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« Reply #5130 on: Mar 16, 2013, 07:27 AM »


South African police officer charged with dragging man behind car

Incident comes weeks after death of taxi driver dragged behind police van and leads to calls for inquiry from opposition

David Smith in Johannesburg
guardian.co.uk, Friday 15 March 2013 17.13 GMT

A South African police officer was charged with attempted murder on Friday after allegedly dragging a man alongside his car for about 100m.

The incident came two weeks after the death of a Mozambican taxi driver dragged behind a police van, piling pressure on police minister Nathi Mthethwa and renewing calls for a judicial commission of inquiry into brutality by the force.

The latest victim, a court interpreter, had intervened when he saw two officers allegedly harassing a boy near a tuckshop in Setlopo village in Mafikeng, North West province, according to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID).

"After the police had finished talking to the boy, the complainant called the boy to advise him about what to do should he feel that he was treated badly by the police," IPID spokesperson Moses Dlamini said.

The police officers then called the man over to confront him about what he had told the boy. "The driver grabbed the complainant by the neck and asked him if he knew what police were capable of these days," Dlamini continued. "The policeman allegedly drove off and dragged the complainant for about 100m."

The man suffered injuries to his feet and was taken to hospital by a neighbour. A 36-year-old sergeant was arrested and charged with attempted murder on Friday. The case was postponed until Wednesday for a formal bail application.

South Africa's police ministry condemned the incident. Spokesman Zweli Mnisi told SABC radio news: "This is an embarrassment ... it is disgusting."

The "issue of command and control" at police stations needed examination, he said. "What is the role of those who are supposed to claim oversight over this member?"

The opposition Democratic Alliance said it showed the need for "a concrete action plan to deal with systemic police brutality". Dianne Kohler Barnard, shadow police minister, said: "This latest incident, the latest in a string of embarrassing and unacceptable incidents which have fundamentally undermined the image of the South African police service, highlights the need for urgent action on police brutality by president Jacob Zuma and minister of police Nathi Mthethwa. Yet both have failed to show leadership on this issue."

Earlier this week nine police officers were denied bail after being charged with murdering taxi driver Mido Macia, 27, who was dragged behind a police vehicle in Daveyton, east of Johannesburg. Video footage of the incident caused an outcry in South Africa and around the world. Hours later Macia was found dead in the local police station's holding cells.

Mthethwa, a close Zuma ally who was away on honeymoon when the tragedy happened, spent about half an hour with Macia's family representatives on Thursday and walked the 500-metre route along which he was dragged.

"Police in this democratic dispensation are not allowed to brutalise people, but we hear stories of members of the SA police service doing that," Mthethwa said. "We do not want cop tsotsis [thugs]. We must ensure that we clean ourselves up, or lose the trust of the community."

On Friday the Sowetean newspaper highlighted yet another incident from July last year in which a female constable allegedly closed her car window on 20-year-old Kleinbooi Matthews and drove away with his head still inside, resulting in his death.

Meanwhile the beleaguered national police commissioner, Riah Phiyega, this week appeared at the commission of inquiry into the Marikana disaster, in which police gunned down 34 striking mineworkers. A statement released on behalf of the deceased workers' family rejected Phiyega's "condolences" and demanded "a full-throated apology".

About 932 people died in police custody in 2011-12, the IPID found. The seemingly constant barrage of negative revelations has left the force at one of its lowest points in public esteem since the dawn of multiracial democracy in 1994. "If this was apartheid police we'd riot," posted Zackie Achmat, a social activist, on Twitter. Commentators say there is no hope of salvaging their reputation without root and branch reform.

Gareth Newham, an analyst at the Institute for Security Studies, said: "It will keep happening because the fundamental reason is not being addressed. We've had poor leadership for at least a decade when Jackie Selebi [later jailed for corruption] was appointed.

"Police have not been accountable and it's just become the way they police. They use violence to command respect through fear from the community. It's a problem that won't go away until the police themselves accept responsibility."

Newham rejected the view expressed by ministers that only a small minority is culpable. "It's not a small number of officers responsible. It's systemic, it's widespread and it's going to keep on happening."

David Bruce, an independent researcher and expert on the criminal justice system, added: "They continue to see it as a 'bad apples' problem and don't understand what kind of culture it reflects and what interventions could address it.

"The minister has compounded the problem; during his period in office it has become worse as a result of his influence and encouragement of a more aggressive use of force in quite a crude way. In training, police are told they don't have to take the law too seriously."

Have you been affected by a similar incident in South Africa? Please email guy.grandjean@guardian.co.uk


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« Reply #5131 on: Mar 16, 2013, 07:39 AM »

March 15, 2013

A Transgender Elected Official Reflects an Evolving Cuba

By VICTORIA BURNETT
IHT

CAIBARIÉN, Cuba — JOSÉ AGUSTÍN HERNÁNDEZ may not be precisely the kind of New Man whom Che Guevara pictured shaping Cuban socialism.

Ms. Hernández, 48, who identifies as a woman and goes by Adela, would sooner cut a lazy bureaucrat to size with her sharp tongue than chop sugar cane with a machete. And you would more likely catch her hauling water to her house in platform heels than trudging the streets in fatigues and work boots.

So Ms. Hernández was more than a little tickled when she became the first transgender person to be elected to public office in Cuba, a country whose government once viewed homosexuality as a dangerous aberration and, in the 1960s, packed gay men off to labor camps.

“It’s a huge achievement,” said Ms. Hernández, referring to her election in November to the municipal council in this coastal town where she represents the 2,000 or so residents of her destitute neighborhood. She raised her painted eyebrows, saying, “For a country that has been so homophobic to change so dramatically — it’s unheard of.”

As modest as Ms. Hernández’s official new powers are, her ascendance to the first rung of Cuba’s political ladder is a measure of how attitudes have evolved here, especially in the past decade, as the Cuban leadership gradually moved away from old prejudices, the Internet created new connections among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and Raúl Castro’s daughter, Mariela Castro Espín, took up their cause.

“Times have changed,” said Alberto Hernández, 53, a farmer who lives near Ms. Hernández, but is no relation. He nominated her because she was blunt and hard-working, he said, adding, “Her sexuality is her business.”

NOT everyone shares this view. Luisa Cardenas Del Sol, 72, a retired nursery school teacher who lives outside Ms. Hernández’s constituency, said she would not have voted for her.

“I respect her personal life,” Ms. Cardenas said. “But for her to represent us in the municipal government? No.”

Even as she grew up amid the rural conservatism and discrimination of a central Cuban sugar-town, Ms. Hernández said she developed an early interest in women’s clothing and had her first sexual contact with a 21-year-old man at the age of 7 — an encounter she now regrets as “too young” but denies was rape.

She said she was often beaten by her father, a distillery worker, who turned her over to the police when she was 16 — in the vain hope, she says, that jail might change her gender expression. She spent two years in jail on charges that she described as “social dangerousness” and then started a new life in Caibarién, where she lived as a woman.

“She landed like a bomb in this fishing town full of macho men,” said Pedro Manuel González, a local writer. “It was a complete scandal.”

Ms. Hernández’s honesty and boldness won over her neighbors, though, Mr. González and other residents said. She got a job cleaning hospital floors and, later, trained as a nurse. An avowed communist, she even became head of her block’s Committee for the Defense of the Revolution — the associations that, among other things, police residents’ political loyalties.

These days, Ms. Hernández juggles her work as an electrocardiogram technician and her occasional cabaret appearances as a drag queen with the needs of her neighborhood of cinder block houses and open sewers. So far, she has persuaded the authorities to install running water at the local clinic, which used buckets for six years; secured some lights for the main street; and got the ration store to order extra milk for children.

While these were local concerns, Ms. Hernandez instantly became a national symbol for Cuban activists promoting broader rights for L.G.B.T. people.

Ms. Castro, director of the National Center for Sex Education, sent a representative in November to see Ms. Hernández and bring her information about gender-reassignment surgery, which, since 2008, has been available free in Cuba’s public health system. Ms. Hernández, who has grown breasts thanks to female hormones, is considering surgery; until she has it, she is legally considered male.

“HER election proves that Cubans can overcome their prejudices when it comes to voting for someone,” Ms. Castro said in an interview. Ms. Castro, who was elected to the National Assembly in February (in a process critics dismiss as artificial because only one candidate appears on the ballot for each seat) is lobbying the legislature for the legalization of same-sex unions.

Many credit Ms. Castro’s activism with helping soften the official posture toward gay men and lesbians. Fidel Castro, in an interview with the Mexican newspaper, La Jornada, in August 2010, took responsibility for what he called a “great injustice” committed against homosexuals. Cubans remain unapologetically macho, and “queer” is a liberally used jibe, but L.G.B.T. people now hold government jobs and congregate openly in nightclubs or at the beach.

Such openness was tested recently by a highly explicit show of homoerotic art at a state-owned gallery in downtown Havana. More than 1,000 people mobbed the opening in January to see an installation by a Havana artist, Humberto Díaz, that involved two women swathed in plastic wrap performing oral sex on the floor of the gallery.

“This would have been impossible 10 years ago,” said Piter Ortega, the show’s curator. “The social context just wasn’t ripe.”

Not that the show escaped the authorities’ attention: Mr. Ortega said state security and Communist Party officials had visited the gallery and demanded a report on a photograph of a black man and a white man leaning in to kiss behind a cap bearing the insignia of the Cuban National Police.

Francisco Rodríguez Cruz, a prominent gay blogger, said the Internet had advanced gay rights by connecting gay people across the island and creating a forum for debate. Most Cubans do not have Internet access, but many download articles and share them on memory sticks.

But rights must be enshrined in Cuban law, Mr. Rodríguez said. “It’s not enough that you tolerate me,” he said, pointing to the fact same-sex couples were not recognized in a recent census. “By law, you should have to respect me.”

Some argue that gay rights have been fast-tracked while little has changed in areas like freedom of expression, political activism and democracy.

“This show is a form of dissidence — gay dissidence,” said Mr. Ortega, the curator. “But if it had been about political dissidence, it would never have been hung.”

That is not to say that Ms. Hernández has not encountered resistance. A few days after her election, she overheard a neighbor complaining that there was a homosexual in government.

“I walked straight into their house and asked him, ‘Which would you prefer, a queer or a thief?’ ” she said, referring to her predecessor’s reputation for corruption.

Her time, she said, will be consumed by the problems in her neighborhood, where houses have no running water and routinely flood during rainstorms. Ms. Hernández was not picked from the lists of town councilors for the National Assembly in February, so her political life will, for the next few years, be restricted to Caibarién.

But her presence on the council — and in the national and international media — will smooth the path for other L.G.B.T. people to have a more prominent role in public life, she said.

“I have opened the door,” said Ms. Hernández, standing in front of the one-room wooden house with no toilet and no phone where she lives with her 21-year old partner, Uvaíl Rodríguez. “Behind me, there is a space now that others can walk through.”


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« Reply #5132 on: Mar 16, 2013, 07:42 AM »

Violin played by band member who sank with Titanic found in attic in England

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, March 15, 2013 13:46 EDT

The violin from the band that played as the Titanic sank has been found in an attic in England, a British auction house said on Friday.

The rosewood violin was believed to have disappeared beneath the waves when its owner, band leader Wallace Hartley, drowned with some 1,500 others onboard the supposedly “unsinkable” ocean liner in April 1912.

But after seven years of testing, auction house Henry Aldridge and Son said it could confirm that a violin found in an attic in Lancashire, northwest England, was 34-year-old Hartley’s.

The band played the hymn “Nearer, My God, To Thee” as the Titanic sank beneath the icy North Atlantic after striking an iceberg.

Andrew Aldridge of Henry Aldridge and Son, a leading authority on Titanic memorabilia, said there was no doubt the violin was authentic.

“The deposit on it and the corrosion on it were compatible with immersion in sea water,” Aldridge told AFP.

“We also employed a jewellery expert, who confirmed that the inscriptions on the plaque on the violin were contemporary.”

Hartley was given the violin by his fiancee Maria Robinson to mark their engagement in 1910. She had a silver plaque fixed to the instrument engraved with the words: “For Wallace, on the occasion of our engagement. From Maria.”

“You can appreciate why he wanted to keep it with him,” said Aldridge.

Hartley’s body was recovered 10 days after the shipwreck, but the violin was not listed among his possessions.

It is now thought that the instrument was inside a leather bag that was found strapped to him. A telegram has also emerged from Robinson, thanking Canadian authorities for returning the violin to her.

Robinson never married and after her death in 1939, her sister donated the violin to her local Salvation Army band, where it passed into the hands of a music teacher.

A letter from the teacher states: “I found it virtually unplayable, doubtless due to its eventful life.”

From here, it passed to its current, unnamed owner. “It’s been in the same hands for the past 75 years,” said Aldridge, whose auction house holds Titanic memorabilia sales in Devizes, southwest England, every year.

“The family approached the auction house seven years ago.”

While the violin will not be auctioned immediately, Aldridge said it was worth at least a six figure sum.

“It’s an incredible human story,” he said. “Wallace Hartley was one of the most important personalities in the story. His bravery was phenomenal.

“In my opinion, it’s one of the most iconic pieces of memorabilia from the 20th century.”

The violin will go on public display for the first time in Belfast, where the Titanic was built, at the end of this month.

“We are in negotiations with several museums across the world,” Aldridge added.

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« Reply #5133 on: Mar 16, 2013, 07:45 AM »

Coronavirus: Is this the next pandemic?

By Ian Sample, The Guardian
Saturday, March 16, 2013 2:21 EDT

Last September a doctor in a Saudi hospital was fired for reporting a new, deadly strain of the coronavirus. Now, with half of all confirmed cases ending in death, the World Health Organisation has issued a global alert and scientists are preparing for the worst

In mid-June last year, Ali Mohamed Zaki, a virologist at the Dr Soliman Fakeeh Hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, took a call from a doctor who was worried about a patient. The 60-year-old man had been admitted to the hospital with severe viral pneumonia and the doctor wanted Zaki to identify the virus. Zaki obtained sputum from the patient and set to work. He ran the usual lab tests. One after another they came back negative.

Puzzled by the results, Zaki sent a sample to a leading virology lab at Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam. While he waited for the Dutch team to examine the virus, Zaki tried one more test of his own. This time he got a positive result. It showed the infectious agent belonged to a family of pathogens called coronaviruses. The common cold is caused by a coronavirus. So is the far more deadly infection Sars. Zaki quickly emailed the Dutch lab to raise the alarm. Their tests confirmed his fears, but went further: this was a coronavirus no one had seen before.

To alert other scientists, Zaki posted a note on proMED, an internet reporting system designed to rapidly share details of infectious diseases and outbreaks with researchers and public health agencies. The move cost him dearly. A week later, Zaki was back in his native Egypt, his contract at the hospital severed, he says, under pressure from the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health. “They didn’t like that this appeared on proMED. They forced the hospital to terminate my contract,” Zaki told the Guardian from Cairo. “I was obliged to leave my work because of this, but it was my duty. This is a serious virus.”

Just how serious was clear by then. While Zaki had worked to identify the virus, the patient’s health had declined. His pneumonia worsened; his breath got shorter. His kidneys and other organs began to falter and fail. Despite all the drugs and dialysis, and mechanical ventilation to help him breathe, the man was dead 11 days after he arrived at the hospital.

On its own, the Jeddah case was more intriguing than terrifying. Though much was made of the virus being related to the one that causes Sars, which spread to more than 30 countries and killed 800 people in 2003, the two are genetically very different. Sars was scary because it spread so easily and killed so often. It circulated in families, and tore through hospitals. The Jeddah patient was but a single case.

Or so it seemed. Since the virus came to light in September last year, the number of cases has risen to 15. More than half have died. The latest death was a 39-year-old man, reported by Saudi Arabia this week. The numbers are not yet alarming, but the steady appearance of fresh cases, and the fact that the infection has now spread from person to person, has sparked an intensive effort to understand the virus, and quietly prepare for the worst.

“We don’t know whether this virus has the capability to trigger a full epidemic. We are completely in the dark about it,” says Ron Fouchier, a molecular virologist at Erasmus Medical Centre whose lab identified Zaki’s virus. “We think what we are seeing is just the tip of the iceberg, but we don’t know how big the iceberg is, or where the iceberg is.”

Across from the Houses of Parliament on the bank of the river Thames is St Thomas’s Hospital, London. In September last year, doctors at the intensive care unit were struggling to diagnose a 49-year-old man from Doha, Qatar, who had arrived by air ambulance with a serious respiratory infection. He was being treated in strict isolation. The man had a virus, that much was clear, but the nature of the infection was a mystery. He had recently visited Saudi Arabia.

Stumped by the case, doctors at the hospital alerted the Health Protection Agency’s Imported Fever Service which began its own investigation. Scientists ran tests on the Qatari man to exclude common infections. They then had a stroke of luck. The night they completed the first round of tests, two scientists on the HPA team logged on to proMED at home. There on the screen was a note published earlier that day from a Professor Zaki at a hospital in Saudi Arabia. It announced the discovery of a new and deadly coronavirus. The patient had almost identical symptoms to the Qatari man.

The next day, a Friday, the HPA ran fresh tests. The results were ominous. Tests for specific and well-known coronaviruses came up negative. But a general test for the coronavirus family was positive. That strongly suggested they were dealing with the same bug that had killed the man in Jeddah. The HPA’s investigation switched up a gear. By late that Saturday, they had examined the virus’s genetic make-up and compared it with results Fouchier’s team had worked up on the Saudi virus. The viruses were 99.5% identical. The HPA immediately told the World Health Organisation, which issued a global alert on the Sunday night.

“Suddenly this became much more interesting,” says Tony Mounts, head of pandemic monitoring and surveillance at the World Health Organisation. “We now had two cases occuring several months apart, of a virus in the same family as Sars, and both cases had bad pneumonias.” The severity of the infection was only one concern though. Just weeks later, millions of pilgrims were due to arrive in Mecca for hajj. If the virus was lurking in the region, this was the perfect chance for it to spread. “You have three million people coming in from all over the world who could potentially carry a novel pathogen home with them,” says Mounts. “It took on some urgency.”

In the event, hajj came and went with no surge in cases. But more cropped up elsewhere in the region. A Doha man fell ill and was transferred to a specialist lung hospital in Essen, Germany. He recovered and was discharged a month later. Back in Saudi Arabia, the virus struck a household in Riyadh, where a man lived with his two sons. One of the younger men died. More worrying still was a cluster of cases in Jordan. In April 2012, 11 people, including eight healthcare workers, went down with a mystery respiratory illness. Posthumous tests on two who died were positive for the new virus. The others probably had the same infection, albeit more mildly, but follow-up tests were never done.

Last month, British health officials reported the first infection in a UK resident. The man, Abid Hussain, who is in intensive care in Manchester, fell ill on a trip to the Middle East. He flew to Pakistan to visit family, but stopped in Mecca on the way home to pray for his son, Khalid, who was being treated for brain cancer. Soon after Abid arrived home, his son, who was on drugs to suppress his immune system, picked up the virus and died days later at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. Abid’s sister caught the virus too, but quickly recovered.

Khalid leaves a wife, Azima, and twin boys, who will be three tomorrow. “They keep asking, ‘Where’s daddy? When is dad coming home?’, but they’re too young to know what’s going on,” Azima told the Guardian. The cluster of infections in the family has convinced scientists that the virus can spread from person to person, albeit rarely.

As the counter clicked up on fresh cases of infection, scientists focused on some crucial questions. How easily does the virus spread? Where did it come from? How are people infected? As of now, the answers are a string of don’t knows.

There are no signs that the virus spreads easily from person to person. The HPA followed up 60-odd people, including doctors and nurses, who came into contact with the patient at St Thomas’s Hospital. They traced more than 100 others who had contact with the British family. None tested positive for the virus.

So far, so reassuring. But the virus will mutate and may adapt to spread more easily, scientists warn. “That is what we are worried about,” says Eric Snijder, head of molecular virology at Leiden University. “If that happened you might get a pandemic variant that spreads easily, and that would be a major problem.”

No one knows where the virus came from, but scientists have an idea. When researchers ran the genetic sequence through a library of known coronaviruses, it closely matched a strain that resides in pipistrelle bats. If the connection with bats sounds familiar, there is good reason. The Sars virus was also tracked to bats, though it spread to humans via infected civet cats. The suspicion over the latest virus prompted the Saudi Arabian government to call in the Columbia University team to survey bats in the surrounds of Bisha city, home to the first patient identified with the virus by Zaki. The team has yet to publish its findings, but whatever they are, they will not complete the picture. The first animal found to harbour the virus might not be the one that spreads it to people.

Many scientists suspect an intermediary beast is carrying the new bug from bats to people. Testimonies from those infected are few and far between: some patients are still in intensive care, others are dead. But hints may be emerging. The Doha man treated in Germany owned a goat farm and told doctors that some of his goats had been sick before he fell ill. That wasn’t all. The animals’ keeper also picked up a respiratory infection that was serious enough to land him in hospital. The story points to goats as a culprit until the other testimonies are considered: several patients reported no contact with animals.

The new virus may be lurking in companion or farm animals in Saudi Arabia and perhaps Jordan and Qatar, but these countries are major importers of animals too. “I could easily imagine a situation where this virus is hiding out in bats in Sudan or Pakistan, their domestic livestock get infected, and are transported into these countries,” says Mounts.

No one expects an answer soon. For all the concern in public health agencies, almost nothing is being done on the ground to work out what animal, or animals, are spreading the virus to people. That, says Fouchier, is not good enough. He wants Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and neighbouring countries to test goats, sheep, camels, horses, and other animals for the virus. Since the expedition to survey bats in Bisha, efforts to screen animals for the virus have faltered. Asked what was being done in affected countries to trace the infection in animals, Juan Lubroth, the chief veterinary officer at the WHO said: “To my knowledge, there is no activity. We are very much in the dark.”

People in the region should be screened too, says Fouchier. He wants to see random tests at human blood banks to see how prevalent the virus is in the population. These tests, and those on animals, are simple and would nail two major questions: where is the virus hiding out, and how common is it?

“We think the virus is circulating either among humans in a particular region of the world, or among animals, probably domestic animals, from which there is crossover into humans. Discriminating between those two possibilities is crucial, but very little is being done to find out,” says Fouchier.

Some of the countries concerned have bigger problems on their plates, but there is good reason to do the work. Sars was circulating below the radar of governments long before it began killing in the hundreds. The new virus has been picked up quickly, largely thanks to better surveillance brought in after Sars. A precautionary approach now could save scores of lives later.

In the early days of the Sars outbreak, foot-dragging and a lack of openness by affected countries made containing the virus much tougher. The situation with the new coronavirus is similar, and has spurred European scientists to make early prepartions for an outbreak rather than nipping the virus in the bud. ”We are now really taking an alternative path where Europe will prepare for the worst,” says Fouchier. “We are going to have to do more now, not in terms of prevention, but in terms of intervention once this virus enters Europe more frequently.”

As a precaution, a European group called Silver, to which Fouchier belongs, has begun to screen hundreds of drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration that might work against the virus. The rationale is simple: if more cases turn up, in Birmingham, Munich or Paris, then doctors at least have a drug they can reach for – a first line of defence. If the worst came to pass, and a pandemic threatened, the drugs may buy time to make a vaccine.

“We are down to seven or eight drugs that do something against the coronavirus, but we now need to repeat the process to be sure that activity means something,” Snijder told the Guardian. Sooner or later, any promising drugs must be tested in animals, but here lies another problem. So far, there is no “animal model” in which to test the drugs.

Zaki now works at Ain Shams university in Cairo. In the weeks ahead, he plans to check blood samples from patients at one of the city’s hospitals to see if any infections have gone unnoticed or unreported. He stands by his decision to announce the strain to the world, despite the objections of Saudi health officials. “I wasn’t sure at the time what was going on,” he said. “I didn’t know what I had in my hands.”

Additional reporting by Mark Smith

© Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #5134 on: Mar 16, 2013, 08:12 AM »

In the USA....

March 15, 2013

Court Orders the C.I.A. to Disclose Drone Data

By CHARLIE SAVAGE
NYT

WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court held Friday that the Central Intelligence Agency must disclose, at least to a judge, a description of its records on drone strikes in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The 19-page opinion by Judge Merrick B. Garland rejected an effort by the Obama administration to keep secret any aspect of the C.I.A.’s interest in the use of drone strikes to kill terrorism suspects abroad.

It does not necessarily mean the contents of any of those records will ever be made public, and it stopped short of ordering the government to acknowledge publicly that the C.I.A. actually uses drones to carry out “targeted killings” against specific terrorism suspects or groups of unknown people who appear to be militants in places like tribal Pakistan. The Obama administration continues to treat that fact as a classified secret, though it has been widely reported.

But the ruling was a chink in that stone wall. Judge Garland, citing the C.I.A. role in analyzing intelligence, as well as public remarks by a former director and other top officials about what they asserted was the precision and minimal civilian casualties caused by drone strikes, said it was a step too far to ask the judicial branch to give its “imprimatur to a fiction of deniability that no reasonable person would regard as plausible.”

He wrote that “as it is now clear that the agency does have an interest in drone strikes, it beggars belief that it does not also have documents relating to the subject.”

The C.I.A., in urging a District Court judge to dismiss the lawsuit, had argued that it should not be required to produce even an index of the relevant documents in its possession — a normal step in such litigation — because it would harm national security even to confirm or deny whether it had an “interest” in such operations.

The District Court judge, Rosemary Collyer, accepted that argument and rejected the A.C.L.U.’s case, and the ruling on Friday sends the case back to her. It remains to be seen how detailed and public she will require the agency to be now that it must at least describe its records.

Judge Garland, the chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, is a former Justice Department official and an appointee of President Bill Clinton who is considered a potential nominee to the Supreme Court should a vacancy arise in President Obama’s second term. His opinion was joined by Judge David S. Tatel, another Clinton appointee, and Judge Thomas Griffith, an appointee of President George W. Bush. Judge Collyer, of the District Court, is also a Bush appointee.

Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman, would say only, “We’re reviewing the decision.”

Jameel Jaffer, a lawyer for the A.C.L.U. who argued the case before the appeals court in September, called the ruling “an important victory” that “requires the government to retire the absurd claim that the C.I.A.’s interest in the targeted killing program is a secret.”

Pressure has been mounting on the Obama administration to disclose more information to Congress and to the public about its use of drones generally, and its killing of three Americans in Yemen in the fall of 2011, including the radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, in particular.

In recent weeks, the administration has provided several legal memorandums about the killing of American citizens to the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of its effort to get John O. Brennan confirmed as the director of the C.I.A. Last week, Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, led a nearly 13-hour filibuster before the Brennan vote in which he denounced the administration’s drone policies and the secrecy surrounding its understanding of the scope and limits of its power to kill.

The case stems from a 2010 request under the Freedom of Information Act by the A.C.L.U. for records held by the C.I.A. related to the use of drones to carry out targeted killings.

The A.C.L.U. is also a litigant in a separate Freedom of Information Act case in New York that is seeking documents related to the killing of American citizens, including Mr. Awlaki, who was killed in a C.I.A. drone strike in Yemen in 2011. The New York Times is also part of that case, and is seeking legal memorandums related to the killing of both citizens and to targeted killings generally.

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March 15, 2013

Obama Seeks to Use Oil and Gas Money to Develop Alternative Fuel Cars

By JOHN M. BRODER
NYT

ARGONNE, Ill. — Warning that the United States risks falling behind in the international race to develop alternative energy, President Obama on Friday proposed diverting $2 billion in revenue from federal oil and gas royalties over the next decade to pay for research on advanced vehicles.

Mr. Obama toured a vehicle research facility at Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago and then spoke to employees about his plan, first proposed in his State of the Union address last month, to use oil and gas money to find ways to replace hydrocarbons as the primary fuel for cars, trucks and buses.

The president said the nation was experiencing one of its regular spikes in gasoline prices, in effect a tax on every American household.

“The only way to really break this cycle of spiking gas prices, the only way to break that cycle for good, is to shift our cars entirely — our cars and trucks — off oil,” the president said. “It’s not just about saving money. It’s also about saving the environment. But it’s also about our national security.”

“It’s not a Democratic idea or a Republican idea,” he added. “It’s just a smart idea.”

Perched on a platform behind Mr. Obama as he spoke were three alternative fuel vehicles now for sale in the United States: a Chevrolet Volt and a Ford C-Max Energi, both plug-in electric hybrids, and a Honda Civic outfitted to run on natural gas.

He spoke inside a building housing a giant X-ray chamber known as the Advanced Photon Source, described by Argonne officials as the brightest source of X-rays in the Western Hemisphere. The facility allows scientists to explore materials on a nanoscale and to study ways to improve engine combustion.

The idea of devoting some oil and gas royalties for alternative energy research has some support from both parties and from business leaders, but it is likely to encounter strong resistance from Congressional Republicans, who have been critical of Mr. Obama’s spending on nontraditional vehicle technologies. The White House says that the money will come from growth in royalties from leases on offshore oil and gas fields over the next decade, and that it represents a tiny fraction of the overall federal research and development budget.

Mr. Obama said he was seeking to build as broad an energy portfolio as possible for the country, with expanded oil and gas development; favorable tax treatment for nonpolluting sources like wind, solar and geothermal energy; loan guarantees for new nuclear plants; increased emphasis on energy efficiency; and research into long-term alternatives to fossil fuels.

Mr. Obama has given up on moving comprehensive climate change legislation through Congress and has ruled out a carbon tax as a way to finance the development of alternative energy sources, so he is pursuing smaller projects that do not require new sources of revenue. The Energy Security Trust, as he calls his proposal to shift oil and gas royalties to alternative energy research, is one of those projects.

The money will support research on a range of cleaner means of powering vehicles, the White House said, including electricity, biofuels, fuel cells and produced natural gas.

The president’s proposal to add $200 million a year to the research budget of the Energy Department’s office of renewable energy would represent about a 10 percent increase in the office’s overall spending, or 25 percent of its spending on transportation research, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

But David Friedman, the group’s deputy director for clean vehicles, said the plan could have the unintended effect of increasing pressure on the administration to open new public lands and waters to stepped-up drilling to ensure the revenues for the program.

He noted that Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, had proposed a similar mechanism for financing alternative energy research, but had explicitly tied it to new drilling, including in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The president has vowed to make addressing climate change a priority in his second term, but he has provided only scant details on how he intends to act. The White House gave a hint of the breadth of his ambition in its annual Economic Report of the President, issued on Friday.

“Policies to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases include market-based policies; encouraging energy efficiency; direct regulation; encouraging fuel switching to reduced-emissions fuels; and supporting the development and widespread adoption of zero-emissions energy sources such as wind and solar,” the report says. “And, as the country reduces emissions along this path, it also needs to prepare for the climate change that is occurring and will continue to occur. Together these policies pave the way toward a sustainable energy future.”

Also on Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency released its annual survey of the fuel efficiency of cars and light trucks sold in the United States. The agency found that the 2012 domestic fleet was the cleanest and most fuel-efficient ever, with an overall average of 23.8 miles per gallon. Under regulations issued last year, that number is expected to double by 2025.

Argonne National Laboratory, which has done groundbreaking research in vehicle battery technology that has helped jump-start the electric car industry in the United States, received a significant amount of Mr. Obama’s stimulus money. But it is now facing reductions under the mandatory budget cuts known as sequestration. The laboratory’s director, Eric D. Isaacs, who led the president on his tour, warned this week that the spending cuts would have a devastating impact on scientific innovation now and far into the future.

In an article in The Atlantic written with the directors of two other Energy Department labs, Dr. Isaacs said that the cuts would force all new programs and research initiatives to be canceled, probably for at least two years.

“This sudden halt on new starts will freeze American science in place while the rest of the world races forward, and it will knock a generation of young scientists off their stride, ultimately costing billions of dollars in missed future opportunities,” Dr. Isaacs wrote.

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March 15, 2013

As Gun Measures Advance, Spotlight Falls on Reid

By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
NYT

WASHINGTON – For months, as gun control advocates and gun rights groups have held competing rallies, senators have debated and President Obama has implored Congress to act, one key player, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, has remained largely on the sidelines of the national debate over guns.

Now that the debate has moved to the Senate floor, the spotlight returns to Mr. Reid.

Mr. Reid, the majority leader, who for years proudly curried favor with the National Rifle Association, will now be forced to weigh the relative merits and political implications of four new gun safety measures that have cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee.

How the bills are presented to the full Senate — and which ones Mr. Reid chooses to promote personally — will probably reshape the debate over what, if anything, should be done legislatively to address gun violence, one that for a decade has largely been controlled by the N.R.A.

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a measure to reinstate a ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004. The vote followed the passage of three other measures: one that would expand the use of background checks to private gun sales, one that would make the already illegal practice of buying a gun for someone who is legally barred from having one — known as a straw purchase — a felony and increase penalties for the crime, and one that would renew and increase financing for school safety efforts.

For years, Mr. Reid was counted among gun rights advocates in the Senate, voting against the renewal of the assault weapons ban in 2004, supporting measures that enhance gun rights, and keeping a discussion of new gun safety regulations out of sight and mind. Republicans and many Democrats in the Senate supported that strategy.

But after the killing of 20 schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., a shaken Mr. Reid has carefully stepped into the debate. “We need to accept the reality that we are not doing enough to protect our citizens,” he said on the Senate floor shortly after the shooting in December.

Since then, Mr. Reid has been largely silent about what types of measures he supports. “Every idea must be on the table,” he has said. In addition, the N.R.A., despite Mr. Reid’s support over the years, decided not to endorse his re-election bid in 2010, which reduces the political repercussions he could face if he pushes for more expansive legislation.

Each of the measures he must now ponder carries risks for lawmakers.

An assault weapons ban is almost certain to fail before the full Senate. But that is not its only problem. While voting against such a measure will be a boon for some legislators, many will still feel torn between constituents who do not want a reinstatement of the ban and emergent gun rights groups that have vowed to make that vote an issue in 2014, especially among suburban voters.

Further, the assault weapons measure includes a restriction on the size of gun magazines, which, while vehemently opposed by the N.R.A. and other gun rights groups and some members of Congress, has broader public and lawmaker support than an all-out ban on the weapons.

In theory, an enhanced background check bill is something both parties can agree on; even Republicans on the Judiciary Committee who voted against every measure before them over the last two weeks said they were interested in making it more difficult for criminals and mentally ill people to buy guns.

But Democrats and Republicans so far cannot agree on record-keeping provisions.

Mr. Reid and the committee members may have to decide whether to bring a bill to the floor that cannot pass and let Republicans shoulder the blame for rejecting an effort that most Americans support. Or he could offer a vote on a bill, stripped of its record-keeping provisions, that is far less stringent and perhaps less effective but can get through the Senate, and then see if the House will dare to ignore it.

Republicans and pro-gun-rights Democrats could be hard-pressed to vote against a bill that would essentially enhance law enforcement tools to reduce the flow and use of illegal guns, a much tougher vote to take after the Newtown killings than one against a ban on firearms.

The straw purchase measure, which was supported by Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the highest-ranking Republican on the committee, began as a sleeper bill but appears to have more momentum, politically and practically, than a background check bill. However, many law enforcement officials believe that the two approaches work in tandem.

Some expect Mr. Reid to bring a bill to the floor that combines the straw purchasing measure with a background check component that either alienates many Republicans or is rendered far less potent.

There is also discussion among many members about peeling the ban on magazines that carry more than 10 rounds off the assault weapons ban, to see if it attracts more support. This would also be a tough vote for many members. Even the school safety bill, in the era of spending limits, is no shoe-in. Many Republicans on the committee rejected it because of its cost.

Mr. Reid may have to decide what is worse: making Democrats who support gun rights, especially those like Senators Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Warner of Virginia, vote on things they would rather not and let the legislative chips fall, or failing to deliver on a significant piece of a gun safety agenda that the president has said is of central concern to him.

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March 15, 2013

Bill in North Dakota Bans Abortion After Heartbeat Is Found

By ERIK ECKHOLM
NYT

Little more than a week after Arkansas adopted the country’s most stringent abortion limits, banning the procedure at 12 weeks of pregnancy, the North Dakota Legislature on Friday passed a more restrictive bill that would ban most abortions as early as 6 weeks into pregnancy.

The Legislature, which is dominated by Republicans, also passed a second measure that would ban abortions sought because of a genetic abnormality or to select the sex of the child.

Both bills must be signed by Gov. Jack Dalrymple, a Republican, to become law. As of Friday afternoon, the governor had not said whether he would do so.

No other state has barred abortions because of evidence that a fetus has a genetic defect like Down syndrome, which rises in incidence with maternal age, leading many pregnant women to seek tests for the disorder. Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Arizona have all banned abortions for the purpose of gender selection.

National abortion rights groups, including the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, condemned the measures that passed the North Dakota Senate on Friday, after previous approval by the House. These groups warned that if adopted, both measures would be declared unconstitutional by federal courts.

Under Supreme Court rulings, women have a right to an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, generally around 24 weeks into pregnancy.

“We urge the governor to veto all of these bills to ensure that this personal and private decision can be made by a woman and her family, not politicians sitting in the Capitol,” said Jennifer Dalven, the director of the A.C.L.U.’s Reproductive Freedom Project.

One of the newly passed North Dakota bills outlaws abortions when a fetal heartbeat is “detectable” using “standard medical practice.” Heartbeats are often detectable at about 6 weeks, using an intrusive transvaginal ultrasound, or at about 10 to 12 weeks when using abdominal ultrasounds.

The bill does not specify a time threshold or whether doctors with a patient in the initial weeks of pregnancy must use the transvaginal probe. A proposed law in Virginia last year that would have required use of the transvaginal ultrasound caused a national outcry, and the bill was ultimately shelved. Arkansas declared a 12-week limit specifically to avoid that controversy.

But some experts said that doctors in North Dakota, which has only one clinic performing abortions, in Fargo, could face prosecution if they did not use the vaginal ultrasound when necessary to detect a heartbeat. Doctors who knowingly perform abortions in violation of the measure, if it is adopted, could be charged with a felony that carries a five-year prison sentence; the patients would not face criminal charges.

The law makes exceptions for abortion to save the life of the mother or for other severe medical emergencies, but not in cases of rape or incest.

In 2011, according to state data, 1,247 abortions were performed in North Dakota. If the ban becomes law, more than 75 percent of the procedures could be outlawed, according to Elizabeth Nash, a state issues manager with the Guttmacher Institute in Washington, a research group that supports abortion rights.

The early abortion ban was sponsored by Representative Bette Grande, a Republican from Fargo.

“A heartbeat is accepted by everyone as a sign of life,” she said in a blog posting on Tuesday as she argued that it was time for the Supreme Court to revisit the definition of viability.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: March 15, 2013

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated when a blog post by Rep. Bette Grande was published. The post appeared Tuesday, not Wednesday.

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March 15, 2013

On Western Lands, a Free-Market Path

By JACK HEALY
NYT

REDSTONE, Colo. — Deep in the jagged heart of central Colorado lies one of the world’s most beautiful backyards: a rugged and wild quilt of national forest where elk roam and bobcats hunt. It is public land, and as the song says, made for you and me. But the rights to drill it for oil and gas belong to private companies.

Stories of fiercely loved lands like this one often chart a predictable path. Residents opposed to drilling lodge protests with the government, and when that fails, they head to court. But recently, environmental advocates have begun banding together with ranchers, hunters and rich landowners with a novel tactic to preserve the landscapes of the West: they buy out their opponents.

For years, conservation groups across the country have hammered out deals to preserve private ranches and old homesteads as parks and open space, rather than see them sold off to become mini-malls or subdivisions. But the federal government is the biggest landlord in the West, and one cannot simply buy a forest or mountain to keep it from being drilled.

Instead, conservation groups are trying to buy the mineral leases that oil and gas companies purchase from the federal government at regular energy auctions, sometimes for as little as $2 an acre. Conservation groups pay the companies a premium to buy up the leases. Then elected officials draw up laws to ensure that nobody else will be able to drill there in the future. And the land is forever enshrined as open country, locking away whatever resources may lie beneath.

The groups have had some early successes. Along the Montana-Canada border, conservationists raised $10 million in a deal with Canadian officials to persuade companies to abandon their rights to mine for coal and gold along the North Fork of the Flathead River, which flows to Glacier National Park. Oil companies on the American side of the border also gave up additional drilling claims.

In Wyoming, the Trust for Public Land and groups of fishermen, steelworkers and others raised $8.75 million to buy out the oil and gas leases on 58,000 acres of forests and mountains. They held benefit concerts, auctioned a guitar signed by Johnny Depp and brought in $100 donations from people across Wyoming and the country. Mostly, their effort leaned on the largess of benefactors like Hansjörg Wyss, a Swiss billionaire who gave $4.25 million.

“It is a template of how to do this,” said Chris Deming, who managed the buyouts for the Trust for Public Land. “We were able to take a very businesslike approach. That’s key.”

But here in the Elk Mountains of Colorado, the free-market path has been as twisting and as unpredictable as a hike into the harshest wilderness.

For five years, few people, if any, who hiked and hunted and fished and cycled around the 220,000 acres of rumpled national forest known as the Thompson Divide knew it had been auctioned off for energy development. After 61 leases were auctioned in 2003, nothing really happened. Ranchers led their cows to summer pastures on the land. Guides led hunters into the mountains, toward herds of migrating elk and deer. The companies did not survey the land, build roads, file for drilling permits or take any other steps that usually draw a region’s attention.

Around 2008, environmental lawyers and activists discovered the land had been opened to energy development. Residents quickly knitted together a coalition of liberal and conservative local governments, ranchers, hunters, anglers and environmentalists to devise a way to prevent the drilling.

“It would absolutely devastate us,” said Bill Fales, a rancher whose 200 head of cattle spend their summers munching grass on the forest lands that are now open for drilling.

So the residents cobbled together promises of money from local landowners, the cattle association and others, and they made their offer to the oil and gas companies. They would pay $2.5 million to buy the leases, the same per-acre price that the energy producers paid at auction.

“We want to reimburse industry. We want to make them whole,” said Zane Kessler, the executive director of the Thompson Divide Coalition, which is leading the efforts.

Of the eight companies with major stakes in the land, only three responded, and they said no, Mr. Kessler said. SG Interests, a company based in Houston, has filed six drilling permits on the land, and said that the $2.5 million offer did not represent the true value of the gas locked in the layers of shale beneath the ground.

“This is a business for us,” Eric Sanford, the company’s Colorado operations and land manager, told a meeting of community members recently. “We plan on doing it productively and economically.”

The companies have not made formal counteroffers, Mr. Kessler said, but some have suggested that the gas underneath the land could be worth $1 billion. Now, even as the companies make preparations to drill, they have said they are still willing to negotiate.

Like the conservation efforts in Wyoming, reaching a deal would require additional help from Washington. Because federal land can be auctioned off again if an energy lease expires, advocates need legislation to permanently protect the land from future drilling, and to ensure that the rights they hope to buy would forever stay in their hands. Senator Michael Bennet, Democrat of Colorado, has drafted such a law, but has not yet introduced it.

As both sides skirmish, the 10-year life span of many of the gas leases is nearing an end.

Nineteen of the leases are set to expire on May 31, with others running out in July and August. The companies holding the leases have asked the government for more time, but after nearly a decade, some residents hope that the federal Bureau of Land Management will simply let them lapse. At the second presidential debate, President Obama said that energy companies hoping to drill on public lands had to “use it or lose it,” and residents have said it is time to turn the land back over to the public.

Mr. Kessler is still holding out hope for a permanent deal.

“The coalition is willing to raise whatever is necessary is possible to buy these leases out,” he said. “We’re in the 11th hour. These leases expire in two or three months. Our offer is still on the table.”

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March 15, 2013

Right to Lawyer Can Be Empty Promise for Poor

By ETHAN BRONNER
NYT

ADEL, Ga. — Billy Jerome Presley spent 17 months in a Georgia jail because he did not have $2,700 for a child support payment. He had no prior jail record but also no lawyer. In Baltimore last fall, Carl Hymes, 21, was arrested on charges of shining a laser into the eyes of a police officer. Bail was set at $75,000. He had no arrest record but also no lawyer. In West Orange, N.J., last summer, Walter Bloss, 89, was served with an eviction notice from the rent-controlled apartment he had lived in for 43 years after a dispute with his landlord. He had gone to court without a lawyer.

Fifty years ago, on March 18, 1963, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Gideon v. Wainwright that those accused of a crime have a constitutional right to a lawyer whether or not they can afford one. But as legal officials observe the anniversary of what is widely considered one of the most significant judicial declarations of equality under law, many say that the promise inherent in the Gideon ruling remains unfulfilled because so many legal needs still go unmet.

Civil matters — including legal issues like home foreclosure, job loss, spousal abuse and parental custody — were not covered by the decision. Today, many states and counties do not offer lawyers to the poor in major civil disputes, and in some criminal ones as well. Those states that do are finding that more people than ever are qualifying for such help, making it impossible to keep up with the need. The result is that even at a time when many law school graduates are without work, many Americans are without lawyers.

The Legal Services Corporation, the Congressionally financed organization that provides lawyers to the poor in civil matters, says there are more than 60 million Americans — 35 percent more than in 2005 — who qualify for its services. But it calculates that 80 percent of the legal needs of the poor go unmet. In state after state, according to a survey of trial judges, more people are now representing themselves in court and they are failing to present necessary evidence, committing procedural errors and poorly examining witnesses, all while new lawyers remain unemployed.

“Some of our most essential rights — those involving our families, our homes, our livelihoods — are the least protected,” Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson of the Texas Supreme Court, said in a recent speech at New York University. He noted that a family of four earning $30,000 annually does not qualify for legal aid in many states.

James J. Sandman, president of the Legal Services Corporation, said, “Most Americans don’t realize that you can have your home taken away, your children taken away and you can be a victim of domestic violence but you have no constitutional right to a lawyer to protect you.”

According to the World Justice Project, a nonprofit group promoting the rule of law that got its start through the American Bar Association, the United States ranks 66th out of 98 countries in access to and affordability of civil legal services.

“In most countries, equality before the law means equality between those of high and low income,” remarked Earl Johnson Jr., a retired justice of the California Court of Appeal. “In this country for some reason we are concerned more with individuals versus government.”

With law school graduates hurting for work, it may appear that there is a glut of lawyers. But many experts say that is a misunderstanding.

“We don’t have an excess of lawyers,” said Martin Guggenheim, a law professor at New York University. “What we have is a miserable fit. In many areas like family and housing law, there is simply no private bar to go to. You couldn’t find a lawyer to help you even if you had the money because there isn’t a dime to be made in those cases.”

Even in situations where an individual is up against a state prosecutor and jail may result, not every jurisdiction provides lawyers to the defendants. In Georgia, those charged with failing to pay child support face a prosecutor and jail but are not supplied with a lawyer.

Mr. Presley lost his job in the recession and fell way behind on support payments for his four children. In 2011, he was jailed after a court proceeding without a lawyer in which he said he could not pay what he owed. He was brought back to court, shackled, every month or two. Each time, he said he still could not pay. Each time, he was sent back.

A year later, he contacted a public defender who handles only criminal cases but who sent his case to the Southern Center for Human Rights. Atteeyah Hollie, a lawyer there, got him released that same day, helped him find work and set up a payment plan.

An important service lawyers can provide defendants like Mr. Presley is knowledge of what courts want — receipts of medical treatment, evidence of a job search, bank account statements. On their own, many people misstep when facing a judge.

In Adel, Ga., a town of 5,000, child support court meets monthly. On a recent morning, a dozen men in shackles and jail uniforms faced Chuck Reddick, a state prosecutor, on their second or third round in court.

“In most cases, they simply can’t pay,” said John P. Daughtrey, who was sheriff here until losing an election in November. “An attorney could explain to the judge why jail is not the solution and how to fix it. As a sheriff, I want criminals in my jail, not a debtor’s prison.”

Mr. Reddick and Judge Carson Dane Perkins of Cook County Superior Court in Adel both said they would welcome lawyers for defendants because it would make the process clearer and smoother.

“If we could extend the right to a lawyer to civil procedures where you face a loss of liberty, that would be good,” Judge Perkins said. “Lawyers can get affidavits from employers and help make cases for those who can’t pay.”

The Southern Center for Human Rights has filed a class-action suit seeking a guarantee of a lawyer for such cases in Georgia. Sarah Geraghty, a lawyer there, said the center had received thousands of calls from Georgians facing child support hearings. Among them was Russell Davis, a Navy veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder who was jailed three times and lost his apartment and car while in jail.

Georgia also offers a case study on the mismatch between lawyers and clients at a time when each needs the other. According to the Legal Services Corporation, 70 percent of the state’s lawyers are in the Atlanta area, while 70 percent of the poor live outside it. There are six counties without a lawyer and dozens with only two or three.

Mr. Bloss, who faced eviction in New Jersey, went to legal services, which won for him the right to stay in his apartment while his case is under appeal.

In Baltimore, where Mr. Hymes was accused of shining a laser at a police officer and assigned bail of $75,000, first bail hearings do not include a lawyer. Tens of thousands are brought through Central Booking every year, facing a commissioner through a glass partition, who determines whether to release the detainee on his own recognizance or assign bail and at what level.

“For the poor, bail is a jail sentence,” said Douglas L. Colbert, a law professor at the University of Maryland. A study he conducted on 4,000 bail cases of nonviolent offenders found that two and a half times as many detainees were released on their own recognizance and bail was set at a far more affordable level if a lawyer was at the hearing.

Mr. Hymes was relatively lucky. When he eventually faced a judge with the help of a public defender, bail was slashed to $200 cash. It took his family a few weeks to pay. A student of Mr. Colbert’s, Iten Naguib, acted as an intermediary.

“If there had been an attorney involved at the initial stages,” Ms. Naguib said, “Mr. Hymes would likely have been released much earlier.”

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House Republicans Threaten to Shut Down Government Unless Women are Denied Contraception

By: Rmuse
Mar. 14th, 2013
PoliticusUSA

It is not uncommon for people to repeat particular behaviors based on their life experience and environment to the point their actions and way of thinking becomes an ethos unto itself. People familiar with convicted felons recognize that the high rate of recidivism is based on a deeply entrenched culture that criminal behavior is normal and following accepted societal norms for behavior is foreign. For the past four years Republicans have adopted a style of governance that informs their obstructionism and hostage-taking, although outside political norms, has become part of their culture that doesn’t bode well for Americans or the government. This week, House Republicans proposed they will shut down the government unless they are allowed to restrict women’s access to contraception that defines their culture that governance entails threats to impose religion on government and the people.

On Tuesday, in advance of negotiations for a continuing resolution to prevent a government shutdown before March 27, fourteen Republicans wrote to Republican leadership demanding that the continuing resolution must repeal the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The Republicans also introduced (again) a bill to repeal the mandate to make their point that religious employers’ divine right to control women’s reproductive health, and their wont to inject religious dogmata into law, will be enforced under threat of holding government funding as a hostage.

Republicans used the absurd “religious liberty” argument to oppose contraception coverage since the President announced it was part of the Affordable Care Act, and they are again demanding that religious employers be allowed to exercise their religious liberty by denying women access to birth control. The legislators wrote that “This attack on religious freedom demands immediate congressional action. Nothing short of a full exemption for both nonprofit and for-profit entities will satisfy the demands of the Constitution and common sense” that means Christian fundamentalists demand the right to control women’s reproductive health. It is likely the religious freedom advocates are demanding contraception coverage repeal in support of craft store chain, Hobby Lobby, whose owners defied a court ruling in late December to provide copay-free birth control access to its employees. Apparently Hobby Lobby’s owner believes the law, judicial system, and women’s right to control their reproductive health is the purview of his religious inclinations, and Republicans are providing their support with threats to withhold funding for the government.

Women are already under attack with the enactment of sequester cuts that eliminates $86 million from family planning and reproductive health services, and to help Hobby Lobby’s founder and CEO, David Green, impose his religious belief on his employees, Republicans will use budget negotiations to continue Christian conservatives’ war on women. Hobby Lobby was “built and will continue to be built on strong values, and honoring the Lord in a manner consistent with Biblical principles,” and integral to consistency with biblical principles and honoring the lord is Green’s religious freedom to dictate that women are not entitled to contraceptives. Perhaps Green is unaware that his religious liberty already protects him from being forced by the government to use an IUD, diaphragm, or birth control pills, but not to force women to submit to his Draconian “strong values” founded in his religious beliefs.

One of the Republicans leading the charge to force the government to follow religious demands and repeal the contraceptive coverage mandate is Tennessee congresswoman Diane Black who early in the 113th Congress introduced a measure to defund Planned Parenthood. Several other House Republicans re-introduced Paul Ryan’s Sanctity of Human Life Act (again) that grants personhood to a single celled organism in a devious attempt to ban contraception. The measures religious Republicans are taking to ban contraception are counter-intuitive to their opposition to abortion, because better access to cost-free contraception reduces the number of unintended pregnancies, and by extension abortion, and it gives women financial freedom to decide when they begin having children, but women’s freedom and Christian fundamentalism cannot co-exist in a rapidly expanding theocracy that seeks insert biblical gender inequality into the law.

One of the features of the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate was that although it didn’t eradicate gender inequality in healthcare costs, it did level the playing field, and mandated contraceptive coverage was a major factor. However, Republicans oppose gender equality and they have a powerful weapon in religious liberty activists who will go to any means to deny women access to contraceptives as evidenced by Hobby Lobby’s refusal to follow the law and courts. For Hobby Lobby and religious liberty advocates, the contraceptive mandate is not an economic issue, it is purely religious because Hobby Lobby is paying $1.3 million in fines daily that far exceed the cost of following the law and the majority of Americans who do not agree the mandate infringes on fundamentalists’ religious liberty.

In Republican-controlled states, women’s reproductive health is under increasing assaults, and that House Republicans are threatening to hold government funding hostage unless fundamentalists are exempted from following the law, however despicable, is part of Republican culture and philosophy for ruling from the minority. It worked during 2011′s debt ceiling crisis that created sequestration cuts and America’s first credit downgrade, and it worked in 2010 when they held unemployment benefits and payroll tax reduction hostage to maintain Bush-era tax cuts for the richest Americans. Now, to control women’s reproductive health, and place religion above the Constitution and will of the people, they are demanding their perverted interpretation of religious liberty is enforced as a condition of funding the government. It is hostage taking, an attack on women’s rights, and worst of all, the continuing saga of how America becomes a theocracy, and although decent Americans are appalled and outraged, Dominionists and their Republican facilitators are celebrating and identifying their next hostage.

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14 Senators Decide the Oil Industry, Not Obama, Should Make the Keystone XL Decision

By: Rmuse
Mar. 15th, 2013
PoliticusUSA

At America’s founding, the Constitution’s framers set up the government with checks and balances to prevent any branch from dictating the direction of the nation without input and participation from all parties that is necessary in a representative democracy. Over the past four years, Republicans have attempted to neuter the Executive Branch through various obstructive measures to assert their dominance over the President from a minority position, and to make governing nearly impossible. Republicans are not really in control because they answer to the corporate world, and of all their masters, the oil industry holds the greatest sway over Republicans, the nation’s energy policy, and if 14 Senators have their way, the President of the United States.

For four years, Republicans have attempted to force President Obama to approve a Canadian oil company’s permit to build a pipeline across America because it is too environmentally dangerous to cross Canada’s frontier. Last week, a State Department report prepared by the oil industry (Koch brothers, ExxonMobil, TransCanada, and BP) claimed the pipeline posed no threat to the environment and Republicans demanded instantaneous Presidential approval to build the pipeline shipping tar to the Gulf Coast on its way to Europe and South America. The oil industry’s appraisal that the pipeline is environmentally friendly is in stark contrast to every environmental scientist in the world that says the pipeline means “game over for Earth’s environment.” For the record, America will get not get any of the refined tar sands, but it did not stop a bipartisan  group of Senators who decided that the oil industry, not the President, makes decisions reserved for the Executive Branch and they introduced a bill giving Congress supremacy over the President.

On Monday, in an op/ed a Republican representative, Tim Walberg, perpetuated the mountain of lies John Boehner has repeated over the past two years, and said, “President Obama has run out of excuses to deny job-creating Keystone XL pipeline,” but when coupled with the Senate bill taking  control of the Executive branch’s purview the message is blunt; the President will either toe the line and do as he is told, or the oil industry’s surrogates in Congress will seize State Department and presidential power and approve the pipeline themselves. White House spokesman Jay Carney responded to the Senators’ power-grab and informed them that “the approval process for pipelines crossing international borders belongs to the State Department,” but the oil industry and Republicans already knew that and are proceeding according to their masters’ demands.

There are myriad reasons the President can cite for not approving TransCanada’s permit to send Canadian tar sand to refineries on the Gulf Coast, but they are not excuses as Republicans have parroted the past three years. But instead of debunking what Republicans claim are excuses for not approving the ecological disaster-in-waiting, it is easier to cite the Republican and oil industry’s excuses for approving the KeystoneXL  pipeline. However, Republicans are remiss to cite the facts surrounding the pipeline, and none lesser than the pipeline is prone to ruptures and the oil is already slated for export to Europe and South America, and that America will not profit or benefit from protecting Canada’s environment.

The Republican excuses for building the pipeline include creating about 35 permanent jobs, enriching the Kochs’ 25% share of tar sand refining, boosting profits for Canada’s oil industry, raising the price of gas by 20 cents/gallon, increasing CO2 emissions to planetary environment destroying levels, jeopardizing water for 20% of the nation’s agriculture and millions of Americans’ drinking water, driving up share prices for John Boehner’s investment in 7 Canadian tar sand companies, spares Canada’s western frontier from ecological disasters, and raises Canada’s standing as a major producer and exporter of fossil fuels. Those excuses for building the pipeline do not acknowledge that KeystoneXL’s construction provides South America and Europe with Canadian oil, gives ConocoPhilips and Koch refineries steady profits for decades, rewards Kochs, ExxonMobil, TransCanada, and BP for their proxy’s glowing (but false) environmental impact report, indicates America has not had enough ecological disasters, and proves America is indeed oil independent. Republicans will never admit their excuses for building the Keystone pipeline are solely to benefit the oil industry, or that they have lied prodigiously to boost campaign donations from the oil industry, but of course they would not because it proves that big oil has controlled American energy policies for decades.

Regardless what the oil-whores in the Senate do, or say, or which bills they attempt to pass, Presidential approval means just that; President Obama is the sole voice in approving TransCanada’s permit to send tar across America’s agricultural heartland. The State Department said that “when EPA officially posts this draft, which will take about a week, we will begin a 45-day comment period, a public comment period,” and that gives the public ample time to express their opinion on the Keystone pipeline. Once Americans are armed with the facts and truth about allowing Canada to send its tar across America on its way to Europe and South America, maybe then the State Department, Democrats, and President Obama will take the time to finally speak the truth, and explain to the people that Republicans have lied, and that there is no benefit to this country in building what is nothing more than a dirty money-making scheme for the oil industry.
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« Reply #5135 on: Mar 16, 2013, 08:52 AM »

Circumcision wars, child custody, culture and the girl child: The issue of circumcision is divisive and is still being battled out in the US and Canada.

Rafia Zakaria
Al Jazerra
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2013 12:17

Both Canada and the US are signatories to the The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction, meaning both countries are obliged to cooperate with one another in the case of child abductions [AP]

Aden and Aly met through a Muslim dating website. Aden was a trained nurse, originally from Somalia but living in Minnesota, while Aly was an Egyptian engineering student living in Canada. Despite the hurdles of visas, borders and immigration hassles, their relationship blossomed and in April 2011, they married. The newly married couple began their life together, with Aden commuting across the border to the United States to work as a nurse and Aly continuing his studies in Ontario.

However, it wasn't long before their secret pasts were revealed to one another. Aly learned that Aden had been married before to a Somali man whom she had divorced, and Aden learned that Aly had been married not once but four times before, and suspected that he was still married to another woman in Egypt. As the skeletons in the closet were revealed, their relationship became increasingly strained, leading to bickering, fights and even physical violence. Despite all the abuse suffered by Aden, she continually returned to Aly after leaving him multiple times. Despite the roller coaster of bruises and betrayals, Aden became pregnant, giving birth to a baby girl in April 2012.     

About six months after the birth, Aden returned to work as a nurse across the border in Buffalo, New York, entrusting the baby to Aly's care while she worked. Although this arrangement lasted for some time, the violence returned, its ugliness magnified even more by the presence of the baby. In the incident that ended it all, Aden alleged that Aly had not only beaten her but thrown the baby - now eight months old - across the room. She did not, however, take the baby to the emergency room; when the child was seen at a scheduled appointment the next day, doctors found no sign of injuries. Regardless, the terror of the altercation was enough to get Aden to finally pack her bags in secret and leave with the baby for Minnesota.

Making a case

In legal terms, the child - now taken across an international border from her place of "habitual residence" - became what is considered to be an abducted child. The applicable law governing the matter is The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction, to which both Canada and the United States are signatories. Under the provisions of the Convention, a parent whose child is abducted to another country can file a lawsuit in that country seeking to have the child returned to the home country so that courts can resolve any custody disputes. The purpose of the Convention [PDF] "is to protect children internationally from the harmful effects of their wrongful removal or retention caused either by the removal of a child from the state of its habitual residence or the refusal to return a child to its state of habitual residence".

Horror of female circumcision...click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kNMC65pNsg

Since the place of the child's "habitual residence" was Canada, all that Aly had to do under the provisions was to prove by a preponderance of evidence that the child was "wrongfully removed" by Aden when she absconded to Minnesota without his knowledge. It is at this point that the issue of FGC, or "female genital circumcision", enters the courtroom. To counter Aly's case, Aden had to prove by clear and convincing evidence that "there is a grave risk that his or her return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation". To prove this point, Aden could have presented evidence of the abuse inflicted on her. However, according to precedent in the United States, general evidence of abuse of the mother is not determinative in child custody cases "except when the child faces a real risk of being hurt physically or psychologically".

To prove that the risk to child was of such a sort, Aden alleged, that Aly believed in "female genital circumcision" and that he had told her during the period of their marriage that he would like Aden to take their baby to Kenya where her mother lived and have the procedure performed. She further alleged that Aly said that if she did not do so, he would take the baby to Egypt and have his own mother arrange for the procedure. Aly denied all of Aden's allegations but brought it to the notice of the court that Aden had herself had the procedure performed and that it was Aden and her mother who were proponents of the procedure. He also added that none of his own family members had been subjected to the procedure and he strongly opposes it.

Both sides presented experts, the one testifying on behalf of Aden explained the numerous detrimental effects of FGC on girls. Aly's expert presented evidence that while the practice was still carried out in Egypt, it had been denounced by various Egyptian Muslim scholars as well as in Egyptian law. In addition, it was banned in Canada where Aly had chosen to emigrate, emphasising of course that Aly had himself insisted that he did not wish the procedure to be performed. With this set of facts then, the American court, applying The Hague Convention as it relates to child abductions, was given the task of determining whether returning the child to the father in Canada could in the future subject the infant to Female Genital Circumcision.

In the end, in an opinion of more than fifty pages, the Court decided in favour of Aly, ordering the child returned to Canada for a final custody determination by a Canadian court. In its decision, it emphasised that the basis of "potential harm" from FGC was largely speculative given that the procedure was banned in Canada and the United States. Based on Aden's own assertions, the Court further surmised that the likelihood of the practice being performed also existed if the child was allowed to remain with the mother. To prevent the child being taken out of the country by either parent, the court decided, the child's passport could be placed with a neutral third party - such as the Canadian court - that would have jurisdiction over the child.

The battle over circumcision

Everywoman: Female Genital Mutilation....click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NBEhynDDRkk

Circumcision and the inability of minors to consent to it as a procedure has in recent years become an issue of much legal wrangling. In June last year, a court in Cologne, Germany ruled that that the "fundamental right of a child to bodily integrity, outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents." In that case, a four year-old Muslim boy who had undergone circumcision was brought to a hospital with heavy bleeding, and the court found that "the body of the child is irreparably and permanently changed by circumcision" and that this change contravened the child's later rights to decide his religious beliefs. Months after the ruling, a Jewish rabbi in Germany was charged with causing bodily harm for performing male circumcision. The charges were dropped only recently when the German Parliament passed a law this October allowing traditional male circumcision.

The controversy over circumcision rests essentially on whether the practice is legally weighed as an issue of health or the religious belief of parents and the minor's inability to consent. If health - both psychological and physical - is used as the determinant, then FGC emerges as a devastating and debilitating practice that has been shown to have grave health consequences, cause physical impairment and psychological harm. On the other hand, male circumcision has, according to some studies, been shown to have health benefits in reducing risk of transmission of HIV.

However, if the issue is judged on the basis of parental consent, then the issue becomes more complicated (at least in the United States). While there have been no cases permitting FGC, there are cases - such as one in Oregon - which affirmed the right of a Jewish father with custody to have circumcision performed on his 12 year-old son even though the divorced mother of the child opposed the procedure. Furthermore, in other cases related to religious freedom, American courts have found that the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment allows Amish parents to keep children out of school even though it may harm their future educational prospects. Furthermore, hospitals in the United States confronted with Jehovah's Witness parents who refuse blood transfusions for minor children based on religious belief must often obtain a court order prior to overriding requirements of consent.

A recent strengthening of the movement to ban all circumcision suggests that the debate may be moving from health-based considerations to an issue of freedom of religious exercise. Like the court in Germany, those advocating a complete ban on the circumcision of all minors insist that the practice inhibits choice by doing something irreversible to a child's body owing to the beliefs of the parents. If this strain of argument continues to gain force (it was almost a ballot initiative in San Francisco last November), then the opponents of FGC who have fought the misogynistic and detrimental effects of the practice are likely to face some obstacles in maintaining the health-based bans on all forms of FGC at all ages.

If choice is made central to the issue of circumcision, male or female, then adult females supposedly "consenting" to the procedure owing to cultural or family pressures will once again be vulnerable to a dangerous practice with permanent drawbacks. The issue of FGC in contemporary courts then, illustrates the limits of the law when confronted by the diffuse and hard-to-quantify influences of culture. In the case of the female child of Aden and Aly, the danger then may not be the parents that would impose the procedure on her, but the cultural pressures that may influence her as an adult to choose it.

Rafia Zakaria is on the board of directors of Amnesty International. She is a lawyer and a Political Science PhD candidate at Indiana University.
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« Reply #5136 on: Mar 17, 2013, 06:34 AM »

Pope Francis: ‘I would like to see a church that is poor and is for the poor’

By Lizzy Davies, The Guardian
Saturday, March 16, 2013 20:20 EDT

Cracking jokes and ad-libbing, the new pontiff addresses the world’s media and explains why he chose to name himself after St Francis of Assisi. Lizzie Davies reports from Vatican City

As he walked on to the stage of the Vatican’s vast Paul VI audience hall on Saturday, Pope Francis was still wearing the white cassock, plain crucifix and black shoes that have characterised his fledgling papacy’s pared-down aesthetic.

In his first encounter with the thousands of weary journalists who have been covering the Vatican in recent action-packed weeks, the first Latin American and Jesuit pontiff endeared himself to them by expressing gratitude for their labours. “You’ve been working, eh?”, he chuckled, in the informal style that is fast becoming his trademark.

But some of the loudest applause from the audience was reserved for when the man of simple habits explained why he had chosen to name himself after St Francis of Assisi, the saint who devoted his life to peace and the poor.

In conclave, the Argentinian said, when the votes were being counted and things seemed to be becoming – in his own words “a bit dangerous” – the cardinal sitting next to him, an old friend from Brazil, embraced him and said: “Don’t forget the poor.”

In a clear signal of his desire to reset the priorities of the embattled Catholic church after Benedict XVI’s intellectual, remote-seeming reign, Francis added that the reminder had made him think of St Francis – a man “who wanted a poor church”. “Ah, how I would like a church,” he said, “that is poor and is for the poor.”

Juan Camilo, a 23-year-old Colombian in the audience, was impressed. “I liked most of all this part, because it is a sign of transformation of the change towards the poor,” he said. “And surely it will be a sign of an improvement of the relationship between the church and its hierarchy and the people. Because [in recent years] the church hasn’t been so open to the people.”

Looking relaxed and settled in his new role, Francis, 76 – who delivered his inaugural homily off the cuff and veered from his notes during an address to cardinals on Friday – once again proved his penchant for improvisation as he cracked jokes and recounted the anecdote in the Sistine chapel.

While he had decided on the name Francis, he explained with a grin, other cardinals had their own suggestions, including Clement XV as a way of getting back at Clement XIV, who had suppressed the Jesuits. And, in an allusion to the desire for reform with which many cardinals entered conclave after years of scandals and controversies, he said that another had proposed that Jorge Bergoglio name himself after Adrian VI, the 218th pontiff who sought to reform the church and crack down on abuses of power and corruption in the hierarchy.

The meeting with the media – 5,600 of whom had been accredited to cover the transition between Benedict’s resignation and Francis’s election – had been applauded when first announced by spokesman Federico Lombardi. In the end, as with Benedict’s own parallel audience in April 2005, the interaction between pontiff and press was strictly one way. “It is not a press conference,” the Vatican clarified.

In a brief but warm message to journalists, Francis chose not to repeat a colourfully worded claim made last year in which he accused them of focusing on and exaggerating the negative sides of the Vatican. He did, however, urge them to “always try to better understand the true nature of the church and even its journey in the world, with its virtues and with its sins”.

Afterwards a string of journalists and communications helpers lined up to be greeted personally by the pope – some of the men embracing him in bear hugs. The reporters included Giovanna Chirri, the Latin-speaking Vatican specialist for the Ansa news agency who broke news of Benedict’s resignation, and a visually impaired radio journalist whose guide dog also received a papal blessing – a fitting image for a pope seeking inspiration from the patron saint of animals.

The coming days are looking busy for Francis. Today he will deliver his first angelus, or Sunday prayer. Tomorrow he will meet the Argentinian president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, whom he has taken to task for her pioneering moves to make the pope’s home country the first in Latin America to legalise gay marriage.

In an inauguration mass celebrated by dignitaries from all over the world, Francis will be officially made pope on Tuesday. Leading the Anglican delegation will be the archbishop of York, John Sentamu. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, whose predecessor, Rowan Williams, attended Benedict’s installation in 2005, is unable to attend as he is on a prayer pilgrimage in preparation for his own enthronement on Thursday. The Queen will be represented by the Duke of Gloucester.

Of all his future engagements, however, the one that particularly stands out is his historic meeting, planned for Saturday, with his predecessor at his temporary retirement home in Castel Gandolfo. The Vatican said yesterday that the two popes – current and emeritus – would meet privately.

The virtually unprecedented dynamic has prompted speculation over the kind of role – if any – Benedict will play in church affairs. The first pope to resign for nearly 600 years has, however, insisted he will be “hidden from the world”. Francis has appeared comfortable with the unusual situation, paying an emotional tribute to his predecessor from the balcony of St Peter’s basilica in his first public appearance as pope.

© Guardian News and Media 2013

**********

March 16, 2013

New Pope Puts Spotlight on Jesuits, an Influential Yet Self-Effacing Order

By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
IHT

ROME — Men who join the Jesuits, the Roman Catholic Church’s largest religious order, take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and promise never to take any high office in the church.

So while other priests were climbing the ladder of the church’s hierarchy, the Jesuits directed their considerable energies into spreading the Catholic faith in new frontiers. They have planted the church in places like India, Japan, Canada and Latin America. They work with the poor in shantytowns and AIDS clinics. They publish magazines, paint, write music and stage plays.

And, what they are perhaps best known for, they run academically rigorous schools and universities around the world — which in the United States include Georgetown, Boston College, Fordham and the various Loyolas. Secular professions are filled with high achievers educated at Jesuit institutions.

Now, for the first time in the church’s history, a Jesuit has been elected pontiff. Pope Francis, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, an Argentine of Italian origin, has already set a new tone for the papacy. He is the first to take the name Francis, in homage to Francis of Assisi, who abandoned comfort to join beggars. In keeping with the Jesuit ideal to live simply, Francis in his first days as pope dressed in a plain white cassock. He opted to ride in a minibus with his fellow cardinals rather than a private Vatican car. And on Saturday, he suggested a humble course for the church as a whole.

“How I would like a poor church,” he said, one that was “for the poor.”

Given the Jesuits’ watchword to find God “in all things,” some are hoping that the leadership of a Jesuit pope will allow the church to engage more openly and fearlessly with the world, to project the church’s message in new ways and to emphasize service to, and solidarity with, the poor. With an outsider now at the helm, they hope Francis will be able to shake up the culture of the Vatican.

If so, his papacy could become a contrast to that of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, a quiet German scholar and former doctrinal enforcer for the church, who at times seemed to accept the prospect of a church dwindling in the future to a faithful remnant of the most devout, hunkered down in the catacombs. Benedict became the first pope in 600 years to resign when he stepped down last month.

But it is still too early to tell what is at the top of the agenda for Francis, who at 76 is only two years younger than Benedict when he was elected. The church is struggling in Europe and even in some parts of Latin America. He is assuming control of a Vatican that has been racked in recent years by missteps and scandals that peaked when the personal papers of Benedict were stolen by his butler and published in an affair known as VatiLeaks.

Going into the conclave, many cardinals spoke of the need to reform the Vatican: both to address the mismanagement, and also to make it more responsive and accessible to the world’s bishops.

The Rev. James Martin, an editor at the Jesuit magazine America based in New York City and author of “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything,” said, “They wanted someone who can make the tough decisions, and the fact that he is a member of a religious order may have given him a certain aura of independence.”

Throughout its history, the church when in need of reform has turned to religious orders for popes — though never before a Jesuit.

The Society of Jesus, as the order is called, was founded in the 16th century by Ignatius of Loyola, a Spanish knight who experienced a religious conversion while recovering from the wounds of battle. There are now about 17,000 Jesuits around the world, and while their ranks are declining in Europe and the United States, they are growing in places like Vietnam, India and Latin America.

The Jesuits are distinguished by their vow to obey the pope and to serve where he commands. The Rev. Antonio Spadaro, editor of La Civiltà Cattolica, a Jesuit journal in Rome, said in an interview that before the papal conclave, journalists were asking him whether Cardinal Bergoglio could be pope.

“And I said, ‘Not at all, because he’s a Jesuit,’ ” Father Spadaro said in an interview in his office on Friday. “We are used to serving a pope, not to be a pope.”

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Jesuit who serves as the Vatican spokesman, said that when he saw Cardinal Bergoglio emerge on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica as the new pope, “I was dumbfounded.”

The selection has thrilled many Jesuits, but dismayed others. Shaped by their experiences with the poor and powerless, many Jesuits lean liberal, politically and theologically, and are more concerned with social and economic justice than with matters of doctrinal purity. Jesuits were in the forefront of the movement known as liberation theology, which encouraged the oppressed to unite along class lines and seek change.

However, Francis, when he was head of the Jesuits in Argentina in the 1970s, was opposed to liberation theology, seeing it as too influenced by Marxist politics. The future pope came down hard on Jesuits in his province who were liberation theology proponents and left it badly divided, according to those who study the order and some members who did not want to be identified because he is now pope.

He was made a bishop and a cardinal by John Paul II. Jesuits may become bishops, but must have the approval of their superior, because the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius, lamented the clerical careerism of his age. Jesuits are aware that their first pope will bring new attention and scrutiny to their order, and while they are excited, they are also wary. “It’s a good chance for us to help people to understand better our spirituality,” Father Spadaro said. “But we like to do our job, not to be under the lights. So we’ll just see.”

**********

March 16, 2013

With Blessing, Pope Shows an Openness to Other Faiths

By RACHEL DONADIO
IHT

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Saturday offered a silent blessing to an audience of journalists and other news media workers, acknowledging that not all of them were Catholic or believers — a rare gesture for a pontiff and a sign of openness toward other faiths and engagement with the secular world.

“Given that many of you do not belong to the Catholic Church, and others are not believers, I give this blessing from my heart, in silence, to each one of you, respecting the conscience of each one of you, but knowing that each one of you is a child of God,” he said. “May God bless you.”

The pope, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, was concluding an audience with thousands of members of the news media and press operators, who have been in Rome for the conclave in which he was elected last Wednesday.

In his address on Saturday, he offered his impressions of the conclave and said that he had chosen his name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, who worked for the poor and for peace.

“Let me tell you a story,” he said. He then recounted how during the conclave he had sat next to Cardinal Cláudio Hummes of Brazil, whom he called “a great friend.”

After the voting, Cardinal Hummes “hugged me, he kissed me and he said, ‘Don’t forget the poor!’ And that word entered here,” the pope said, pointing to his heart.

“I thought of wars, while the voting continued, through all the votes,” he said as he sat on the stage in a hall inside the Vatican. “And Francis is the man of peace. And that way the name came about, came into my heart: Francis of Assisi.”

Francis joked that some of his fellow cardinals had suggested other names, including Adrian, since Adrian VI had been “a reformer, and we need to reform.” Others suggested Clement XV, to improve on the legacy of Clement XIV, who in the 16th century had tried to suppress the Jesuit order to which Francis belongs.

The pope’s remarks were a marked change in tone from those of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, the pope emeritus, who was more reserved by nature and rarely spoke of personal recollections.

Francis called on the news media to help communicate that the Roman Catholic Church is not a political institution, but something built on faith, guided by the Holy Spirit and aimed at promoting “truth, goodness and beauty.”

In greeting the thousands of bleary-eyed news media workers, who have been following the Vatican closely since Benedict announced his resignation last month, Francis said: “You’ve worked hard, no? You’ve worked hard!” The audience erupted into applause.

The new pope has a busy week ahead, including plans for a private visit on March 23 to see Benedict at Castel Gandolfo, the papal residence outside Rome where the pope emeritus is living until he moves into a convent on the Vatican grounds this spring.

Benedict’s surprise resignation last month has raised theological and logistical issues, and the relationship between the two men will be closely scrutinized.



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« Reply #5137 on: Mar 17, 2013, 06:37 AM »

Spanish anti-austerity protesters accuse E.U. of servility to markets

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, March 16, 2013 19:00 EDT

Thousands of protesters marched Saturday in Madrid and other cities in Spain against European Union leaders’ handling of the financial crisis, condemning “an EU that belongs to the markets”.

The marches, organised by Spain’s “indignados” protest movement, came after Cyprus announced it would dip into its citizens’ bank accounts to help save the government from a debt default, part of a 10-billion-euro ($13-billion) EU bailout deal.

“We don’t owe anything. We won’t pay anything,” said a banner carried by protesters in the northern city of Valladolid, a rallying cry echoed at the march in Madrid.

“Get out Troika,” protesters chanted in the capital, a reference to the trio of creditors — the EU, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — that are overseeing eurozone bailouts brought on by the debt crisis.

In Madrid, the protesters marched to Puerta del Sol, a central square that was occupied for several months by the indignados, whose movement was born in May 2011 and inspired Occupy protests in other countries.

Their slogans and banners covered a wide array of issues ranging from austerity cuts to corruption scandals to unemployment.

“We want to condemn the situation in Europe, where they save the bankers but make us all pay,” said Teresa Partida, an unemployed 60-year-old woman.

“They’re swindlers, thieves. They should be ashamed,” said Begonia Crespo, a 52-year-old actress, condemning a scandal in which leaders of Spain’s right-wing ruling party allegedly received envelopes stuffed with cash.

Spain has been hit hard by austerity measures imposed under pressure from the EU to get its accounts in order. The government is aiming for 150 billion euros in savings by the end of 2014.

It cut its deficit from 9.4 percent of gross domestic product in 2011 to 6.7 percent in 2012, but has been unable to cut its 26-percent unemployment rate or halt a grinding recession that saw the economy shrink 1.4 percent last year.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]


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« Reply #5138 on: Mar 17, 2013, 06:39 AM »

Greek Jews commemorate Auschwitz deportation anniversary

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, March 16, 2013 11:44 EDT

Greece’s second largest city Thessaloniki on Saturday commemorated the 70th anniversary of the first deportation of its Jews to the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Around one thousand people walked in a silent march to the old railway station where the first train left Greece’s northern city for the notorious death camp on March 15, 1943.

Flowers were thrown onto the rails after the march, and the Thessaloniki Jewish Community Choir gave a performance.

Among the people taking part in the solemn walk was Israeli violinist Ivry Gitlis, according to an AFP reporter.

Robert S. Lauder, who heads the World Jewish Congress, and Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, are also attending this weekend’s anniversary events.

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is expected to address a commemoration ceremony on Sunday.

Thessaloniki, a multi-cultural city that served as a link between the Balkans and the East and which counted more than 50,000 Jews before World War II, today has a Jewish population of only about 1,000.

“The Jewish community is very small now and nobody believes it will be as big as it was,” Thessaloniki mayor Yiannis Boutaris told AFP.

“What we try to do is bring out the heritage… and not only the heritage of the Jews, but also of the Turks and the Greeks that have been living together here in peaceful coexistence,” he added.

More than one million people, mostly European Jews, perished at Auschwitz-Birkenau, operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland from 1940 to 1945.

Amid worry about the rise of Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, Jewish leaders from around the world have arrived in Thessaloniki to commemorate an event that decimated the Jewish population of the so-called “Jerusalem of the Balkans.”

“Greek Jews are currently adversely affected by the country’s deep economic problems and by the rise of the extremist Golden Dawn, a movement whose leaders openly deny the Holocaust,” the World Jewish Congress said in a press release.

For the first time in Greek political history, the party elected 18 deputies to the country’s 300-seat parliament after elections in June.

“The Golden Dawn are suing me because I have said it is a shame to have a Nazi party in parliament,” Boutaris told AFP.

“The case is pending. But it is true that they don’t respect democracy, they don’t respect human beings and they don’t have any place in society,” he added.


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« Reply #5139 on: Mar 17, 2013, 06:45 AM »


Cyprus: panic as savings levy is imposed

Cypriots rush to ATMs before savings are docked as part of a bailout deal agreed in Brussels

Paul Gallagher and Helena Smith   
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 16 March 2013 19.14 GMT   

Cypriots reacted with shock that turned to panic on Saturday after a 10% one-off levy on savings was forced on them as part of an extraordinary 10bn euro (£8.7bn) bailout agreed in Brussels.

People rushed to banks and queued at cash machines that refused to release cash as resentment quickly set in. The savers, half of whom are thought to be non-resident Russians, will raise almost €6bn thanks to a deal reached by European partners and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It is the first time a bailout has included such a measure and Cyprus is the fifth country after Greece, the Republic of Ireland, Portugal and Spain to turn to the eurozone for financial help during the region's debt crisis. The move in the eurozone's third smallest economy could have repercussions for financially overstretched bigger economies such as Spain and Italy.

People with less than 100,000 euros in their accounts will have to pay a one-time tax of 6.75%, Eurozone officials said, while those with greater sums will lose 9.9%. Without a rescue, president Nicos Anastasiades said Cyprus would default and threaten to unravel investor confidence in the eurozone. The Cypriot leader, who was elected last month on a promise to tackle the country's debt crisis, will make a statement to the nation on Sunday.

The prospect of savings being so savagely docked sparked terror among the island's resident British community. At the Anglican Church's weekly Saturday thrift shop gathering in Nicosia, Cyprus's war-divided capital, ex-pats expressed alarm with many saying that they had also rushed to ATMs to withdraw money from their accounts. "There's a run on banks. A lot of us are really panicking. The big fear is that there soon won't be cash in ATMs," said Arlene Skillett, a resident in Nicosia. "People are worried that they're automatically going to lose ten present [of their savings] in deposit accounts. Anastasiades won elections saying he wouldn't allow this to happen."

She said a lot of elderly Britons had transferred savings to the island when they had decided to retire there. "Nobody can understand how they can do this – isn't it illegal? How can they just dock money from your account?" she asked.

In the coastal town of Larnaca, Cypriots described how they had queued from the early hours in the hope of withdrawing deposits from banks. "A lot of us just can't believe it," said Alexandra Christofi, a divorcee in her 40s who said she had rushed to her bank before doors even opened at 6am. "I had put my money there for a rainy day. It's absolutely all I have and I cannot understand how Cyprus is being singled out. Other EU countries got bailouts and we're only in this position because we supported Greece," she said, referring to the massive losses the Cypriot banking system suffered as a result of Greece's restructuring its debt last year. "Where is the fairness in that? Where is the solidarity and support that is meant to be the reason why we are all unified in this common currency in the first place?"

Maria Zembyla, from Nicosia, said the levy would make a "big dent" in her family's savings and "erode the investor confidence". "It is robbery. People like us have been working for years, saving to pay for our children's studies and pensions and suddenly they steal a big share of this money. Russians that currently keep the economy afloat will leave the country along with their money," she added.

Howard Skelton, in Limassol, said: "The only people who will benefit in the long term are the banks. It will be many years before the man in the street begins to feel any benefit from this bailout. The sooner I can return to the UK the better."

The levy does not take effect until Tuesday, following a public holiday, but action is being taken to control electronic money transfers over the weekend. Co-operative banks, the only ones open in Cyprus on a Saturday, closed following a run on the credit societies while ATMs cancelled transactions due to "technical issues".

"I wish I was not the minister to do this," Cypriot finance minister Michael Sarris said after Friday's late-night talks in Brussels. "Much more money could have been lost in a bankruptcy of the banking system or indeed of the country."

Depositors started queuing early to withdraw their cash, and protestors gathered outside the presidential palace. "I'm extremely angry. I worked years and years to get it together and now I am losing it on the say-so of the Dutch and the Germans," said British-Cypriot Andy Georgiou, 54, who returned to Cyprus in mid-2012 with his savings.

"They call Sicily the island of the mafia. It's not Sicily, it's Cyprus. This is theft, pure and simple," said a pensioner.

IMF managing director Christine Lagarde, who attended the meeting, said she backed the deal and would ask her board in Washington to contribute to the bailout. "We believe the proposal is sustainable for the Cyprus economy," she said, "The IMF is considering proposing a contribution to the financing of the package. The exact amount is not yet specified."

********

Cyprus savings levy: UK government to compensate troops and civil servants

George Osborne says military personnel and civil servants in Cyprus facing levy on savings will be compensated

Nicholas Watt, Paul Gallagher and Helena Smith   
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 17 March 2013 11.04 GMT   

The government is to protect the savings of British military personnel and civil servants in Cyprus who were facing the prospect of a levy as part of the €10bn (£8.7bn) eurozone bailout on the Mediterranean island, George Osborne has announced.

The chancellor also told The Andrew Marr Show on BBC1 that Cypriot banks based in the UK would be unaffected by the 9.99% levy on savings over €100,000. There will also be a 6.78% levy on savings below €100,000.

The chancellor said: "What I would say about the Cyprus situation is first of all we are not part of the bailout because David Cameron got us out of these euro bailouts when he became prime minister.

"Second, the Cypriot banks in Britain are not going to be included in this bank tax. It is a very difficult situation for people who live in Cyprus.

"But I can tell you that for people serving in our military, people serving our government out in Cyprus – because we have military bases there – we are going to compensate anyone who is affected by this bank tax. People who are doing their duty for our country in Cyprus will be protected from this Cypriot bank tax."

Around €2bn of British deposits are estimated to be held in Cyprus, including accounts for British-born Cypriots, some of the 3,500 military personnel on the island and holiday-homeowners.

Meanwhile Cyprus's parliament has postponed an emergency session due to take place on Sunday to discuss the levy on bank savings. All meetings have been put off until Monday, according to the Cyprus News Agency.

Earlier the Cypriot president, Nicos Anastasiades, had delayed an informal meeting of politicians, after growing unrest following the news of the one-off levy.

Cyprus is the fifth country to have asked for aid from the eurozone, but this is the first time a deal has called for savers to sacrifice some of their cash holdings in what is seen as a dangerous precedent.

The agreement also called for a 2.5 percentage point increase in corporation tax, a bank restructuring and exchanging bank bonds for less valuable equity.

Sharon Bowles, chair of the European parliament's economic and monetary affairs committee, said she was appalled by the Cyprus bailout. "This grabbing of ordinary depositors' money is billed as a tax, so as to try and circumvent the EU's deposit guarantee laws," she said. "It robs smaller investors of the protection they were promised. If this were a bank, they would be in court for mis-selling."

The bailout agreed by eurozone ministers and the International Monetary Fund was needed to prevent Cypus defaulting on its debts. The island ran into trouble after its banks were hit by a restructuring of Greece's sovereign debt.

The Cypriot finance minister, Michael Sarris, said after 10 hours of talks which ended with the agreement: "I wish I was not the minister to do this. Much more money could have been lost in a bankruptcy of the banking system or indeed of the country."

But the news led to frenzied attempts by Cypriots to withdraw money from their bank accounts on Saturday.

People rushed to banks and queued at cash machines that refused to release cash as resentment quickly set in. The savers, half of whom are thought to be non-resident Russians, will raise almost €6bn. The move in the eurozone's third smallest economy could have repercussions for financially overstretched bigger economies such as Spain and Italy.

People with less than €100,000 in their accounts will have to pay a one-time tax of 6.75%, Eurozone officials said, while those with greater sums will lose 9.9%.

The prospect of savings being so savagely docked sparked terror among the island's resident British community. At the Anglican Church's weekly Saturday thrift shop gathering in Nicosia, Cyprus's capital, ex-pats expressed alarm with many saying that they had also rushed to ATMs to withdraw money from their accounts.

"There's a run on banks. A lot of us are really panicking. The big fear is that there soon won't be cash in ATMs," said Arlene Skillett, a resident in Nicosia. "People are worried that they're automatically going to lose 10% [of their savings] in deposit accounts. Anastasiades won elections saying he wouldn't allow this to happen."

She said a lot of elderly Britons had transferred savings to the island when they had decided to retire there. "Nobody can understand how they can do this – isn't it illegal? How can they just dock money from your account?" she asked.

In the coastal town of Larnaca, Cypriots described how they had queued from the early hours in the hope of withdrawing deposits from banks.

"A lot of us just can't believe it," said Alexandra Christofi, a divorcee in her 40s who said she had rushed to her bank before doors even opened at 6am.

"I had put my money there for a rainy day. It's absolutely all I have and I cannot understand how Cyprus is being singled out. Other EU countries got bailouts and we're only in this position because we supported Greece," she said, referring to the massive losses the Cypriot banking system suffered as a result of Greece's restructuring its debt last year. "Where is the fairness in that? Where is the solidarity and support that is meant to be the reason why we are all unified in this common currency in the first place?"

Maria Zembyla, from Nicosia, said the levy would make a "big dent" in her family's savings and "erode the investor confidence". "It is robbery. People like us have been working for years, saving to pay for our children's studies and pensions and suddenly they steal a big share of this money. Russians that currently keep the economy afloat will leave the country along with their money," she added.

Howard Skelton, in Limassol, said: "The only people who will benefit in the long term are the banks. It will be many years before the man in the street begins to feel any benefit from this bailout. The sooner I can return to the UK the better."

The levy does not take effect until Tuesday, following a public holiday, but action was being taken to control electronic money transfers over the weekend. Co-operative banks, the only ones open in Cyprus on a Saturday, closed following a run on the credit societies while ATMs cancelled transactions due to "technical issues".

Depositors started queuing early to withdraw their cash, and protestors gathered outside the presidential palace. "I'm extremely angry. I worked years and years to get it together and now I am losing it on the say-so of the Dutch and the Germans," said British-Cypriot Andy Georgiou, 54, who returned to Cyprus in mid-2012 with his savings.

"They call Sicily the island of the mafia. It's not Sicily, it's Cyprus. This is theft, pure and simple," said a pensioner.

The IMF managing director, Christine Lagarde, who attended the meeting, said she backed the deal and would ask her board in Washington to contribute to the bailout.

"We believe the proposal is sustainable for the Cyprus economy," she said, "The IMF is considering proposing a contribution to the financing of the package. The exact amount is not yet specified."

**********

Brussels officials dispute over Cyprus's financial future

German policymakers have outlawed use of the European Stability Mechanism in rescuing Cyprus, fearing the country will remain unable to repay debts.

Phillip Inman   
The Observer, Saturday 16 March 2013 20.40 GMT   

Officials in Brussels have wrangled over a rescue plan for Cyprus since it became obvious the island government had few resources of its own to meet debt repayments.

With debts almost equal to its annual national income of €17bn and few taxpayers to tap for funds after years as a tax haven, a plan was hatched to tax bank deposits to generate some €5bn alongside €10bn in loans on offer from the troika and a possible €2bn loan from Russia.

Inside the eurozone, Cyprus has become one of the most leveraged countries in the world. Its banking system has assets equivalent to eight times the country's gross domestic product (GDP), much of it in the form of loans linked to Russian oligarchs.

Some policymakers wanted to involve the European Stability Mechanism, which has provided loans to Ireland, Portugal and Greece. But the German outlawed this route, arguing that it would repeat the same mistake made during the rescue of Greece, which involved throwing money at a situation with little hope of ever being repaid.

Ireland forced second ranking bank bondholders to take some of the hit following its rescue by Brussels. Spain and the Netherlands have also punished bondholders rather than spend only taxpayer money rescuing their banks. However, Cyprus banks issued only small amounts of subordinated debts, leaving depositors to take the strain.

Berlin, which is still pressing for a banking union to support future bailouts, wanted Cypriots to make a cash contribution rather than place all the emphasis on loans to be paid back years later.




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« Reply #5140 on: Mar 17, 2013, 06:47 AM »


Is Nicolas Sarkozy ready to be France's comeback kid?

The voters have lost faith in François Hollande, the ex-president has spoken of his duty to return to politics – and his friends are filling a war chest

Kim Willsher in Paris
The Observer, Sunday 17 March 2013   

As he reflected on the future, nearly 12 months after leaving the Elysée Palace, Nicolas Sarkozy must have enjoyed a frisson of schadenfreude while studying the latest poll for Paris Match magazine. According to the figures from pollsters Ifop, if last year's presidential election were held today he would gain 53% of the national vote, compared with the 44% of his successor as president, François Hollande.

Startling figures. But is a Sarko comeback really possible? Could a man who plumbed the depths of unpopularity in the "bling" phase of his presidency, and who told the French after his defeat "you will never hear from me again" go back on the stump after all?

Never one to go quietly despite what he said, Sarkozy publicly mulled a return to the political frontline "out of duty, not desire" in a recent interview. Though he insisted "politics bores me to death" and claimed he would rather do the daily school run with his daughter Giulia and listen to his wife, supermodel turned singer Carla Bruni, strumming her guitar, few were fooled. Indeed, it would be hard to find a French voter today who thinks Sarkozy will not try to make a comeback. Bruni's latest album, Le Pengouin, which appears to take satirical aim at Hollande, has further fuelled rumours of a return to the fray.

The former justice minister and Euro-MP Rachida Dati, whose efforts to get Sarkozy elected in 2007 earned her a top cabinet post, told the Observer: "Politics is in Nicolas Sarkozy's DNA. He will always be interested in politics."

In many countries, losing an election, being mired in several alleged scandals and being fond of money and what it can buy – flashy watches and luxury holidays, for example – at a time of economic crisis, would bring the final curtain down on a career. In France, however, politicians rarely hang up their ambitions; returning to save the nation is as great a cliche as the British political trope of giving it all up to "spend time with the family".

"France has a tradition of the 'saviour' waiting in the wings for the call of destiny to return and rescue the nation," said Matthew Fraser, a professor at the Paris-based Institute of Political Studies and the American University of Paris. "There's an acceptance in France that politicians never retire or leave to do other things, like write their memoirs, as they do in Britain and America. In France, politicians stay in the game plotting a comeback, sometimes for decades."

Fraser points out that General Charles de Gaulle spent more than a decade in the political wilderness in the 1950s before returning to create the existing Fifth Republic. The Socialist François Mitterrand first ran for president in 1965, finally winning in 1981 and eventually leaving office in 1995. His centre-right successor, Jacques Chirac, stood in 1981, did not win until 1995 and retired in 2007. "French politics was a battle between Mitterrand and Chirac for nearly 30 years. Sarkozy understands this time parameter," said Fraser.

French political analysts agree that Sarkozy's chances of making a comeback rest on the former president positioning himself as everything his successor is not; in other words, a direct inversion of the last presidential campaign, when Hollande portrayed himself as Monsieur Normal, the antithesis of the brash incumbent at the Elysée.

Today Hollande is struggling to get a grip on the unprecedented economic crisis he inherited, and suffering the triple whammy of soaring unemployment, stagnant growth and German disapproval of France's high public debt.

The public perception that Hollande is not rising to the occasion, and does not have the experience to do so, has given Sarkozy's blustering, roll-up-your-sleeves approach a new allure, says Jérôme Fourquet of Ifop. "It's perhaps a cliche, but people are looking for something Churchillian from François Hollande, along the lines of blood, sweat and tears. Because they're not getting this, they are not convinced he is the man for the situation. Even if Sarkozy had a problem with the public in terms of his character traits that exasperated them, he is profiting from the contrast. In 2008, when the crisis struck, Nicolas Sarkozy went to Germany and gave a good impression of strength at what was a difficult time.

"The current situation is very complicated and very unstable, both economically and socially. François Hollande is not the first president to confront high unemployment, but to have this problem on top of the growth and deficit problems and necessary reforms like pensions makes it an enormous job and an unusual situation. That is why people are saying it's like Churchill and the war. There is incertitude and they are asking 'Can we get out of this?'

"This is where Sarkozy comes in; the situation enables him to say 'If it were me running the country, things would be different' and to play on this. People may not be necessarily too pro-Sarkozy, but Hollande is worrying them."

In his own centre-right UMP party Sarkozy has emerged as the preferred candidate to challenge Hollande in 2017. In another Ifop poll, party members, asked to choose from nine possible candidates, gave Sarkozy a majority of 56%. His nearest rival, former prime minister François Fillon, straggled at 17%.

Hours after his election defeat last May, groups were formed to "preserve the memory" of the ex-president and pave the way for a possible return. Sarkozy's praetorian guard, including ministers and advisers, warned him not to say anything that might rule out a comeback. The Friends of Nicolas Sarkozy Association, whose president is the hawkish former interior minister Brice Hortefeux, one of Sarkozy's closest friends, is reported to have collected "several tens of thousands of members", says its treasurer, Nadine Morano, another former minister, who boasts of having a war chest for the eventual return of Sarkozy. "The party's electoral base remains profoundly Sarkozist, especially as no clear leader has emerged to replace him," Fourquet said.

Fraser said that the UMP remained Sarkozy's political machine: "It's not like in Britain, where the Tory and the Labour party are more important in the long term than their leaders. In France, it's the other way around; the party serves the ambitions of a single person, and when the leader is gone a new party is usually created. We'll see if the UMP survives Sarkozy, or serves once again as a machine for a comeback."

Fourquet said: "Sarkozy speaks of coming back out of duty and not desire; well, nobody is fooled by that. Will he, though? Nobody can say. I think he wants to, and he is a political animal. In France we have a saying that a tiger will never become vegetarian."


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« Reply #5141 on: Mar 17, 2013, 06:49 AM »


Ireland: Australia is the land of plenty for the biggest wave of Irish emigrants in a generation

With unemployment in the Republic at 14%, thousands are taking up working holiday visas in search of a new life Down Under

Alison Rourke in Sydney
The Observer, Sunday 17 March 2013   

At the Cock'n'Bull pub in the heart of Bondi, Irish tricolours were flying and the Guinness was flowing. A fiddler belted out a Celtic tune to revellers soaking up the atmosphere. Such was the happy crush that it seemed a substantial proportion of the tens of thousands of Irish people who have come to Australia to find work in the past year had found their way to the bar.

The new migrants may be feeling a little homesick today, thinking of the St Patrick's Day parties they are missing back in the Republic of Ireland. But there are no regrets.

"Everyone at home says there's nothing there and tells us not to come back," said Annette Gallagher, 26, from Belmullet in County Mayo. Gallagher, who works in the hotel industry, arrived in Australia last April on a working holiday visa, allowing her to stay for up to a year. By spending three months working in rural Australia, she has extended her stay for up to another year.

"I spent my three months boxing bananas in Tully [northern Queensland], so now I can stay longer," she said.

For Gallagher and her friend, Nicola Dobbs, 28, from Wexford, packing fruit for A$20 (£14) an hour in Queensland was a small price to pay to be able to stay longer, notwithstanding the odd encounter with large snakes and alarming spiders. The two women are part of a growing group of Irish nationals on working holiday visas in Australia. Nearly 15,000 working visas were granted to Irish people in 2009-10; two years later, that figure had jumped to almost 26,000.

The new wave of working holidaymakers to Australia are part of Ireland's biggest emigration since the economic downturn of the late 1980s. In the year to April 2012, 87,000 people left the country, according to Ireland's central statistics office – nearly 2% of the population.

Of those departing permanently, more than half (46,000) were Irish citizens – a 250% increase on 2009. Many went to the UK or the US, but Australia is now the third most popular destination. That reflects historical ties – in the late 19th century about a third of the population in Australia was Irish and, according to the most recent census, 10% of Australians now claim Irish ancestry. But the trend is also related to the strength of Australia's resource-driven economy. The unemployment rate is 5%, compared with Ireland's 14%. Once in Australia, few Irish immigrants have trouble finding a job. Unemployment among the Irish community in Australia is just 2.4%.

The editor of Sydney's Irish Echo newspaper, Luke O'Neill, says the chat on social media is very much about the opportunities on offer in Australia.

"Ireland is a small country and people keep in touch with their friends and family. People are encouraged when they hear good news and they want to go somewhere that there is a support network already," said O'Neill.

As well as working holiday visas, long-stay, employer-sponsored visas, known as 457s, which allow people (and their dependents) to stay for up to four years, are increasingly popular. They grew by 74% in the year to July 2012 and have increased by 224% since the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, despite the fact that if you lose your sponsor you must either find another or leave the country within 28 days.Carpenters, joiners and civil engineers are the main occupations on 457s, reflecting the strength of these industries, particularly in Western Australia, which now rivals New South Wales as the preferred destination for Irish arrivals.

"In per capita terms, Irish nationals lead the take-up of the 457 visa programme – they are third overall – which is pretty incredible when you think about some of the other countries who are the chief source of immigration to Australia like the UK, India and China, which have vastly larger populations," said O'Neill.

At the Cock'n'Bull, Emily Ahern, 27, a speech pathologist from Cork, has been in Australia on a 457 for two-and-a-half years, and has just applied for permanent residency. "My parents are devastated about me wanting to stay here but they know the opportunity for me to progress career-wise is much greater," she said.

Ahern says the economic situation in Ireland means that, if you are lucky enough to get a full-time job, you have to stick to it, whether or not if fulfils your ambitions. "Here I can build my skills and move in my profession if I want to. I'm not even considering going home," she said.

Over half of 457 visa holders go on to take up permanent residency.

Over the past two weeks , the Australian government has said it plans to crack down on the 457s, implying that some business sponsors have been abusing the system by not trying hard enough to employ local talent. Last week the Irish government's chief whip, Paul Kehoe, who is in Australia for St Patrick's Day, raised the matter with Australia's immigration minister. Kehoe told the Irish Echo that every person he'd spoken to in Australia raised concerns about the 457 debate.

Yet most Irish nationals celebrating St Patrick's Day in the Cock'n'Bull are optimistic about their new lives. They'll be celebrating their national day at a party in Sydney's Hyde Park and then back at the pub for the evening party.

"We love it here," says Annette Gallagher. "I'd definitely like to come back for a longer time after my visa runs out."
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« Reply #5142 on: Mar 17, 2013, 07:02 AM »

Costly Iraq war left U.S. no stronger in Middle East

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, March 17, 2013 1:39 EDT

The US-led invasion of Iraq overthrew a dictator, but 10 years on the war is seen to have destabilized the Middle East, exposed the limits of military power and left America no stronger than before.

With US forces having withdrawn after the deaths of almost 4,500 American troops and an estimated $1 trillion outlay, there is little soul-searching in Washington today about a war that has faded from public consciousness.

And 10 years after the “shock and awe” that launched Operation Iraqi Freedom, removing Saddam Hussein from power, most analysts and diplomats agree the Iraq war did nothing to improve the US position in the Middle East.

“Regardless of whether genuine democracy is viable or even sustainable, the Iraq war did not serve any strategic net gain for the United States,” said Ramzy Mardini, a fellow at the Iraq Institute for Strategic Studies in Beirut.

On the contrary, “misplaced certainty” about the ability of US military power to do the job and a lack of regard to Saddam’s role as an Arab counterbalance to Iran have harmed American interests, he said.

“The fall of Saddam didn’t just create a power vacuum in Baghdad, it created a power vacuum in the region, which plunged neighboring states into an intense environment of security competition” that continues today, Mardini added.

Such miscalculations were not confined to the presidency of George W. Bush, according to Christopher Hill, a veteran of the peace settlement in Bosnia and North Korea nuclear talks, who arrived in Baghdad in 2009 as the US ambassador.

Hill, now dean of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, suggested the “complete disconnect between Washington” and people such as himself “on the ground” continued until the end.

Barack Obama had used his opposition to the war to distinguish himself from Hillary Clinton when seeking the Democratic nomination in 2008. As president, he ended US military involvement on the same December 2011 timeline set by Bush.

“America did not show enough strategic patience with politics in Iraq,” Hill said, recalling the months he spent trying to ensure a government was formed after elections in 2010 that served Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish interests.

Instead, US policy continued to be largely guided by military considerations, said Hill, noting that general David Petraeus’s recent fall from grace has left many people “including me” to take “a more honest look” at Iraq.

Petraeus became the face of the “surge,” a mix of troop reinforcements and counterinsurgency tactics which in 2007 was credited, along with Sunni tribes turning against Al-Qaeda and siding with the US military, with halting the worst of Iraq’s bloody sectarian conflict.

“There were people in Washington more interested in consolidating gains made in counterinsurgency warfare than in understanding the essential politics of the country,” said Hill.

As a result, the Iraq that America left behind had a “democratic standard that we would not sign off on,” and the “great game for Iraq” is under way among its neighbors, Hill added.

Obama’s desire for a smooth military exit perhaps reflects the tortured place that the conflict occupies in the American psyche.

“All rhetoric aside, we invaded a country by mistake,” said James Dobbins, director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the Rand Corporation, a Washington think tank with close ties to the US government.

“For all Saddam’s malign intent, he had effectively been disarmed already. The sanctions had worked.”

With no nuclear weapons program or significant chemical weapons dumps ever found, the second Bush administration refocused its effort on establishing a pro-Western state in occupied Iraq, aiming to gain a regional ally.

Dobbins, who has held State Department and White House posts, including assistant secretary of state for Europe and special assistant to the president, said Americans should not fool themselves about the limited outcome.

“The democracy agenda became the last possible excuse for invading Iraq. It’s not an ally. It’s not an enemy either,” he said.


*********

Ten years after war, Iraq emerges as a major arms buyer

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, March 16, 2013 18:30 EDT

Ten years after the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and smashed Iraq’s military, the country has become a major buyer of military equipment, spending billions to rebuild its armed forces.

In doing so, Iraq has become a customer of some of the same companies that supplied the weapons used to attack Baghdad’s troops in 2003.

US-led forces carried out a massive bombing campaign and then a ground offensive against Iraq in March that year.

The campaign rapidly wrested control of the country from a military once considered among the strongest in the region but which was hard-hit by Saddam’s 1980-1988 war with Iran and the 1991 Gulf War over Kuwait.

Paul Bremer, then the US administrator of Iraq, disbanded its military, helping fuel the insurgency that was to consume the country for years to come. Even now, Iraqi security forces are still rebuilding.

The “Iraqi army … started from zero, so it needs many things,” Iraq’s top officer, Lieutenant General Babaker Zebari, told AFP at a security and defence exhibition in Baghdad.

According to the Iraqi defence ministry, some 54 companies from 13 countries participated in the show, advertising equipment ranging from jet aircraft, drones, missiles and shells to gas masks, uniforms and boots.

With a security and defence budget of about $16.4 billion for 2013 and a commitment to rebuilding its forces, Iraq offers significant opportunities for defence and security firms.

“From a vendor’s perspective, between the US and Iraqi funding, there’s been a lot of money spent on defence goods and equipment in this country,” said Chris King of Britain-based BAE Systems, one of the companies at the expo.

“They’re buying F-16s, they’re buying M1A1 tanks, they’ve bought equipment from other countries. So, there’s a market here,” King said.

“The Iraqi market is increasing, or at least it seems to be a market that’s gonna continue to spend on procurement at some steady level, if not a larger level over time,” he said.

The Iraqis aim “to rebuild their military, air force and everything, so there are many (areas) to cooperate with them as far as defence companies’ point of view,” noted Sang Choi of Korea Aerospace Industries.

Musab Alkateeb of US-based Honeywell International added that Iraq is “purchasing a great deal of equipment,” and its “procurement activity is sufficient to warrant interest from international firms.”

Representatives of aerospace companies were especially interested in advertising their jet training aircraft, given Iraq’s need for advanced trainers to complement the 36 F-16 warplanes it has ordered from the United States.

Though US troops departed Iraq in December 2011, the United States is still the main arms supplier for the country, which has taken delivery of US military equipment ranging from M113 armoured personnel carriers and M1 Abrams tanks to M-16 assault rifles.

The United States has also assisted Iraq in fielding equipment and training.

Iraqi security forces have held their own since the US withdrawal, keeping violence to roughly the same level as before American forces departed.

But while violence has fallen from its peak in 2006 and 2007, Iraq is still beset by frequent bombings and shootings, which killed 220 people in February, according to an AFP toll based on security and medical sources.

And Iraqi forces continue to face issues such as checkpoints and other positions that are sometimes poorly defended or otherwise exposed to attack, and soldiers and police who frequently disregard basic gun safety rules.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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

Iraq war 10 years on: 'We don't stay out late because we're still afraid'

Abdul Karim Hadi, a small businessman whose life was better under Saddam's regime, vents his anger at the US government

Peter Beaumont in Baghdad
The Observer, Sunday 17 March 2013   

I first met Abdul Karim Hadi seven years ago. During the time of the Saddam Hussein regime, he was one of a small group of citizens' band radio enthusiasts, licensed by the state to broadcast from their own radio sets. His little electronics repair shop was situated across the road from the secret police headquarters. Once a place cluttered with the equipment he was repairing, today these days his shop – now up for sale – is bare and empty.

"Fine, I'm fine," Karim says in a weak voice by way of a greeting. He waves his hand in front of his face and laughs: "That's Baghdad 'fine'" – in other words, not very fine at all.

"Things have been getting worse again with the [Sunni] protests in Anbar province." He's referring to the growing political crisis in Iraq, which has fuelled weekly protests in Sunni areas in the west of the country, where widespread anger over arrests and exclusion from both employment and state institutions boiled over two months ago.

There is another reason he seems gloomier than last time we met. "I'm selling the shop. The rent is so expensive now and there's very little work. I have another workshop near my home in Haj al-Amel [one of the sprawling suburbs of Baghdad], where I fix computers and televisions. For a long time I hoped things might improve. Now I just feel sad, because it feels as though we're going backwards. The government is very bad. They're all thieves. They come to steal, not to build. The problem is that people still don't understand what government is for.

"There are six of us at home. I have three boys living with me and one girl, who got married and lives in Sydney. I'm going to be a grandfather in a month's time.

"I did best financially before the fall of Saddam, when the economy was under international sanctions. My job's fixing things. Because no one could buy new things, they had to have them repaired. Then my income was good. Now that there are new televisions and technology available, rich people don't want their things fixed. Poor people still do, though – for example, in my neighbourhood, Haj al-Amel.

"The other thing is that under Saddam my rent was controlled, so it would only go up each year in little bits. In 2003 my lease cost $100 a month. The new government changed the law and last year my landlord put the rent up to $400. This is an expensive area. There are shops here that pay $1,000 a month. For me, it's no good. I earn barely half of what's required to cover the rent here."

Two years ago Karim managed to take his family on holiday to Dohuk and Erbil in Kurdistan, now a popular destination for Baghdadis seeking to escape the capital for a few days. "The last time I'd taken my family away [before that] was in 1999, when we went to Mosul for a week.

"The worst time for me in the past 10 years, since the invasion, was the sectarian war [2005-08]. It was very bad. But, because this area is safe, I was able to keep my shop open. There are only wealthy homes behind me and there are no buildings on the other side of the road [where the wall of the old secret police headquarters runs along the street]. I felt safe. But there was no work and finally I took a job with a US company as a translator.

"During that period the children just played in the house. We were lucky that the school was close. Now it's a bit better for the children but we still don't stay out later than nine or 10 at night because we're still afraid. There are kidnappings and killings with silenced weapons.

"All the problems came from the Americans. I really feel that. They came and, when they left, they left a bad government behind. I've thought a lot about leaving. Because I worked for an American company, I applied for one of the special immigration visas [which allow Iraqis who worked for the US military or contracting firms to settle in the US]. The only thing I need now is a letter from the human resources department confirming that I worked for them. But nobody replies. I've been trying for a year. I have all the other documents, but no one seems willing to help, and it's the only way.

"I did go to Malaysia for a month to see about living there. They have a scheme whereby if you put $50,000 dollars in the bank, you can move there, but that's hard for me to manage. The alternative is to set up a business. That's what I'm looking at now. If I can sell my shop here, we'll try to move there and set up a pastry restaurant. My wife's good with pastries. But I don't know – maybe we won't move. Maybe we can't – if the shop won't sell. Because the situation is bad, people don't want to invest. The government couldn't even manage to agree a budget for three months. I talk to a lot of other Iraqis who want to leave. But they don't have the money to live abroad.

"Things these days are terrible. But it's not the money. The main thing is the government and the people. Bad people, barbarians! Iraqis are barbarians," he says with surprising vehemence.

"You know, I think people's behaviour changed after the fall of Saddam." He thinks for a moment. "We have a saying about change, about the bad neighbour. You know the ways in which he's bad, but that's still better than the new neighbour – because you don't know how he's bad."

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

Iraq war 10 years on: 'There is phenomenal violence against women. I hear of rape cases in prison. Police officers are doing it'

Women's rights activist Hanaa Edwar explains why her campaigns have struggled to make progress, and why Iraq is at a critical and dangerous crossroads

Peter Beaumont in Baghdad
The Observer, Sunday 17 March 2013   

I first encountered the campaigner Hanaa Edwar in 2005 while researching the murder of women's rights campaigners in Iraq by the militias responsible for the worst violence. We met then at her offices in Baghdad, where I sat with a group of women she had gathered to tell me their stories of death threats, murder and intimidation.

"The dream!" Edwar exclaims as her three dogs jump on to her lap. "The dream was to build a new life with a democratic system. Of course we got pluralism and some civil society and a working, independent media. But not real democracy. The problem is …" She hesitates. "The problem is that the democratic project was like a baby. After 10 years, baby is growing up and sadly you can see that it has abnormalities.

" We had this opportunity to build a new society. I was in Erbil [in Kurdistan] in exile when Baghdad fell. I came back a week later. I must admit I felt very optimistic. The taboo of isolation from the world for more than two decades was broken. It felt as though there could be a new communication with the world. People were able to think for themselves. To express themselves for the first time. Now, a decade later, we have no ethics, no policy and no dialogue. And everywhere you see the failure of public services. Every entity is run by its own director and becoming more sectarian. This position is for a Sunni. This for a Shia. Even the universities. It's disgusting."

Edwar has been threatened for taking the positions that she does. Two days after she publicly criticised the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, at a conference,, captured on YouTube, a bullet was left in an envelope outside her office. More sinister was the rumour on the website of one of Iraq's newspapers in November that her body had been found on the airport road.

Despite women's rights being partially enshrined in Iraq's post-Saddam constitution, she is angry that Iraq's women have been politically sidelined, that women are increasingly under-represented.

"In 2005, there were six women ministers. Now there is only one – the minister for women! Women are being marginalised in civil society as well. We spent two years drafting a law on domestic violence only to see it get stuck in the Shura [state] council. We have also been working on a strategy for the advancement of women's issues. Two years ago, the prime minister said he supported it. But it's just talk. There's no reality.

"There is still phenomenal violence against women as well as sexual harassment. I've been hearing about cases of rape in prison during interrogations. It's alarming. Terrible. And it is police officers who are doing it. There's also the issue of the religious culture we have here, which supports women being disciplined by their husbands and only considers women in terms of marriage ."

Edwar is worried about the future once again, having lived through the sectarian war and its excesses.

"I think now we're reaching a critical moment again. A moment of great danger. What we need is a new political movement. New blood. New thinking. The current generation [which has dominated Iraqi politics in recent years] has fixed religious ideas. They want to impose the past on the future.

"The political situation is fragile. Because of that, security is very fragile too. Corruption means that political partnership exists only between parties for the distribution of wealth among themselves. It's not a partnership with the Iraqi people. We don't really have a state. It has weak institutions and weak rule of law. And people are afraid of a new dictator emerging. There is a very dangerous vacuum. What is required is for our religious people to play their role with wisdom and use their voice against armed conflict.

"I went to Anbar province [centre of the growing Sunni protest movement against the Shia-dominated government] a few weeks ago. People really felt they were being oppressed and had just demands. And who actually defeated al-Qaida in Anbar?" She demands. "It was the people [in the tribal Sunni Awakening movement] not the Americans or the government. This has been their compensation. To be treated with suspicion.

"The very slow response by the government to the demands, I fear only opens the way up to extremists. These are people – tens of thousands of them – who've been dismissed from their jobs, marginalised by the state. I feel it even here in Baghdad. Sunni graduates from university, even with excellent degrees, struggle to find jobs. It's a policy. And it's a shame in the 21st century.

I ask Edwar if her own organisation has had problems other than the personal threats against her. "Oh!" She cries: "The government is very suspicious of civil society organisations like mine. Three months ago the prime minister's office sent us a letter asking us to disband. I think it is because we're independent and have a loud voice on human rights issues. This was in November. It was sent to a number of NGOs asking us to dissolve. But the law doesn't allow them to demand it. So I said – what are you accusing us of – because we're clean.

"All my siblings have left, three to the US and my sister has settled in Cardiff. One brother was kidnapped in Basra twice, the first time in 2003. It cost $35,000 to release him. When he heard they were planning to kidnap him again he fled. So I am here on my own. I have one room in the office where I live. I'm single. But I'm too busy to be lonely and when it gets me down and I feel that it's all hopeless I have my dogs and my friends."

***********

Iraq war 10 years on: 'One problem has been the withdrawal of the educated elite. So many have emigrated'

Composer Husam Aldeen al-Ansari explains how Iraq's national orchestra has struggled to survive amid religious disapproval

Peter Beaumont in Baghdad
The Observer, Sunday 17 March 2013   

When I first came across Husam Aldeen al-Ansari seven years ago, he was first violinist and a composer with the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra, which then was going through one of its darkest times.

Murderous gangs were roaming the streets and many of the musicians and staff had either fled abroad or were too afraid to travel to rehearsals. Those that did attend found themselves playing in a rehearsal hall without electricity, forcing them to practise in the kitchen, where there was enough light to read their music.

We sit in the cafeteria of the music and ballet school to chat as two violinists tune their instruments nearby.

"I was born in 1942. I've seen all the different political systems that we've tried in Iraq: the monarchy, the republic, Saddam and the Americans. I think I've enough experience of life to know now what works and what doesn't.

"I was in Baghdad for the US invasion. After the fall of Saddam, we were happy things were going to change and improve, especially after the years of western sanctions. Saddam had done outrageous things and, even though we were being invaded by another country, I had hope. But after only a few months I was astounded by the things that were happening. It started with the looting."

Ansari refers to the frenzy of destructive pillage that followed Saddam's immediate fall and saw Iraq's cities torn apart, while US military ordered their soldiers not to intervene.

"People wanted the Saddam regime to end but honestly, today I can't see a single achievement for all the billions that were spent here after his fall. Under Saddam there was some stability and governance but there was only one party. Now there are 10, 20, 30 even… " He trails off, saying he doesn't really want to talk about politics. I sense he believes that it's not always safe, even in the new Iraq.

Ansari is more careworn and frail than I remember. His knuckles are scabbed. He explains it's from a recent fall from a ladder. "In 2007 I had to stop playing the violin. It wasn't realistic at my age and with my health. Being in an orchestra requires two to three hours of practice a day. Now I am a technical expert advising the symphony. I have also been busy over the last few years publishing a history of the orchestra."

While many of the younger musicians are dressed in jeans and casual clothes, Ansari is immaculately turned out in a waistcoat, tie and jacket. "The orchestra has changed since the American invasion. One of the things I noticed most about the period after was the influx of young new talent. Students with really fine qualifications who were able to share their skills with the orchestra. Many came because they didn't have anything else to do. There was no work and nothing for them. They started practising with us as trainees for six, even seven years, really improving their skills. And things changed . We're playing pieces now that we never performed 10 years ago."

The heightened religious atmosphere has meant that the orchestra is now careful to avoid offending people's sensibilities. It does not perform when there are major religious festivals. "The people in the governments we've had have generally been religious in nature. They don't accept music and the arts, but fortunately the ministry of culture does care for us. So now we're playing every month.

"The orchestra," Ansari continues, "is a tradition in civilisation and a civilising phenomenon. There's a big gap in Iraq between the majority of the people and the educated elite. I think one of our problems has been the withdrawal of that educated elite from our society. People with a degree or a good education have more opportunities, so many have emigrated. Many artists have left too. So the arts have declined but the symphony orchestra continues.

"During the worst times we had a shortage of performers because people left. But we always managed. Why did I stay when others left? As well as being a violinist I was also an expert at the ministry of minerals. I travelled around the world in that job. The neighbourhood I live in had sectarian cleansing and assassinations. It was very depleted. But I had a home as well in a different part of the city so we moved there for 10 months when it was worst. I do have the money to leave and live outside. But I don't want to leave home and my people. Because I've travelled, I've seen half the world. So I'm not tempted by it.

"Your strength is not in your muscles, it's in your heart. And I have a strong heart. Recently there has been a new wave of assassinations, some where I live. Bombings and killings. My wife and grandson were injured in a bombing last year. They were walking on the street. The bomb had been set for the police and by coincidence they were close by when it exploded. They still have splinters of shrapnel in them. Even then we didn't want to leave."

Ansari says things changed again just over two months ago, when a wave of Sunni protests engulfed the western provinces of Iraqi demanding equal rights and an end to arrests and marginalisation, protests that triggered a new rise in sectarian tension.

He still believes that the situation in Iraq can improve, "but only when the politicians and other groups start talking to each other and when ethical standards become more common. When everyone thinks that they're an Iraqi first. And that needs a move away from a politics aligned to religion and sectarianism."

**********

Iraq war 10 years on: 'My brother was tortured and held without charge'

Journalist Asma Obeid on the terrors of the sectarian war, enforced exile, and her brother's new life in Canada

Peter Beaumont in Baghdad
The Observer, Sunday 17 March 2013   

Asma Obeid was working for the newspaper Zaman when I first met her in 2004. When I go to their new offices today I find she no longer works there. In a country defined by fear her old boss is at first reluctant to give me her number; when he does, I discover she is now working for a television station run by the ministry of higher education.

Asma is waiting at the entrance. "So many things have happened since we last met," she says. We head upstairs to her office where she locks the door to keep out curious colleagues. "The hardest years," she explains, like everyone, "were during the sectarian war. I was among those who fled to Syria and lived there for three years."

I ask her where she was when the Americans invaded in 2003. "We went to the countryside. I was following the news closely at home when George Bush announced the invasion had started. Because we lived near Baghdad's main power station and there were lots of armed forces there we were concerned. So we went to Yusufiyah [about 18 miles south-west]. I remember the Ba'ath party trying to mobilise men. They gave them weapons but some of them weren't usable."

"Later I heard that Saddam had visited our district in disguise. The main bridge in Yusufiyah was wired to explode but the officer in charge didn't blow it up so the Americans crossed over. They killed some people at a nearby farm and we were afraid we might be killed at any moment. My cousin had a pick-up truck and we all got in – all 22 of us – and we went back to Dora [an area of Baghdad].

"Later when Paul Bremer [the US head of the Coalition Provisional Authority] started dissolving the Iraqi army and state institutions, I thought, 'but they could be useful'. I remember the first elections too, thinking, 'these are not going the right way'.

"The situation in my [largely Sunni] neighbourhood became unbearable. You couldn't tell who your enemy was. On the one hand we had al-Qaida and on the other the militias in the armed forces who were killing Sunnis. In the end there were four different groups of people attacking in my neighbourhood.

"It was becoming difficult to work as a journalist. I felt as if I was being watched all the time."

Then, in July 2005, her brother was kidnapped. It was common at that time for Sunni men to be snatched and tortured by police and militias, sometimes killed, sometimes released for money.

"We paid a bribe and found he was being held in a cell in Jadriya [a mainly Shia neighbourhood]. He was held without charge for 40 days. I found an official and said I was a journalist and they let him go but he was in terrible shape. He'd been tortured with electricity and with bits of burning nylon dropped onto his skin. They'd also hung him by the arms. He now has trouble with his eyes and a heart condition. We took him to the doctor and then he went to Syria and we followed. If he'd stayed they would have killed him eventually.

"In Syria we used to follow the news every day. Once they showed the militia in my street and pictures of victims. We just sat together crying.

"We came back in October 2008, when the sectarian war was ending. Our house was in a miserable state, damaged by explosions and there was a woman living in it. We repaired it and I got a job at a newspaper at the technical institute, and then I joined the higher education department.

"One day my brother started packing. He wouldn't say why but I suspected he'd received a threat. He went to Syria again and seven months ago he moved to Canada where he is receiving therapy for the things that happened to him. I thought about bringing a case against the people who did this to him. Then I thought – what if that harms my family even more?"




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« Reply #5143 on: Mar 17, 2013, 07:05 AM »

Pakistan’s PM bids farewell, hails victory for democracy

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, March 16, 2013 19:30 EDT

Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on Saturday hailed parliament’s historic completion of a full term in office as a victory for democracy as he gave his farewell address to the nation.

The nuclear-armed country of 180 million, where Taliban attacks and record levels of violence against the Shiite Muslim minority have raised fears about security for the polls, is due to elect new leaders by mid-May.

Parliament Thursday became the first in Pakistan’s history to complete a full term, its dissolution a milestone in a country where the military has seized power three times in coups and ruled for around half the country’s existence.

“It is matter of pleasure for me that an ordinary person like me is today prime minister of Pakistan and giving a hope of continuation of democracy to the nation,” Ashraf said in a nationwide televised address.

“There is a long history of tussle between the democratic and undemocratic forces in Pakistan, but the democratic forces have finally achieved a victory.”

Analysts attribute the successful completion of the parliamentary term to Zardari’s wheeler-dealer ability to keep the coalition intact, the army chief of staff’s determination to keep out of politics and the opposition’s unwillingness to force early elections.

But despite passing key legislation, which rolled back decades of meddling by military rulers, parliament has presided over staggering economic decline and worsening security over the last five years.

Ashraf said key achievements in his party’s rule included the devolution of power to the provinces, but he admitted the government had been unable to solve the energy crisis.

He appealed for people to participate in the May elections, assuring voters that they would be fair.

“In the presence of political parties, independent election commission, effective media, civil society and judiciary, there is no chance of rigging in elections now,” he said.

“I appeal to all political parties, national institutions, civil society and mass media to complete the election process in an independent, peaceful and pleasant environment.”

Ashraf said he had reached agreement with the four chief ministers of the provinces for holding national and provincial elections on the same day.

The polling date is yet to be announced, but officials say the Election Commission has recommended May 8, 9 or 10.

Politicians are still negotiating the make-up of a caretaker administration which is set to replace the government within days for the duration of the election campaign.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #5144 on: Mar 17, 2013, 07:08 AM »


India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
March 16, 2013, 9:56 am

Five Detained in Gang Rape of Swiss Tourist in Central India

By HARI KUMAR and HEATHER TIMMONS

4:06 p.m. IST | Updated
NEW DELHI — Five people have confessed to an attack on Swiss tourists in central India, police said Sunday.

A woman, 39 and her husband were attacked by a group of men in Madya Pradesh, a state known for its medieval temples and palaces. They were camping in dense forest about 400 yards from a road after visiting the temple town of Orchha when they were attacked by seven or eight men, police said. The woman was raped by four of them, police said.

“Their health and treatment is the priority of the moment,” Linus von Castelmur, the Swiss ambassador, said in a statement late Saturday evening. “The embassy has also been in touch with the local authorities and has requested a swift investigation and for justice to be done.”

Police have detained five people who have confessed to their involvement in the attack, Dalip Arya, deputy inspector general for the Chambal area of Madhya Pradesh State, said in a telephone interview Sunday afternoon. They have yet to be arrested formally, he said. Police interrogated 20 suspects in the case, he said.

The couple were making their way from Orchha to Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal, the police said. The journey was part of a cycling tour from Mumbai to New Delhi. They were in India on a three-month tourist visa, Mr. Arya said.

The episode is the latest example of violent sexual attacks on women in India. Reported rapes have risen in recent years, and reports of gang rape are becoming increasingly prevalent, particularly in northern India.

In December, a 23-year-old student was raped by five men and a juvenile on a moving bus in New Delhi, and later died from her injuries. That attack prompted widespread protests in India and demands that the government do more to protect women. In 2003, a Swiss diplomat was raped in her own car in Delhi by two men, an attack that also sparked calls for better policing. No one has been convicted in that case.

The Swiss woman and her husband were taken to a nearby police station at 10:45 p.m. by a motorcyclist they stopped on the road, Mr. Arya said. The woman then had to travel about 50 miles to Gwalior, a city that was once the seat of generations of ruling royalty, for a medical examination, he said, to reach the closest female doctor. The attackers stole 10,000 Indian rupees, a mobile phone and a laptop from the couple, he said.

“Local people are very angry and ashamed over this episode,” said Ratan Suravanshi, who teaches commerce in the local college and helped translate when the couple went to the police. “People want the culprits to be arrested as soon as possible.”

Officials did not release the woman’s name.


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