every 11 years the activity on the sun reaches a peak and the northern lights are at their most brilliant, as they are this year. — Maggie Koerth-Baker

Simon Norfolk is a photographer based in Brighton, England. His latest project, ‘‘Burke and Norfolk: Photographs From the War in Afghanistan,’’ will be exhibited in May at the Jeonju Photo Festival in Korea.

Karl Ove Knausgaard is the author of the six-volume autobiographical novel ‘‘My Struggle.’’ The English translation of ‘‘My Struggle: Book Two’’ is due out in May.

Photo Editor: Clinton Cargill

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« Reply #4857 on: Mar 02, 2013, 09:26 AM »

In the USA...

Obama blames Republicans for ‘dumb’ and ‘arbitrary’ spending cuts

By Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian
Friday, March 1, 2013 15:44 EST

President warns US to prepare for drawn-out standoff after futile meeting with congressional leaders over scheduled cuts

Barack Obama is due to sign an order before midnight on Friday to implement $85bn in spending cuts, a move he described as “dumb” and “arbitrary” and that he blamed on the intransigence of Republicans in Congress.

Speaking at a White House press conference after a futile meeting with congressional leaders, Obama warned Americans to prepare for a drawn-out confrontation that could last for months and will be painful for working-class people.

“We will get through this. This is not going to be an apocalypse, I think as some people have said,” Obama said. “It’s just dumb. And it’s going to hurt. It’s going to hurt individual people and it’s going to hurt the economy overall,” he said.

Federal agencies will spend the weekend redrawing their budget plans and beginning the process of sending out letters to federal workers giving them 30 days notice of shorter hours, furloughs and even lay-offs. The White House budget office also has to inform Congress of where the spending cuts are to be made.

The hardest-hit department will be the Pentagon, which will have to find more than $40bn in savings between now and September, about 9% of its overall budget. But almost every government department, from aviation to the park service, will be hit, with cuts amounting to about 5% of their overall budgets. Only Medicaid and welfare benefits such as food stamps are exempted.

Obama met Republican congressional leaders Mitch McConnell andJohn Boehner and their Democratic counterparts Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi at the White House on Friday morning but it was a largely pointless exercise. The meeting broke-up after less than an hour without any hint of a deal in the offing.

The impact of the budget cuts, known as the “sequester”, will be felt almost immediately in some areas but most will be a slow burn, not coming into effect until next month.

Obama, after being asked why he had not been able to push the Republicans in negotiating, said: “I am not a dictator. I’m the president.” He could not force them to sit down in a room to do a deal, he said. “So ultimately if Mitch McConnell or John Boehner say ‘We need to go catch a plane,’ I can’t have secret service block the doorway.”

Unlike previous budget clashes over the last two years, neither Obama or the Republicans showed any interest in trying to negotiate a last-minute deal. Obama said a country like America should not be forced to run its economy making deals on a month to month basis and he is looking for a long-term solution: what he referred to as a balanced approach, a combination of spending cuts and new taxes.

He predicted the economic recovery will continue but the sequester crisis would slow it up. “Washington sure isn’t making it easy,” he said. “It’s unnecessary, and at a time when too many Americans are still looking for work it’s inexcusable.”

The White House is hoping that as letters go out about forced leave and lay-offs and people begin to feel the impact of the cuts, the Republicans will come under pressure to negotiate. To humanise the crisis, he mentioned janitors cleaning up the empty Congress building after the departure of senators and representatives as the kind of people who would suffer.

He used a Star Wars metaphor to emphasise the point that he could not force the Republicans to make a deal. “I know that this has been some of the conventional wisdom that’s been floating around Washington that somehow, even though most people agree that I’m being reasonable, that most people agree I’m presenting a fair deal, the fact that they don’t take it means that I should somehow do a Jedi mind-meld with these folks and convince them to do what’s right.”

Even as the White House and Congress failed to resolve the sequester crisis, two more economic crises are looming. If Congress does not reach an agreement on a budget for this year by 27 March, the federal government faces the prospect of shut-down. Soon after that, Congress has to approve an increase in the federal debt limit, a move that two years ago created gridlock in Washington.

The House is due to vote next week on a deal to prevent a federal shutdown but there is a risk this could end up in a new standoff between the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate.

In the sequester crisis, the Republicans want only cuts, on welfare rather than defence, and no new taxes. Obama wants cuts accompanied by closing tax loophole for the wealthy, in effect new taxes. Boehner, at the end of the White House talks Friday, was adamant that he will not contemplate any new taxes. “The discussion about revenue is over,” Boehner said.

© 2013 Guardian News and Media


Obama calls for replacing sequester with balanced approach

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, March 2, 2013 9:39 EST

US President Barack Obama urged Congress Saturday to replace automatic across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester with what he called “a balanced approach,” which combines “smart” cuts with reforms.

The appeal came the day after the president, complying with the law, signed an order bringing arbitrary cuts worth $85 billion into force as well as a report by his Office of Management and Budget (OMB) detailing the cuts to each agency.

Obama has called the sweeping cuts, stemming from a 2011 debt ceiling agreement, “dumb.”

The across-the-board cuts were triggered automatically following the failure of efforts to clinch a deal with Republicans on cutting the deficit.

But in his weekly radio and Internet address, he argued there was still time to find a smarter solution to the nation’s debt problem.

“I still believe we can and must replace these cuts with a balanced approach – one that combines smart spending cuts with entitlement reform and changes to our tax code that make it more fair for families and businesses without raising anyone’s tax rates,” Obama said.

He said the budget deficit now exceeding $1 trillion can be reduced without laying off workers or forcing parents and students to pay the price.

“A majority of the American people agree with me on this approach – including a majority of Republicans,” the president argued. “We just need Republicans in Congress to catch up with their own party and the rest of the country.”

Under the sequester, 800,000 civilian employees of the Defense Department will go on a mandatory furlough one day a week and the navy will trim voyages. The deployment of a second aircraft carrier to the Gulf has been canceled.

sequester Defense contractors may be forced to lay off workers and some federal health spending could be hit.

Cuts will also be made to special needs education and preschool for less well-off children. National parks could close and wait times could hit four hours at airport customs posts.

warned But the president insisted that despite public bickering, Republicans and Democrats actually had more in common than they were willing to let on.

“I know there are Republicans in Congress who would actually rather see tax loopholes closed than let these cuts go through,” Obama said. “And I know there are Democrats who’d rather do smart entitlement reform than let these cuts go through. There’s a caucus of common sense. And I’m going to keep reaching out to them to fix this for good.”

Obama had earlier blamed the austerity time bomb on Republicans, who refused to close tax loopholes for the rich and corporations combined with more targeted spending cuts, in his “balanced” approach to deficit reduction.

“I am not a dictator. I’m the president,” Obama said Friday, warning he could not force his Republican foes to “do the right thing,” or make the Secret Service barricade Republicans leaders in a room until a deal is done.

“These cuts will hurt our economy, will cost us jobs and to set it right both sides need to be able to compromise,” Obama said, before decrying the budget trimming as “dumb” and “unnecessary.”

Only three months after winning re-election, and with the extent of his authority in Washington again constrained, Obama bemoaned his inability to do a “Jedi mind-meld” to get Republicans to change their minds, using imagery from Star Wars and Star Trek.

Obama was bound by law to initiate the automatic, indiscriminate cuts by the end of Friday.

The hit to military and domestic spending, known as the sequester, was never supposed to happen, but was rather a device seen as so punishing that rival lawmakers would be forced to find a better compromise to cut the deficit.

Both sides agree that the sequester is a blunt instrument to cut spending, as it does not distinguish between essential and wasteful programs — in what Obama has branded a “meat-cleaver” approach.

New Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned that the sequester could endanger the military’s capacity to conduct its missions.

“Let me make it clear that this uncertainty puts at risk our ability to effectively all of our missions,” said Hagel. The Pentagon’s budget is set to be slashed by roughly $46 billion.

In the report to government agencies, the OMB said non-exempt defense programs would be cut by 13 percent this year and domestic programs would be sliced by nine percent.

The president met with chief political foes — Republican House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — and allies Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi in the Oval Office Friday.

But Boehner emerged from the talks to signal to reporters that Republicans would not budge on Obama’s key demand for a deal that would raise tax revenues.

“Let’s make it clear that the president got his tax hikes on January 1. This discussion about revenue, in my view, is over,” Boehner said.


March 1, 2013

As Cuts Arrive, Parties Pledge to Call Off the Budget Wars


WASHINGTON — President Obama and Congressional leaders failed on Friday to stop deep, automatic cuts in federal spending that will immediately shrink the size and ambition of government, even as they vowed an end to the rolling fiscal battles that have repeatedly threatened government shutdowns and economic crisis over two years.

Emerging from an Oval Office meeting with the lawmakers, the president called the cuts “just dumb.” He said they would slow the economic recovery and spoke emotionally about their impact on people who would feel the consequences of government layoffs and disruptions in public services.

“I don’t anticipate a huge financial crisis, but people are going to be hurt,” Mr. Obama said during a 35-minute news conference at the White House, in which he acknowledged that his campaign of highlighting fallout from the cuts had failed to persuade Republicans to consider tax increases as part of a package to avert the $85 billion in reductions over the next seven months.

But both the president and his Republican adversaries said they would not carry the fight over the cuts into a coming legislative effort to finance the government through Sept. 30, essentially declaring a cease-fire in the budget wars that have dominated Washington since 2011.

The showdown in December over the so-called fiscal cliff yielded $620 billion in tax increases over 10 years. The across-the-board spending cuts now going into force will cut deficits an additional $1.2 trillion.

Both sides indicated that for now, that may be enough — a fiscal peace through political exhaustion.

After locking in nearly $3.6 trillion in spending cuts and tax increases since 2011, the receding budget wars have left their mark on the nation’s balance sheet, said Alice Rivlin, a former White House budget director and former vice chairwoman of the Federal Reserve. But, she said, those successive budget deals have done nothing to address the nation’s long-term financial troubles as the population ages. They have, however, hurt the economy.

“It does not get us on a track to stabilizing the debt, mostly because it’s the wrong kind of cut,” Ms. Rivlin said. “No, it makes things worse.”

The two parties will now move to a broader argument over the right level of taxes and spending as they seek to develop a new budget for the coming year and beyond. Republicans said they welcomed a return to a more orderly budget process but warned they would not give in on their basic principles.

“I will not be part of any back-room deal, and I will absolutely not agree to increase taxes,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader.

After a public relations blitz lasting weeks that was aimed at stopping the cuts, Mr. Obama said he is prepared to extend a stopgap law that finances the government to March 27 if Republicans stick to an agreement worked out in 2011 about the level of federal spending. The decision will most likely allow the across-the-board spending reductions to remain in place for months if not years.

White House officials and Senate Democrats had considered making one last stand around the March 27 deadline, declaring the Senate would not pass another government spending plan unless it undid the across-the-board cuts. But Senate Democrats were leery. The first furloughs are likely to hit in April, and the Democrats feared that little political pressure would have built on Republicans before the current stopgap spending law expired.

“The president has made it clear he does not want to shut down the government,” Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the Senate Budget Committee chairwoman, said Friday. “None of us do. That is another disruption that we just can’t afford right now.”

After the White House session, the House speaker, John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, said that he wanted to avoid a shutdown and that the House would begin advancing a financing measure next week. “I’m hopeful that we won’t have to deal with the threat of a government shutdown while we’re dealing with the sequester at the same time,” he told reporters.

Republicans told the president during Friday’s meeting that they would not accept any new tax increases as an alternative to the across-the-board cuts, known as the sequester, and Mr. Obama said he did not intend to force the issue.

“Until Congress takes the sequester away, we’d have to abide by those additional cuts,” Mr. Obama conceded. “But there’s no reason why we should have another crisis by shutting the government down in addition to these arbitrary spending cuts.”

At the Pentagon, the new defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, took a conciliatory tone, stepping away from months of dire predictions of disruption issued by the Defense Department.

“Today America has the best fighting force in the world, capable of responding to any challenge,” Mr. Hagel said. “This unnecessary budget crisis makes that job much harder. But we will continue to ensure America’s security.”

For Republicans, who lost a battle with the president over raising taxes at the end of last year, the agreement probably enshrines the lower levels of government spending for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. And it gives Mr. Boehner a victory to crow about with his increasingly conservative members.

But the president will probably benefit from the cold peace, too. He said he was ready to move beyond the repeated fiscal debates in the past several years to the broader agenda he spelled out in the State of the Union address, including gun control measures, universal preschool, a higher minimum wage, an immigration overhaul and changes to the nation’s system of voting.

“We can’t let political gridlock around the budget stand in the way of other areas where we can make progress,” Mr. Obama said.

In that sense, the White House meeting on Friday signaled a new political order after the deep divisions brought on by the Tea Party wave of 2010. The meeting was subdued, according to aides, with none of the tension of last November and December, when the president was locked away with Mr. Boehner, trying to head off huge automatic tax increases. Much of the session was devoted to the prosaic issue of keeping the government financed.

All that appears left to do in the short run may be a modest measure to give the Obama administration more discretion over how to mete out the cuts. That effort is already under way, led by Senators Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, and Susan Collins, Republican of Maine.

A “regular order” process to finance the government through 2014 will start quickly. The House Appropriations Committee will unveil legislation on Monday to cover spending through Sept. 30 at post-sequestration levels, with detailed spending instructions for the military to loosen some of the current spending strictures. That measure is expected to pass the House by Thursday, and lawmakers from both parties indicated they expected a quick resolution with the Senate.

By mid-March, Senator Murray and her House Budget Committee counterpart, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, will produce broad blueprints for spending and tax policy over 10 years, the next vehicles for bipartisanship on the deficit — if those budget plans can be reconciled.

That is doubtful. Mr. Ryan has said his plan will try to balance the budget within 10 years, without raising taxes and without any abrupt hits to Social Security and Medicare. His plan will lock in the savings from the across-the-board cuts but will shift the targets away from defense.

In contrast, Ms. Murray said, the Senate plan will undo the cuts beyond this fiscal year with a mix of tax increases and other spending reductions.


March 1, 2013

A Divide on Voting Rights in a Town Where Blood Spilled


McCOMB, Miss. — In the refined air of the United States Supreme Court, the questions posed by justices on Wednesday seemed so big as to be unanswerable: Are parts of the Voting Rights Act an unfair infringement on state sovereignty? How different is the South these days from other regions, and from itself in bloody years past?

Here in southwest Mississippi, those questions are as real and solid as the longleaf pines.

A run-down brick house on this street was bombed by segregationists in the summer of 1964; a few blocks away is a boarded-up supermarket that was bombed the same summer. Down the road is the town where a Mississippi state representative shot a black voting-rights activist. A black man who was witness to that shooting was killed soon after, and the men sitting in the back of the local drugstore still debate what the witness, whom they knew, was planning to say.

The McComb project, as it was called by civil rights workers in 1961, was one of the early battles in a long and bloody war for voting rights in the South, a crucible for future leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who drilled black residents to pass the constitutional literacy tests and in return for their civic engagement were shot at, jailed and beaten.

Most people here, whites and blacks, agree that that was a very bad time. They also, generally, agree that things are much better now.

But on the more specific question on the necessity of Section 5, which requires nine states, most of them Southern, to submit voting changes for federal approval, opinions begin to separate. And by and large, there is a relatively easy test here to tell what a person is likely to think, and it comes down to the person’s skin color.

“I have to agree that it was very bad,” said Hollis Watkins, 72, a leader of the McComb project who sang spirituals to his fellow civil rights workers as they languished in jail in 1961.

“But based on where we are now, and understanding their way of camouflaging things, instead of it being very bad, it’s bad,” added Mr. Watkins, who is still active in civil rights work in Mississippi.

The voting battles in Mississippi did not end in 1965. The state dragged its feet for four years before the first Justice Department review, and since then the federal government has objected to voting changes in Mississippi 173 times, 116 of them coming since the act was renewed in 1982.

With a black population of 37 percent, by far the largest in the country, Mississippi did not have a black representative in Congress until 1986. As recently as 1990, only 22 out of the 204 members of the Mississippi State Legislature were black. While no black statewide official has been elected, there are now a black congressman and 49 black state lawmakers.

Many of these changes came about through application of Section 5; the Mississippi attorney general, Jim Hood, filed a friend of the court brief in the case now before the Supreme Court, arguing that the section continues to play a “vital role” in the state’s progress.

Mr. Hood’s filing did not go over well with everyone here. A column in The Enterprise-Journal, the daily newspaper here, was titled “Jim Hood doesn’t trust us.”

Wayne Dowdy, who as a Democratic congressman in 1982 voted to extend Section 5 for 25 years and has no doubt that it was necessary then, is also skeptical. “I have mixed feelings about the Voting Rights Act,” he said.

Mr. Dowdy is now the lawyer for Pike County, where McComb sits. When the 2010 census numbers were released, it was revealed that for the first time, the county had a black majority. Some black residents were outraged when the county’s new redistricting map, just as before 2010, left three of the five county supervisor districts as majority white. The map was submitted to the Justice Department as required, and was approved.

Mr. Dowdy has his concerns about suppression of minority votes, but thinks the nature of the suppression has changed from the time of Section 5.

“Rather than the literary tests and poll taxes, the problems we have now are different,” Mr. Dowdy said. “There are long lines in certain neighborhoods, there are voter ID requirements. And those kinds of problems are not restricted to the Southern states.”

Sitting in the combination beauty salon and laundromat he owns in the historically black Summit Street District, Tazwell Bowsky, one of Pike County’s two black supervisors, agrees that times have changed. But better, he insists, is not perfect.

“I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I think McComb would be all right,” he said, contemplating the prospect of Section 5’s demise. But the law is still essential, he said, saying, “There are other places around here,” before deciding to remain discreet about where those places may be.

“I’ll tell you if he won’t,” said Johnny McCray, 37, overhearing the conversation from his haircutting station. “Amite County and Tylertown.”

Amite County, which is spoken of in similar chilled tones by black residents in McComb, sits next door.

Redistricting and poll watchers have such a history in Amite County that the older white men sitting around at the drugstore in the county seat, Liberty, can swap their favorite election stories, many of which tend to have punch lines showing federal involvement as misguided and ineffectual.

The Justice Department is not amused. As recently as 2011, it struck down the county’s redistricting map, charging that county leaders had decreased the number of black voters in one district in favor of another, while fully knowing that black turnout in the latter district had historically been very low.

The district belongs to Max Lawson, a 60-year-old rancher. Sitting in his sun-filled kitchen, Mr. Lawson, who voted against the proposed map along with the one black county supervisor, began to detail his objections to federal intervention, which mostly involved the fact that roads he arranged to have paved were now in another district. On the question of race and the need for voting controls, he seemed puzzled.

“That was generations ago,” said Mr. Lawson, adding that many of his supporters are black. “It wasn’t us.”

Percy Pittman, who as a teenager spent nights keeping an armed vigil at his church to guard against firebombers, differed in his recollection of just how far away the bad times were. But he expressed similar sentiments.

“I don’t want stay angry because of something that happened a long time ago,” said Mr. Pittman, for nearly two decades the Pike County coroner and for now the sole black countywide elected official. “I don’t even allow my children to watch ‘Roots.’ ”

Now 65, Mr. Pittman, believes that people in McComb, the largest city in Pike County, think in terms of personality rather than skin color.  That is, he clarified, most of them do.

Asked what he thought about people’s claims that racially motivated politics were completely a thing of the past in the South, Mr. Pittman hesitated for a moment.

“I think they’re full of it,” he said.
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« Reply #4858 on: Mar 03, 2013, 08:15 AM »

Old families keep the secret of Timbuktu’s manuscripts

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, March 2, 2013 10:12 EST

Though armed Islamists have left their town, the grand old families of Timbuktu are still wary of revealing the secret of how they safeguarded thousands of ancient manuscripts from destruction by extremists.

Before they fled the fabled desert town in northern Mali at the end of January, the Islamists sacked part of the public Ahmed Baba Centre library, burning some 3,000 documents they considered sacrilegious.

It was their second attempt to harm Timbuktu’s rich cultural heritage, after destroying the mausoleums of 11 saints there in April last year.

In mid-February, the UN cultural body UNESCO announced an action plan worth 10 million dollars (7.5 million euros) to restore the cultural heritage of northern Mali and preserve manuscripts that attest to the intellectual and spiritual flourishing of Timbuktu — listed a world heritage site — in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Unlike the Ahmed Baba Centre, about 30 private libraries in the ancient town were spared by the Islamists. For several months, their owners had dispersed their collections to put them in safe places, as their ancestors did in the past.

When the Islamists entered Timbuktu last April, Ismael Diadie Haidara al-Quti, a descendant of Mali’s imperial Askia family and of Ali al-Quti, a Visigoth from Toledo in Spain who converted to Islam, fled with his family and took a dozen manuscripts with him.

“We hid them among clothes and embarked on a boat to head down the river towards the south,” said his wife Hawa Toure, manager of the Mahmud Kati (al-Quti) Fund, the main private library in Timbuktu, which keeps almost 13,000 recorded manuscripts.

“Afterwards, we looked for people who could help us, ordinary people who were not being watched. They bought caskets and keys. Some of them fled with the caskets by boat, others buried them in the sand.”

Hawa added that her husband, who has been in Spain for several months, was the only person to know “who hid the manuscripts and how to get them back”.

It is not the first time Ismael al-Quti’s precious collection has had to be smuggled to safety.

“Our library has already suffered four dispersals in five centuries, since my ancestor fled Toledo in 1467 until the last dispersal in the 19th century to protect manuscripts from the fundamentalists of the Peul kingdom of Massina” in central Mali, he told AFP by telephone.

“Unfortunately in 2012, we again found ourselves forced to disperse them. It’s like pushing a stone up a mountain and watching it roll down again,” he added.

At 55, Ismael, a renowned historian, poet and philosopher, has spent almost a third of his life looking to retrieve these scattered treasures to bring them together in a library that opened in 2003, with the help of Spanish government aid.

“Our manuscripts are mostly Korans, but there are also legal and scientific texts on mathematics, astronomy and medicine… The special feature of these writings — in Arabic, in Peul, in English or in French — is the annotations made in the margins,” al-Quti said.

Some of these notes are even concealed within the covers of the texts.

“They are family secrets, rulings, but also sometimes indications that enable ‘the keeper of the secret’ to find hidden manuscripts again,” said his wife Hawa, now a refugee with her children in a working class district of the capital, Bamako.

“Today, nobody will tell you where he has hidden manuscripts”, the 45-year-old added in a gentle voice.

“If families had agreed, like the ministry and aid donors wanted, to put the manuscripts at the disposal of the Ahmed Baba Centre, they would all be lost.”

“We’re back in the time of secrecy,” her husband said. “When I decided to create this library, a part of the family said ‘No, it’s dangerous.’ But as a historian, I felt they should be displayed. Alas, now I ask myself if my family wasn’t right.”

Funds alone will not save the manuscripts from being destroyed or trafficked abroad in the future and sold, said al-Quti, who was sceptical of the UN action plan. “UNESCO should rethink its heritage policy.”

“It’s not just money that is needed. UNESCO should directly involve the librarians and define a legal, administrative and security framework. If they don’t do that, they will fail again,” he warned.

In the meantime, al-Quti will keep the location of his manuscripts secret. “For five centuries our library has faced upheavals. We’re in no hurry.”

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« Reply #4859 on: Mar 03, 2013, 08:18 AM »

Kenya’s presidential race: a tale of two families

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, March 2, 2013 10:00 EST

Kenya’s top two presidential contenders will face off against each other in polls Monday for the first time, but bring with them a long history of rivalry from political dynasties dating back more than half a century.

Uhuru Kenyatta, deputy prime minister and son of Kenya’s first president, is neck-and-neck in opinion polls with Raila Odinga, prime minister and son of the first vice-president and later longtime opposition leader.

Fifty years since independence in 1963, the rivals say they would rather focus on the present than talk about the past but the weight of history — and bad blood between their fathers — remains.

“Uhuru Kenyatta is very aware of how his father became president and treated Odinga’s father and vice versa,” said Mwalimu Mati, a leading civil society figure and anti-corruption activist.

The two fathers, Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, both now dead, started out as allies in the struggle for Kenya’s independence from British colonial rule.

Kenyatta senior embodied that struggle. He was imprisoned by the British before becoming Kenya’s first president.

Odinga senior worked to have Kenyatta freed and went on to become the country’s first vice president.

But a rift soon developed. When Jaramogi Odinga, who was close to the Soviet Union, started to favour a redistribution of wealth and notably of land, Kenyatta — who had become a top Western ally — slammed him and fellow “radicals”.

Jaramogi Odinga resigned in 1966. He was kept away from the seat of power, never to be allowed back into the entourage of Kenyatta, and was either banned from taking part in elections or placed under house arrest, both under Kenyatta and his successor Daniel arap Moi.

His son Raila Odinga suffered from his family’s isolation, a potential driving factor for him to enter politics in the opposition.

He was imprisoned three times, the first in 1982, accused of taking part in a failed coup against Moi.

But unlike his father, Raila Odinga managed to mend fences with his rivals from time to time. Towards the end of Moi’s reign, he made his entry into government as energy minister.

In 2005 he campaigned alongside Uhuru Kenyatta against constitutional reform.

Uhuru Kenyatta, with his family’s vast riches and real estate empire behind him, had a smoother ride into politics, entering in the 1990s when Moi started grooming him as a successor.

But the 2005 alliance between Raila and Uhuru, as they are called to distinguish them from their fathers, did not last.

By the time the 2007 presidential poll came round, the two men — the first the leader of the Luo community and the second a leader of the Kikuyu community — were on opposing sides.

Kenyatta backed Mwai Kibaki, and Odinga ran against Kibaki but lost.

Odinga and Kenyatta finished up as prime minister and deputy prime minister respectively in the unity government that followed the 2008 post-election violence.

But there has been no real thaw in relations, particularly given that only one of the two, Kenyatta, was indicted by the International Criminal Court for his alleged role in the 2007-8 violence.

If obliged to talk about the past, the two prefer to linger over their previous alliances and to play down the times they fought.

“I don’t think that we should try to draw a parallel because we are living in a very different time,” Odinga told AFP in a recent interview.

“In those days there was a lot of polarisation, Kenya was just emerging from colonial rule and this was the era of the Cold War.”

But for Peter Kenneth, another presidential candidate, the history is clear, saying that “their battles remind me of their fathers’ battles 45 years ago.”

For some observers, the paths of the two men symbolise a Kenyan political system that is short of new blood.

“Kenya is changing all the time, demographically, economically, but its political class was formed in the 1960s and then again in the 1990s,” said Daniel Branch, an academic who wrote a recent book on Kenya’s history since independence.

“Kenya isn’t the same place as it was 50 or even 20 years ago, but its leaders don’t reflect those changes that have taken place.”

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