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« Reply #7500 on: Jul 14, 2013, 06:39 AM »

Taliban bans tight men’s clothing in Waziristan

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, July 13, 2013 13:09 EDT

The Pakistani Taliban have banned tight or see-through clothing for men, threatening to impose a fine and shutter businesses selling the items, traders from the country’s restive tribal belt said Saturday.

Shopkeepers in Wana, the main town of South Waziristan tribal district along the Afghan border told AFP the written warning came ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan which began on Thursday in Pakistan.

“All such clothes which are of a thin material and which do not properly cover men’s bodies are un-Islamic and against Pashtun culture,” said the pamphlet, distributed in Wana bazaar.

It warned that any shopkeeper found selling such items will be charged a fine of 5000 rupees ($50) and will also see his shop closed for at least five days.

The pamphlet also warned male residents “not to wear such clothes”.

A government official in Wana confirmed the written warning and told AFP that the local militant groups had previously banned the sale of tight or see-through clothes for women.

South Waziristan is one of seven districts that make up Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The semi-autonomous region of mountains, valleys and caves is one of the most deprived and ill-educated in the country.

Taliban militants in Pakistan have often targeted shops selling music and films that they say break Islamic moral codes.


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« Reply #7501 on: Jul 14, 2013, 06:42 AM »


July 13, 2013

As Mystery Illness Stalks Its Young, India Intensifies Search for a Killer

By GARDINER HARRIS
IHT

MUZAFFARPUR, India — The children begin arriving every year in mid-May, brought to an overburdened hospital here in one of India’s most impoverished areas by their panic-stricken mothers. Seemingly healthy hours earlier, most have lapsed into a coma, punctuated by convulsions.

Doctors work to calm the convulsions and keep the children hydrated, but then have to watch helplessly along with the anguished parents as a third of their young patients die, often within hours. Then, as suddenly as it started, the mysterious outbreak stops with the onset of the monsoon rains this month. No one knows why.

The mud-and-bamboo huts in this part of India cradle more dying children than anywhere in the world, with diarrhea and malnutrition long ranking as the region’s great scourges. But now, this unknown killer is stalking the very young.

Although public health statistics are unreliable here, the disease is believed to infect tens of thousands of people a year and kill thousands.

All doctors know is that the illness is a form of brain swelling, or encephalitis, but that is a huge category, covering a wide spectrum of diseases. Doctors have tested for known causes of brain swelling, including meningitis and Japanese encephalitis, but the tests almost always come back negative. India’s top health officials say the disease, known officially as acute encephalitis syndrome, has them stumped.

“This outbreak happens every year, and we have not been able to identify the cause or link even a single factor responsible,” Dr. L. S. Chauhan, the director of the National Center for Disease Control in India, said in an interview.

Dr. Chauhan hopes to change that. With help from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, he started a program this year to train an elite cadre of disease sleuths, part of a recently organized Epidemic Intelligence Service in India that he hopes will eventually undertake the investigations of India’s estimated 1,500 epidemics.

But the outbreak in Muzaffarpur is slowly spreading to neighboring areas, and Dr. Chauhan has thrown everything he can at it, assigning all seven of his trainees — each already an accomplished physician. Experts from the C.D.C. are advising them, and their work is being closely followed by concerned officials in the United States.

The first reports of this mysterious illness date to 1995, when nearly 1,000 children were sickened and 300 died in Muzaffarpur’s three hospitals. Smaller epidemics have followed almost every year since.

Officials say they do not know whether the illness began in 1995 or had simply gone unnoticed before. Not only has it spread to nearby areas, but researchers have also recently found similar cases in neighboring Nepal. Some outbreaks in India have gone unreported because officials suppressed any mention for fear of prompting panic or criticism.

“India has a huge problem with encephalitis,” said Dr. Rajesh Pandey, one of the epidemiologists camped out in Muzaffarpur, “and it’s not something almost anyone knows about.”

The illness is often confused with Japanese encephalitis, which generally arrives just after the start of the monsoons and peaks in the fall, as it is spread by mosquitoes that breed in standing water. But this affliction starts a couple of months earlier and ends with the monsoon.

“This is a real mystery,” Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the C.D.C. director, said in a telephone interview. “We’re not sure we’ll be able to solve it, but at least we can unleash the best epidemiological tools we have to try to answer the question.”

Dr. Chauhan’s team has been given a rustic guesthouse next to a hospital here. There is no air-conditioning, the beds sag and the electricity is fitful. But there is an urgency to the doctors’ work. They gather almost every night in a small dining room to update crude posters with information about each case and debate their theories. A new virus, an old bacteria, litchis, alcoholic tree sap, heat, pesticides, rats, bats and sand flies are among the suspected causes.

In the nearby hospital, parents say in hushed tones that a ghost must be angry. Some paint black spots on siblings’ foreheads to ward off the evil eye.

Given the suddenness with which the illness strikes, their superstition is understandable. At 11:30 p.m. on June 10, Chhotu Kumar, 3 years old, was sleeping beside his mother and two brothers in their hut in the village of Ganti Vishanpur when he let out a scream and went into convulsions. Chhotu’s father, Vijay Majhi, took the boy to a hospital.

Several hours later, Chhotu’s brother, Golu, 5, screamed louder, convulsed and went limp. His panicked mother left her 2-month-old with a relative and took Golu to the hospital.

Intensive medication and intravenous fluids stopped Chhotu’s convulsions and cured his dehydration, said Dr. Mohan Kumar, a member of the team.

“I thought the child was O.K.,” Dr. Kumar said.

Chhotu died that afternoon. His brother was moved to Sri Krishna Medical College Hospital, the region’s best hospital but one so overrun that its hallways are lined with sleeping patients and its power blinks out almost hourly. Four days later, Mr. Majhi was still sitting beside Golu’s limp body, holding his hand.

“Both boys were fine until that night,” said Mr. Majhi, whose wife now cries constantly. “They were eating, playing, wandering around — same things they always do.”

But something the boys did, ate, drank, breathed in or encountered led to Chhotu’s death and Golu’s coma.

Investigators have collected samples of blood, urine and spinal fluid from each of this year’s sick children — there were 133, 59 of whom died — and they asked their parents more than 150 questions about the children’s food, water, sleeping arrangements and villages.

Since cases tend to be isolated, the illness probably does not spread in the traditional person-to-person way, like the flu or tuberculosis. So the researchers are looking not only for the cause (virus, bacteria or toxin), but also for a carrier (rats, livestock or bats) and perhaps even for a vehicle (sand flies, drink or fruit). The investigation is like a highly complex puzzle, in which every piece must be solved.

A day in the field with Dr. Pandey revealed the magnitude of the task. It took him to a tiny cluster of brick-and-bamboo huts that made up the village of Chotta Sindhwari and the home of Mohammad Nasir, who goes by Nasir, a 10-year-old hospitalized two weeks earlier with brain swelling.

Dr. Pandey asked to see where Nasir slept. His parents showed him a small room in a brick building with a mud floor, a bamboo roof and a wooden sleeping platform. Flies buzzed around; a young goat wandered in. Sacks of corn and rice, a magnet for rats, were piled near the bed. There was little ventilation, which could create excess heat. Mango, banana, palm and litchi trees were nearby. Dr. Pandey took notes on it all.

Five siblings slept on the platform, and there was mosquito netting above it. But Nasir’s mother said she sometimes found him sleeping on the mud floor outside the netting.

Water came from a nearby pump. There was standing water with mosquito larvae, which Dr. Pandey collected in a small plastic bottle. They will be grown later for identification.

“This well is probably shallow, and they drink from it directly,” Dr. Pandey said, making it a possible source of fecal contamination. Some have guessed that the disease is an intestinal virus carried in contaminated water. But patients with such infections usually have enlarged spleens, something not seen in the affected children, Dr. Pandey said.

He asked about the village’s use of pesticides. (A separate team of environmental experts will soon test villages for pesticide and toxin residues.) He visited its grove of litchi trees. One theory is that infected bats contaminate the fruit, which ripen in May and June.

As if on cue, a cheerful old man walked through the grove carrying a clay pot of palm sap, which becomes mildly alcoholic in the summer heat. The pot was filled with a milky brew, dead insects and perhaps some bat feces and urine. Maybe children find a way to drink it, Dr. Pandey speculated, or their parents, inured to its effects, drink it and somehow pass along an infection.

Then Dr. Pandey walked down the village’s dirt road to find a random child of Nasir’s age and perform the same survey. He was pursued by a pack of curious children, one of whom eventually stepped forward like an army recruit — chest out, head up — to answer the doctor’s questions.

The village visit took five hours, and the study will need about 360 subjects. The epidemiologists say they have been working 14-hour days.

“I’m here until we finish,” Dr. Pandey said.


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« Reply #7502 on: Jul 14, 2013, 06:44 AM »

July 13, 2013

Pitfalls Abound in China’s Push From Farm to City

By IAN JOHNSON
IHT

XI'AN, China — Li Yongping sat in a darkened conference room, his face illuminated by an enormous map of southern Shaanxi Province projected on a wall-size screen. He nodded to an assistant and the screen split: the province on one side and a photograph of a farmer on the other.

“These people are moving out of here,” he said, gesturing to the mountains that dominate the province’s south. “And they’re moving here,” he said, pointing to the farmer’s newly built concrete home. “They are moving into the modern world.”

Mr. Li is directing one of the largest peacetime population transfers in history: the removal of 2.4 million farmers from mountain areas in the central Chinese province of Shaanxi to low-lying towns, many built from scratch on other farmers’ land. The total cost is estimated at $200 billion over 10 years.

It is one of the most drastic displays of a concerted government effort to end the dominance of rural life, which for millenniums has been the keystone of Chinese society and politics. While farmers have been moving to cities for decades, the government now says the rate is too slow. An urbanization blueprint that is due to be unveiled this year would have 21 million people a year move into cities. But as is often the case in China, formal plans only codify what is already happening. Besides the southern Shaanxi project, removals are being carried out in other areas, too: in Ningxia, 350,000 villagers are to be moved, while as many as two million transfers are expected in Guizhou Province by 2020.

All told, 250 million more Chinese may live in cities in the next dozen years. The rush to urbanize comes despite concerns that many rural residents cannot find jobs in the new urban areas or are simply unwilling to leave behind a way of life that many cherish.

The push has the support of the highest reaches of the government, with the new prime minister, Li Keqiang, a strong proponent of accelerated urbanization. The campaign to depopulate the countryside is seen as the best way to maintain China’s spectacular run of fast economic growth, with new city dwellers driving demand for decades to come.

The effort is run by officials like Mr. Li in Xi’an, who speaks emotionally about wanting to help push China’s 700 million rural residents into the 21st century. Heirs to imperial China’s Mandarin officials, modern-day Communist Party officials like Mr. Li speak knowingly of what is best for China’s 1.3 billion people, where they should live and how they should earn a living.

“An objective rule in the process of modernization,” he said, “is we have to complete the process of urbanization and industrialization.”

One of the mantras that officials repeat about the Shaanxi project is that it is voluntary, although interviews suggest that not all of those who are being moved agree.

China’s previously largest migration project was to resettle about 1.2 million people for the Three Gorges Dam. That was mandatory: villages and towns were flooded, and people had no choice but to move. This new effort will take place over a decade or more, and those who wish to stay on the farm may do so, at least for a while, officials say. They promise generous subsidies for moving and a better standard of living, including jobs, in the new urban areas.

But in the mountains 200 miles south of Mr. Li’s offices, one of the project’s showpieces illustrates the complications he faces. The onetime village of Qiyan became a focus of national attention in 2010 when a landslide in a nearby ravine killed 29 people. Provincial leaders immediately made the disaster a case study of why the removals were necessary.

Qiyan, previously a village of 200 households, was designated a town, and its lower reaches were leveled and rebuilt with towers to house 6,000 people. Those living in the surrounding hills were encouraged to live in the valley — and not in big cities like Xi’an. The process is known as chengzhenhua, moving into towns, and has become one of the most-debated topics in China. The idea is to limit the number of megacities by keeping farmers closer to the land they farmed instead of moving them to giant cities. The problem is jobs, or the lack of them, in these areas.

During a visit in February, townspeople sat in their front yards, huddled around open fires. Their homes were brand-new, with indoor heating and modern appliances, just as Mr. Li’s plan envisions, but it all runs on an unaffordable luxury: electricity. Hence the fires to keep warm.

“Back when we lived in the mountains we had monthly electric bills of 10 yuan,” or renminbi (about $1.60), said Lin Jiaqing, a farmer who moved to Qiyan two years ago. “But one month we had to pay 670 yuan” — about $110 — “so from now on we don’t heat or even use the washing machine.”

Mr. Lin and others still officially classified as rural residents agreed that living in the mountains had its drawbacks. He spent about 11 months of every year on an assembly line far away in Jiangsu Province. He said he appreciated the safety of the new homes.

“If you’re far away working, you can’t rest easily thinking of your family up in the hills facing the dangers of another landslide,” he said.

The apartments, however, cost about $19,000. A government subsidy covers about a quarter of that, and the government credit cooperative provides an interest-free loan for another quarter.

That still means families must come up with what for them is a staggering $10,000 to buy an apartment and then $5,000 more within three years to pay back the government loan. And that is just for a concrete shell. Most people spend thousands of dollars more on paint, lighting, televisions and washing machines.

All of this helps push up domestic demand, just as intended, but it forces painful choices.

“Our daughter was doing well at high school, but when we had to buy this apartment, she knew we couldn’t afford to send her to college,” said Mr. Lin’s wife, He Shifang.

The daughter dropped out of high school and is working in the southern city of Shenzhen as a clerk at a travel agency.

Mr. Lin said the additional income would allow the family to pay off the mortgage.

Others have a tougher time.

“I don’t have the money now,” said Cai Dawei, who bought his apartment in 2010 hoping to find employment in the new town. An industrial park was built, but it is empty except for a seasonal processing plant for a small tea plantation. Residents estimate that 20 people work there. Almost everyone else is either unemployed or works in factories in distant places where migrant workers are not allowed to put down permanent roots.

At 48, Mr. Cai said he is too old to work in factories, which generally prefer younger workers. His three-year loan is due this autumn, and Mr. Cai said he hoped his son, who had taken a factory job, could pay off the family debts. Without a plot of land to farm, Mr. Cai said, he will also have to rely on his son for money to buy food.

His wife, Lü Minqin, said she most regretted buying a 46-inch, $700 flat-screen television, which uses too much electricity, and a $200 washing machine. At the time, they seemed like part of being a modern city person, she said, but now they sit unused.

Ms. Lü thought of moving back, but when she visited their homestead, she was shocked.

“They planted trees everywhere, and there are wild pigs!” Ms. Lü said. “You can’t really go back anyway because they tore down our home.”

When asked about the situation, the Chinese official leading the effort, Mr. Li, said he was aware of these issues and was taking steps to improve planning.

“We are listening to ordinary people and making adjustments all the time,” Mr. Li said. “We aren’t blindly following one plan.”

Mr. Li’s focus on ordinary people mirrors growing concerns at the top levels of government that urbanization is currently being carried out to satisfy abstract targets instead of improving people’s livelihood. After a meeting of a parliamentary committee in early July, the government issued a document stating that while urbanization “is the only path to modernization,” it must be planned better.

Tall and vigorous, Mr. Li, 54, is an unusually open and frank official. His title is executive vice commander of the project, and he reports to the deputy governor. But as a lifelong grass-roots Communist Party cadre, Mr. Li knows how local officials pull the wool over the eyes of higher officials like himself. “You have to talk to the people,” Mr. Li said, and not rely on good-news reports from underlings.

To do this, he makes extended field visits, but he relies mainly on his high-tech database that he projects on the wall and pores over like a general plotting a campaign. Pointing to the photograph of the farmer in front of her new home, Mr. Li said that in the future, migrants would be able to see their personal information online to verify whether they had received the correct compensation for their land, a modern check on corruption.

Besides running the relocation office, Mr. Li is chief executive of a state-run company that has raised $1 billion from state enterprises and banks to start the work — a possible model for the national urbanization plan.

Under the plan, this money is supposed to be a pump primer for a self-sustaining process of people moving into towns, finding jobs, becoming taxpayers and replenishing government coffers. This is also the way Beijing intends most investment in urbanization to work out, with the enormous costs — in new schools, hospitals and apartments — borne by the new wealth generated by the migration.

As for the lack of jobs, Mr. Li pulled out a study he is in the middle of revising. It was a random telephone survey of 1,000 households by an outside agency. He pointed out that the study acknowledged that few residents could find work locally and many were forced to travel far for employment.

“This is something we haven’t done well,” Mr. Li said. “But we’re working on this: we’re building roads and industrial parks and will create an environment so companies will come to these areas.”

Although he insisted that it was up to rural dwellers whether they wanted to relocate, Mr. Li added that eventually everyone must move. China cannot wait for the people to relocate into cities of their own accord, he said. “People have been leaving the mountains to work in the cities on their own, but this hasn’t happened fast enough.”

One reason for the urgency is that water from the mountains runs off into one of China’s largest engineering projects: the diversion of water through rivers and canals from China’s south to its arid north. Reforesting the mountains will keep the water cleaner, Mr. Li said.

He also said the mountains are dangerous, with regular landslides and other natural catastrophes. No one will be permitted to live in these areas, he said. In addition, he called southern Shaanxi a drag on the provincial economy. The poor farmers must become higher-earning urbanites, Mr. Li said.

Underlying the project seems to be a distaste among city dwellers for rural life. During the Cultural Revolution, Mr. Li lost his chance at a college education because the country’s leader, Mao Zedong, closed schools and sent young people to work in the countryside. Mr. Li said the time helped him understand the plight of peasants, but like many elites in China he also speaks dismissively of rural life.

“They need to shower more often, but how can they shower on a dirt floor?” Mr. Li said of the farmers and their old adobe homes in the mountains. “If you don’t shower a lot, that’s no good. Put simply, we want to teach ordinary Chinese people to bid farewell to several backward ways of living.”

Mia Li contributed research from Beijing.


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« Reply #7503 on: Jul 14, 2013, 06:47 AM »


The Christian Science Monitor

Rising hate speech in Japan has even some on far right saying 'enough'

The venom in anti-Korean demonstrations in Japan has shocked many and been widely reported in South Korea and China.

By Justin McCurry, Correspondent / July 12, 2013 at 10:57 am EDT
Tokyo

Shin-Okubo is where Tokyo residents go when they want a fix of Korean food and pop culture. The busy neighborhood is home to dozens of restaurants specializing in Korea's spicy cuisine and stores crammed with souvenirs inspired by the stars of K-Pop, the musical phenomenon that has swept through much of East Asia.

But amid rising tensions between Tokyo and Seoul over rival territorial claims and conflicting interpretations of wartime history, Shin-Okubo has also become the setting for ugly confrontations between its large ethnic Korean community and Japanese far-right activists.

The latter are small in number, but their increasingly vicious protests have ignited a national debate over how – or if – Japan should respond to the rise of hate speech.

The venomous insults that fill the air during anti-Korean demonstrations go far beyond the impassioned chants heard at regular political rallies. "Kill all Koreans," and "Koreans must die," are common refrains.

In one notorious outburst that was widely reported in South Korea and China, a 14-year-old girl yelled at passersby during a protest in Tsuruhashi, a Korean neighborhood of Osaka: "I can't tell you how much I despise you and wish I could kill you all. You have smug faces and if you continue to behave in that way we will have a massacre here in Tsuruhashi. This is Japan, and you should go back to Korea. You do not belong here."

The demonstrations are being organized by Zaitokukai, a small but well-organized group of far-right activists who oppose granting even limited rights – such as welfare entitlements – to long-term Korean and Chinese residents of Japan.

Its chairman, Makoto Sakurai, was among eight people arrested on suspicion of assault during a recent confrontation in Tokyo with an antiracist group.
The protests even drew a response from Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The anti-Korean abuse heard on the streets of Tokyo, Osaka, and other cities "dishonored Japan," he said. "It is truly regrettable that there are words and actions that target certain countries and races.

"I believe that the Japanese people respect harmony and shouldn't exclude other people. The Japanese way of thinking is to behave politely and to be generous and modest at all times."

Anti-Korean sentiment is nothing new in Japan. The country is home to an estimated 600,000 ethnic Koreans, many of them the descendants of the estimated 780,000 Korean workers brought to Japan during its 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean peninsula.
Diplomatic tensions feed harsh tone

The rise of hate speech has coincided with a new round of tension between Seoul and Tokyo over sovereignty of the disputed Takeshima islands – known as Dokdo by Koreans – and anger at North Korea over its nuclear weapons program and its failure to resolve the cold war abductions of Japanese citizens. Mr. Abe has angered South Koreans and Chinese by suggesting that Japan had not waged a war of aggression on mainland Asia before the outbreak of the Pacific War.

He has also suggested that he will revise previous official apologies for Japan's wartime conduct – although that move has since been put on hold.
Zaitokukai, which claims 13,000 members but attracts only 200-300 people to its protests, has drawn criticism from fellow right-wingers.

"I've been active in the right-wing movement for over 45 years since I was a student, but even so, I believe that what's happening now is very worrying," says Kunio Suzuki, a senior adviser to the nationalist group Issuikai. "Most right-wingers, conservatives, and ordinary Japanese have nothing to do with hate speech."

Human rights groups are calling for legislation to curb hate speech, but their campaign has made little headway as political parties focus on the economy in the run-up to upper house elections on July 21. A recent survey of attitudes toward discriminatory language among more than 700 MPs drew responses from only 46.

No hate-speech legislation

Japan has been a signatory to the UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination since the mid-1990s, but has resisted the introduction of domestic hate-speech legislation.

"Japan has been slow to approve a number of human rights and discrimination-related UN conventions due to the long-standing belief that there is no racial discrimination in Japan," says Yoshifu Arita, a lower house member of the Democratic Party of Japan. "I believe that this is untrue."

In attempting to explain the rise of hate speech, Mr. Arita cited the increasingly nationalist tone of mainstream Japanese politics, particularly under Abe. Zaitokukai, he noted, was formed in 2006 during Abe's first term as prime minister.

"There is a sense now that Japan has moved a few steps to the right," he says. "There is more criticism of members of parliament as 'traitors' who are "'selling out the country' at public events and on the Internet."

In a recent interview with a monthly magazine, Abe apparently spoke for many politicians when he said the response to verbal attacks on minority groups should be left to "the good conscience of the average Japanese citizen."

But left unchecked, the public abuse being directed at ethnic Korean residents could inflict serious damage to Japan's international reputation, says Mr. Suzuki. "These images are being shown in other countries," he said, "and it fills me with sadness that this is seen as representative of modern Japan."


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« Reply #7504 on: Jul 14, 2013, 06:49 AM »

Indonesian province bans female secretaries following string of extra-marital affairs

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, July 13, 2013 10:55 EDT

The governor of an Indonesian province on Saturday said he had ordered his top staff to replace their female secretaries with men following a string of extra-marital affairs.

“I received inputs that many government office heads here are involved in extra-marital affairs with their female secretaries,” Rusli Habibie, the governor of Gorontalo province on northern Sulawesi island told AFP.

“They treat them much better than their own wives. They bring them presents from official trips like perfumes or branded bags while their poor wives get nothing,” he said.

“For these reasons, I ordered them to replace their female secretaries with male assistants or with old women who are no longer attractive,” he added.

Habibie is convinced that his subordinates will follow his instructions, though there won’t be any punishment for those who don’t comply.

“This is a moral sanction. I’m pretty sure they will follow my order, and all of them will get a male secretary soon,” he said, adding that there were about 50 senior officials in the province who had hired female secretaries.

Last year, the Gorontalo administration demanded 3,200 male civil servants to transfer their monthly pay to their wives’ bank accounts in order to limit the number of affairs.


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« Reply #7505 on: Jul 14, 2013, 06:52 AM »

Former Israeli general reveals existence of new ‘Prisoner X’

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, July 13, 2013 20:00 EDT

A former Israeli intelligence chief said on Saturday that authorities held a person in secret during the 1970s but implied that the prisoner was no longer in custody.

“Thirty-five years ago, in my post as head of military intelligence, I approved the detention in prison of Prisoner X, in total isolation,” Haaretz newspaper quoted Shlomo Gazit as saying in an email.

“The affair ended a long time ago, happily without any leaks,” added the retired major general, who served between 1974 and 1979.

“But, even though decades have passed since then, publication of the story could still cause great damage even today,” he said.

He did not say if the person was now living or give any hint of his or her offence.

Interviewed Saturday evening on army radio Gazit did not explain why he was speaking now or comment on any similarity between that case and two more recent instances.

Israeli media reported the latest example on Thursday, saying that another inmate, also referred to as “Prisoner X” has been held in isolation for many years.

The prisoner, whose identity is a secret even to his guards, is locked in a high security cell with no windows in Ayalon prison near Tel Aviv, reports said, adding he is only allowed a brief walk alone in a courtyard surrounded by a wall.

Like Israeli-Australian spy Ben Zygier, who hanged himself in December 2010 in a neighbouring cell of the same prison, the latest “Prisoner X” is monitored by cameras 24 hours a day to prevent a possible suicide.

Gazit said the person held on his watch was the only one at the time imprisoned at the request of the military.

“It may be that another security service, the Mossad or the Shin Bet, had someone, I don’t know,” he told the radio.

Avigdor Feldman, a lawyer who visited Zygier just days before his death and who specialises in security cases, said the case against the latest prisoner was “worse than Ben Zygier’s case”.

The mysterious arrest and death of Zygier, an alleged Mossad spy, shocked Israel and Australia when news of it hit headlines in February.

He too was initially referred to as “Prisoner X” before the Australian media identified him as an agent for Israel’s shadowy Mossad spy service.

When Zygier’s story hit the headlines in February, Israel’s Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch insisted there were no more prisoners being held incognito.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

***********

Israel targeted Russian-made missiles in Syria, US officials say

Reports suggest Israel attacked anti-ship cruise missiles sent to Assad regime near the port of Latakia

Associated Press in Washington
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 14 July 2013 05.25 BST   

US officials say Israel targeted advanced anti-ship cruise missiles near Syria's principal port city, Latakia, in an air attack this month, the New York Times reported.

The officials say the attack on 5 July near Latakia targeted a type of Russian-made missile called the Yakhont that Russia had sold to the Syrian government, the paper's website reported. Russia is a key political ally and arms supplier of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's regime.

The officials provided no details on the strike, including the extent of the damage and how many missiles were used. The Times reported that the officials declined to be identified because they were discussing intelligence reports.

Israel maintains it is not involved in Syria's two-year-old civil war except to stop weapons transfers. The strike near Latakia was the fourth known air strike in Syria by Israel this year, the newspaper reported.

The attack came to light after Syrian rebels said they were not behind the explosions in Latakia on 5 July, according to the Times. Neither US nor Israeli officials have commented publicly on the report.

Reports surfaced earlier this year that Russia had delivered an advanced version of its Yakhont anti-ship cruise missile to Assad's regime even though Russia had said it was committed to peace talks. Those reports prompted the US to complain in May about an "ill-timed" step by Russia.

Such weapons would help to upgrade significantly Syria's capacity to target manned planes, drones and incoming missiles and would complicate efforts to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria if the US and other nations were to initiate one.


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« Reply #7506 on: Jul 14, 2013, 06:54 AM »

Saudi Arabia urges elderly to avoid hajj over MERS coronavirus fears

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, July 13, 2013 10:35 EDT

Saudi Arabia on Saturday urged elderly and chronically ill Muslims not to perform the hajj pilgrimage, to curb the spread of the MERS coronavirus which has killed 38 in the kingdom.

The health ministry issued a set of conditions for people wanting to perform the annual hajj, which this year falls in October, or the year-round omra or minor pilgrimage.

They recommend postponing the omra and hajj this year “for the elderly and those suffering chronic illnesses, like heart, kidney, respiratory diseases, and diabetes”.

People with immunity deficiency, as well as children and pregnant women, are also listed, according to a ministry statement posted on its website.

The statement did not set an age limit, and it was not clear if the recommendation implies that no visas will be issued for such pilgrims.

The ministry said that the conditions were part of “preventive measures special to the MERS coronavirus”.

The kingdom is battling to contain the spread of the SARS-like coronavirus, which has infected 65 people in Saudi Arabia and led to 38 fatalities.

Those figures represent the majority of people affected worldwide — 81 cases of infection and 45 deaths — according to the World Health Organisation.

The Saudi decision comes after the WHO convened emergency talks on MERS last week, with concerns expressed about its potential impact on the hajj when millions of Muslims head to and from Saudi Arabia.

Experts are struggling to understand MERS, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

The WHO has not recommended any MERS-related travel restrictions, but says countries should monitor unusual respiratory infection patterns.

The first recorded MERS death was in June last year in Saudi Arabia.

Like SARS, MERS appears to cause a lung infection, with patients suffering from fever, coughing and breathing difficulties.

But it differs in that it also causes rapid kidney failure.


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« Reply #7507 on: Jul 14, 2013, 06:56 AM »


Seven UN peacekeepers killed in Sudan ambush

Another 17 wounded in Darfur attack – the deadliest single assault on the international force in the country

Associated Press
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 13 July 2013 19.50 BST   

Gunmen ambushed a United Nations peacekeeping team on Saturday in Sudan's western region of Darfur, killing seven and wounding another 17 in the deadliest ever single attack on the international force in the country.

The assault included sustained heavy fire from machine guns and possibly rocket-propelled grenades, targeting the force some 15 miles west of the town of Khor Abeche, according to UN forces spokesman Chris Cycmanick. Reinforcements later arrived to rescue the wounded, including two female police advisers, the force said in a statement.

No group has claimed responsibility for the assault. Cycmanick declined to give the nationalities of those killed and wounded in the attack.

Peacekeepers have been targeted by assailants in the past in the region since the international force began its work there in 2008. In the last attack, gunmen shot dead a Nigerian peacekeeper in April in East Darfur state.

The joint African Union-UN peacekeeping force, dubbed Unamid, was established to protect civilians in Darfur, but also contributes to security for those providing humanitarian aid, verifying agreements, political reconciliation efforts and promoting human rights.

It has about 16,500 troops and military observers and over 5,000 international police. More than 300,000 people have been killed in the Darfur conflict since rebels took up arms against the Sudanese government nearly 10 years ago, accusing it of discrimination and neglect.

"The mission condemns in the strongest possible terms those responsible for this heinous attack on our peacekeepers," said Mohamed Ibn Chambas, a joint special representative of the force. "The perpetrators should be on notice that they will be pursued for this crime and gross violation of international humanitarian law."


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« Reply #7508 on: Jul 14, 2013, 06:58 AM »

Calm on streets as Egypt assembles a cabinet

Reuters
07/14/2013

By Peter Graff and Yasmine Saleh

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's interim prime minister was assembling his cabinet on Sunday to lead the country under an army-backed "road map" to restore civil rule, with peace having returned to the streets after the military removed President Mohamed Mursi.

Hazem el-Beblawi, a 76-year-old liberal economist appointed interim prime minister last week, is tapping technocrats and liberals for a government to run the country under a temporary constitution until parliamentary elections in about six months.

A former ambassador to the United States, Nabil Fahmy, accepted the post of foreign minister, a sign of the importance the government places in its relationship with the superpower that provides $1.3 billion a year in military aid.

Mohamed ElBaradei, a former senior U.N. diplomat, was sworn in as vice president, a job he was offered last week.

Government sources have told Reuters that el-Beblawi will offer the finance ministry to Hany Kadri, formerly the official who oversaw Egypt's negotiations for a rescue with the International Monetary Fund, which stalled under Mursi.

Notably, Kadri is a member of the Coptic Christian minority, 10 percent of the population, which complained of being marginalized under Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood. Mursi's cabinet had only one Christian, as minister of scientific research.

"It is so good that finally we are being recognized as Egyptian citizens and given better representation in the government," said Joseph Shukry, a 31-year-old Copt in Cairo.

"But we need to have better security around our churches, as there is no protection at all and we are so worried about Islamists' attacks on our holy places."

QUIET STREETS

Sunday marks a week without street violence after clashes between the army, Mursi supporters and opponents killed more than 90 people in the days after his overthrow.

Mursi, Egypt's first democratically elected president, has been held incommunicado at an undisclosed location since the army removed him from power after millions took to the streets to march against him.

The authorities have not charged him with a crime but said on Saturday they were investigating complaints against him over spying, inciting violence and wrecking the economy.

Charges of inciting violence have already been issued against many of the Brotherhood's top figures, although in most cases police have not followed through with arrests. The Brotherhood says the criminal charges are part of a crackdown against it and the authorities are to blame for the violence.

Thousands of Mursi's followers have maintained a vigil in a square near a northeast Cairo mosque vowing not to leave until he is restored, a hope that now seems in vain. Tens of thousands marched on Friday, but the demonstrations ended peacefully.

"We feel in the last few days there's more stability, more chance for an economic improvement because there hasn't been a lot of violence," said Ahmed Hilmi, 17, as he manned an open air stall selling juice for people to take home to break their Ramadan fasts.

"Those who are still protesting are a small minority, but as a nation I think we're doing better and will improve."

The Brotherhood has called for more marches on Monday. Mursi's opponents have also called for demonstrations, although their protests are attracting far fewer people now that they have achieved their aim of bringing him down.

Beblawi's challenge is setting up a government that will appear inclusive without Islamists. The Brotherhood has said it will have no dealings whatsoever with a regime it says was imposed after a "fascist coup".

The authorities have instead been courting another large Islamist group, the ultra-orthodox Nour party, sometime Mursi allies who broke with him and accepted the army takeover.

Nour says it is not seeking ministerial posts of its own but is backing technocrats and offering advice to Beblawi.

Beblawi himself was selected only after Nour vetoed other candidates for prime minister, including ElBaradei.

(Additional reporting by Noah Browning and Maggie Fick; Editing by Will Waterman)


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« Reply #7509 on: Jul 14, 2013, 07:01 AM »

July 13, 2013

Syria Weighs Its Tactics as Pillars of Its Economy Continue to Crumble

By ANNE BARNARD
IHT

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Even as the Syrian government makes some gains against the rebels on the battlefield, it is taking a rout on an equally important front: the economy.

Two years of war have quintupled unemployment, reduced the Syrian currency to one-sixth of its prewar value, cost the public sector $15 billion in losses and damage to public buildings, slashed personal savings, and shrunk the economy 35 percent, according to government and United Nations officials.

The pillars of Syria’s economy have crumbled as the war has destroyed factories, disrupted agriculture, vaporized tourism and slashed oil revenues, with America and Europe imposing sanctions and rebels taking over oil fields.

Increasingly isolated in the face of a growing economic crisis that has reduced foreign currency reserves to about $2 billion to $5 billion from $18 billion, a government that long prided itself on its low national debt and relative self-sufficiency has now been forced to rely on new credit lines from its main remaining allies — Iran, Russia and China — to buy food and fuel.

The government has a $1 billion credit line with Iran, and borrows $500 million a month to import oil products delivered on Russian ships, a government consultant, Mudar Barakat, said in a recent interview in Beirut. Some analysts believe the government will need even more aid from those countries to keep paying government workers and a growing roster of security forces.

Now, some officials hope to push through measures to tighten state control of the economy, rolling back some of the modest economic liberalization and support for private business that President Bashar al-Assad introduced early on, in a departure from his party’s socialist roots.

“We’re thinking of going back to the way it was in the 1980s, when the government was buying the main necessities of daily life,” Mr. Barakat said. “We, as a government, must cover the daily needs of the people, no matter how much the cost is, and keep the prices low.”

Syria’s economic problems, in Mr. Barakat’s view, are rooted in the loosening of state control by reformers favored early in Mr. Assad’s tenure, who he said “vandalized” the economy “into this liberalized sort of chaos.”

A faction that includes Kadri Jamil, a Russian-educated, socialist former professor who was appointed deputy prime minister in charge of the economy in a shake-up last year, hopes Syria can weather the storm by raising wages, tightening price controls on subsidized goods like bread, cracking down on black-market currency traders and even ceasing government trade in dollars and euros.

The government, Mr. Barakat said, now signs new foreign trade deals only in the currencies of friendly countries to insulate itself from what it sees as an economic conspiracy orchestrated by its international enemies.

But such measures — met with ridicule and even defiance by some Syrian businesspeople — will provide at best short-term relief, economists say.

Even the free-flowing aid from Iran and other allies inspires little confidence among Syrians, said an economist in Damascus who asked not to be identified publicly as criticizing government policies, because it shows the government “has no means and depends on others to save it.”

A Damascus businessman derided the new policy of doing business in Iranian, Russian and Chinese currencies.

“These countries themselves do business in dollars and euros,” he said, adding: “Syria today is not Syria in the 1980s. It is easy to keep the door closed, but it is hard to close it after it has been open 13 years and people are used to breathing the fresh air.”

This month, the government banned food exports and announced a crackdown on black-market money traders. The value of the Syrian pound plunged to 330 to the dollar, down from 47 before the war.

On Wednesday, amid a flurry of panicked dealing, the Central Bank tried and failed to strong-arm traders into selling the Syrian pound at a higher, preset price. Dealers said Central Bank officials had offered to guarantee a tiny profit if they would sell the pound at a rate of 250.

The traders refused, several said. The government, they said, lacks the power to impose its will, in part because a few wealthy businessmen influence the dollar rate and corrupt officials profit from the trade.

The next day, currency exchange shops in the Damascus districts of Hariqa and Marjah were bustling. Customers clamored to change their savings into foreign currency — Saudi riyals, Emirati dirhams, anything — and traders shouted into phones, asking of the dollar, “How much is the green?”

Ammar, 35, a trader who gave only his first name for safety purposes, said the week’s events showed the government had no clearer plan for the economic crisis than it did for the political or military ones. “The government doesn’t understand the main problem or doesn’t want to understand,” he said. “Syrians no longer trust the Syrian pound.”

Last week’s currency crash deepened a steady decline that has helped send prices soaring even for basic foodstuffs and reduced most Syrians’ buying power to a fraction of prewar levels, making it hard even for once-well-off families to afford meat and fish.

The economic crisis threatens one of the government’s most crucial selling points. Syrians have long been envied in neighboring countries — even by the Lebanese, with far more political freedom — for the nation’s social safety net and affordable goods.

On paper, Syria still provides free education and medical care and heavily subsidized fuel and food staples. But scores of hospitals have been destroyed or damaged, medical supplies are scarce, and bread and diesel sell for many times the official price.

Yet in a polarized country, it is unclear if economic troubles will turn more citizens against the government, which blames foreign-backed terrorists and profiteering merchants and bakers, who, Mr. Barakat said, “are playing a very dirty role.”

“You could decide that you don’t want to support the regime,” said Jihad Yazigi, the editor of Syria Report, a Beirut-based economic journal. “But you can also blame the situation on other factors, like the sanctions and the opposition.”

And economists said the inflation was likely to harm the population more than it hampers the war effort. The fall of the pound means it costs the government less to pay salaries.

The government recently raised government salaries by 40 percent. But in real terms that does not cover the loss in buying power. And at the same time, the Damascus economist noted, the government raised the official price of diesel, adding to the inflationary cycle.

The government still manages to pay salaries across the country — even communicating by fax and messenger with rebel groups to arrange  for them to rendezvous with trucks delivering cash, Mr. Barakat said. “The government employees come with the terrorists to pick them up,” he said.

The government has a harder time with subsidies, spending far more to make bread than it charges, Mr. Barakat said, while shops and bakeries take advantage of subsidized diesel and then sell bread at market prices. “Basically,” he said, “they are stealing the diesel.”

Residents and bakers in opposition areas say that the government favors loyalist areas with supplies and that they have to buy diesel on the black market.

Reporting was contributed by an employee of The New York Times from Damascus, Syria; Hala Droubi from Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Hania Mourtada and Hwaida Saad from Beirut; and Ben Hubbard from Cairo.

***********

Pakistan Taliban set up camps in Syria, join anti-Assad war

Reuters
07/14/2013

By Maria Golovnina and Jibran Ahmad

ISLAMABAD/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - The Pakistani Taliban have set up camps and sent hundreds of men to Syria to fight alongside rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad, militants said on Sunday, in a strategy aimed at cementing ties with al Qaeda's central leadership.

More than two years since the start of the anti-Assad rebellion, Syria has become a magnet for foreign Sunni fighters who have flocked to the Middle Eastern nation to join what they see as a holy war against Shi'ite oppressors.

Operating alongside militant groups such as the al Nusra Front, described by the United States as a branch of al Qaeda, they mainly come from nearby countries such as Libya and Tunisia riven by similar conflict as a result of the Arab Spring.

On Sunday, Taliban commanders in Pakistan said they had also decided to join the cause, saying hundreds of fighters had gone to Syria to fight alongside their "Mujahedeen friends".

"When our brothers needed our help, we sent hundreds of fighters along with our Arab friends," one senior commander told Reuters, adding that the group would soon issue videos of what he described as their victories in Syria.

The announcement further complicates the picture on the ground in Syria, where rivalries have already been on the boil between the Free Syrian Army and the Islamists.

Islamists operate a smaller, more effective force which now controls most of the rebel-held parts of northern Syria. Tensions erupted again on Thursday when an al-Qaeda linked militant group assassinated one of Free Syrian Army's top commanders after a dispute in the port city of Latakia.

It also comes at a time when Assad's forces, with backing from Shi'ite fighters from Hezbollah and Iran, have been making gains on the Syrian battlefield.

Another Taliban commander in Pakistan, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said the decision to send fighters to Syria came at the request of "Arab friends".

"Since our Arab brothers have come here for our support, we are bound to help them in their respective countries and that is what we did in Syria," he told Reuters.

"We have established our own camps in Syria. Some of our people go and then return after spending some time fighting there."

AL QAEDA LOYALTIES

Known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban operate mainly from Pakistan's insurgency-plagued ethnic Pashtun areas along the Afghan border - a long-standing stronghold for militants including the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies.

Taliban militants in Pakistan, who are linked to their Afghan counterparts, are mainly fighting to topple Pakistan's government and to impose their radical version of Islam, targeting the military, security forces and civilians.

But they also enjoy close ties with al Qaeda and other jihadist groups who have, in turn, deployed their own fighters to Pakistan's volatile tribal region on the Afghan border known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA.

In the latest sign of this trend, at least two suspected foreign militants were killed in a drone attack in North Waziristan, local security officials said.

Ahmed Rashid, a prominent Pakistani author and expert on the Taliban, said sending Taliban fighters to Syria was likely to be appreciated as an act of loyalty towards their al Qaeda allies.

"The Pakistani Taliban have remained a sort surrogate of al Qaeda. We've got all these foreigners up there in FATA who are being looked after or trained by the Pakistani Taliban," said Rashid, who is based in the Pakistani city of Lahore.

"They are acting like global jihadists, precisely with the agenda that al Qaeda has got. This is a way, I suppose, to cement relationships with the Syrian militant groups ... and to enlarge their sphere of influence."

(Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny in Beirut; Writing by Maria Golovnina in Islamabad; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)


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« Reply #7510 on: Jul 14, 2013, 07:05 AM »


Insight: Nigeria Islamists hit schools to destroy Western ideas

Reuters
July14, 2013

By Isaac Abrak

MAMUDO, Nigeria (Reuters) - They crept up to the school under cover of darkness, armed with petrol and automatic weapons.

Most of the teachers and pupils had fled, but some students, one teacher and headmaster Adanu Haruna were still in the compound, one of many rural boarding schools in Nigeria surrounded by forest and farmland.

"They made the students line up and strip naked, then they made the ones with pubic hair lie face down on the ground," Haruna said, eyes wide with horror at describing the attack on the iron-roofed school built by British colonizers in the 1950s.

"They shot them point blank then set the bodies on fire."

The Mamudo government school, charred and smelling of scorched blood after 22 students and a teacher were killed there in the July 6 attack near Potiskum in Nigeria's northeast, was the fourth to be targeted by suspected Boko Haram militants in less than a month.

The attacks reveal much about the rebels who are fighting to revive a medieval Islamic caliphate in northern Nigeria, the type of state they are seeking to establish and the impact of their efforts to do so on the African economic powerhouse.

In a video uploaded to the Internet on Saturday, Boko Haram's purported leader Abubakar Shekau denied ordering the latest killings, saying Boko Haram does not itself kill small children, but he praised attacks on Western schools.

"We fully support the attack on school in Mamudo, as well as on other schools," he said. "Western education schools are against Islam ... We will kill their teachers."

Boko Haram, a nickname which translates roughly as "Western education is sinful", formed around a decade ago as a clerical movement opposed to Western influence, which the sect's founder, Mohammed Yusuf, said was poisoning young minds against Islam.

Yet security forces and politicians were the main targets of the armed revolt it started after Yusuf's killing in a 2009 military crackdown that left 800 people dead.

Since those days Boko Haram has splintered into several factions, including some with ties to al Qaeda's Saharan wing, which analysts say operate more or less independently, despite Shekau's loose claim to authority over them.

Before June, there had been only a handful of attacks on the Western-style schools it so despises.

An offensive against the insurgents since President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in three remote northern states in May, wresting control of the far northeast from Boko Haram and pushing its fighters into hiding, has changed that.

Across northeastern Nigeria, schools are emptying out, threatening further radicalization and economic decline in a region left behind by the country's oil-rich Christian south.

Nassir Salaudeen, a teacher whose son was killed in a strike on Damaturu government school on June 16, the first of the wave of recent attacks, said he had put all his efforts into his boy's education in the hope he would get a good job.

"They killed him in cold blood, just because he was a student and his father a teacher," a tearful Salaudeen said. "I regret ever being educated."

"SOFT TARGETS"

For some, the school attacks are a sign the offensive has weakened the Islamist group, which is still seen as the main security threat to Africa's leading oil and gas producer.

"Given the security clampdown, many of the places like police stations or the military are getting harder for Boko Haram to hit," said Kole Shettima, chairman of the Centre for Democracy and Development. "Schools are soft targets."

But the attacks also reflect a radical ideology that resents modernity and yearns to wind back the clock to an era before West African lands were conquered by Europeans.

Centuries ago northern Nigeria, like much of West Africa, was ruled by Islamic empires feeding off trans-Saharan trade routes connecting Africa's forested interior with its Mediterranean coast.

Boko Haram rarely gives statements to the media. But the little it has said suggests it wants to restore those glory days.

Last year, the sect said it wanted to revive the 19th century caliphate of Usman Dan Fodio, an Islamic scholar who threw off corrupt Hausa kings and established strict Sharia law.

When Britain established Nigeria as a territory, it agreed to spare the largely Muslim north's leaders the activities of missionaries, who brought Christianity but also education and literacy that gave the south a head start over the north.

The north was able to retain its Islamic culture but at the cost of suffering economically; political and economic power has shifted to the south and the education gap has played a role in that growing discrepancy.

A lack of education and high youth unemployment has also helped Boko Haram's Islamist ideology to thrive.

"Boko Haram think the secular school system has brainwashed Nigerians to accept the post-colonial Western order and forget the Islamic ways that existed before," said Jacob Zenn, an expert on the sect at the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation.

The attacks, which the U.N. children's fund (UNICEF) says have killed 48 students and seven teachers in the past month, aim to scare parents and their kids away from schools.

"It says: 'either take your children out of school or put them into an Islamist school we approve of'," Zenn said, one that teaches only in Arabic and omits courses like science.

He added that such schools need not necessarily be Boko Haram sponsored: there are conservative Islamic schools for children where they study under an Imam and the curriculum is all in Arabic and focused on the Koran. The sect accepts them.

"SCHOOLS DESERTED"

Many people are turning away from education altogether.

"The risk isn't worth it. These guys are just mindless," said Mike Ojo, a mechanic in the northeastern city of Maiduguri who is taking his three children out of school.

Even if they stayed, many teachers have left, said teacher Ali Umar from a Maiduguri secondary school, and in many schools there are often too few teachers for the pupils who stay put, leaving them with little choice but to leave.

"I am not prepared to die for teaching. Time to start looking for a new job," he said, shrugging. "Most of our schools are deserted anyway."

The spot where Halima Musa's husband was shot dead at their home on June 16 -- in front of her and the children -- is still caked with his dried blood, the wall pocked with bullet holes.

They came at 3 a.m., guns blazing, demanding she open the door. She begged them to stop as they dragged the teacher out.

"They shot him three times in the head and told me that this should be a lesson not to marry a western educated person or any person that works for President Jonathan," she said, choking back tears in front of three traumatized children.

Yobe state education commissioner Mohammed Lamin complained that the military had not done enough to protect schools from attack, even after they were targeted.

Before the murderous assault on the Maumdo school, there had been an earlier attack on May 8, in which some property was burnt. Headmaster Haruna said the security forces he called for help patrolled initially but stopped after a week.

The military was not immediately available to comment, but it has said in the past it is doing all possible to protect civilians while crushing the insurgents in its offensive.

Schools are a devastating target for an impoverished region suffering a high rate of illiteracy, but Lamin says he is determined that Yobe's children get educated.

"These terrorists are trying to stop western education but we cannot allow them do that," he said. "We must do everything to ensure children are safe in the school."

(Writing and additional reporting by Tim Cocks in Abuja; editing by Philippa Fletcher)


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« Reply #7511 on: Jul 14, 2013, 07:07 AM »


Kuwait court rejects election challenge, confirms July 27 vote

Reuters
July14, 2013

KUWAIT (Reuters) - A Kuwaiti administrative court threw out on Sunday legal challenges to a parliamentary election set for July 27, a judicial source and an elections candidate said, effectively paving the way for the vote to proceed on time.

Almost constant factional infighting over the past seven years has prompted repeated elections, stalled infrastructure development and held up economic reforms in Kuwait, an important Gulf Arab oil producer and U.S. ally.

A legal source said the Kuwait Administrative Court ruled it had no jurisdiction to look into three legal challenges by Kuwaiti citizens to the vote.

One case related to a request to incorporate a residential area into one of the five electoral districts, while another pertained to whether the government had lost its legitimacy and thus its eligibility to call for new elections after a court ordered the dissolution of the previous parliament.

"The ruling today confirms the lack of jurisdiction as this is a matter between two branches of the state, and thus the elections will take place on time on July 27," said Wasmi al-Wasmi, a political activist and election candidate.

On June 16 opposition supporters lost a legal fight to undo changes to the voting system they said favor pro-government candidates - a dispute which aggravated political tensions.

The Constitutional Court however found fault in the process leading up to the last elections in December and ordered a new ballot for the 50-member assembly.

The date falls during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Kuwait's parliament gives its people greater say than in other tightly-controlled Gulf Arab monarchies, although the ruling emir still has the final word in state matters and members of his Al-Sabah family occupy top posts.

Opposition politicians boycotted the last election in December in protest at changes to the voting system decreed by Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah six weeks beforehand.

Sheikh Sabah's move to change the voting system last year touched off some of the largest protests in Kuwaiti history and the December poll had the lowest voter turnout since the first election held in 1963.

Prominent Islamist and populist opposition politicians have said they will not stand in any future election under the one-vote system but some liberals and Salafi Islamists have said they will compete, splitting the opposition.

(Reporting by Sami Aboudi, editing by Mark Heinrich)


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« Reply #7512 on: Jul 14, 2013, 07:09 AM »

July 13, 2013

Brazilian President’s Attempts to Placate Protesters Backfire

By LARRY ROHTER
IHT

RIO DE JANEIRO — First she wanted to convoke a constitutional assembly, then she favored holding a plebiscite. Her government has promised more money for education and health care, to be paid for from oil royalties that do not yet exist. Her advisers have floated ideas like reducing the number of cabinet ministers from the current ungainly 39 and making it easier for the public to introduce legislation by petition.

President Dilma Rousseff has tried to defuse the protests that have rocked the streets of Brazil by seemingly granting the demonstrators what they want. But nearly every step she has taken has backfired, increasing public dissatisfaction with her performance.

A month after demonstrations erupted over official corruption, overspending on the construction of stadiums and infrastructure for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics, police brutality, and a host other issues, a whiff of desperation hangs over her government.

“We have a political leadership, in both Dilma and in the Congress, that, because it doesn’t have a clear understanding of what is happening, is answering with mere gestures,” said Cristovam Buarque, a senator and former education minister. “Whether it’s oil royalties or plebiscites, the agenda these days is nothing but marketing, marketing, marketing, pure marketing.”

One of the main demands of the protesters, whose demonstrations have subsided but who remain a feared and potent political force, has been for a “World Cup level” of health care and education. In an effort to respond, Ms. Rousseff announced last week a new incentive-laden program that aims to send, beginning in September, thousands of doctors to urban slums and remote areas like the Amazon that lack adequate medical services.

But it turns out that the government intends to look abroad, to countries like Portugal, Spain and perhaps Cuba, to fill many of those slots, a decision that immediately antagonized Brazilian doctors, who are underpaid and overworked in comparison with many of their peers in other countries. Brazilian medical associations have threatened to go to court to halt the initiative, describing it as an irresponsible media ploy, and they have also begun talking about a doctors’ strike.

“I insist on starting by correcting one concept,” Ms. Rousseff said, clearly on the defensive, when she announced the effort on Monday. “The ‘More Doctors’ program does not have bringing doctors from abroad as its main objective, but instead bringing health services to the Brazilian interior.”

Then, on Wednesday, Ms. Rousseff went to a conference in Brasília attended by many of the country’s 5,570 mayors where she announced that $1.3 billion would be made available to them for health care through a special government fund. But the mayors had been expecting a package twice that size, so they booed — and that reception, rather than her initiative, became the big story.

“If she was only going to give them half of what they wanted, she should have gone on the radio to announce it and spared herself the embarrassment” of being slighted in such a public setting, said Bolívar Lamounier, a political analyst in São Paulo. “What we’re seeing now was obvious during the campaign: she’s got no game, she doesn’t know how to maneuver.”

Ms. Rousseff does appear to be paying the price for her lack of political experience and skills. An economist by training, she had never held elected public office, serving only in state and federal cabinet posts before Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, her predecessor, chose her as the Workers Party standard-bearer in the 2010 election. Aided by his popularity, she won handily.

At the peak of the protests last month, Ms. Rousseff made a point of turning to Mr. da Silva, a master of political maneuvering, for advice. But instead of having him fly to Brasília to confer with her, or talking quietly by telephone, she went to meet him on his home turf in São Paulo, leaving the impression among many Brazilians that she was not in charge and he was still pulling the strings.

When they spoke again, he went to Brasília. But unhappiness within the Workers Party, including among members of Congress worried about their own survival in next year’s elections, has fueled speculation in the news media and discussion in the party about Mr. da Silva possibly returning as the party’s candidate if Ms. Rousseff’s downward spiral continued.

“She’s a good head of government and a good administrator, but now she also has to assume the role of leader, and that’s the difficult part,” said Jorge Viana, a senator who is a member of the Workers Party and a supporter of the president. “That’s where we’ve felt the absence of Lula, because Lula is a great leader, with fantastic instincts and a sensitivity for dialogue.”

Ms. Rousseff has had no better luck dealing with the clamor for a political housecleaning than she has had with social demands. In response to public disgust with a political system seen as corrupt and unresponsive — an opinion shared by 81 percent of respondents in a poll published late last month by Datafolha, a leading Brazilian research company — she has offered one ill-fated proposal after another.

After her original idea of a constitutional assembly met with immediate resistance, for example, Ms. Rousseff embraced the idea of a plebiscite. But Congress voted down that proposal last week, in part because of concerns that it would be unconstitutional in the form her government was offering it.

Now Ms. Rousseff and her staff are pushing for legislators to pass a hastily assembled political overhaul package, one version or another of which has been languishing in Congress since the mid-1990s. But the opposition, the news media and the public seem suspicious of the initiative, which is seen by some critics as an attempt by the Workers Party to create conditions that would allow it to remain in power permanently.

“Everything is improvised, without adequate preparation, and not just the constitutional assembly idea, which was based on a foolish supposition,” said Fernando Limongi, a researcher at the Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning and a professor of political science at the University of São Paulo.

“In a situation like this, the only thing you can do is try to take the initiative and define the agenda,” he said. “But what’s worrisome here is that there doesn’t seem to be an agenda, only ad-libbing.”

The popular discontent, which is also directed at opposition parties and their leaders, clearly caught Ms. Rousseff and her advisers off-guard, as it did nearly everyone else. After a decade in which millions of Brazilians rose from poverty into the middle class, college enrollments doubled, employment and wages grew spectacularly, and social inequality diminished, they expected the beneficiaries of those changes to be grateful.

“The government has been living in a certain isolation, a kind of comfort zone after 10 years, because everything seemed to be going so well,” Mr. Viana said. “We were flying on cruise control, ‘Everything is fine, Captain,’ and now we’ve run into this big turbulence.”


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« Reply #7513 on: Jul 14, 2013, 07:13 AM »


The quest is to clone a mammoth. The question is: should we do it?

After the dramatic display of a frozen carcass in Japan, the ethics of reviving an extinct species are under intense scrutiny

Robin McKie   
The Observer, Sunday 14 July 2013   

The idea would make headlines around the world and bring tears of joy to the planet's journalists. An adorable baby woolly mammoth, tottering on its newborn legs, is introduced to the media. Cloned from a few cells scraped from the permafrost of Siberia, the little creature provides the latest proof of the might of modern science and demonstrates the fact that extinction has at long last lost its sting.

It is a fascinating prospect, one that was raised again last week when the most recently discovered carcass of a mammoth was revealed to the public in Yokohama, Japan.

The female, thought to have been around 50 when she died, had lain frozen in the ground for tens of thousands of years. Yet she still had hair, muscle tissue, and possibly blood. Samples have now been sent to South Korea, where scientists say they are planning to use them to clone a mammoth, though the proposal is considered to be highly controversial.

"The hunt for mammoth corpses has been transformed in recent years," said Professor Adrian Lister, of the Natural History Museum, London, and one of the advisers for the museum's current "Extinction" exhibition. "We have found as many mammoths in the past five years as we did in the previous 50, partly because global warming is melting the Siberian permafrost and is revealing more and more bodies and partly because local people realise it is a lucrative business. Mammoth ivory is viewed as a legal and ethically acceptable alternative to elephant tusks.

"The only trouble is that every time a new well-preserved mammoth is found, people also repeat the claim that we will soon be able to clone them, and I very much doubt that we will."

Mammoths ranged from the British Isles to eastern Asia and northern America until they disappeared around 10,000 years ago, though one small population was recently found to have survived to around 4,000 years ago on the Russian island of Wrangel.

Hunting by cavemen or climate change, or a combination of the two, are generally blamed for their demise.

Now some scientists are talking openly of bringing them back to life. Yokohama mammoth samples have been sent to the private laboratory of the disgraced South Korean cloning expert Hwang Woo-suk, who is co-operating with Russian scientists with the specific aim of recreating mammoths. Similarly, Semyon Grigoriev, who led the team that excavated the mammoth, has speculated that fluid found near the creature may be blood that contains intact cells which could be used to bring about their resurrection. "This find gives us a really good chance of finding living cells, which can help us implement this project to clone a mammoth," said Grigoriev.

The idea gathers little support from scientists such as Lister, however. "I very much doubt if the idea of cloning a mammoth is feasible," he said, a point that was backed by the molecular biologist Professor Michael Hofreiter, of York University.

"There are two ways that you could try to clone a mammoth," said Hofreiter. "The first is straightforward. You could simply look through the bodies we dig up in the Arctic to see if we could find one that had a cell that still contained a nucleus with a complete, viable genome in it.

"Then, employing the cloning techniques that were used to create Dolly the Sheep, we could put that nucleus inside an elephant embryo and then implant it into a female elephant, who would later give birth to a mammoth.

"The problem is that these creatures died many thousand years ago, when their DNA would have started to degrade, so the chances of finding an entire viable mammoth genome are essentially zero," he said.

There is another approach, however. Scientists could use the scraps of DNA they do find in preserved bodies to build up a map of a mammoth's genome. "Then you would use the same techniques that are employed in creating transgenic mice to make stretches of DNA – using your map as a guide – that you would then put into the embryo of an Asian elephant embryo which is the closest living relative of a mammoth," said Hofreiter.

"Bit by bit, you would continue with this process with separate pieces of mammoth DNA until you had completely replaced the DNA in your elephant embryo with mammoth DNA. You would now have an embryo with a mammoth genome it. This would then be placed in a female elephant in whom the embryo would develop to birth."

There are many difficulties with this approach, however. "A key point to remember is that elephants and mammoths each have about 4 billion DNA bases in their genomes," said Hofreiter. "However, the maximum size of the DNA section you can add is about 1 million bases. So you would have to repeat the process sequentially 4,000 times – without mishap – to create your mammoth embryo. The chances of that happening are also essentially zero." On top of these problems there is the simple issue of differences in proteins that exist between the Asian elephant that would be used as a surrogate mother and the mammoth embryo you have created. "It is quite possible that these differences would be big enough to make the embryo incompatible with the elephant. It is a further factor to suggest that mammoth cloning is not going to happen for a very long time indeed."

For good measure, there are other concerns that make the idea of cloning animals such as the mammoth controversial, added Lister.

In particular, there is the question of the ethics involved. "Mammoths were very similar to elephants, we believe," he said. "In other words, they were highly social, intelligent creatures. What right have we got to recreate one or two and then keep them in solitary confinement at zoos or research facilities? I have problems with those who think this is not a real issue."

Several other concerns also trouble scientists. Species are now being wiped off the planet at a staggering rate. The WWF has suggested a figure of around 10,000 species a year, for example, though these figures are disputed by other scientists.

The crucial point is that resources are desperately needed to help slow down the rate at which animals and plants are being rendered extinct. As a result, the idea of investing large amounts of money on reviving special interest species while the natural world is dwindling as the climate changes and human populations soar is leaving many scientists uncomfortable.

"We shouldn't be piling our cash into projects that could resurrect an already extinct large mammal," said Lister. "We should be trying to help those who are now hovering at the edge of extinction today. That would be the best way to invest our money in conservation."

Extinction: Not the End of the World? runs at the Natural History Museum London until 8 September.
ON THE REVIVAL LIST

Other creatures being studied by scientists as possible candidates for cloning include:

Southern gastric-brooding frog

An amphibian, found in Queensland, Australia, that is remarkable for incubating its young in the mothers' stomachs. The species interested doctors because it stops making acid in its stomach during incubation and so could help develop ulcer treatments. However, they were thwarted when the frog became extinct in the 1980s. Now researchers at the University of New South Wales are attempting to clone the frog from old tissue samples.

Passenger pigeon

Vast flocks of passenger pigeons once darkened the skies of North America until the bird was hunted to extinction by the early 20th century. Now American scientists want to bring back the bird their countrymen blasted out of the skies so recently. They are sequencing the bird's genome from museum specimens with the aim of using band-tailed pigeons as surrogate mothers.

The Baiji River dolphin

It was declared extinct in 2006, the first cetacean to become extinct in modern times. Its recent demise offers scientists one advantage: its DNA can still be easily extracted from remains. Efforts to retrieve and store it have now begun. However, the Yangtze River system, the dolphin's home, remains heavily polluted.


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« Reply #7514 on: Jul 14, 2013, 07:37 AM »

In the USA...


Texas: Misogynist state? 'Texas thinks of women as second-class citizens – if it thinks we're citizens at all'

Some Democrats see the abortion row played out in Austin's statehouse as a turning point for Texas liberals. But with the bill now passed by the senate, others warn that life will get even harder

Tom Dart, Austin
The Observer, Saturday 13 July 2013 15.43 BST   

Clad in orange or blue as they wait outside the entrance, the long line of punters might be queueing for a sporting event or a concert.

But the 100,000-capacity Longhorns football stadium is a mile away and the nightlife of Sixth Street a few blocks to the south. This is the Texas Capitol in Austin, where a seat in the public gallery of the senate chamber has become the hottest ticket in town thanks to a series of fierce abortion debates that have seized the nation's attention.

The statehouse steps were filling up again on Friday morning, hours before the Senate's 2pm start, as activists set up stalls. "I've been queueing every day and not been getting in, going to the overspill room like a lot of people," says Tara Bhattacharya. "Two-and-a-half weeks ago no one knew who the politicians were, and now they're looked at like they're rock stars."

The 33-year-old does not have health insurance and says she cannot afford to get ill, let alone bear the costs of a complicated pregnancy, in a state that offers minimal help and has just passed some of America's most restrictive abortion laws, banning terminations after 20 weeks and imposing other restrictions and requirements for providers.

"Women are second-class citizens in Texas, if we're even considered citizens at all," says Vicki Bishop as she waits in brutal heat to pass through the airport-style security. "I have been an apathetic voter for years – until now."

People such as Vicki are the foot-soldiers in a battle that is either a "war on women" or a "war on babies", depending on whether you are one of the orange-clad pro-choice activists or among the anti-abortion crowd, who wear blue. Two speeches inside this vast building turned two women into liberal heroines in an often anti-liberal state. One spoke for 11 hours, another for two minutes.

Like hundreds of others, Sarah Slamen applied to testify last week in front of a senate committee. She did not waste her chance, launching an articulate tirade that quickly went viral on the web. "I'm tired of Republican primary politics, misogyny and greed dominating the state I was born, raised and schooled in," she began.

"It was destiny that you would discriminate against us to try to force your way inside the bodies of Texas women. Thank you for finally working against us women so publicly and not in the shadows like you're used to … thank you for being you, Texas legislature. You have radicalised hundreds of thousands of us … women and their allies are coming for you."

When she started a systematic critique of the politicians sat before her, the 28-year-old was dragged out of the room by a posse of state troopers shortly before her time was up. Not that she missed a beat: "This is my government, ma'am. I will judge you."

Slamen's eloquent fury was a sequel of sorts to the marathon efforts of Wendy Davis. On 25 June the 50-year-old state senator from Fort Worth embarked on a filibuster to frustrate the passage of the proposed legislation.

Critics charge that the bill would necessitate expensive, impractical and unnecessary upgrades that would spell the closure of all but five of the state's 42 abortion clinics, forcing women in rural areas to travel hundreds of miles. Proponents claim they want to make the process safer; their opponents argue the reverse will be true as women will seek backstreet abortions and be denied many health services.

Davis stood and spoke for nearly 11 hours without so much as a bathroom break. The drama was live-streamed online and Davis became an overnight Democratic darling. But triumph was fleeting. Rick Perry, the Texas governor, called a 30-day special session to give the bill another chance. This time it zipped over the hurdles and was approved by the Senate late on Friday night, though it will now be challenged in the federal courts, potentially delaying its implementation for years.

Since Davis's stand, rallies have taken place in Austin on an almost daily basis, with slogans on T-shirts and placards declaring "Keep your rosaries off my ovaries" and "Rick Perry: soft on guns and tough on vaginas". An orange bus branded "Stand With Texas Women" has just finished a tour of the state's major cities. Publicity-seeking celebrities have arrived, from former Republican presidential wannabe Rick Santorum to the actor Lisa Edelstein, best known as Hugh Laurie's chief love interest in House.

Austin is the most leftwing and unconventional city in Texas, yet the statehouse is crammed with some of America's most hardline conservatives. On Monday, Perry revealed that he would not seek re-election next year, prompting speculation that he will mount a fresh bid for the US presidency in 2016. Flanked by bulldozers at a Caterpillar dealership owned by one of his backers, the 63-year-old preached that Texas's impressive economic growth during his unprecedented 12-plus years as governor is thanks to hands-off government.

Critics object that Perry is overseeing the ultimate governmental intrusion: the state dictating what a woman can and cannot do with her body. In 2010, Texas had the fourth-highest teenage pregnancy rate in the US and the highest level of "repeat teen births". But in 2011 the state drastically cut funds for family planning and introduced a law designed to persuade women not to have abortions by forcing them to undergo sonograms and listen to a description of the foetus.

The governor appears to hold a genuine religious conviction that abortion is morally wrong, but in Texas politics a stance usually has a subtext. "It's hardly about everyone being able to go to bed and know they're going to heaven. It's about a lot of political and financial interests," Slamen says, pointing out that Perry's sister is on the board of an advocacy association for Texas outpatient surgery centres, which would play a central role in future abortion provision in the state.

In his 2010 book, Fed Up!, Perry wrote: "If you don't support the death penalty and citizens packing a pistol, don't come to Texas." After last December's school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, Perry and Greg Abbott, the state's attorney general, tried to lure gun owners and manufacturers to the Lone Star State with the promise of a more supportive environment. Abbott posted an advertisement on his Facebook page in March with a picture of a gun and a Bible and the words: "Two things every American should know how to use … Neither of which are taught in schools."

Slamen lives in Houston, a booming oil and gas industry hub which one recent study named the most diverse metropolitan area in the US. Houston's mayor, Annise Parker, is an openly lesbian Democrat. But Slamen is frustrated that Texas is "looking really regressive and oppressive" to "the people who only know us through TV and cowboy hats, and it probably all looks like a western".

Democrats believe that the last few weeks mark a turning point, but Slamen is sceptical about the party's prospects. In fact, she thinks it might become even tougher for the left: "It's a long process, and right now I don't think we're in resolution, we're in the agitation process.

"Their kneejerk reaction is to dismiss me and assume that it's going to melt away. They are a 20th-century legislature dealing with 21st-century conditions. So I think they're going to snap back and get more repressive and make it a lot harder for people."

Slamen may be getting the hell out of Dodge. She is contemplating a move to New York City, her partner's home town. The couple have decided they "just couldn't bear to live here any more" and with the lack of low-cost healthcare. A Gallup poll found that last year nearly 29% of Texans had no health insurance, by far the highest percentage in the US. But Perry refused to accept an estimated $100bn over 10 years in federal handouts to expand Medicaid, the government healthcare programme for the poor, calling it an unworkable system.

"We cannot afford to get pregnant here," Slamen says. "I'm a person, I can't be some agenda all the time." If she does go, she will be a loss to her fellow activists. These are hard times for the beleaguered liberals of Texas.

***********

Tea party Republicans flocking to appear Monday at white nationalist-connected march

By David Ferguson
RawStory
Friday, July 12, 2013 14:09 EDT

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Iowa Rep. Steve King, former Rep. Allen West and Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions are all planning to appear at an anti-immigration reform rally held by a group with close connections to the white nationalist movement. According to Right Wing Watch, the Black American Leadership Association (BALA) is not the grass-roots organization it purports to be, but rather a longstanding cabal of anti-immigration activists who have “deep connections” to white nationalist John Tanton, a man the Southern Poverty Law Center calls “the racist architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement.”

The march, called the “D.C. March for Jobs,” with its “Just say ‘No’ to Amnesty” theme is slated for Monday and is expected to draw a heavily tea party-affiliated, far-right crowd. Michelle Cottle at the Daily Beast wrote Friday that BALA is believed to be “the latest in a series of minority front groups providing anti-immigration extremists cover from charges of racism.”

Tea party leaders, wrote Cottle, have been “downright giddy” about having a group of activists of color on hand to point to when critics call out the recent anti-immigration reform putsch by conservatives as a display of racial animus.

BALA founder Leah Durant claims that the group’s mission is to protect the economic viability of African-Americans in the U.S. by stemming the tide of undocumented workers it believes are streaming into the country, thereby preventing the widespread black unemployment they say would result from the “devastating effects of amnesty and mass immigration.”

In a June open letter to the Senate Gang of Eight, BALA “implor[ed] each Member to fulfill his or her duty to the millions of Americans struggling to find work” by killing the Senate bill and taking measures to reduce immigration.

Durant has found herself inundated with media attention from right-leaning outlets, including invitations to appear with Bill O’Reilly, Laura Ingraham, Mike Huckabee and others. BALA’s efforts to kill immigration reform have been trumpeted by the Daily Caller and the National Review.

Cottle wrote that while BALA’s existence only dates to the publication of its Facebook page in mid-May, at least a dozen of its members are long-time anti-immigration activists have have spent decades pushing the message that immigration will be economically devastating to the black community. Under different names over the years, including the African American Leadership Council, Choose Black America and the Coalition for the Future American Worker, this group of activists have been pushing policy agendas that Cottle called “misleading, dangerously divisive, and sadly predictable.”

Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Human and Civil Rights, told Cottle, “We’ve seen this before. This is the same page pulled from an over-20-year-old playbook.”

Several BALA leaders — Durant, Frank Morris, the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, and T. Willard Fair — have worked for, lobbied with or supported the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a notoriously anti-Latino, pro-eugenics organization that the SPLC classifies as a hate group. FAIR was founded by John Tanton, who, in the late 1980s, was outed as a racist when portions of his private correspondence were made public — letters and memos in which he railed against the “Latin onslaught” and said that society was doomed without a “a European-American majority — and a clear one at that.”

Aaron Flanagan of the Center for New Community told Cottle that BALA’s newfound utility to the anti-immigration right is “blatant tokenism.” He said, “And tokenism is not a word I use lightly.”

Henderson expressed disappointment. “It’s troubling when opportunists use the economic challenges of the African-American community as cover for ideological and political extremism to align themselves with groups like FAIR, which had their own genesis in the eugenics movement.”

Joining the Republican Party politicians at Monday’s march will be fiery fundamentalist Christian pastor O’Neal Dozier, who was Florida state director of Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA)’s presidential campaign in 2012. Dozier declared that former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA)’s Mormonism made him a threat to the country and that it would “taint the Republican Party” to choose Romney as its nominee.

Dozier is also known for his extreme anti-LGBT and anti-Muslim statements, including the belief that homosexuality is the “paramount of sins” and that same sex partnerships are “something so nasty and disgusting that it makes God want to vomit.” He has publicly stated that Islam “has a plan, a 20-year plan, to take over America from within.”

Mother Jones reported that a charity Dozier supported and lobbied for with local Republican politicians swindled Haitian immigrants out of $3 million by charging them for U.S. work permits and other papers that they never received.

***********

House Republicans Serve Up A Hostage Menu To President Obama

By: Crissie Brown
Jul. 13th, 2013
PoliticusUSA

House Republicans decided to write their latest debt ceiling demands on the back of a Chinese takeout menu. Their fortune cookie says “You will regret this.”

Rather than their usual cut-and-paste from magazines ransom note, House Republicans have come up with a menu of demands in exchange for extending the debt ceiling:

    For a long-term deal, one that gives Treasury borrowing authority for three and a half years, Obama would have to agree to premium support. The plan to privatize Medicare, perhaps the most controversial aspect of the Ryan budget, is the holy grail for conservatives who say major deficit-reduction can only be achieved by making this type of cut to mandatory spending. “If the president wants to go big, there’s a big idea,” said [Louisiana Rep. Steve] Scalise.

    For a medium-sized increase in the debt limit, Republicans want Obama to agree to cut spending in the SNAP food-stamp program, block-grant Medicaid, or tinker with chained CPI.

    For a smaller increase, there is talk of means-testing Social Security, for example, or ending certain agricultural subsidies.

Just to be clear, because Republicans make this more tangled than a bowl of lo mein, the debt ceiling is about paying for spending that Congress has already authorized, and Section 4 of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits Congress from challenging the legitimacy of that debt.

But Republicans love trying to get something by threatening to do nothing, so they found a takeout menu under a desk and went to work. I guess they figure giving him a menu will make it easier to blame President Obama for their plan to slash the social safety net. It’s like terrorists giving the hostage negotiator a choice of which hostage to shoot … then blaming the negotiator for the murder because “He chose the victim!”

As Mother Jones‘ Kevin Drum writes:

    The tea partiers have painted themselves into a corner. The economy is slowly recovering, and the deficit is falling, but they’ve promised ever more hostage taking anyway, and now they have to follow through. But their proposals combine arrogance and amateur-hour theatrics in a way that practically guarantees failure. They sound like a bunch of eight-year-olds who think they’ve come up with an oh-so-clever way to trap dad into raising their allowance or something. But Obama isn’t running for reelection anymore. All he has to do this time around is say no, and stick to it. If Republicans decide to flush the economy down the toilet in a fit of pique anyway, then maybe it really is platinum coin time.

And back in January, President Obama vowed he won’t negotiate on the debt ceiling:

    [Republicans] will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy. The financial well-being of the American people is not leverage to be used. The full faith and credit of the United States of America is not a bargaining chip.

I think President Obama will hold his position on this. I’d like to say House Republicans will open their fortune cookie, see “You will regret this,” and abandon their threat. But there are no I Ching manuals to predict House Republicans.

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

Charles Koch Launches Campaign to Eliminate the Minimum Wage

By: Rmuse
Jul. 13th, 2013
PoliticusUSA

The majority of Americans are fortunate to never know what it means to be destitute, or exist in a condition where they lack enough money to afford basic human needs such as food, clothing, shelter, or health care, but there are forces in this country intent on creating an entire population living in poverty. Over the past thirty years, Republicans and their libertarian funders used a variety of means to create an economic environment conducive to the wealthy increasing their fortunes, and they couched their plutocratic machinations with promises that if the people gave more to the rich, their largesse would be rewarded with a return on their investment down the road that did nothing but crash the economy and create more wealth for the richest one-percent of income earners. Over the past four years, Republicans and their corporate masters changed tactics and promised the people that cutting the nation’s debt and deficit through austerity was the key to creating a vibrant economy, full employment, and a thriving middle class, and through it all the number of Americans slipping into poverty increased with no sign of letting up in the near or foreseeable future. Now, Republicans have abandoned any pretense of helping Americans improve their economic fortunes, and with unflagging support of their wealthy support mechanism are on a tear to create the nation of peasants America is destined to become.

Over the past week, Republicans who know there are over 47-million Americans living in poverty and dependent of the Agriculture Department’s SNAP (food stamp) program passed a farm bill providing $195 billion in subsidies to agricultural corporations and eliminating food stamp and nutritional programs they considered extraneous, or irrelevant. Half of those affected are children, and over 10% are senior citizens living in poverty. It was not even an assault on minorities because more white Americans receive food stamps than African Americans or Hispanics proving that the GOP’s goal is withholding food from all Americans living in poverty and they have enlisted a powerful ally to send more Americans deeper into poverty.

On Tuesday, billionaire libertarian Charles Koch joined Republicans pushing to eliminate the nation’s minimum wage he implied was the ultimate secret to lift Americans out of poverty as well as the major obstacle to economic growth. In fact, Koch said “we need to analyze all these government subsidies, all these things that are creating a culture of dependency, and we’ve got to clear out what reduces the mobility of labor.” A Koch-funded ad in Kansas insinuated minimum wage Americans earning $34,000 annually should consider themselves fortunate, but an American working full-time making minimum wage only earns $15,080 annually, if they can find full-time work. As it is, the poverty level for a family of four is $22,283 annual income, and even in the poorest state in the nation a worker earning minimum wage has to work 67 hours per week to afford the most meager apartment if they are fortunate enough to find a full-time job; food, utilities, and clothing are luxuries out of the realm of a poverty-level worker’s budget. Most medium to large businesses prevent full-time employment to avoid giving lunch breaks or benefits, and those working-poor Americans make up a large share of food stamp recipients Republicans just drove into hunger by eliminating SNAP funding from their Draconian farm bill.

Koch had the temerity to claim him and his brother’s political efforts to create poverty are not for their own benefit, but for the country’s greater good, and by country he means corporations; not the people. He also asserted that “other large companies are promoting some kind of special cronyism where they’re undermining economic freedom” and he certainly meant companies such as Costco Stores and Starbucks that pay a living wage that, according to Koch, are destroying Americans’ opportunity at economic freedom and chance of escaping poverty. Koch doubtless joins the Walton family company, WalMart, that recently threatened to scuttle plans to build three poverty-wage stores in Washington D.C. because the city council were considering a bill to require large companies to pay employees a living wage. As it is now, each WalMart store costs taxpayers a minimum of $1 million in public welfare and healthcare costs because they pay poverty-level minimum wage and maintain a strict policy against overtime pay, allowing workers to take bathroom breaks, or receive basic medical accommodations. According to Koch, who along with the Walton family holds more wealth than the majority of  Americans, the minimum wage is forcing companies to fire employees and rails at the notion of raising it to $9 an hour that would barely help 15 million poverty-level American workers afford to eat, find shelter, or afford basic healthcare.

What Americans are witnessing now is a conservative movement that is finally revealing their only economic agenda is creating poverty for the masses by openly raping what is left of economic opportunity from the people, or any chance for tens-of-millions of Americans to escape extreme poverty borne of pathetic minimum wages at part-time jobs. The nation already ranks near the bottom of every category for a developed country whether it is middle class wealth, infrastructure, social programs, healthcare, education spending, or children living in poverty and still, Republicans voted to eliminate overtime pay, end Medicare and Social Security, food stamps, promote eliminating the minimum wage, and all to, as Charles Koch says, lift Americans out of poverty and to spur economic growth. The Koch’s have even turned on their John Birch acolytes in the teabagger movement in Georgia by fighting the tea party to stop expansion of solar energy development because the billionaire brothers have not yet figured out how to charge Americans for harvesting energy from the Sun.

Americans are being assaulted on all fronts by Republicans and their corporate funding machine, and there is little doubt their intent is creating a destitute population. Last year the Koch brothers claimed the 2012 election was the mother of all battles, and since they lost that battle to create poverty by a Republican president are mobilizing to eliminate what little economic and survival protections the people have left. Eradicating funding for food stamps from the farm bill is just the beginning as Republicans threaten to block a debt ceiling increase unless President Obama submits and implements the Paul Ryan budget to hand over Social Security and Medicare to privatization, and any concerns over the $135 billion in food stamp cuts in Ryan’s budget were just eliminated when Republicans excluded SNAP funding from a farm bill. Now that their main contributor openly called for eliminating the minimum wage, the people must realize that last year’s mother of all election battles has escalated into open warfare to create what Republicans have panted for over the past thirty years; a nation of peasants serving a ruling plutocracy headed by Charles and David Koch.

But the 100,000-capacity Longhorns football stadium is a mile away and the nightlife of Sixth Street a few blocks to the south. This is the Texas Capitol in Austin, where a seat in the public gallery of the senate chamber has become the hottest ticket in town thanks to a series of fierce abortion debates that have seized the nation's attention.

The statehouse steps were filling up again on Friday morning, hours before the Senate's 2pm start, as activists set up stalls. "I've been queueing every day and not been getting in, going to the overspill room like a lot of people," says Tara Bhattacharya. "Two-and-a-half weeks ago no one knew who the politicians were, and now they're looked at like they're rock stars."

The 33-year-old does not have health insurance and says she cannot afford to get ill, let alone bear the costs of a complicated pregnancy, in a state that offers minimal help and has just passed some of America's most restrictive abortion laws, banning terminations after 20 weeks and imposing other restrictions and requirements for providers.

"Women are second-class citizens in Texas, if we're even considered citizens at all," says Vicki Bishop as she waits in brutal heat to pass through the airport-style security. "I have been an apathetic voter for years – until now."

People such as Vicki are the foot-soldiers in a battle that is either a "war on women" or a "war on babies", depending on whether you are one of the orange-clad pro-choice activists or among the anti-abortion crowd, who wear blue. Two speeches inside this vast building turned two women into liberal heroines in an often anti-liberal state. One spoke for 11 hours, another for two minutes.

Like hundreds of others, Sarah Slamen applied to testify last week in front of a senate committee. She did not waste her chance, launching an articulate tirade that quickly went viral on the web. "I'm tired of Republican primary politics, misogyny and greed dominating the state I was born, raised and schooled in," she began.

"It was destiny that you would discriminate against us to try to force your way inside the bodies of Texas women. Thank you for finally working against us women so publicly and not in the shadows like you're used to … thank you for being you, Texas legislature. You have radicalised hundreds of thousands of us … women and their allies are coming for you."

When she started a systematic critique of the politicians sat before her, the 28-year-old was dragged out of the room by a posse of state troopers shortly before her time was up. Not that she missed a beat: "This is my government, ma'am. I will judge you."

Slamen's eloquent fury was a sequel of sorts to the marathon efforts of Wendy Davis. On 25 June the 50-year-old state senator from Fort Worth embarked on a filibuster to frustrate the passage of the proposed legislation.

Critics charge that the bill would necessitate expensive, impractical and unnecessary upgrades that would spell the closure of all but five of the state's 42 abortion clinics, forcing women in rural areas to travel hundreds of miles. Proponents claim they want to make the process safer; their opponents argue the reverse will be true as women will seek backstreet abortions and be denied many health services.

Davis stood and spoke for nearly 11 hours without so much as a bathroom break. The drama was live-streamed online and Davis became an overnight Democratic darling. But triumph was fleeting. Rick Perry, the Texas governor, called a 30-day special session to give the bill another chance. This time it zipped over the hurdles and was approved by the Senate late on Friday night, though it will now be challenged in the federal courts, potentially delaying its implementation for years.

Since Davis's stand, rallies have taken place in Austin on an almost daily basis, with slogans on T-shirts and placards declaring "Keep your rosaries off my ovaries" and "Rick Perry: soft on guns and tough on vaginas". An orange bus branded "Stand With Texas Women" has just finished a tour of the state's major cities. Publicity-seeking celebrities have arrived, from former Republican presidential wannabe Rick Santorum to the actor Lisa Edelstein, best known as Hugh Laurie's chief love interest in House.

Austin is the most leftwing and unconventional city in Texas, yet the statehouse is crammed with some of America's most hardline conservatives. On Monday, Perry revealed that he would not seek re-election next year, prompting speculation that he will mount a fresh bid for the US presidency in 2016. Flanked by bulldozers at a Caterpillar dealership owned by one of his backers, the 63-year-old preached that Texas's impressive economic growth during his unprecedented 12-plus years as governor is thanks to hands-off government.

Critics object that Perry is overseeing the ultimate governmental intrusion: the state dictating what a woman can and cannot do with her body. In 2010, Texas had the fourth-highest teenage pregnancy rate in the US and the highest level of "repeat teen births". But in 2011 the state drastically cut funds for family planning and introduced a law designed to persuade women not to have abortions by forcing them to undergo sonograms and listen to a description of the foetus.

The governor appears to hold a genuine religious conviction that abortion is morally wrong, but in Texas politics a stance usually has a subtext. "It's hardly about everyone being able to go to bed and know they're going to heaven. It's about a lot of political and financial interests," Slamen says, pointing out that Perry's sister is on the board of an advocacy association for Texas outpatient surgery centres, which would play a central role in future abortion provision in the state.

In his 2010 book, Fed Up!, Perry wrote: "If you don't support the death penalty and citizens packing a pistol, don't come to Texas." After last December's school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, Perry and Greg Abbott, the state's attorney general, tried to lure gun owners and manufacturers to the Lone Star State with the promise of a more supportive environment. Abbott posted an advertisement on his Facebook page in March with a picture of a gun and a Bible and the words: "Two things every American should know how to use … Neither of which are taught in schools."

Slamen lives in Houston, a booming oil and gas industry hub which one recent study named the most diverse metropolitan area in the US. Houston's mayor, Annise Parker, is an openly lesbian Democrat. But Slamen is frustrated that Texas is "looking really regressive and oppressive" to "the people who only know us through TV and cowboy hats, and it probably all looks like a western".

Democrats believe that the last few weeks mark a turning point, but Slamen is sceptical about the party's prospects. In fact, she thinks it might become even tougher for the left: "It's a long process, and right now I don't think we're in resolution, we're in the agitation process.

"Their kneejerk reaction is to dismiss me and assume that it's going to melt away. They are a 20th-century legislature dealing with 21st-century conditions. So I think they're going to snap back and get more repressive and make it a lot harder for people."

Slamen may be getting the hell out of Dodge. She is contemplating a move to New York City, her partner's home town. The couple have decided they "just couldn't bear to live here any more" and with the lack of low-cost healthcare. A Gallup poll found that last year nearly 29% of Texans had no health insurance, by far the highest percentage in the US. But Perry refused to accept an estimated $100bn over 10 years in federal handouts to expand Medicaid, the government healthcare programme for the poor, calling it an unworkable system.

"We cannot afford to get pregnant here," Slamen says. "I'm a person, I can't be some agenda all the time." If she does go, she will be a loss to her fellow activists. These are hard times for the beleaguered liberals of Texas.
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