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« Reply #5595 on: Apr 07, 2013, 07:17 AM »

April 6, 2013

Kerry Moves to Help Turkey and Israel to Restore Ties


ISTANBUL — Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Istanbul early Sunday morning to encourage Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey to move ahead with his commitment to normalize relations with Israel.

President Obama brokered an agreement between Israel and Turkey to restore their ties during his visit to Jerusalem last month.

Turkey and Israel’s diplomatic ties had been frozen since 2010 after nine Turks were killed when the Israeli military intercepted a Turkish ship that was trying to run the blockade on supplies to Gaza. But no sooner was the new agreement announced than Mr. Erodogan boasted that it underscored Turkey’s regional clout, and concerns emerged that there could be problems fulfilling the agreement.

Mr. Kerry plans to meet with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Mr. Erdogan, who is scheduled to visit Washington next month for discussions with President Obama.

A State Department official said Mr. Kerry planned to “encourage Turkey to expeditiously implement its agreement with Israel and fully normalize their relationship.” Among other steps, the agreement calls for an exchange of Turkish and Israeli ambassadors.

Other issues on Mr. Kerry’s agenda in Istanbul concern Turkey’s role in continuing to accept Syrians who have fled the civil war in their own country. There are 180,000 Syrians in Turkey, but the United Nations’s refugee agency recently criticized Turkey for sending home at least 130 refugees after unrest at a refugee camp. And the United States wants Turkey to keep its borders open to Syrians who are trying to escape the fighting in their country.

Mr. Kerry will also discuss support for the Syrian opposition. The secretary of state announced at a conference in Rome in late February that the United States would provide nonlethal assistance, specifically medical supplies and food rations, to the armed Syrian opposition. That assistance has not yet come through, though it is expected to arrived soon.

Mr. Kerry also plans to take up Turkey’s fraught relations with Iraq. To the consternation of the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government in Baghdad, Turkey has been discussing the establishment of a direct oil pipeline to the semiautonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.

After his meetings in Turkey, Mr. Kerry will head to Israel for talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials.
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« Reply #5596 on: Apr 07, 2013, 07:19 AM »

‘Anonymous’ launches assault on Israeli government websites

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, April 7, 2013 8:38 EDT

Hackers have launched an assault on Israeli websites, but the damage has been minimal as the Jewish state is prepared to fend off such attacks, one of the country’s top cyber experts said on Sunday.

The hackers associated with the activist group Anonymous reportedly hit the websites of the premier’s office, the defence ministry, the education ministry and the Central Bureau of Statistics, among others, but all appeared to be running normally.

Speaking to army radio, Professor Yitzhak ben Israel, head of the National Council for Research and Development, said the scope of the damage was “more or less non-existent”.

“That’s because of our preparedness in advance,” said Ben Israel, who founded the National Cyber Bureau which operates out of the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Ben Israel said it was highly unlikely Anonymous was seeking to do real damage to the country’s key infrastructure.

“Anonymous doesn’t have the ability, nor is it its aim to destroy the country’s essential infrastructure.

f it was, it wouldn’t have announced it in advance,” he said, indicating the aim was likely to stir debate over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The country was much better prepared than it was a year ago when there was a wave of attacks on the stock exchange and El Al (Airlines) and such sites.

“This time the attack is bigger in its scope and intensity but we are better prepared,” he said, referring to an attack on prominent Israeli websites at the start of 2012.

Guy Mizrahi, co-founder of Israeli data protection consultancy Cyberia, confirmed Israeli websites had been under a “significant attack” for the past few days.

“Yesterday there was quite a storm, quite a few government sites were hacked and messages were left on some of them, and data was stolen from others,” he told public radio.

“It doesn’t mean that Israel is being thrown off the Internet or that the traffic lights will stop working tomorrow, but it is certainly a significant attack.”

Last November, as Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza faced off in an eight-day confrontation, the Jewish state said it had been targeted by an “unprecedented” mass cyber-warfare campaign.

At the time, Anonymous claimed it had downed or erased the databases of nearly 700 Israeli sites in protest over the assault and over what it said was Israeli threats to cut “all Internet and other telecommunications into and out of Gaza.”

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« Reply #5597 on: Apr 07, 2013, 07:23 AM »

Israeli journalist is accused of inciting violence after backing Palestinian stone-throwers

Amira Hass receives hate mail for claiming Palestinian schools should teach children how to 'resist occupation'

Harriet Sherwood Jerusalem
The Observer, Saturday 6 April 2013 21.00 BST   

A prominent Israeli journalist, Amira Hass, has been subjected to a wave of hate mail and calls for prosecution for incitement to violence since writing an article defending the throwing of stones by Palestinian youths at Israeli soldiers.

Hass, who has lived in and reported on the occupied Palestinian territories for 20 years, argued that "throwing stones is the birthright and duty of anyone subject to foreign rule", and suggested that Palestinian schools should offer "basic classes in resistance".

The opinion piece, published in the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz, for whom Hass works, drew outraged reaction on the internet and from media commentators. The Yesha Council, which represents settlers, and the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel filed complaints with the police and the Israeli attorney general, and demanded that Hass be investigated for incitement to violence and terrorism.

Hass argued that stone-throwing was "an action as well as a metaphor of resistance". She wrote: "Steadfastness (sumud) and resistance against the physical, and even more so the systemic, institutionalised violence is the core sentence in the inner syntax of Palestinians in this land. This is reflected every day, every hour, every moment, without pause... The levels of distress, suffocation, bitterness, anxiety and wrath are continually on the rise, as is the astonishment at Israelis' blindness in believing their violence can remain in control forever."

Throwing stones was "born of boredom, excessive hormones, mimicry, boastfulness and competition. But in the inner syntax of the relationship between the occupier and the occupied, stone-throwing is the adjective attached to the subject of 'We've had enough of you, occupiers'."

Schools, she suggested, should teach Palestinian children various forms of resistance, plus its rules and limitations – for example, "the distinction between civilians and those who carry arms, between children and those in uniform, as well as the failures and narrowness of using weapons".

Hass's article appeared during several days of clashes in the West Bank following the death of a Palestinian prisoner whose cancer, according to Palestinian leaders, was diagnosed late and treated only with painkillers; and the shooting dead of two Palestinian teenagers by Israeli soldiers after they allegedly threw firebombs at a checkpoint. It was published the day after a military court convicted a Palestinian man of the murder of Asher Palmer and his baby son, Jonathan, whose car crashed after being struck with stones in 2011. Another Israeli child, three-year-old Adele Bitton, was critically injured in a similar incident last month.

Images of stone-throwing Palestinian youths, often with their faces concealed by chequered keffiyehs and sometimes using slingshots, have become symbolic of the resistance to Israel's 46-year occupation. Their actions are routinely met with teargas, stun grenades and rubber bullets fired by the Israeli military.

Addressing Hass directly, Adva Bitton, the mother of injured toddler, wrote in Ma'ariv: "I agree with you that everyone deserves their freedom. Arab and Jew alike. I agree with you that we all ought to aspire to liberty, but there isn't a person on earth who will achieve freedom and liberty by means of an instrument of death. There's no reason on earth that Adele, my three-year-old daughter, should have to lie in the intensive care unit now, connected to tubes and fighting for her life, and there is no reason, Amira, for you to encourage that."

Another comment piece in the same newspaper said Hass's "statements are the outpouring of a suppurating abscess of self-hatred, couched in hypocritical moral acrobatics. Her eyes are blind to Jewish suffering and are open only to her friends from Hamas, the champions of human rights."

Hass said her critics had either not read or had not understood her article. "I'm surprised that they don't read the whole text – and then I'm surprised at myself for being surprised," she told the Observer, pointing out that she had drawn "a clear distinction between a citizen [as a target] and a soldier or someone who carries arms".

Israelis, she said, adhered to "a concept of eternal victimhood which allows them to be in a state of denial about how much violence is used on a daily basis against Palestinians. They don't like to be told that someone has the right to resist their violence."

Hass, the daughter of two Holocaust survivors, has been vilified for living among Palestinians and chronicling their lives under occupation."I call it the 'routine of catastrophes', which of course is an oxymoron. But every Palestinian is threatened in some way in his or her life, at the very least just living with a permanent feeling of insecurity."

She lived for more than three years in Gaza, and has been based in Ramallah, the main city in the West Bank from which Israelis are legally banned from entering, since 1997. "I feel privileged to know two societies, but sometimes I feel it's futile. I've been writing about the occupation for 20 years, and it only gets worse."

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« Reply #5598 on: Apr 07, 2013, 07:26 AM »

Lebanon names Salam as prime minister

Tammam Salam, British-educated former minster, vows to work towards ending divisions and preventing civil war

Associated Press, Saturday 6 April 2013 19.11 BST

A British-educated lawmaker from a prominent political family was named Lebanon's new prime minister on Saturday, and vowed to work toward ending divisions in the nation and preventing the civil war in neighbouring Syria from spilling over into the country.

Tammam Salam, a 68-year-old lawmaker and a former culture minister, was asked by President Michel Suleiman to head a new government. Lebanon's parliament strongly endorsed Salam, who is widely seen as a consensus figure, with 124 lawmakers in the 128-seat legislature voting in favour of his nomination.

The country faces rising sectarian tensions linked to Syria's civil war, with Lebanon's two largest political blocs supporting opposite sides in the fight between Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces and rebel fighters trying to oust him. The conflict also has forced some 400,000 Syrians to seek refuge in Lebanon, putting a severe straining on the country of 4 million to cope with the influx.

"I start from the necessity of taking Lebanon out of divisions and political tensions that were reflected in the security situation," Salam said in his first public statement after being chosen.

He added that he also wants to mitigate threats from the "catastrophic situation next door," remarks aimed at trying to allay fears in Lebanon that Syria's 2-year-old civil war, which has killed more than 70,000 people, will spread to Lebanon.

Salam said he would do his best to form a "national interest government," a process that could take time because of the sharp divisions among Lebanese politicians as a result of the Syrian crisis.

Once he cobbles together a cabinet, his new government must win a vote of confidence in parliament to be approved. Many will be keeping close tabs on how Salam will deal with the militant Hezbollah group and its arsenal, which is one of the biggest dividing issues among Lebanese.

Hezbollah's armed wing is the strongest military force in the country, outstripping even the national army, and many Lebanese are wary of the Shia militant group's power and refusal to set aside their arms.

Hezbollah and many other Lebanese, however, counter that the weapons are necessary to defend Lebanon against any Israeli attack.

Salam went straight home from the presidential palace where he was seen kissing the hand of his Syrian mother, Tamima Mardam Beik. "I took my mother's blessing," he told reporters while sitting between her and his wife, Lama Badreddine.

Outgoing Prime Minister Najib Miqati abruptly resigned last month over a political deadlock between Lebanon's two main political camps and infighting in his government. Miqati, who had served as prime minister since June 2011, headed a government that was dominated by the Shia Muslim Hezbollah group and its allies.

Miqati stepped down to protest the parliament's inability to agree on a law to govern elections set for later this year, as well as the refusal by Hezbollah and its allies in the Cabinet to extend the tenure of the country's police chief.

"I start from the point of uniting national visions and to quickly reach an agreement on a new elections law that gives justice of representation," Salam said.

Salam is the son of the late former Prime Minister Saeb Salam, and politically leans toward the Western-backed anti-Hezbollah coalition. He studied in Britain and has degrees in economics and business administration.

He will be holding the top post in the country that a Sunni Muslim can hold.

Salam was first elected to parliament for four years in 1996. He became minister of culture in 2008 under then prime minister Fuad Saniora. He was elected to parliament for the second time in 2009 when he ran for a seat in Beirut and joined a Western-backed coalition led by former prime minister, Saad Hariri.

Salam headed the Makassed Philanthropic Islamic Association of Beirut, a non-profit organization that runs schools, cultural centres and a hospital, between 1982 and 2000. He is currently the honorary president of the association that was headed by several members of his family.

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« Reply #5599 on: Apr 07, 2013, 07:31 AM »

Uganda proposes ban on miniskirts in move against women's rights

Anti-pornography bill would outlaw 'provocative' clothing on women, censor film and TV and restrict personal internet use

David Smith, Africa correspondent, Friday 5 April 2013 22.44 BST   

Uganda is considering extraordinary measures against women's rights that would lead to arrests for those wearing skirts above the knee in public.

The proposed law would mark a return to the era of dictator Idi Amin, who banned short skirts by decree. Many Ugandans are opposed to the idea and it has spawned a Twitter hashtag, #SaveMiniSkirt.

The government-backed bill would also see many films and TV dramas banned and personal internet use closely monitored by officials.

Simon Lokodo, Uganda's ethics and integrity minister, defended the plans. "It's outlawing any indecent dressing including miniskirts," he said.

"Any attire which exposes intimate parts of the human body, especially areas that are of erotic function, are outlawed. Anything above the knee is outlawed. If a woman wears a miniskirt, we will arrest her."

Lokodo, a former Catholic priest, suggested that victims of sexual violence invited trouble. "One can wear what one wants, but please do not be provocative," he said. "We know people who are indecently dressed: they do it provocatively and sometimes they are attacked. An onlooker is moved to attack her and we want to avoid those areas. He is a criminal but he was also provoked and enticed." Asked if men would be banned from wearing shorts, the minister replied: "Men are normally not the object of attraction; they are the ones who are provoked. They can go bare-chested on the beach, but would you allow your daughter to go bare-chested?"

The anti-pornography bill contends that there has been an "increase in pornographic materials in the Ugandan mass media and nude dancing in the entertainment world". It proposes that anyone found guilty of abetting pornography faces a 10m shillings (£2,515) fine or a maximum of 10 years in jail, or both.

The likes of Beyoncé and Madonna will be banned from television, Lokodo added. "We are saying anything that exposes private parts of the human body is pornography and anything obscene will be outlawed. Television should not broadcast a sexy person. "Certain intimate parts of the body cannot be opened except for a spouse in a private place.

"A lot of photos, television, films will be outlawed. Even on the internet, we're going to put a monitoring system so we know who has watched which website and we know who has watched pornographic material."

Lokodo expressed confidence that the bill would be passed. But according to Uganda's Daily Monitor newspaper, it has run into difficulty in the parliamentary committee stage after some members expressed concern about its implications for constitutional freedoms. MPs also warned that some traditional cultural practices could be labelled as pornographic, the paper added.

Lokodo has previously courted controversy by announcing a ban on 38 non-governmental organisations he accused of undermining the national culture by promoting homosexuality. Parliament is still pondering a bill that would impose harsher penalties for gay people.

Sam Akaki, international envoy of Uganda's opposition Forum for Democratic Change, said: "This law will create an apartheid system by stealth. Whereas the former apartheid system in South Africa discriminated [against] people on the basis or race, this one will discriminate people on the basis of gender. Any law that discriminates people in any way is a bad law.

"If Lokodo or anyone in Uganda is serious about fighting immorality, they should fight corruption."

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« Reply #5600 on: Apr 07, 2013, 07:34 AM »

Brazil investigates popular former president Lula on corruption charges

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, April 6, 2013 18:00 EDT

Brazil has opened a probe into claims linking popular ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to a corruption scandal, threatening to cast a shadow over his political legacy and future.

The Public Ministry ordered police Friday to investigate an alleged payoff by Portugal Telecom to the ruling Workers’ Party during Lula’s first term in office.

Businessman Marcos Valerio Fernandes de Souza has said the former president and ex-finance minister Antonio Palocci negotiated a $7 million payoff in 2005 with the one-time president of a Portuguese phone company through an account in Macau.

Fernandes de Souza received a 40-year sentence last year after he was found to have run much of the scheme that channeled cash to the ruling party.

In December, the high court concluded what was one of the biggest and furthest reaching corruption trials, convicting 25 of 38 people who were accused of corruption including senior ruling party members.

The scandal nearly cost Lula his re-election in 2006. But the 67-year-old founder and leader of the leftist PT was cleared and he has always maintained he was unaware of the scheme. He was not put on trial.

Lula, who had soaring popular approval ratings while in office, was easily re-elected and handed over power to President Dilma Rousseff at the end of his second consecutive four-year term in 2010 as required by the constitution.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #5601 on: Apr 07, 2013, 07:36 AM »

04/05/2013 04:58 PM

Non-Embryonic Stem Cells: The Dawning of a New Era of Hope

By Philip Bethge

Ethical worries have slowed medical research into applications for stem cells. But scientists like Robert Lanza have developed less controversial ways to derive stem cells from normal body cells rather than embryos and are already launching the first clinical trials.

Stem cell researcher Robert Lanza hopes to save thousands of lives -- and for a long time this caused him to fear for his own.

"They bused these crazy people up from Kansas, and then they picnicked right outside our front door," he says as he gazes out of his window at the gray winter landscape of Marlborough, Massachusetts. "The public thought we had these little buggy-eyed embryos here and were ripping apart their limbs to get these cells."

The physician always feared "somebody hiding in the bushes," waiting to attack him. At the time, a doctor was threatened at a nearby fertility clinic, and a pipe bomb exploded at a bio lab in Boston.

"Back then I thought that there was probably a 50-50 chance that I was going to get knocked off because I was so visible," says the doctor. Then he leans back in his chair and laughs. Lanza likes to flirt with danger: "I said, okay, try to kill me -- I'm still going to do what I think is right."

In Lanza's case, doing what is "right" involves working with therapies based on human stem cells. The blind shall see again; the paralyzed shall walk again; the hemophiliac shall not bleed anymore. That may sound like something out of the Bible, but Lanza is no faith healer. In fact, the US business magazine Fortune called him "the standard-bearer for stem cell research." The 57-year-old is the chief scientific officer at the US company Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) and one of the most flamboyant and controversial figures in this field of research.

Militant anti-abortionists tried to hunt Lanza down because embryos had to die for his research. Just last year, the scientific journal Nature wrote that ACT has "a history of public blunders" and a reputation for "overhyping results."

At the same time, however, Lanza is writing medical history. For over one year now, eye patients in the US and the UK have been treated with cells from ACT laboratories -- the first clinical stem cell trial worldwide.

And there is a world premiere in the making: Lanza's team has cultivated blood platelets that could be tested in hospitals as early as this year. The researcher and his team didn't harvest the cells from embryonic stem cells, but rather from induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells derived from normal body cells.

"It took a decade," says Lanza, "but now we are finally ready to move into the clinic with our stem cell therapies."

The Making of a Rebel Scientist

Lanza is a slender man with short hair that stands on end, and he speaks so quickly that his sentences tend to be cut off. His laboratory is located in an ugly commercial building on the outskirts of Marlborough. It's hard to imagine that a medical revolution is brewing in this dreary setting. The petri dishes, test tubes and steel containers filled with liquid nitrogen are teeming with human cells. The ACT "Master Cell Bank" cost $1 million (€770,000), says Lanza, "but these things grow like weeds once a stem cell line has been established."

The cell factory is currently producing batches of iPS blood platelets. Emergency wards have a huge demand for these helpers in the body's natural clotting mechanism. Lanza explains that a lack of these elements can have dramatic consequences: His sister was seriously injured during an accident. The hospital didn't have enough blood platelet concentrate. "She bled to death," he says.

Lanza wants to prevent something like that from ever happening again. His team has found ways to cultivate an "unlimited supply" of the cells. When frozen, he says, they can be kept for months. He is currently negotiating the final details of the planned study with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). "We don't need any embryos to make iPS," Lanza says with pride. "If this type of stem cell works," he adds, "the whole ethical controversy will be eliminated."

Venturing to start clinical trials now is seen as a bold step. But Lanza is used to falling out of line. Even back when he was a schoolboy -- just after the genetic code had been deciphered -- he decided to alter the genetic makeup of a white chicken to make it black. "So I went to my teacher and told him that I was going to change the genetic makeup of the birds," Lanza recounts. "He said: 'Lanza, you're going to go to hell.'"

This merely encouraged the 13-year-old. He cobbled together some laboratory equipment. To gain support for his experiment, the youngster boarded a bus in his hometown of Stoughton, close to Boston, and went "looking for a Harvard professor," as he explains with a grin. At first, his journey appeared to end at the closed gates of Harvard Medical School. But Lanza soon saw "a short, balding guy" coming across the parking lot. "He was wearing khaki pants and had a bunch of keys," he says. "I thought he was the janitor." The boy had no idea that this was Stephen Kuffler, one of the most famous neurophysiologists of his time.

Kuffler played along: He opened the door for Lanza, allowed the boy to explain to him how genetics worked, and pushed him up the stairs. This opened up a new universe for the up-and-coming scientist. He repeated his chicken experiment and landed his first publication in Nature.

The Dawning of a New Medical Era

Lanza likes to tell this story to visitors. It shows how zeal can overcome all obstacles. He is often compared to the main character played by Matt Damon in the film "Good Will Hunting," a highly talented outsider who, like Lanza, comes from a humble background.

"Right from the beginning, I probably didn't follow the rules," says Lanza with a certain amount of pride. He studied medicine at Harvard. In South Africa, he worked with Christiaan Barnard, the surgeon who performed the world's first human heart transplant in 1967, and with Jonas Salk, who developed the polio vaccine in the 1950s. Then, in 1996, the world's first cloned sheep, Dolly, was born in Britain -- and Lanza sensed that his hour had arrived.

"I knew right away that cloning could revolutionize medicine," he says. With the help of cloned stem cells, the young researcher was convinced that a wide range of top-notch replacement parts could be created for the human body.

The physician signed up with the biotech startup ACT. Working for the company in 2000, he cloned a gaur, an endangered wild bovine native to Southeast Asia. Later, his team managed to transform the frozen skin cells of a banteng into a living sample of this Asian wild cattle. The skin cells came from an animal that had died a quarter of a century earlier in the San Diego Zoo.

For Lanza, these were just practice exercises. The ultimate goal for him was always people -- and he was at just the right place for that: In 2001, then-ACT CEO Michael West went before the press and announced that his company had cloned a human embryo for the first time. West spoke of the beginning of "a new era of medicine." Then all hell broke loose.

Obstacles Along the Way

When Lanza harkens back to those days, he becomes more serious. Although the ACT embryos had only grown to tiny balls consisting of six cells, for anti-abortion activists and pro-lifers the researcher was now the Antichrist incarnate.

"I remember that I went down to Tennessee, to the Bible country, and I went to one of those churches to explain what we were really doing. As I went through the door with the minister, a guy got up and shouted "Murderer! Murderer!" Lanza hired a bodyguard.

In the wake of the media coup, ACT started to founder. Investors withdrew from the company, and with George W. Bush in the White House, public funding for stem cell research dried up. "We went through multiple times where we lost the whole team," says Lanza, who notes that they even had their phone disconnected for a while. "Rather than curing diseases, we were trying to resolve theological problems," Lanza says bitterly. "And that's not what I studied medicine for."

Talking about the issue has slowly made the doctor furious and, almost imperceptibly, his tone of voice is becoming shriller. Another story has to be told, that of a policeman standing in front of the door one day. Lanza was afraid that he would be arrested. But no: "He came into my office and said that he had a child who was slowly going blind," the physician recalls. "He said that he had heard of these cells that could supposedly help, and I said: 'Yes, I have these cells in a freezer, but I don't have the $20,000 to test them on mice.'"

Lanza had to turn the man away. It pains him to this day. "I don't want to know how many people went blind because we lost our public funding," he says angrily. "Nobody gets it; they say everything is fine; no, it's not fine!"

Changes in the Political Environment and Scientific Advances
Attention shifted away from ACT. Instead, everyone started talking about Geron, another biotech company on the West Coast. Researchers there had succeeded in cultivating nerve cells from embryonic stem cells. With support from Christopher Reeve, the paralyzed "Superman," there was renewed hope that spinal cord injuries could be healed. Three patients were treated using the therapy developed by Geron. But in November 2011, the company put the brakes on the research due to a lack of funds.

That was the moment when Lanza realized that he once again had to play the role of stem-cell-research poster boy. But this time he had something to show for his efforts. Benefiting from progress that Geron had made, ACT had also managed to gain FDA approval for a clinical trial.

Researchers had cultivated so-called retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells, which form a thin layer over the retina and keep the photoreceptor cells nourished and healthy.

In July 2011, doctors at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) injected the first two patients directly behind the retina, each with some 50,000 RPE cells from Lanza's cell factory. There are now 36 patients in the US and the UK taking part in the trials. They either suffer from the hereditary Stargardt disease or age-related macular degeneration (AMD), both of which are conditions in which RPE cells slowly die, resulting in a loss of vision.

Initial Success and Tempered Optimism One of the Stargardt patients is David Lee, from the northern English town of Leigh, just outside of Manchester. Following a routine eye checkup 25 years ago, Lee was told that he suffers from the disease. Over the ensuing years, he has had to idly stand by while he progressively loses his eyesight. "Watching television has become very hard, and reading is impossible without magnification," the 47-year-old says.

Then Lee heard about the stem cell trials and submitted an application to become a subject in the study. In late July 2012, he was operated on by a team working under surgeon James Bainbridge at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London. The doctors injected RPE cells in Lee's left eye. "I was exceptionally happy about it," he says.

Lee regularly travels to London to have his eyes examined. His physicians are satisfied. The RPE cells from the bio lab are thriving in Lee's retina. "I see definitely brighter on the eye that was operated on," he says.

He runs a bakery out of a small brick house in the center of Leigh, and he can still see just well enough to be able to sell cakes, pastries and bread. "I know that I won't get my sight back", Lee says. "But, for me, it would already be a big success not to lose any more of my sight."

Many of the patients report that the therapy is effective. "We have some surprisingly good visual outcome," says Steven Schwartz, an eye surgeon at UCLA. He says that one of his patients can read a clock again and go shopping, while another can recognize colors again. In addition to AMD and Stargardt patients, Schwartz plans to integrate extremely nearsighted individuals into the test program soon. The FDA has already approved the clinical trials.

Lanza is a "genius" and his work is "stellar," Schwartz says. "The patients seem to tolerate the cells well," he says. But the researcher warns against overly optimistic expectations, adding that it remains completely uncertain whether the innovative eye therapy will actually heal these ailments. He notes that the trials are mainly meant to test the safety of the procedure.

Stem cells can transform into virtually any type of body cell. Once they have become differentiated, they tend not to cause any problems. But what happens if they continue to develop, and one of the RPE cells from the lab mutates in the eye and becomes malignant?

"I worry that a single case of cancer in a stem cell model like this could set the field back enormously," says Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania. He is concerned that ACT may be pursuing its clinical trials far too aggressively. After all, the company has to placate its investors and outdo the competition.

Competitors and Risks

Indeed, Lanza will have to hurry up if he wants to be the first to come up with a clinically tested application for iPS cells. His greatest rival is located in Kobe, Japan, at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology. There, Dr. Shinya Yamanaka is working on groundbreaking stem cell therapies.

And the Japanese researcher is a very capable contender. After all, he received the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine last October for his method of producing iPS cells. Like Lanza, Yamanaka is striving to use stem cells to cure blindness from macular degeneration (AMD). But, unlike Lanza, he plans to use iPS cells.

"Lanza is under tremendous pressure to show some positive results," Caplan warns, adding that he is without a doubt a serious researcher. "But ACT has a history of overselling. They made a lot of promises in the past that just haven't delivered."

Lanza is aware of the bad press. "Mistakes have been made," he admits. But he remains feisty. For instance, he accuses Yamanaka, his Japanese counterpart, of venturing an experiment that is particularly risky. "We still don't entirely understand how safe iPS cells are and how they work," says Lanza. Using them to cultivate RPE cells to treat eye diseases is dangerous, he adds, because the cells could possibly become cancerous in patients' eyes.

"By contrast, we picked platelets for our first clinical trial with iPS because they have no nuclei," he says. There is no chance of them growing out of control.

Enthusiastic about the Future

"Come have a look, I'm going to show you something else," Lanza says at the end of the interview, as he opens a binder and pulls out a diagram that charts age relative to degree of paralysis. It has to do with multiple sclerosis. Lanza has studied mice that suffer from this crippling neurological disorder. The curve documents the sad fate of untreated animals: At the age of two, they drag their hind legs behind them. At the age of three, they are completely paralyzed.

But it's a completely different story among the mice that were treated with stem cells: The curve of this group can hardly be differentiated from that of healthy animals. "One shot of these cells and they are jumping around completely normal," Lanza says with enthusiasm. The researcher treats the animals with so-called mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), which are cultivated from embryonic stem cells or iPS cells. They resemble bone marrow cells and secrete substances in the body that work like a fountain of youth.

"That's the future," Lanza says. He points to an entire list of diseases that could potentially be treated with MSC cells, including chronic pain, arthritis and Parkinson's. "The biological potency of these cells is just incredible! And we can make them by the millions," he exclaims.

This is what Lanza is like when he's in the grips of enthusiasm. His eyes sparkle and his gestures underscore each word. At moments like these, one senses how far his enthusiasm can take him.

"Before ACT hired me, they gave me a task," he explains. "I was asked to get all the Nobel laureates in the country to sign a letter to support embryonic stem cell research."

Lanza put his fax machine to work. Ever since then, he has had a stack of letters in his desk drawer -- with the signatures of 70 Nobel Prize laureates.

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen

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« Reply #5602 on: Apr 07, 2013, 07:38 AM »

White House confirms NASA plan to ‘lasso’ and bring asteroid near Earth

By Arturo Garcia
Saturday, April 6, 2013 17:27 EDT

President Barack Obama’s administration will seek $100 million in funding for a mission to tow an asteroid closer to Earth for the purpose of helping future expeditions to Mars, NBC News reported on Saturday.

This corroborates an announcement made by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) on Friday. As the Associated Press reported, Nelson, who chairs the Senate Science and Space Subcommittee, said the request would be made in Obama’s proposed budget for 2014, with $78 million set aside for the mission to grab the asteroid and $27 million for helping NASA identify asteroids that could endanger the planet, a $7 million increase from current spending.

NASA’s mission proposal, adapted from a scenario (PDF) designed by the Keck Institute for Space Studies, calls for a robotic probe to grab an asteroid measuring approximately 500 tons and 25 to 35 feet in width in 2019 and bringing it into orbit near the moon, which would shorten future asteroid expeditions by months, on top of providing access to the asteroid’s natural resources.

Donald Yeomans, who leads the agency’s Near Earth Object program, told the AP those dimensions would make the designated asteroid unlikely to damage Earth even if it entered the atmosphere, since it would burn up before reaching the ground.

Watch Newsy Science’s report on the potential benefits of NASA’s budding asteroid hunt, posted on Saturday, below.

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« Reply #5603 on: Apr 07, 2013, 07:44 AM »

Archeological dig in remote Turkmenistan reveals rare advanced civilization and Bronze Age treasures

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, April 6, 2013 11:30 EDT

Over four millennia ago, the fortress town of Gonur-Tepe might have been a rare advanced civilisation before it was buried for centuries under the dust of the Kara Kum desert in remote western Turkmenistan.

After being uncovered by Soviet archaeologists in the last century, Gonur-Tepe, once home to thousands of people and the centre of a thriving region, is gradually revealing its mysteries with new artifacts being uncovered on every summer dig.

The scale of the huge complex which spans some 30 hectares can only be properly appreciated from the air, from where the former buildings look like a maze in the desert surrounded by vast walls.

Just 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the celebrated ancient city of Merv outside the modern city of Mary, the ruins of Gonur-Tepe are an indication of the archeological riches of Turkmenistan, one of the most isolated countries in the world.

Around 2,000 BC, Gonur-Tepe was the main settlement of the Margush or Margiana region that was home to one of the most sophisticated, but little-known Bronze Age civilisations.

The site — which until the last century was covered by desert and scrub — was uncovered in Soviet times by the celebrated archeologist Viktor Sarianidi who, at the age of 84, is about to spend another summer working on the site.

“I remember so well my joy when I first encountered this archaeological Klondike. A sensation right under your feet,” the Russian professor told AFP.

Every digging season at Gonur-Tepe yields new discoveries showing the quality of the craftsmanship of the Bronze Age artisans in the town which at the time would likely have been home to thousands of residents.

The town’s craftsmen could mould metal, make silver and gold trinkets, create materials for cult worship and carve bone and stone.

“It’s amazing to what extent the people possessed advanced techniques. The craftsmen learned how to change the form of natural stone at a high temperature and then glazed it so that it was preserved,” said archeologist Nadezhda Dubova.

“This year, Gonur has given us another surprise, a fantastic mosaic,” she said, noting that such an object pre-dated the standard era of mosaic-making in Greek and Roman antiquity.

The ruins of Gonur-Tepe are the centrepiece of a network of towns and settlements in the delta region of the river Morghab that flows through Turkmenistan from its source in Afghanistan.

Gonur-Tepe is a three-hour drive from the provincial centre of Mary — two hours along a bumpy asphalt road that passes former collective farms that have now fallen into disuse, and then another hour-long slog through the desert scrub.

Mary, 380 kilometres from the capital Ashgabat, is a typical Turkmen provincial city, home to 200,000 people and largely built in the Soviet style with a railway connection and low-rise apartment buildings.

Some 30 kilometres (19 miles) outside Mary lies the other great glory of the region — the great ruined city of Merv, whose importance goes back to the time of the Achaemenid Persians and reached a peak under Turkic rule in the 12th century AD.

Merv went into terminal decline after it was sacked by the Mongols in 1221 in a deadly conquest that left tens of thousands dead. Its ruins are as deserted as those of Gonur-Tepe.

Its greatest treasure is the still preserved mausoleum of the Seljuk Sultan Sanjar under whose rule Merv was a city of 200,000 people and briefly one of the most heavily populated settlements in the world.

The mausoleum, which is crowned by a cupola with a diameter of over 17 metres, was revolutionary in its design, Turkmen architectural historian Ruslan Muradov told AFP.

The design of the dome “anticipates by 300 years the ideas of the great Renaissance architect Filippo Brunelleschi” who designed the great dome of the cathedral in Florence, he said.

Unlike the ruins of Gonur-Tepe, ancient Merv was excavated as far back as Tsarist times when today’s Turkmenistan was a far-flung outpost of the Russian Empire. It has been listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1999.

Archaeologists have only just begun to scratch the surface of the huge riches of the Mary region, said Viktor Turik, a historian who works at the Mary history museum.

“In the region there are 354 archeological monuments, 95 percent of which have, until now, not been studied by experts,” he said.

Turkmenistan remains one of the most isolated countries in the world but still sees a trickle of foreign tourists every year, mostly on organised special interest tours.

Mary has just three hotels although President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has recently ordered the construction of a new 350-bed hotel in an apparent bid to boost tourism.

Meanwhile the question remains about what to do with the extraordinary silver and gold artefacts that are being unearthed in the region but which need painstaking restoration and conservation.

An employee of Turkmenistan’s national heritage department said a joint project had been mooted with the antiquities department of the Louvre in Paris, but had fallen through.

“Many unique discoveries which are like nothing in the world are waiting their moments in the storage departments of Turkmen museums,” said the employee who asked not to be named.

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« Reply #5604 on: Apr 07, 2013, 08:15 AM »

In the USA...

Obama says budget that cuts Social Security and Medicare benefits aims to reinvigorate middle class

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, April 6, 2013 12:26 EDT

US President Barack Obama said on Saturday his budget blueprint due to be unveiled next week will aim to reinvigorate America’s middle class while introducing reforms to curb the mushrooming deficits.

“Our top priority as a nation, and my top priority as president, must be doing everything we can to reignite the engine of America’s growth: a rising, thriving middle class,” Obama said in his weekly radio address. “That’s our North Star. That must drive every decision we make.”

The comments followed reports that in his budget proposal, Obama will make key concessions to Republicans by offering to cut some entitlement programs like the Social Security retirement program and Medicare, a health care plan for the elderly.

According to a senior administration official, the president’s fiscal blueprint will slash the deficit by $1.8 trillion over 10 years, in what the official described as a “compromise offer” that cuts federal spending, finds savings in Social Security and raises tax revenue from the wealthy.

While the annual budget deficit is projected at 5.5 percent of gross domestic product for the fiscal year ending in September, under the Obama budget, that would decline to 1.7 percent of GDP by 2023.

Combined with the $2.5 trillion in savings already achieved since negotiations in 2010, the Obama budget would bring total deficit reduction to $4.3 trillion over 10 years, slightly higher than the overall goal agreed to by both parties for stabilizing the national debt.

But the plan has drawn fire from both conservatives and liberals. Republican House Speaker John Boehner warned that Obama had “moved in the wrong direction” by making skimpier entitlement cuts than he had offered in negotiations with Republicans last year.

Liberals immediately were upset by what they saw as Obama caving in to Republicans, with left-wing Senator Bernie Sanders pledging to “do everything in my power to block” Obama’s proposal.

But the president defended his ideas, saying his budget will reduce deficits not through spending cuts that will hurt students, seniors and middle-class families, “but through the balanced approach that the American people prefer, and the investments that a growing economy demands.”

Obama said his budget blueprint would reduce the deficits by nearly $2 trillion.

According to the president, that will surpass the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that many economists believe will stabilize US finances.

The proposal will also include closing tax loopholes for the wealthy, the president said.

“It’s a budget that doesn’t spend beyond our means,” he argued. “And it’s a budget that doesn’t make harsh and unnecessary cuts that only serve to slow our economy…. And we’ll keep our promise to the next generation by investing in the fundamentals that have always made America strong — manufacturing and innovation, energy and education.”

In a Republican address, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback said that Washington was broke and big spending programs were running out of money.

He called for boosting the entrepreneurial spirit of America to achieve growth.

“Our Republican message is a belief in the power of the people more than the control of government,” Brownback said. “This unleashes the creativity of entrepreneurs and the strength of hope and dreams.”


The Christian Science Monitor

Obama's budget offends just about everybody. Is that compromise?

By Brad Knickerbocker, Staff writer / April 6, 2013 at 1:35 pm EDT

Tough economic times make for tough political times for any president, and that’s increasingly true for President Obama.

The budget he’ll formally propose this coming week is getting hammered left and right. That may indicate a willingness to compromise on his part in hopes of striking a bipartisan, middle ground deal with congressional Republicans. But it also illustrates the limits on his aspirations. (See higher taxes on the wealthy or reigning in some entitlement programs, including Social Security – the “third rail” of politics.)

In his weekly address Saturday, Obama called the budget he’ll unveil Wednesday “a fiscally-responsible blueprint for middle-class jobs and growth.”

“My budget will reduce our deficits not with aimless, reckless spending cuts that hurt students and seniors and middle-class families – but through the balanced approach that the American people prefer, and the investments that a growing economy demands,” he said, "investments" meaning more spending on some programs.

“We’ll make the tough reforms required to strengthen Medicare for the future, without undermining the rock-solid guarantee at its core," Obama said. "And we’ll enact commonsense tax reform that includes closing wasteful tax loopholes for the wealthy and well-connected."

Republicans in Congress more or less called Obama’s plan – especially its tax elements – DOA (dead on arrival).

In a statement, House Speaker John Boehner complained that Obama was holding “modest” entitlement savings “hostage for more tax hikes.”

From the left, those “modest” entitlement savings – including changing the way cost-of-living increases are calculated for those on Social Security – provoked outrage and threats to challenge Democratic lawmakers who might go along with Obama.

"Cutting benefits now, when people are already struggling to make ends meet, will mean unnecessary hardship for millions of people," Reps. Keith Ellison and Raul Grijalva, the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, wrote in a joint statement. "It is unpopular, unwise and unworkable."

"Let's be clear: President Obama, when it comes to cutting Social Security, Medicaid, or Medicare benefits, over 200,000 progressive members of your own party don't ‘have your back’ and we are prepared to fight you every step of the way," said Jim Dean, chairman of Democracy for America, a Vermont-based political action committee.

Meanwhile, one senior Republican on Capitol Hill said the president's budget proposal "does little or nothing to bring both parties closer to a fiscal agreement" because, in the eyes of Republicans, it's essentially the same offer that was rejected by Speaker Boehner during negotiations with the president last December,” ABC News reports.

Obama acknowledges that what he’s putting forward amounts to “the compromise I offered the Speaker of the House at the end of last year.” The question is: Will time and the results of the 2012 elections – not great news for the GOP – have made such a “compromise” more palatable to Republicans, whose main political concerns may be the 2014 and 2016 elections?

Obama’s job isn’t made any easier by the disappointing jobs and unemployment reports out Friday.

“We’ve got more work to do to get the economy growing faster, so that everybody who wants a job can find one,” he acknowledged in his Saturday address. “And that means we need fewer self-inflicted wounds from Washington, like the across-the-board spending cuts that are already hurting many communities – cuts that economists predict will cost our economy hundreds of thousands of jobs this year.”

In the GOP address Saturday, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said "the ideas on how to fix the federal government are now percolating in the states, 30 of which are led by Republican governors.”

"You see, you don't change America by changing Washington,” he said. “You change America by changing the states. And that's exactly what Republican governors are doing across the country, taking a different approach to grow their states' economies and fix their governments with ideas that work.”

In an online editorial Saturday, the Kansas City Star was quick to label some of what Brownback said about his own record as “exaggerated or misleading.”

Among the editorial’s points:

“Kansas, like most states, was in deep trouble when Brownback took office in 2011. What lifted Kansas out of its hole was a one-cent sales tax that Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson signed into law and which took effect in July 2010. Brownback has benefited from that tax increase his entire term. He also is lobbying the Legislature to keep it in place, even though part of it is supposed to expire this July….”

“Brownback plays games with education funding, counting factors like bond debt, capital improvement funds and mandatory increases in teachers’ retirement contributions in the total. But he cut more than $100 million from basic elementary and secondary school funding in 2011, and reduced the amount of state aid allotted per pupil further last year. And thanks to the overdose on income tax cuts, funds for schools, universities and corrections are all on the chopping block this year.”


North Carolina Republicans pushing bill to put two-year hold on all divorces

By David Ferguson
Saturday, April 6, 2013 12:11 EDT

North Carolina Republican lawmakers may have abandoned their plan to declare Christianity as the state’s religion, but conservative legislators in the state are still pushing forward with a plan to require a two-year waiting period on all divorces, a plan that require the couple to attend classes and workshops designed to prevent them from divorcing.

According to the Charlotte Observer, state Senators Austin Allran (R) and Sen. Warren Daniel (R) proposed the “Healthy Marriage Act” last week, which mandates a two-year wait before judges will grant married couples a divorce, two years during which they must complete counseling courses and workshops designed to improve “communication skills” and “conflict resolution.”

Couples in the state currently face a mandatory one year wait for divorces, but the Observer reported that the lines are blurry about what constitutes the end or resumption of a relationship.

The new law would “strike from the current law a provision that says ‘isolated incidents of sexual intercourse’ don’t count against” the legal waiting period, meaning that if the court can establish that a divorcing couple has had sex, it could potentially start their waiting period over.


The Christian Science Monitor

Kansas anti-abortion law: How divided can the states get?

By Patrik Jonsson, Staff writer / April 6, 2013 at 11:15 am EDT

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is set to sign a tough new anti-abortion law that says life begins at conception and bans sex-selection abortions. In response, states like Washington and New York are scrambling to reduce restrictions on the procedures, such as loosening rules around late-term abortions.

The recent bipolar moves in Kansas and New York suggest that US states are increasingly leaving gridlocked Washington in the dust on policy ranging from abortion to marijuana, from immigration to guns. The result is a disparate patchwork of laws and policies that some suggest are beginning to turn America from a homogenous land of centrists and moderates into a partisan land of balkanized rules, economies, and lifestyles.

“There is nothing especially new about states going their own way,” New York Times columnist Bill Keller wrote late last month. “We fought a civil war, after all. And we have become accustomed to categorizing states as red or blue, based on their electoral choices. But it feels as if every news cycle brings another seemingly random example of a state veering off the mainstream… What’s up with that?”

To be sure, the rise of the tea party movement has helped fuel a nearly unprecedented situation where 75 percent of US statehouses are under single party control even as Washington seems mired in perpetual partisan gridlock. The widening policy gap between states, too, comes against another backdrop: The decision by the Obama administration, particularly though Obamacare, to use states as proxies to install federal policy.

“This is an administration that doesn’t take the states and locals as it finds them. It has an agenda,” Paul Posner, a federalism expert at George Mason University in Virginia, has said, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Yet while corralling states by dangling federal money may be in part successful, it hasn’t enabled the administration to end run its agenda around Congress.

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Gun control is one example. While Washington has so far failed to pass post-Newtown gun control laws, a handful of liberal states in the Northeast have gone ahead with new restrictions, including expanded background checks. But 15 other states have loosened gun restrictions in the wake of the massacre. On Friday, the Kansas Senate passed legislation that would prevent federal agents from confiscating guns made in Kansas.

And states are making broader arguments about how state policy can impact regional economies. While critics say Mr. Brownback, for example, has put the state’s economy in jeopardy by spearheading the abolishing of a state income tax, the Governor, in giving the GOP weekly address on Saturday, touted “red state” models as creating economic activity while Washington seems bent on stifling economic growth.

"The ideas on how to fix the federal government are now percolating in the states, 30 of which are led by Republican governors," he says. “You see, you don’t change America by changing Washington – you change America by changing the states. And that’s exactly what Republican governors are doing across the country – taking a different approach to grow their states’ economies and fix their governments with ideas that work."

So far, empowered states may be winning the policy struggle with Washington, some experts suggest.

“Divided national government gives states flexibility, and divided government gives states wider range of opportunities to influence feds, and makes it harder for feds to resolve issues,” writes Thomas Gais of the Rockefeller Institute in a recent paper.

In academic circles, there are two schools of thought to explain the phenomenon of runaway states: One is that legislative hubris by political “elites” are running roughshod over the wishes of moderate voters, who make up the vast majority of the electorate.

“In America today, there is a disconnect between an unrepresentative political class and the citizenry it purports to represent,” Morris Fiorina and Samuel Abrams write in their recent book “Disconnect.”

“The political process today not only is less representative than it was a generation ago and less supported by the citizenry, but the outcomes of that process are at a minimum no better,” they write. “The present disconnect is cause for concern and not something that can be discounted as either normal or unimportant.”

The countervailing argument is that voters have become more partisan, and are, in fact, the ones pushing state legislators to move forward on pet policy projects.

“There is no disconnect between elected officials and the voters who put them in office,” Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz writes in “The Polarized Public.” “There is, in fact, a close connection between them. Polarization is not a result of a failure of representation; it is a result of successful representation.”

Some Americans, including Mr. Keller at the New York Times, are cautious about the states’ newfound policy leadership. “These experiments may produce smart ideas … or the state labs may cook up poisons,” he writes.

Other Americans welcome the states’ newfound policy leadership.

“What the nation needs more than ever is federalism to allow New Yorkers to live how they would like and Nebraskans to live how they would like; and constitutionalism to ensure that all citizens are treated with respect for their individual rights,” writes Kyle Becker, a columnist for the Independent Journal Review.


ACLU accuses Ohio courts of enacting ‘debtors’ prisons’

By Arturo Garcia
Friday, April 5, 2013 21:49 EDT

A report by the American Civil Liberties Union has accused courts in Ohio of jailing indigent defendants for not being able to pay court fines, an apparent revival of the 19th century practice of “debtors’ prisons.”

According to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, the organization named seven courts in the state in its report (PDF), compiled over the course of 2012.

“Today across Ohio, municipalities routinely imprison those who are unable to pay fines and court costs despite a 1983 United States Supreme Court decision declaring this practice to be a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution,” the ACLU’s report said.

Courts in Cuyahoga, Erie and Huron counties were singled out in the report as the “worst offenders.” The ACLU said a survey of booking statistics for Huron County Jail revealed that 22 percent of the 1,171 people booked between May and October 2012 were incarcerated for not being able to pay their fines. And municipal courts in Parma and Sandusky counties jailed 45 and 75 people, respectively, between July 15 and August 31, 2012.

“Based on the ACLU of Ohio’s investigation, there is no evidence that any of these people were given hearings to determine whether or not they were financially able to pay their fines, as required by the law,” the report said.

Parma County Municipal Court Judge Deanna O’Donnell said the court had received a letter from the ACLU detailing its findings and that she was contacting the group for more information. She also said the court is treating the letter as “advisory” and not a complaint.

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Maureen O’Connor has also promised to meet with the ACLU to discuss the report.


April 6, 2013

Taping of Farm Cruelty Is Becoming the Crime


On one covert video, farm workers illegally burn the ankles of Tennessee walking horses with chemicals. Another captures workers in Wyoming punching and kicking pigs and flinging piglets into the air. And at one of the country’s largest egg suppliers, a video shows hens caged alongside rotting bird corpses, while workers burn and snap off the beaks of young chicks.

Each video — all shot in the last two years by undercover animal rights activists — drew a swift response: Federal prosecutors in Tennessee charged the horse trainer and other workers, who have pleaded guilty, with violating the Horse Protection Act. Local authorities in Wyoming charged nine farm employees with cruelty to animals. And the egg supplier, which operates in Iowa and other states, lost one of its biggest customers, McDonald’s, which said the video played a part in its decision.

But a dozen or so state legislatures have had a different reaction: They proposed or enacted bills that would make it illegal to covertly videotape livestock farms, or apply for a job at one without disclosing ties to animal rights groups. They have also drafted measures to require such videos to be given to the authorities almost immediately, which activists say would thwart any meaningful undercover investigation of large factory farms.

Critics call them “Ag-Gag” bills.

Some of the legislation appears inspired by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a business advocacy group with hundreds of state representatives from farm states as members. The group creates model bills, drafted by lobbyists and lawmakers, that in the past have included such things as “stand your ground” gun laws and tighter voter identification rules.

One of the group’s model bills, “The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act,” prohibits filming or taking pictures on livestock farms to “defame the facility or its owner.” Violators would be placed on a “terrorist registry.”

Officials from the group did not respond to a request for comment.

Animal rights activists say they have not seen legislation that would require them to register as terrorists, but they say other measures — including laws passed last year in Iowa, Utah and Missouri — make it nearly impossible to produce similar undercover exposés. Some groups say that they have curtailed activism in those states.

“It definitely has had a chilling effect on our ability to conduct undercover investigations,” said Vandhana Bala, general counsel for Mercy for Animals, which has shot many videos, including the egg-farm investigation in 2011. (McDonald’s said that video showed “disturbing and completely unacceptable” behavior, but that none of the online clips were from the Iowa farm that supplied its eggs. Ms. Bala, though, said that some video showing bird carcasses in cages did come from that facility.)

The American Farm Bureau Federation, which lobbies for the agricultural and meat industries, criticized the mistreatment seen on some videos. But the group cautions that some methods represent best practices endorsed by animal-care experts.

The videos may seem troubling to someone unfamiliar with farming, said Kelli Ludlum, the group’s director of Congressional relations, but they can be like seeing open-heart surgery for the first time.

“They could be performing a perfect procedure, but you would consider it abhorrent that they were cutting a person open,” she said.

In coming weeks, Indiana and Tennessee are expected to vote on similar measures, while states from California to Pennsylvania continue to debate them.

Opponents have scored some recent victories, as a handful of bills have died, including those in New Mexico and New Hampshire. In Wyoming, the legislation stalled after loud opposition from animal rights advocates, including Bob Barker, former host of “The Price is Right.”

In Indiana, an expansive bill became one of the most controversial of the state legislative session, drawing heated opposition from labor groups and the state press association, which said the measure violated the First Amendment.

After numerous constitutional objections, the bill was redrafted and will be unveiled Monday, said Greg Steuerwald, a Republican state representative and chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

The new bill would require job applicants to disclose material information or face criminal penalties, a provision that opponents say would prevent undercover operatives from obtaining employment. And employees who do something beyond the scope of their jobs could be charged with criminal trespass.

An employee who took a video on a livestock farm with his phone and gave it to someone else would “probably” run afoul of the proposed law, Mr. Steuerwald said. The bill will apply not just to farms, but to all employers, he added.

Nancy J. Guyott, the president of the Indiana chapter of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said she feared that the legislation would punish whistle-blowers.

Nationally, animal rights advocates fear that they will lose a valuable tool that fills the void of what they say is weak or nonexistent regulation.

Livestock companies say that their businesses have suffered financially from unfair videos that are less about protecting animals than persuading consumers to stop eating meat.

Don Lehe, a Republican state representative from a rural district in Indiana, said online videos can cast farmers in a false light and give them little opportunity to correct the record.

“That property owner is essentially guilty before they had the chance to address the issue,” Mr. Lehe said.

As for whistle-blowers, advocates for the meat industry say that they are protected from prosecution by provisions in some bills that give them 24 to 48 hours to turn over videos to legal authorities.

“If an abuse has occurred and they have evidence of it, why are they holding on to it?” said Dale Moore, executive director of public policy for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

But animal rights groups say investigations take months to complete.

Undercover workers cannot document a pattern of abuse, gather enough evidence to force a government investigation and determine whether managers condone the abuse within one to two days, said Matt Dominguez, who works on farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States.

“Instead of working to prevent future abuses, the factory farms want to silence them,” he said. “What they really want is for the whistle to be blown on the whistle-blower.”

The Humane Society was responsible for a number of undercover investigations, including the videos of the Wyoming pig farm and the Tennessee walking horses.

Video shot in 2011 showed workers dripping caustic chemicals onto the horses’ ankles and clasping metal chains onto the injured tissue. This illegal and excruciating technique, known as “soring,” forces the horse to thrust its front legs forward after every painful step to exaggerate the distinctive high-stepping gait favored by breeders. The video also showed a worker hitting a horse in the head with a large piece of wood.

The Humane Society first voluntarily turned over the video to law enforcement. By the time the video was publicly disclosed, federal prosecutors had filed charges. A week later, they announced guilty pleas from the horse trainer and other workers.

Prosecutors later credited the Humane Society with prompting the federal investigation and establishing “evidence instrumental to the case.”

That aid to prosecutors shows the importance of lengthy undercover investigations that would be prevented by laws requiring video to be turned over within one or two days, Mr. Dominguez said.

“At the first sign of animal cruelty, we’d have to pull our investigator out, and we wouldn’t be able to build a case that leads to charges.”

click to watch:


April 6, 2013

In History Departments, It’s Up With Capitalism


A specter is haunting university history departments: the specter of capitalism.

After decades of “history from below,” focusing on women, minorities and other marginalized people seizing their destiny, a new generation of scholars is increasingly turning to what, strangely, risked becoming the most marginalized group of all: the bosses, bankers and brokers who run the economy.

Even before the financial crisis, courses in “the history of capitalism” — as the new discipline bills itself — began proliferating on campuses, along with dissertations on once deeply unsexy topics like insurance, banking and regulation. The events of 2008 and their long aftermath have given urgency to the scholarly realization that it really is the economy, stupid.

The financial meltdown also created a serious market opportunity. Columbia University Press recently introduced a new “Studies in the History of U.S. Capitalism” book series (“This is not your father’s business history,” the proposal promised), and other top university presses have been snapping up dissertations on 19th-century insurance and early-20th-century stock speculation, with trade publishers and op-ed editors following close behind.

The dominant question in American politics today, scholars say, is the relationship between democracy and the capitalist economy. “And to understand capitalism,” said Jonathan Levy, an assistant professor of history at Princeton University and the author of “Freaks of Fortune: The Emerging World of Capitalism and Risk in America,” “you’ve got to understand capitalists.”

That doesn’t mean just looking in the executive suite and ledger books, scholars are quick to emphasize. The new work marries hardheaded economic analysis with the insights of social and cultural history, integrating the bosses’-eye view with that of the office drones — and consumers — who power the system.

“I like to call it ‘history from below, all the way to the top,’ ” said Louis Hyman, an assistant professor of labor relations, law and history at Cornell and the author of “Debtor Nation: The History of America in Red Ink.”

The new history of capitalism is less a movement than what proponents call a “cohort”: a loosely linked group of scholars who came of age after the end of the cold war cleared some ideological ground, inspired by work that came before but unbeholden to the questions — like, why didn’t socialism take root in America? — that animated previous generations of labor historians.

Instead of searching for working-class radicalism, they looked at office clerks and entrepreneurs.

“Earlier, a lot of these topics would’ve been greeted with a yawn,” said Stephen Mihm, an associate professor of history at the University of Georgia and the author of “A Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men and the Making of the United States.” “But then the crisis hit, and people started asking, ‘Oh my God, what has Wall Street been doing for the last 100 years?’ ”

In 1996, when the Harvard historian Sven Beckert proposed an undergraduate seminar called the History of American Capitalism — the first of its kind, he believes — colleagues were skeptical. “They thought no one would be interested,” he said.

But the seminar drew nearly 100 applicants for 15 spots and grew into one of the biggest lecture courses at Harvard, which in 2008 created a full-fledged Program on the Study of U.S. Capitalism. That initiative led to similar ones on other campuses, as courses and programs at Princeton, Brown, Georgia, the New School, the University of Wisconsin and elsewhere also began drawing crowds — sometimes with the help of canny brand management.

After Seth Rockman, an associate professor of history at Brown, changed the name of his course from Capitalism, Slavery and the Economy of Early America to simply Capitalism, students concentrating in economics and international relations started showing up alongside the student labor activists and development studies people.

“It’s become a space where you can bring together segments of the university that are not always in conversation,” Dr. Rockman said. (Next fall the course will become Brown’s introductory American history survey.)

While most scholars in the field reject the purely oppositional stance of earlier Marxist history, they also take a distinctly critical view of neoclassical economics, with its tidy mathematical models and crisp axioms about rational actors.

Markets and financial institutions “were created by people making particular choices at particular historical moments,” said Julia Ott, an assistant professor in the history of capitalism at the New School (the first person, several scholars said, to be hired under such a title).

To dramatize that point, Dr. Ott has students in her course Whose Street? Wall Street! dress up in 19th-century costume and re-enact a primal scene in financial history: the early days of the Chicago Board of Trade.

Some of her colleagues take a similarly playful approach. To promote a two-week history of capitalism “boot camp” to be inaugurated this summer at Cornell, Dr. Hyman (a former consultant at McKinsey & Company) designed “history of capitalism” T-shirts.

The camp, he explained, is aimed at getting relatively innumerate historians up to speed on the kinds of financial data and documents found in business archives. Understanding capitalism, Dr. Hyman said, requires “both Foucault and regressions.”

It also, scholars insist, requires keeping race and gender in the picture.

As examples, they point to books like Nathan Connolly’s “World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida,” coming next year, and Bethany Moreton’s “To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise” (Harvard, 2009), winner of multiple prizes, which examines the role of evangelical Christian values in mobilizing the company’s largely female work force.

The history of capitalism has also benefited from a surge of new, economically minded scholarship on slavery, with scholars increasingly arguing that Northern factories and Southern plantations were not opposing economic systems, as the old narrative has it, but deeply entwined.

And that entwining, some argue, involved people far beyond the plantations and factories themselves, thanks to financial shenanigans that resonate in our own time.

In a paper called “Toxic Debt, Liar Loans and Securitized Human Beings: The Panic of 1837 and the Fate of Slavery,” Edward Baptist, a historian at Cornell, looked at the way small investors across America and Europe snapped up exotic financial instruments based on slave holdings, much as people over the past decade went wild for mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations — with a similarly disastrous outcome.

Other scholars track companies and commodities across national borders. Dr. Beckert’s “Empire of Cotton,” to be published by Alfred A. Knopf, traces the rise of global capitalism over the past 350 years through one crop. Nan Enstad’s book in progress, “The Jim Crow Cigarette: Following Tobacco Road From North Carolina to China and Back,” examines how Southern tobacco workers, and Southern racial ideology, helped build the Chinese cigarette industry in the early 20th century.

Whether scrutiny of the history of capitalism represents a genuine paradigm shift or a case of scholarly tulip mania, one thing is clear.

“The worse things are for the economy,” Dr. Beckert said wryly, “the better they are for the discipline.”


April 6, 2013

A Secret Deal on Drones, Sealed in Blood


Nek Muhammad knew he was being followed.

On a hot day in June 2004, the Pashtun tribesman was lounging inside a mud compound in South Waziristan, speaking by satellite phone to one of the many reporters who regularly interviewed him on how he had fought and humbled Pakistan’s army in the country’s western mountains. He asked one of his followers about the strange, metallic bird hovering above him.

Less than 24 hours later, a missile tore through the compound, severing Mr. Muhammad’s left leg and killing him and several others, including two boys, ages 10 and 16. A Pakistani military spokesman was quick to claim responsibility for the attack, saying that Pakistani forces had fired at the compound.

That was a lie.

Mr. Muhammad and his followers had been killed by the C.I.A., the first time it had deployed a Predator drone in Pakistan to carry out a “targeted killing.” The target was not a top operative of Al Qaeda, but a Pakistani ally of the Taliban who led a tribal rebellion and was marked by Pakistan as an enemy of the state. In a secret deal, the C.I.A. had agreed to kill him in exchange for access to airspace it had long sought so it could use drones to hunt down its own enemies.

That back-room bargain, described in detail for the first time in interviews with more than a dozen officials in Pakistan and the United States, is critical to understanding the origins of a covert drone war that began under the Bush administration, was embraced and expanded by President Obama, and is now the subject of fierce debate. The deal, a month after a blistering internal report about abuses in the C.I.A.’s network of secret prisons, paved the way for the C.I.A. to change its focus from capturing terrorists to killing them, and helped transform an agency that began as a cold war espionage service into a paramilitary organization.

The C.I.A. has since conducted hundreds of drone strikes in Pakistan that have killed thousands of people, Pakistanis and Arabs, militants and civilians alike. While it was not the first country where the United States used drones, it became the laboratory for the targeted killing operations that have come to define a new American way of fighting, blurring the line between soldiers and spies and short-circuiting the normal mechanisms by which the United States as a nation goes to war.

Neither American nor Pakistani officials have ever publicly acknowledged what really happened to Mr. Muhammad — details of the strike that killed him, along with those of other secret strikes, are still hidden in classified government databases. But in recent months, calls for transparency from members of Congress and critics on both the right and left have put pressure on Mr. Obama and his new C.I.A. director, John O. Brennan, to offer a fuller explanation of the goals and operation of the drone program, and of the agency’s role.

Mr. Brennan, who began his career at the C.I.A. and over the past four years oversaw an escalation of drone strikes from his office at the White House, has signaled that he hopes to return the agency to its traditional role of intelligence collection and analysis. But with a generation of C.I.A. officers now fully engaged in a new mission, it is an effort that could take years.

Today, even some of the people who were present at the creation of the drone program think the agency should have long given up targeted killings.

Ross Newland, who was a senior official at the C.I.A.’s headquarters in Langley, Va., when the agency was given the authority to kill Qaeda operatives, says he thinks that the agency had grown too comfortable with remote-control killing, and that drones have turned the C.I.A. into the villain in countries like Pakistan, where it should be nurturing relationships in order to gather intelligence.

As he puts it, “This is just not an intelligence mission.”

From Car Thief to Militant

By 2004, Mr. Muhammad had become the undisputed star of the tribal areas, the fierce mountain lands populated by the Wazirs, Mehsuds and other Pashtun tribes who for decades had lived independent of the writ of the central government in Islamabad. A brash member of the Wazir tribe, Mr. Muhammad had raised an army to fight government troops and had forced the government into negotiations. He saw no cause for loyalty to the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, the Pakistani military spy service that had given an earlier generation of Pashtuns support during the war against the Soviets.

Many Pakistanis in the tribal areas viewed with disdain the alliance that President Pervez Musharraf had forged with the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They regarded the Pakistani military that had entered the tribal areas as no different from the Americans — who they believed had begun a war of aggression in Afghanistan, just as the Soviets had years earlier.

Born near Wana, the bustling market hub of South Waziristan, Mr. Muhammad spent his adolescent years as a petty car thief and shopkeeper in the city’s bazaar. He found his calling in 1993, around the age of 18, when he was recruited to fight with the Taliban in Afghanistan, and rose quickly through the group’s military hierarchy. He cut a striking figure on the battlefield with his long face and flowing jet black hair.

When the Americans invaded Afghanistan in 2001, he seized an opportunity to host the Arab and Chechen fighters from Al Qaeda who crossed into Pakistan to escape the American bombing.

For Mr. Muhammad, it was partly a way to make money, but he also saw another use for the arriving fighters. With their help, over the next two years he launched a string of attacks on Pakistani military installations and on American firebases in Afghanistan.

C.I.A. officers in Islamabad urged Pakistani spies to lean on the Waziri tribesman to hand over the foreign fighters, but under Pashtun tribal customs that would be treachery. Reluctantly, Mr. Musharraf ordered his troops into the forbidding mountains to deliver rough justice to Mr. Muhammad and his fighters, hoping the operation might put a stop to the attacks on Pakistani soil, including two attempts on his life in December 2003.

But it was only the beginning. In March 2004, Pakistani helicopter gunships and artillery pounded Wana and its surrounding villages. Government troops shelled pickup trucks that were carrying civilians away from the fighting and destroyed the compounds of tribesmen suspected of harboring foreign fighters. The Pakistani commander declared the operation an unqualified success, but for Islamabad, it had not been worth the cost in casualties.

A cease-fire was negotiated in April during a hastily arranged meeting in South Waziristan, during which a senior Pakistani commander hung a garland of bright flowers around Mr. Muhammad’s neck. The two men sat together and sipped tea as photographers and television cameras recorded the event.

Both sides spoke of peace, but there was little doubt who was negotiating from strength. Mr. Muhammad would later brag that the government had agreed to meet inside a religious madrasa rather than in a public location where tribal meetings are traditionally held. “I did not go to them; they came to my place,” he said. “That should make it clear who surrendered to whom.”

The peace arrangement propelled Mr. Muhammad to new fame, and the truce was soon exposed as a sham. He resumed attacks against Pakistani troops, and Mr. Musharraf ordered his army back on the offensive in South Waziristan.

Pakistani officials had, for several years, balked at the idea of allowing armed C.I.A. Predators to roam their skies. They considered drone flights a violation of sovereignty, and worried that they would invite further criticism of Mr. Musharraf as being Washington’s lackey. But Mr. Muhammad’s rise to power forced them to reconsider.

The C.I.A. had been monitoring the rise of Mr. Muhammad, but officials considered him to be more Pakistan’s problem than America’s. In Washington, officials were watching with growing alarm the gathering of Qaeda operatives in the tribal areas, and George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director, authorized officers in the agency’s Islamabad station to push Pakistani officials to allow armed drones. Negotiations were handled primarily by the Islamabad station.

As the battles raged in South Waziristan, the station chief in Islamabad paid a visit to Gen. Ehsan ul Haq, the ISI chief, and made an offer: If the C.I.A. killed Mr. Muhammad, would the ISI allow regular armed drone flights over the tribal areas?

In secret negotiations, the terms of the bargain were set. Pakistani intelligence officials insisted that they be allowed to approve each drone strike, giving them tight control over the list of targets. And they insisted that drones fly only in narrow parts of the tribal areas — ensuring that they would not venture where Islamabad did not want the Americans going: Pakistan’s nuclear facilities, and the mountain camps where Kashmiri militants were trained for attacks in India.

The ISI and the C.I.A. agreed that all drone flights in Pakistan would operate under the C.I.A.’s covert action authority — meaning that the United States would never acknowledge the missile strikes and that Pakistan would either take credit for the individual killings or remain silent.

Mr. Musharraf did not think that it would be difficult to keep up the ruse. As he told one C.I.A. officer: “In Pakistan, things fall out of the sky all the time.”

A New Direction

As the negotiations were taking place, the C.I.A.’s inspector general, John L. Helgerson, had just finished a searing report about the abuse of detainees in the C.I.A.’s secret prisons. The report kicked out the foundation upon which the C.I.A. detention and interrogation program had rested. It was perhaps the single most important reason for the C.I.A.’s shift from capturing to killing terrorism suspects.

The greatest impact of Mr. Helgerson’s report was felt at the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Center, or CTC, which was at the vanguard of the agency’s global antiterrorism operation. The center had focused on capturing Qaeda operatives; questioning them in C.I.A. jails or outsourcing interrogations to the spy services of Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt and other nations; and then using the information to hunt more terrorism suspects.

Mr. Helgerson raised questions about whether C.I.A. officers might face criminal prosecution for the interrogations carried out in the secret prisons, and he suggested that interrogation methods like waterboarding, sleep deprivation and the exploiting of the phobias of prisoners — like confining them in a small box with live bugs — violated the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

“The agency faces potentially serious long-term political and legal challenges as a result of the CTC detention and interrogation program,” the report concluded, given the brutality of the interrogation techniques and the “inability of the U.S. government to decide what it will ultimately do with the terrorists detained by the agency.”

The report was the beginning of the end for the program. The prisons would stay open for several more years, and new detainees were occasionally picked up and taken to secret sites, but at Langley, senior C.I.A. officers began looking for an endgame to the prison program. One C.I.A. operative told Mr. Helgerson’s team that officers from the agency might one day wind up on a “wanted list” and be tried for war crimes in an international court.

The ground had shifted, and counterterrorism officials began to rethink the strategy for the secret war. Armed drones, and targeted killings in general, offered a new direction. Killing by remote control was the antithesis of the dirty, intimate work of interrogation. Targeted killings were cheered by Republicans and Democrats alike, and using drones flown by pilots who were stationed thousands of miles away made the whole strategy seem risk-free.

Before long the C.I.A. would go from being the long-term jailer of America’s enemies to a military organization that erased them.

Not long before, the agency had been deeply ambivalent about drone warfare.

The Predator had been considered a blunt and unsophisticated killing tool, and many at the C.I.A. were glad that the agency had gotten out of the assassination business long ago. Three years before Mr. Muhammad’s death, and one year before the C.I.A. carried out its first targeted killing outside a war zone — in Yemen in 2002 — a debate raged over the legality and morality of using drones to kill suspected terrorists.

A new generation of C.I.A. officers had ascended to leadership positions, having joined the agency after the 1975 Congressional committee led by Senator Frank Church, Democrat of Idaho, which revealed extensive C.I.A. plots to kill foreign leaders, and President Gerald Ford’s subsequent ban on assassinations. The rise to power of this post-Church generation had a direct impact on the type of clandestine operations the C.I.A. chose to conduct.

The debate pitted a group of senior officers at the Counterterrorism Center against James L. Pavitt, the head of the C.I.A.’s clandestine service, and others who worried about the repercussions of the agency’s getting back into assassinations. Mr. Tenet told the 9/11 commission that he was not sure that a spy agency should be flying armed drones.

John E. McLaughlin, then the C.I.A.’s deputy director, who the 9/11 commission reported had raised concerns about the C.I.A.’s being in charge of the Predator, said: “You can’t underestimate the cultural change that comes with gaining lethal authority.

“When people say to me, ‘It’s not a big deal,’ ” he said, “I say to them, ‘Have you ever killed anyone?’

“It is a big deal. You start thinking about things differently,” he added. But after the Sept. 11 attacks, these concerns about the use of the C.I.A. to kill were quickly swept side.

The Account at the Time

After Mr. Muhammad was killed, his dirt grave in South Waziristan became a site of pilgrimage. A Pakistani journalist, Zahid Hussain, visited it days after the drone strike and saw a makeshift sign displayed on the grave: “He lived and died like a true Pashtun.”

Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, Pakistan’s top military spokesman, told reporters at the time that “Al Qaeda facilitator” Nek Muhammad and four other “militants” had been killed in a rocket attack by Pakistani troops.

Any suggestion that Mr. Muhammad was killed by the Americans, or with American assistance, he said, was “absolutely absurd.”

This article is adapted from “The Way of the Knife: The C.I.A., a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth,” to be published by Penguin Press on Tuesday.


Hillary Clinton Comes Out Swinging with Speech on Women’s Rights

By: Sarah Jones
Apr. 6th, 2013

With her memoir predicted to be a best seller next year, Hillary Clinton took the stage at the Women in the World summit at New York’s Lincoln Center on Friday to continue her surge for global women’s rights. Fans lined up to see the former Secretary of State, who called women’s rights “the unfinished business of the 21st century.” In what could be viewed as a hat tip to 2016, she vowed, “I look forward to being your partner in all the days and years ahead.”

Watch here:

Clinton said, “I have always believed that women are not victims. We are agents of change, we are drivers of progress, we are makers of peace. All we need is a fighting chance.”

Though she was speaking broadly about global women’s issues, she didn’t shy away from the fact that women in America are also still working to achieve equality, “We now have American women at the high levels of business, academia, government, you name it. But as we’ve seen in recent months, we’re still asking age old questions of how to make the women’s way in male dominated fields. For too many American women the opportunity, and the dream of upward mobility, the American dream, remains elusive. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.”

“If America is going to lead the way we expect ourselves to lead, we need to empower women here at home to participate fully in our economy and our society. We need to make equal pay a reality. We need to invest in our people so they can live up to their own God-given potential.”

“This truly is the unfinished business of the 21st century, and it is the work we are called to do. I look forward to being your partner in all the days and years ahead. Let’s keep fighting for opportunity and dignity. Let’s keep fighting for freedom and equality. Let’s keep fighting for full participation, and let’s keep telling the world over and over again that yes, women’s are human rights and human rights are women’s rights once and for all.”

Republicans thought they could destroy Hillary with their Benghazi conspiracy theories, but that was hardly her first rodeo wtih the GOP clown show. In spite of everythig they’ve done to try to destroy her, she’s one of America’s most popular politicians. Her SuperPAC is fired up and already taking out Karl Rove and Mitt Romney on social media. She’s a force to be reckoned with.


The Christian Science Monitor

'President Hillary Clinton?' In mock election, she wallops the competition.

By Brad Knickerbocker, Staff writer / April 6, 2013 at 3:19 pm EDT

It may be the weekend for the “Final Four” in the NCAA basketball championship. But for political junkies out there, the “Sweet Sixteen” already has been whittled down to the two major party candidates in the 2016 presidential race: Hillary Rodham Clinton and Marco Rubio.

That is, if you believe the chart concocted by the Washington Post the other day pitting 32 possible candidates among Republicans and Democrats who (in their dreams, at least) have a shot at the White House.

More on that later. But former first lady, US Senator, and Secretary of State Clinton seemed to be all over the news this week.

Among the headlines: “Be Afraid, GOP: Hillary Clinton Is Back and She Will Beat You in 2016” (The Daily Beast). “A viewer's guide to Hillary Clinton Fever” (Politico). “James Carville Joins Hillary Clinton Super PAC” (Huffington Post). “Hillary 2016 Supporters Are an Intrepid Bunch” (Slate).

Even the nay-sayers kept Clinton’s name in the news. “Hillary Clinton, a mistake for 2016” (CNN). “Hopefully the Worst Column Anyone Will Write About Hillary Clinton During This Slow News Week” (Slate again).

Part of the buzz no doubt is tied to the (not surprising) news that she has another book deal with Simon & Schuster – a memoir about her years in the Obama administration.

Financial terms have not been disclosed, the Associated Press reports. Clinton reportedly received $8 million for her 2003 memoir, "Living History," also published by Simon & Schuster. This new book is untitled so far, but it’s scheduled to come out in June 2014 – right in the middle of the mid-term elections campaign.

Want your top political issues explained? Get customized DC Decoder updates.

Meanwhile, a “Ready for Hillary” political action committee has formed up.

“It’s a shadow campaign set up at least two years before Clinton will actually decide whether or not to run for president,” reports Slate’s David Wegel. “It’ll raise money, sell merchandise, and build lists until the actual Clinton campaign bursts to life. And then it will change its name to ‘Ready PAC,’ raise money, sell merchandise, and build lists, etc.”

"I’ve always looked at Hillary as a brand," Adam Parkhomenko, the new PAC’s 27 year-old executive director, told Wegel. "That’s been especially true in the last couple of years. It’s a brand I believe in. It’s a brand I want to protect. It’s a brand I want to build."

A source familiar with the group's fund-raising plans told CNN that the group has brought on board a national finance director – Matt Felan, the deputy national finance director on Clinton's 2008 presidential bid – and is assembling a team of regional fund-raising leaders.

"Few people understand the Clinton donor network better than Matt," the source said. "He is making calls and has received widespread positive response. Checks are starting to come in the door. Money shouldn't be a problem."

Clinton's 2008 campaign raised $220 million from donors, some of whom have already begun pitching in to this effort.

But back to that 2016 bracket competition, put together by the WashPost’s political blogger Chris Cillizza.

“Clinton demolished her competition – winning easily over Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and, finally, Vice President Joe Biden in the Final 4,” Cillizza speculates.

“Rubio’s path was slightly rockier,” he goes on. “He easily dispatched former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman in the first two rounds before running into stiffer competition in the Elite 8 against former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. To make it to the final matchup, Rubio had to weather a nip and tuck vote against New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. For much of the balloting the race was within a point but Rubio widened it out a bit to claim a 52 percent to 48 percent victory.”

In this made-up competition, Sen. Rand Paul plays the kind of role his libertarian father former Rep. Ron Paul did in 2012, making it to the Final Four before being bumped out by Gov. Christie.

(Rick Santorum is back, but loses in the first round to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Some readers are wondering why Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich were not included among the 16 Republican wannabes. Too shop-worn, perhaps?)

Through 5 pm ET Sunday, there’s an online election on Cillizza’s mock lineup. Vote here. Out of the 2,526 people who’ve weighed in at this writing, Clinton is whipping Rubio 76-24 percent. Not scientific, of course, but perhaps an indicator of the former Secretary of State’s strength in 2016 – if, as her many fans hope, she decides to run.


Cancer Patients Facing Death Thanks to the Republican Sequester

By: Adalia Woodbury
Apr. 6th, 2013

While conservatives whine about White House tours and look for praise over the great sacrifice of ending their tax payer subsidized haircuts, Americans are feeling the pinch of sequester in their ability to survive.

For some people the sequester means making ends meet harder and yes they are suffering in ways that doesn’t matter to the corporatists in the Republican Party. As noted by our guest contributor, Republicans in Tennessee call their version of a starve the poor policy an incentive to improve school performance.

Even before the Sequester, people on Medicaid were more likely to have chronic illnesses simply because there is a long established nexus between poverty and chronic health problems.  Policies like the one in Tennessee will only increase illness and do nothing to improve school performance.

As Gallup‘s data shows, the poorest among us continue to be prone to chronic health problems.

Gallup chronic illness and poverty

It isn’t surprising that as poverty goes up illness trickles down much faster than prosperity.

According to a study  in Kentucky released in February:

    “While changes in our healthcare delivery system may provide more healthcare opportunities for low income Kentuckians, these results show how vital a strong economy, and jobs that pay well, are to our population’s health.”

Before the Republican Party’s policies gave us the great recesson, Steven Wolf conducted a similar study in Virginia.  In 2006, he warned:

    “More than half remained uninsured specifically because they simply couldn’t afford it, the CDC said. Research consistently highlights the negative link between reduced income and worsening health — as salaries drop, individuals tend to be more stressed, and generally lead less-healthy lifestyles.

    These people are going to develop diseases at a higher rate and the health care system is going to feel the brunt of it,”

Simply put,  there is a nexus between poverty and chronic health issues. There is also a nexus between jobs that provide a living wage and having a healthy way of living.  I refuse to call it a healthy lifestyle, because that infers that people in poverty actually have the luxury of choosing expensive nutritious foods over affordable less nutritious ones.  It suggests that there is enough flexibility in the resources of someone who lives in poverty to not only get nutritious foods but enough of them.  People who are starving are less likely to exercise. Contrary to the GOP’s rhetoric, living in poverty means constant stress be it worrying about feeding the kids or if you’ll have a roof over your head next week.

Cuts to Medicaid mean that someone who is most in need of medical care will fall through the holes in the safety net that only got larger with the sequester. It’s bad enough that people who suffer from chronic ailments directly related to poverty will fall through these holes.  However, the suffering that comes with Sequester doesn’t end there.

The Washington Post reports that cancer clinics are turning away thousands of cancer patients because of the Sequester.  This isn’t limited to one or a few states.  It’s happening across the country.

Oncologists say that because of the Sequester cuts to Medicaid they can’t administer expensive and lifesaving chemotherapy and stay afloat at the same time. They have to choose between providing patients with life-saving chemotherapy and staying in business to at least save someone’s life.

For patients, this means trying to get the treatment they need to survive at a hospital.  Granted it’s more expensive, which is ironic since the alleged objective of cutting spending is to reduce costs.

    One study from actuarial firm Milliman found that “chemotherapy delivered in a hospital setting costs the federal government an average of $6,500 more annually than care delivered in a community clinic.”

Even if the twisted logic of making things more expensive actually cuts spending, there is the added problem that since most Medicare patients receive their treatments at oncology clinics instead of hospitals, it’s doubtful that hospitals will have the ability to take these patients on.

There is no way around it.  This means there are cancer patients who simply won’t get treatment.  I lost both of my parents to cancer, but I remain forever thankful that they had access to treatment for cancer along with the depression and cluster of other things that are part of the package. They didn’t have to hunt for a hospital to treat them because some lawmakers were too cheap and greedy to give a damn about the people they were hired to represent. There is no diplomatic way to express the contempt I have for politicians who place a higher priority on handouts to corporations and people who not only have more than they will ever need, but more than their children and grandchildren will ever need than on the lives of parents, grandparents or children who don’t have enough to provide the bare necessities of life. To my way of thinking, this isn’t merely bad policy. It’s criminal.  It amounts exterminating people simply because they are poor, or at least not rich enough to buy a corrupt politician.

There is no way around it.  While Republicans whine about cuts to small portions of the handouts they and their friends get it isn’t as if their lives depend on travelling by private jet or getting a subsidized haircut. It isn’t as if paying some taxes will mean a difference between survival and a shorter life expectancy for the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson and others who think the world revolves around them.

The same cannot be said about cuts that literally take the food out of children’s mouth

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That only perpetuate the social, economic and health consequences of increased poverty or the inevitable death of a cancer patient because chemotherapy wasn’t accessible.

There is nothing moral about it and there’s nothing about it that resembles the Christianity that conservatives claim to believe in.


John Boehner Confesses That He Rejected Obama’s Budget Offer Without Reading It

By: Rmuse
Apr. 6th, 2013

Politicians are in the habit of repeating, often excessively, a policy meme or buzzword in hopes it catches on and becomes part of the public’s lexicon as an identifying trait of a political party or particular candidate’s agenda. Whether it is to demonstrate consistency of intent, or just to drive a point home, offering the same policy recommendations as a be all, end all, fix for anything is why America is stuck in an austerity trance with little to no hope of recovering anytime soon. President Obama is a masterful tactician when it comes to reiterating propositions he knows Republicans will reject out of hand, and with news of his symbolic budget proposals due out next week, he is repeating the same plan he offered Republicans in the past and as sure as the Sun rises in the East, Speaker John Boehner rejected them immediately revealing he certainly did not have time to read them in their entirety.

In the President’s last plan to avert the fiscal cliff, he called for major health care cuts by reducing payments to drug companies and hospitals,  recommended changing COLA measures tied to inflation which raises taxes and slowly cuts Social Security benefits for some recipients, replaced Republicans’ sequestration cuts, and proposed additional spending focusing on infrastructure improvements. His new budget proposal, which is strictly symbolic, is a nearly identical reiteration of his last offering with some incorporation of his policies in his State of the Union address. Liberals are rightly upset over the shift to chained-CPI for Social Security cost of living adjustments, but they were equally incensed when he offered them during fiscal cliff negotiations and their tantrums were wasted because as expected, Republicans rejected his entire plan.

Republicans have reiterated their own rejection of the President’s plans because they include new revenue, spending on infrastructure to create jobs, and do not eliminate the New Deal programs they have lusted to demolish for 75 years. Critics of the President’s budget claimed that including cuts to Social Security would give Republicans a talking point that even Obama sees the necessity to reduce the deficit by slashing “entitlements,” and they have a point because Boehner said “it included only modest entitlement savings,” and that “if the president believes these modest entitlement savings are needed to help shore up these programs, there’s no reason they should be held hostage for more tax hikes.” Boehner is not interested in shoring up Social Security or he would be first in line to lift the cap on earnings and put the Trust on track to solvency for several generations. Republicans plainly want the program eliminated to create a permanent underclass of elderly Americans dependent on Wall Street for their retirement or die, and to seize the trillions in the Trust’s coffers to hand out as tax cuts for the rich.

There were other aspects of the President’s budget proposal that drove Boehner to reject it without reading it besides new revenue that are reiterations of Republican policies over the past four years. The Republicans hate the notion of spending to create jobs through infrastructure improvements, spending on education, and replacing their sequestration cuts with more measured reductions in other areas. Republicans worked too hard to get the sequester cuts that for nine years and nine months will slash education spending, kill jobs, decimate anti-poverty programs, and hurt the economy to settle for any replacement short of imposing an enhanced version of Paul Ryan’s Path to Prosperity budget that piles on debt due to massive tax cuts for the rich. They also have stated in no uncertain terms that infrastructure repairs are off the table to maintain America’s pathetic standing as one of the poorest infrastructures in the developed and developing world, and the idea of putting Americans to work goes against everything Republicans have stood for over the past four years.

The President knows offering a carrot to Republicans in the hopes of a so-called grand bargain is an exercise in futility, but with the American people watching, he is shining a spotlight on Republican intransigence and allegiance to the rich. By offering an olive branch in the form of chained-CPI for Social Security, Republicans can no longer say the President is afraid of his base, or unwilling to meet Republicans half way to solve the nation’s phony deficit crisis, and their immediate rejection to compromise further portrays them as the real problem in Washington. Social Security and Medicare are extremely popular programs, and Republican insistence that they be eviscerated to give more tax cuts to corporations and the rich far exceed the President’s offer to change the COLA methodology. It is also worth noting, again, that the Center for America Progress, no conservative belief tank, recommend chained-CPI as a revenue raising long term fix for Social Security, but with Republicans bound and determined to reject any proposal that fails to end Social Security and Medicare in their entirety, and rejection of any new revenue to create jobs and repair the decrepit infrastructure, or replace the job-killing sequestration cuts, it is doubtful there will be a grand bargain, or any bargain, between the President and Republicans. Besides, the President’s budget proposal is only symbolic because in America, Congress makes the budget and as long as Republicans run this country, any budget that does not kill jobs, kill safety nets, and end public education, is doomed to fail regardless who proposes it.
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« Reply #5606 on: Apr 08, 2013, 06:13 AM »

North Korea: Seoul says fourth nuclear test is not imminent

South Korean defence ministry retracts claim regime preparing for test despite reporting increased activity at site

Justin McCurry in Seoul, Monday 8 April 2013 11.29 BST   

South Korea has retracted claims that North Korea is preparing to conduct a fourth nuclear test, hours after the unification minister in Seoul said there were signs of increased activity at the North's main testing site.

But as officials in Seoul dampened speculation over a nuclear test, North Korea said it would withdraw its workers from the Kaesong industrial zone, a venture with the South located north of the heavily armed border separating the countries.

The South's defence ministry said the reported movements around the Punggye-ri site were routine and did not signal an imminent test. "We found there had been no unusual movements that indicated it wanted to carry out a nuclear test," a defence ministry spokesman said.

Earlier on Monday, the South Korean unification minister, Ryoo Kihl-jae, was reported as having told a meeting of MPs that Seoul had acquired evidence of increased movement of vehicles and personnel at Punggye-ri.

Later the same day, a "startled" Ryoo said he has "misspoken" and could not remember making the comments, which were recorded on video. A ministry spokesman said Ryoo had meant to say that North Korea had long been prepared to conduct a nuclear test, but that there were no signs of unusual activity.

Announcing the suspension of operations at Kaesong, Kim Yang-gon, secretary of the ruling party's central committee, said the regime would suspend operations in the zone and decide whether to resume work there or close it down.

"It has become impossible to operate the zone as usual due to the South Korean warmongers' reckless acts," the official KCNA news agency quoted him as saying.

North Korea last week banned hundreds of South Korean managers from entering the complex, which earns the communist state about $86m (£56m) a year. More than 120 firms from the South employ 54,000 North Korean workers.

Analysts had expected operations at the plant to wind down because of the ban and the dwindling supply of raw materials from the South.

The nuclear testing site on North Korea's north-east coast is where the country's three previous controlled nuclear detonations – in 2006, 2009 and on 12 February this year – took place.

Ryoo's comments came after a South Korean newspaper quoted an unnamed government source as saying that workers appeared to be preparing for another test at Punggye-ri.

The JoongAng Ilbo quoted the source as saying that South Korean intelligence had detected "increased activity of labour forces and vehicles" at the site. "We are closely monitoring the ongoing situation, which is very similar to the situation ahead of the third nuclear test. We are trying to figure out whether it is a genuine preparation for a nuclear test or just a ploy to heap more pressure on us and the US," it said.

New Focus International, a website run by North Korean exiles, suggested a simple mistranslation from Korean to English might have contributed to the confusion. The nuanced meaning of the Korean word for "early symptom" or "signal", the site said, did not necessarily indicate an imminent action, but referred to moves to leave open the possibility of a nuclear test.

The prospect of a nuclear test is certain to add to tensions on the peninsula amid reports that the regime in Pyongyang could be planning to launch a medium-range missile from its east coast, possibly as early as Wednesday.

Any missile launch is expected to be a test rather than a targeted strike and could take place in the runup to the 101st anniversary of the birth of North Korea's founder, Kim Il-sung, on 15 April. Another significant date is the anniversary of the foundation of the Korean people's army 10 days later.

Last week, North Korea warned foreign embassies in Pyongyang it could not guarantee their safety from the threat of conflict after this Wednesday and advised them to consider pulling their staff out of the capital.

The North has unleashed a barrage of threats since the UN imposed sanctions in response to February's nuclear test. It has also been angered by military exercises involving South Korea and the US that are due to run to the end of the month.

The regime has threatened to launch nuclear strikes against the US mainland and its bases in the Pacific, declared itself in a "state of war" with South Korea and cut its military hotline with Seoul.

The withdrawal of workers from Kaesong and the reported deployment of missiles are being seen as an attempt to raise fears of an impending crisis in the hope of winning concessions from Washington. There are no signs that the regime is mobilising its army of 1.2 million in preparation for any sort of attack.

The chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, General Martin Dempsey, said he did not believe the North would take military action, but added: "I can't take the chance that it won't."

The US has brought forward the deployment of a missile defence system to Guam, a US territory in the Pacific. It has drawn up plans with South Korea on how to respond to specific military provocations by the North.

The allies would "respond more forcefully than in the recent past but in a limited way intended to prevent an escalation to broader war", the New York Times said, citing Pentagon officials.

A nuclear test would anger China, which has shown signs of growing frustration with North Korea, a major recipient of Chinese aid.

The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, alluded to North Korean provocations when he said no country "should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gain" in a speech on Sunday.

In a telephone conversation with the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, at the weekend, China's foreign minister, Wang Yi, said Beijing "opposes provocative words and actions from any party in the region and do not allow troublemaking on China's doorstep", according to the ministry's website.

The commander of the 28,000 US troops based in South Korea, General James Thurman, abruptly cancelled a visit to Washington where he had been due to testify before congressional committees. Thurman would remain in Seoul as a "prudent measure", according to a US military official quoted by Associated Press.

The chairman of South Korea's joint chiefs of staff, General Jung Seung-jo, also cancelled a visit to Washington later this week in light of rising tensions at home.

Dan Pfeiffer, an adviser to US president Barack Obama, said the administration would not be surprised if the North conducted a missile test or similar provocation.

Pfeiffer told ABC's This Week the North should "stop their actions, start meeting their international obligations and put themselves in a position where they can achieve what is their stated goal, which is economic development, which will only happen if they rejoin the international community".


April 8, 2013

North Korea Pulls Workers From Factories It Runs With South


SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said on Monday that it was withdrawing all its 53,000 workers from an industrial park jointly run with South Korea, casting doubt on the future of the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation.

The Kaesong industrial complex, in the North Korean border town of the same name, operated for eight years despite political and military tension, including the North Korean artillery attack on a South Korean island three years ago. North Korea’s decision to withdraw its workers, although it called the move “temporary,” presented the most serious challenge to its viability.

North Korea “will temporarily suspend the operations in the zone and examine the issue of whether it will allow its existence or close it,” the country’s official Korean Central News Agency quoted Kim Yang-gon, a secretary of the Central Committee of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, as saying after his visit to Kaesong on Monday. The North’s final decision will depend on the Seoul government’s attitude, he said, making it clear that Pyongyang was using the future of the factory park to pressure Seoul for political concessions.

Hours earlier, South Korea said it had no intention of offering dialogue with North Korea. Doing so amid a torrent of North Korean threats to attack Seoul and Washington with nuclear weapons would be tantamount to capitulation and would only embolden the North’s brinkmanship, officials here said. “If the Kaesong project is stopped and we have to pull our workers completely, it will be a tremendous setback to South-North relations,” Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae of South Korea said during a parliamentary hearing. “If we can bring about concrete results through dialogue, perhaps we will swallow our pride and start dialogue, but this is not such a time.”

“We don’t need photo-ops or talks for talk’s sake,” he said.

North Korea has blocked South Korean managers and cargo trucks from crossing the heavily armed border to Kaesong for six days to protest United Nations sanctions and joint military drills that the United States and South Korea are conducting on the Korean Peninsula. The blockade quickly dried up the fuel, food and raw materials for 123 South Korean factories there, forcing 20 of them to stop operating as of Monday, even before the North’s decision to pull out its workers.

More than 470 South Koreans remained in Kaesong on Monday, hoping that the North would lift the blockade. Long lines of South Korean trucks loaded with supplies for the Kaesong factories were stalled at the border on Monday, waiting in vain for the North to let them cross.

For nearly a decade, the complex, where South Korean factories hire North Korean workers and the North’s Communist authorities experienced the first taste of South Korean capitalism, has been held up as a test case for how reunification of the two Koreas might look. The complex, near the western edge of the border of the two Koreas, produced $470 million worth of textiles and other labor-intensive products last year.

As relations deteriorated in recent years, however, the complex has also become controversial in South Korea. Some conservative South Koreans argued that the complex, which generates $90 million a year in wages for 53,000 North Koreans employed there, extended a lifeline to the North Korean regime, which the South blamed for the island attack and the 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors. North Korea’s threat to close the complex earlier this month was met with some skepticism from some media analysts who indicated that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, would not want to risk an important source of hard currency.

North Korea has issued a daily barrage of bellicose rhetoric since early March, denouncing the United States and South Korea for the joint military drills and spearheading United Nations sanctions following a nuclear test in February, its third.

In the past week, North Korea appeared to move beyond rhetoric. It told foreign embassies in Pyongyang to consider evacuating their personnel because of rising tension and it moved one of its medium-range missiles to its east coast for a possible test launch, which South Korea said could happen as early as this week.

On Monday, South Korean officials reported activities at North Korea’s main nuclear test site, but said it was too early to tell whether the country would conduct another underground nuclear test despite escalating tensions. North Korea detonated a nuclear device on Feb. 12 inside one of the two tunnels it was believed to have prepared in its main test site in the northeastern of the country.

South Korea has lately detected vehicle, cargo and personnel movements around the entrance of the other unused tunnel, officials here said. “For now, we don’t see them as an indication of a nuclear test,” said Kim Min-seok, a spokesman of the Defense Ministry. “But since they prepared both tunnels for the last test, we believe that once North Korea makes up its mind, it can conduct another nuclear test any time.”

The measured statement came as South Korean officials were still unsure whether North Korea intended to push ahead with another nuclear test, which would trigger more United Nations sanctions and aggravate tensions, or was posturing to draw Washington and Seoul back to the negotiating table. "How far can they take this?" asked Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, saying that the prolonged standoff between Pyongyang and its American and South Korean foes carried a considerable political and economic risk for both Koreas.

The closure of the Kaesong complex suggested the Pyongyang regime is subordinating possible economic changes to its political and military priorities.

It was also a blow to factory owners who have invested millions of dollars with government encouragement during the years when Seoul pushed for economic cooperation as a way of building political reconciliation. Faced with the prospect of closing their factories, they urged the government to start dialogue with Pyongyang to help defuse tensions.


April 7, 2013

U.S. Designs a Korea Response Proportional to the Provocation


WASHINGTON — As North Korea hints at new military provocations in the coming days, the United States and South Korea have drawn up plans to respond more forcefully than in the recent past, but in a limited way intended to prevent an escalation to broader war.

Amid the rising tensions, there were still efforts on many fronts on Sunday to limit the possibility of military conflict. In an indirect but clear criticism of China’s longtime ally, North Korea, Xi Jinping, China’s new president, said in a speech on Sunday that no country in Asia “should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gain.”

A senior adviser to President Obama, Dan Pfeiffer, appearing on the ABC program “This Week,” played down the situation as “a pattern of behavior we’ve seen from the North Koreans many times.”

Still, the escalating tensions were underscored Sunday when the commander of American forces on the Korean Peninsula, Gen. James D. Thurman, abruptly canceled a trip to Washington for Congressional testimony and consultations. So did South Korea’s top commander.

American officials described the new “counterprovocation” plan as calling for an immediate but proportional “response in kind” — hitting the source of any North Korean attack with similar weapons. For example, if the North Koreans were to shell a South Korean island that had military installations, as has occurred in the past, the plan calls for the South to retaliate quickly with a barrage of artillery of similar intensity.

South Korea’s national security director said Sunday that the North this week might launch one of its new missiles. If so, Pentagon officials said they would be ready to calculate its trajectory within seconds and try to shoot it down if it appeared headed toward impact in South Korea, Japan or Guam, an American territory. But they planned to do nothing if it were headed toward open water, even if it went over Japan, as one previous North Korean test did.

The officials doubted that the North’s new leader, Kim Jong-un, would risk aiming the missile at the United States or its allies.

Mr. Obama, officials say, has ruled out striking at the missiles while they are on their launchers — when they are easiest to destroy — unless there is evidence they are being fitted with nuclear warheads, which intelligence officials doubt North Korea yet possesses.

The key, then, is how to respond to anticipated North Korean hostilities while preventing the crisis from escalating.

“How we carry out a proportional retaliation without triggering a general conflict, or an assault on Seoul, is the hardest part of the problem,” said Gary Samore, who served until recently as Mr. Obama’s top nuclear adviser and is now the executive director of Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. “Everyone is aware there are not big margins for error here.”

Some of the public language from the South Korean government suggests that Seoul and Washington may not agree on how far any retaliation should go, although the agreement between the two countries guarantees consultation. “Overreaction by South Korea is a real risk — and we’re working on that problem,” a senior administration official said.

South Korea’s new president, Park Geun-hye, a daughter of a famed South Korean dictator from the cold war, has indicated that she might also go after the North’s command-and-control centers responsible for the provocation.

In the past, classified addendums to the war plan for the Korean Peninsula have not been publicized. So it is notable that agreement on a new plan was publicly disclosed — both to deter the North and to reassure the population of the South. The nature of the response is critical.

Ordering hostilities short of war in an effort to stage-manage the agenda with Seoul and Washington has been a major part of the playbook used by the past two generations of leaders in the North: rapid escalation of a crisis until the United States and South Korea buy temporary peace with aid or investments.

But some American intelligence officials believe that Mr. Kim may have more to gain from striking out at his enemies — within reason — to bolster his credentials with his military, still deeply suspicious of his youth and inexperience.

The absence of a clear understanding about when and how to use force on the peninsula reflects, in part, the rapid shifts over the past 20 years between hard-line South Korean governments and those advocating a “sunshine policy” of reaching out to the North.

Ms. Park was elected on a platform of reopening the possibility of warmer relations with the government of Mr. Kim, but the rise in tensions has all but eliminated that opportunity, at least for now. Under current agreements, the South Koreans remain in command on the peninsula under normal armistice circumstances, but General Thurman, as the commander of American and United Nations forces, would assume operational control if war broke out. Wartime control is set to transfer to South Korea after 2015.

Ms. Park would be under extraordinary pressure to take action if the North acted out again. When the Cheonan, a South Korean warship, was sunk in March 2010, her predecessor decided not to strike back — and it took months to complete a study that concluded the explosion aboard the ship had been caused by a torpedo shot from a minisubmarine based just over the border in North Korea. Months later, the North shelled a lightly inhabited island in the South — and was met by delayed and ineffective return fire.

“The new agreement defines action down to the tactical level and locks in alliance political consultations at the highest level,” an American official said. The official stressed that the South Korean military would take the lead in any response to hostilities from the North short of war.

“North Korea has gotten away with murder — literally — for decades, and the South Korean and American forces have rarely responded with decisive military action,” said David S. Maxwell, a retired Army colonel who served five tours in South Korea.

“It’s very important to break the cycle of provocation,” said Mr. Maxwell, now the associate director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University. “These responses have to be proportional. They have to be delivered decisively, at the time and at the point of provocation.”

As part of prescheduled military exercises with South Korea, and to prove America’s commitment to regional security, the United States mounted an unusual, highly publicized show of force. It included the decision to use nuclear-capable B-2 bombers, which have a stealthy design to avoid detection, to conduct a mock bombing run in South Korea.

At the same time, the Navy moved two missile defense ships into the area, both of which carry advanced radar and interceptor missiles. A ground-based system with a similar missile defense capability was ordered moved to Guam, two years ahead of schedule, to protect that territory and allow the two ships to patrol waters closer to the Korean Peninsula.

A Pentagon official said Sunday that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had postponed tests of an intercontinental ballistic missile that had been planned for this week, concerned that they might “exacerbate the crisis with North Korea.” The tests will be rescheduled.

The additional American military presence is believed to be highly worrisome to Beijing, and it is intended to be. It is an effort to demonstrate to the Chinese that unless they get their ward under control, they will invite exactly the kind of American military presence in northeast Asia that they are hoping will go away.

“There are some who question our long-term staying power in the Asia-Pacific region, especially in a time of spending constraints,” one American official said. “So it is important to show our allies that we can still project power in a very meaningful and rapid way.”

But seen from a North Korean perspective, the Americans do not stand quite as tall as they once did. After three successive American presidents have said they could not tolerate a nuclear North Korea, they are tolerating it.

Moreover, the South has made North Korean retaliation even easier. New housing developments sprawl north of Seoul, in areas the South Koreans had once planned to keep as a buffer zone — and well within range of more than 10,000 short-range artillery and rocket launchers deployed by the North.

So far, the Obama administration has not tried to interfere with a North Korean long-range missile test, even though the North is prohibited from fielding these weapons by United Nations Security Council resolutions.

But in the days leading up to a 2006 test launching of a North Korean missile, two prominent Democrats, William Perry, a former defense secretary, and Ashton B. Carter, a Harvard professor who is currently the deputy secretary of defense, wrote in The Washington Post that the Bush administration should destroy the missile on the North Korean launching pad.

“Should the United States allow a country openly hostile to it and armed with nuclear weapons to perfect an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering nuclear weapons to U.S. soil?” they wrote. “We believe not.”

In any event, that missile blew up by itself, about 40 seconds after it was launched.

Steven Lee Myers contributed reporting.


North Korea: experts call for dialogue – and say China must play a part

Washington postpones planned missile test as Switzerland offers to act as mediator with Pyongyang

Justin McCurry in the Korean DMZ, Sunday 7 April 2013 19.57 BST   

This 2.5-mile-wide strip of land is all that stands between about 1 million heavily armed troops ranged either side of the border between North and South Korea.

The atmosphere inside the demilitarised zone (DMZ), established after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a ceasefire, mirrors the current state of cross-border relations: prolonged tension, occasional flare-ups, and a return to the status quo.

That precarious arrangement has prevented the two Koreas from going to war again, but failed to bring a real and lasting peace, say experts who believe the time has come for the US and its allies to consider a new approach to North Korea unthinkable just a week ago: dialogue.

On Sunday, Washington postponed a planned intercontinental missile test, giving encouragement to observers who have urged a more moderate tone in recent days. The initial high-octane response – which included flying B2 bombers over the peninsula– has only made a bad situation worse, so the current thinking goes.

"There has been a ratcheting down of deterrence gestures by the US, and that has helped cool the situation a little," said John Delury, a North Korea analyst at Yonsei University in Seoul.

Delury believes more aggressive diplomatic gestures could help ease the situation further, but only if the political will exists to begin even limited engagement with the regime. "This whole crisis has shown us how little we really know about Kim Jong-un, and we're not going to learn any more unless we talk," he said. "And talking isn't the same as backing down."

At the weekend, the South Korean media reported calls from both sides of the political divide in Seoul for the administration to send an envoy to Pyongyang to lay the foundation for talks.

A key new appointment in Pyongyang may have given the South an ideal negotiating partner: Pak Pong-ju, an economic reformer and pragmatist who became the North's premier last week. "He is someone everyone can work with, including China," said Delury.

There are clear signs that China's approach to its unpredictable ally is changing. It quickly signed up to UN sanctions after the North conducted its third nuclear test in February. Last week it voiced serious concern over the sudden escalation in rhetoric and urged calm on all sides.

Washington's best chance of altering the course of events on the Korean peninsula will depend on how much further Beijing is willing to go. China has traditionally supported the status quo, which allows North Korea to act as a buffer state between it and the South, where tens of thousands of US troops are based. But a continuation of the current standoff, which could include a build-up of US military hardware, is hardly in China's interests either.

China's leader, Xi Jinping, indicated on Sunday that it could respond to international pressure to rein in North Korea. He did not mention the state by name, but said in a speech to business leaders that no country should be able "to throw the region, or even the entire world, into chaos for selfish gains".

Switzerland, meanwhile, offered to act as a mediator with Pyongyang, according to the Swiss foreign ministry, which recently made contact with the North Korean authorities. "Switzerland is willing to contribute to a de-escalation on the Korean peninsula and is always willing to help find a solution, if this is the wish of the parties, such as hosting meetings between them," a spokeswoman said.

Attempts to break the cycle of pressure, concessions and North Korean violations of deals on its nuclear and missile programmes would only work if China, the US and South Korea could agree on their approach, said professor Kim Hyun-wook at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security in Seoul. "They have to start speaking with one voice and not give North Korea the leeway it's had up until now to turn to China for help. It must be made to believe that it can't rely on China any more.

"But my concern is that the US won't go that far. It has a lot on its plate elsewhere and only cares about North Korea when it is threatened. But it has to come around to this new, united approach."

Washington may also have to drop its demand that Pyongyang abandon its nuclear programme. "It now seems impossible that the North will stop building nuclear weapons, so it might be that the US and other countries will have to talk non-proliferation rather than abandonment," said Professor Shin Jong-dae of the University of North Korean Studies.

Observers are waiting to see how South Korea's new president, Park Geun-hye, will turn her desire for "trustpolitik" with the North into action. A spokeswoman for Park said the administration recognised that past attempts to denuclearise the North had been unsuccessful. But possible confidence-building steps, such as the resumption of aid and cross-border dialogue, could still be some way off: "We have no illusions that trust is something that can be built overnight," she said.

"It is time for the international community to fashion a truly united front to press North Korea to denuclearise. North Korea's bellicose rhetoric is by no means helpful to building an environment for restarting dialogue. Nor do we believe this is the right time to consider such high-level talks."

But while tensions on the peninsula have eased in recent days, the DMZ is a reminder of how terrifying a cross-border conflict would be. Experts believe about 60% of North Korea's military assets, including 600,000 troops, are positioned on or near the border, the most heavily fortified in the world. Its artillery units, hidden among the mountains separating the two Koreas, could quickly destroy Seoul, just 37 miles away.

In an article for the Foreign Policy website last month, North Korea experts Victor Cha and David Kang said the North could unleash 500,000 rounds of artillery on the South Korean capital in the first hour of a conflict. The promise of mutually assured destruction has prevented war, but it has done nothing to stop the North from developing its nuclear programme and potentially holding the region, and the rest of the world, to ransom.

The US policy of "strategic patience" – sanctions coupled with displays of military power – has failed, according to Prof Kim. "The US doesn't have a policy on North Korea, only a fruitless cycle of sanctions and dialogue," he said. "And meanwhile the North's weapons capacity has grown much stronger."

At the DMZ "truce village" of Panmunjom this weekend, forces from both sides performed a daily ritual stretching back decades. North Korean border guards peered through binoculars into the South, where soldiers who have been selected for border duty because of their imposing stature stared back through mirrored shades, perfectly still in a taekwondo pose designed for maximum intimidatory effect.

Despite the barrage of threats from Pyongyang, all was quiet along the DMZ, where tourists were unperturbed by their proximity to danger and bought souvenir mugs and T-shirts, and rued their misfortune to visit on a day when a giant statue of Kim Il-sung, the Kaesong industrial complex and other features of the North Korean landscape were shrouded in mist. US and South Korean forces lined up near the barbed-wire fence running the entire 160-mile length of the DMZ have kept the communist wolves from its democratic neighbour's door for 60 years, our guide told us – although the South didn't hold free elections until the late 1980s.

In these volatile times, it is worth remembering the DMZ's other role. Straddling the demarcation line in Panmunjom are several blue huts, where officials from North and South have historically held talks aimed at building the foundations for rapprochement. Many consider them cold war relics; would that they became the setting for a long-overdue thaw.


April 7, 2013

China Hints at Limits to North Korea Actions


BOAO, China — In an indirect but clear reference to the North Korean crisis, China’s president, Xi Jinping, said Sunday that world peace should not be put at risk because of a single country.

“No one should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gain,” Mr. Xi said in a speech at an annual regional business forum in Boao, China. Mr. Xi did not single out any countries or disputes, but in separate remarks, China’s Foreign Ministry repeated its “grave concern” over the rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

At the same time, South Korea’s government warned that North Korea might carry out another provocative act this week, possibly a missile test, as a way to extract concessions from Washington and Seoul.

As North Korea’s major ally, China has been discomfited by the behavior of the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, but it has refrained from making pronouncements that would signal what, if anything, it planned to do to rein in North Korea.

The Obama administration, in response to the North’s threats to fire missiles at the United States, has said that it will strengthen its missile defenses, and it has sent jet fighters, bombers and warships to the area as a show of support for South Korea.

Mr. Xi did not mention the American actions in his speech at the Boao Forum, but China has grown increasingly concerned about efforts by the United States to reassert itself in Asia. He said Asia’s stability faced new challenges as “hot spot issues keep emerging and both traditional and nontraditional security threats” surfaced. Obama administration officials say that Beijing faces a choice between cracking down on North Korea or facing a larger American military presence in East Asia.

But it is unclear how much China can moderate the North’s behavior. North Korea ignored China’s wishes when it carried out a nuclear test in February. That test led to more United Nations economic sanctions — which China agreed to despite reservations about their effectiveness — and set the stage for the North’s latest conflict with the United States and South Korea.

The South Korean government’s new warning came three days after its defense minister said that the North had moved a missile with a “considerable range” to its east coast, although it is not capable of reaching the mainland United States.

Kim Jang-soo, director of national security for President Park Geun-hye of South Korea, said during a meeting of security-related officials on Sunday that the North “may launch a provocation, such as missile launch,” around Wednesday. The missile that was moved is widely believed to be the Musudan, which the South Korean military and analysts say has the range to hit South Korea and Japan and perhaps American bases in Guam as well.

“North Korea has been engaged in a so-called headline strategy,” Kim Jang-soo said, referring to an almost daily drumbeat of North Korean threats since early March and the news stories they have generated.

North Korea is raising tensions in an effort to frighten and force the United States and South Korea into negotiations and concessions, he said. The pressure was also aimed at China and Russia in an effort to push them to mediate on North Korea’s behalf, he said.

“We see through their motive,” he said. “Although North Korea shows no signs of attempting a full-scale war, it will suffer damage many times more than we do if it launches even a localized provocation.”

South Korea “has no intention of attempting premature dialogue just because of a crisis,” Mr. Kim said, urging the North to ease tensions so talks can start.

In an interview on the ABC News program “This Week” on Sunday, President Obama’s senior adviser, Dan Pfeiffer, declined to discuss what the United States would do if North Korea tested another missile, but said that it would not be a surprise if it did. “We have taken the steps we need to be able to protect our allies, protect the homeland,” Mr. Pfeiffer said. “The real focus and the onus is on North Korea to do the right thing.”

Two senior senators also criticized China on Sunday for not doing more to press North Korea to tone down its confrontational stance. “The Chinese hold a lot of the cards here,” Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said on the CBS News program “Face the Nation.” “They’re by nature cautious, but they’re carrying it to an extreme. It’s about time they stepped up to the plate and put a little pressure on this North Korean regime.”

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, appeared on the same program and said China could use its economic leverage over North Korea, cutting off support entirely “if they want to.” Mr. McCain said China’s failure to push North Korea was “very disappointing.”

Mr. Xi’s remarks, which were primarily focused on economic and social issues in Asia, did not mention any specific dispute, but he promised a constructive approach to regional tensions and “unremitting efforts to properly handle relevant issues through dialogue and negotiations.”

Obama administration officials say that China’s stance toward North Korea is “evolving.” In the past week, China’s Foreign Ministry has released several statements saying that it considers the North Korean situation to be of “grave concern.” On Sunday, the ministry repeated that phrase, saying that China had requested that North Korea protect foreign diplomats living in Pyongyang, the North’s capital. North Korean authorities has told foreign embassies to inform them by Wednesday whether they need assistance in evacuating because of rising tensions on the peninsula.

“Currently, tensions on the Korean Peninsula continue to escalate, and China expresses grave concern about this,” according to the statement by the ministry spokesman, Hong Lei. “The Chinese government has already requested that North Korea abide by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and other international laws and practices and thoroughly ensure the safety of Chinese Embassy and consular personnel resident in North Korea.”

The North gave similar warnings to some of the 123 South Korean factories in the joint industrial park in the North Korean city of Kaesong, said Mr. Kim, the South’s national security director. For a fifth consecutive day, North Korea blocked South Korean workers and supplies from entering the factory park, forcing 13 plants to stop production as of Sunday.

Jane Perlez reported from Boao, and Choe Sang-Hun from Seoul, South Korea. Christopher Buckley contributed reporting from Hong Kong, and Steven Lee Myers from Washington.


April 8, 2013

Japan Increasingly Nervous About North Korea Nukes


TOKYO (AP) — It's easy to write off North Korea's threats to strike the United States with a nuclear-tipped missile as bluster: it has never demonstrated the capability to deploy a missile that could reach the Pacific island of Guam, let alone the mainland U.S.

But what about Japan?

Though it remains a highly unlikely scenario, Japanese officials have long feared that if North Korea ever decides to play its nuclear card it has not only the means but several potential motives for launching an attack on Tokyo or major U.S. military installations on Japan's main island. And while a conventional missile attack is far more likely, Tokyo is taking North Korea's nuclear rhetoric seriously.

On Monday, amid reports North Korea is preparing a missile launch or another nuclear test, Japanese officials said they have stepped up measures to ensure the nation's safety. Japanese media reported over the weekend that the defense minister has put destroyers with missile interception systems on alert to shoot down any missile or missile debris that appears to be headed for Japanese territory.

"We are doing all we can to protect the safety of our nation," said chief Cabinet spokesman Yoshihide Suga, though he and Ministry of Defense officials refused to confirm the reports about the naval alert, saying they do not want to "show their cards" to North Korea.

North Korea, meanwhile, issued a new threat against Japan.

"We once again warn Japan against blindly toeing the U.S. policy," said an editorial Monday in the Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of its ruling party. "It will have to pay a dear price for its imprudent behavior."

Following North Korea's third nuclear test in February, Japanese experts have increasingly voiced concerns that North Korea may already be able to hit — or at least target — U.S. bases and major population centers with nuclear warheads loaded onto its medium-range Rodong missiles.

"The threat level has jumped" following the nuclear test, said Narushige Michishita, a former Ministry of Defense official and director of the Security and International Studies Program at Tokyo's National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.

Unlike North Korea's still-under-construction intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, program, its arsenal of about 300 deployed Rodong missiles has been flight tested and is thought to have a range of about 1,300 kilometers (800 miles).

That is good enough to reach Tokyo and key U.S. military bases — including Yokota Air Base, which is the headquarters of the U.S. 5th Air Force; Yokosuka Naval Base, where the USS George Washington aircraft carrier and its battle group are home-based; and Misawa Air Base, a key launching point for U.S. F-16 fighters.

Michishita, in an analysis published late last year, said a Rodong missile launched from North Korea would reach Japan within five to 10 minutes and, if aimed at the center of Tokyo, would have a 50-percent probability of falling somewhere within the perimeter of Tokyo's main subway system.

He said Japan would be a particularly tempting target because it is close enough to feasibly reach with a conventionally or nuclear-armed missile, and the persistent animosity and distrust dating back to Japan's colonization of the Korean Peninsula in 1910 provides an ideological motive.

Also, a threat against Japan could be used to drive a wedge between Tokyo and Washington. North Korea could, for example, fire one or more Rodong missiles toward Tokyo but have them fall short to frighten Japan's leaders into making concessions, stay out of a conflict on the peninsula or oppose moves by the U.S. forces in Japan to assist the South Koreans, lest Tokyo suffer a real attack.

"Given North Korea's past adventurism, this scenario is within the range of its rational choices," Michishita wrote.

Officials stress that simply having the ability to launch an attack does not mean it would be a success. They also say North Korea is not known to have actually deployed any nuclear-tipped missiles.

Tokyo and Washington have invested billions of dollars in what is probably the world's most sophisticated ballistic missile defense shield since North Korea sent a long-range Taepodong missile over Japan's main island in 1998. Japan now has its own land- and sea-based interceptors and began launching spy satellites after the "Taepodong shock" to keep its own tabs on military activities inside North Korea.

For the time being, most experts believe, North Korea cannot attack the United States with a nuclear warhead because it can't yet fashion one light enough to mount atop a long-range ICBM. But Japanese analysts are not alone in believing North Korea has cleared the "miniaturization" problem for its medium-range weapons.

In April 2005, Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that North Korea had the capability to arm a missile with a nuclear device. In 2011, the same intelligence agency said North Korea "may now have" plutonium-based nuclear warheads that it can deliver by ballistic missiles, aircraft or "unconventional means."

The Pentagon has since backtracked, saying it isn't clear how small a nuclear warhead the North can produce.

But David Albright, a physicist at the Institute for Science and International Security think tank, said in an email he believes the North can arm Rodong missiles with nuclear warheads weighing as much as several hundred kilograms (pounds) and packing a yield in the low kilotons.

That is far smaller than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki but big enough to cause significant casualties in an urban area.

Japan also is a better target than traditional enemy South Korea because striking so close to home with a nuclear weapon would blanket a good part of its own population with the fallout.

Regardless of whom North Korea strikes — with a nuclear or conventional weapon — it can be assured of one thing: a devastating counterattack by the United States.

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« Reply #5607 on: Apr 08, 2013, 06:30 AM »

IHT Rendezvous
April 8, 2013, 1:54 am

Anticipation Over China Visit by Iceland’s Leader (and Her Wife)


BEIJING — Will China’s state media show Jonina Leosdottir, the wife of the prime minister of Iceland, Johanna Sigurdardottir, during an official visit to China in mid-April? If so, how will she be portrayed, with China’s apparent conversion to First Ladyism on display in the recent high profile given to the wife of President Xi Jinping, the singer Peng Liyuan?

Proponents of gay marriage here plan to watch closely how the state broadcaster, CCTV, handles coverage of the Icelandic visit, since gay marriage is not legal in China but there is pressure from some parts of society to legalize it. In recent years, many gay couples have held unofficial betrothal ceremonies around the country.

The Chinese state largely tolerates — or ignores — homosexual behavior in private, and has in recent years increasingly addressed the issues facing the gay community when they relate to H.I.V. infection or AIDS. However, being openly gay is still taboo here, especially in official circles. Homosexuality was effectively decriminalized in China in 1997 and was removed from the official list of mental disorders in 2001.

Reflecting that situation, quite some interest in the question of the Icelandic leader’s visit has sprung up in Chinese social media since Sunday, as news spread that she would be accompanied by her wife of 13 years, according to an announcement by the prime minister’s office in Reykjavik on Saturday: “The Prime Minister of Iceland, Johanna Sigurdardottir, and her wife, Jonina Leosdottir, will be on an official visit to China on 15-18 April.” Ms. Sigurdardottir is the world’s first openly gay prime minister.

“And her wife… that sentence sounds really, really good,” wrote a person with the online name Little Poet_Miara on Sina Weibo, China’s biggest microblog site, one of about 125 comments posted by noon Monday. A post announcing the two-woman official state visit, had already been forwarded more than 1,000 times.

Quite a few people wrote an admiring exclamation whose original meaning is “domineering,” but in the fast-morphing world of Internet Chinese, when applied to strong women, means “brave” or “powerful”: “baqi!”

“It will get me watching the evening news, I want to see how they introduce her,” wrote Gilber1203.

“I reckon CCGV,” wrote Horn of January, meaning CCTV (the substitution was probably to avoid attracting the attention of censors, since it appears several times in comments on the thread), “will only dilute it, directly overlook her companion. People shouldn’t hold out too great hopes.”

“Gonna cause difficulties for the honor guard,” wrote a person with the name “Yuan Zhubi’s microblog,” adding a yellow face suppressing smiles.

While in China, Ms. Sigurdardottir will meet with Xi Jinping, Prime Minister Li Keqiang and Mr. Li’s predecessor, Wen Jiabao, the Icelandic prime minister’s office said. She is also due to sign a free trade agreement with China that has been six years in the making, the office said.

Another notable issue surrounding the visit: the fate of a large, proposed investment project in Iceland by a Chinese businessman, Huang Nubo. As my colleague Andrew Higgins reported, there are concerns that the tourist development in a remote corner of the country could be a front for China’s expanding strategic interests in the North Pole. Mr. Huang, a poet as well as businessman and head of the Zhongkun Group, has been pursuing the deal for about two years. Mr. Huang told the China Daily newspaper in late March: “There will very likely be a favorable turning point on the deal in April.”

“But if I get nothing clear and final from the Icelandic government by the end of May, I’ll no longer be interested in pursuing the project, and I’ll let it go,” he said.

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« Reply #5608 on: Apr 08, 2013, 06:34 AM »

Food rights and welfare squeezes: how do we free people from hunger?

These are difficult times for poor Indians and Brits; leaving food security solely to the private sector would be foolhardy

Bhaskar Vira and David Nally   
Monday 8 April 2013 12.00 BST   

While British society, reeling under forced austerity programmes, revamps its attitudes to social security, public opinion in India is divided over a landmark national food security bill, which was approved by the cabinet last month and creates legally binding obligations on the state to provide food to all those in need.

The bill follows sustained campaigning for a little longer than a decade over the right to food, which has involved arguments in the supreme court, public mobilisation, and pressure on the state to accept its legal obligations towards the most vulnerable groups in society. The supreme court has interpreted the right to food as a constituent element of the right to life, and the government committed itself to implementing a food security bill after elections in 2009. The legislation that last month received cabinet approval is an attempt to fulfil this obligation, admittedly enacted with an eye to the likely political gains to the ruling coalition at the poll booths.

Herein lie the political fault lines in the Indian debate. Critics of the bill have been quick to dismiss it as an electoral gimmick, politically ambitious but economically misguided. As the finance minister Shri Palaniappan Chidambaram struggles to contain the fiscal deficit, questions are being raised about whether an expensive programme of subsidised food distribution is affordable, and a sensible use of public funds. Commentators also suggest that widespread corruption and inefficiency in India's public distribution system will mean that good intentions are unlikely to translate into actual improvements in food security, and propose alternatives such as direct cash transfers to poor people. On the other hand, those who support the legislation argue that the food subsidy remains below 1% of India's GDP, and contrast this with other areas of public spending, such as tax concessions to the corporate sector.

While there is legitimate discussion about detail – including over universal coverage and whether this is more efficacious than the proposed targeted approach which focuses on what the bill calls "priority" households – there is a critical imperative to address the scandal of persistent malnutrition in a country that has experienced record levels of economic prosperity over the past 20 years. Ultimately, food security is an ethical debate about social provisioning, a point made with great clarity by Harsh Mander, one of the Indian supreme court's commissioners on the right to food, in his recent book, Ash in the Belly.

Clearly even if the right to food is accepted as a basic moral principle or "meta-right" in a civilised society, the question of how best to realise this right continues to cleave public opinion. Critics are correct to question the role of India's public distribution system in the past 60 years, and there is recognition that a step-change will be required for the effective implementation of the proposed bill. But, are the days of public procurement, storage and distribution over, and should this intervention in agricultural and food provisioning markets be consigned to the scrapheap of India's socialist past?

There are several reasons to be cautious about a blind faith in the efficacy of food markets – the horsemeat scandal that has engulfed the British food industry being the most recent cautionary tale. Relying on the private sector to source and distribute food from increasingly complex supply chains has proven to be risky. The food system needs to reflect the co-dependent interests of consumers, producers, suppliers, retailers and the state, bound together in a web of relationships; there is little reason to expect that a deregulated private food industry will serve the public good.

For India's government, the lessons are clear – leaving the delivery of food security solely to self-regulating private markets would be foolhardy, and the only viable option is to strengthen the public commitment to ensuring freedom from hunger and malnutrition, while harnessing the power and logistical sophistication of private supply chains where necessary.

These are difficult times for the vulnerable and poor, the global precariat. The language of austerity and responsible welfare spending appears to dominate public discourse. We must not allow this to suppress a much deeper moral debate about our collective aspirations as a society. Whether it is towards India's millions who remain hungry, or the increasingly squeezed bottom third of British society who will face the brunt of the coalition government's plans, our shared social contract must not be forgotten.

• Bhaskar Vira is senior lecturer in environment and development and David Nally is senior lecturer in human geography at the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, and both are fellows of Fitzwilliam College. The right to food will be debated at Kings Place, London, on Monday 8 April at the third debate in a series organised by the University of Cambridge's Strategic Research Initiative in Global Food Security. Tickets are available from the box office (020 7520 1490) or online

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« Reply #5609 on: Apr 08, 2013, 06:39 AM »

April 7, 2013

With Swagger, Afghan Army Takes the Lead


DAMDARA, Afghanistan — Through the crackle of the hand radio, the Taliban fighter could be heard screaming at his comrades, berating them to strike from their mountain hide-outs and kill the infidel forces gathered nearby.

A burly Afghan Border Police commander, eavesdropping on the enemy’s open-channel communication, chuckled and decided to stir things up. “If you are a man, you don’t need to yell,” the commander spoke into his radio, as a circle of Afghan Army soldiers giggled. “Why don’t you come out, you thief, and fight us face to face? What cave are you hiding in?”

Startled, the insurgent on the other end blurted: “I’m strong with the love of God! I’m going to heaven.”

“Donkeys don’t go to heaven, usually,” the commander replied, stroking his henna-dyed beard, eliciting another round of laughs.

As Afghans begin taking the lead from American forces this year, each mission the new Afghan National Army takes on will be a step toward answering critical questions about the country’s fate. Can Afghan forces effectively fight the Taliban after the Americans are gone? And can they gain the support of local leaders and populations who are so critical to that fight?

The challenges were highlighted over the weekend by a sprawling and drawn-out battle between Afghan forces and a Taliban stronghold, an indication that the fighting season had begun again in earnest. The battle ended only after nearby American forces called in an airstrike on the Taliban commander’s home, killing him and a number of civilians, including at least 10 children.

A recent week with a well-regarded Afghan Army unit in Kunar Province showed marked differences from the American way of war. While the unit generally acquitted itself well in combat, logistical and political challenges were evident. The operation in Kunar was characterized by Afghan and American military commanders as one of the biggest of its kind in the area: a search-and-clear mission centered on the village of Damdara in Ganjgal Valley, a notorious Taliban stronghold where an insurgent ambush killed nine Afghans and four of their American Marine advisers in 2009. This time, no Americans would be in sight at any stage.

Instead, the Second Brigade of the Afghan 201st Corps, considered one of the army’s best units, was leading the charge. Army commanders coordinated with multiple police and intelligence agencies, as well as Afghan civilian officials, spending nearly a week conducting reconnaissance and drawing up elaborate terrain models to prepare for the mission.

The terrain would play a major role this day. Ganjgal Valley is picturesque, but treacherous, with high ridges arrayed in a horseshoe around the village, perfect for shielding ambushes. Cut into the hills that lead up to the mountains are terraced fields, dry and brittle with small green shoots peeking through the soil. Stones cover the base of the valley like the bed of a river.

More than 350 Afghan security force members gathered around the perimeter, some given the task of searching the village for fighters and weapons, other assigned to the ridges to confront any ambushes at eye level.

They did not have to wait long. The forces in the heights came under fire almost immediately from an opposing ridgeline northwest of the village — the one vantage point the army did not control. Dozens of fighters were firing.

Soldiers responded with vehicle-mounted guns. A team shot artillery onto the insurgent mountainside with mixed accuracy, sending up plumes of smoke into the clear sky. The rhythm of a long-range battle took hold, the shots less frequent as each side squinted to find enemies on ridges about a half-mile apart.

It was during this impasse that the war of words erupted into the Taliban’s radio patter. As Afghan soldiers drew around to listen, the conversation between the two enemies grew even more insulting and acrimonious.

The insurgent called the commander “a slave of the infidels.”

“You didn’t even have pants on when I was a good Muslim and mujahid,” the commander replied. “You are a slave of the Punjabis,” he added, referencing Pakistani support for the Taliban. “Where did you get your ammunition, you donkey? Do you have a bullet factory up there?”

As the day wore on, a line of villagers snaked through the valley toward a meeting with assembled Afghan government officials.

The district governor, Mohammad Hanif Khairkhwa, apologized for bothering them and asked whether the Afghan forces had mistreated anyone. The villagers, resting on their haunches and wrapped in earth-tone shawls, said they had not.

The government had tried before to draw support away from the Taliban here, with only modest success. Now, in making his case, Mr. Khairkhwa drew on their similarities, speaking Afghan to Afghan while turning the absence of American forces into a new chance for cooperation.

“We are from the same country, the same region, we speak the same language and share the same faith,” he said. “Do you see any foreigners here? It’s just us.”

Promising that Afghan forces would be visiting the valley again, the governor left them with a warning: “Tell the insurgents, ‘Don’t shoot from my house.’ Tell them, ‘Don’t lay mines near my house.’ If you do not, then next time, you cannot complain about what happens.”

The villagers trekked back to the village, a series of mud homes seemingly carved into the earth.

An old man with deep blue eyes and a wispy white beard began muttering under his breath as he hobbled off. “If the government people bother us, they will be held accountable by God,” he said.

Overhearing the comment, one intelligence official shouted back: “You think we are bothering you? Who do you think is shooting at us every day? If you shoot one of us, God will send you to hell.”

Farther down the valley, a row of Humvees near the front of the fight belted streams of bullets into the enemy-held mountainside. A Taliban sniper hiding in the dense forest above fired single shots back at the troops on the valley’s floor. The village remained dormant.

“They shoot at us like thieves, so we have to shoot back with force,” said Sgt. Hedyatullah Tanha, 22, a platoon commander. “If we don’t return fire they will have a long period of time to line up another shot.”

Capt. Wahidullah Atifi, a company commander, said constant fighting had sharpened his men, while armored vehicles and extra training had bolstered their confidence.

“The only bad habit my unit has is that they respond to a single shot with a volley of bullets,” he said.

Amid the clamor of gunshots, Captain Atifi’s cellphone rang. A senior commander urged him to keep his men from shooting so much.

Captain Atifi shrugged and then sounded a note growing more common among Afghan commanders as they ponder future battles without American air support: “If we had an attack helicopter,” he said, “the fight would be over.”

In reality, if things had gone smoothly, the fight may never have happened in the first place. The army battalion commander had squashed earlier plans for a special unit to take the ridge that later became the Taliban stronghold.

Communication proved to be an obstacle, too. The patchwork of Afghan forces, including border, national and local police, were using different radios, inhibiting communication. To compensate, everyone used cellphones.

By 1:30 p.m., the search of the village concluded, turning up a handful of .50-caliber shells plucked from the floor of an old man’s home.

Soldiers began to trail down from the village. As planned, those along the ridgeline began to collapse their positions and make their way down the mountain, covering one another’s exits. After hours of sporadic fighting, all were alive and accounted for, officers said.

Then, a stutter of gunfire erupted as the Taliban exploited their vulnerability.

Soon after the soldiers abandoned high ground, insurgents slipped into the vacated positions and began firing down at a pocket of soldiers, now pinned by two lines of fire.

A dozen men piled into four Humvees and raced down the rugged dirt path to the base of the mountain, hoping to ease the enemy assault long enough to break the soldiers free. The frequency of the gunfire intensified, echoing across the valley in tidy snaps.

Twenty minutes later, the convoy reappeared, bringing with it the trapped soldiers, all alive. Taliban bullets whizzed through nearby fields, kicking up small clouds of dust.

As the men began loading into their vehicles to leave, the dormant village awakened. Muzzle flashes began to light up the dark mud windows, winging shots at the departing convoy until it was clear of the valley and on the road back to base.

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