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« Reply #5370 on: Mar 28, 2013, 07:16 AM »

South Africa sends more troops to Central African Republic

With turmoil continuing on the streets of Bangui, questions are raised about the role of South African soldiers in the conflict

De Wet Potgieter, Greg Nicolson, Khadija Patel and Sasha Modike for Daily Maverick, part of the Guardian Africa Network, Wednesday 27 March 2013 15.16 GMT   

The status of the South African troops in Central African Republic remains unclear as looters and gunmen roam the streets of the capital, Bangui. Rebel leaders and regional peacekeepers are said to be battling to restore order after the ousting of President Francois Bozize at the weekend. And in the chaos, little is known of what exactly the South African troops stationed there are doing. Even the events surrounding the battle that cost South Africa 13 lives last Saturday remain murky.

Twenty-eight South African soldiers who were wounded in the battle are being treated at the 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria. While security around the hospital has been tightened since the arrival of the soldiers, a Daily Maverick source heard from wounded soldiers that they believed South African troops were being used for ulterior motives in the Central African Republic (CAR).

In January, when Zuma announced he was sending 200 soldiers to beef up Bozize's forces, there were reports that the Seleka rebel alliance – which has now taken control of the capital – was unhappy with the decision. Some of the reports quoted the rebels referring to the South African troops as "mercenaries".

South African troops were supposed to be in the country for "capacity building of the CAR defence force", but soldiers say that they were not involved in any military training. This could be understood in the greater context of the rebel insurgency that emerged last December making gains against Bozize. Soldiers say they were told that they were there to protect other South Africans, their assets and equipment as well as the South African National Defence Force equipment deployed in the CAR.

They say they were stationed 50km outside the capital when they were attacked last Saturday by the rebels. Significantly, wounded soldiers said they had also been attacked on Friday by CAR government troops trying to enact their own little coup, but were able to repel this attack.

The Central African army is under-financed, and its soldiers are said to lack equipment and motivation. Historically, CAR's leaders have been wary of a strong army. Only the presidential guard, consisting of troops from Bozize's own ethnic group, is said to have had real firepower. What has become of them in the current morass is anyone's guess.

But while Bozize has turned up in Cameroon this week, it is worth noting that he was being guarded by soldiers from Chad until last October. The military cooperation agreement between South Africa and CAR included promised security and protection to Bozize. It remains unclear whether South Africans were guarding the ousted president in the absence of the Chadian troops.

There are also many unanswered questions about the battle, which mostly relate to what the South African soldiers were doing and where exactly they were stationed, since their position was apparently attractive enough to warrant the attention of both the army and the Seleka rebels.

Outside the Defence Force office in downtown Pretoria, meanwhile, Sergeant Alvin Tshuma looked strained when questioned by the media. He said the troops were "facing a difficult situation" and that more troops were being deployed to CAR.

Another sergeant, who didn't want to be named, said, "It is true that our people are dying out there, even though there are not war engagements. It is a very difficult task trying to keep order with someone who is already shooting at you."

The Defence Force members were reluctant to speak to to media, but one sergeant, who also wished to remain anonymous, said more troops had been sent to the CAR - a claim supported by other sources. "The 44 Parachute Brigade in Bloemfontein is the one that went yesterday," he said. Other troops from Limpopo, the Braambos Military Base in Louis Trichardt (Makhado) are expected to depart today, he added. "But we do not want war with them (the rebels in CAR). Rebels are not supposed to fight peacekeepers."

Defence analyst Helmut Heitman praised the South African role in the CAR, and said the decision to keep the troops there would send a message to rebel movements across the continent that South Africans are not easily beaten. This is crucial considering the country's other peacekeeping missions, he said. "If it's badly handled we'll turn a tactical victory into a strategic defeat," he said.

"Just leaving a small force there is a bit silly and pulling them out would be counterproductive," said Heitman. He said one battalion of 800-1,000 troops with heavy equipment should be sent to reinforce the troops and achieve stability on the premise that an African Union or United Nations force would then take over.

"It's a catastrophic failure on the planning side," he said, when asked about the inability to airlift the troops out of the CAR. "You must be able to reinforce or withdraw."

Other analysts are not as confident of South Africa's fortunes in the CAR. "This is complete disaster for South Africa," Thierry Vircoulon, Central African specialist at the International Crisis Group, told Reuters. "They did not at all understand they were backing the wrong horse."

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« Reply #5371 on: Mar 28, 2013, 07:18 AM »

China 'will appoint next Hong Kong leader regardless of election result'

Senior Chinese politician says Beijing will have final word, dashing hopes of fully democratic 2017 election in Hong Kong

Reuters in Hong Kong, Thursday 28 March 2013 08.29 GMT   

Hopes that Hong Kong's 2017 election will be genuinely democratic have been dashed after a senior Chinese politician said Beijing would have the final say on who was appointed the next leader.

Qiao Xiaoyang, the chairman of the law committee of the National People's Congress, said China would not allow someone who confronted Beijing to become Hong Kong's leader.

"First, the nomination committee will decide. Then voters in Hong Kong will decide. Lastly, the central government will decide whether to appoint or not," Qiao said in a closed-door seminar, according to a transcript posted online.

Albert Ho, Hong Kong's Democratic party representative, said the move was a "pre-emptive strike" to contain people's expectations of universal suffrage.

"It's fake universal suffrage, and it's not much better than the uncontested elections they have in Beijing," Ho said.

"Beijing is very skillful. They hold all the cards. They exert pressure, contain expectations, then they'll make sure they get the chief executive they want."

Media reports quoted pro-democracy groups as saying that if Beijing failed to deliver universal suffrage which met global standards, they would organise mass protests next year to block traffic in Hong Kong's central business district.

Hong Kong remains a beacon of democratic reform and civil liberties in China, which wants to see the self-ruled island of Taiwan reunited with the mainland, perhaps under a similar arrangement to Hong Kong.

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« Reply #5372 on: Mar 28, 2013, 07:19 AM »

March 28, 2013

U.S. Begins Stealth Bombing Runs Over South Korea


SEOUL, South Korea — The American military made a rare announcement that two nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bombers ran a practice bombing sortie over South Korea on Thursday, underscoring Washington’s commitment to defend its ally amid rising tensions with North Korea.

The two B-2 Spirit bombers made a nonstop round trip from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, demonstrating the United States’ ability to “provide extended deterrence to our allies in the Asia-Pacific region” and to “conduct long-range, precision strikes quickly and at will,” the American command in the South Korean capital, Seoul, said in a statement.

It was the first time the American military publicly confirmed a B-2 mission over the Korean Peninsula. As the bombers dropped inert munitions that they carried 6,500 miles over the Pacific to an island bombing range off South Korea’s west coast, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel conferred with his South Korean counterpart, Kim Kwan-jin, on the phone, reaffirming the United States’ “unwavering” commitment to defend the South.

After suffering from the American carpet-bombing during the 1950-53 Korean War, North Korea remains particularly sensitive about American bombers. It keeps most of its key military installations underground and its war cries typically reach a frenetic pitch when American bombers fly over South Korea during military exercises. The resulting fear and anti-American sentiment is used by the regime to make its people rally behind the North’s “military-first” leadership.

Both B-52 and B-2 can launch nuclear-armed cruise missiles. The Pentagon used their training sorties over the Korean Peninsula to highlight the role the long-distance strategic bombers play as part of Washington’s “nuclear umbrella” over South Korea and Japan. In South Korea, North Korea’s successful launching of a three-stage rocket in December and its nuclear test last month were unsettling enough that several right-wing politicians began calling on their government to build nuclear arms.

A news release from the South Korean Defense Ministry on Thursday said that the “extended deterrence” Mr. Hagel reaffirmed for South Korea included “nuclear umbrella” and “missile defense capabilities.”

The allies also agreed to develop “customized” plans to deal with various types of threats posed by North Korea’s nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, it said.

North Korea has escalated its bellicose rhetoric since a Feb. 12 nuclear test. It threatened pre-emptive nuclear strikes against the United States and South Korea for conducting joint military drills and supporting United Nations sanctions against the North. In response, Washington has stood behind the new government of President Park Geun-hye, South Korea's first female president, by running B-52 bomber sorties over South Korea earlier this month and publicizing them. It also signed an agreement last weekend to enhance consultation and coordination of the allies' responses to North Korean provocations. Such coordination became all the more important with growing North Korean threats; under a mutual defense treaty, Washington is obliged to intervene should a local skirmish expand into a full-blown war.

The Pentagon said the B-52 and B-2 training missions were part of its Foal Eagle joint military drill with South Korea, which began on March 1 and will run through April 30. North Korea cited the threat of B-52 bombers when it cut off its last remaining military hot lines with South Korea on Wednesday and warned of more “substantial military actions.” The military hot lines have been used to allow South Korean workers and cargo traveling to a joint industrial park in the North Korean town of Kaesong to clear a border crossing. The cross-border traffic operated normally on Thursday. About 420 South Korean commuters from Seoul entered Kaesong and 400 returned to Seoul as North Korea gave them a travel permit through an economic liaison office in Kaesong and the North Korean military did not stop them.

The Kaesong complex, which is an important source of income for the financially struggling North Korean government, has survived years of military tensions and United Nations sanctions. In Kaesong, 123 South Korean companies employ 53,400 North Korean workers for an average monthly pay of $144. They produced $470 million worth of textiles and other labor-intensive goods last year. The fate of Kaesong is seen as a key test of how far North Korea will take its threats.

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« Reply #5373 on: Mar 28, 2013, 07:24 AM »

March 27, 2013

Elite in China Face Austerity Under Xi’s Rule


BEIJING — Life for the almighty Chinese government official has come to this: car pools, domestically made wristwatches and self-serve lunch buffets.

In the four months since he was anointed China’s paramount leader and tastemaker-in-chief, President Xi Jinping has imposed a form of austerity on the nation’s famously free-spending civil servants, military brass and provincial party bosses. Warning that graft and gluttony threaten to bring down the ruling Communists, Mr. Xi has ordered an end to boozy, taxpayer-financed banquets and the bribery that often takes the form of a gift-wrapped Louis Vuitton bag.

While the power of the nation’s elite remains unchallenged, the symbols of that power are slipping from view. Gone, for now, are the freshly cut flowers and red-carpet ceremonies that used to greet visiting dignitaries. This month, military officers who arrived here for the annual National People’s Congress were instructed to share hotel rooms and bring their own toiletries.

“Car-pooling feels so good because it provides a way to bond and chat with each other while saving money and increasing efficiency,” one senior military official told the People’s Liberation Army newspaper.

Not everyone has been so embracing of the change. Last Tuesday, the country’s top disciplinary body dismissed six functionaries, including a neighborhood party chief who spent $63,000 to entertain 80 colleagues at a seaside resort, and a county official who marked the opening of new administrative offices by throwing a feast for 290 people.

The crackdown appears to be real, as far as it goes, which may not be very far. After a year of scandal that led to the toppling of a member of the Politburo, Bo Xilai, and numerous reports of widespread official corruption, Mr. Xi’s highly public campaign seems aimed at curtailing the most conspicuous displays of wealth by people in power. He has done little to tackle the concentrations of money and power in China’s state-directed economy that have allowed numerous members of the Chinese elite and their extended families to amass extravagant fortunes.

Some analysts note that even a modest first step toward reducing corruption, a proposed regulation that would require top officials to disclose their personal assets publicly, appears to be stalled, highlighting the elite’s resistance to real change.

Wu Qiang, a political science professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, expressed cynicism about the moderation campaign, saying it distracted attention from the kinds of political reform necessary to make government more accountable and transparent. “More than just restricting people’s eating habits, we need to restrain the party’s power, otherwise this is just political farce,” he said.

Even so, Mr. Xi has garnered attention and some praise for his eight-point guide for official conduct, which he issued in January. Mr. Xi warned that his administration would swat both “tigers and flies” in the anticorruption drive, which he said was vital for winning back public trust.

“If we don’t redress unhealthy tendencies and allow them to develop, it will be like putting up a wall between our party and the people, and we will lose our roots, our lifeblood and our strength,” Mr. Xi said.

Mr. Xi’s campaign even has a new catchphrase, based on his vision of gastronomic self-restraint: “Four dishes and a soup.”

So far, most victims of the frugality drive have been purveyors of the good life: high-end caterers, abalone wholesalers, five-star hotels and makers of Yellow Pavilion cigarettes, the $300-a-carton brand coveted by up-and-coming bureaucrats.

The ripple effects have reached all corners of the economy. First-class airline ticket sales have dropped by a tenth in recent months, and luxury goods dealers have reported a 20 percent to 30 percent decrease in sales. Moutai, the $600-a-bottle gut-searing grain alcohol that is an omnipresent intoxicant at official banquets, has also seen its growth slow recently.

The China Cuisine Association said that 60 percent of restaurants surveyed last month had experienced a drop in reservations, with government-sponsored banquets down by nearly a third compared with the same period last year.

Shen Danyang, a Ministry of Commerce spokesman who in normal times champions consumer spending, seemed to relish this particular slowdown. During a news conference last month, he noted that sales of shark fins had dropped more than 70 percent, and sales of edible swallow nests, the main ingredient of a $100-a-bowl delicacy, were down 40 percent.

To ensure compliance, government investigators have descended on restaurants to comb through receipts in search of large tabs suggesting abusive spending. “Even the big bosses are staying away from fancy restaurants and switching their expensive European wristwatches for Chinese brands until things calm down,” said one administrator from China’s southwestern Yunnan Province.

Those who sell cigarettes and alcohol say the drop in business has been painful. “I don’t know how much longer I can survive,” said Li Liuyuan, the owner of a liquor store close to a number of government offices in Beijing, who is going to give over half his business space to a fruit salesman.

Not surprisingly, the campaign is winning high marks from a citizenry long disgusted by the outlandish spending and other acts of arrogance. “It awakens the faith of the masses,” said Wang Yukai, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance.

In the meantime, restaurants like Xiang E Qing, a chain once popular with government employees, have been left to figure out a way to survive.

At the headquarters for China’s armed police, where two branches of the restaurant face each another across a courtyard packed with government-issued Audis, business was down by a third, restaurant executives said. The drop in revenue prompted the company to mothball one of the two restaurants, cut prices on some dishes and start offering half-size dishes to show the company’s dedication to Mr. Xi’s moderation credo.

To drive home the point, LED screens at the entrances to the restaurant’s 35 private dining rooms admonish patrons to “Order according to your needs.”

Waiters, whose salaries are partly based on commissions, have seen their salaries drop by a third, forcing many to quit. But many remaining employees say they support the new frugality. “I’d rather see our tax dollars being spent on the poor than paying for government banqueting,” Cui Fei, 24, said, standing in a nearly empty dining room one recent afternoon.

Those on the receiving end of socially obligated self-indulgence are also feeling some relief. One entrepreneur, who dines almost nightly with government officials and business associates and did not want to be identified as a result, said such invitations had dropped by half.

“The nightly drinking takes a serious toll,” the entrepreneur said, expressing no regret at forgoing the mandated Maotai toasts.

But old ways die hard.

In its investigation into continued abuses, the state-run Xinhua news agency denounced “double-dealing officials who chant frugality slogans but secretly hold extravagant banquets.”

Xinhua also discovered a new catchphrase popular among government officials: “Eat quietly, take gently and play secretly.”

Jonathan Ansfield contributed reporting, and Shi Da contributed research.

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« Reply #5374 on: Mar 28, 2013, 07:25 AM »

March 27, 2013

Myanmar Jarred by Peace Laureate at Military Parade


BANGKOK — Myanmar’s military asserted its role in the country’s politics at a ceremony on Wednesday that featured a prominent guest, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate, whose presence among the generals would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

In the capital, Naypyidaw, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi sat in the front row, flanked by her former military captors and watching a display of the country’s armed might. It was a scene that symbolized what members of her party say is a fledging partnership, jarring to some, that recognizes the military’s continuing power in a country moving toward greater democracy.

The ceremony, in observance of the country’s Armed Forces Day, was broadcast on national television and featured a parade of tanks and rocket launchers as helicopters and fighter aircraft flew overhead, a more militaristic display than in previous years.

Nearly two years after a military junta ceded power to a nominally civilian administration, the army appears ascendant again, buttressed in part by Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, who despite widespread hatred and resentment in Burmese society for the military after decades of oppression, has flattered the army with praise in recent months.

The army’s profile rose last week when soldiers flooded the streets of the central city of Meiktila, where the police had been unable to stop three days of killings of Muslims by Buddhist mobs. The troops, ordered into the city by President Thein Sein, a former general himself, have kept the city calm. Over the weekend, religious violence flared in other parts of the country, raising the prospect of further military interventions.

At the ceremony Wednesday, Myanmar’s commander in chief, U Min Aung Hlaing, said the military would maintain its “leading political role.”

This month, he took the title of senior general, the same rank as his predecessor in the job, U Than Shwe, the dictator who led the junta.

Although Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has sent public signals for greater cooperation with the military for several months, the ceremony Wednesday was among the first public signs that the military was reciprocating.

“Today is historic for our country,” said U Zaw Htay, a former military officer who is a director in Mr. Thein Sein’s office. “Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was a V.I.P. guest.”

“No one could have expected this in the past,” Mr. Zaw Htay said. “This is a good sign for the new generation in Myanmar. And the warm welcome for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi shows the Tatmadaw recognizes her role,” he said, using the Burmese term for the armed forces.

U Nyan Win, a leading member of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, said her presence symbolized a reconciliation between the army and civilians.

“Judging from today’s event, we can say the Tatmadaw is no longer separate from the people,” he said.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was kept under house arrest for a total of 15 years by the military before her release in 2010. She is now the leader of the opposition in Parliament.

Members of her party, especially former political prisoners, have expressed apprehension at the party’s new strategy toward the military.

They and outside analysts say it could alienate some of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s supporters and mutes the party’s role as a critical voice toward the military as the army continues to battle rebel ethnic groups.

“She’s obviously trying very hard to show the leaders of the armed forces that she is not their enemy, but it’s a dangerous game she’s playing,” Bertil Lintner, an author of many books on Myanmar, said by e-mail. “It may antagonize many of her supporters who are ordinary people with no love for the repressive military.”

International human rights groups have documented abuses by the Burmese military in its campaigns against ethnic militias, including the use of child soldiers and civilians as human minesweepers.

On Wednesday, Mr. Min Aung Hlaing, who rose to prominence by leading the rout of an ethnic minority group along the border with China, took a defensive tone about the military’s legacy.

“All our members are being trained in the provisions of the Geneva Convention so our Tatmadaw does not commit any war crimes,” he said, according to Reuters. “There is no such thing as genocide in the history of our Tatmadaw.”

The role of the military, despite the green shoots of democracy in the country, is often described as indispensable under the current Constitution, which the military wrote.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi needs the military perhaps more than anyone else if she is to advance politically. She is barred from the presidency under the 2008 Constitution because her husband, who died in 1999, was English. The military controls one-quarter of the seats in Parliament, enough to block the amending of the Constitution.

This month, Parliament agreed unanimously to form a commission to review the Constitution. But the scope and structure of the commission have not been decided, leaving it unclear whether the rule barring Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency might be changed.

Wai Moe contributed reporting from Yangon, Myanmar.

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« Reply #5375 on: Mar 28, 2013, 07:31 AM »

China's Cultural Revolution: son's guilt over the mother he sent to her death

Zhang Hongbing was 16 when he denounced his mother for criticising Chairman Mao. Now Zhang wants to make amends

Tania Branigan in Guzhen, Anhui, Wednesday 27 March 2013 14.48 GMT   

Zhang Hongbing discusses his role in his mother's death. Link to video: Chinese Cultural Revolution: the boy who denounced his mother

They beat her, bound her and led her from home. She knelt before the crowds as they denounced her. Then they loaded her on to a truck, drove her to the outskirts of town and shot her.

Fang Zhongmou's execution for political crimes during the Cultural Revolution was commonplace in its brutality but more shocking to outsiders in one regard: her accusers were her husband and their 16-year-old child.

More than four decades on, Fang's son is seeking to atone by telling her story and calling for the preservation of her grave in their home town of Guzhen, central Anhui province, as a cultural relic.

Fang's plot is already hemmed in by buildings and a wall is rising behind it. Nearby streets are stacked with window frames, tiles and pallets of wood. Without official recognition, fears Zhang Hongbing, his mother's grave and story could soon be swept away – part of a wider, shadowed past that is fast disappearing.

"My mother, father and I were all devoured by the Cultural Revolution," said Zhang, 60, who is now a lawyer. "[It] was a catastrophe suffered by the Chinese nation. We must remember this painful historical lesson and never let it happen again."
Zhang Hongbing Zhang Hongbing holds a photo of his mother. Photograph: Dan Chung for the Guardian

Thirty-six million people were hounded and perhaps a million died in the turmoil unleashed by Mao Zedong in 1966. They were condemned by their political views and social background or someone's whim, enmity or attempt at self-preservation through incriminating others. Victims included the father of China's new leader Xi Jinping, who fell from grace and was sent to labour in the countryside.

The Communist party long ago deemed the period a disaster. Even so, authorities are chary of its examination. "It's almost not dealt with at all in official history," said Michael Schoenhals, of Lund University, who co-authored Mao's Last Revolution.

Yet history departments now run courses on the period and there is growing coverage online, he noted. In part, he said, the emerging discussion reflects the passing of time: "The people who were then doing some of the worst things – because they were young and stupid and enthusiastic and eager – are now pushing 70. They want to write before they go, or sometimes their children want them to write it down."

In a chilly study piled high with books and papers, Zhang leafs through family mementoes. One photo records his father being paraded in a dunce's cap. Another shows crudely pencilled illustrations of their story, from an exhibition that lauded Zhang's fervour. In the last sketch, blood spurts from his mother's mouth as she is executed.

The family was once "harmonious, happy and warm", said the lawyer.

Fang, only 44 when she died, was bold, extrovert and honest in all dealings, recalled her younger brother, Meikai. He struggled to speak through his tears: "When I talk about her, I want to cry," he said. "From the age of three I would follow her around; she was like another mother."
Zhang Hongbing family photos Zhang Hongbing's family photos and pictures of his mother. The bottom photo is an original copy of a photo from which other copies had her image torn out. Photograph: Dan Chung for the Guardian

She met her husband when they joined the revolutionary cause, but their life was scarred by politics from the first. Her father was executed as a suspected Nationalist agent; Zhang blames a personal grudge. Later, as they struggled to survive the Great Famine, Zhang's younger brother was sent away to a relative who could feed him.

Then the Cultural Revolution burst into their lives. In the streets of Guzhen, Red Guards smashed heirlooms and burned books: "I thought it was great – an unprecedented moment in history," Zhang said.

In a blaze of enthusiasm, the children changed their names. Zhang, previously called Tiefu, became Hongbing, or "red soldier". His elder sister joined millions of Red Guards trekking to Beijing to see Mao. But shortly after her return, she collapsed and died from meningitis, aged 16. Months later, their father was attacked as a "capitalist roader" in at least 18 "struggle sessions" of verbal and physical abuse.

"I wrote a big character poster about him; I just wanted to follow Chairman Mao," said Zhang. "For a child to criticise their parents wasn't just our household. The whole country was doing it."

In 1968, Fang fell under suspicion due to her father. Two years of investigation, detention and uncertainty tormented her: "Why don't they just make a decision on me?" she asked.

"Her father's death, her husband's persecution, her daughter's death – everything that happened made her suspicious of the Cultural Revolution … She was sick of [it]," said Zhang.

Eventually conditions improved and she was allowed to sleep at home. Then, one evening, her zealous son accused her of tacitly criticising Mao. The family row spiralled rapidly: Fang called for the return of purged leaders and attacked Mao for his personality cult. "I warned her: 'If you go against our dear Chairman Mao I will smash your dog head,'" Zhang said, at times reading from his father's testimony. "I felt this wasn't my mother. This wasn't a person. She suddenly became a monster … She had become a class enemy and opened her bloody mouth."

Fang's brother begged her to take her words back, warning she would be killed. "I'm not scared," Fang replied. She tore down and burned Mao's picture.

When her husband and son ran to denounce her, "I understood it meant death," Zhang said. In fact, he added, he called for her to be shot as a counter-revolutionary. He last saw her as she knelt on stage in the hours before her death.

Most children who turned on their parents were under political pressure, said Yin Hongbiao, a Beijing-based historian.

"Those with 'bad parents' suffered a lot and they resented their parents instead of resenting the system which brainwashed them daily," added Michel Bonnin, of Tsinghua University.

"They were encouraged to denounce their parents, so as to 'draw a line' between them and the enemy. It was the only way to save themselves. There were many cases of children who tried to protect their parents against the violence of Red Guards and were then beaten or even executed."

Zhang's case is much more unusual, but Schoenhals suggested timing was critical: early 1970 saw a harsh campaign against counter-revolutionary activities, known as one-strike and three-anti. "You could come across anything if you had 700 million people embroiled in a conflict of this seriousness and magnitude," he added.

Fang Meikai, though furious with his sister's family, was powerless to help her. "I wanted to see her, but I wouldn't have been allowed. I was afraid that if I went I would also be involved in the case," he said. "That was the situation back then: they could kill whomever they wanted."
Zhang Hongbing Zhang Hongbing: 'I felt this wasn't my mother. She suddenly became a monster.' Photograph: Dan Chung for the Guardian

After Mao's death and the Gang of Four's fall, the political tide turned. Cultural Revolution victims began to be rehabilitated. When Fang Meikai appealed on behalf of his sister, Zhang and his father agreed to support him.

Zhang, belatedly confronting his guilt, said he was a son "who could not even be compared to animals".

Fang was cleared in 1980; two years later, they erected a headstone at her grave, metres from where she was shot. At the execution ground, an acquaintance later told them, her eyes swept the crowd as if looking for faces she knew.

A lost decade

The Cultural Revolution was a lost decade of tragedy and waste. What historians Roderick Macfarquhar and Michael Schoenhals call the "chaos, killing and [ultimately] stagnation" claimed lives throughout the country and at all levels.

Under pressure due to the Great Famine, and unnerved by the Soviet repudiation of Stalin, Mao wielded mass support to see off rivals. Frustrated that Communist ideology had not truly taken root, he also sought to destroy old ideas and institutions.

Top leaders and revered intellectuals were humiliated, beaten and driven to suicide. Youthful Red Guards abused or murdered teachers and bad class elements. In Chongqing rival factions battled with guns and tanks; in Guangxi, there are reports of cannibalism. Friends, neighbours, colleagues and families turned upon each other. Cultural treasures were destroyed; universities shuttered. Millions of "educated youth" were sent to labour in the countryside. The economy was devastated.

Yet many believe that China's reform and development resulted from the era: Deng Xiaoping and other leaders realised only drastic measures could make up for lost time and win back popular support.

Additional research by Cecily Huang

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« Reply #5376 on: Mar 28, 2013, 07:34 AM »

Brazilian doctor investigated over 300 hospital deaths

Woman has been charged with murders of seven patients, but authorities warn that number of victims may be far higher

Jonathan Watts in Rio de Janeiro, Wednesday 27 March 2013 03.47 GMT   

A Brazilian doctor who has been charged with the murder of seven patients is being investigated in almost 300 other cases, according to health authorities investigating what could prove one of the world's worst serial killings.

Virginia Soares de Souza is accused of cutting the oxygen to people on life-support systems and administering lethal doses of muscle-relaxing drugs in the Evangelica Hospital of Curitiba.

Soares, a director of the hospital, was arrested in February along with three doctors and a nurse, who are suspected of conspiracy. Three other hospital staff have subsequently been charged in the case.

The defendant is now on trial for seven cases of murder, which she has denied. The ministry of health has warned that the number of victims may be far higher, according to an analysis of 1,700 hospital records from the past seven years.

Mario Lobato, the head of the ministry's investigation team, told a local news network that he had closed the book on at least 20 suspicious cases and was looking into almost 300 more.

The patients are said to have died when oxygen levels on their respirators were dialled down and the drug Pavulon, which weakens diaphragm muscles, was introduced into the blood stream.

"They all have the same modus operandi, the same relationship between the drug and the death, and the timing," Lobato said. Some of the alleged victims were reportedly conscious and talking shortly before their deaths.

The state ombudsmen passed on anonymous tipoffs last March, but no arrest was made for almost a year despite an undercover investigation. Police have been criticised for failing to act earlier.

With the trial continuing, much remains unclear including the motive. The defence team are due to present their case later this week.

Elias Mattar Assad, de Souza's lawyer, said her client was innocent. "We will soon prove that everything that happened in that ICU was justified by medical procedure," he said. The defendants have been released on bail.

If all of the suspected cases are confirmed, the death toll could exceed that of the world's worst known serial killer, Harold Shipman. The British doctor was convicted in 2004 of killing 15 patients in Manchester, and was reportedly responsible for up to 260 other deaths.

• This article was amended on 27 March 2013. The original referred to Virginia Soares de Souza as a nurse. She is a doctor.

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« Reply #5377 on: Mar 28, 2013, 07:36 AM »

Mexican vigilantes take over town

Armed members of 'self-defence' group throw up checkpoints and arrest police and officials they accuse of gang links

Associated Press in Acapulco, Thursday 28 March 2013 07.19 GMT   

Hundreds of armed vigilantes have taken control of a town on a major highway in the Pacific coast state of Guerrero, arresting local police officers and searching homes after one of their leaders was killed. Several opened fire on a car of Mexican tourists headed to the beach for Easter week.

Members of the area's self-described "community police" say more than 1,500 members of the force were stopping traffic on Wednesday at improvised checkpoints in the town of Tierra Colorado, which sits on the highway connecting Mexico City to Acapulco. They arrested 12 police and the former director of public security in the town after a leader of the state's vigilante movement was slain on Monday.

A tourist heading to the beach with relatives was slightly wounded on Tuesday after they refused to stop at a roadblock and vigilantes fired shots at their car, officials said.

The vigilantes accuse the ex-security director of participating in the killing of their leader Guadalupe Quinones Carbajal, 28, on behalf of local organised crime groups and dumping his body in a nearby town on Monday.

"We have besieged the municipality, because here criminals operate with impunity in broad daylight, in view of municipal authorities. We have detained the director of public security because he is involved with criminals and he knows who killed our commander," said Bruno Placido Valerio, a spokesman for the vigilante group.

Placido said vigilantes had searched a number of homes in the town and seized drugs from some. They turned over the ex-security director and police officers to state prosecutors, who agreed to investigate their alleged ties to organised crime.

The growing movement of "self-defence" vigilante groups has seen masked townspeople throw up checkpoints in several parts of southern and western Mexico, stopping passing motorists to search for weapons or people whose names are on hand-written lists of "suspects" wanted for crimes like theft and extortion.

The vigilantes have opened fire before on motorists who refused to stop, slightly wounding a pair of tourists from Mexico City visiting a local beach in early February.

The groups say they are fighting violence, kidnappings and extortions carried out by drug cartels, but concerns have surfaced that the vigilantes may be violating the law, the human rights of people they detain, or even cooperating with criminals in some cases.

Sensitive over their lack of ability to enforce public safety in rural areas, official have largely tolerated vigilante groups.

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« Reply #5378 on: Mar 28, 2013, 07:38 AM »

Brics eye infrastructure funding through new development bank

Gang of five hail 'new paradigm', but questions about funding and location of headquarters remain unresolved

David Smith in Durban, Thursday 28 March 2013 10.52 GMT   

Five giants of the developing world have in principle agreed to create a development bank to provide initial funding for infrastructure projects worth $4.5tn, a potentially historic challenge to western-dominated financial institutions.

The announcement came as the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – known as the Brics – sat together on stage in a highly symbolic show of unity in Durban, South Africa. The keynote phrase was "new paradigm" – and western politicians were conspicuously absent.

But the gang of five, holding a summit on African soil for the first time, disappointed some by admitting that they have not yet resolved differences over how much seed capital the bank will start with or where it will be headquartered. Various technical details also remain to be agreed.

The Brics bank will potentially rival the World Bank, where Africa holds only three seats on the 25-seat board and where Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was defeated for the presidency last year. The World Bank and IMF continue to be dominated by America and Europe.

Pravin Gordhan, South Africa's finance minister, said: "The roots of the World Bank and IMF still lie in the post-world war two environment. The reforms that have taken place are still inadequate in terms of addressing the current environment. We still have a situation where certain parts of the world are over-represented."

He added: "We should see the Brics bank as part of a new paradigm to share resources and, as the Chinese minister said, achieve a win-win outcome."

Gordhan insisted the plans were on track and moving with "a great sense of urgency". Other developing countries would eventually be invited to join the bank, he said, adding that India had proposed $50bn of seed capital to get the initiative started, though no final decision had been reached. He brushed aside scepticism that South Africa could not afford its share, claiming that it could be sourced in different ways and over a period of time rather than in one instalment.

The development bank will be the first institution of the informal Brics forum, which launched in 2009 amid the global financial crisis, representing 43% of the world's population and 17% of trade. South Africa's president, Jacob Zuma, said the infrastructure needs of the Brics countries amounted to $4.5tn over the next five years. The bank also raises the prospect of massive road, rail and construction projects across Africa.

Most analysts expect the bank to be dominated by China, whose economy is about 20 times the size of South Africa's and four times as big as Russia's or India's — which could strengthen arguments for basing it elsewhere. South Africa, which greeted delegates with traditional Zulu dancers at Durban's King Shaka airport, is reported to be lobbying hard.

Caroline Bracht, a member of the Brics research group at Toronto University in Canada, said: "My opinion goes with the mainstream opinion, which is South Africa. It has financial stability and is the smallest but one of the most eager members of the Brics. Geographically, it's central. But the location is not as significant as who the CEO will be."

Patrice Motsepe, the newly appointed chairman of the Brics Business Council, said: "We have a particular preference, but it's for the Brics members to decide. If you look at the strength of South African financial institutions, our corporate governance and auditing and accounting have been recognised as world class."

Motsepe played down suggestions that the Brics bank would compete against American and British interests. "There's a huge need for partnerships and a role for all financial institutions and I've no doubt they'll continue to play that role. I'm on a board of JP Morgan which is chaired by Tony Blair and they are very excited by the opportunities in Africa."

Zuma said the bank also will establish a "Brics contingent reserve arrangement", a pool of $100bn to cushion member states against any future economic shocks and further lessen their dependence on western institutions.

Later, Zuma invited 15 other African leaders to the meeting for an opportunity to meet his Brics counterparts. In the cordial public greetings there was no mention of growing scepticism around the role of China, now Africa's biggest trading partner.

In a recent article, the governor of Nigeria's central bank, Lamido Sanusi, accused China of being "a significant contributor to Africa's de-industrialisation and underdevelopment", with its cheap manufactured goods flooding the continent and its consumption of raw materials preventing Africans from adding value to their natural resources. There is a "whiff of colonialism" about China's approach to Africa, he suggested.

Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, said the Brics alliance has proved the doubters wrong. "Even the most sceptical voices do recognise the contribution the Brics bloc of countries has provided in the field of international economics," she said, calling on the IMF and World Bank to become more democratic to clearly reflect the growing influence of developing countries.

Meanwhile, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad sent a letter urging the Brics leaders to "work for an immediate cessation of violence that would guarantee the success of the political solution". Although the five leaders shied away from the topic in their public remarks, the final summit communique did address it. In what some interpreted as a softening of Russia's position towards aid reaching rebel-held areas, it said: "In view of the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Syria, we call upon all parties to allow and facilitate immediate, safe, full and unimpeded access to humanitarian organisations to all in need of assistance."

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« Reply #5379 on: Mar 28, 2013, 07:48 AM »

Physicists find evidence that ‘missing’ neutrinos are shape shifting on the way to the Sun

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, March 27, 2013 16:11 EDT

Physicists announced further proof Wednesday for a theory that mysterious particles called neutrinos which go “missing” on the journey from the Sun to Earth are in fact shape-shifting along the way, arriving undetected.

The evidence: a muon-type neutrino dispatched from the CERN research laboratory near Geneva had arrived as a tau neutrino at the INFN Gran Sasso Laboratory in Italy, 730 kilometres (450 miles) away, they said in a statement.

It is only the third time that the mutation has been observed by the OPERA experiment, an international project launched in 2001 specifically to detect the bizarre change.

“Its observation confirms something scientists have been studying for more than 40 years: the fact that neutrinos induced by cosmic rays impinging on the Earth atmosphere arrive far fewer than expected,” said the statement.

A Nobel-winning 1969 hypothesis shed light on the mystery by suggesting the subatomic particles were in fact changing type.

There are three types, or “flavours,” of neutrino — an electrically-neutral subatomic particle that rarely interacts with matter.

Under the prevailing Standard Model of physics, neutrinos cannot have mass, but the outcome of the experiment suggests that in fact they do.

For the OPERA experiment, a beam of neutrinos produced at CERN is sent to the Gran Sasso underground laboratory, which houses a 4,000-tonne detector.

The detector scans the arriving particles for tau neutrinos, knowing that only muons had set out from CERN.

Finding a tau neutrino proves that “oscillation” or change happened along the way.

OPERA detected its first tau neutrino in 2010 and the second in 2012.

The observation of a third tau neutrino “is an important confirmation of the two previous observations”, OPERA scientists Giovanni De Lellis said in a statement.

“From a statistical point of view, the observation of three tau neutrino candidates provides the evidence of oscillations in the muon-to-tau neutrino channel.”

The search for tau neutrinos will continue for another two years, said the statement.

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« Reply #5380 on: Mar 28, 2013, 07:55 AM »

Scientists find cancer-causing DNA mutations

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, March 27, 2013 14:50 EDT

The biggest-ever trawl of the human genome for cancer-causing DNA errors has netted more than 80 tiny mutations, a finding that could help people at high risk, researchers said Wednesday.

The results, which double the number of known genetic alterations linked to breast, ovarian and prostate cancer, were unveiled in a dozen scientific papers published in journals in Europe and the United States.

The three hormone-related cancers are diagnosed in over 2.5 million people every year and kill one in three patients, said a Nature press statement.

Teams from more than 100 research institutes in Europe, Asia, Australia and the United States said the work should in the future help doctors to calculate an individual’s cancer risk long before any symptoms emerge.

People with high-susceptibility mutations could be counselled against lifestyle choices that further increase their risk, given regular screening and drug treatment, or even preventative surgery.

“We have examined 200,000 areas of the genome in 250,000 individuals. There is no (other) study of cancer of this size,” Per Hall, coordinator of the Collaborative Oncological Gene-environment Study (COGS), told AFP of the research.

The studies compared the DNA of more than 100,000 patients with breast, ovarian and prostate cancer to that of an equal number of healthy individuals. Most were of European ancestry.

DNA, the blueprint for life, comprises four basic chemicals called A (adenine) C (cytosine), T (thymine) and G (guanine) strung together in different combinations along a double helix.

Researchers noted where the A, C, T, G combinations of cancer patients differed significantly from those of healthy people.

They were looking for a tiny “spelling mistake” in the code, called a single nucleotide polymorphism or SNP that can cause problems in gene function.

For breast cancer, the researchers found 49 SNPs, “which is more than double the number previously found”, said Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet, which took part in the giant study.

“In the case of prostate cancer, researchers have discovered another 26 deviations, which means that a total number of 78 SNPs may be linked to the disease.”

For ovarian cancer, eight new SNPs were found.

Everyone has inherited alterations in their DNA, but whether these mutations are dangerous or not is determined by where on the code they lie.

And carrying a mutation does not necessarily mean a person will develop cancer, a disease that may have multiple causes.

The researchers said further study is needed to allow scientists to translate these DNA telltales into tests for predicting cancer risk. A more distant goal is using the knowledge for better treatments.

“Since there are many other factors that influence the risk of these cancers (mainly lifestyle factors), future tests have to take more risk factors than just genes into consideration,” said Hall.

“It will take a couple of years before we have the necessary models enabling us, with high accuracy, to predict the individual risk of these cancers.”

The findings were published in Nature Genetics and Nature Communications, PLOS Genetics, the American Journal of Human Genetics and Human Molecular Genetics.

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« Reply #5381 on: Mar 28, 2013, 08:24 AM »

In the USA...

March 27, 2013

Justices Cast Doubt on Benefits Ban in U.S. Marriage Law


WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court appeared ready on Wednesday to strike down a central part of a federal law that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman, as a majority of the justices expressed reservations about the Defense of Marriage Act.

On the second day of intense arguments over the volatile issue of same-sex marriage, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who most likely holds the decisive vote, returned again and again to the theme that deciding who is married is a matter for the states. The federal government, he said, should respect “the historic commitment of marriage, and of questions of the rights of children, to the states.”

That suggests that he is prepared to vote with the court’s four liberal members to strike down the part of the 1996 law that recognizes only the marriages of opposite-sex couples for more than 1,000 federal laws and programs. Such a ruling would deliver federal benefits to married same-sex couples in the nine states, and the District of Columbia, that allow such unions.

If the 1996 law stands, Justice Kennedy said, “you are at real risk with running in conflict with what has always been thought to be the essence” of state power, which he said was to regulate marriage, divorce and custody.

All four members of the court’s liberal wing questioned the constitutionality of the law, though they largely focused on equal protection principles rather than on the limits of federal power.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for instance, said the law effectively created “two kinds of marriage: the full marriage, and then this sort of skim milk marriage.”

Paul D. Clement, who served as solicitor general under President George W. Bush and is defending the law on behalf of House Republicans, argued that the federal government was entitled to use a uniform definition of marriage across the nation.

Mr. Clement said countless laws over time had been enacted with the traditional definition of marriage in mind. When Congress approved the 1996 law, he said, it was worried that if one state extended the definition to include same-sex couples, those laws would effectively be changed.

“What Congress says is, ‘Wait a minute,’ ” Mr. Clement said of what had happened in 1996. “ ‘Let’s take a timeout here. This is a redefinition of an age-old institution.’ ”

Justice Elena Kagan said there was something else at work.

“Do we really think that Congress was doing this for uniformity reasons, or do we think that Congress’s judgment was infected by dislike, by fear, by animus and so forth?” she asked.

She read a passage from the House record at the time that said the law had been animated by a “collective moral judgment” to “express moral disapproval of homosexuality.”

Mr. Clement responded: “Of course, the House report says that. And if that’s enough to invalidate the statute, then you should invalidate the statute. But that has never been your approach.”

“Just because a couple legislators may have had an improper motive” is irrelevant, Mr. Clement said, adding that the usual question for the court was simply whether the challenged law was supported by a rational justification.

Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. said the 1996 law is deeply unfair and means, for instance, “that the spouse of a soldier killed in the line of duty cannot receive the dignity and solace of an official notification of next of kin.”

The arguments came a day after the court heard a challenge to California’s Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriages. That argument was murky and muddled, and many of the justices’ questions suggested they were looking for a way to duck the central issue.

By comparison, Wednesday’s case was modest, and the arguments were clear. The court heard a preliminary 50-minute session on whether it had jurisdiction to hear the case, but those issues did not seem to threaten to send the case off the rails.

The court appointed Vicki C. Jackson, a law professor at Harvard, to argue a position not fully supported by any party: that the case’s odd procedural posture meant the court lacks jurisdiction.

After the appeals court in New York struck down the challenged part of the law, which was the outcome the administration had urged, the Justice Department nonetheless appealed, saying the issue warranted an authoritative decision from the Supreme Court.

The problem, Professor Jackson said, is that both sides want the same result. “There is no adversity,” she said. “They’re in agreement.”

“This is totally unprecedented,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said of the way the case had reached the court. “You’re asking us to do something we’ve never done before.”

“It’s unusual,” acknowledged Sri Srinivasan, a deputy solicitor general.

“No, it’s not just unusual,” Chief Justice Roberts said. “It’s totally unprecedented.”

He expressed irritation that the case was before the court, saying President Obama’s approach — to enforce the law but not defend it — was a contradiction.

“I don’t see why he doesn’t have the courage of his convictions,” the chief justice said. He said Mr. Obama should have stopped enforcing a statute he viewed as unconstitutional “rather than saying, ‘Oh, we’ll wait till the Supreme Court tells us we have no choice.’ ”

The White House took umbrage at the remark and said the president was upholding his constitutional duty to execute the laws until the Supreme Court rules otherwise. “There is a responsibility that the administration has to enforce laws that are on the books,” said Josh Earnest, a deputy White House press secretary. “And we’ll do that even for laws that we disagree with, including the Defense of Marriage Act.”

There were also questions about whether House Republicans had standing to defend the law. “Obviously nobody’s suggesting, at least in the legislative branch, that this is a best practices situation,” Mr. Clement said.

But there did not seem to be a consensus on the bench to avoid deciding the constitutionality of the law.

Dismissing the case for lack of standing would probably have the effect of letting stand the appeals court ruling. But while some of the justices expressed skepticism that the court should be deciding the matter, Justice Kennedy suggested there was an issue legitimately before them because “it seems to me there’s injury here.”

In addition to those allowed to wed in the nine states and the District of Columbia, about 18,000 gay and lesbian couples married in California before voters there overturned a state Supreme Court decision that had established that right.

If the United States Supreme Court strikes down the challenged part of the 1996 law, same-sex spouses in those places would start to receive federal benefits. But such a decision would not require any other state to allow same-sex marriage. A ruling reaching that larger question would have to come from the case argued on Tuesday, Hollingsworth v. Perry, No. 12-144.

Wednesday’s case, United States v. Windsor, No. 12-307, concerns two New York City women, Edith Windsor and Thea Clara Spyer, who married in 2007 in Canada. Ms. Spyer died in 2009, and Ms. Windsor, who was in the courtroom on Wednesday, inherited her property.

Roberta Kaplan, a lawyer for Ms. Windsor, told the justices that the 1996 law had produced “discrimination for the first time in our country’s history against a class of married couples.”

The law did not allow the Internal Revenue Service to treat Ms. Windsor as a surviving spouse, and she faced a tax bill of about $360,000 that a spouse in an opposite-sex marriage would not have had to pay.

Ms. Windsor sued, and in October the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, struck down the contested part of 1996 law. The decision was the second from a federal appeals court to do so, joining one in May from a court in Boston.


Edith Windsor: Case against Defense of Marriage Act ‘went beautifully’

By Eric W. Dolan
Wednesday, March 27, 2013 18:26 EDT

Edith Windsor, the 83-year-old woman challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act, said Wednesday that her case “went beautifully.”

“I am today an out lesbian who just sued the United States of America, which is kind of overwhelming for me,” she said after being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Section 3 of DOMA defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman. The law prohibits legally married same sex couples from receiving federal benefits.

“When my beautiful sparking Thea died four years ago, I was overcome with grief,” Windsor explained. “Within in a month I was hospitalized with a heart attack, and that’s kind of common. It’s usually looked at as broken heart syndrome. In the midst of my grief, I realized that the federal government was treating us a strangers and I paid a humongous estate tax, and it meant selling a lot of stuff to do it. I live on a fixed income and it wasn’t easily.”

Windsor challenged the law after the federal government failed to recognize her marriage to her partner Thea Spyer after Spyer’s death in 2009. Though her marriage was recognized by the state of New York, she was still forced to pay a $363,000 federal estate tax bill because of her sexual orientation. Married opposite-sex couples are exempted from the tax.

The couple lived together for more than 40 years and were married in Canada in 2007.

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« Reply #5382 on: Mar 28, 2013, 08:27 AM »

SCOTUS Must Decide if the Bible Supersedes The Constitution’s Guarantee of Equal Rights

By: Rmuse
Mar. 27th, 2013

In America’s first official document, the concept of universal equality was elegantly stated even though the Founding Fathers never really believed or adhered to the notion, and throughout the country’s history, inequality was legally enforced and continues to this day. America will never have universal equality unless legally enforced and unjustified discrimination based on a person’s identity are stricken from the law, but leaders driven by religious indoctrination and hatred will continue preventing all Americans from enjoying equal rights. Now that the Supreme Court is fully engaged in the issue of same-sex marriage, Justices must acknowledge the prohibition on same-sex marriage, and homosexuality in general, has no other foundational basis than it is prohibited by a 6,000 year-old deity and legally enforced by adherents of the Christian religion in defiance of the Constitution of the United States.

On the first day the Supreme Court heard arguments defending California’s discriminatory Proposition 8, the Proposition’s proponents danced around the religious argument and proffered all manner of hollow and meaningless excuses for why gays are forbidden from marrying the person they love. The lawyer defending state-sanctioned and religion-based discrimination talked about procreation, the harm to traditional marriage, and whether or not “redefining marriage to include same-sex couples will have real-world consequences.” However, when pressed by Justice’s inquiries, the attorney could not cite, or enumerate, even one real-world consequence and at one point admitted “it is impossible for anyone to know exactly what those real-world consequences would be, but among those real-world consequences, we would suggest are adverse consequences.”

The religious right’s spokesman, Mike Huckabee, made a similar argument on Monday when he warned Republicans that if they dare support same-sex marriage, “they’re going to lose a large part of their base because evangelicals will take a walk. And it’s not because there’s an anti-homosexual mood, but many of us, and I consider myself included, base our standards not on the latest Washington Post poll, but on an objective standard, not a subjective standard.” Even Huckabee is reticent to cite what he and evangelicals base their objective standard on, but like the attorney defending inequality, he cites “a 2,000-year old tradition” that is code for the bible prohibition on homosexuality; a prohibition they claim cannot be abridged because the deity’s gay hatred goes back over 6,000 years.

In the House Republicans’ reply brief defending their original brief supporting DOMA the Court will hear next, they gave several arguments against marriage equality that amounted to “because we don’t like it” and were careful to avoid stating the obvious; the bible says god hates gays.  They claimed, among other phony reasons, that it is “more uniform to ban all same-sex marriages than recognize valid marriages, most states already ban them, sexual orientation is a behavior, children are better off with biological parents, only straight couples need marriage because they have kids accidentally, and let democracy play out so opponents aren’t called bigots.” Like Huckabee, Proposition 8 supporters, and at least four High Court Justices, DOMA supporters depend on biblical “traditions” dating back thousands of years that America adopted and later changed because they were discriminatory.

The Christian bible’s deity promoted slavery, dark-skinned people as cursed, subservient women, unprovoked war, and discrimination against religion not aligned with Christianity, and although those god-sentiments still exist in America, to ensure  equality America changed regardless thousands-of-year old traditions. Tradition is the catch-all phrase to defend various laws supporting discrimination against same-sex marriage, but gays marrying is not the real issue, being homosexual is as evidenced by the evangelical and Republican argument that “sexual orientation is a behavior, a tendency to engage in a particular kind of conduct;” a conduct the Christian bible’s god labeled “an abomination.”

Legal experts suggest the High Court is “not prepared to issue any sweeping gay rights ruling” because  ”no member of the court seemed to be interested in that,” and are likely to ” limit their ruling” to California and allow the rest of the states to discriminate against gays at their biblical pleasure. At best, experts opine, the High Court will let stand the Ninth Circuit ruling striking down Proposition 8 as unconstitutional because it unfairly discriminates against gays and it begs the question; if it is unconstitutional to discriminate against gays in California, why is it Constitutional for other states to discriminate against them under cover of biblical law? Because America traditionally discriminates against its own citizens with scriptural precedence whether it was legal slavery, keeping women subservient, or discriminating against “god-cursed dark-skinned people” and little has changed despite over one-hundred years of tradition overturning legal discrimination.

If opponents of same-sex marriage were capable of veracity, they would simply state they hate same-sex marriage and homosexuals because “the bible tells them so” and not because of procreation, tradition, or adhering to “objective standards.” If they admitted their opposition was purely religious, then the High Court would not be forced to wade through bovine excrement to continue imposing legal discrimination and inequality on one segment of the population. However, the truth would put the onus on the Supreme Court to rule that either the bible supersedes the Constitution’s guarantee of equal rights and the 1st Amendment is null and void, or that America is not a theocracy. Any ruling that does not strike down the ban on same-sex marriage in all fifty states informs that the High Court intends for Americans to continue suffering scriptural edicts as legislation, signals that America is a theocracy, and gays are second-class citizens.


Obama Can’t Fix Congress’ Monsanto Giveaway with an Executive Order

By: Sarah Jones
Mar. 27th, 2013

The “Monsanto Protection Act” (section 735) was attached (anonymously) as a rider to a short term spending bill (HR 933). President Obama signed it into law on March 26th.

Food activists (and generally sane people) are outraged, as they should be. 250,000 voters signed a petition opposing the act and others called for Obama to strike the Monsanto provision (aka, “biotech rider”) from the spending bill.

“Passing the Monsanto Protection Act is the last straw for millions of Americans who are tired of being betrayed by their elected officials,” said Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now! “We’re calling on President Obama to stand up for family farmers and the Constitution and veto the Monsanto Protection Act.”

The problem is that the President does not have line item veto power; it’s all or nothing. This is called a poison pill. As part of the short term spending bill, President Obama had to sign the resolution in order to prevent the federal government from shutting down today, March 27, when the current funding was set to expire. He doesn’t get to cherry pick what parts he signs into law. He either lets the goverment shut down or he signs the poison pill.

The Monsanto Protection Act is outrageous to anyone who pays attention to our current food safety issues. It essentially temporary deregulates genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It grants the U.S. Department of Agriculture the authority to override a judicial ruling stopping the planting of a genetically modified crop, and thus grants temporary permits for farmers to plant and grow genetically modified crops.

Food Democracy Now! issued a statement, “If leadership in Washington, D.C. can betray the public behind closed doors, it’s time that the American public gain the right to transparency about what they are eating and feeding their families every day.”

Transparency regarding our food would be great. It hardly seems like we’re asking for too much on this one. Just tell us what crap you’re putting in the stuff we put into our bodies, so we can make our own choices. It’s telling that the corproate food industry fights so hard against identifying clearly what’s in our food.

Food activists are now calling for the President to issue a signing statement and/or executive order to label our food, “Today we’re calling on President Obama to issue an executive order to call for the mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods.” A signing statement would have been issued while signing the legislation, and would have claimed that part of the law was unconstitutional. However, it wouldn’t have changed how the law was implemented.

An executive order cannot make new law; only Congress can do that. An executive order tells a President’s administration how he wants a law implemented; it gives direction to officers and agencies of the executive branch. But here’s the real kicker: Even if President Obama were to sign an executive order to label our food (we have no indication as to whether he would be inclined to do so), Congress could deny funding its execution, just as they have with his order to close Gitmo.

When it comes to laws, it always comes back to Congress. Our food safety has been severely compromised by corporate lobbyists’ ever-tightening control over our representatives. If people really want things to change, they need to be able to identify the individuals behind these cowardly acts.

Here’s a hint: Republican Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) takes the most money from pro-GMO PACs in the Senate Appropriations Committee, where this dastardly rider was secretly attached (this time, that is. We have a certain House Republican who tries to attach a similar amendment to almost every bill that touches his greedy fingers). Democratic Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) tried to get the amendment taken out of the spending bill to no avail.

While HR 933 expires in six months, I have little hope that we will see any major changes in food safety while our Congress is controlled by big ag/corporate money. The AP reported on Maplight’s analysis, “Current members of Congress have received $7,450,434 from the PACs of these organizations.”

No matter who is in the White House, Congress controls the purse strings and makes the laws, and they are more than adept at using current crises (manufactured by them, of course) to attach corporate giveaways to big spenders.

This is yet another beyond frustrating poison pill.

People should still protest and sign petitions, because that is the only power the people have to get their voices heard on issues. But our Corporate Congress will continue protecting the profits of their funders until we find a way to stop it.


John Boehner Secretly Forces Taxpayers to Spend Millions of Dollars Defending DOMA

By: Jason Easley
Mar. 27th, 2013

John Boehner has skimmed $742,000 in House funds to defend DOMA, but his cap on the DOMA defense fund is actually $3.1 million taxpayer dollars.

In January, Speaker John Boehner and the House Republican leadership secretly raised the spending cap on their DOMA defense fund a third time to $3.1 million. The cap is now more than six times its original $500,000 limit. Democrats had no idea that the cap had been secretly raised until after it had already been finalized.

Here’s the kicker. John Boehner has taken money out of the Justice Department’s budget to defend the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act. According to the Huffington Post, “Boehner so far has collected $742,000 to defend DOMA, and that money was skimmed from funds that would normally go toward House officer and employee salaries, Chief Administrative Officer Dan Strodel told members of a House Appropriations subcommittee. Strodel said none of that money came out of the budget of the Justice Department, which dropped its defense of DOMA in February 2011 after Attorney General Eric Holder determined it to be unconstitutional. Boehner, in his authority as speaker, has been defending the law on behalf of the federal government ever since.”

Boehner is taking money out of the Justice Department’s budget to defend a policy that the Justice Department doesn’t support, but this is more than a budgetary issue. Speaker Boehner is using taxpayer money to defend a policy that 59% of Americans oppose. A February Center for American Progress poll found that 59% of people oppose the legal prohibition of offering federal benefits to legally married same sex couples.

The American people oppose the policy. The Justice Department refuses to defend it, but John Boehner is spending your money defending something that most of you don’t want. Like a thief in the night, Boehner raised the DOMA defense cap without telling the American people. As the Supreme Court hears arguments on DOMA today, John Boehner is nowhere to be found.

After stealing from the American people, John Boehner doesn’t even have the courage to confess to his crime.


March 27, 2013

Governor of Tennessee Joins Peers Refusing Medicaid Plan


Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee said Wednesday that he would not expand Medicaid in his state as called for in the federal health care overhaul, joining 18 other Republican governors who have rejected expansion for now.

Governor Haslam said he wanted instead to use federal Medicaid money to buy private insurance for as many as 175,000 low-income residents of his state. But he said that plan was being held up because the Obama administration had put too many conditions on the money.

With his health care law, President Obama wanted to make Medicaid, the federal-state health program for poor people, available to many more Americans, covering those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level (currently up to $15,856 a year for an individual). But when the Supreme Court upheld the law last year, it ruled that states could opt out of the Medicaid expansion.

For states that opt in, the federal government will pay the full cost of expansion from 2014 to 2016, with its share gradually decreasing to 90 percent in 2020. So far, about two dozen governors, most of them Democrats, have said they want to expand Medicaid.

Tennessee is not the first state to latch on to the idea of using the federal expansion money to buy private insurance for a portion of its low-income population. Arkansas and Ohio are seeking permission from the Obama administration to do so, and some lawmakers in other states, including Florida, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Texas, have also expressed interest.

Under this option, a state would use the federal Medicaid expansion funds to pay premiums for commercial insurance that will be sold through new marketplaces known as insurance exchanges. But Governor Haslam said he had not received assurances from the Obama administration that he could do things the way he wanted. For example, he said, he wants beneficiaries to pay a portion of their health care costs if they can afford to. And he does not want the expansion population to have better benefits than others who get insurance through the exchange.

“Until we get those assurances,” Governor Haslam said in a speech to state legislators, “I cannot recommend to you that we move forward on this plan.”

Erin Shields Britt, a spokeswoman for the federal Department of Health and Human Services, said, “We welcome continued conversations with Tennessee about developing a state-based solution that meets both the state’s unique needs and the requirements of the Medicaid program while providing much-needed coverage to thousands of Tennesseans.”

Robert Pear contributed reporting from Washington.


March 27, 2013

With Vouchers, States Shift Aid for Schools to Families


PHOENIX — A growing number of lawmakers across the country are taking steps to redefine public education, shifting the debate from the classroom to the pocketbook. Instead of simply financing a traditional system of neighborhood schools, legislators and some governors are headed toward funneling public money directly to families, who would be free to choose the kind of schooling they believe is best for their children, be it public, charter, private, religious, online or at home.

On Tuesday, after a legal fight, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the state’s voucher program as constitutional. This month, Gov. Robert Bentley of Alabama signed tax-credit legislation so that families can take their children out of failing public schools and enroll them in private schools, or at least in better-performing public schools.

In Arizona, which already has a tax-credit scholarship program, the Legislature has broadened eligibility for education savings accounts. And in New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie, in an effort to circumvent a Legislature that has repeatedly defeated voucher bills, has inserted $2 million into his budget so low-income children can obtain private school vouchers.

Proponents say tax-credit and voucher programs offer families a way to escape failing public schools. But critics warn that by drawing money away from public schools, such programs weaken a system left vulnerable after years of crippling state budget cuts — while showing little evidence that students actually benefit.

“This movement is doing more than threaten the core of our traditional public school system,” said Timothy Ogle, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association. “It’s pushing a national policy agenda embraced by conservatives across states that are receptive to conservative ideas.”

Currently, 17 states offer 33 programs that allow parents to use taxpayer money to send their children to private schools, according to the American Federation for Children, a nonprofit advocate for school vouchers and tax-credit scholarship programs that give individuals or corporations tax reductions if they donate to state-run scholarship funds.

To qualify, students generally must fit into certain categories, based on factors that include income and disability status. Georgia students do not need to meet any specific criteria to receive tax-credit scholarships. And under the income criteria set for Indiana’s voucher program, nearly two-thirds of the state’s families qualify.

The Arizona Legislature last May expanded the eligibility criteria for education savings accounts, which are private bank accounts into which the state deposits public money for certain students to use for private school tuition, books, tutoring and other educational services.

Open only to special-needs students at first, the program has been expanded to include children in failing schools, those whose parents are in active military duty and those who are being adopted. One in five public school students — roughly 220,000 children — will be eligible in the coming school year.

Some parents of modest means are surprised to discover that the education savings accounts put private school within reach. When Nydia Salazar first dreamed of attending St. Mary’s Catholic High School in Phoenix, for example, her mother, Maria Salazar, a medical receptionist, figured there was no way she could afford it. The family had always struggled financially, and Nydia, 14, had always attended public school.

But then Ms. Salazar, 37, a single mother who holds two side jobs to make ends meet, heard of a scholarship fund that would allow her to use public dollars to pay the tuition.

She is now trying to coax other parents into signing up for similar scholarships. “When I tell them about private school, they say I’m crazy,” she said. “They think that’s only for rich people.”

These state efforts come at a particularly challenging time for public schools. Their budgets suffered severely during the recession, and they are now facing pressure to conform to new curriculum standards and to evaluate teacher performance.

“We’re not providing adequately now,” said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association. “Why would you take away” financing from public schools?

In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that school vouchers did not violate the Constitution’s separation of church and state, even though many families use the public money to send their children to religious schools. Many states, however, still have constitutional clauses prohibiting the financing of religious institutions with public money, which is why some of the programs face legal challenges. Voucher opponents also have filed suits based on state constitutional guarantees of public education.

Beyond Indiana, the Supreme Court in Louisiana heard an appeal this month by a group of parents who are currently using vouchers and the Black Alliance for Educational Options, an advocacy group, after a lower court upheld a challenge to the state’s voucher program. They argued that children enrolled in failing public schools had the right to a high-quality education.

“What we’re dealing with is what public monopolies always give us, which is low quality at a very high price,” said Richard Komer, a lawyer with the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public-interest law firm that represents the pro-voucher groups in Indiana and Louisiana. “The idea is to try and break that cycle, because what we’ve been doing in public education since the beginning of time is rewarding failure.”

Critics say schools that accept vouchers or tax credit scholarships often filter out students with special needs, and that families already sending their children to private school use the public programs to subsidize their tuition. It is also not clear that students who attend private schools using vouchers get better educations, as many do not have to take the annual standardized tests that public school students do. Research tracking students in voucher programs has also not shown clear improvements in performance.

“At the same exact time as accountability and transparency seem to be the total watchword for how are we spending these dollars in an austerity-ridden environment,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, “there’s absolutely no accountability with vouchers.”

Mr. Komer at the Institute for Justice called for a shift of focus. “We happen to take the view that parents know best,” he said, “and are the best accountability measure to make sure that things are done properly for their kids.”

In Arizona — which, over the past five years, cut more of its K-12 budget than any other state, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a policy research group based in Washington — charter schools are ubiquitous and school districts have open borders, so children are free to go to school wherever they want.

Dr. Ogle, of the Arizona School Boards Association, said, “The arguments that you need to have more options is superfluous.”

But the savings accounts have many powerful supporters, including Arizona’s governor, Jan Brewer. Unlike vouchers, these accounts allow the money to follow the child from one school year to the next. (Scholarships total roughly $3,500 a year, or the state’s portion of school per-pupil funding.)

“It will be the end of schools that don’t perform, and that’s a blessing,” said Darcy A. Olsen, president of the Goldwater Institute, which designed the program and led a robust lobbying campaign to pass it in the Legislature. “We’re not doing anyone any favors by keeping schools afloat that don’t teach children how to read.”

The school boards association and the state’s teachers union, among others, have challenged the savings accounts in court on the grounds that they violate a constitutional amendment banning spending public money on private schools. (Direct vouchers, begun in 2006, were deemed unconstitutional in 2009 for that reason.)

In January 2012, a Superior Court judge in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, upheld the savings accounts, though the plaintiffs appealed the ruling. Oral arguments were heard last month. A decision is pending.


Ahmed Errachidi's unlikely voyage from London cook to Guantánamo Bay

Ahmed Errachidi was not a terrorist, just a man trying to support his family, but he spent more than five years in Guantánamo Bay, organised protests and earned the nickname 'The General'. Gillian Slovo introduces an extract from his book

Ahmed Errachidi and Gillian Slovo   
The Guardian, Thursday 28 March 2013   

The US military in Guantánamo Bay called Ahmed Errachidi "The General": in London he was just a cook. His journey from one role to the other is a fascinating story.

Errachidi came from Morocco to London as a tourist, liked it and stayed, working as a kitchen-hand and then as a cook. But by 2001 he had a family back in Tangier, and with a son suffering from a heart problem he needed a new way of making a living. He listened to other immigrants' stories of rich pickings in other countries, and decided to buy silver jewellery in Pakistan to sell in Morocco. So he made his way to Islamabad.

It was late September 2001 and the Pakistani television screens were full of images of refugees streaming out of Afghanistan to escape the bombing about to be let loose on their country. Errachidi was doubly lost: he didn't know how to start his business and he was sick with fear for his son. The pictures he saw filled him with horror and, perhaps to escape his own difficulties, he decided to do something to help. On impulse, and ignoring the danger he was heading into, he crossed into Afghanistan.

Almost as soon as he arrived he realised how little he knew of Afghanistan. He wanted to leave but, with the guide who had brought him across the border gone, he didn't know how. And so the man who had come to help refugees became one: in the chaos of bombing it took him more than three weeks to return to Pakistan. But when a car he was travelling in hit a pedestrian and the driver ran away, Errachidi and his companions were arrested. They were kept in a Pakistani prison, then sold in an airport lounge to the Americans, before going through the dreadful privation of the US-run Afghan camps to Guantánamo.

Errachidi spent five and a half years in Guantánamo. He was accused of having trained in an al-Qaida camp: his lawyers, when finally given this information, proved that, during the period in question, he had actually been working in London kitchens. Released without charge, he returned to Tangier where he lives with his family.

As an English speaker, Errachidi was in the Guantánamo front line. He could have stepped back and made his life easier, but in Guantánamo, he found in himself a capacity to organise others. That is why they named him "The General" and why he had such a hard time. His story is of a man caught in a Kafkaesque trap but also of a man, and the others with him, who, as powerless as they were, still found in themselves the spirit to resist.

Protests were commonplace in Guantánamo. Life was lived out to the sound of shouting and beating doors. But even so, when I first got there, these tended to be reactive and spontaneous, and running underneath them there was an air of hopelessness: few of us felt we had any control over our destinies or any way of stopping the things that were done to us. The longer I was in Guantánamo the more convinced I became of the need to change that.

I concentrated at first on trying to figure out how to stop the soldiers treating our Qur'ans with disrespect. Some went further than the frequent searches, throwing our holy book about; one even threw a Qur'an into the toilet. With the prisoners in the cells on either side of mine, I set in motion a discussion about how we might change things.

Some proposed we went on hunger strike, others wanted us to stop all co-operation with the interrogators. I came up with a different idea: I suggested we simply return our Qur'ans to the library. If we did that, I reasoned, then the administration wouldn't be able to keep up their pretence of giving us full religious freedom and, at the same time, they'd also not be able to use our holy book as leverage against us.

The general in charge of Guantánamo at that time, a brute by the name of General Miller who was also in charge at Abu Ghraib when the abuses were exposed, had seen how, when one of our number was attacked, we were ready to defend him: if one was denied food, we would all refuse to eat, and if one was deprived of his blanket, we would also discard ours. This solidarity was our only source of power, and so Miller targeted it by creating a new "order of classes" whose purpose was to split the camp into four sections.

An Arabic interpreter came round to each block to tell us about this new order. Each class, he told us, would differ from the next in terms of entitlement to food and possessions. Some of the differences now seem petty – for example, first class was allowed an empty plastic bottle with a screw-on lid while second class could have the bottle but not the lid – but given how destitute we all were, these minor differences could easily come to matter. Miller then further upped the ante by letting the soldiers take away some of our basic possessions if we were said to have disobeyed instructions or broken camp rules. In addition, he decreed that those in punishment should not have access to their Qur'an.

I knew how hard it was for the other prisoners to contemplate giving up their Qur'ans. It was hard for me as well. Mine was my dearest possession, my security in tribulation, the light that delivered me from the darkness of my distress, and the longer I was locked up, the more precious it became. And yet most of the prisoners understood that my suggestion had less to do with depriving ourselves of our Qur'ans and more to do with protecting our holy book from our jailers' insults as well as exposing their hypocrisy.

We wanted our protest to be camp-wide. Since the soldiers controlled every aspect of our lives, organising was hard – should they get wind of a protest, they'd isolate the ringleaders – but we always did find a way. Not only could we shout between blocks but we also learned to use the prison administration's system against it. At that time, after a prisoner had served his punishment in one of the three punishment blocks, he'd be released back into the general prison population but not to the block he'd originally come from. This meant that prisoners, and especially the most disobedient among us, were continually meeting new prisoners: and this was the way we spread word of our impending resistance.

Our strategy agreed, the prisoners in our block began to hand our Qur'ans over to the chaplain and translators, asking for them to be sent to safety in Mecca. It didn't take long for our action to spread.

My interrogator summoned me to ask why we were doing this, and I told him. I also warned him that because the Qur'an distracted us from our confinement, should we be without it for an extended period, our patience would snap and there would be rebellion throughout the camp. The administration agreed to our demand to prohibit the searching of the Qur'an. But it was too late: the prisoners no longer trusted the administration and started refusing to take their Qur'ans back. We'd reached a deadlock that went on for weeks: the administration trying to return our Qur'ans, our not taking them, some prisoners still with Qur'ans, some without.

It was while this protest was going on that Miller's class division came into effect, and this included depriving prisoners on punishment of the Qur'an, which created a fresh and even louder protest. The soldiers were supposed to call the chaplain or the interpreter to collect the Qur'an and keep it safe until the prisoner had served his term of punishment. But one night the soldiers broke their own rules and began to use force to remove Qur'ans.

They had done this to every prisoner as he came in (we usually had five or six arrive in a 24-hour period), and witnessing it we had become increasingly furious. We started banging on the doors and shouting. The soldiers took no notice. So, to get under their skin, and demean them in the same way they were demeaning us, one of the prisoners started shouting out the name of Osama bin Laden. All the prisoners took up the chant: "Osama bin Laden, Osama bin Laden."

Our shouts enraged the soldiers. They wanted to take something from us but we had so little: in the end they could only demand that we give up our towels. We refused to comply and continued to taunt them. So they sent for an emergency reaction force (ERF) to storm our cells.

ERFs were made up of five or six soldiers wielding shields and wearing black protective clothing over their military uniforms as well as helmets and protective plates for their calves and thighs.

This gear was designed not only to protect them but also to cast fear. When they were ready to attack a prisoner in his cell they'd form a human train, the soldier at the front wielding the large shield, the kind riot police use, like a fat tube cut in half lengthways. The cell door would be opened, another soldier would spray a hot gas known as OC (oleoresin capsicum) spray into the prisoner's face, causing excruciating pain to eyes, skin and throat as well as choking the prisoner and making him collapse. Once the prisoner was on the ground, the other soldiers would rush in and beat him.

They used different methods for these beatings. Some would press as hard as they could on the soft point behind our ears. Some would lift our heads off the ground before smashing them down on the metal floor. Some would twist our fingers back hard enough to break them. And all the time they were doing this they would be shouting: "Do not resist, do not move", even though by this point it was impossible to do either. They also filmed these attacks, telling us this was to "ensure the safety of the prisoner", which was laughable given the damage they were doing. Afterwards they would use the medical kit they had brought with them to staunch the bleeding, bruising and bone fractures they had inflicted on us. The unconsciousness was harder to patch up. But before this first aid was applied, our hands and feet would be shackled from as we lay face down on the floor; they'd put our faces over the toilet.

Such attacks would characteristically last about 15 minutes and then, after administering the first aid, they'd remove the shackles and then, holding on to each other, would slowly withdraw from the cell in a line, the last soldier remaining to restrain the prisoner until he was finally pulled from the prisoner's body with such force that they'd all end up falling backwards. Then the cell door would be slammed shut.

This was what happened that night. Soon afterwards, my interrogator asked me if I knew what my new nickname among the soldiers was. When I said no, he told me that it was "The General". I was sitting on a chair and shackled to an iron ring in the floor. He moved closer in his comfortable office chair, put his hands on my knees and looked me straight in the eyes. "Get off the stage, now," he said. "You are under the spotlight, in an exposed position. If you don't step down you'll fall and get hurt." He told me then that he'd been sent by the colonel, a senior-ranking officer, to deliver this message and that this was the last time I'd be told.

• © Ahmed Errachidi 2013. Extracted from The General: The Ordinary Man Who Challenged Guantánamo by Ahmed Errachidi, published by Chatto & Windus at £12.99. To order a copy for £10.59 with free UK p&p go to or call 0330 333 6846
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« Reply #5383 on: Mar 29, 2013, 05:13 AM »

In the USA  continued ....

March 28, 2013 04:00 PM

President Obama Confronts NRA Head-On, Calls For Action

By CrooksandLiars

In a speech today about proposed gun safety laws, the president went off script long enough to answer Wayne LaPierre's cynical speculation that given some time, Americans would forget about Newtown and settle back in to a comfortable level of apathy about guns and gun control.

From the transcript:

    I read an article in the news just the other day wondering is Washington -- has Washington missed its opportunity, because as time goes on after Newtown, somehow people start moving on and forgetting. Let me tell you, the people here, they don't forget. Grace's dad is not forgetting. Hadiya's mom hasn't forgotten. The notion that two months or three months after something as horrific as what happened in Newtown happens and we've moved on to other things, that's not who we are. That's not who we are.

    And I want to make sure every American is listening today. Less than 100 days ago that happened, and the entire country was shocked. And the entire country pledged we would do something about it and that this time would be different. Shame on us if we've forgotten. I haven't forgotten those kids. Shame on us if we've forgotten.

    If there's one thing I’ve said consistently since I first ran for this office: Nothing is more powerful than millions of voices calling for change. And that’s why it’s so important that all these moms and dads are here today. But that's also why it’s important that we've got grassroots groups out there that got started and are out there mobilizing and organizing and keeping up the fight. That's what it’s going to take to make this country safer. It’s going to take moms and dads, and hunters and sportsmen, and clergy and local officials like the mayors who are here today standing up and saying, this time really is different -- that we’re not just going to sit back and wait until the next Newtown or the next Blacksburg or the next innocent, beautiful child who is gunned down in a playground in Chicago or Philadelphia or Los Angeles before we summon the will to act.

    Right now, members of Congress are back home in their districts, and many of them are holding events where they can hear from their constituents. So I want everybody who is listening to make yourself heard right now.

President Obama went on to call for everyone to reach out to their Representatives and Senators with a passion reminiscent of his campaign for re-election. If this is the bully pulpit people were hoping for, he is using it, as is Vice President Biden.

So do it. Call your representatives and your Senators, tell them that the NRA does not own them, that the NRA has no power over them, but we, the people will judge them on whether they stand up and do what's right or cower before the likes of a wingnut like Wayne LaPierre. As the president said in his remarks today, "We need everybody to remember how we felt 100 days ago and make sure that what we said at that time wasn't just a bunch of platitudes -- that we meant it. "

I'm glad he's not letting this die. It's been frustrating to watch the NRA pretend they have the upper hand on this. It's time for all of us to shove them back under the rock where they belong.

Click to watch:!


March 28, 2013 03:00 PM

North Dakota leads race to the bottom for women's health

By Natasha Chart

In a race for bragging rights to be the first state in the nation to end abortion services, North Dakota's Governor Jack Dalrymple signed three extreme abortion restrictions this week, less than 24 hours after they landed on his desk. One of them is likely to close the state's only abortion provider, the Red River Women's Clinic. These are the bills:

    HB 1305: Banning abortions for reasons of sex-selection or genetic anomalies.
    HB 1456: Banning abortions from the point at which a heartbeat can be detected.
    SB 2305: Requiring abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges.

The first two are unlikely to have much effect beyond wasting North Dakota taxpayers' money on lawsuits defending them. Neither is likely to pass constitutional muster, though they contribute to the constant re-litigation of women's basic rights and grab headlines away from the restrictions that most effectively eliminate abortion access.

The last bill, SB 2305, though it sounds the most innocuous, is a Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) bill, designed intentionally to close the state's last clinic. Though proposed as a patient safety measure, Red River is likely to fall short because they have an excellent safety record and local hospitals require doctors to meet a 10 patient per year referral minimum to gain admitting privileges.

“I’ve had one time that I’ve had to admit a patient in the last ten years,” Red River's director, Tammi Kromenaker explained. "I would never employ a doctor who had to admit ten patients a year. That would mean they were a terrible doctor.”

Again, the Red River Women's Clinic is likely to be shut down because it's too safe a medical facility to get hospital admitting privileges.

SB 2305 is not flashy. It's not pushing back the Roe v. Wade threshold. It's not redefining citizenship to include fertilized eggs or treating miscarriages as a criminal offense.

Yet if SB 2305 holds, it will end abortion care in North Dakota under the flag of women's safety. Nearly all of the TRAP laws proposed across multiple states are described as safety regulations, in spite of the fact that abortion, especially first trimester abortion, is safer than giving birth. Other low-profile, but highly effective, abortion restrictions include mandatory waiting periods and counseling sessions. Bills that force women to wait, like restrictions intended to close clinics, all have the effect of not only making abortion more costly and time-consuming, but less safe. When women have to travel or take more days off work, this tends to push abortion later in a pregnancy, even though procedural risks gradually increase over time.

Nor is it a coincidence how many of these bills sound the same or have the same rationale. Many of them are taken from blueprint legislation written by an anti-abortion legislative mill, Americans United for Life, a group making concerted national efforts to both bring court challenges to abortion rights and make the procedure effectively impossible to obtain for millions of women.

Once again, anti-abortion activists and legislators have succeeded best not through their jaw-dropping proposals to declare a fertilized egg a person, but by sliding boring technicalities into bills whose details don't make for great headlines. They've gotten really good at this game.

Longtime blogger Natasha Chart is the campaign director at RH Reality Check.

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« Reply #5384 on: Mar 29, 2013, 05:38 AM »

Kim Jong-un puts missile units on standby to attack US bases

North Korea says differences can only be settled by 'physical means' after US flew two stealth bombers over Korean peninsula

Reuters, Friday 29 March 2013 09.30 GMT   

North Korea has put its missile units on standby to attack American military bases in South Korea and the Pacific, after the US flew two nuclear-capable stealth bombers over the Korean peninsula in a rare show of force.

The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, signed off on the order at a midnight meeting of top generals and "judged the time has come to settle accounts with the US imperialists in view of the prevailing situation".

The official KCNA news agency said North Korea and the US could only settle their differences by "physical means".

The North has an arsenal of Soviet-era short-range Scud missiles that can hit South Korea and have been proven, but its longer-range Nodong and Musudan missiles that could in theory hit US Pacific bases are untested.

China, the North's sole major ally, repeated its calls for restraint on the Korean peninsula at a regular foreign ministry briefing on Friday and made no criticism of the US flights.

"We hope that relevant parties will work together in pushing for a turnaround of the tense situation," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters.

On Thursday, the United States flew two radar-evading B-2 Spirit bombers on practice runs over South Korea, responding to a series of North Korean threats. They flew from the United States and back in what appeared to be the first exercise of its kind, designed to show America's ability to conduct long-range, precision strikes "quickly and at will", the US military said.

The news of Kim's response was unusually swift.

"He finally signed the plan on technical preparations of strategic rockets of the KPA (Korean People's Army), ordering them to be on standby for fire so that they may strike any time the US mainland, its military bases in the operational theatres in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam, and those in South Korea," KCNA said.
Kim Jong Un attending a meeting with top military officials Photo released by KCNA news agency on 29 March shows Kim Jong Un at a meeting with top military officials in Pyongyang Photograph: ZUMA / Rex Features

South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported there had been additional troop and vehicle movements at the North's mid- and long-range missile sites, indicating they may be ready to fire.

"Sharply increased movements of vehicles and soldiers have been detected recently at North Korea's mid and long-range missile sites," Yonhap quoted a South Korean military source as saying.

It was impossible to verify the report which did not specify a time frame, although South Korea's defence ministry said on Friday that it was watching shorter-range Scud missile sites closes as well as Nodong and Musudan missile batteries.

North Korea has launched a daily barrage of threats since early this month when the United States and South Korea, allies in the 1950-53 Korean war, began routine military drills.

South Korea and the US have said the drills are purely defensive in nature and that no incident has taken place in the decades they have been conducted in various forms.

The US also flew B-52 bombers over South Korea earlier this week.

North Korea has put its military on highest readiness to fight what it says are hostile forces conducting war drills. Its young leader has previously given "final orders" for its military to wage revolutionary war with South Korea.

"The North Koreans have to understand that what they're doing is very dangerous," US defence secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday.

"We must make clear that these provocations by the North are taken by us very seriously and we'll respond to that."

The US military said that its B-2 bombers had flown more than 6,500 miles to stage a trial bombing raid from their bases in Missouri as part of the war drills being held with South Korea.

The bombers dropped inert munitions on the Jik Do Range, in South Korea, and then returned to the continental United States in a single, continuous mission, the military said.

Thursday's drill was the first time B-2s flew round-trip from the mainland United States over South Korea and dropped inert munitions, a Pentagon spokeswoman said.


U.S. will ‘respond’ to North Korea’s provocations, says Chuck Hagel

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, March 28, 2013 17:25 EDT

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday that the United States was “prepared to deal with any eventuality” from North Korea and warned that danger from Pyongyang was on the rise.

“We will unequivocally defend — we are unequivocally committed — to that alliance with South Korea as well as our other allies in that region of the world,” Hagel told reporters.

“We will be prepared — we have to be prepared — to deal with any eventuality,” Hagel said after the United States flew two nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bombers on a mission over South Korea.

“We must make clear that these provocations by the North are taken by us very seriously and we’ll respond to that,” Hagel said.

Tensions have risen sharply with North Korea, which in recent months launched a long-range rocket, tested its third nuclear bomb and threatened to attack US bases in the Pacific as well as the US mainland.

“I think their very provocative actions and belligerent tone has ratcheted up the danger,” Hagel said.

The B-2 overflights were considered a major step as the United States rarely publicly announces such tests, which anger Pyongyang.

Hagel denied the United States was acting provocatively. General Martin Dempsey, the top US military officer, said that the decision to send the B-2s was more about South Korea and Japan.

“Those exercises are mostly to assure our allies that they can count on us to be prepared and to help them deter conflict,” Dempsey said.

US policymakers have expressed concern that South Korea or Japan might seek nuclear weapons of their own in response to North Korean threats, a prospect that most analysts believe remains distant.

Dempsey said that despite North Korea’s rhetoric, its military’s movements have been “consistent with historic patterns” during training exercises.

* Kim-Jong-un-meets-top-Nor-010.jpg (36.96 KB, 460x276 - viewed 80 times.)

* Chuck-Hagel-via-AFP.jpg (66.96 KB, 615x345 - viewed 75 times.)
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