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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1077336 times)
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« Reply #6390 on: May 16, 2013, 07:01 AM »

May 15, 2013

Christians Uneasy in Morsi's Egypt


CAIRO — Wasfi Amin Wassef used to buy and sell jewelry from his shop in Cairo’s vast Khan al-Khalili bazaar. Now he mostly buys it.

Well into a third year of economic malaise following the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, many ordinary Egyptians are selling their most cherished possessions, including heirloom jewelry, to raise cash for a ticket that will let them start a new life abroad. Official figures or estimates are not publicly available, but anecdotal evidence suggests emigration is rising.

“The number of people who sell us their gold since the revolution has increased three times,” Mr. Wassef said during an interview this month.

Some are Muslims but most are Christians, said Mr. Wassef, a member of Egypt’s ancient Coptic Orthodox Christian minority.

Since the ouster of Mr. Mubarak in February 2011, a growing number of Copts, including some of the most successful businessmen, have left Egypt or are preparing to do so, fearing persecution by an Islamist-controlled government as much as the stagnant economy that is smothering their industries.

Among the most prominent are the heads of the Sawiris family, who for several months have been running their enormous business empire from abroad.

“Every week I learn of 10 people who are leaving or who have already left,” Mr. Wassef said. “They know that what happened to the Sawiris’ can happen to them tomorrow.”

Coptic Christians, who account for an estimated 15 percent of Egypt’s 85 million people, predate the Muslim conquest by six centuries and represent the last tile in a former mosaic of Egyptian religions, sects and ethnicities.

Economically, Coptic business leaders have punched above their weight, dominating agriculture in the preindustrial age and in modern-era trade, finance and accounting. They have blended well into Egypt’s millennia-long tapestry of demographic change, which helps explain their resiliency. As Munir Fakhry Abdelnour, a prominent Copt who has worked in business, finance and politics, put it: “There is no Coptic quarter in Egypt.”

Like other Arab leaders, Mr. Mubarak made a point of protecting minority groups to nurture loyal constituencies and patronage systems that he could leverage against his Islamist rivals. Though secular tension sometimes turned violent during his 30 years in power, it was generally contained by the state security apparatus.

Since the election a year ago of a government dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, however, attacks on Copts and their institutions have multiplied. In October 2011, for example, following the burning of a Coptic church in Upper Egypt, security forces clashed with Christian protesters: 28 people, mostly Copts, were killed. Last month, Muslim extremists laid siege to Egypt’s main Coptic Cathedral in Khusus, a small town north of Cairo. The assault, which according to witnesses and video footage the police did little to prevent, followed a funeral for five men who died days earlier in clashes with militants.

Critics blame President Mohamed Morsi and his government for failing to quell the violence. In an editorial last month, the state-owned Al-Ahram Weekly called the killings at Khosous “a symptom of irresponsibility in high places, of indifference that can lead the state to the verge of collapse,” while the Copts’ spiritual leader, Pope Tawadros II, accused Mr. Morsi of “delinquency” and “misjudgments.”

Mr. Morsi, a longstanding member of the Muslim Brotherhood who resigned from the group before taking office, issued a statement of regret following the attacks that struck many observers as perfunctory. Last week, he pointedly sent a low-level functionary as his representative to the Easter Mass led by the pope.

Mingled with the threat of physical violence is the fear among Coptic business leaders that they are being singled out for punitive enforcement of the tax code.

Orascom Construction Industries, the flagship in the Sawiris family business group and the largest publicly traded Egyptian company, is alleged by the finance minister to have failed to pay taxes on profit realized from its 2007 sale of a cement unit to the French cement maker Lafarge. The charge confounded analysts; Egypt has no capital gains tax, they point out, and O.C.I. took the cement company public two months before its sale precisely to benefit from tax incentives aimed at encouraging companies to list their shares.

Still, in April, O.C.I. announced that it would pay 7 billion Egyptian pounds, or $1 billion, to Cairo’s tax authority and prosecutors promptly lifted a travel ban on the company’s chairman, Nassef Sawiris, and his father, Onsi. O.C.I., meanwhile, is pursuing plans announced in January for a share swap with its Dutch unit, OCI NV, which would effectively shift trading in the company’s stock to Amsterdam.

The telecommunications tycoon Naguib Sawiris, the eldest and most outspoken of the Sawiris brothers, has all but liquidated his assets in Egypt. In October 2010, he signed a $6.5 billion deal that merged Orascom Telecom into the Amsterdam-based telecommunications company VimpelCom, which was controlled by the Russian investment firm Alfa Group. Hany Genena, the head of research at Pharos Capital, an Egyptian investment bank, said Mr. Sawiris was now selling most of his holdings in Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding, which was created as part of the merger with VimpelCom.

Cash rich, analysts say, he is in the United States seeking investment opportunities in the country’s emerging shale gas industry. Mr. Sawiris declined requests for an interview for this article.

To be sure, Coptic business leaders are not the only ones seemingly targeted by what they see as the selective interpretation of tax laws. Investors and businessmen regardless of faith complain of drift and inconsistency at the policy-planning level. Companies that were privatized during the twilight of the Mubarak years are now being considered for renationalization. A new tax law published in December has since been withdrawn. Plans to curb costly and wasteful subsidy systems have been postponed or watered down.

“Everything is being done on a whim,” Mr. Genena said. “We wonder how we can keep operating like this.”

But the burden of uncertainty rests heaviest on Coptic business leaders and investors who by numerous accounts are voting with their feet.

Rafik Beshay, the procurement director at a Coptic-owned steel mill, says he is having difficulty finding Christians to fill job openings created by the departures as he tries to maintain parity among Christian and Muslim employees. The Caucasus state of Georgia is offering citizenship papers to any Egyptian Copt prepared to directly invest $20,000 there, according to Mr. Wassef, the jeweler, while the U.S. government has made it easier for Copts fleeing religious persecution to settle in America, according to Rasha Samir, the head of publications at the investment bank EFG-Hermes in Cairo.

Requests for U.S. visas, she said, which ordinarily take months to process, are now finalized in just two weeks.

Steve Blando, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security which handles asylum requests, denied that there was a policy to fast-track the process for Egyptian Copts.

“The U.S. asylum system does not make decisions to grant asylum to individuals of a particular nationality,” Mr. Blando said. Each claim “is adjudicated on a case-by-case basis, and the applicant must meet each element of the asylum standard in order to establish eligibility for asylum.”

Still, in the U.S. fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, according to data from the department, the United States had thus far granted 1,417 requests for asylum from Egypt, compared with 1,867 for the whole of 2012 and 837 in 2011.

At 1,867, last year’s figure was nearly six times what it was in the year before Mr. Mubarak was overthrown.
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« Reply #6391 on: May 16, 2013, 07:03 AM »

May 15, 2013

Nigeria’s President Gives Military More Power in Struggle Against Militants


DAKAR, Senegal — Struggling to contain a smoldering Islamist insurgency, the president of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, has ordered in more troops and granted the military more powers to arrest, more authority to seize “any building or structure” and more leeway in “any area of terrorist operation.”

Troops have already begun deploying in the wake of a speech by the president, Goodluck Jonathan, on Tuesday night declaring a state of emergency in parts of the country’s north, following weeks of violence in which hundreds were killed, including civilians, police officers and some soldiers.

Yet few in Nigeria appeared to be cheering Mr. Jonathan’s heightened resolve.

Almost four years into an uprising that has cost nearly 4,000 lives, an amplified version of the anti-Islamist strategy already in place — a heavy military crackdown in northern Nigeria — struck many politicians, analysts and residents as a worrying prelude to more of one of this undeclared war’s trademarks: large-scale civilian deaths at the hands of the country’s security forces.

The Islamist militants are often difficult to detect, but the civilians they hide among are not. And as critics of the government’s heavy-handed approach point out, it is the civilians who often pay the freight in the military’s tough crackdown.

Mr. Jonathan enjoined local civilian officials to “cooperate maximally” with Nigeria’s security forces, and declared a state of emergency in the hard-hit states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. But the emergency already exists, in the view of many in the north, who questioned how Mr. Jonathan’s latest initiative would yield a decisive change in the fight against the shadowy Islamist insurgency there.

“The fact is that this declaration has been done before in some local governments, and nothing has changed,” said Badamosi Ayuba, a member of the National Assembly who represents part of Kano, the north’s biggest city.

“By this new declaration, it is just like giving license to the soldiers to go and humiliate the citizens and to carry out human rights abuses,” Mr. Ayuba said.

Others warned that this crackdown, like predecessors conducted by the Nigerian Army’s Joint Task Force, or J.T.F., could drive more recruits into the arms of the main insurgent group, Boko Haram.

“We have warned time and again that the first step for the J.T.F. was to win the hearts and minds of the people, so that the people understand their mission,” said Kalli al-Gazali of the Northern Elders Forum, an activist group of moderate notables in Nigeria’s north.

“Since the occupation of Borno and Yobe, nobody knows what their rules of engagement are, which is why the insurgency continues unabated,” Mr. Gazali added. “They have never distinguished between the innocent and the guilty.”

Spokesmen for the military in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, did not respond to calls for comment. Residents have observed troops arriving for several days at an air base in Borno’s principal city, Maiduguri, the birthplace of the insurgency, and headed north, apparently toward border areas near Chad and Cameroon where Boko Haram is said to have encampments.

Mr. Jonathan’s speech appears to have been prompted in part by a Boko Haram raid in Borno State last week that the military said killed 55 people, including 22 police officers. The military said dozens of Islamist fighters swept into the town of Bama during the raid, breaking into a prison, where they freed 105 people, and attacking a police station.

But the military has been implicated in recent deaths as well. In mid-April, as many as 200 civilians were killed in the lakeside town of Baga after a brief clash between the military and insurgents. Residents and officials described soldiers dousing thatched-roofed homes with gasoline, setting them on fire and shooting residents as they tried to flee.

Mr. Jonathan, in his speech, depicted his country’s struggle with the militants in stark terms, saying that parts of Borno State had been “taken over” by them, that they wanted to “progressively overwhelm the rest of the country” and that they had “hoisted strange flags suggesting the exercise of alternative sovereignty.”

Some in Maiduguri call that an exaggerated view of the sway held by Boko Haram.

These critics of the government said that local officials had indeed fled from a number of villages in the northern part of the state, fearful of assassination by the militants, who have relentlessly targeted symbols of Abuja’s authority. But the departure of the local officials had not led to Boko Haram’s moving in to fill the administrative vacuum and run towns or villages themselves, the critics said.

“There is nothing like their taking over and administering local structures of government,” said Mr. Al-Gazali, who is from Maiduguri. “There is nothing like the insurgents taking over and operating government” following the departures of what he called “the key functionaries” from some nine local governments in Borno.

One of the country’s leading research groups, the Center for Democracy and Development in Abuja, noted that a previous emergency declaration, in December 2011, had been ineffectual, merely cutting off money to the 15 districts affected by it.

“Emergency rule did not lead to an improvement of the security situation in the said local governments,” the center’s director, Jibrin Ibrahim, said in a statement.

Ini Ekott contributed reporting from Abuja, Nigeria, and Hamza Idris from Maiduguri, Nigeria.


Nigerian police liberate second ‘baby factory’ in a week

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, May 15, 2013 15:45 EDT

Nigerian police on Wednesday said they had found six pregnant teenage girls in a raid on a house and arrested three people suspected of planning to sell their babies.

It was the second so-called baby-factory uncovered in a week in the west African nation.

“We acted on intelligence information and raided the house in Enugu (city) where we met six girls, under 17 and all pregnant, and freed them,” police spokesman Ebere Amaraizu in southeastern Enugu state told AFP.

He said two men and a woman believed to be operating a child trafficking ring were arrested during the raid on Monday and were cooperating with police.

Amaraizu said the girls had been “lured into the house with a promise of some money after” delivering a child.

“Investigation will unravel the details. We have to know how they came about the pregnancy and where they came from,” he said.

Monday’s raid came five days after police in nearby Imo State freed 17 pregnant girls and 11 small children from a home in the town of Umuaka.

The girls, aged between 14 and 17, told police that they had been impregnated by a 23-year-old man who is currently in custody. The owner of the building is on the run.

Nigerian police have uncovered a series of alleged baby factories in recent years, notably in the southeastern part of the country, but the intended buyers of the children have not been established.

Human trafficking, including the selling of children, is the third most common crime in Nigeria behind fraud and drug trafficking, the United Nations cultural organisation (UNESCO) has said.

In May of 2011 in southeastern Abia state, police freed 32 pregnant girls who said they had been offered to sell their babies for between 25,000 and 30,000 naira ($191), depending on the sex of the baby.

Another 17 pregnant girls were discovered in southern Anambra state in October 2011 under similar circumstances.

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« Last Edit: May 16, 2013, 07:09 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #6392 on: May 16, 2013, 07:05 AM »

May 15, 2013

Delivering KFC by Tunnel, Not Too Fast but Satisfying


GAZA CITY — The French fries arrive soggy, the chicken having long since lost its crunch. A 12-piece bucket goes for about $27 here — more than twice the $11.50 it costs just across the border in Egypt.

And for fast-food delivery, it is anything but fast: it took more than four hours for the KFC meals to arrive here on a recent afternoon from the franchise where they were cooked in El Arish, Egypt, a journey that involved two taxis, an international border, a smuggling tunnel and a young entrepreneur coordinating it all from a small shop here called Yamama — Arabic for pigeon.

“It’s our right to enjoy that taste the other people all over the world enjoy,” said the entrepreneur, Khalil Efrangi, 31, who started Yamama a few years ago with a fleet of motorbikes ferrying food from Gaza restaurants, the first such delivery service here.

There are no name-brand fast-food franchises on this 140-square-mile coastal strip of 1.7 million Palestinians, where the entry and exit of goods and people remain restricted and the unemployment rate is about 32 percent. Passage into Egypt through the Rafah crossing is limited to about 800 people a day, with men 16 to 40 years old requiring special clearance. Traveling through the Erez crossing into Israel requires a permit and is generally allowed only for medical patients, businessmen and employees of international organizations.

Palestinians generally refer to Gaza as being under siege or blockade by Israel, and isolation from the world is among the most common complaints of people here. That can create an intense longing for what those outside Gaza see as mundane, or ordinary.

“The irregular circumstances in Gaza generate an irregular way of thinking,” explained Fadel Abu Heen, a professor of psychology at Al Aqsa University in Gaza City. “They think of anything that is just behind the border, exactly as the prisoner is thinking of anything beyond the bars.”

Professor Abu Heen noted that when Hamas, the militant Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, breached the border with Egypt in 2008, during the height of the Israeli siege, thousands of Gazans flooded into El Arish and bought not just medicine and food staples but cigarettes, candy and things they did not need — just to show they had managed to bring something back from outside. Breaking the blockade, then and now, is seen as part of resisting the Israeli enemy, giving a sense of empowerment and control to people here, even if it comes in the form of fried chicken.

Even as Israel has relaxed restrictions on imports over the past few years, hundreds of illegal tunnels have flourished in Rafah. Weapons and people are smuggled underground, but so are luxury cars, construction materials and consumer goods like iPads and iPhones. And now: KFC.

Formerly called Kentucky Fried Chicken, a KFC franchise opened in El Arish, just over Gaza’s southern border, in 2011, and in the West Bank city of Ramallah last year. That, along with ubiquitous television advertisements for KFC and other fast-food favorites, has given Gazans a hankering for Colonel Sanders’s secret recipe.

So after Mr. Efrangi brought some KFC back from El Arish for friends last month, he was flooded with requests. A new business was born.

“I accepted this challenge to prove that Gazans can be resilient despite the restrictions,” Mr. Efrangi said.

In the past few weeks, Mr. Efrangi has coordinated four deliveries totaling about 100 meals, making about $6 per meal in profit. He promotes the service on Yamama’s Facebook page, and whenever there is a critical mass of orders — usually 30 — he starts a complicated process of telephone calls, wire transfers and coordination with the Hamas government to get the chicken from there to here.

The other day, after Mr. Efrangi called in 15 orders and wired the payment to the restaurant in El Arish, an Egyptian taxi driver picked up the food. On the other side of the border, meanwhile, Ramzi al-Nabih, a Palestinian cabdriver, arrived at the Hamas checkpoint in Rafah, where the guards recognized him as “the Kentucky guy.”

From the checkpoint, Mr. Nabih, 26, called his Egyptian counterpart and told him which of the scores of tunnels the Hamas official had cleared for the food delivery. He first waited near the shaft of the tunnel, but after a while he was lowered on a lift about 30 feet underground and walked halfway down the 650-foot path to meet two Egyptian boys who were pushing the boxes and buckets of food, wrapped in plastic, on a cart.

Mr. Nabih gave the boys about $16.50, and argued with them for a few minutes over a tip. A half-hour later, the food was loaded into the trunk and on the back seat of his Hyundai taxi, bound for Gaza City.

Back at Yamama, Mr. Efrangi sorted the meals for his motorcyclists to deliver to customers’ doorsteps. He said he limited the menu to chicken pieces, fries, coleslaw and apple pie because other items could be too complicated.

“Some clients would need a sandwich without mayonnaise, or a more spicy one, or a sandwich with or without sauce,” he said. “That’s why we do not bring everything, to avoid delivering the wrong order.”

Ibrahim el-Ajla, 29, who works for Gaza’s water utility and was among those enjoying KFC here the other day, acknowledged that the food was better hot and fresh in the restaurant, but he said he would be likely to order again. “I tried it in America and in Egypt, and I miss the taste,” he said. “Despite the blockade, KFC made it to my home.”

Mr. Efrangi may not have the fast-food market to himself much longer. A Gaza businessman who asked to be identified only by his nickname, Abu Ali, to avoid tipping off his competitors, said he applied for a franchise from KFC’s Middle East dealer, Americana Group, two months ago. Adeeb al-Bakri, who owns four KFC and Pizza Hut franchises in the West Bank, said he had been authorized to open a restaurant in Gaza and was working out the details.

“We need to get approval to bring chicken from Gaza farms with the KFC standards, we need to make sure that frying machines would be allowed in, we need the KFC experts to be able to head for Gaza for regular monthly checkups,” Mr. Bakri said. “I do not have a magic stick to open in Gaza quickly.”

Mr. Bakri was unaware of Mr. Efrangi’s delivery service, and when told the details, he frowned at the four-hour odyssey from oven to table.

“We dump it after half an hour,” he said.

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« Reply #6393 on: May 16, 2013, 07:07 AM »

May 15, 2013

Israel Hints at New Strikes, Warning Syria Not to Hit Back


WASHINGTON — In a clear warning to Syria to stop the transfer of advanced weapons to Islamic militants in the region, a senior Israeli official signaled on Wednesday that Israel was considering additional military strikes to prevent that from happening and that the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, would face crippling consequences if he retaliated.

“Israel is determined to continue to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah,” the Israeli official said. “The transfer of such weapons to Hezbollah will destabilize and endanger the entire region.”

“If Syrian President Assad reacts by attacking Israel, or tries to strike Israel through his terrorist proxies,” the official said, “he will risk forfeiting his regime, for Israel will retaliate.”

The Israeli official, who had been briefed by high-level officials on Israel’s assessment of the situation in Syria, declined to be identified, citing the need to protect internal Israeli government deliberations. He contacted The New York Times on Wednesday.

The precise motives for Israel’s warning were uncertain: Israel could be seeking to restrain Syria’s behavior to avoid taking further military action, or alerting other countries to another military strike. That would increase the tension in an already fraught situation in Syria, where a civil war has been raging for more than two years.

There could be a secondary audience for the warning, analysts said, in Hezbollah and its primary supporter, Iran. Hezbollah, which is based in Lebanon, has said in recent days it could use weapons supplied by Iran to retaliate for recent Israeli strikes on Syria.

Nearly two weeks ago, Israeli warplanes carried out two strikes in Syria, the first hitting bases of Syria’s elite Republican Guard and storehouses of long-range missiles, in addition to a military research center that American officials have called the country’s main chemical weapons site.

A more limited strike on May 3 at Damascus International Airport was also meant to destroy weapons being sent from Iran to Hezbollah. The Israeli government did not confirm either of the attacks, which followed another earlier this year.

The Syrian government publicly condemned Israel for the assaults, saying it “opened the door to all possibilities.” The Syrian deputy foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad, declared, “We will respond immediately and harshly to any additional attack by Israel.”

Mr. Assad and Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, have each said in recent days that the Israeli-Syrian border, which has been relatively quiet despite the more than two years of civil war inside Syria, could become a “resistance front,” in response to Israeli attacks.

On Wednesday, mortar shells, fired from across the Syrian border, landed in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The shells landed on Mount Hermon, a popular tourist site, and were the latest in a series of what Israel has generally considered errant fire from internal Syrian fighting.

Israel did not fire back, as it had on several previous occasions, but it closed Mount Hermon to the public for several hours during a Jewish holiday on which hiking in the Golan is popular.

In his comments, the Israeli official said that “Israel has so far refrained from intervening in Syria’s civil war and will maintain this policy as long as Assad refrains from attacking Israel directly or indirectly.”

“Israel,” he said, “will continue its policy of interdicting attempts to strengthen Hezbollah, but will not intercede in the Syrian civil war as long as Assad desists from direct or indirect attacks against Israel.”

Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, declined to discuss the meaning of the Israeli official’s statement. “We’re not going to comment on the story,” he said.

American and Israeli political analysts agree that Israel has little motive to intervene in Syria’s civil war, but that it is deeply concerned about the transfer of advanced weapons, as well as the danger that Mr. Assad’s stockpiles of chemical weapons could be used against it.

Amos Yadlin, Israel’s former military intelligence chief who now directs the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said that the timing of the warning could have been linked to intelligence Israel had received about something it wanted to prevent.

That, he said, could be a Syrian intention to react, albeit belatedly, to the recent airstrikes on its soil, an imminent shipment of weapons to Hezbollah, or signs of action by Syrian proxies in the Golan Heights.

Mr. Yadlin said that, aside from Mr. Assad, Russia could be another intended recipient for the Israeli official’s message. Two of the weapons systems that Israel has identified as game-changing “red line weapons” — SA-17 antiaircraft weapons and Yakhont shore-to-sea missiles — were supplied by the Russians, he added. The convoy that Israeli warplanes struck in January was carrying SA-17 antiaircraft weapons.

A Western diplomatic official who works in the region said that after the recent airstrikes, Israel had sent a similar message to Mr. Assad through back channels — probably Russia — saying it was not attacking his government but would do so if he retaliated. Perhaps, this official said, Jerusalem now wanted to broadcast the message publicly because the real audience is Iran and Hezbollah, whose leaders have been among the loudest threatening responses.

“It’s probably doubling down on the message to make sure it’s known to him and the others,” he said, also on the condition he not be named because of the delicacy of the situation. “Maybe some of the others who are calling on him to respond but also have an interest in him surviving would hear it better from this channel than other channels. Maybe it’s more directed at Iran and Hezbollah than it is at Syria.”

As for whether the timing of the statement indicated an imminent strike, this official said, “I wouldn’t think they would telegraph a punch like that so publicly.”

Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 15, 2013

An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of Hassan Nasrallah.

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« Reply #6394 on: May 16, 2013, 07:11 AM »

May 15, 2013

Mandela Fades Amid Battles Over Who Will Claim Legacy


JOHANNESBURG — “Smile!” the visitor implored, an edge of forced bonhomie in his voice, as he held up a cellphone camera to take a snapshot.

But the face of Nelson Mandela, the 94-year-old leader of the struggle against apartheid who became South Africa’s beloved first black president, remained impassive as stone. He looked confused and irritated, as if his rheumy eyes failed to register the faces of the top leaders of the African National Congress who came to see him last month, even though he had known them for decades.

These images, captured by a government camera crew and broadcast nationwide, were the first to appear in more than nine months of the ailing Mr. Mandela, who has been in the hospital four times in less than a year. Far from being honored, Mr. Mandela’s relatives were furious over the broadcast, saying party leaders had invaded his privacy and exploited his frailty to reap the political benefits of being seen in his hallowed company at least one more time.

“I was really, really livid,” said Makaziwe Mandela, Mr. Mandela’s eldest daughter, arguing that the filming took place against the family’s wishes. “They should have had the sense to not publish those pictures.”

As Mr. Mandela fades away, the struggle to claim his legacy, his image, his moneymaking potential and even the time he has remaining has begun in earnest.

The governing African National Congress, which Mr. Mandela led for decades, is accused of using him as a prop to remind voters of the party’s noble roots at a time when it has come to be seen as a collection of corrupt, self-serving elites. The party’s main rival, the Democratic Alliance, has come under fire, too, for using a photo of him embracing one of its white progenitors, spurring complaints that the opposition is trying to co-opt Mr. Mandela’s image to unseat his own party.

And all the while, his descendants are engaged in a very public fight over Mr. Mandela’s financial legacy. Angry that a trust set up for their welfare and upkeep is partly controlled by someone they consider an outsider, his friend George Bizos, the family has gone to court to remove Mr. Bizos as a director.

“Everyone wants a piece of the Madiba magic,” said William Gumede, who has written extensively about Mr. Mandela, using the former president’s clan name. “This is just a preview of what will come when he goes.”

The phrase “when he goes” is the polite euphemism used by anyone who dares to hint at the inevitable death of Mr. Mandela, a revered figure across the globe. Speaking about the death of an elder is considered taboo in most of South Africa’s rainbow of cultures. But Mr. Mandela’s age and fragile health have led to the increasingly acrimonious war over how he will be remembered — and what he has to pass on.

Last month, two of Mr. Mandela’s daughters sued Mr. Bizos and two other associates of their father to force them off the boards of two companies set up to sell a series of paintings Mr. Mandela had made with his handprints, one of several commercial ventures devised to raise money for him and his heirs. The Mandela family includes a sometimes squabbling assembly of three daughters from two marriages, 17 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

The suit asserts that Mr. Bizos and two other people were improperly appointed to the boards. Mr. Bizos, a prominent human rights lawyer, appears stung by the effort to oust him; he helped defend Mr. Mandela against charges of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the state 50 years ago and remained a close friend. The newspaper The Star quoted Mr. Bizos as saying that Mr. Mandela’s daughters “wanted to get their hands on things that should not be sold and the money in the companies.”

In a statement, Mr. Mandela’s grandchildren angrily rejected efforts to “paint our family as insensitive money grabbers with no respect,” adding that “most of us are gainfully employed, work for our own companies and run our own projects.”

Makaziwe Mandela said in an interview that “this issue that we are greedy, that we are wanting this money before my dad passes away, is all nonsense.”

She added that Mr. Bizos was “making himself as if he is the super trustee, above everybody else,” and pointed to documents that created the trust, which stipulate that money from it can be used for almost any purpose by Mr. Mandela’s descendants — buying a house or a car, starting a business, paying tuition or even taking a vacation.

Despite her father’s fame, she said, the family is not wealthy.

“This idea that somehow because we are Mandelas we are born with a diamond spoon is actually a very false idea,” Ms. Mandela said.

Ms. Mandela, who has a Ph.D. in anthropology, serves on several corporate boards and runs a wine company with her daughter, Tukwini, called House of Mandela. She said many people made money off her father’s name and image, so why should the Mandelas be prohibited from using their name?

“I don’t hear anybody criticizing the Rothschilds for using their name,” Ms. Mandela said.

The Mandelas are hardly immune to money troubles. A court ordered that a tea set, paintings and furniture owned by Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Mr. Mandela’s second wife, be auctioned off next week to pay a $2,150 debt she owes to a private school for tuition and boarding for a relative, according to news reports.

Beyond commerce, many have tried to make political hay with Mr. Mandela’s name. The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, recently printed materials using a photograph of Mr. Mandela embracing Helen Suzman, a pioneering white anti-apartheid politician whose party was a precursor of the alliance. The image was part of an effort to dispel the notion that the party is dominated by white people, or that it somehow supports the return of apartheid. (A recent survey found that many young black people believed this, though it is untrue.)

The A.N.C. cried foul, with one senior leader calling the use of Mr. Mandela’s image “a cynical and opportunistic exercise in propaganda.”

Helen Zille, the leader of the opposition, hit back, saying: “We cannot just sit back and allow the A.N.C.’s propaganda to falsely paint the D.A. as the party of apartheid. And we will reject the A.N.C.’s lie that if we win an election we will bring apartheid back.”

Protecting Mr. Mandela’s image has always been an onerous task. His face and name are everywhere — on South Africa’s currency, on T-shirts and clock faces, on bronze statues and in songs. While Mr. Mandela never shied from using his image and name to further causes he supported — like children’s rights, H.I.V. and AIDS research and peacemaking — fighting unauthorized commercial use costs the Nelson Mandela Foundation hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.

In many ways, Mr. Mandela’s image has never really been his own. After he was convicted in 1964, the man himself disappeared from South Africa entirely. His image, in silhouette or with prison bars superimposed over it, became an icon of the A.N.C. and its struggle against apartheid. College students across the globe tacked up posters of his face on their dormitory walls as part of the Free Mandela campaign.

“As soon as Mandela was in jail, the A.N.C. decided that he would be our hero,” said Sisonke Msimang, an activist who spent her childhood in exile because of her family’s prominence in the A.N.C. “He would be the face of our international campaign.”

When he was finally to be released from prison in 1990, one American magazine ran an article asking, “What will he look like?”

These days, Mr. Mandela wishes only to be left alone to enjoy his family, said Ms. Mandela, his daughter. “We never had Tata, even when he went out of jail,” she said, using the Xhosa word for father. “This is the only moment we have as a family to dote on him. It is our time. I think we should be given the time to enjoy whatever years Tata has left in front of him.”

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« Reply #6395 on: May 16, 2013, 07:13 AM »

Inside San Pedro Sula – the most violent city in the world

City in Honduras has a murder rate of 173 per 100,000 residents, reportedly the highest in the world outside a war zone

Sibylla Brodzinsky in San Pedro Sula, Wednesday 15 May 2013 15.05 BST   

No matter the time of day or night, morticians stand guard by the gate of the city morgue, waiting for the next body to be released so they can offer their services to grieving families. In the most violent city in the most violent country in the world, they never have to wait for long.

"Satan himself lives here in San Pedro," says one nervous mortician who asks to be identified only as Lucas. "People here kill people like they're nothing more than chickens."

Last year, an average of 20 people were murdered every day in Honduras, a country of just 8 million inhabitants, according to the Violence Observatory at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (NAUH). That's a murder rate of 85.5 per 100,000 residents, compared with 56 in Venezuela, 4.78 in the US and 1.2 in the UK.

In San Pedro Sula, the rate is 173, reportedly the highest in the world outside a war zone. The city is the country's manufacturing and commercial hub. Dozens of maquiladoras – export assembly plants – churn out New Balance T-shirts and Fruit of the Loom boxer shorts for markets abroad. It should be a bustling place, but there is little movement on the streets and the air is tense. At newsstands, headlines cry out details of the previous day's grisly crimes. Few cars have number plates; most have black-tinted windows.

The small number of police patrolling the streets breed more fear than security among residents, given the extreme levels of corruption within the national force that reportedly go all the way to the top.

Honduras is caught in a vortex of crime – drug trafficking, gang wars, political upheaval and fierce land disputes matched by equal doses of impunity and corruption.

The same mix of factors has helped make Latin America the world's deadliest region. Although it is home to just 8% of the world's population, UN figures show that it accounts for 42% of all homicides worldwide. According to the Mexican thinktank Citizen Council on Public Safety and Criminal Justice, all but one of the 20 cities with the highest homicide rates in the world are in Latin America. The exception is New Orleans.

But nowhere does the violence seem as out of control as in Honduras.
People at the crime scene of man shot by gang members in San Pedro Sula People at the crime scene of a man shot by gang members in San Pedro Sula. Photograph: Jorge Cabrera/Reuters

Violence began to flare in the early 2000s and has risen steadily since the country took on a bigger role in the drug routes from South America to the US. About 80% of the cocaine headed for America passes through Honduras, according to the US state department. An already frail state has been further weakened by the infiltration of organised crime and a 2009 coup, after which reports of human rights abuses against supporters of the deposed president rocketed. At the same time rival street gangs known as maras – many of whose members were deported from US jails – battle to control local drug markets and extortion rackets.

Lucas has been preparing cadavers for burial since he was 15 and remembers when most of the people he worked on had died naturally. "Today that's rare. We see people with six to 10 bullet wounds, dismembered, decapitated," he says.

Victims are mechanics, students, farmers, journalists, bus drivers and business people. On 19 April, the top money laundering prosecutor was shot dead; on 2 May, a leading criminal investigator of car thefts was murdered. "There seems to be no one who is off limits," says Steven Dudley, co-director of Insight Crime, a thinktank dedicated to security and organised crime in Latin America.

The first line of defence for officials questioned about high murder rates is to dispute the numbers. "It's a smear campaign," says José Amilcar Mejía, the police chief of San Pedro Sula. He claims the census numbers are wrong, that murder figures for the city include bodies brought from elsewhere, even though the Violence Observatory gets its information from official figures. The security ministry has since prohibited police from giving interviews and spokesmen can only divulge information about arrests, raids and other police operations. Crime reports are to be kept under wraps.

One root of the problem is police corruption, from soliciting bribes to theft, extortion and murder. In at least five cases, police officers have been implicated in death-squad style killings of gang members, according to the Associated Press. Public outrage over the alleged participation of several officers in the 2011 murder of the son of the rector at the NAUH led to an attempt to purge the police. But some officials who failed the tests were later promoted.

The national police chief, Juan Carlos "El Tigre" Bonilla, has been accused of three extrajudicial killings and implicated in 11 other deaths and disappearances. Despite the allegations and the fact that the US – a big donor in the fight against drug trafficking – has refused to work with Bonilla, President Porfirio Lobo confirmed him in his post.
A body is taken to the morgue of a hospital in San Pedro Sula A body is taken to the morgue in San Pedro Sula. Photograph: Jorge Cabrera/Reuters

But the police are trying to clean up their image. Bonilla will be one of 400-plus officers subjected to "confidence tests", including drug testing and polygraphs, and on Tuesday the security ministry announced a shuffle of top police posts.

A lack of confidence in the police and other authorities, and the fact that only a fraction of crimes are investigated and the perpetrators punished, leads people to take matters into their own hands. "There is zero institutionality here, the police and investigators are useless," says Gustavo Irias, of the Tegucigalpa-based Democracy Studies Centre. "And impunity generates new violence."

Motives were determined in just 41% of murders last year; of those nearly a quarter were attributed to a settling of scores, the Violence Observatory says.

"When people have no recourse, the answer becomes, 'Can I get a bigger gun?'" says Dudley.

For Lucas at the morgue in San Pedro, bigger guns keep him busy, but he is considering trying his luck in another country, like hundreds of thousands of other Hondurans who emigrate every year to Mexico, the US and beyond. He's confident his skills will be put to use, wherever he ends up: "There are dead people everywhere, right?"

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« Reply #6396 on: May 16, 2013, 07:15 AM »

New evidence proves monkeys, apes shared the earth millions of years earlier than scientists thought

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, May 15, 2013 16:30 EDT

Newly unearthed ape and monkey fossils prove that the cousin species lived side-by-side in Africa as long as 25 million years ago, a study said Wednesday.

This is at least five million years earlier than fossil evidence has so far been able to show, according to a team of scientists from the United States, Australia and Tanzania.

“These discoveries suggest that the members of the major primate groups that today include apes and Old World monkeys were sharing the planet millions of years earlier than previously documented,” said study co-author Nancy Stevens of Ohio University.

Old World monkeys (cercopithecoids) like baboons and macaques are found in Africa and Asia today, and are a distinct group from American or New World monkeys like marmosets and spider monkeys.

All monkeys are members of the primate animal family that also includes apes like gorillas and chimpanzees which fall in the hominoid sub-group with humans.

Scientists analysing modern primate DNA had already predicted that apes and monkeys must have split from a common primate ancestor about 25 to 30 million years ago, but the evidence has been lacking — the oldest fossils found to date were some 20 million years old.

The new skull fragments, dug up in the Rukwa Rift Basin of Tanzania in 2011 and 2012, belonged to a previously unknown monkey named Nsungwepithecus gunnelli, and an ape dubbed Rukwapithecus fleaglei.

From the ape, the researchers unearthed a lower jawbone with several teeth, while for the monkey the record is more sparse with a much smaller piece of jawbone holding just one tooth.

The team scanned the specimens and created 3-D reconstructions that they compared to other fossils.

Stevens said Rukwapithecus would have been an ape weighing about 12 kilogrammes (26 pounds).

“Because of its more fragmentary nature, it is more difficult to assess the body mass of Nsungwepithecus, but it would likely have been a bit smaller,” she told AFP.

Both date from the Oligocene period, which lasted from 34 to 23 million years ago.

All previous cercopithecoid and hominoid fossil finds have dated from the early Miocene, which lasted from about 23 to five million years ago.

The team said their find suggested the diversification of apes and Old World monkeys may have been linked to a changing African landscape caused by tectonic shifts at a time that the continents were drifting towards their present positions.

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« Reply #6397 on: May 16, 2013, 07:17 AM »

Sun unleashes four powerful solar flares

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, May 15, 2013 17:58 EDT

The Sun has unleashed four potent solar flares this week, marking the most intense activity yet this year and causing limited interruptions to high-frequency radio communications.

One of them was classified as an X3.2 flare, with X-class flares being the most intense type, the US space agency said.

“This is the strongest X-class flare of 2013 so far, surpassing in strength the two X-class flares that occurred earlier in the 24-hour period,” NASA said of the flare that peaked at 0111 GMT Tuesday.

A fourth X-class flare peaked at 0148 GMT on Wednesday, NASA said.

Measuring at X1.2, it caused a temporary radio blackout that has since subsided, and was categorized as “strong,” or R3 on a scale of 1 to 5 on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s space weather scales.

The latest flares began on May 13 and have sent off bursts of radiation from the Sun, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs). The strongest traveled particularly fast, at a speed of approximately 1,400 miles (2,253 kilometers) per second, NASA said.

The CMEs have so far not been directed at the Earth but may impact satellites.

NASA said the CMEs would produce a merged cloud of solar material that “may give a glancing blow to the STEREO-B and Epoxi spacecraft,” which are space-based observatories orbiting Earth to monitor solar storms and comets.

“Their mission operators have been notified. If warranted, operators can put spacecraft into safe mode to protect the instruments from solar material,” the US space agency said.

Experts say that a rise in solar activity is common right now because the Sun is in a phase of its 11-year activity cycle that is nearing the solar maximum, expected in 2013.

According to space weather experts at NOAA, more strong solar flares may be expected in the coming days.

Although CMEs send off potent radiation, Earth is protected by its magnetic field.

Solar activity can temporarily disrupt GPS signals and communications satellites, but most people will not notice any effects in their daily lives.

The first X-class flare of this solar cycle occurred in February 2011. The largest so far of the current cycle was documented as an X6.9 in August 2011.

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« Reply #6398 on: May 16, 2013, 07:43 AM »

In the USA...

In Two Hours Obama Destroys the GOP’s Benghazi and IRS Scandals

By: Jason Easley
May. 15th, 2013

Just as Republicans and their media lackeys were getting their Obama scandal machine fired up, President Obama killed both the Benghazi and IRS “scandals” in a couple of hours.

The president put a stake through the heart of the GOP’s attempts to revive Benghazi by releasing 100 pages of emails. (Now, the world can see how badly Jon Karl and ABC News got played when they used the summaries of someone else’s notes.) The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent published an email from Tommy Vietor, who until recently was the spokesperson for the National Security Council. Vietor wrote, “Regarding the talking points, it’s not surprising that the entire government would want the chance to look at and edit that language. This was a dynamic situation and new information was constantly flowing in, and different agencies had important concerns that had to be addressed – the State Department had security concerns, the FBI was worried about its investigation, and the CIA had a major, yet still undisclosed, role.”

Republicans are putting out vague statements about contradictions, but Benghazi is pretty much finished as a scandal. It is difficult to accuse the White House of a cover up, when they’ve released all the emails.

The second part of the one-two punch was Obama speaking about the IRS scandal.


I’ve reviewed the Treasury Department watchdog’s report, and the misconduct that it uncovered is inexcusable. It’s inexcusable, and Americans are right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it. I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency, but especially in the IRS, given the power that it has and the reach that it has into all of our lives. And as I said earlier, it should not matter what political stripe you’re from — the fact of the matter is, is that the IRS has to operate with absolute integrity. The government generally has to conduct itself in a way that is true to the public trust. That’s especially true for the IRS.

So here’s what we’re going to do.

First, we’re going to hold the responsible parties accountable. Yesterday, I directed Secretary Lew to follow up on the IG audit to see how this happened and who is responsible, and to make sure that we understand all the facts. Today, Secretary Lew took the first step by requesting and accepting the resignation of the acting commissioner of the IRS, because given the controversy surrounding this audit, it’s important to institute new leadership that can help restore confidence going forward.

Second, we’re going to put in place new safeguards to make sure this kind of behavior cannot happen again. And I’ve directed Secretary Lew to ensure the IRS begins implementing the IG’s recommendations right away.

Third, we will work with Congress as it performs its oversight role. And our administration has to make sure that we are working hand in hand with Congress to get this thing fixed. Congress, Democrats and Republicans, owe it to the American people to treat that authority with the responsibility it deserves and in a way that doesn’t smack of politics or partisan agendas. Because I think one thing that you’ve seen is, across the board, everybody believes what happened in — as reported in the IG report is an outrage. The good news is it’s fixable, and it’s in everyone’s best interest to work together to fix it.

Republicans are going to hold more hearings about this IRS mess, but they are going to have a difficult time getting anyone to believe that this is an Obama scandal if the president himself is outraged by it, and is taking steps to fix the problem.

In roughly two hours, President Obama put on a textbook display of how a president should handle those who are trying to create scandals to use against him.

Where do Republicans go from here?

They’ll preach to the conservative choir that believes every negative statement and wild conspiracy about Obama, but for the vast majority of the country these two “scandals” are dead and dying.

Republicans are now reduced to trying to turn the investigation of the AP that they demanded into an Obama scandal. However, the AP flap is resonating much more with the media than it is with the country at large. It is interesting to note that the mainstream media is outraged over what happened to the AP, but they were mostly silent during the Bush administration’s abuses via the Patriot Act. They also said little when the Bush administration was paying journalists and columnists to push their agenda in the media. (I am not suggesting that what happened to the AP was justified, but that the media has been wildly inconsistent over the past decade when it comes to protecting the First Amendment.)

Before the media could even finish their stories about Obama’s scandal plagued second term, the president wiped out two attempts to create scandals in a few hours. Republicans will keep trying to create them, but Benghazi and the IRS have turned out to be Obama scandal duds.


Eric Holder Serves Darrell Issa A Huge Plate of STFU

By: Jason Easley
May. 15th, 2013

After listening to Rep. Darrell Issa go off on another one of his conspiracy laden witch hunts, Attorney General Eric Holder finally had enough and called the California Republican’s behavior unacceptable and shameful.



Issa: Mr. Attorney General, our investigators have seen thirty four of the thirty five admitted emails that violate the Federal Records Act. They’ve only seen the to and from. They’ve not seen the deliberative contents, and they have not seen the remainder of the 1,200 emails. Mr. Cummings, my ranking member joined in a letter requesting that we have the full contents pursuant to our subpoena of all 1,200. Will make them available to the committee based on our bipartisan request?

Holder: I will certainly look at the request. It’s not something that I have been personally been involved in, but I’ll look at the request and try to be as responsive as we can. I’m sure there must have been a good reason why the to and from parts were….

Issa: Yes, you didn’t want us to see the details. Mr. Attorney General, knowing the to and from…

Holder: No, No. That’s what you do. I’m not going to stop talking now. You characterized as something those…of the people in the Justice Department. That is inappropriate and is too consistent with the way in which you conduct yourself as a member of Congress. It’s unacceptable, and it’s shameful.

Issa tried to interrupt Holder by asking the committee chairman to inform the witness of the rules.

There is no love lost between Issa and Attorney General Holder. Remember, Rep. Issa was behind the House vote to hold Eric Holder in contempt over 2012′s bogus Fast and Furious scandal.

Rep. Issa is the troll living under our collective political bridge whose only mission is wasting taxpayer money by investigating an endless series of conspiracy theories that are all designed to take down the Obama administration. Issa was trying to frame the DOJ’s refusal to reveal the content of the emails as some vast cover up, when it reality these emails are just part of the never ending struggle for power between the executive and the legislative branches.

Congress wants access to everything. Presidents have long been wary of giving Congress anything more than they have to, because the legislative branch leaks like a sieve. Issa has been using this natural tension between the two branches as an excuse to go on a non-stop Obama witch hunt.

The left has been waiting for someone to call out Issa’s sleazy behavior for years.

Today, Attorney General Holder finally had enough of Rep. Issa’s playing to Fox News, and served him a big heaping helping of shut the f**k up.


GOP Whips Up Scandals to Avoid Facing Obama’s ‘Most Rapid Deficit Reduction since WWII’

By: Sarah Jones
May. 15th, 2013

If you were wondering why Republicans can’t stop screaming hysterically about fictional persecutions and scandals, it’s because the deficit is no longer their Big Thing. The “emergency” of the deficit – so important that Republicans had to risk global fiscal confidence – took a backseat to constantly shifting, hysterical and unfounded scandals du jour recently. It turns out that ‘the President’s policies are contributing to the most rapid deficit reduction since World War II.’ Ouch. Change subject!

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported a continued decline in the federal budget deficit: “The CBO projects a $642 billion budget deficit for fiscal year 2013, down more than $200 billion from its February estimate and the smallest annual shortfall since 2008. It is the lowest level of deficit spending to date under President Obama, who faced $1 trillion or more in annual deficits during his first term.”

Here’s a real bitter irony for the GOP. At the same time as their ideology took an ugly beating in the reality department, the man they are determined to destroy has a better record at deficit reduction than any of their recent Presidents. In fact, government spending under President Obama has grown at a slower rate than it did under any president since Dwight D. Eisenhower, according to Bloomberg (that’s over 50 years ago, if you’re counting). Ironically, this fact is due in part to their own obstructionism and President Obama’s endless compromises with them.

The White House isn’t averse to rubbing it in. Office of Management and Budget spokesman Steve Posner summed it up in a way that must hurt, “The improvements in this CBO report are yet more evidence that the President’s policies are contributing to the most rapid deficit reduction since World War II.” Is that accurate? Why, yes, actually, it is.

Investors Business Daily reported in November of 2012, “(T)he federal deficit has fallen faster over the past three years than it has in any such stretch since demobilization from World War II.” Of course, IBD goes on to say that any more deficit reduction focus and we risk our economic recovery, “If U.S. history offers any guide, we are already testing the speed limits of a fiscal consolidation that doesn’t risk backfiring. That’s why the best way to address the fiscal cliff likely is to postpone it. While long-term deficit reduction is important and deficits remain very large by historical standards, the reality is that the government already has its foot on the brakes.”

You might be asking yourself why Republicans are so good at cracking the whip on others while they are incapable of personifying even the most remote semblance of fiscal discipline when they are in charge. Good question. For that matter, why can’t Speaker John Boehner get anything done in the House without the help of Democrats? Boehner has only been able to pass Sandy relief and the VAWA (finally on both) because Democrats rescued him from his own party’s extremism. Modern day Republicans are keen on demonstrating repeatedly that they can’t govern and aren’t interested in legislating anything other than women’s bodies.

Republican lawmakers are very busy trying to bully the IRS into not looking into whether tea party groups are actively trying to influence elections. Also, Benghazi! And Republicans are very busy embracing a short-lived love for first amendment rights. Have no fear, they are still too busy to get any actual work done. But they do have that 37th vote on ObamaCare because they are the party of anti-discipline and fiscal recklessness.

They just keep wasting our money, as Obama tries to save us all from their childishness.


<b<Republicans Demanded an Investigation into AP Leaks; Now They’re Blaming Obama

By: Sarah Jones
May. 15th, 2013

In the lead up to the 2012 elections, Republicans were upset that the Obama administration was getting such great press on national security issues, so they pretended to be upset about the national security implications of the leaks to the AP.

In the spring of 2012, 31 Republicans called for AG Eric Holder to investigate the leaks after they accused the Obama administration of leaking stories about his toughness on terrorism to the press in order to win an election.

The Hill reported on the Republicans’ letter:

    “The numerous national-security leaks reportedly originating out of the executive branch in recent months have been stunning,” they (Republicans) wrote to Holder.

    “If true, they reveal details of some of our nation’s most highly classified and sensitive military and intelligence matters, thereby risking our national security, as well as the lives of American citizens and our allies. If there were ever a case requiring an outside special counsel with bipartisan acceptance and widespread public trust, this is it,” they wrote.

Republicans had really hoped the AP scandal would stick, especially with Benghazi Gate backfiring on them in numerous ways, not the least of which was the revelation on Tuesday that ABC had not actually read the emails the Republicans were using to indict the White House, and in fact the actual email said something quite different than was reported. It turned out that the email had been edited in the way it was reported so as to deliberately make Obama/Clinton look bad.

However, the AP scandal is also dying because there is no scandal. The phone records of the AP reporters were obtained legally (I’m not condoning what many see as the chilling of the press, I’m simply pointing out that it was done legally).

The Obama White House asked on Wednesday for the media shield law to be reinstated, “The Obama administration sought on Wednesday to revive legislation that would provide greater protections to reporters from penalties for refusing to identify confidential sources, and that would enable journalists to ask a federal judge to quash subpoenas for their phone records, a White House official said.”

Even worse for Republicans, AG Eric Holder recused himself from the decision to subpoena phone records of Associated Press journalists, so Republicans can’t even try to get him fired over their sudden interest in the rights of the press. (This isn’t stopping them from trying, of course. Logic and reality have no place in the never ending soap opera of hysterics.)

In June of 2012, the House and Senate Intelligence Committee leaders sought legislation to (emphasis mine) “strengthen authorities and procedures with respect to access to classified information and disclosure of it, as well as to ensure that criminal and administrative measures are taken each time sensitive information is improperly disclosed. We also intend to press for the executive branch to take tangible and demonstrable steps to detect and deter intelligence leaks, and to fully, fairly, and impartially investigate the disclosures that have already taken place.”

The investigation appears to be aimed at the leak rather than at the press, but the leak is a source and so it takes aim at the press regardless of its intent. But now Republicans are outraged that the DOJ is killing freedom.

Doug Heye, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, said in a statement to TIME, “Whether it is secretly targeting patriotic Americans participating in the electoral progress or reporters exercising their First Amendment rights, these new revelations suggest a pattern of intimidation by the Obama Administration.” Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, added, “The First Amendment is first for a reason. If the Obama Administration is going after reporters’ phone records, they better have a damned good explanation.”

Yes, well that explanation would be that Republicans demanded that the administration go after the leaks.

Why are Republicans putting on such a show? Because they insinuated repeatedly that the leak was deliberate and came from the White House. If that were true and if they were correct about Obama being a “tyrant”, why would Obama’s DOJ go after the records in order to find the leaker? Now that it’s come out that the DOJ is doing exactly what the GOP demanded, Republicans are going romantic about First Amendment rights. It’s too bad their legislation never reflects this newly claimed value.

The AP scandal represents the death of another Republican smear. How best to get out of the fact that you were wrong? Start another smear/distraction accusing the President of overreach after his DOJ did exactly what you demanded they do.


May 15, 2013

North Dakota’s Sole Abortion Clinic Sues to Block New Law


The running battle over the regulation of abortions entered a North Dakota courtroom on Wednesday, as the state’s sole abortion clinic sued to block a new law that it says could force it to shut down.

The law, requiring doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, was promoted by anti-abortion legislators, who argued that it would mean better care for women who suffer medical emergencies.

The Red River Women’s Clinic, in Fargo, relies on doctors who are licensed in North Dakota but fly in from out of state to perform abortions. Its director said that in the rare event of serious complications, women would be rushed to a hospital for appropriate care whether or not the clinic doctor had admitting privileges.

“Its purpose is to shut down the clinic, the sole abortion facility in the state,” the suit alleges of the law, which is scheduled to take effect on Aug. 1.

The suit, filed in a state district court on behalf of the clinic by the Center for Reproductive Rights, says the law would pose an unconstitutional infringement on the right to abortion.

A similar law in Mississippi, which could force that state’s only abortion clinic to close because it, too, relies on traveling doctors, has been blocked by a federal court pending a final ruling.

Arizona, Kansas and Tennessee also require that abortion providers have local admitting privileges, and at least one clinic, in Knoxville, Tenn., shut down as a result. But these states have multiple abortion providers that continue to operate.

The law on hospital privileges was one of several abortion measures adopted in North Dakota in April, including the country’s most stringent, which bars abortions at six weeks of pregnancy.

That ban, according to legal experts, violates Supreme Court rulings, which give a woman a right to an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, usually at around 24 weeks, and may be declared unconstitutional. The Center for Reproductive Rights, based in New York, said it planned to file a challenge before Aug. 1.

But even if the state’s early ban is thrown out, the requirement of hospital privileges could effectively end abortion rights in North Dakota, said Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Clinic.

The clinic performs abortions only up to the 16th week of pregnancy. The visiting doctors are unlikely to gain privileges at Fargo’s three hospitals, Ms. Kromenaker said, which include a veterans’ hospital, one with Roman Catholic affiliations and one that requires a doctor to admit at least five patients a year.

“A doctor who had to admit five abortion patients in a year would not be working at this clinic,” Ms. Kromenaker said. She said that since the clinic began operating in 1998, performing thousands of abortions, only one patient had required an ambulance ride to an emergency room and that there had been no deaths.

Denise M. Burke, vice president of legal affairs for Americans United for Life, which has promoted tighter abortion rules around the country, countered that admitting privileges could affect safety.

“The doctor with direct knowledge of the patient can ensure better care in the E.R. and can continue to be involved with her care in the hospital,” she said.


Pentagon vows to take action after latest sex assault scandal

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, May 15, 2013 18:01 EDT

The US military vowed Wednesday to address a wave of sexual assault cases after a soldier who worked in a rape prevention program was accused of forcing a subordinate into prostitution.

The latest revelation marked the second time in a week that a member of the military assigned to work in its sexual assault prevention program had been placed under investigation for alleged sexual crimes.

Following the new allegation, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered those working as recruiters and in sex assault prevention efforts to undergo fresh screening and training, his spokesman George Little told reporters.

“There is frustration on the part of this secretary,” Little said. “It’s not just about talking about this issue. We have to take action and we have to take action swiftly.”

The Pentagon revealed on Tuesday that a US Army sergeant based at Fort Hood in Texas faces allegations of sexual assault, abusive sexual contact, mistreatment of subordinates and pandering — the legal term for pimping.

The sergeant, who was not named, was working as a “sexual harassment or assault response and prevention program coordinator” at the huge base and has since been suspended from his duties.

Last week, an Air Force officer in charge of his service’s sexual assault prevention office was arrested near the Pentagon for allegedly assaulting a woman in a parking lot, grabbing her breasts and buttocks.

According to Little, Hagel discussed the sexual assault problem in his weekly meeting with President Barack Obama on Tuesday.

Both agreed that urgent steps were needed and that anyone guilty of sexual assault had to be held accountable, he said, adding: “The president has made very clear his expectations on this issue.”

The embarrassing allegations have put the Pentagon under growing pressure and provided ammunition to lawmakers and activists, who are pushing for major changes to military procedures to stem the problem.

There are growing calls in Congress to change the military’s legal code, which allows commanders to weigh in on criminal cases and even to overturn verdicts or sentences.

Hagel has proposed stripping commanders of the authority to toss out a verdict after a trial but had initially opposed more sweeping changes, which could remove sexual assault cases from the chain of command.

Little said the Pentagon chief is now ready to consider “all options.”

Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, chair of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, has blasted the Pentagon over the issue and demanded an overhaul of its justice system.

“It is time to get serious and get to work reforming the military justice system that clearly isn’t working,” the New York lawmaker said in a statement Tuesday.

“I believe strongly that to create the kind of real reform that will make a difference we must remove the chain of command from the decision making process for these types of serious offenses.”

The Pentagon also faced questions about how it was vetting and training those selected to work in its sexual assault prevention program.


Sen. Warren demands to know why criminal bankers aren’t being locked up

By Stephen C. Webster
Wednesday, May 15, 2013 14:18 EDT

In a letter (PDF) sent to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Attorney General Eric Holder and SEC Chair Mary Jo White on Tuesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) demanded to know why the government keeps accepting financial settlements from criminal bankers when they could instead be taken to trial, convicted and locked up.

In six short paragraphs, Warren requested that each institution turn over copies of any internal research “on the trade-offs to the public” between letting big financial firms pay a fine and walk “without admission of guilt” versus moving forward with full-scale prosecutions.

The letter was sent as a follow-up to a similar question she asked of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) on Feb. 14. Warren noted that the OCC replied last week denying the existence of any such research. In her letter sent Tuesday, she went on to add:

    …I believe very strongly that if a regulator reveals itself to be unwilling to take large financial institutions all the way to trial — either because it is too timid or because it lacks resources — the regulator has a lot less leverage in settlement negotiations and will be forced to settle on terms that are much more favorable to the wrongdoer.

    The consequence can be insufficient compensation to those who are harmed by illegal activity and inadequate deterrence of future violations. If large financial institutions can break the law and accumulate millions in profits and, if they get caught, settle by paying out of those profits, they do not have much incentive to follow the law.

There’s been a rash of mega-settlements between the government and the nation’s largest banks in recent years over allegations of foreclosing on people without just cause, knowingly making bad loans and reselling the debt, making false statements to rob from retired pensioners, laundering money for drug cartels, repressive regimes and terrorists, and agreeing to settlements and then ignoring them, to name a few.

“The problem is the banks have overwhelming confidence that law enforcement is not taking this seriously,” New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said last Monday, appearing on MSNBC. “They have overwhelming confidence that whatever the rules are, they won’t be followed up on.”

Five years on from a financial crisis that nearly froze the flow of credit in the United States and sparked a multi-trillion dollar bailing-out of the global financial industry, few American bankers and big finance executives have faced criminal charges.

There is, however, one notable exception: Ponzi-schemer Bernard Madoff, who defrauded mainly wealthy clients to the tune of $64.8 billion. He said from jail in 2011 that many of his former colleagues on Wall Street engage in criminal insider trading on a regular basis, much like he did.

“It’s unbelievable, Goldman … no one has any criminal convictions,” Madoff told New York Magazine earlier that year. “The whole new regulatory reform is a joke. The whole government is a Ponzi scheme.”


Liberal House Democrats slam ‘cruel and harmful’ cuts to school meals for poor children

By Eric W. Dolan
Wednesday, May 15, 2013 18:49 EDT

Several Democrats took to the House floor on Wednesday to denounce large cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program.

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) described the proposed cuts as “cruel and harmful” because it would “increase hunger in America.” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) said the “morally wrong” $21 billion cut would hurt the U.S. economy along with low-income families.

The cuts to SNAP would remove about 2 million people from the program, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Additionally, roughly 210,000 children would lose access to free school meals.

“We cannot allow the budget to be balanced on the backs of the poor and most vulnerable in our country,” Rep. Marc Veasey (D-TX) said on the House floor.

“We should not be cutting the safety net for our most vulnerable while maintaining costly government subsidies for the well-off junk food, oil and gas industries,” Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) added. “A Nevada child in my district who receives a $1.48 per meal is not the problem with the federal budget. The problem is corporate welfare and the special interest giveaways that litter our tax code.”

The House Agriculture Committee approved the proposed cuts on Wednesday as part of a larger farm bill. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) offered an amendment to reverse the cuts, but three Democrats joined with Republicans to defeat it.

Republicans have claimed the program has grown out of control and needs to be reigned in. About 1 in 7 Americans receive food stamps from the program.

“The FARRM Act reforms the SNAP program for the first time since the welfare reforms of 1996,” House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank D. Lucas (R-OK) said Wednesday. “Our reforms rein in the cost of the program by enforcing the asset and income tests, ending recruitment activities that increase enrollment, and preventing states from circumventing the law to receive greater federal funding. We tighten restrictions to prevent lottery winners and traditional college students from participating in the program.”


ScandalFest 2013: The Beltway Media’s Self-Interested Obama Pile On

By: Crissie Brown
May. 16th, 2013

Last week the Beltway media kicked off ScandalFest 2013, their periodic celebration of talking point transcription and self-righteousness disguised as investigative journalism.

Salon‘s Joan Walsh saw it coming on Monday:

    The National Journal‘s Ron Fournier tweeted “Welcome to the 90s,” with no apparent irony or self-awareness about the role of the media in ginning up that decade of phony scandals that paralyzed our last popular second-term Democratic president, Bill Clinton.

    In fact, Fournier contends Benghazi will hurt Clinton and President Obama, even though he acknowledges the GOP’s claims are overblown. “If nothing else, Benghazi is a blow to the credibility of the president and his potential successor, then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. This could be big … Credibility is Clinton’s vulnerability, dating to the unjustified financial accusations that triggered the Whitewater investigation. Doubts persisted about her veracity and authenticity throughout the 2008 presidential campaign.”

As Walsh notes, Fournier claiming that “Credibility is Clinton’s vulnerability” and citing as proof “the unjustified financial accusations that triggered the Whitewater investigation” is a jaw-dropping case of media irresponsibility. If the charges were “unjustified,” then Hillary Clinton’s credibility should not be a “vulnerability” … unless you buy into the Beltway media meme of Where There’s Republican Smoke, There’s Democratic Fire.

And the Beltway media have bought into that hook, line, and sinker, as POLITICO‘s Mike Allen and Jim Vandehei gleefully admitted yesterday:

    The town is turning on President Obama – and this is very bad news for this White House.

    Republicans have waited five years for the moment to put the screws to Obama – and they have one-third of all congressional committees on the case now. Establishment Democrats, never big fans of this president to begin with, are starting to speak out. And reporters are tripping over themselves to condemn lies, bullying and shadiness in the Obama administration.

    Buy-in from all three D.C. stakeholders is an essential ingredient for a good old-fashioned Washington pile-on – so get ready for bad stories and public scolding to pile up.

The Washington Monthly‘s Ed Kilgore does an admirable job of puncturing this self-interest and self-righteousness masquerading as investigative journalism, concluding:

    On this particular occasion, Harris and VandeHei come so close to self-parody that every sentence is like a pinata you could hit from any direction. But make no mistake: this is a declaration of war by elements of the Beltway Media who are determined to show us all they still have the power to “bring down a president,” as they arrogantly used to say about Watergate, and that not only the GOP but the Breitbartian wingnuts have a new ally in the “Vetting” of Barack Obama.

Perhaps you think Washington D.C. is our nation’s capital, a city dedicated to We the People, the living expression of “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” But the Beltway elite disagree, as Digby pointedly writes:

    But this particular community happens to be in the nation’s capital. And the people in it are the so-called Beltway Insiders – the high-level members of Congress, policymakers, lawyers, military brass, diplomats and journalists who have a proprietary interest in Washington and identify with it.

    They call the capital city their “town.”

The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent echoes the point:

    The claim that the press now has “every incentive” to be “ruthless” is fascinating, and worth unpacking. Why, exactly, is it more in reporters’ interests to be more aggressive in its coverage of Obama right now than it was before? Easy. Now that “the town” has turned on Obama, being as aggressive as possible in going after him will lead to accolades among media colleagues and ingratiate you with sources, including even Congressional Democrats who will presumably now distance themselves from the White House, in the knowledge that “the town” has decided the President is in political trouble.

So if you’re wondering why children being kicked out of Head Start, seniors losing Meals on Wheels, cancer patients seeing treatment delayed, and the myriad other hardships inflicted by the sequester can’t get fixed, while Congress jumped to eliminate airline flight delays before flying home for their spring recess and the media ignore our falling deficit to salivate over ScandalFest … the answer is simple.

Washington D.C. is “their town.” Not ours.

That’s also why the Beltway media are frothing over the discovery that the Department of Justice subpoenaed telephone records for 20 lines at the Associated Press, who last June published a story based on leaked information that forced Britain’s MI-5 to sneak their Al Qaeda double-agent out of Yemen. Attorney General Eric Holder recused himself from the leak investigation because the FBI had called him as a witness, but yesterday he defended the investigation:

    But Holder did not hesitate to defend a decision he said he did not make: to subpoena two months’ worth of telephone records from more than 20 Associated Press telephone lines. He said American lives had been endangered by the disclosure.

    It was “a very, very serious leak,” Holder said. “It put American lives at risk, and that is not hyperbole. It put the American people at risk.”

But who cares about an Al Qaeda double-agent, or whether other sources were compromised. Certainly not Ron Fournier, who warned Attorney General Holder not to upset AP reporters:

    Mr AG: I used to work with@mattapuzzo, @adamgoldmanap, @esullivanap, @tbridis. Trust me, these are not folks you piss off. #BULLETIN

    — Ron Fournier (@ron_fournier) May 13, 2013

As the Beltway media see it, government exists not to protect and serve We the People, but as a place where inside sources provide them with juicy gossip. This, they claim, is “investigative journalism.” The same Beltway media who blithely reported doctored Benghazi emails without fact-checking them. The same Beltway media who say – with no apparent sense of irony or self-awareness – that “unjustified accusations” prove “credibility is Clinton’s vulnerability.”

Our nation’s capital is “their town” … and they’re determined to celebrate ScandalFest, no matter what we think.


No Smoking Gun: 100 Emails Are The Best Defense for Benghazi and the President

By: Dennis S
May. 16th, 2013

The Benghazi boil continues to infect the news cycle 24/7. Curmudgeon carbuncle Chris Matthews just won’t let it go. For the second straight MSNBC broadcast, Matthews has worked himself into a frenzy over the initial Obama administration public reaction to the loss of 4 lives in Benghazi, Libya, September 11 and 12 of last year. As it turned out the reaction was a measured, intelligent and informative response to a tragic and deadly terrorist attack.

Now there’s the release of the first 100 emails on the subject. Coming from the White House and various affected agencies, the first talking point emails indicated that the attacks on the U.S. Mission and a CIA facility in Benghazi were inspired by a protest at the U.S Embassy in Cairo (not untrue). Then the explanations were co-joined with the revelation that a cross-section of Libyan society was involved noting that assessments could change with additional information and analysis. After some debate, it was decided that indeed, extremists had participated in the attack.

For some reason, the Republicans are bitching about the whole process. These are the very same bloodsuckers who couldn’t wait for the U.S. to kill our soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Middle East men, women and children in Iraq when they knew damn well the WMD cover story was a Matterhorn-sized mound of pure BS.

I’m searching Congress to see how many former journalists or reporters are in residence in the House and Senate. If there are any, they worked for the Skunk Hollow Gazette.

Reporters and journalists know that nothing is more chaotic than an accidental or man-made calamity; terrorist or otherwise. Remember the guy fleeing the Boston Marathon explosion when his pants had been blown off? The TV announcers kept inferring that he might be one of the bombers. How about the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta back in ’96? It was Richard Jewell for sure. He sure looked the part and forget that he saved numerous lives, he did it! Except he didn’t do it. Olympic Park was one of Eric Rudolph stopovers along the way to bombing all things gay and abortion.

And for numbskulls like Matthews out there, it’s not just about the event itself. As I already indicated in my previous submission on the subject, the entire area of Benghazi was a tinderbox. A little holding back to keep the peace, however tenuous, is part of the job of running a country. What did you want from Obama? “Yeah, it was those terrorist bastards!” If the blowhard Tea Party crowd had their way, we’d be making preparations for a world war. Again, repeating myself., the Benghazi compound was a gathering spot to meet with Middle East allies and figure out how to get Bashar al-Assad out of power. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens knew as well as anybody that he was flirting with death every time he ventured into Benghazi from his assigned duty-station of Tripoli.

A lot has been made of security, but, according to CBS News, estimates of the number of attackers have run as high as 150. There would have never been enough security to overcome those odds in and around the tiny, spy outpost. While an offending video produced in California ridiculing Muhammad drew few protestors, it was credited by local sources as being a major contributor to the attacks. It had been showing locally on YouTube throughout the summer. Sam Bacile who was responsible for the film is supposedly in hiding.

As for the emails, my friend and colleague Sarah Jones discovered that one in particular had been tampered with to match Republican character assassination and ABC swallowed the final results whole. Sadly, the network reporter said he had reviewed the contents when, in fact, he hadn’t. Early emails followed the lines I indicated earlier in this story, plus the fact that Ansar al-Sharia did not order the attacks according to a spokesman for the admittedly terrorist organization. It was thought some members did later join participate in the mayhem. The attacks were deemed more lethal because of the ready availability of weapons and the U.S. is working with the Libyan authorities and “intelligence partners” to bring the guilty parties to justice.

Those email contents seem to be what anybody with good sense would initially send out for public (or Congressional) consumption. There appears in a later email some hesitation about some of the points due to compromising possible criminal investigations, given the fact that Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qaeda were involved. There are subsequent emails talking of further edits. One edit actually added a September 10 warning that demonstrations would take place in front of the Cairo Embassy and that Jihadists were threatening to break into the Embassy.

Later added was that Ansar al-Sharia’s Facebook page aimed to spread sharia in Libya and emphasizes the need for jihad to counter what it views as false interpretations of Islam, according to an open source study. There’s also a mention of attacks on other foreign interests in Benghazi. That was subsequently taken out, then put back in apparently by the White House. There is then a request to send the talking points to the State Department.

As it turns out the State Department did have concerns, resulting in several changes. The major deletion was the role of Ansar al-Sharia because the State Department was afraid that certain legislators would take off after the organization when their exact participation would not be known pending an investigation and the group would be used to “beat” the State Department (read Hillary). Ansar al-Sharia was left out of the talking points altogether. In spite of the changes, the state department still had concerns.

A further series of edits was carried out. An inter-agency squabble breaks out; one concern is that the changes are overdone; another is that they’re just fine. The final release was reduced to: the demonstrations in Benghazi being spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo which evolved into the Benghazi diplomatic post assault. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations. David ‘Casanova’ Patraeus, then CIA Director disagreed with the deletion of al-Qaida and extremists participation and the warnings of the Cairo attacks.

Also included was; this assessment may change as additional information is collected and as currently available information continues to be analyzed.

Finally, the investigation is ongoing and the U.S. government is working with Libyan authorities to bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of U.S. citizens.

The last correction was made when some agency finally suggested that Consulate be deleted and replaced with U.S. diplomatic post. Others recommended U.S. Mission. Diplomatic post apparently won out.

So there are those horrible, misleading emails and the process by which the final product was made available to Congress and the media.

For right-wing Republicans to use the tragedy of Benghazi as a political vehicle to discredit the president, his administration and Hillary Clinton is an affront to the memories of our brave diplomats and marines.

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May 16, 2013

Syria Begins to Break Apart Under Pressure From War


CAIRO — The black flag of jihad flies over much of northern Syria. In the center of the country, pro-government militias and Hezbollah fighters battle those who threaten their communities. In the northeast, the Kurds have effectively carved out an autonomous zone.

After more than two years of conflict, Syria is breaking up. A constellation of armed groups battling to advance their own agendas are effectively creating the outlines of separate armed fiefs. As the war expands in scope and brutality, its biggest casualty appears to be the integrity of the Syrian state.

On Thursday, President Obama met in Washington with the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and once again pressed the idea of a top-down diplomatic solution. That approach depends on the rebels and the government agreeing to meet at a peace conference that was announced last week by the United States and Russia.

“We’re going to keep increasing the pressure on the Assad regime and working with the Syrian opposition,” Mr. Obama said. “We are going to keep working for a Syria that is free of Assad’s tyranny.”

But as evidence of massacres and chemical weapons mounts, experts and Syrians themselves say the American focus on change at the top ignores the deep fractures the war has caused in Syrian society. Increasingly, it appears Syria is so badly shattered that no single authority is likely to be able to pull it back together any time soon.

Instead, three Syrias are emerging: one loyal to the government, to Iran and to Hezbollah; one dominated by Kurds with links to Kurdish separatists in Turkey and Iraq; and one with a Sunni majority that is heavily influenced by Islamists and jihadis.

“It is not that Syria is melting down — it has melted down,” said Andrew J. Tabler, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of “In the Lion’s Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington’s Battle with Syria.”

“So much has changed between the different parties that I can’t imagine it all going back into one piece,” Mr. Tabler said.

Fueling the country’s breakup are the growing brutality of fighters on all sides and the increasingly sectarian nature of the violence.

Recent examples abound. Pro-government militias have hit coastal communities, targeting Sunni Muslim civilians. Sunni rebel groups have attacked religious shrines of other sects. A video circulating this week showed a rebel commander in Homs cutting out an enemy’s heart and liver, and biting into the heart.

Analysts say this shift in the nature of the violence will have a greater effect on the country’s future than territorial gains on either side by making it less likely that the myriad ethnic and religious groups that have long called Syria home will go back to living side by side. As the momentum seesaws back and forth between rebels and the government, the geographic divisions are hardening.

After steadily losing territory to rebels during the first two years of the conflict, government forces have progressed on a number of key fronts in recent weeks, routing rebel forces in the southern province of Dara’a, outside Damascus and in the central city of Homs and its surrounding villages.

These victories not only reflect strategic shifts by government forces but also could further solidify the country’s divisions.

Since mass defections of mostly conscripted soldiers shrank the government’s forces earlier in the uprising, it has largely given up on trying to reclaim parts of the country far from the capital, said Joseph Holliday, a fellow with the Institute for the Study of War in Washington.

Instead, the government has focused on solidifying its grip on a strip of land that extends from the capital, Damascus, in the south, up to Homs in the country’s center and west to the coastal area heavily populated by Mr. Assad’s sect, the Alawites.

Other than hitting them with airstrikes or artillery, Mr. Assad has made little effort to reclaim rebel-held areas in the country’s far north and east.

The character of those fighting for Mr. Assad has changed, too. As the uncommitted defected, the loyalists remained. “All of these defections and desertions basically created a more loyal and therefore more deployable core,” said Emile Hokayem, an analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, who is based in Dubai. “At least you know who is fighting for you.”

Mr. Assad has also come to rely more heavily on paramilitary militias that draw largely from his Alawite sect and other minorities who consider him a bulwark against the rebels’ Islamism. More recently, fighters from Lebanon’s Shiite militant group Hezbollah have added extra muscle, especially in the border region near the town of Qusair, an area dotted with Shiite and Sunni villages that has seen intense fighting in recent months.

This new focus on tightening his grip on the country’s center suits Mr. Assad fine, said Abdulrahim Mourad, a Lebanese politician and former Parliament member who visited Mr. Assad in Damascus last month.

“He told jokes, was very funny,” Mr. Mourad said. “He was very relaxed and relieved.”

In the void left by the government in the country’s north and east, rebel groups have seized swaths of territory and struggled to establish local administrations.

Although the Obama administration and its allies share the rebels’ goal of removing Mr. Assad from power, they have little else in common with the many rebel brigades that define their struggle in Islamic terms and seek to replace Mr. Assad with an Islamic state. Among them is Jabhet al-Nusra, or the Nusra Front, the local branch of Al Qaeda, which the United States has blacklisted as a terrorist group.

The war’s duration and the competition for resources have left the rebel movement itself deeply fractured. Few effective links exist between the rebels’ exile leader, Gen. Salim Idris, and the most powerful groups on the ground.

And recent months have seen increasing fights among rebels, diminishing their ability to form a united front against the government. This week, the Islamist Shariah Commission in Aleppo went after rebels accused of looting. The council sent fighters to surround the group’s headquarters and arrested some of its members, confiscating trucks full of looted goods. The haul in one neighborhood included five washing machines and a television.

Another video, circulated this week, showed a Nusra Front leader in eastern Syria standing behind 11 bound and blindfolded captives. After announcing that they had been sentenced by an Islamic court for killing Syrians, he drew a pistol and shot them in the back of the head, one by one.

Activists later identified the man as a Saudi citizen named Qaswara al-Jizrawi. They also determined that the executions took place months earlier since Mr. Jizrawi was killed in March in a gunfight between his and another rebel group that left dozens of people dead on both sides.

In Syria’s northeastern Hassakeh Province, the country’s largest Kurdish majority area, residents have taken in Kurds fleeing violence elsewhere, expanded the teaching of the Kurdish language in schools and raised militias that have clashed with rebel brigades. Many local Kurds are linked to groups in Turkey and Iraq and hope to use the uprising to push for greater autonomy.

These spreading fissures leave little optimism that Syria can be stitched back together under one leadership in the near future.

“The only real outcome I see in the next 5 to 10 years is a series of cantons that agree to tactical cease-fires because they are tired of the bloodletting,” said Mr. Holliday, the analyst with the Institute for the Study of War. “That trajectory is in place, with or without Assad.”

Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon, and Michael D. Shear from Washington.


Pig Putin dismisses uproar over Syria arms sales

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, May 17, 2013 7:39 EDT

Russia’s foreign minister said Friday he did not understand the international uproar created by Moscow’s continuing weapons cooperation with regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“I do not understand why the media is trying to create a sensation out of this,” said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “We have not hidden that we supply weapons to Syria under signed contracts, without violating any international agreements, or our own legislation.”

Lavrov said during a joint press appearance in Sochi with visiting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that Russia only supplied defence weapons that could not alter the outcome of the 26-month conflict between Assad’s forces and the opposition.

“We are first and foremost supplying defence weapons related to air defence,” Lavrov said in televised comments.

“This does not in any way alter the balance of forces in this region or give any advantage in the fight against the opposition,” he stressed.

Israel in particular is concerned that Russia is reportedly ready to supply Syria with high-tech S-300 surface-to-air missiles that could take out other nation’s fighter jets.

The New York Times separately reported on Friday that Russia had sent Syria a shipment of upgraded Yakhonts anti-ship missiles that would make any naval blockade of Syria more difficult.


CIA chief John Brennan makes surprise Israel visit for Syria talks

Unannounced meeting with PM Netanyahu and senior Israeli figures comes amid concerns over Syrian weapons

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem, Friday 17 May 2013 11.20 BST   

The CIA chief has made an unexpected visit to Israel to meet senior political and military figures to discuss the deteriorating security situation in neighbouring Syria.

John Brennan, who took up his post two months ago, met the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, defence minister, Moshe Ya'alon, military chief of staff, Benny Gantz, and Mossad chief, Tamir Pardo, according to reports in Israel media.

The unannounced meetings followed two Israeli air strikes on weapons stores near Damascus a fortnight ago. Israel has repeatedly warned it will take action to prevent advanced or chemical weapons being transferred to the Syrian regime's Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, or falling into the hands of jihadist groups fighting alongside the Syrian opposition.

According to a report in the Israeli paper Yedioth Ahronoth, the visit stemmed from "the American fear of escalation in the region against the backdrop of [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah's threats to act against Israel in the Golan Heights and the American sense that Israel is disappointed by the ineffectuality of the Obama administration with regard to the ongoing deterioration in Syria.

"It is assessed that Brennan was sent to Israel to co-ordinate a joint policy between the two countries and prevent Israel from taking action on its own in Syria."

The Syrian government has warned it will retaliate against further military action by Israel, which would risk embroiling the US ally in a regional conflict.

Two shells landed in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights this week. An unknown Palestinian group, the Abdul Qader al-Husseini brigades, said it had fired the missiles, which, if true, would make it the first time Israeli-controlled territory had been targeted. "We are avenging all our martyrs that we lost in our war with the Zionist enemy," the brigades said.

Three observers with Undof, the UN peacekeeping force in the Golan, were abducted by Syrian opposition forces and later released on Wednesday, the third such incident in the past two months.


Obama stays cautious on Syria after talks as Turkey presses for urgency

President and Turkish prime minister skate over differences on Syria as two put focus on agreement that Assad must go

Ewen MacAskill in Washington, Thursday 16 May 2013 22.34 BST   

Obama said there was 'no magic formula' on Syria. Link to video: Obama: 'no magic formula' in Syria

Barack Obama and Turkish prime minister Recep Erdogan skated over major differences on how to deal with the Syrian crisis after a lengthy meeting at the White House on Thursday.

Obama, at a joint press conference in the Rose Garden, said there was "no magic formula" for resolving the conflict. He pinned hopes on an international conference proposed for Geneva next month that would bring together the Assad government and the rebels, in spite of widespread scepticism about the chances of it bringing about an end to the conflict.

Erdogan is pressing for more urgency and more positive action to bring the Syrian catastrophe to an end and is seeking the US and others in the international community to implement at the very least a no-fly zone to prevent Syrian jets and helicopters operating with impunity in rebel-held areas.

Erdogan said: "Our aim is to accelerate this process and I will be visiting other countries and my foreign minister will do the same just to see how we can speed things up to prevent the deaths of more people."

Turkey, which along with Syria's other neighbours, is bearing the brunt of the spillover from the crisis, including a huge influx of refugees. As well as saying it has evidence that Assad has used chemical weapons against its own people, it accused Syrian intelligence last weekend of being behind deadly car-bomb blasts inside the Turkish border.

Erdogan, not wanting to embarrass Obama on his home soil, replied to press questions about the two different approaches by saying he preferred to look at the glass as "half-full rather than half-empty", focusing on what the two agreed on: that Assad needed to go.

Obama, asked by a Turkish journalist if he would still be talking about the Syrian tragedy next year, said: "We would have preferred Assad to go two years ago, last year, six months ago, two months ago. There has been consistency on the part of my administration that Assad lost legitimacy when he started firing on his own people and killing his own people who were initially protesting peacefully for a greater voice in their country's affairs. Obviously that has escalated over time. So the answer is the sooner the better. 

"As for the question how, we have already discussed that. There is no magic formula for dealing with an extraordinarily violent and difficult situation such as Syria's. If there was the prime minister and I would have already acted on it and it would already be finished."

Obama, reluctant to involve the US in another war after Iraq and Afghanistan, said all that could be done is to apply steady international pressure on the Assad government, support the Syrian opposition, and push ahead with the Geneva talks.

He was keeping open both diplomatic and military options but "it is not going to be something the US does by itself".

Asked about Turkey's evidence of chemical weapons, Obama, who had said that would be a red-line issue, said there was a need to get more specific information about what happened.


Syria crisis: number of refugees tops 1.5 million, says UN

UNHCR warns Syrian refugee total may be even higher as number fleeing conflict continues to soar at alarming rate

Matthew Weaver, Thursday 16 May 2013 17.55 BST

The scale and speed of the exodus of those fleeing the violence in Syria has been underlined by UN figures showing that the number of refugees has topped 1.5 million, just 10 weeks after the millionth refugee fled to safety.

The UN's refugee agency, the UNHCR, said the number of refugees and those awaiting registration had reached 1,511,976. Its regional co-ordinator, Panos Moumtzis, said the figures showed the crisis was rapidly deteriorating.

He added: "Refugees tell us the increased fighting and changing of control of towns and villages, in particular in conflict areas, results in more and more civilians deciding to leave. Over the past four months we have seen a rapid deterioration when compared to the previous 20 months of this conflict."

In March the UNHCR warned that the crisis was "spiralling towards full-scale disaster" when the number of refugees topped 1 million for the first time.

If the number of people fleeing the conflict continues to increase at such a rate every 10 weeks there will be more 3.5 million Syrian refugees, or 15% of total population of Syria, by the end of the year.

Moumtzis warned that the official figure masked an even greater problem. "The fact that we have now surpassed 1.5 million people registered or those who have appointments sadly means the actual number is in reality much higher," he said. "This is due to concerns that some have regarding registration. There is increasingly a widening gap between the needs and resources available."

Campaigners warned that the figures would be even higher if neighbouring countries were not illegally blocking entry to tens thousands of people.
Bushra, was identified last week as the one millionth registered Syrian refugee by the UNHCR. Bushra, identified as the millionth registered Syrian refugee. Photograph: AFP/Getty

Gerry Simpson, acting refugee programme director at Human Rights Watch, said: "Jordan should stop its flagrant violation of international law and end its border push-back policy that prevents tens of thousands of desperate people trying to flee one of the world's worst conflicts from seeking refuge in Jordan, including Palestinian and Iraqi refugees living in Syria, single men of military age and anyone unable to prove their identity. All these people have a right not to be forced back to situations threatening their lives."

"Turkey's continued partial border closure means up to 50,000 Syrians are stuck in Syria, in an active war zone, waiting to find protection in Turkey. Jordan and Turkey are playing Russian roulette with tens of thousands of lives."

But Simpson acknowledged that Turkey and Jordan were "shouldering a huge burden" of the problem, and needed help from the international community.

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding, pointed out that about 10% of Jordan's population were Syrian refugees and that the Za'atari refugee camp was the fifth-largest city in the country.

Speaking at a briefing in the House of Commons he "At what point are other countries going to step up to the plate and start taking some of these refugees?" Doyle said. "I think it is unconscionable that we leave it to neighbouring states who have taken on so much. The EU has to open its doors."

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« Reply #6400 on: May 17, 2013, 06:59 AM »

Egypt 'suffering worst economic crisis since 1930s'

Former finance minister and economist say Egypt is in dire predicament as foreign investment and tourism collapse

Patrick Kingsley in Cairo, Thursday 16 May 2013 14.07 BST   

Egypt is suffering its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, a former finance minister of the country and one of its leading economists have warned.

In terms of its devastating effect on Egypt's poorest, the country's current economic predicament is at its most dire since the 1930s, Galal Amin, professor of economics at the American University in Cairo, and Samir Radwan, finance minister in the months after Egypt's 2011 uprising, said in separate interviews with the Guardian.

Since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, Egypt has experienced a drastic fall in both foreign investment and tourism revenues, followed by a 60% drop in foreign exchange reserves, a 3% drop in growth, and a rapid devaluation of the Egyptian pound. All this has led to mushrooming food prices, ballooning unemployment and a shortage of fuel and cooking gas – causing Egypt's worst crisis, said Amin, "without fear of making a mistake, since the 30s".

"Nobody cares about the poor now," Amin said. During comparable crises in the late 1960s, the mid-70s and the late 80s, Amin and Radwan argued that Egypt's poorest were variously shielded from absolute hardship either by state subsidies, overseas aid, comparatively low unemployment, or by remittances from expatriates in the Gulf states. But now one in four young Egyptians is unemployed, household remittances are low, and there is a shortage of subsidised goods.

"You are talking about nearly half of the population being in a state of poverty," said Radwan, a development economist. "Either in absolute poverty or near-poor, meaning that with any [economic] shock, like with inflation, they will fall under the poverty line." Currently, 25.2% of Egyptians are below the poverty line, with 23.7% hovering just above it, according to figures supplied by the Egyptian government.

For most Egyptians, rising food prices are the most critical problem. Some goods have doubled in price since last autumn – catastrophic for the quarter of families that already spend 50% of their income on food.

For Hoda Goma, a Cairo architect, the situation is having a serious effect on her two eight-year-old sons. "They're getting worse at school," she said. "They're getting ill more often. They have these black patches under their eyes and their teeth have got worse." It is down to their diet, Goma explained. She cannot afford to feed them what they need. Six months ago she spent half her salary on food. Now she says it is closer to four-fifths – not because she is earning less, but because rising food prices show no sign of slowing down.

"Prices are on fire," said grocer Walid Ali. Just last week, Ali would buy a kilo of mandarins for four Egyptian pounds – or 40 British pence – from wholesalers, and sell them for six (60 British pence). "Now I buy them for six and sell them for eight."

As a result, consumers are either buying less, or not buying at all. "It's impossible," said Ali. "I've lost half my customers. People can only afford to buy basic foods." At his two-storey market in central Cairo, the top floor is now entirely empty. Neighbours said all stall-holders on the upper level had been forced to close in recent months.

Inflated food prices are not a new phenomenon in a country that is the world's biggest importer of wheat, where the population has long risen more rapidly than production, and where up to half of the produce rots in the heat on the way to market. But the recent rate of inflation has been significantly raised by Egypt's disastrous economic predicament.

Most problematically, the value of the Egyptian pound has fallen by 12% against the dollar since December. For two years, Egypt's central bank had used its foreign currency reserves to arrest the slide – but with those reserves having shrunk by around 60% since 2011, the bank had to abandon the tactic last winter. As a result, the pound's value has this year fallen further and faster. In turn, it has become much more expensive to import foreign goods – catastrophic for a country that buys in 60% of its wheat, and whose farmers also often rely on imported fertiliser, fuel and animal feed.

"They have a serious crisis on their hands," said the EU's envoy to Egypt, James Moran, who noted that Egypt's foreign reserves had fallen from $36bn (£24bn) three years ago to $14.4bn last month. "This gives you less than three months' import coverage – and in an import-dependent economy, this is quite dangerous."

"We are suffering," said Ali Eissa, the chairman of Nahdet Misr, a farm company which grows potatoes and oranges on 3,000 acres across Egypt. "It's impacted most of our fertilisers, machines, tractors – all their prices have dramatically increased."

The pound's devaluation has also made it harder for the Egyptian government to import fuel. The state has subsidised diesel (along with goods such as bread, cooking gas and fertiliser) since the dictatorship of Gamal Abdel Nasser. But with those subsidies now accounting for over a fifth of the Egyptian budget, and with a budget deficit of 13%, the state cannot afford to support the population at the level it once did. As a result, there are daily shortages at pumps across Egypt, long queues – and, at times, fatal fights.

"Last month, we couldn't find any diesel," said Eissa, who was consequently forced to turn to the black market, where he says fuel prices are between 40% and 80% higher than their legal rate. "The worst thing is that most of the black market quantities are mixed with water – which is breaking a lot of our machines. We have to change the filter, get them maintained, stop the irrigation, stop the tractors."

In turn, farmers must sell their crops for higher prices – and with the government also under pressure to cut subsidies, food is therefore increasingly unaffordable for the poorest Egyptians. "The rich can take care of themselves," said Karim Abadir, professor of econometrics at Imperial College London, and a co-founder of the Free Egyptians, an opposition party. "But the poor of Egypt are really, really poor. Their daily diet is just bread. First of all, that's a terrible diet. Secondly, they're not even going to afford that. And the government has nothing in place to provide them with a safety net when they have to raise prices and cut subsidies."

So far, Mohamed Morsi's Islamist-led government has attempted to keep Egypt afloat with short-term measures. It has accepted loans and grants worth more than $5bn from Gulf states such as Qatar, and interest-free fuel handouts from neighbouring Libya. Domestically, it has avoided major economic reforms that might cause short-term upheaval – perhaps fearing bread riots similar to those experienced in 1977, when the then dictator Anwar Sadat first temporarily tinkered with subsidies. Instead, Morsi has focused mainly on meaningless initiatives such as tax rises on peripheral imports such as shrimp and nuts, or closing shops early at night to save electricity. Morsi has also attempted to legalise the controversial sukuk, an Islamist form of government bond that may help to bring in more short-term cash.

"There is no vision, there is no vision whatsoever," said Radwan of the government's current economic ministers. The Egyptian finance ministry did not make any official available for interview.

Along with Amin, Radwan said the initial route out of the crisis was obvious. The government needed to take the lead in restoring calm to the polarised Egyptian street and its tumultuous political sphere. National stability would give investors the confidence to reopen the 1,500 factories that have closed since 2011, and encourage tourists – whose spending was once worth $1bn a month to the Egyptian economy – to return.

"Restore stability, restore tourism, and restore confidence from investors," summarised Amin. Such a process would raise employment, and so lift millions from poverty, gradually allowing the government to end food subsidies for those who would no longer need them.

"It has to be spread over a period of time otherwise the social consequences would be very dire," said Amin. "As you succeed in raising the income of the poor, you [can] reduce the subsidy."

The delivery of a much-delayed $4.8bn International Monetary Fund loan – and a further $12bn in contingent loans from the EU and elsewhere – depends on Egypt's agreement to such reforms. Without the loan, foreign investment – which has fallen by 56% since 2011 – is also unlikely to return.

Radwan said: "I regard the IMF loan, which I was the first to negotiate, and it was turned down, as the key. Not because of the sum. But because if you sign with the IMF, it means you have a sound financial and monetary programme to get you out of the crisis."

Not everyone agrees. Amin sees the loan as too small to make much difference in itself. Instead, he suggests Egypt should enact the reforms the IMF suggests without taking on the debt itself. "What is the use of this $4.8bn sum?" Amin asked. "It is a big sum, but it still less than what tourism used to bring you. The conclusion is that the loan from the IMF is neither necessary nor sufficient. Not necessary because by attacking the real problems, you can dispense with it – and not sufficient, because if you don't attack the real problems it doesn't help you very much. It's only short-term relief."

Whatever happens, while politicians prevaricate, ordinary Egyptians are being ever more compromised by the soaring cost of living. Mostafa, a 30-year-old driver, started dealing hashish late last year when his wife became pregnant, realising his monthly earnings of 1,500 Egyptian pounds, or £150, would not be enough to feed his enlarged family. "Without the drug dealing, I would only have 300 Egyptian pounds [£30] to pay for everything after rent and food," Mostafa said. "How would I be able to support my new children?"

Economists often predict a so-called "revolution of the hungry", should conditions worsen further. But for Radwan, Egypt is already at that stage: robbery rose 350% in 2012 as Egyptians took wealth redistribution into their own hands. "The elite sits there saying the revolt of the hungry is coming," said Radwan. "What do you mean it's coming? Are you waiting for a violent, bloody destruction of the Bastille? It's already there."

Additional reporting by Mowaffaq Safadi

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« Reply #6401 on: May 17, 2013, 07:01 AM »

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Israelis stage rally protesting military draft

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, May 16, 2013 19:00 EDT

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews protested in Jerusalem on Thursday against any plans to make them undergo military service, a police spokesman said.

“At least 15,000 haredim (ultra-Orthodox) gathered outside the army recruiting office in Jerusalem,” the spokesman said.

He said the demonstrators threw stones and “other objects” at security personnel, but there were no reports of any arrests.

Protesters also prayed and chanted “the Torah above everything!” referring to Jewish religious law, and “the army will not take yeshiva (religious seminary) pupils.”

Police deployed in force to prevent any trouble.

“We will not allow breaches of the peace,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.

Military service is compulsory in Israel, with men serving three years and women two.

But tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox are currently exempted from army service by virtue of being enrolled in yeshivas.

Any move to expand the draft is vehemently opposed by the two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism.

Several proposals on expanding the draft are under discussion, but ultra-Orthodox rabbis say their pupils’ religious studies come first.

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« Reply #6402 on: May 17, 2013, 07:04 AM »

May 16, 2013

Rebuilding of Mali Faces Daunting Obstacles, Despite Outside Aid


DAKAR, Senegal — The outpouring of support may be more a sign of nervousness than altruism.

At an international conference in Brussels this week, donors pledged $4.2 billion for Mali on a range of fronts, including roads, energy and business development, hoping to help rebuild a nation that alarmed governments around the world when much of it collapsed and fell to Islamist militants last year.

Beyond the money, the United Nations plans to deploy 12,600 peacekeepers this summer to make sure the militants do not return, while a host of outside powers, with France and the United States in the lead, are keeping a watchful eye on preparations for elections the Malians have promised for July.

What is unclear is whether these efforts will be enough to remake the nation, about the size of Texas and California combined, after its civilian and military institutions have fallen, leaving a vacuum for the militants to exploit. Skeptics question whether money and oversight will suffice in a country with an army in tatters, accused of serious and so far unpunished human rights violations, and a political class that is mostly discredited.

The military junta that seized power last year, accelerating the country’s collapse, hovers in the background, with its tight connections to leading candidates in the July elections and an influential ally, Defense Minister Yamoussa Camara, in the cabinet of the so-called transition government. Signs of the junta’s influence persist: The editorial director of the country’s leading newspaper, Le Républicain, was arrested in March by state security agents and jailed for 27 days for publishing a letter critical of the pay being given to the coup leader, Capt. Amadou Sanogo.

For now, the Islamist militants who held sway for more than nine months in the country’s north have been largely chased out, defeated in a rapid French and Chadian military campaign in January and February. Hundreds of Islamists were killed; many have regrouped in lawless southern Libya, say regional officials, including Niger’s foreign minister. But the separatist nomadic rebels whose 2012 uprising precipitated the takeover by Islamist extremists remain in control of the country’s far north, refusing to budge from their stronghold in Kidal in spite of saber-rattling in the capital, Bamako.

Mali, which played little role in the defeat of the militants on its own turf, remains vulnerable, incapable of defending or reconstructing itself, Western officials say. The militants have fled the principal towns of northern Mali — Gao and Timbuktu — but some remain in the region’s villages, as evidenced by attempted suicide bombings in recent days and brief armed incursions into urbanized areas, which were repulsed after gun battles with French and Malian forces.

Outside governments are eager to forestall a repeat of last year’s chaos, and two large-scale multinational efforts now under way, led by France and shepherded by the United Nations and the European Union, would effectively make this impoverished West African nation a ward of the international community.

At the international donor’s conference in Brussels on Wednesday, Mali received most of what it was seeking in a broad reconstruction plan. “We need money,” Mali’s foreign minister, Tieman Coulibaly, bluntly declared.

The needs are immense. The Malians told donors that government “resources” decreased by 30 percent after the coup. Nearly half a million people have fled their homes in the north, tens of thousands are still in refugee camps, most schools and health centers in that region remain closed and well over a million people are considered at risk of going hungry.

“Everyone understands that the future of the subregion and beyond depends on Mali’s stabilization and development,” the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said at the Brussels conference.

Outside supporters are insisting that Mali replace the current coup-born government with a democratically elected one. “A lot of this is in the hands of the Malians, to see that that political transition happens,” said the interim head of the United Nations Mission in Mali, David Gressly. “This is what the international community is looking for.”

The Malians themselves, in their 48-page reconstruction plan, note the “fragility of the republic’s institutions” and the “poor governance and corruption riddling every area of national life.” Whether that recognition translates into a homegrown reform effort remains to be seen. The jockeying before the promised elections in late July resembles old-time Malian politics in the capital, with many in the discredited political class again playing prominent roles.

“It’s almost a self-satirizing plan,” said Prof. William Easterly, an economist at New York University, adding that he worried about an Afghanistan-like situation of “pouring in money to a fictional government.”

“In the past few years there’s been this delusion of fixing failed states,” Professor Easterly continued. “Instead of the common-sense view that it’s extremely difficult to fix failed states with aid, it sort of goes to the reverse extreme: that it becomes one of the best possible opportunities to comprehensively transform the whole country.”

Still, there is little disagreement that one of the most pressing needs is the country’s ineffectual military, which retreated in the face of last year’s rebel advance. The Malian report speaks of the “extreme weakness of the army,” and the United Nations is effectively proposing to step in as a substitute with what will be its third-largest peacekeeping force. Meanwhile, European Union military trainers are at work in Mali trying to reform the army.

The core of the United Nations force is expected to be the 6,000 regional African troops already deployed, though a Pentagon official called them “completely incapable” in remarks to Congress in April. Soldiers from Senegal, Togo and Niger now operate in Gao and its environs. Troops from Burkina Faso are in Timbuktu. They will be backed by the 1,000 French troops who remain in the country, authorized to intervene when the peacekeepers are under “imminent and serious threat.”

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« Reply #6403 on: May 17, 2013, 07:17 AM »

May 16, 2013

Trial on Guatemalan Civil War Carnage Leaves Out U.S. Role


MEXICO CITY — In 1999, President Bill Clinton went to Guatemala and apologized. Just two weeks earlier, a United Nations truth commission found Guatemalan security forces responsible for more than 90 percent of the human rights violations committed during the country’s long civil war.

Mr. Clinton’s apology was an admission that the Guatemalan military had not acted alone. American support for Guatemalan security forces that had engaged in “violent and widespread repression,” the president said, “was wrong.”

But that long history of United States support for Guatemala’s military, which began with a coup engineered by the Central Intelligence Agency in 1954, went unacknowledged during the genocide trial and conviction of the man most closely identified with the war’s brutality, the former dictator Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt.

During a month of testimony before the three-judge panel that found General Ríos Montt guilty last Friday, the prosecution never raised the issue of American military backing in the army’s war against leftist guerrillas. The 86-year-old former dictator barely mentioned the United States when he argued in his own defense that he had no operational command over the troops that massacred and terrorized the Maya-Ixil population during his rule in 1982 and 1983.

“This was a trial about Guatemala, about the structure of the country, about racism,” said Kate Doyle, a Guatemala expert at the National Security Archive in Washington, an independent research organization that seeks the release of classified government documents.

Adrián Zapata, a former guerrilla who is now a professor of social sciences at the University of San Carlos of Guatemala, said that to prove a genocide charge, “it was not pertinent to point out the international context or the external actors.”

But Washington’s cold war alliance with General Ríos Montt three decades ago was not forgotten in the giant vaulted courtroom, where the current American ambassador, Arnold A. Chacon, sat as a spectator in a show of support for the trial.

“Part of the burden of that historical responsibility was that the United States tried to use Guatemala as a bulwark against Communism,” Ms. Doyle said. “The U.S. played a very powerful and direct role in the life of this institution, the army, that went on to commit genocide.”

Back in 1983, Elliott Abrams, the assistant secretary of state for human rights under President Ronald Reagan, once suggested that General Ríos Montt’s rule had “brought considerable progress” on human rights.

Mr. Abrams was defending the Reagan administration’s request to lift a five-year embargo on military aid to Guatemala. Brushing off concern from human rights groups about the rising scale of the massacres in Mayan villages, Mr. Abrams declared that “the amount of killing of innocent civilians is being reduced step by step.”

Speaking on “The MacNeil-Lehrer Report,” he argued, “We think that kind of progress needs to be rewarded and encouraged.”

After the 1954 coup deposed the reformist President Jacobo Arbenz, the United States supported a series of military dictators, particularly after the victory of the Cuban revolution in 1959.

But an emphasis on human rights by President Jimmy Carter’s administration led to the cutoff of military aid in 1977. Even though after 1981 the Reagan administration became intensely involved in supporting El Salvador’s government against leftist guerrillas, and contra rebels against the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua, the Guatemalan government was so brutal that Washington kept it at arm’s length for a time.

When General Ríos Montt was installed in a coup in March 1982, Reagan administration officials were eager to embrace him as an ally. Embassy officials trekked up to the scene of massacres and reported back the army’s line that the guerrillas were doing the killing, according to documents uncovered by Ms. Doyle.

Over the next two years, about $15 million in spare parts and vehicles from the United States reached the Guatemalan military, said Prof. Michael E. Allison, a political scientist at the University of Scranton who studies Central America. More aid came from American allies like Israel, Taiwan, Argentina and Chile. In the 1990s, the American government revealed that the C.I.A. had been paying top military officers throughout the period.

“It was like a monster that we created over which we had little leverage,” Professor Allison said.

During a hearing on reparations for the Ixil on Monday, the tribunal that convicted General Ríos Montt ordered the Guatemalan government to apologize in the main Ixil communities. President Otto Pérez Molina, a former general who served in the region but denies any role in atrocities, said he was willing to make the apologies.

Meanwhile, Guatemala’s highest court has postponed rulings on a dozen procedural challenges from the defense that some experts say could ultimately annul the trial. The country’s conservative leaders, represented by a business association known as Cacif, called on the constitutional court to “amend the anomalies” in the trial and complained that the world now viewed all Guatemalans as similar to Nazis.

For some in Guatemala, the virtual invisibility of the American role in the trial was disturbing.

“Who trained them?” asked Raquel Zelaya, a former peace negotiator for the government who now runs a research institute, referring to American support for the military. The trial seemed to be removed from all historical context, she said.

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« Reply #6404 on: May 17, 2013, 07:20 AM »

May 16, 2013

Killing Reveals the Still-Dark Side of a Gentrifying Capital


MEXICO CITY — This sprawling city has been described recently as “vibrant” (Elle Decor), “rich with historical heritage and incredible food traditions” (Saveur), “scrubbed and safe” (New York magazine) and “inviting and exciting” (Fodor’s).

Skyscrapers and sleek glass-and-concrete condominiums are quickly vanquishing tired, old structures, the well-heeled trip over themselves en route to the hottest new eatery, and ragged public spaces are being reborn as verdant oases.

But last week brought a reminder of how this beast of a megalopolis, once synonymous with danger, can seem tamed at one turn and snarling the next.

Across a busy avenue from Plaza Garibaldi, a popular if timeworn tourist district downtown known for roving mariachi buskers, Malcolm Shabazz, the grandson of Malcolm X, was found beaten to death outside the Palace Bar on May 9.

The police said it appeared he and a Mexican friend had fallen for a common ruse: women offering company, cheap drinks or both who lure unsuspecting visitors to a dive bar near the plaza. Staggering tabs await them at last call.

The choice often is to pay or fight. Presented with a bill for $1,200 after a night of drinking, Mr. Shabazz ended up in a violent confrontation in which he was beaten with a blunt object, while his companion was robbed before fleeing. Two waiters at the bar, now closed, have been charged with murder and robbery, and other employees are being sought.

The severity of the beating came as a surprise to many here, but not the fact that it happened.

Most people in the know stay out of the questionable bars. The cantinas, business owners in the neighborhood said, pay bribes so that police officers and inspectors look the other way.

“You arrive, you order drinks, but you are with a young woman, and when the check comes they tell you every drink you had with the woman costs 400 to 500 pesos ($33 to $40),” said Raziel González del Ángel, the president of the Plaza Garibaldi merchants association.

His advice was to pay whatever eye-popping amount is demanded and file an official complaint later.

Musicians in the plaza, who worry that the killing may depress their already struggling business, said that on recent nights they had noticed more police officers in the plaza and fewer of the women known as “jaladoras,” or those who lure young men.

But the hucksters have not totally disappeared. One young woman approached a visitor on Wednesday night to offer low-cost drinks on a street many blocks away, but she moved on when faced with too many questions, like the name of the bar.

“It’s kind of an old tradition to get drunk and get robbed or scammed there,” said Pablo A. Piccato, a Columbia University history professor who has studied Mexico City crime and went to high school and college here.

The square has long been devoted to drink and song; Tenampa, a landmark restaurant founded in 1925 that claims to have first brought the mariachi tradition to Mexico City from Jalisco State, celebrates both, with murals depicting song lyrics that seem to all include variations of “drink” or “being drunk.”

A museum opened in the plaza a couple of years ago devoted to tequila and mezcal.

All the carousing drove families from the plaza, seedier types moved in and the buildings began to fade, with a few abandoned or in an advanced state of disrepair. Revitalization plans have come and gone, including an effort in 2009 to make it attractive to the middle class rather than a place for drunks, drug addicts and prostitutes.

The plaza’s promoters complain that the city has left them behind as tourism has taken off in other areas. Neighborhoods around the plaza, where much of the trouble emanates, have been largely ignored, business owners say.

In an interview, Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera acknowledged the complaints and promised to address them. “There’s still a lot to do,” he said. “I think we still have to intervene in surrounding areas. Garibaldi is still affected by surrounding areas and that is what we need to work on.”

“Several blocks away is Tepito, the roughest neighborhood in the city,” said Ramses Cueva Guadarrama, a manager at Tenampa, making the case that tourists ought not venture too far from the music. “Yes, Garibaldi is obviously not the safest area of the city, but it is a very safe place.”

Still, even at his restaurant, patrons are often checked for weapons at the door, where a sign warns against accepting offers to be brought to “places of dubious reputation” and advises, “If you are robbed, make a complaint!”

The grit did not deter several couples from paying the mariachis for serenades on a recent afternoon, and a handful of tourists dined at Tenampa, while others strolled on the plaza. Few had heard of Mr. Shabazz’s killing.

“We were told by our hotel to only come here when the sun is up,” said Christian Petri, a 23-year-old university student from Argentina.

Like any big city, Mexico’s capital will always have its rough patches, as well as a hazy line between what is fun and what is felonious.

“Mexico City has always had pockets of illegality and danger,” Dr. Piccato said, “and for some people that is part of the attraction.”

Karla Zabludovsky contributed reporting.

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