NASA says the Kepler Space Telescope is beyond repair
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, August 15, 2013 18:31 EDT
NASA said Thursday it cannot fix its hobbled planet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope and is considering what sort of scientific research it might be able to do at half-capacity.
“Today, we are reporting we do not believe we can recover three-wheeled operations, or Kepler’s original science mission,” said Paul Hertz, NASA Astrophysics Division Director.
“So the Kepler project is turning its attention to studying the possibility of two-wheeled operations.”
The unmanned spacecraft launched in 2009 on a search for rocky planets orbiting in the habitable zones of Sun-like stars — in other words, planets like Earth that might contain life.
It has so far found 3,500 planetary candidates including several hundred Earth-sized candidates from its first two years of data, according to William Borucki, Kepler science principal investigator.
From its final two years of data already collected, yet to be analyzed, “we expect hundreds, maybe thousands of new planet discoveries,” said Borucki.
He said it will take up to three years to pore over the findings Kepler has already collected through studying the distant signals of stars and planets crossing in front of each other, known as transits.
“We really expect the most exciting discoveries are going to come in the next few years as we search through all this data.”
In July 2012, NASA reported that one of Kepler’s four reaction wheels which help orient the spacecraft had broken down, followed by a second in May this year.
One space agency expert described the problem as like trying to push a grocery cart with a stuck wheel. Experts tried to fix it by reversing it, but it soon failed again and the motors were unable to keep the wheel going.
“The wheels are sufficiently damaged that they cannot sustain spacecraft pointing and control for any extended period of time,” said Charles Sobeck, Kepler deputy project manager.
A pair of studies are expected to show in the coming months what sort of science might be possible with a hobbled Kepler.
Kepler scientists said some possibilities include searching for comets or asteroids.
When those studies are complete, NASA will perform a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether research should continue with Kepler or if money would be better spent on other projects.
NASA has allocated $18 million to the Kepler project in fiscal year 2013.
The Christian Science Monitor
After big bang, galaxies wasted no time forming, Hubble data show
By Pete Spotts, Staff writer / August 15, 2013 at 3:47 pm EDT
Galaxies appear to have matured much sooner in the early universe than previously estimated, adding intriguing twists to the history that astronomers are compiling of the growth and evolution of these vast collections of stars.
Using data gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope, a team of scientists found that galaxies of all sizes had fallen into two main shapes – disks and spherical – by 2.5 billion years after the big bang (an enormous release of energy that cosmologists say gave rise to the universe humans observe today).
The analysis by BoMee Lee at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and her colleagues clearly shows that these galactic geezers not only were common some 11 billion years ago, but also had emerged as a distinct group within a couple of billion years after the earliest known galaxies formed, says Mauro Giavalisco, an astronomy professor at UMass Amherst and Ms. Lee's PhD adviser.
The challenge to understanding galaxy evolution: Spherical galaxies essentially are "red and dead." Their stars are almost as old the universe. And some process has quenched their star formation – a process that could involve supermassive black holes at their galactic centers or the cumulative effect of intense star formation prior to becoming spherical galaxies.
The new analysis "provides compelling evidence that quenching is fast and incredibly effective in spheroids," Dr. Giavalisco says. Now researchers have to figure out why.
The results stem from the Hubble Space Telescope's CANDELS project, short for the Cosmic Assembly Near-infrared Deep Extragalactic Legacy Survey. It's the largest observing program in the storied observatory's history. Its main objective is to track the evolution of galaxies from less than 1 billion years after the big bang through today.
The survey uses cameras on Hubble that capture visible light and near-infrared light. Looking in the infrared is particularly important because these galaxies appear at distances of more than 11 billion light-years away. Because the universe expands with increasing speed with distance, light from a galaxy that would appear as visible light or as ultraviolet light – an indicator of star formation – if the galaxy were nearby gets stretched into the infrared region of the spectrum. Spherical galaxies, which tend to be red to begin with, can be fiendishly difficult to detect at such distances because their light gets driven even deeper in the infrared portion of the spectrum.
The three-year project began in 2010 and has in essence stared at the sky for the equivalent of four months.
Star formation requires the presence of cold, dense gas, which under favorable conditions can collapse to form stars. If the gas gets too hot, star formation stops.
Researchers have offered up two possible ways to generate such heat: One is the enormous radiation from supermassive black holes in galactic cores; the other is the formation of large numbers of very massive stars in a relatively confined regions.
These processes can heat gas to temperatures ranging from millions to 1 billion degrees. Once gas reaches those temperatures, cooling it essentially takes the lifetime of the universe.
"This is why it's really important to understand when these galaxies formed and when galaxies started to diversify into spirals and spheroids," Giavalisco says.
Other researchers had uncovered evidence that the galaxy types began to diversify as early as 8 billion years ago, but the studies also focused on low-mass galaxies, rather than the full range of sizes.
This latest work represents "a robust statistical assessment" showing that this divergence, known as the Hubble sequence, was happening much earlier than previous studies had indicated, Giavalisco says.
Whatever theorists devise to explain the quenching, it will have to include a process that happens very quickly, he concludes.
The results have just been published online by the Astrophysical Journal.
In the USA...Audit finds NSA violated ‘thousands’ of its own privacy rules
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, August 16, 2013 0:01 EDT
The National Security Agency (NSA) has breached privacy rules or acted outside its authority several thousand times since being granted sweeping new powers five years ago, the Washington Post reported.
The paper said on its website on Thursday the breaches had been revealed after analysis of an internal audit and other top secret documents, the details of which were made available to the Post by US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.
One of the documents cited by the Post showed that the NSA instructed staff to alter reports to the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, replacing specific details with generic language, the report said.
The paper said on one occasion the NSA concealed the unintended surveillance of American individuals.
It cited an instance in 2008 when a “large number” of calls from Washington were monitored after a programming error mixed up the area code for the US capital — 202 — with the international dialing code for Egypt — 20.
The blunder was not revealed to the NSA’s oversight staff, the Post report said.
The Post said that the NSA audit, dated May 2012, had numbered 2,776 incidents in the previous 12 months of “unauthorized collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications.”
Most of the cases were unintended while many involved failures of due diligence or violated normal operating procedure.
“We’re a human-run agency operating in a complex environment with a number of different regulatory regimes, so at times we find ourselves on the wrong side of the line,” a senior NSA official speaking on condition of anonymity told the Post in response to the report.
President Barack Obama’s administration has been forced onto the defensive since Snowden’s initial revelations detailing the extent of the NSA’s surveillance capabilities first emerged.
Obama last week pledged to overhaul US surveillance, promising greater oversight and transparency and insisting he had no interest in snooping on ordinary citizens.
The controversy has grown since Snowden, a former US government contractor who fled to Russia, revealed the sweeping aspects of US surveillance on citizens’ Internet searches and telephone records.
***********Pentagon announces new measures to combat sexual assault in the military
Thursday, August 15, 2013 16:43 EDT
By Andrea Shalal-Esa
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Defense Department on Thursday unveiled steps to combat sexual assaults in the armed forces by increasing protection for victims, beefing up oversight of investigations, and making responses to such crimes more consistent across the military.
“Sexual assault is a stain on the honor of our men and women who honorably serve our country, as well as a threat to the discipline and the cohesion of our force. It must be stamped out,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement.
Hagel said he would continue to meet weekly with senior Pentagon leaders to review the broad effort to eliminate a problem that has plagued the military for decades.
The Pentagon reported in May that there had been a 37 percent increase in cases of unwanted sexual contact in the military from 2011 to 2012, with 26,000 people reporting everything from groping to rape, up from 19,000 a year earlier.
Sixty people have been removed from jobs as military recruiters, drill instructors and victims counselors since the report. Hagel announced first steps in May.
“The initiatives announced today are substantial, but only a step along a path toward eliminating this crime from our military ranks,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
“The President expects this level of effort to be sustained not only in the coming weeks and months, but as far into the future as necessary,” Carney said. “None of our men and women in uniform should ever have to experience the pain and degradation of sexual assault.”
Senator Kirsten Gilliband, a New York Democrat, called the Pentagon’s announcement a “positive step” and said more work was needed to rebuild trust in a system that resulted in just 302 prosecutions out of 26,000 reported sexual assault cases.
“We have to attack that because, frankly, we want increased, unrestricted reporting,” said Lieutenant General Curtis Scaparrotti, director of the Joint Staff. “And we can only get that if we (have) the trust of our victims.”
Scaparrotti said the initiatives standardized some best practices already being used by the military, but suggested more could be done.
He acknowledged a strong correlation between sexual assaults and alcohol use, but said the military was not taking steps at this time to standardize measures being implemented at various bases that limited alcohol sales.
“At least in the meetings I’ve been in, we’ve not discussed it in the form of making it common across the services,” Scaparrotti told reporters. “We’ve generally left it … to the command at this point, but we could take that on.”
The measures announced on Thursday include creation of a legal advocacy program in each military service that would provide legal representation throughout the judicial process for sexual assault victims, and a guarantee that pretrial investigative hearings of sexual assault-related charges were conducted by judge advocates general (JAG) officers.
They also give commanders options for reassigning or transferring accused sexual offenders to eliminate continued contact with victims, thereby addressing a major concern that had been raised by victims. And they require general officers to be notified about reported crimes.
The Department of Defense also agreed to allow victims to give input during the sentencing phase of a court martial.
An independent panel, as mandated by Congress in the fiscal 2013 defense spending law, will be created to review and assess the military’s entire process for investigating and prosecuting crimes involving sexual assault under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
**********Republican Nightmares Come True: Weekly Unemployment Applications Drop to 2007 Numbers
By: Sarah Jones
Aug. 15th, 2013
The President might be on vacation, but he still finds ways to upset Republicans with good news. Yes, there was more welcome economic news on Thursday as the Labor Department said that weekly applications for unemployment insurance dropped to the fewest claims since October 2007.
The Labor Department said that the 4-week average was at the lowest since November 2007, according to The Washington Post. By either measurement, this is a great improvement, marking a 6-year low and that’s something to breathe a cautious sigh of relief over, if not celebrate (unless, of course, you’re cheering on the demise of America because a black Democrat is in office and you only feel “patriotic” when you win).
From the Labor Department:
In the week ending August 10, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 320,000, a decrease of 15,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 335,000. The 4-week moving average was 332,000, a decrease of 4,000 from the previous week’s revised average of 336,000.
It’s worth pointing out where some of the new unemployment insurance (UI) benefit claims are coming from — federal civilian employees (hello Sequester cuts) and newly discharged veterans. The following is unadjusted data from the Labor Department:
Initial claims for UI benefits filed by former Federal civilian employees totaled 1,713 in the week ending August 3, a decrease of 436 from the prior week. There were 2,235 initial claims filed by newly discharged veterans, an increase of 30 from the preceding week.
There were 21,830 former Federal civilian employees claiming UI benefits for the week ending July 27, an increase of 1,234 from the previous week. Newly discharged veterans claiming benefits totaled 34,470, an increase of 158 from the prior week.
In Texas, where Rick Perry has been making noise about running for President on his platform of taking women back to the dark ages whilst creating “jobs” (also known as using federal subsidies — that’s “welfare” in Republicanese — for big oil to benefit your state’s job numbers by giving planet destroyers unfettered power and control to poison the land, water, and air), the state provided no comment regarding the +1,151 increase in initial unemployment claims.
Is the job crisis over? Not by a long shot. Republicans in Congress dealt their death blow to the recovery in the form of the scattershot cuts courtesy of the sequester. House Republicans are still refusing to sit down for the budget reconciliation process, which means that the economically-damaging sequester cuts (and forced layoffs and furloughs) will continue.
House Republicans were unable to face the daunting task of living up to Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan’s budget — yes, he’s their budget guru and yes, this means that they can’t walk their talk and yes it also proves that Paul Ryan is to budgets what Ayn Rand is to economic philosophy; i.e., only operates in the land of fiction.
What we have here is good news that companies are laying off fewer workers, but not the great news that we are adding good paying jobs to the system (payroll growth). The economy is recovering in spite of Republicans’ best efforts, but things could be a lot better if only we had a House of Representatives that wasn’t run by Tea Party nihilist know-and-do nothings. Remember President Obama’s rather heroic efforts to get Republicans to pass a jobs bill? He even broke it down into teeny, tiny bites for them so they could read it and everything. No go. However, Speaker John Boehner is still desperately trying to pass off the Keystone Pipeline as a jobs bill.
Picture D.C. as a bunch of frustrated but determined parents carrying dozens of screaming, tantrum-throwing children down the candy aisle of obstruction. The snot of poutrage dripping down their faces, the children shriek at the top of their lungs, “But I wanna defund Obamacare!!!” As complete commentary on the modern day GOP, one only need note that Republicans elected the id-driven littles, whose only goal is immediate gratification of any destructive impulse they can muster up at headquarters. Freud explained the Id* but he could have been describing the Republican Party; it is “chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations… (I)t has no organization, produces no collective will.”
In more bad news for the Littles, the government also reported that it’s on track to post its lowest annual budget gap in five years. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that the annual deficit will be $670 billion for 2013, which would mark the first year that the gap between spending and revenue has been below $1 trillion since 2008. No you can’t blame the 2009 budget on Obama, as the budgets are made the year before and the budget year ends Sept. 30.
So, the stock market is hitting new highs, June posted a huge budget surplus, the deficit is lowering dramatically and we have improving unemployment numbers, eh? It’s a full on Republican nightmare.
Expect your conservative friends to respond to this good news with a hysterical non sequitur like, “Benghazi!” If Republicans can’t impose universally long-lasting gloom and despair on the half of America that they really, really hate, then they’re just going to close their eyes and pretend it exists until Mommy and Daddy let them sleep with the Fox light on.
***********Crybaby GOP Senator Throws a Tantrum Over Being Called Out As a Climate Change Denier
Aug. 15th, 2013
There is an archaic proverb that says, “It is fair for one to suffer whatever one has caused others to suffer,” and it may be better known in its modern iteration that “turnabout is fair play.” Since 2009, various right-wing belief tanks funded by the Koch brothers have targeted Democratic policies and candidates with attack ads in defense of the oil industry and to portray environmental laws as an evil plot to destroy business and drive the economy into the ground. As is usually the case with anything related to the Koch brothers, their goal is eliminating environmental protections and thwarting clean and renewable energy to keep the nation dependent on fossil fuels to add to the Kochs’ outrageously obscene wealth. What makes the Kochs efforts more infuriating is their crusade to eliminate environmental protections and renewable energy is rampant in states the Kochs have nothing to do with except disrupting development of environmentally friendly proposals, and with their incredibly deep pockets there is no end to their assault on the environment. Now, an environmental group is striking back and a Republican Senator is crying foul and claim he is the victim of “environmental jihad.”
The crybaby who does not subscribe to the idiom “turnabout is fair play” is Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), and he is genuinely upset that an environmental group, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), is including him in an ad campaign because Johnson questions the validity of global climate change. On Monday, LCV announced it was targeting Johnson and three GOP House members in a $2 million campaign LCV spokesman Jeff Gohringer said was directed at the “anti-science, anti-climate wing of Congress” that, for all intents and purposes, may as well be the Republican caucuses in the House and Senate. Johnson, who is not up for re-election until 2016, sent out a furious email condemning the environmental group he claims is “not an organization with a balanced approach to a cleaner environment; they are an extreme left group on an environmental jihad.”
According to Johnson, the ad campaign is an “unholy alliance between LCV and the Obama campaign” that he claims gives the environmental group “unlimited resources and campaign expertise.” He also said “The League of Conservation Voters is one of the many attack dog groups used by President Obama, the Democrats and the extreme left to weaken, defeat and silence conservatives.” It is curious he never criticizes the Koch brothers for using their attack dogs to weaken, defeat, and silence Democrats, but Republicans are notorious for using double standards to fit their agenda.
Johnson supports the Koch brothers’ unlimited resources and propaganda expertise at blocking environmental protections, but it is a different story when the tables are turned and it is noteworthy that LCV does their work without hope of monetary gain. Johnson regularly blasts environmental and emissions regulations LCV supports using the Koch line that environmental protections damage the economy which is blatantly false. During the 2010 campaign for a Senate seat, Johnson said believers in man-made causes of climate change were crazy and that “new efforts to improve the environment are destroying jobs and undermine the average American’s ability to support himself or herself.”
It is not surprising Johnson parrots the Koch environmental regulation line because in 2011 he earned a perfect score from Koch’s belief tank Americans for Prosperity for his pro-Koch voting record that earned him $27,000 in campaign contributions. Still, Johnson is outraged and asserted LCV will “do or say anything to defeat me” and that he needs donations “to respond to their attack ads with the truth and not allow their negative smears to stand unopposed.” In the LCV ad, it tells the truth that Ron Johnson has taken $109,550 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry while he opposed every measure aimed at curbing global warming.
Although few Americans even know who the Koch brothers or Americans for Prosperity are, those that do are well aware they spend inordinate amounts of time and money in every state to attack Democrats who support clean and renewable energy. Along with their legislative arm ALEC, the Koch’s AFP are attempting to roll back renewable energy standards in states that have them, and they even attacked a solar measure the Georgia tea party supported in what AFP called “a multi-pronged, grassroots driven initiative” to reject solar energy expansion. The tea party considered solar energy a free-market issue, but AFP propaganda portrayed it as “renewable energy mandates” and claimed “utility bills are 40% higher in states with renewable energy standards.” The assertion is a lie, but it is the type of “truth” Johnson will use to respond to environmental jihadists’ attack ads as a means of not “allowing their negative smears to stand unopposed.”
There is a world of difference between what the League of Conservation Voters is doing with their “informational campaign” about Johnson and what the Koch’s Americans for Prosperity does to weaken, silence, and defeat Democrats who understand global climate change is real. For one thing, LCV does not profit from their campaign to reduce the effects of global climate change, and their efforts do not harm the population. Conversely, the Koch brothers’ anti-climate change crusade is only about enriching themselves and creating environmental damage that affects every American whether it is subverting renewable energy standards or attacking environmental protections and emissions regulations. In fact, in 2012 the Koch brothers funded two propositions in California targeting clean air standards and spent millions demeaning Democrats who supported the ballot propositions. Interestingly, none of the Democrats cried like babies that the Kochs were “dirty oil jihadists” and instead depended on savvy voters to defeat the Koch-backed measures which they did.
Ron Johnson’s problem with a group like LCV is he cannot possibly defend his anti-environment stance if the public learns the truth. Johnson’s climate change denials, like the Koch’s, are so steeped in lies, misinformation, and propaganda that a truthful environmental group may well seem like environmental jihadists. They are also mortified that there are groups with resources to inform and educate the public and challenge the Koch’s anti-environmental lies and propaganda. Americans may not be the brightest people on Earth, but they certainly feel the effects of global climate change and, like the Georgia tea party, see value in clean and renewable energy and it horrifies men like Ron Johnson.
Johnson likely profits from the Koch brothers’ lies and attacks on Democrats supporting efforts to curb global climate change effects and never complained about their lying attack dogs, but turnabout is fair play; especially when it is founded on the truth that Republicans or the Kochs can hardly contest. If nothing else, Americans should take away that when the filthy rich Koch brothers lie to eliminate environmental protections it is corporate freedom of speech, but when an environmental group tells the truth it is “environmental jihad.”
************Republicans to vote on presidential debate boycott because of Hillary Clinton TV programs
Friday, August 16, 2013 7:46 EDT
By Scott Malone
BOSTON (Reuters) – Delegates to a summer meeting of the Republican National Committee are scheduled to vote Friday on a possible boycott of 2016 presidential debates sponsored by CNN and NBC if the networks go ahead with plans for special programs on Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Republican leaders last week sent letters of protest to both networks complaining that a planned CNN documentary and an NBC miniseries amount to political ads for the former secretary of state, who is seen as a likely 2016 contender for the White House.
The vote is scheduled for the last day of a three-day gathering called “Making it Happen,” where Republicans are discussing ways to use technology and other means to connect with a wider range of voters, following Mitt Romney’s failure to unseat incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama in November.
CNN officials have said their documentary, due to appear in theaters and on television in 2014, is not yet complete, while NBC said its mini-series is being produced by an entertainment unit, which is independent of the news division.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus had said that if CNN and NBC did not scrap their Clinton programs, he would seek an RNC vote saying the Republican Party would not work with the two networks on its 2016 primary debates or sanction the debates sponsored by them.
In preparation for the next presidential election, Priebus said the party would consider holding its 2016 nominating convention in June or July, rather than August, to reduce the amount of time Republican candidates spend competing against one another. An earlier convention also would allow the Republican nominee to focus on the Democratic opponent.
“Our party should not be involved in setting up a system that encourages the slicing and dicing of candidates over a long period of time with moderators that are not in the business of being at all concerned about the future of our party,” Priebus told reporters this week.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, seen as a likely 2016 Republican contender for the White House, addressed the meeting in a closed-door session Thursday. New England Republicans including Maine Governor Paul LePage and former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown also mingled with delegates from state party organizations.
Clinton, the former first lady and U.S. senator from New York, has not yet said if she will run for president in 2016 as she did in 2008 but Republicans at the meeting clearly saw her as a threat.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on Wednesday said Republicans needed to change their tone to focus on new ideas, rather than focusing on “anti-Obama” messages, to prepare for 2016.
“I don’t think we beat Hillary Clinton in a personality fight because the news media will prop her up,” Gingrich said.
Republicans are holding their regular summer meeting in a Boston hotel next door to the convention center where Romney delivered his election night concession speech nine months ago. They moved the meeting, originally due to be held in Chicago, to Boston as a show of support after the April 15 bombing of the city’s marathon.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Bill Trott)
************The Republican Party Wants 2016 Debates Moderated By Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity
By: Jason Easley
Aug. 15th, 2013
The Republican Party is seriously considering replacing journalist debate moderators with conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.
The Washington Examiner is reporting that:
The Republican National Committee, already threatening to block CNN and NBC from hosting 2016 primary debates if they air planned features on Hillary Clinton, is also looking to scrap the old model of having reporters and news personalities ask the questions at candidate forums.
Miffed that their candidates were singled out for personal questions or CNN John King’s “This or That,” when he asked candidates quirky questions like “Elvis or Johnny Cash,” GOP insiders tell Secrets that they are considering other choices, even a heavyweight panel of radio bigs Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin.
They told Secrets that they are eager to bring in questioners who understand Republican policies and beliefs and who have the ability to get candidates to differentiate their positions on core conservative values.
Party boss Reince Priebus earlier this month also told conservative radio’s fast-rising star Andrea Tantaros that he would be open to a talk radio debate including her, Hannity and Levin. “I actually think that’s a very good idea,” Priebus said on the Andrea Tantaros Show. “I mean, there’s a lot of good people out there that can actually understand the base of the Republican Party, the primary voters.”
Talk radio is one of the driving forces that’s pushing the Republican Party to the extreme right. The RNC thinks that the solution to their problems is to have debates moderated by people that will push their candidates to the extreme right. A candidate that wants to run to the middle like Chris Christie would be forced to move the far right in these debates. The outcome would be that potential electable Republicans would have to take positions that would make them unelectable in November.
The RNC and the Republican Party are convinced that their problem is journalists who force their candidates to defend their statements and positions. Their solution is to have their debates moderated by talk radio stooges who parrot the party talking points. This is all part of RNC Chairman Reince Priebus’s plan to turn the Republican primary debates is heavily scripted pillow fights where absolutely nothing of substance will be discussed. The goal is to turn the debates into infomercials for the Republican Party.
The problem with the idea of having a Limbaugh or Hannity moderate a debate is that they are both very unpopular and polarizing with the country at large. A debate moderated by anyone on conservative talk radio is likely to be a circus of self-promotion for the moderator that would result in pushing more voters away from the Republican Party. The point of having a Limbaugh or Hannity moderate is to reduce potential exposure of Republican presidential candidates to serious questions. Republicans want to expand their media bubble so that it includes the primary debates. The RNC wants the debates to reflect the softball treatment that Republicans get on Fox News.
It isn’t that Republican positions and policies are misunderstood. It’s that most of the country disagrees with the party’s positions on almost every issue. Having Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity moderate a debate is an attempt to hide the problem instead of fixing it.
Reince Priebus is convinced that Mitt Romney lost in 2012 due to “media bias.” Priebus wants to remedy that by putting the biggest hacks in conservative media in charge of moderating the debates. The huge downside of this plan will occur when the Republican nominee has to participate in debates that don’t feature conservative moderators during the general election. Republicans can already barely function outside of the Fox Bubble. Sending an untested nominee into a presidential debate with someone like Hillary Clinton is courting disaster.
Republicans aren’t going to change their policies to appeal to more voters. They are going to try to win by gaming the system. Republicans around the country are making it more difficult to vote, the RNC wants to cut the number of primary debates, and they want to turn the debates that they will be holding into festivals of fluff.
Putting Limbaugh and Hannity in charge of Republican debates is a disaster waiting to happen, and I can’t wait to watch it all unfold.
************Even Rush Limbaugh Refuses To Moderate The GOP’s Train Wreck Presidential Debates
By: Jason Easley
Aug. 15th, 2013
The Republican Party is at such a low point that Rush Limbaugh kicked them in the gut today by claiming that he is too big of a star to moderate the party’s 2016 presidential debates.
Transcript from Rush Limbaugh:
LIMBAUGH: I don’t see how I can do it. I’m too famous. This business about moderating Republican debates. Did you see that out there? There’s a suggestion that’s been made, a lot of people have made the suggestion. Cal Thomas has made it, that me and Sean Hannity and Mark Levin would moderate Republican primary debates. I think I’d overshadow it. I think I’m too famous. Be a tough call. It’d be a real, real, real tough call. (interruption) Well, yeah, yeah, yeah. It could get ratings, I mean there’s no question about that. It’s an idea that’s out there.
Now, some people misunderstood and thought that it was moderating debates on mainstream TV networks. That would never happen. These would be debates that are strictly for a conservative Republican media and audience.
Limbaugh did let leak a little bit of the RNC plan for handling the primary debates. It appears that Chairman Priebus wants to move the debates off of all television networks, except Fox News, and hold the rest of the debates only on conservative media. I suspect that the plan was to hold “debates” on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show, Sean Hannity’s radio show, Mark Levin’s radio show, etc. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Glenn Beck’s The Blaze TV hosting a debate, or any other off the beaten path conservative outlet.
Rush Limbaugh to too paranoid to ever moderate a debate on a media outlet that he doesn’t control, and there is zero chance that Fox News would ever let Limbaugh have center stage ahead of the talent on their own network. There is a less than zero chance that any other network would agree to let Limbaugh anywhere near any debate that they are televising. His Sandra Fluke comments put an end to that possibility. That said, I would not be surprised if this is part of the RNC’s plan for 2016. Priebus wants to get the debates off of every network that isn’t Fox News in the worst way.
Limbaugh’s refusal to moderate a debate shows just what a complete train wreck the Republican Party has become. It is clear that the conservative media is driving the Republican clown car. The RNC is completely inept and powerless, and now they have just been humiliated by a guy whose radio show might be dropped at the end of the year.
************Republicans Try To Disprove Evolution By Claiming that Dragons Really Existed
By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Aug. 15th, 2013
Dragons or DinosaursOkay, let’s just cancel the 21st century. It is just not working out for some people and has obviously come to a screeching halt in any event.
And yes, you can blame the Republicans for that.
God caused global warming, says dimwitted Republican Congressman Jeff Miller of Florida. Yeah, 99 percent of climate scientists say anthropogenic global warming is real but it turns out it’s just God.
Phew! For a minute, I thought we were goners.
Bazinga! It was just one of God’s zany pranks, and we fell for it.
What a wild and crazy sky god!
Well we don’t need the EPA anymore!
“I will tell you this,” said Miller. “I will defund the E.P.A.”
There you go!
Besides, even though it gets hotter every year, with 2000 to 2009 being the warmest decade on record, David Barton says “Global warming occurs but we haven’t had it in sixteen years.”
I’m sure everything will be okay then and we can go back to polluting without thought. Yep, nothing to be seen here. Move along.
And man oh man, have I had it with dinosaurs and cave men palling around and floods forming Grand Canyons and now we’re being told dragons were honest-to-God for real.
Darek Isaacs has written a book about it: Dragons or Dinosaurs. “The Bible speaks about dragons,” and this book, we are told, “confirms biblical authority and demolishes the theory of evolution.”
Yeah. Turns out we get our myths about dragons from – you guessed it – the caveman’s best friend: the dinosaur. How did science ever overlook that!
And look at this great film he has made:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRyBDqB9z-M
If dragons in fact were entirely mythological, if they were a figment of the imagination, and if they never ever did exist, then God just compared our adversary to a make-believe creature that never existed.
See? How hard was that you silly secularists, placing your trust in science and observable fact! Only Commies care about facts!
Our authority — everything we do we have to measure by the word of God, that is what I believe. So, we have to go to the Bible, and the Bible speaks about dragons.
And if you go to the website, you can even download a free study guide, “ideal for homeschooling or bible study groups.”
The more science discovers about how the universe works, the more regressive Republican thinking becomes. This trend is observable and repeatable.
Honestly, I’m surprised the 20th century didn’t do them in but somehow they survived all that century’s advances and still they’re charging pell-mell into the 13th century while the rest of us look forward to eking through this one somehow with air to breathe, water to drink – but not enough to make breathing difficult.
You know, God’s zany rising sea levels.
So the 21st century was just a big mistake. Let’s just accept our lot in life, get rid of all that evil technology that is a result of science we no longer need – except for your roof! Everyone knows roofs were invented to keep all those birds God likes to zap when he gets pissed from falling on your head.
Enjoy the 13th century my friends. Good, good times.
Click to watch this orgy of Republican stupidity: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fD7jkltC71Qhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hRol08-dYYhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEdevhT6aGY
Egypt: scores killed in 'day of rage'
At least 60 reportedly killed amid fierce streeting fighting in Cairo and elsewhere as Morsi supporters protest against massacre
Ian Black and Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
The Guardian, Saturday 17 August 2013
Morsi supporters carry a wounded man during clashes with security forces in Cairo, Egypt
Supporters of Egypt's ousted president Mohamed Morsi carry a wounded man during clashes with security forces in Cairo. Photograph: Hassan Ammar/AP
New violence erupted in central Cairo and across Egypt on Friday on a "day of rage" called by the Muslim Brotherhood to protest against the removal of President Mohamed Morsi and the killings of hundreds of his supporters by the military-backed government.
By nightfall, at least 20 and as many as 45 people had been reported shot dead in fierce street fighting in the centre of the capital, where machine gun fire was heard as a military helicopter flew overhead. Security officials said the death toll rose to at least 60 people killed across the country: 52 civilians and eight police officers. The latest death toll also included eight people confirmed killed in Damietta, four in Ismailia, and 13 elsewhere in the country.
TV cameras caught unidentified gunmen in civilian clothes firing automatic rifles on the May 15 bridge that crosses Zamalek in the heart of Cairo, where many foreigners and wealthy Egyptians live. People jumped off the bridge to escape the shooting. Uniformed police were nowhere to be seen. Firing also broke out outside a luxury hotel on the banks of the Nile near Tahrir Square.
On Friday night the Brotherhood called on its supporters to continue daily protests across the country, but it urged its supporters to protest peacefully. "The struggle to overthrow this illegitimate regime is an obligation," it said in a statement.
The interior ministry had warned that security forces had been authorised to fire live ammunition at anyone targeting police and state institutions.
The Guardian saw dozens of bodies lying on the bloodstained floor of Cairo's al-Fath mosque on Ramses Square, which had been turned into a field hospital. Medical volunteers were overwhelmed by the scale of the blood-letting.
Over Friday night and into the early hours of Saturday a standoff was taking place at the mosque. Dozens of protesters remained in the mosque and military and police forces surrounded the area, giving rise to a state of siege and raising fears a raid could lead to more bloodshed.
Gehad al-Haddad, a Brotherhood spokesman, denounced what he called "military coup criminals" after the group said 45 people had been killed in Ramses Square and urged supporters to withdraw to avoid further casualties.
On another day of high drama and now routine bloodshed, it was often hard for observers to keep up with the sheer pace of events. "It's impossible to follow up on everything that is taking place," tweeted commentator Bassem Sabry. "It is happening too fast, and everywhere."
Amid rising international concern, the French president, François Hollande, and German chancellor, Angela Merkel, called for a meeting of EU foreign ministers to co-ordinate a response. The EU tried but failed to mediate between the Egyptian government and the Islamist movement to secure a peaceful end to the two mass protest sit-ins that were broken up in Cairo on Wednesday, leaving at least 580 dead.
The Foreign Office (FCO) said it remained "deeply concerned" about the situation, and deplored the latest loss of life. "The UK continues to call for an end to violence and for a return to peaceful dialogue," a spokesman said.
President Barack Obama announced on Thursday the cancellation of joint US-Egyptian military exercises, scheduled for next month. But he failed to react to demands that Washington should cut its $1.3bn (£831.2m) in aid to the powerful Egyptian armed forces.
"Our traditional co-operation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back," Obama said. The Egyptian presidency retorted in a statement that Obama's words were "not based on fact" and would "embolden armed groups".
The presidency defended its actions as being in the spirit of the 2011 revolution, which overthrew Hosni Mubarak. Critics argue that the emergence of Egypt's new military-backed regime, and a corresponding return to favour of the country's once-hated police force, represents a return to the Mubarak era.
State media called for a new "external campaign" to resist international pressure for dialogue and reconciliation with the Brotherhood. Several newspapers lambasted Mohamed ElBaradei, the liberal figure who resigned as vice-president in protest at Wednesday's bloodshed. In one caricature, ElBaradei was portrayed as stabbing Egypt in the back.
Khaled Dawoud, a spokesman for the anti-Morsi National Salvation Front, followed ElBaradei and announced his departure on Friday, citing the failure of the NSF to condemn state violence against the Brotherhood.
Saudi Arabia, evidently delighted at the demise of the Islamists, called on Arab countries to resist attempts to destabilise Egypt. "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, its people and government, stood and stands today with its brothers in Egypt against terrorism," King Abdullah said in a message read out on national television. "All those who meddle in Egypt's internal affairs are inflaming strife."
The UN said its under-secretary general for political affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, would visit Egypt next week to meet officials including Brotherhood representatives.
Anti-Brotherhood sentiment has deepened since Wednesday after several reports of revenge attacks on policemen and Christians across the country – reinforcing the image of Islamists as terrorists. Morsi's removal had broad backing, but some of his supporters have scapegoated Egypt's Coptic Christian community – which forms about 10% of the population – for supporting his overthrow.
The Brotherhood denied responsibility despite the sectarian rhetoric of many members. A spokesman said the Iman mosque in north-east Cairo, which had been filled with the rotting corpses of people who died on Wednesday, was stormed by armed security officials during the new overnight curfew imposed along with restored emergency laws.
Against a background of concern about the spreading and escalating violence, security officials said explosives were detonated on railway tracks between Alexandria and the western Mediterranean Sea province of Marsa Matrouh. There were no injuries and no trains were damaged in the attack.
The FCO said it was keeping its travel advice on Egypt's Red Sea resorts under continuous and intense review as Germany, Sweden and Switzerland joined the list of countries recommending their citizens not to go to any part of the country.
An estimated 40,000 Britons are still on holiday in Egypt and companies say normal flights between the UK and resorts will continue until the Foreign Office changes its stance.
The government has already warned against all but essential travel to most of Egypt, including Cairo, Alexandria and Luxor. The resorts are exempt from such advice because of "enhanced security measures".
But the Foreign Office said: "We have urged British nationals to obey the regulations set out by the local authorities and the curfew, if they are in a resort affected by this."
Egypt: resentment towards Brotherhood fuels crackdown support
State media portrays Islamist movement as 'terrorists' fomenting sectarian divisions with support of western-led conspiracy
Ian Black and Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
The Guardian, Friday 16 August 2013 18.59 BST
The killing of more than 600 people in Egypt this week has prompted international condemnation and alarm, but the military-backed government in Cairo appears to be enjoying widespread domestic support for its bloody crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.
State media unequivocally portrays the Islamist movement as "terrorists" who are fomenting sectarian divisions with the support of a sinister western-led conspiracy allegedly targeting the Arab world's most populous country.
Government statements and popular prejudice against the Brotherhood are fuelling a defiant nationalist narrative that translates into the backing of millions for General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who deposed President Mohamed Morsi.
Egypt's profound polarisation has been evident since late last year, but the latest and worst of the three mass killings since Morsi was overthrown in early July provided shocking evidence of callousness.
"They deserved it. They wanted to destroy the country, so that's why the military had to step in," Salah Amin, a 17-year-old student from Sharqiya, said on Friday as fresh violence erupted in Cairo. "I'm with the army and the police against the Muslim Brotherhood, who want to ruin Egypt and run it the way they want."
On Wednesday residents of the Rabaa al-Adawiya area in eastern Cairo were seen cheering as the security forces moved in to break up the six-week sit-in there and at Nahda square across the capital, using live fire to devastating effect.
"We agree with what happened at Rabaa and at Nahda," said Mohamed Khamis, a spokesman for the Tamarod (Rebellion) campaign, which mobilised public opinion against the democratically-elected but deeply unpopular Morsi. "We don't like what the Brotherhood did."
Others make a distinction between political hostility to the Brotherhood and their feelings about so many Egyptians being killed. "Even those like me who have a clear position and say we are facing a terrorist entity can't help but feel sorry for all those victims," the liberal commentator Hisham Kassem said.
Analysts cite growing hostility to the Brotherhood since the 2011 revolution and especially over the year of Morsi's rule. "I would estimate that 80% of Egyptians are completely disillusioned with Islamism as represented by the Brotherhood and want to see it uprooted from political life," said Hazem Kandil, an Egyptian political sociologist at Cambridge University. "Some support the army while being suspicious of where things are heading. Some are calling for Sisi to take power."
Brotherhood supporters are demanding Morsi's reinstatement and accuse the army and the civilian government it installed of seeking to return to the dictatorial style of Hosni Mubarak, who was overthrown in February 2011 in one of the high points of the Arab spring. The Brotherhood's opponents make the same accusation against it.
"Egyptians have not been dehumanised," insisted the veteran left-wing journalist Hani Shukrullah. "But they do want this battle over. They want to get on with their lives. The intensity of hatred of the Brotherhood's rule was really unprecedented, more even than against the Mubarak regime, precisely because you had an attempt to re-create an authoritarian system."
Egyptian officials and liberals blame the western media for one-sided reporting, while ignoring their own government's deficiencies in explaining and justifying the actions of the security forces. There is also anger at what is seen as a credulous approach to the Brotherhood, especially by the US and Britain. "First the diplomats got Stockholm syndrome and now it's the media," quipped Kassem.
Ordinary people appear sharply aware of international attitudes. "I'm here to support the military and police," housewife Hamida Mohameda said at a pro-government rally. "We don't want Qatar or Turkey or America interfering. We don't want their aid. The Egyptian people should govern themselves."
Kandil said: "I have never seen Egyptians so angry with the west. They feel it is blowing the horn for the Brotherhood. People are becoming anti-western and pro-military at a dizzying pace."
Pro-Brotherhood TV stations remain shut, though the Qatari-owned al-Jazeera still gives the Islamists a sympathetic hearing. State-run newspapers which backed Morsi during his year in office changed tack overnight and now lead a shrill propaganda campaign against the Brotherhood, along with privately-owned TV channels.
Al Akhbar, one Egypt's most popular newspapers, reported Wednesday's carnage under a headline that said: "Egypt confronts terrorism" and highlighted the 43 fatalities suffered by the security forces as well as claims of the use of weapons and torture at Rabaa, which the Brotherhoodstrongly denies.
Al-Ahram tagged its coverage:"Days of Decision.""Nothing explains the hugely disproportionate [security force] response," said Shukrullah. "But the Brotherhood did have arms. And they still do in the provinces. The standard line is that they are terrorists and were torturing people. There were instances of people who were suspected of being spies. It happened. How big it was is debatable. The problem is that both sides lie constantly."
The Guardian's own experience during six weeks of reporting at Rabaa al-Adawiya suggested that the vast majority of protesters there, including many women and children, were peaceful. An extensive Guardian investigation into the first mass killing of protesters from Rabaa on 8 July suggested it was the result of an unprovoked and planned assault by the state. Reporting during the second and third massacres suggested the same.
Many Christians, alarmed by the sectarian nature of Brotherhood discourse and by a spate of attacks on churches, are openly supportive of Sisi. "Breaking up the protests was the right thing to do," said Eman Said, a clerical worker. "Christians like me are really afraid of what the Brotherhood is doing."
Magda Haroun, the president of Egypt's tiny Jewish community, said: "Egyptians are a Mediterranean people. They can't live like they do in Saudi Arabia. People believed that the Muslim Brotherhood didn't believe in the country, but in an ideology. [By acting on Wednesday] the army and the police saved Egypt from a civil war."The events shaking Egypt are of such magnitude than no one can remain indifferent. But some feel a sense of fatalism or inevitability about what is happening. "I am really depressed," said Mohammed, a 30-something engineer.
"The Ikhwan [Brotherhood] had the right to protest and it was a mistake to break up the sit-ins. But this sort of thing happened in China, even worse. It happens in all revolutions. And we will recover. The problem is how long it will take."
Muslim Brotherhood pushes for more protests after bloody ‘Day of Rage’
Friday, August 16, 2013 19:45 EDT
By Crispian Balmer and Yasmine Saleh
CAIRO (Reuters) – The Muslim Brotherhood defiantly called for a week of protests across Egypt starting on Saturday, a day after more than 100 people died in clashes between Islamists and the security forces that pushed the country ever closer to anarchy.
Undeterred by the bloodshed in which about 700 have been killed since Wednesday, the Brotherhood urged its supporters back onto the streets to denounce the overthrow of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi and a crackdown on his followers.
“Our rejection of the coup regime has become an Islamic, national and ethical obligation that we can never abandon,” said the Brotherhood, which has accused Egypt’s military of plotting the downfall of Mursi last month to regain the levers of power.
Many Western allies have denounced the killings, including the United States, but Saudi Arabia threw its weight behind the army-backed government on Friday, accusing its old foe the Muslim Brotherhood of trying to destabilize Egypt.
Violence erupted across Egypt after the Brotherhood, which has deep roots in the provinces, called for a “Day of Rage”. Roughly 50 people died in Cairo and more than 20 in the country’s second city, Alexandria, security sources said.
Automatic gunfire echoed around the capital throughout Friday afternoon, army helicopters swooped over the roof tops and at least one office block was set ablaze, lighting up the night sky long after the violence had subsided.
The Brotherhood announced a series of daily rallies over the next six days, starting on Saturday.
“We will not leave the squares. And we will not be silent over our rights, ever,” said Cairo resident Abdullah Abdul Fattah, adding that he was not a Brotherhood voter.
“We are here because of our brothers who died,” he said.
An interim cabinet, installed by the army after it removed Mursi during rallies against his often chaotic rule, has refused to back down. It has authorized police to use live ammunition to defend themselves and state installations.
After weeks of futile, political mediation, police moved on Wednesday to clear two Brotherhood protest sit-ins in Cairo. Almost 600 people, most of them Islamists, were killed in the mayhem. With no compromise in sight, the most populous Arab nation – which is often seen as leading events in the entire region – looks increasingly polarized and angry.
“Egypt fighting terrorism,” said a new logo plastered on state television, reflecting tougher language in the local media that was once reserved for militant groups such as al Qaeda.
The government said in a statement it was confronting the “Muslim Brotherhood’s terrorist plan”.
Undermining Brotherhood pledges of peaceful resistance, armed men were seen firing from the ranks of pro-Mursi supporters in Cairo on Friday. A security official said at least 24 policemen had died over the past 24 hours, and 15 police stations attacked.
The Brotherhood suggested the gunmen had been planted by the security forces, saying it remained committed to non-violence.
Witnesses also said Mursi backers had ransacked a Catholic church and set fire to an Anglican church in the city of Malawi. The Brotherhood, which has been accused of inciting anti-Christian sentiment, denies targeting churches.
Christians make up roughly 10 percent of Egypt’s 84-million population and the Coptic Church authority issued a statement on Friday saying it “strongly supports the Egyptian police and armed forces”.
The streets of Cairo fell quiet after nightfall, with the government warning the dusk-to-dawn curfew would be vigorously enforced. Neighborhood watch schemes sprouted up, and residents stopped and searched cars driving past their communities.
Egypt has lurched from one crisis to another since the downfall of the autocratic Hosni Mubarak in 2011, dealing repeated blows to the economy, particularly tourism.
A number of tour operators have suspended all holidays to Egypt until at least next month and the United States has urged its citizens to leave the country.
The European Union asked its states to consider “appropriate measures” to take in reaction to the violence, while Germany said it was reconsidering its ties.
(Additional reporting by Michael Georgy, Alexander Dziadosz, Tom Finn, Yasmine Saleh, Mohamed Abdellah, Ahmed Tolba and Omar Fahmy in Cairo, Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by David Stamp)
[Image: Supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi take cover during a protest outside Al-Fath Mosque in Ramses Square, in Cairo Aug. 16, 2013. By Youssef Boudlal for Reuters.]
Zimbabwe's MDC withdraws court challenge against Mugabe's re-election
Spokesman for Morgan Tsvangirai's party says electoral commission has failed to release crucial evidence
Reuters in Harare
theguardian.com, Friday 16 August 2013 18.45 BST
Zimbabwe's opposition MDC has withdrawn a court challenge against President Robert Mugabe's re-election through a vote the party had denounced as fraudulent, saying it was being denied crucial evidence by election officials.
Mugabe, 89, and his Zanu-PF party were declared winners of the 31 July election but the Movement for Democratic Change, led by outgoing Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, had filed a motion for the constitutional court to overturn the result.
A hearing on the MDC challenge, which had alleged widespread vote-rigging and intimidation by Zanu-PF, had been planned for Saturday.
"I can confirm that we have withdrawn the presidential election petition. There are a number of reasons, including the failure by the Zimbabwe electoral commission to release critical evidence in this matter," MDC spokesman Douglas Mwonzora said.
The decision appeared to end any hope of further action by MDC through the courts, which Tsangirai's party have said are dominated by Zanu-PF along with other state institutions.
Mugabe, Africa's oldest leader, who has ruled since independence from Britain in 1980, this week told critics of his re-election to "go hang", making clear he would brook no questioning of his disputed victory either from the west or his MDC rival.
Pointing to flaws in the 31 July vote cited by domestic observers, western governments – especially the United States – have questioned the credibility of the election outcome and are considering whether to prolong sanctions against Mugabe.
But Mugabe is drawing comfort from African election observers who endorsed the elections as largely free and orderly and have urged Zimbabweans to move on peacefully. Western observers were barred from observing the vote.
August 16, 2013
Israel Keeps a Wary Eye on Turmoil in Egypt
By ISABEL KERSHNER
JERUSALEM — Before the violence this week in Cairo, the Israeli government was quietly pleased with the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi and the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, which has always been hostile to Israel. But now the mass killings have left Israel in the uncomfortable position of being a spectator to the crisis unfolding in Egypt, though one with a huge stake in the outcome.
“I think that the whole world should support Sisi,” Ehud Barak, a former prime minister and defense minister of Israel, said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” last weekend. He was referring to Egypt’s military commander, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, who ousted Mr. Morsi, an Islamist, last month.
After this week’s bloodshed, as the military cleared the Muslim Brotherhood protest encampments in the Egyptian capital, there were no such expressions of support, official or otherwise, for General Sisi.
Israeli officials have not commented publicly on Egypt’s internal affairs, either before or after this week’s brutal events, a policy that speaks to both the fragility and the necessity of Israel’s relations with its strategically important neighbor.
“Anything we say will be held against us,” said an Israeli official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of what he described as the “volatility” of the diplomatic situation. “If we condemn the violence we will be accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said, referring to rumors already circulating to that effect. “And if we say we don’t condemn it, then it looks like Israel is in cahoots with the Egyptian Army.”
He added: “That does not mean that we don’t have our own opinion and interests.”
Israel’s main interest, according to officials and experts here, is a stable Egypt that can preserve the country’s 1979 peace treaty and restore order along the border in the Sinai Peninsula, where Islamic militant groups are battling Egyptian forces and increasingly threatening Israel.
On Tuesday, the Israeli military used its Iron Dome missile-defense system to defend the southern resort city of Eilat for the first time, intercepting a rocket that it said had been fired from across the border in Sinai. A militant group claimed responsibility for the rocket attack, saying it was revenge for the death days earlier of four of its members in northern Sinai in a drone strike. The group accused Israel of carrying out the strike, though Egyptian military officials denied any breach of the country’s airspace by the Israeli military.
Earlier this month, Israel closed the small airport in Eilat for about two hours after Egypt warned of a potential attack originating in Sinai. At the time, Israeli experts said that the episode showed the heightened security cooperation between the two sides. Contacts between Israel and Egypt have long been conducted mainly through military and intelligence channels.
Yet analysts here say that the tensions along the border could draw Israel into Sinai, further complicating relations with Egypt.
Israel views the Egyptian military as the only force that can stabilize the deeply fractured country, and the Israel-Egypt peace treaty is predicated on the $1.5 billion a year in American military and economic aid to Egypt, the bulk of which goes to the Egyptian armed forces.
Before the military’s assault on the camps in Cairo began on Wednesday, the same Israeli official who spoke on the condition of anonymity about Israel’s interests said that Israel was telling its “friends” in the United States Congress, the White House and any other relevant body that it was in nobody’s interest to cut aid to Egypt, a step that he said would weaken the Egyptian Army and undercut efforts to stabilize the situation. After the assault, the same official was reluctant to discuss those efforts and if they would continue.
The mass killings also have the potential to destabilize Palestinian areas, just as Israel and the Palestinians have renewed peace negotiations.
In the West Bank city of Hebron on Friday, supporters of the Islamic militant group Hamas and other Palestinian activists held protests after midday prayers to protest the killings in Cairo and in support of Mr. Morsi. The protesters clashed with Palestinian Authority security officers in several parts of the city. There were also reports of protests in Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority.
In Jerusalem, hundreds of members of the Islamic Movement of Israel demonstrated outside the Al Aksa Mosque and accused General Sisi, the Egyptian commander, of collaborating with the United States and of killing Egyptians on behalf of the Jews, according to Israel Radio.
In Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian dead were honored at Friday Prayer.
“I think the Israeli interest is quite clear,” said Efraim Inbar, the director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. “The only factor that can provide this kind of stability is the Egyptian military.”
Danny Yatom, a former chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, told Israel Radio on Friday that “there is no question that Israel prefers the army to the Muslim Brotherhood and a secular regime over a religious regime” in Egypt.
Mark Heller, an expert on regional and international relations at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, said that even Hosni Mubarak, the autocratic president of Egypt who was overthrown in the 2011 revolution, was not a friend of Israel. There was no warm peace, just a relationship based on convergent interests, Mr. Heller said, adding that peace “meant avoiding confrontation.”
Nayef Hashlamoun contributed reporting from Hebron, West Bank.
Israeli official warned over offensive Facebook postings
Daniel Seaman, in charge of promoting Israel's image online, ordered to stop posting 'unacceptable' comments
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
The Guardian, Friday 16 August 2013 09.37 BST
A senior government official responsible for promoting positive images of Israel on social media networks has been ordered to stop posting offensive statements on his Facebook page.
The gagging order followed a series of trenchant comments made by Daniel Seaman, who recently took up the post of head of Israeli public diplomacy on the internet, over the past few months.
They included a response to a demand by the Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, for an end to new settlement expansion that read: "Is there a diplomatic way of saying 'Go F*** yourself'?"
At the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset, Seaman posted: "Does the commencement of the fast of the Ramadan means that Muslims will stop eating each other during the daytime?"
In response to a Church of Scotland report that argued that Jews do not have a divine right to the land, he wrote: "Why do they think we give a flying F*** what you have to say?"
Japanese diplomats complained about comments Seaman made on commemorations for the victims of the 1945 atomic bombs. "I am sick of the Japanese, 'Human Rights' and 'Peace' groups the world over holding their annual self-righteous commemorations for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims," he wrote. "Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the consequence of Japanese aggression. You reap what you sow..."
According to the Jerusalem Post, Seaman's superiors issued several warnings over his Facebook postings.
In a statement, the National Information Directorate said: "Danny Seaman's statements on Facebook are unacceptable and do not express the view of the Israeli government. The directorate instructed Seaman to immediately refrain from making such statements."
Seaman was known for his abrasive approach to the foreign media when he was director of the government press office. Among his initiatives in his new role is a programme to pay university students to post pro-Israel comments on Facebook, Twitter and other internet sites and forums.
August 16, 2013
Hezbollah Makes Vow to Step Up Sunni Fight
By BEN HUBBARD
AITA AL SHAAB, Lebanon — Thousands of men, women and children gathered in this village near the border with Israel, jumped to their feet, pumped their fists and cheered as Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, vowed on Friday to step up the fight against the radical Sunni Muslims whom he accused of a car bombing on Thursday in one of the group’s strongholds in Beirut.
The death toll from the blast in Beirut’s southern suburbs rose to 24 on Friday, making it the deadliest attack in Lebanon in decades. Many Lebanese saw the attack as payback for Hezbollah’s military support for the government of President Bashar al-Assad in the civil war in Syria.
Addressing the attackers, Mr. Nasrallah insisted the bombing had not affected the group’s position. “If you think that by killing our women, by killing our children, by killing our innocents,” enemies will make Hezbollah stop aiding the Syrian government, “you are wrong,” he said.
In fact, he said, such attacks would lead Hezbollah to double the size of its forces in Syria, where, he said, they were fighting takfiris, or extremists, who consider all but those who follow their school of thought heretics.
“If this battle with these takfiri terrorists requires that I and all of Hezbollah go to Syria, we will go to Syria,” he shouted.
The explosion on Thursday has exacerbated fears that the sectarian war in Syria could set off similar violence in Lebanon. The attack, and Mr. Nasrallah’s new emphasis on his group’s battle against Sunni extremists, also underlines how much Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria has complicated its status at home.
In short, Hezbollah has more enemies than it used to have.
Founded in the 1980s as a popular movement to fight Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon, Hezbollah, while firmly based in Lebanon’s Shiite community, has long tried to portray itself as a national resistance movement that exists to protect all Lebanese. The strength of its fighters, who constitute Lebanon’s strongest military force, once made them — and Mr. Nasrallah — heroes throughout the Arab world.
That standing took a blow, however, when the group declared its support for Mr. Assad early in the uprising against his rule in 2011, and it declined further as Hezbollah fighters joined Syrian forces on the battlefield against the rebels, who are primarily Sunni.
Many people in Lebanon have criticized Hezbollah for, in their view, veering from its primary role: fighting Israel. Given the deep sympathies of Lebanon’s Sunnis for their brethren in Syria, many have increasingly come to see Hezbollah as the enemy.
But those tensions were scarcely mentioned on Friday as Hezbollah held its annual commemoration of its 2006 war with Israel. Thousands of people from nearby villages and beyond packed a central square to listen to martial music and to Mr. Nasrallah’s speech, which was delivered by a live video link from an undisclosed location.
Much of the village was destroyed during the 2006 war, but Hezbollah has rebuilt it, with support from Iran and elsewhere, and new two- and three-story houses line the main street.
Residents display a strong mix of rural hospitality, insistently inviting visitors into their homes for meals and coffee, and of distrust born from years of occupation by a foreign army and an ever-present fear of spies. Almost no one agreed to provide his full name when interviewed.
Many residents wrote off the talk of sectarian tensions in Lebanon, instead putting the blame for the region’s problems on Hezbollah’s traditional enemies.
“All of these splits were caused by Israel and America because they keep trying out new strategies, and now they are trying to split the Sunnis and the Shiites,” said Ali, a 34-year-old lawyer.
Like many here, he saw Hezbollah’s role in Syria as essential to its fight against Israel, not a distraction from it. “The war in Syria is not to defend Bashar al-Assad. It is to defend the axis of resistance,” he said.
Hwaida Saad contributed reporting.
August 16, 2013
U.S. Troop Pullout Affects India-Pakistan Rivalry
By DECLAN WALSH
LONDON — A weary familiarity hangs over the latest clashes between India and Pakistan, whose armies have traded artillery and accusations in recent days, jeopardizing new efforts to normalize relations between the two countries.
Still, though the escalation and excoriation may fit an old pattern, analysts believe something important has changed this time. The military exchanges have been more serious, and they point to a new brittleness in the rivalry: one that is being exacerbated by the impending American troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, analysts say.
It started in the disputed territory of Kashmir, with the deadliest episode of the past decade.
On Aug. 6, the Indian Army accused Pakistan of orchestrating a cross-border ambush in which five Indian soldiers were killed. Pakistan angrily rejected that claim, then accused India of killing two civilians during a bout of tit-for-tat cross-border shellfire.
Politicians issued heated warnings, the Parliaments in both countries passed condemnatory resolutions, and speculation grew that a meeting between the leaders of the two countries, set to take place at a United Nations summit meeting in New York next month, would be canceled.
The military exchanges continued on Friday. Each side claimed the other had fired first.
In some ways, this is nothing new. The two nuclear-armed countries have fought over the mountainous territory of Kashmir — which both claim in its entirety — since Pakistan was carved from British India in 1947. Border flare-ups have occurred many times before, and once tempers have calmed, diplomats on both sides resume the sputtering effort to normalize relations.
But the latest violence comes after an unrivaled stretch of eased tensions over Kashmir, mostly thanks to a 2003 cease-fire that has suited both sides. Pakistan’s military has been preoccupied with the war in Afghanistan and, more recently, the threat from Taliban insurgents in the northwest. India, meanwhile, learned the limits of armed confrontation after the last major standoff, in 2002, and has concentrated on building its economy.
But hard-liners in both countries remain firmly entrenched. And few doubt that the departure of American combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 will change the strategic calculus of circling hawks.
Some Indians fear that, as the Americans leave Afghanistan, Pakistan’s military will use the moment to draw international attention back onto Kashmir, either by bargaining with the United States or by diverting jihadi fighters to the territory, as it did for much of the 1990s.
“The Pakistanis will put up a price to assist with the transition in Afghanistan in 2014,” said Srinath Raghavan, a senior fellow at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi. “Part of that price might be to mount pressure on India over Kashmir.”
Pakistani officials, worried about the possibility of a wider Afghan conflict spilling over their borders, retort that they cannot afford new hostilities with India. As for Islamist collusion, they say Pakistan is already under threat from Taliban fighters, who recently mounted a major jailbreak in the northwest of the country.
Moreover, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had made a point of pledging to improve relations with India before he took office in June. He has a history of making overtures of peace to New Delhi, dating back to his last stint in power in the 1990s. He is under pressure from the business lobby in his native Punjab Province, which borders India, to bolster trade levels that, according to some estimates, could increase to $11 billion from $2 billion a year.
The question is whether Pakistan’s generals will permit Mr. Sharif to deliver on his promises. The security establishments of both countries have become “a mirror image of each other,” said Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general who has participated in back-channel peace efforts. “Neither wants peace. Whenever any movement takes place, they create bottlenecks and problems.”
One ominous possibility, experts say, is that as American troops withdraw from Afghanistan next year, India and Pakistan will conduct their rivalry through proxy groups, a worry that was heightened by a suicide attack on an Indian consulate in eastern Afghanistan on Aug. 3.
“I think that Afghanistan will be a major theater for them,” said Stephen P. Cohen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
For now, the most visible point of contention is in Kashmir. A top Indian general told reporters on Friday that India had killed 28 “terrorists” in the disputed territory since June 24, an unusually high number of casualties.
As usual, it was difficult to confirm that assertion. Both armies tightly limit access to the disputed border, known as the Line of Control. And it can be harder still to circle the logic behind the bloodshed.
After decades of strife, the cross-border exchanges of fire appear to have emotional rather than strategic value. Neither side realistically expects to gain ground, or to force the other to the negotiating table.
One problem is that governments on both sides are relatively weak right now. Mr. Sharif is struggling to calibrate his relationship with the powerful Pakistani military, while in New Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Indian National Congress Party faces an election next year.
Another is that Pakistan has refused to bend to Indian demands to rein in Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the leader of the jihadist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the country’s most prominent anti-India preacher.
In February, Mr. Saeed, who lives in open sight in Lahore despite a $10 million United States bounty for information leading to his capture, warned that “just as America had to run away, then India, you will leave Kashmir.” This week, he led prayers outside Qaddafi Stadium, one of Pakistan’s largest cricket grounds.
For the United States, increased hostility between Pakistan and India spells trouble, whether conducted in Kashmir or Afghanistan.
American officials helped de-escalate the last major border showdown, in 2002, when one million Indian soldiers massed on the Pakistani border. That confrontation, and one three years earlier in which President Bill Clinton intervened, brought global concern about the possibility of a nuclear exchange. While no one is saying such a disaster is imminent, the episodes are present reminders of the risks involved in any tension between India and Pakistan.
America’s other problem is its fragmented approach to the region. Even as the United States continues to pursue stronger economic ties with India, it depends on Pakistan to cooperate in Afghanistan and to crack down on militants sheltering in the northwestern tribal belt. Many analysts say that American attempts to walk that policy tightrope have often come across as incoherent.
Mr. Cohen, the author, said he feared the Pakistan-India conflict could stretch on for decades longer. One hope, he said, is that the troop reduction in Afghanistan in 2014 will give Washington a chance to formulate a more holistic regional approach.
“It’s like a kid who falls into a pile of manure and says, ‘Hey, there’s a pony around here somewhere,’ ” he said.
But, Mr. Cohen added, that is unlikely to happen. “I’m not confident we’re going to do that,” he said. “It’s going to be a case of cut and run.”
Gardiner Harris contributed reporting from New Delhi.
China's one-child policy's human cost fuels calls for reform
Thirty years after it was introduced, the 'transitional policy' endures despite warnings of its punitive effects on China's development
Tania Branigan in Beijing
theguardian.com, Friday 16 August 2013 16.03 BST
To all intents and purposes, Li Xue does not exist. True, she is standing in her parents' one-room home in Beijing, in a SpongeBob SquarePants T-shirt and cropped trousers. But with no ID card or household registration, there is no official acknowledgment of her life apart from a hospital form recording her birth and the fine hanging over her family.
"I have never been to school. I can't buy a train ticket. I can't even buy certain cold medicines, which require an identity card. I don't have medical insurance. It's impossible to get a job," said Li, who recently turned 20.
Her parents' refusal to pay for breaching China's strict birth control rules has left their second child without documentation and therefore without access to basic services and opportunities. The one-child policy, which actually allows a third of couples to have another baby, was supposed to be a transitional measure, but more than 30 years later it endures, despite warnings of its punitive effects on China's development and families like Li's.
Repeated attempts to overturn the policy have led to marginal changes. Fresh speculation last week, suggesting a uniform two-child rule might be adopted from 2015, ended in a less dramatic announcement: authorities were considering allowing couples a second birth if one parent was an only child.
"This issue has been discussed for more than 20 years," said Li Jianxin, a population professor at Peking University. "Many good opportunities have already been missed. The policy should have been adjusted a long time ago."
Instead, it has been enforced at huge human cost – forced late-term abortions, a worsening gender gap, increased trauma and economic stress for parents who lose their only child, and punitive fines for families such as Li's.
Forced abortions and sterilisations are illegal, and much less common than they were, but they are encouraged by family planning targets and perpetuated by the lack of effective checks against local abuses, said Sharon Hom, the executive director of Human Rights in China.
Many people buy themselves out of trouble. One family paid a record 1.3m yuan (£136,000) fine last year. Others make hefty "donations" to obtain school places for undocumented children.
Hom said disadvantaged individuals tend to be targeted, while celebrities and wealthy families "can either afford to pay the heavy fines and/or use their government connections for immunity", exacerbating resentments.
Li's parents Li Hongyu and Bai Xuling should have been allowed a second child, because both are disabled. But Bai fell pregnant unexpectedly and officials imposed a 5,000-yuan fine for their failure to get advance approval. The couple earned only 140 yuan a month. Then Bai's state-run employer fired her for breaching the rules. They have spent years pleading with officials and trying to overturn the fine through the courts for a reconsideration. The Guardian was unable to reach Beijing family planning authorities for comment despite repeated attempts.
They insist they should not have to pay and that no one has told them how much it would cost to gain a hukou (household registration) for Li now
Fines are cumulative, said Hom, and because they are heavy to begin with many families are either unable to pay or go into debt to do so. Li's parents now live on less than 2,000 yuan a month, for themselves and their daughter.
Many suspect the fines – known as social compensation fees in recognition of the extra cost to society – give officials a strong incentive to resist reforms. Family planning also employs huge numbers of officials, and authorities fear a slew of births if the rules are eased.
Officials say the birth controls have been vital to China's development and reduced the strain on the environment, preventing 400 million extra births in a country which, even so, has a population of more than 1.3 billion.
But critics say the birth rate had fallen steeply before the "one child" rule was introduced. Even those who agree it was necessary say it is no longer needed.
China's population is expected to peak in about 10 years at 1.45 billion; the working age population shrank last year. Officially the fertility rate stands at 1.7 births per couple, below the 2.1 required to maintain a stable population – and other estimates put it closer to 1.5.
Yuan Xin, of Nankai University's Institute of Population and Development Research, said the policy had contributed to China's economic growth, but created unexpected problems because the population shift happened too fast. It took Britain and France 75 years to move from six to two-child families, he said. In China, it happened in 20 years.
The country is now ageing at a staggering rate, with a shrinking workforce supporting a rocketing number of dependants. Some fear significant changes will come too late."All this time has been wasted on debates … I just think we should take action as soon as possible," said Gu Baochang of Renmin University, a former government adviser and leading advocate of reform, who says local authorities should be freed to set their own policies.
Pilot schemes suggest that relaxing controls will not lead to a major increase in births. Fertility rates are low across east Asia; Taiwan's is far below China's. And many urban couples now say having more than one child is simply too expensive.
Li sees no point in contemplating such abstract considerations: "I never think about marriage and children," she said.
"If I don't have a household registration, how can I get married, and how can I give my child a registration?"
Additional research by Cecily Huang
It's complicated: get-out clauses for the one-child policy
Because family planning regulations are set by provincial and municipal authorities, even experts struggle to keep track of the complicated rules.
Broadly speaking, rural families whose first child is a girl and ethnic minorities have a right to a second child. Families with a disabled child or couples who are both only children are also entitled to another birth, in recognition of the expectation that children will one day support their elders economically. Divorcees with a child are allowed another if their new spouse does not have one.
Some areas allow particular ethnic minorities to have more than two children; others allow fishermen to have a second child under certain conditions, because their work can be difficult and dangerous. Because women traditionally marry into their husbands' families, couples are also allowed to have two children if the woman has no siblings and her husband agrees to help look after her parents.
But there are often conditions, for example requiring couples to wait several years before having a second child. Some places impose additional restrictions. This week, the Beijing News detailed some of the complications: in Beijing, rules state that rural families with a daughter can only have a second child if they farm, have lived in a mountainous area for a long time and face "practical difficulties". Meanwhile, in Ningxia, miners are allowed to apply for a second child even if their first is a boy, as long as they have been working underground for more than five years and will continue doing so.
The strictness of enforcement varies dramatically, although families expecting lax supervision can sometimes face sudden crackdowns. One Tibetan woman with more than a dozen siblings, all born since the introduction of family planning restrictions, told the Guardian that her parents had never been fined.
China's great gender crisis
Chinese families have long favoured sons over daughters, meaning the country now has a huge surplus of men. Is it also leading to a profound shift in attitudes to women?
The Guardian, Wednesday 2 November 2011 19.59 GMT
His parents knew exactly what they wanted from their son: they called him Famiao, or "produce descendants". Yet when their first grandchild arrived, they refused to step across the courtyard of the family home to see the new baby. Qiaoyue was a girl.
When finally obliged to meet her, "they didn't even wash her face or comb her hair. I was furious," says their daughter-in-law, Chen Xingxiao.
"My father-in-law's friends would ask him, 'How come you haven't brought your grandchild out for a walk?' He would say, 'If it was a boy I would have done. She's a girl, so I won't.'"
Chen's righteous anger is perhaps more surprising than her in-laws' disdain. China's preference for sons stretches back for centuries. Infanticide, the abandonment of girl babies and favourable treatment of boys in terms of food and health has long produced a surplus of men. In the past two decades, the gap at birth has soared: the advent of ultrasound scans has allowed people to abort female foetuses, even though sex-selective abortion is illegal.
In the early 1980s there were 108 male births to every 100 female, only slightly above the natural rate; by 2000 that had soared to 120 males, and in some provinces, such as Anhui, Jiangxi and Shaanxi, to more than 130. The result is that more than 35 million women are "missing". Though China is not the only country affected – India's situation is similar – it has by far the widest gap; its one-child policy has exacerbated the problem.
The effects of the discrepancy are only now emerging in full. The country has tens of millions of men who are destined to die single. Some fear that the excess will lead to increased sexual violence, general crime and social instability. Yet campaigners see the first signs of hope, as more parents come round to Chen's way of thinking. Official statistics released this summer suggest the sex ratio at birth (SRB) has fallen slightly for two years running, to just over 118 males in 2010.
China's population and family planning chief, Dr Li Bin, said it showed the discrepancy "has been preliminarily brought under control"; while experts are more cautious, they agree that the figures offer some hope. The country's new Five Year Plan sets an ambitious target of cutting the ratio to 112 or 113 by 2016. Could China at last be poised to close the sex gap?
No one is claiming victory quite yet: in fact, the government has just pledged to get tougher, launching a new drive against sex-selective abortion. It is increasing safeguards – such as the requirement that two doctors are present at each ultrasound – and toughening punishments. Institutions, as well as individuals, will be held responsible for breaches; the worst offenders risk having their medical licences withdrawn.
"[In the short term] cracking down on illegal foetal sex testing and sex-selective abortions is very important and effective," says Professor Li Shuzhuo, of the Institute for Population and Development Studies at Xi'an Jiaotong University. But he acknowledges medical staff often find ways to indicate a baby's sex, despite the law. They may nod or shake their head; or use a full stop or comma at the end of medical notes – to indicate that parents have achieved their goal or must continue efforts to have a boy.
Other experts fear that cracking down on sex-selective abortion could lead to unsafe, illicit abortions or infanticide if the underlying wishes of the parents remain unchanged. In other words, the battle for China's baby girls will ultimately depend on changing preferences. But as Li points out, that is a long-term struggle, and society pays a high price in the meantime.
The roots of son-preference lie deep in Chinese culture. Traditionally, the bloodline passes through the male side. Women also "marry out", joining their husband's families and looking after their in-laws, not their own parents. For a long time, a son was your pension. Having a girl was wasteful. "Even though son-preference is not rational from the viewpoint of society as a whole, it is a rational choice for an individual," says Li.
Chen's home lies near lush rice paddies, where farmers in wide-brimmed straw hats bend double. The community used to rely on agriculture and believed a boy was necessary for the heaviest work in the fields.
"I can't really blame [my in-laws]; their view was a common one. We have a saying, 'The better sons you have, the better life we can have,' because men have more strength and can carry out more work," says Chen.
In fact, official policy has adapted to these assumptions. China's strict birth-control rules, introduced just over 30 years ago to curb a soaring population, restrict most couples to one birth. But there are several exemptions. Ethnic-minority families are allowed more than one child; couples who are both only children are permitted to have two. The most striking example is the exception made for rural households. While their urban counterparts are generally restricted to one birth, rural couples are allowed a second - if their first is a girl. The statistics show just how important producing at least one son is: the sex ratios for second and third births are vastly more skewed than for first children.
When Chen's daughter was born, a little over 30 years ago, the consequences of the ultrasound had yet to be felt in Shengzhou. But by 1982, 124 boys were being born for every 100 girls. Five years later that figure had risen again, to 129.
Then something striking happened: the ratio dropped steeply. By 1996 it was 109.5. Soon after, according to statistics, it returned to the natural level.
You do not have to look far for part of the explanation. Shengzhou is, it boasts, International Necktie City of the 21st Century, making 350m ties a year – or 40% of the world's supply – as well as huge quantities of gas stoves and cone diaphragms for speakers.
Its factories offer plenty of jobs for daughters, allowing them to make a hefty economic contribution to the household. Across the country, manufacturers have frequently preferred female employees, regarding them as more careful and less troublesome.
Many rural families have less land than they used to; and machinery is available to work the soil, making brute strength less important. China is beginning to develop a welfare system. And development has brought other changes – couples who move into cities have more exposure to new ideas, and less pressure from extended families, say experts.
Old habits and beliefs are eroding. In villages as well as towns, conjugal ties between husband and wife have become more important, while the filial links between parent and child have become less so. Young couples are more likely to live apart from relatives. Few parents can now count on a dutiful daughter-in-law caring for them; and many are noticing that daughters are doing a better job.
Chen admits that she was initially disappointed when her daughter was born. "Of course, I wanted to have a boy. But after giving birth, I thought: 'I don't care. This is my baby,'" she says.
"I looked around me; one of my neighbours had five sons and one daughter. One day, when he was 60 or 70, he wanted some money from his sons for living costs. He cooked a tableful of dishes and bought wine and invited his sons. But none of them agreed to give the money to him. He was furious and smashed the table with his stick. And I thought: 'Well, sons are useless.'"
Meanwhile, she noticed, daughters were returning to visit their parents, bringing gifts and money. Despite strong pressure from her husband and in-laws, she refused to have another child: Qiaoyue was enough for her.
Anthropologist Yunxiang Yan's work suggests that others in China are drawing similar conclusions – and that it is changing their attitude towards girls.
"You can see clearly that a trend of treating sons and daughters equally is slowly emerging in some regions and developing in others," says Yan, of the University of California, Los Angeles.
Some even think that son preference may partially correct itself. The surplus of men has increased competition for brides, meaning families must buy ever more expensive housing to ensure their sons can marry – increasing the economic attractiveness of daughters.
The government has spent an estimated 300 million yuan (£29.5m) trying to precipitate this shift in preferences. Li is the lead consultant in the Care for Girls programme, which combines carrot and stick with educational projects.
There are punishments for sex-selective abortions and extra subsidies for couples who do not use their right to a second child after having a daughter. One county in Fujian has built houses for daughter-only families.
But Ru Xiaomei, deputy director of the international liaison department at the National Population and Family Planning Commission, says the programme is designed to promote female equality in general. So there are roadside signs telling villagers that girls can continue the family line; focus-group discussions for mothers-in-law; help packages for women starting businesses and extra encouragement for girls to enter schools. Officials have even tried to promote the idea of men marrying into women's families, rather than vice versa.
A pilot programme in 24 areas, selected for their very high imbalances, saw the average ratio fall from almost 134 in 2000 to just under 120 in 2005 – still high, as the experts involved acknowledge, but a substantial improvement. It has since been rolled out across China; Li says it is hard to know how exactly how much of a difference it is making, but is confident it has shown results across the country.
Others have concerns: Dr Lisa Eklund of Sweden's Lund University suggests in a recent thesis on son preference that parts of the programme could backfire. Capitalising on gender norms – such as the idea that women are caring – may increase sympathy for girls in the short term, but in the long run reinforce stereotypes – and, thereby, son preference.
Similarly, the social and economic incentives "are partially based on the assumption that having daughters creates vulnerability ... They convey the message that daughters are not as valuable as sons, and that families with only daughters are in need of financial support," she warns.
Whatever the merits of individual policies, government intervention has helped to rebalance births. In the early 90s, South Korea had Asia's highest ratio at birth; by 2007, it had a normal rate. Experts suggest that reforming the family law system, expanding female employment and increasing urbanisation were key.
"I think that the preference for sons is decreasing in China, especially in the more affluent coastal areas, where the SRB shot up fastest earlier," says Dr Monica Das Gupta of the World Bank, who has been tracking son preference in Asia. "But you shouldn't expect to see the sharp decline you saw in South Korea, because South Korea is a small, homogeneous country ... The new ideas swept through the country very quickly. In China it will take longer because of its size and internal differentiation."
Professor Yuan Xin, of Nankai University's Population and Development Institute, warns that it will take at least 10 or 20 years' more work to end a preference that dates back thousands of years. Others think that is optimistic.
Chen says she has witnessed attitudes in Shengzhou shift in the past few decades. Even her in-laws have been won over, because her daughter treats them so well. "I'm not boasting, but I think I took the lead," she says. "There's been a very positive trend, but I won't say things have changed totally."
Recently, a neighbour agreed to have a second child under intense pressure from her husband's family, joking that she was damned if the next child was a girl. "It was twin daughters," says Chen ruefully. "The mother-in-law still wants boys."
Additional research by Han Cheng
• This article was amended on 3 November 2011. The original incorrectly said that 300m yuan was roughly equivalent to £2.4m rather than £29.5m.
China faces 'timebomb' of ageing population
Life expectancy in China is increasing but the number of young adults is plummeting due to strict birth control policies
Tania Branigan in Beijing
The Guardian, Tuesday 20 March 2012 16.10 GMT
How can a country that is still developing cope with what some call a demographic timebomb? Link to video: China grows older before it grows rich
While hundreds of millions of Chinese families toasted the new year together, 84-year-old He Daxing huddled on the doorstep of his daughter's home in Chongqing.
On the most important date in the calendar, not one of his six grown children – born before the country's one-child policy was imposed – would take him in.
Filial piety is so embedded here that officials offered to help him sue his offspring when he fell ill after four nights outside: Chinese law requires adults to support their parents. Yet his case shows that traditional ideals are under growing pressure in a fast-changing, increasingly individualistic society.
China may soon have more He Daxings. It faces a soaring number of old people and a shrinking number of young adults, who are also less able – and sometimes less willing – to support their elders.
Life expectancy has soared in China, while fertility has plummeted due to strict birth control policies. In 2009 there were 167 million over-60s, about an eighth of the population. By 2050 there will be 480 million, while the number of young people will have fallen. "It's a timebomb," warned Wang Feng of the Brookings-Tsinghua Centre for Public Policy in Beijing.
China's economic miracle has been fuelled by its "demographic dividend": an unusually high proportion of working age citizens. That population bulge is becoming a problem as it ages. In 2000 there were six workers for every over-60. By 2030, there will be barely two.
Other countries are also ageing and have far lower birth rates. But China is the first to face the issue before it has developed – and the shift is two to three times as fast.
"China is unique: she is getting older before she has got rich," said Wang Dewen, of the World Bank's China social protection team.
Tens of millions of workers have migrated to the cities, creating an even worse imbalance in rural areas which already suffer low incomes, poor public services and minimal social security.
Most old people there rely on their own labour and their children. China not only needs to support more older people for longer, but to extend support to new parts of society. World Bank researchers point to promising advances, such as the national rural pension scheme and the expansion of health insurance.
China can help deal with increased costs by raising its retirement age; at present, only about a fifth of urban women are still working at 55. Improving education should also raise productivity. Some experts believe such measures will be enough to wipe out the "demographic debt". Others wonder if China will begin to welcome immigrants.
Wang Feng thinks China has been far too timid, storing up trouble for the future. "Leaders have ridden the economic boom and largely collected and spent money and built infrastructure – the hardware: railroads, bridges," he said.
"[In future] they will not have the money to spend, but what is more challenging is the part policymakers have stayed away from: building software – the pensions and healthcare system. That will be critical to social stability and regime legitimacy, but it is much harder to do."
The current five-year plan is the first to address ageing. But Wang said leaders had yet to accept it also meant tackling fertility. Under the "one child policy" – which has several exemptions – the fertility rate has dropped to between 1.5 and 1.8, say experts. That is well below the 2.1 figure required to keep the population stable.
Many experts have urged the government to move to a uniform two-child policy. Instead, it has extended what was meant to be a one-generation measure.
China's 150 million only children face a heavier burden of duties, but economic changes such as migration make them harder to fulfil.
In many ways, China is a good place to age. Older people tend to be active, involved and respected community members. Family bonds remain strong.
"Having undutiful children or being an undutiful child is something really shameful in Chinese culture," said Dr Fengshu Liu of Oslo University, who has researched intergenerational relationships.
Society has moved away from the "top-down, authoritarian" family model, but still expects children to meet their parents' physical and emotional needs and often to support them financially.
Several of the young people she interviewed saw filial piety as a basic requirement in a spouse.
Officials have been keen to promote such ideals – some have even pushed for laws ordering children to visit regularly – and not just for economic reasons, Liu argued. They see it as helping to preserve stability and social co-operation.
In a more individualistic society relationships face new challenges. Children and their spouses can find their parents' demands excessive or intrusive.
He Daxing's daughters complained he had favoured his sons. And even when personal relations are good, practicalities may intervene. Children may work far from their parents, like one of He's sons, or simply lack time to help.
"I have one daughter and there's no way she will be able to take care of me. I will be in a care home when I get older," predicted Liu Zhongli.
Her pragmatism is unusual, but then Liu is director of Evergreen, a state-owned old people's home in north Beijing. She says that children still love their parents – her facility is inundated with visitors each weekend – but that the pressures of modern life are often overwhelming. "Even if your parents live with you, every day you leave early and come back from work late – so you still leave them at home alone. That's not support and that's not filial," she said.
Increased life expectancy can also mean children need care themselves, like the 88-year-old son of the home's oldest resident, who has just turned 109.
For many, there is still a stigma in moving into a care home. But 86-year-old Zhang Jiazhen tried living with her daughters in the US and said she is happier in Evergreen. "I'm an independent person … I really don't like China's old-fashioned view that you raise sons and daughters to support you when you're old," she said. "I can mix with a bigger family here."
The facilities are modern and comfortable and the atmosphere companionable. Retirees sing together or battle it out at billiard and mahjong tables.
But even if you can afford Evergreen's fees of up to 5,100 yuan (£510) each month, it has just 600 beds, and a waiting list of 1,300. According to the World Bank, China has only enough care home places for 1.6% of over-60s, while in developed countries the capacity is about 8%.
Many of those homes are grim and there is a desperate shortage of good staff: most are unskilled or have little training.
Evergreen is a testing ground for potential solutions. A team from Beijing Aeronautics and Astronautics University are trialling a bed that turns into a wheelchair, giving residents more independence, and a robot "dog" to keep them company. "The robot can have simple chats with them, play music and opera, or even dance for them through sound controls. It says 'It feels so good!' when they pet it," said researcher Zhang Guanxin.
But while such innovations may smooth the later years of wealthier urban citizens, the poor will need help from China's leaders to meet basic needs. Even then, argues Wang Feng, families will face extra strain.
"People who could have had a second child [were it not for the one child policy] have missed the opportunity and when they grow older it is not clear how the government can come to the rescue. In fact, I think it's clear that the government cannot substitute for families," he said.
Additional research by Han Cheng
August 16, 2013
Barred From Malaysia, but Still Connecting With Critical Jabs
By GERRY MULLANY
HONG KONG — CLARE REWCASTLE BROWN is persona non grata in her native Malaysia, barred from entering the former British colony.
But that does not silence Ms. Rewcastle Brown, who is one of the most effective voices calling attention to deforestation in Malaysia. The booming economy there, she contends, has been fueled in part by the country’s willingness to tap its natural resources in ways that have enriched the leadership of her native Sarawak, a vast state on Borneo Island long known for its stunning natural beauty and biodiversity.
Through Internet postings and shortwave radio transmissions from London, Ms. Newcastle Brown has given voice to growing concerns among Malaysians about environmental degradation. She spreads her message on social media, her Sarawak Report Web site and broadcasts on Radio Free Sarawak.
“They can’t do this in Malaysia,” she said by phone of her reporting on a country that holds regular democratic elections, but where the government nevertheless exerts strong controls on the news media. “They’d be arrested immediately, and their livelihoods would be destroyed.”
Malaysia is emblematic of Asian nations that are enjoying newfound prosperity, but struggling to adhere to democratic ideals in a world where social media is shaping public opinion and testing entrenched leaders. Its prime minister, Najib Razak, was recently re-elected, but the governing coalition failed to secure a majority vote for the first time in 44 years. Through the global reach of social media, Ms. Rewcastle Brown found easy entree into Malaysia’s brewing environmental debates from her perch in London.
Ms. Rewcastle Brown, 54, the daughter of a police officer in Sarawak during colonial days, recalls flying away from Borneo to attend boarding school as a child.
“I have vivid memories of leaving North Borneo at 8, and I remember the vast canopy of rain forest,” she said.
Four decades later — after a journalism career at the BBC World Service, ITV News and Sky Television in London — she returned to Sarawak for an environmental conference in Kuching and was taken aback by the destruction of the forests.
“You had a tiny clique — a family — that is driving this. There are a handful of people making the money out of this,” she said in reference to relatives of Abdul Taib Mahmud, the chief minister of Sarawak. Mr. Abdul Taib, she asserts, has used his control over timber concessions to enrich himself and his relatives, who, she says, park many of their assets overseas.
“For the next year I looked into the subject,” she recalled, “and was perturbed nobody was covering it.”
WITH help from the Bruno Manser Fund — named after a Swiss environmental activist who disappeared in Malaysia in 2000 and is presumed dead — she started the Sarawak Report in 2010, tapping into online discussions in Malaysia and, with the help of others, writing investigative news reports in English for a Malaysian audience from Covent Garden in London. (She would not say where the operations are based now, citing safety reasons.)
Next came Radio Free Sarawak, helped along by a drive that put 10,000 shortwave radios in the hands of Malaysians to hear the broadcasts, an effort aided by local churches and opposition groups.
“They have verandas where families will sit together and listen to the radio,” Ms. Rewcastle Brown said. To increase the audience, they eventually moved the broadcasts to later in the day to accommodate workers coming home from rice paddies.
Her effort was anonymous at first — Sarawak Report was started while her brother-in-law, Gordon Brown, was in his last months in office as the British prime minister. She is married to Mr. Brown’s younger brother, Andrew.
“I kept my head down while he was prime minister,” she said. But relatives helped persuade her to go public to raise the profile of her work. “It was my family who said it was best to come out into the open.”
Her news outlets focus heavily on assertions that Mr. Abdul Taib’s family has accumulated billions of dollars of wealth, channeling it to real estate in North America and London, while dominating various industries in Malaysia helped along by his political influence.
MR. ABDUL TAIB is now facing an inquiry by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, and has lashed back at the panel, calling its members “naughty and dishonest” for looking into his activities, and saying allegations that he has Swiss and other overseas bank accounts are “malicious falsehoods.”
In early July, Ms. Rewcastle Brown arrived at Kuching International Airport in Sarawak, only to be detained at the airport and put back on a plane for Singapore.
Bridget Welsh, a political science professor at Singapore Management University and an expert on Malaysian affairs, credits the two news outlets that Ms. Rewcastle Brown runs for their “impact on the political debate” over deforestation in Sarawak.
“Taib’s leadership has been badly affected in the urban areas, especially among the Chinese, as the revelations have reverberated among the more educated and Internet connected,” she said. Still, she said, deforestation would likely continue, since “the elite in Malaysia are concerned with making money.”
In the meantime, Ms. Rewcastle Brown faces her own challenges, like Web sites created to undercut her work by using similar names, and aggressive Malaysian-financed public relations efforts that seek to portray the Malaysian government’s environmental efforts in a positive light. And she does her work while she and her husband, Andrew Brown, a former journalist now working in the energy industry, raise two teenage boys.
Does she regret her shift into opposition journalism from afar? She recalled how she had been inspired by the work of Mr. Manser when she started looking into the deforestation of Sarawak.
“I must try to do something,” she said of the genesis of her efforts. “I’ll never forgive myself if I don’t try.”
Gibraltar: David Cameron urges Europe to send monitors to border
British prime minister tells commission president that increased Spanish checks contravene EU right of free movement
The Guardian, Friday 16 August 2013 19.03 BST
David Cameron has urged the president of the European commission to dispatch a monitoring team to the border between Spain and Gibraltar, where increased checks imposed by Spanish authorities have been at the centre of a diplomatic spat.
In a telephone call to José Manuel Barroso, the prime minister underlined Britain's belief that the additional checks were "politically motivated and disproportionate", and contrary to the EU right of free movement as a result.
He said Britain was now actively considering legal action and had begun collating evidence on the "sporadic nature of the measures" which would prove they were illegitimate.
Political tensions in the region flared after the British territory began work on a concrete reef in the Mediterranean, which Spain claims will destroy fishing in the area.
Spain's increased border controls have led to delays of several hours for those travelling to and from the British overseas territory.
The European commission had previously said that it planned to send a team of monitors to Gibraltar next month to check whether Spain was breaking EU rules on frontier controls, but on Friday a Downing Street spokesman said Cameron had asked Barroso to ensure it was sent "urgently".
The spokesman said: "The prime minister emphasised that the commission has a responsibility to do this as part of its role overseeing the application of union law. President Barroso responded that the European commission are closely monitoring the situation and that, following a thorough legal assessment, they would not hesitate to take any measures necessary to uphold EU law."
The Downing Street spokesman added that Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, who speaks Spanish, was due to call his Spanish counterpart, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, later on Friday to reiterate Britain's concerns.
He would be pressing for a way to de-escalate the issue.
Gibraltar's chief minister, Fabian Picardo, claimed on Friday that Spanish people living around Gibraltar support the British territory rather than their own government in the latest row over border controls.
Picardo said that he was in frequent "fluid" contact with local politicians in the Spanish border town of La Linea and other areas where the more than 4,000 Spaniards who work in the peninsula live.
Blaming the problems on the government in Madrid, he said locals were supportive of Gibraltar as an "economic engine" and wanted to see an easing of the border restrictions.
Picardo also warned that the fluctuating blockade could directly impact on the already struggling Spanish economy if it went on too long, with construction jobs that would normally go to Iberian workers being awarded elsewhere.
"I have no contact with Madrid, but I have a lot of fluid contact with mayors in La Linea and others municipalities in the area who are very concerned about the effect the controls being imposed by Madrid could have on the working lives of people who come in and out of Gibraltar every day," he said.
PIG PUTTIN'S RUSSIA ....
Russia hints at visa obstacles for western pop acts after gay row
Madonna, Lady Gaga and Bloodhound Gang have all voiced public disapproval of Russian anti-gay laws. But in future, promoters could find it harder to get US artists into the country
Friday 16 August 2013 18.36 BST
As acts of subversion go, you might think Bloodhound Gang's bass player stuffing a Russian flag down his crotch is on the tamer end of the scale. Yet this act, performed during a concert in Odessa two weeks ago, clearly touched a nerve with Russian authorities – the Federal Migration Service cancelled the band members' visas and banned the band from the country for five years.
It was the latest in a series of events that sparks concern over the future of western artists being able to play in Russia. For instance, when conservative opponents of Madonna and Lady Gaga's support for LGBT rights in Russia failed to convict them on charges of "homosexual propaganda", they managed to nab them on a visa technicality instead: Russia's prosecutor general's office recently attested that both singers violated the terms of their cultural exchange visas by giving profit-making concerts last year.
The growing political tensions between the US and Russia, combined with increasing friction between the anti-gay law passed by Russian parliament and the pro-gay attitudes of US pop stars, has led some to suggest that Russia could form a musical Iron Curtain to keep western acts out. But is this really the case?
One of Russia's leading concert promoters believes that the current row – stoked during last week's athletics world championships in Moscow – will not lead to any conclusive ban, but he has his concerns. Yevgeny Finkelshtein, president of PMI, which organised Madonna and Lady Gaga's concerts in St Petersburg, sent an open letter to President Vladimir Putin last week seeking the creation of a separate visa for artists, athletes and their entourages. The letter was signed by 27 industry figures, including prominent artists, event promoters and venue owners. "I wrote the letter to avoid any further scandals or interruptions in the arrival of foreign stars," Finkelshtein told the Guardian. His open letter also warns that any additional requirements or stiffening of the visa regime for artists and athletes will "inevitably lead to the country's isolation from world culture."
The Russian government has met widespread criticism from abroad for its recent clampdown on gay rights: Activists in the United States boycotted Russian vodka, while actor Stephen Fry spoke out against Russia hosting the Winter Olympics in Sochi next year. The uproar comes after Pig Putin signed a federal law in June against the propaganda of "non-traditional sexual relations" among minors, following 10 regional laws passed against homosexual propaganda among minors in recent years.
putin poster gay law olympic protest Placards satirising Russia's President Pig Putin call for a boycott of the 2013 Winter Olympics, at a protest in London last week against the country's anti-gay laws.
For Madonna and Lady Gaga, two artists who are so celebratory of gay culture, these visa issues perhaps represent something beyond just a legal technicality. For those in need of a quick recap, the past year's events have unfurled as follows: members of conservative groups unsuccessfully sued Madonna for violating the St Petersburg law against homosexual propaganda among minors after she said during a concert there last summer that gay people should be "treated with dignity"; in December, the author of that law, St Petersburg duma deputy Vitaly Milonov, filed a complaint that Lady Gaga had violated the statute when she called for respect for gay rights during her concert in the city; the St Petersburg prosecutor general's office said YouTube video of the incident wasn't sufficient to investigate Milonov's complaint; undeterred, Milonov filed a complaint with Russia's prosecutor general in April arguing that Lady Gaga and Madonna's cultural-exchange visas did not allow them to profit from their concerts in Russia; last week, the prosecutor general's office confirmed this was true and said it might ask the Federal Migration Service and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to take action on the findings.
Milonov employed this same visa tactic against the Bloodhound Gang. The same day they had a criminal investigation opened on them, Milonov asked the prosecutor general to investigate whether the band had commercial or humanitarian cultural-exchange visas.
So far, that's all we know, and according to Finkelshtein, virtually all international artists tour in Russia under cultural-exchange visas - the only other option, a work visa, requires up to six months to process and would require that artists cut any prior employment agreements and sign one with the promoter. But it's not clear whether the authorities will stop issuing such visas to touring artists. Following the prosecutor general's statement, the Ministry of Culture, through which promoters often obtain cultural-exchange visas, reportedly said it would now check the purpose of artists' visits but that it did not have the authority to deny them visas.
Milonov told the Guardian that he would continue to ask the prosecutor to investigate the visa status of artists who break laws or create an "uproar" while in Russia. He said: "I will exercise my right to ask that their visa be checked." But he also supported Finkelshtein's campaign to create a special visa for artists and athletes. Milonov admitted that he would like to see a visa-free regime between Russia and Europe: "I'm confident a simplified visa system will be worked out for artists and other important people to come here."
Finkelshtein has not attempted to obtain any visas for artists since the prosecutor general's office made its statement, but does suggest that Milonov stirred up the scandal over Madonna and Lady Gaga's gay rights stances: "He tried to cancel their concerts before they came to Russia and he couldn't," he said. "He barked and nobody paid attention."
August 16, 2013
Russia: Chechen Man on Trial in Killing Of Journalist Is Shot on Moscow Street
A Chechen man on trial in connection with the murder of the journalist and government critic Anna Politkovskaya was shot in a leg, his lawyer said on Friday, calling it an attempt to silence him. The defendant, Dzhabrail Makhmudov, is accused with his two brothers, their uncle and a former police officer of killing Ms. Politkovskaya at her Moscow home in 2006, a murder that came to symbolize the risks faced by critics of the Russian government. Mr. Makhmudov was shot on a Moscow street late on Wednesday, his lawyer said. Mr. Makhmudov’s brother Rustam has been charged with firing the shots that killed Ms. Politkovskaya, who had exposed state corruption and human rights violations in Chechnya.
August 16, 2013
As Berlusconi’s Party Supports Embattled Chief, Critics Retaliate
By ELISABETTA POVOLEDO
Posters in support of Silvio Berlusconi, the embattled former prime minister, are appearing on billboards and bus stops in major Italian cities and along highways. An aerial advertising blitz along Italy’s coastline was timed to coincide with Ferragosto, the sacrosanct mid-August holiday that sends Italians to the seaside.
It is all the work of Mr. Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party, still smarting from a recent upper court verdict upholding his conviction for tax fraud, which would prevent him from holding public office.
But even as small planes flew over crowded beaches — towing banners with the words “Forza Silvio, Forza Italia” (Go Silvio, Go Italy), to mark dissent with what Mr. Berlusconi’s supporters believe to be a politically motivated conviction — critics were mounting a counteroffensive.
In Tuscany, lawmakers with the Democratic Party handed out leaflets citing the Italian Constitution, to underscore the idea that everyone is equal before the law. “Even Senator Berlusconi is an Italian citizen,” the leaflet read, a response to repeated calls from Mr. Berlusconi’s party for a presidential pardon for its leader, who continues to protest his innocence.
“It was what we jokingly called an antiaircraft attack,” said Enrico Rossi, the Democratic Party president of the Tuscany Region, who handed out leaflets in the seaside resort of Viareggio.
He said that he had been asked by one member of his party to close off the airspace over Tuscany to the pro-Berlusconi planes. “I explained I didn’t have this power, but that I could participate in the leaflet distribution,” which also took place in several other Tuscan cities, Mr. Rossi said in a telephone interview. “We want to respect the dismay of many of Berlusconi’s supporters, but we cannot allow that he be treated differently from other Italian citizens,” he said.
At one beach near Rome, some jeered when the planes flew overhead on Thursday, said a person who was there. And Daniele Dal Bon, the owner of Air Wallace, one of the companies hired to fly the pro-Berlusconi banners for hundreds of miles along Italy’s eastern and western coasts, said he had read messages on Italian blogs expressing hope that the planes would crash or that someone would shoot them down.
“Not nice comments, but in Italy it’s normal,” Mr. Dal Bon said, noting his company was apolitical. “We’ll advertise anything as long as it’s legal — a company slogan or even marriage proposals.”
Mr. Berlusconi was sentenced to four years in prison on the charge, though that was commuted to one, and he has been banned for a still undetermined number of years from holding public office. The issue of how, or even whether, he will actually serve out his sentence weighs heavily on the fate of Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s broad coalition government, which counts the People of Liberty Party among its ranks.
Despite a series of legal setbacks — including a recent conviction for paying to have sex with a minor — Mr. Berlusconi continues to enjoy the support of quite a few Italian voters, who gave his coalition nearly a third of the vote in February elections.
A Senate committee will decide in coming weeks whether Mr. Berlusconi will immediately lose his status as a senator. The law banning him from public office was passed in December, and his lawyers argue that the law should not apply retroactively.
This week, hoping to avert political turmoil, Italy’s president, Giorgio Napolitano, issued a statement saying that justice had to be served and convictions implemented, but that he would consider the possibility of a pardon while respecting the independence of the judiciary.
He said that he had not received an official request for a pardon, and that such a request would be evaluated through the proper channels. In any event, the president said, Mr. Berlusconi is eligible to serve his sentence through some form of community service, or house arrest. Mr. Napolitano ruled out elections in the near future, renewing his backing for Mr. Letta’s government and its agenda of economic and electoral overhaul.
But Mr. Berlusconi’s supporters want Italians to know that their leader is still in charge.
“There is a chain of events that led to this summer campaign,” said Antonio Palmieri, Mr. Berlusconi’s campaign manager and social media strategist, citing the recent “unjust and unfair conviction.” He added, “We aim to show that he is still in the game, and that he is not alone, people are still with Berlusconi.”
Berlusconi supporters see the summer offensive as a preamble to the programmed revamping of his party next month, when People of Liberty is expected to return to its original name — Forza Italia, coined by Mr. Berlusconi when he entered politics 20 years ago. It became People of Liberty in 2007, when Forza Italia merged with the National Alliance.
“Sometimes to go forward in life you have to take a few steps back, and that’s what’s happening with the return to Forza Italia,” said Mr. Palmieri, who hopes the return to what was a winning strategy will attract new voters, as well as those who have become jaded by Italy’s occasionally bizarre politics. “We want to return to the spirit of the origins; the desire to reform Italy is the same as it was 20 years ago.”
08/16/2013 05:33 PM
Bought this Way: Oligarch Wants to Make Wife Next Gaga
By Philipp Oehmke
Pakistan-born oligarch Mohammad Zahoor rose out of poverty to build a Ukrainian steel empire worth billions and marry a former Mrs. World. But now the flamboyant magnate wants to use his riches to make Kamaliya the next Lady Gaga.
Mohammad Zahoor wouldn't exactly call himself an oligarch, he says, but there's an unmistakably oligarchical quality to the way he is speeding along the Kiev expressway. His blue Bentley is slicing through traffic at 90 miles per hour (145 km per hour) in a 50 mile-per-hour zone, followed bumper-to-bumper by a Mercedes SUV. Both vehicles are parting the Ukrainian traffic like it's the proverbial Red Sea, while socialist-era apartment complexes whiz by outside.
Zahoor is sprawled on the backseat next to his wife Kamaliya. She looks gorgeous, he says, in her white diamond-studded dress. Next to the driver sits Igor, the bodyguard. Igor was once a member of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin's personal security team. He glares at every driver who fails to get out of the way quickly enough.
In just 10 minutes, Kamaliya is due to perform at the Palace of Arts in Kiev -- a gala in honor of late Ukrainian fashion designer Mikhail Voronin, who is such an admired icon in Ukraine that 4,000 people are expected to attend the event. Kamaliya will sing one of her songs there. She has opted to perform a ballad.
But Kamaliya the singer is more than just Zahoor's wife -- she's also his pet project. In Ukraine she is a fairly well-known pop star. She combines traditional opera singing with dance pop, which can take some getting used to for Western European ears. She also won the Mrs. World pageant in 2008 and appeared in a film with Sharon Stone, although the movie hasn't been released. Zahoor sees a great deal of potential here. He has finally found something worthwhile to do with his money.
Living the Dream
Zahoor, who is in his late 50s, once owned five steel mills in Ukraine, and when he sold them in 2008 he netted roughly $1 billion (€750 million), although he would rather not divulge the exact amount. What does one do with $1 billion in the bank in the midst of the financial crisis? Zahoor invested in two hotels in Kiev and a number of office buildings. He purchased the liberal English-language weekly the Kyiv Post -- along with a TV studio, an airplane, a yacht, two Bentleys, two Mercedes, an Audi S8 and a Range Rover. So what now?
His fellow oligarchs have bought football clubs. That would be one option. Ukrainian top oligarch Rinat Ackhmetov, for instance, owns Shakhtar Donetsk. Ackhmetov brought in a string of Brazilians and in 2009 the team became the first Ukrainian club to win the UEFA Cup. Football isn't Zahoor's cup of tea, but what if, instead of Brazilians, he brought together the best producers, dancers and PR people and made his wife into a top European pop star? Indeed that very night, on the way to the gala, Zahoor revealed his goal: "We intend to send Lady Gaga into retirement."
That might sound fairly outrageous, but Zahoor has been no stranger to success since he left Karachi at the age of 19 and arrived penniless in the Soviet Union to acquire a degree in metallurgical engineering. At the time, it was certainly just as unlikely that he would today become one of the richest men in Ukraine. Kamaliya has talent and has been singing professionally since the age of 11. The rest can be bought.
Return of the Patron
It's quite possible that Zahoor's approach is merely the logical next step, or perhaps even a visionary venture in today's post-financial crisis era, in which the traditional cultural and entertainment models of postwar capitalism depend on patrons of the arts. Most of the films nominated for an Oscar this year received significant financial backing from billionaires and wealthy heirs, including "Argo" and "Zero Dark Thirty." Large art exhibitions would simply cease to exist without private donors, and numerous football clubs in the Champions League depend upon the support of billionaires. Moscow businessman Vladislav Doronin launched a Russian and a German version of the Andy Warhol magazine "Interview," most likely as a plaything for his then-girlfriend, supermodel Naomi Campbell. In an era when even rich Russians consider private yachts and jets passé, the pact made by sheikhs and oligarchs remains the same: money in exchange for recognition -- and a sense of purpose in life.
Zahoor says that as a steel magnate he used to spend his free time at dinner parties with other steel magnates. Today, he enjoys waiting for two hours while his wife gets dressed, so he and Igor the bodyguard can accompany her across the red carpet. Igor's job is to gesture in a broad Russian manner, as if he wanted to drive off the photographers and cameramen, although they are actually an essential part of the game.
It's a shame that it didn't work out today with the red carpet. Despite doing 90 miles per hour on the expressway, they arrived too late. This time it took Kamaliya four hours to put on her makeup.
A Star is Born
Kamaliya, 36, won her first singing contest at the age of 11, back in the days of the Soviet Union. Afterwards, she received a classical musical education including singing and violin lessons. She can sing over three octaves. In 1997, she released her first album, called "Techno Style," which made her popular in Ukraine. Her mother assumed the role of manager. Kamaliya sang duets with Russian crooner Philipp Kirkorov, but her career stagnated. In 2008, she nevertheless managed to become Mrs. World, yet she still oddly resembles one of Zahoor's steel mills: There must be enormous untapped potential somewhere there, but first everything needs to be revamped.
Back at Zahoor's estate, located just outside of Kiev, Kamaliya immediately wants to hear the latest figures from her German manager. Although she sings in English, her pronunciation needs some work.
"This week you're the most-clicked video on YouTube in Spain -- as well as in Poland," says the manager. "In Germany you still have 15,000 clicks a week, which is a lot," he adds, but later it turns out that all of these figures are rather difficult to check. It's this new shadowy world of pop, with its page hits on YouTube, that Zahoor first needs to come to terms with. These new units of measurement are becoming increasingly important, but sadly there's not much money to be earned from clicks. Fortunately that's only of secondary importance here. Furthermore, in the UK, often referred to as the motherland of pop, Kamaliya has made it to the top 40, reaching number six on the charts. That was last year.
To achieve this coup, Zahoor hired London producers Digital Dog, who have worked with Cyndi Lauper, Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus. For her latest album, "Club Opera," which was released a few weeks ago and is primarily designed to take Germany and Western Europe by storm, Zahoor hired Uwe Fahrenkrog-Petersen, a former member of the now defunct German New Wave band Nena, primarily known for its 1983 hit song "99 Luftballons." Zahoor also hired German singer and entertainer Thomas Anders, who is revered as a big star in Ukraine, to sing a duet with Kamaliya. It's a similar story with Spanish tenor José Carreras, who has been engaged to sing two tracks with the Ukrainian. Zahoor has elaborate videos made in locations like Miami and Mumbai to promote his wife's songs. The billionaire also helped finance the Hollywood film "What About Love" with Sharon Stone. His condition for investing in the project: Kamaliya had to be given a part.
"We can do this," says Zahoor. The pop business isn't that difficult, he figures. So far, he has invested $5 million, but that's just the beginning.
The Diva and the Oligarch
He met the singer back in 2003, when he was still a steel merchant -- already fabulously well-to-do, but uninteresting for a Ukrainian pop diva. He sent her flowers every day until she agreed to marry him.
On the day before the gala, Zahoor returned from the UK with Kamaliya. They had been collaborating on a film about the superrich -- after all, Zahoor knows that his wealth makes his wife more interesting.
That evening in Kiev, yet another TV camera crew is on hand -- this time from Rossiya 1, the pro-Putin channel. They have flown in from Moscow for a few days. The main reason for this is that Zahoor has hired a producer from the Russian network to work as Kamaliya's publicist. That kind of thing is possible in Russia, and since the station enjoys close ties with the government, Kamaliya has already sung for Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
Meet the Zahoors
At the Zahoor residence, Kamaliya has put on a red leather glove that extends over her forearm, and a falcon, which lives in their vast living room, has perched itself there. The animal is called Layla and it normally sits on a throne-like block of wood in the middle of the opulent room. Kamaliya feeds the bird raw chicken. The falcon tears away bloody chunks of chicken meat and swallows them while Kamaliya gazes at it lovingly.
Should she sing with Carreras in her opera voice or in her pop voice? The word is that Carreras prefers the opera voice. Kamaliya would rather sing in a pop style. She's concerned that the songs would otherwise sound too conventional.
After the falcon has eaten enough meat, it continues to tear off pieces of chicken and alternately tosses them to each of the family's six Pekinese lion-dogs. The dogs deserve their fair share, too. A bunny rabbit and chinchilla observe the scene, while a cockatoo shrieks near a window at the back of the room. It's very possible that the idea of transforming a Ukrainian Mrs. World into a global star is not even the zaniest thing here at the Zahoor residence. The mansion, which Zahoor built a few years ago, has been decorated by Kamaliya. She took a liking to the Burj Al Arab luxury hotel in Dubai, so she gave their home an Arab touch, with genuine gilt wallpaper, diverse decorative objects, marble and bright colors. She thought that her husband might feel at home in these familiar surroundings -- until Zahoor explained that he wasn't an Arab, but rather a Pakistani.
Every morning, an Indian man dressed in a yellow robe comes to their home and rolls out two yoga mats in the garden near the private pier. Then he demonstrates yoga exercises to the man of the house for 90 minutes, although Zahoor is usually busy making phone calls or cuddling with the dogs, who are always present for yoga lessons. From his pier in his garden, Zahoor can travel in his yacht all the way to Venice. The ship is unfortunately currently in Sevastopol, but Zahoor wants to have it sail through the Bosporus soon and on to the Mediterranean. He has invited Carreras to stay on the yacht so he and Kamaliya can rehearse their duets on board.
Rise of a Magnate
Mohammad Zahoor's first name is actually Zahoor, but he insists that his last name is so unpronounceable that he has simply adopted Zahoor as his surname. As a young man, he had no notion of what the Soviet Union was, but he wanted to get out of Pakistan. He came to Moscow in 1974 at the age of 19. It was winter and Zahoor didn't understand a word of Russian. He picked up the language in three months, and he studied at a technical college in Donetsk, Ukraine where he learned how to burnish raw steel. After completing his education in the Soviet Union, he returned to Pakistan, where he quickly rose through the ranks at a state-owned Pakistani steel plant. But he had already married his first wife, a Russian, and after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in the late 1970s, the Russians became anathema to the Pakistanis. It was no longer possible for an executive married to a Russian to work in a public company, so Zahoor eventually had to leave the country.
He moved back to the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and, in the wake of the country's collapse in 1991, began to trade in steel and purchased his first steel mill. They were inexpensive at the time. He soon owned five of them and maintained offices in New York and Hong Kong. He became a British citizen and acquired a Victorian mansion in London.
The other Ukrainian oligarchs didn't encroach on his turf, says Zahoor. "Steel didn't interest them at the time. It was seen as a dying industry, which required a great deal of investment before it produced any returns," he explains. "It wasn't quick money. What my colleagues wanted were casinos, vodka and oil."
Zahoor says that he tried to maintain some distance from the other oligarchs in Kiev, without being too obvious about it. He found his ideal role as the good oligarch, who owns a respected political magazine that is critical of the government and has given the country the Ukrainian Music Awards. He says publicly that he doesn't intend to invest his money outside of Ukraine. Nevertheless, the word in Kiev is that it's virtually unthinkable that someone can become a billionaire without being able to assert his interests, at least to a certain degree -- and without occasionally treading on legally ambivalent terrain. Zahoor has had his share of fallings out with former business partners and there have been court cases.
After nightfall in Kiev, at 1:45 a.m., Zahoor plays one of his wife's concert DVDs. He lights a cigar and joins Kamaliya in front of their home cinema. He insists that the guest from Germany should watch as well, and not yet retire to the guest house. The couple never goes to bed before dawn, despite the fact that Kamaliya is now in her seventh month of pregnancy. Zahoor is still unsure how the pregnancy fits in with her career plans. They actually intended to make a formal announcement during an interview at the gala, but Zahoor changed his mind at the last minute. It was then up to Igor, the bodyguard, to get rid of the camera teams who tried to ask questions about Kamaliya's conspicuously large belly.
Zahoor has put the volume all the way up on the Dolby Surround sound. Lounging on the sofa, he gazes dreamily at his wife, who is rocking gently back and forth next to him as she sings and dances on the screen. They have come up with a little storyline for her DVD concert. Kamaliya is standing among the ruins of the Ukrainian National Opera House in Kiev. With every song that she sings, a new building is gradually erected. When Kamaliya has finished her last song, the new opera house looks more beautiful and modern than the old one. Zahoor sees this as the perfect parable. He is the opera house -- and Kamaliya has made him more handsome and modern. Perhaps one simply has to believe in something like this. The rest can be bought.
Translated from the German by Paul Cohen
08/16/2013 06:10 PM
The Straight Dope: West German Scandal Spurs Push For New Law
By Detlef Hacke, Udo Ludwig and Michael Wulzinger
Although reports two years ago of widespread doping in West German sports prompted outrage, politicians have done nothing. Some are hoping a rekindled public debate may lead to the passage of an effective anti-doping law. If Italy and Spain have done it, they argue, so can Germany.
A single day in September 2011 could have been enough to shake the German sports world to its core. On the day in question, historians from Berlin and Münster presented to the media their findings on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in West German sports. It was the culmination of two years of combing through archives and interviewing historical witnesses. The results were shocking, revealing an extensive system of doping that existed in West Germany prior to German reunification, conducted by sports doctors, covered up by officials and supported by the government.
The same day, Sept. 26, 2011, SPIEGEL published a five-page article detailing the contents of the researchers' preliminary report. This encompassed criminal activities, secret dealings, media-hungry politicians eager to keep pace with the German Democratic Republic (GDR) during the Cold War, reckless doctors and millions in misused tax funds. A great deal of information, in other words, that could have been cause for outcry.
But instead, next to nothing happened. There was little response from politicians, officials or the general public. No one was surprised, it seemed, to learn that West Germany, like East Germany, had run doping programs -- organized differently than in the GDR, the secrets more closely guarded, but just as systematic. Previously, doping here had largely been viewed as being an East German phenomenon.
Now, though, a second run at the issue has produced outrage after all. Earlier this month, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported on the study once again. And while what it said contained little in terms of content that hadn't been known already, it also printed the revelation that the researchers' final report, weighing in at around 800 pages, had been complete since March 2012, yet remained unpublished. Why was the tome simply gathering dust in a basement?
It seems as though there might have been an attempt to cover up facts some might find uncomfortable -- a suspicion that has finally garnered a reaction, along with the study's confirmation of prior findings and the way it expands upon, structures and collates what was previously known about doping in German sports. For example, as early as 1991, shortly after German reunification and at the same as the GDR's systematic doping program was being exposed, a German Sports Association (DSB) fact-finding commission was collecting evidence that put considerable dents in West Germany's squeaky clean image.
This discovery is raising new questions: If doping was so systematic back then, is it still rampant in Germany today? Is enough being done to counter the problem? There are those who have their doubts. Proponents of a German anti-doping law are raising their voices once again, taking advantage of the current focus on the topic, in the hope of gaining attention for an undertaking that has proven a difficult one.
Resistance and Reluctance
Many sporting officials and politicians display noticeably little interest in confronting the past. As doping in sports has become the sudden object of vehement debate, the response from officials has consisted largely of attempts to placate.
Germany's Interior Ministry has attempted to dismiss the study as a "semi-finished product that at best is in need of a great deal of revision." The Federal Institute for Sport Science (BISP), despite being the body that commissioned the report, has been similarly reluctant to acknowledge its results, accusing the researchers of shoddy methodology. The sports committee of the Bundestag, Germany's parliament, is now asking for more information, although its members long allowed themselves to be put off when they wanted to know more about the contents of the report.
As for Thomas Bach, 59, the president of the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) is pleased to be able to say he has taken a stand against doping before, when he was spokesman for the German Fencing Association. Yet he claims never to have caught wind of any such practices during his time as a fencer -- this from the country's top sports official, who is otherwise exceedingly well connected.
Throughout the three years of their work, the historians repeatedly came up against reluctance to provide information. Often they were granted little or no access to archives, with the resistance sometimes reaching absurd levels. When SPIEGEL reported in 2011 that the researchers had discovered a letter showing drug tests at the 1966 World Cup had revealed traces of ephedrine in three West German national team players, the DFB took action. But while British tabloids delighted in reporting on stimulant-using West German World Cup losers, the DFB found little humor in the situation, commissioning a lawyer to compose a 16-page expert opinion meant to dismiss even the slightest suspicion that such doping had taken place.
Two or three weeks from now, the Bundestag's sports committee plans to hold a special session to further explore the matter. Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich has promised to attend. Bach received an invitation as well, but won't be attending, having too many other demands on his time. Bach hopes to by elected president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Sept. 10. This would be the final step along his long path to becoming the most powerful man in sports.
Bach is happy to let politicians pay him court on any occasion. That always makes for good photographs. He's less fond, though, of having to account to political representatives. The reaction to the doping study had hardly gotten underway before Bach announced that the DOSB would establish an independent commission to investigate the matter, headed by former German Constitutional Court judge Udo Steiner, 73. Steiner is close to Bach, and four years ago similarly helped to bring a quiet end to a debate over Olympic horses that had been treated with banned substances.
Bach's approach may sound as though it has drive and German thoroughness on its side, but the history of such commissions in the sports world is sobering. In most cases, they only serve those who want to play for time -- time for a scandal to lose momentum, the outrage over it to die down and grass to grow over the whole thing. And Bach certainly needs time. A scandal is the last thing he needs right now, when he is so close to the IOC throne.
When it emerged in 2007 that the Freiburg University Clinic had been running a large-scale doping program for cyclists on team T-Mobile -- who regularly compete in major cycling races including the Tour de France -- two investigative commissions formed. The larger of the two, which has not yet finished its work, was headed first by a former judge and then by organized crime expert Letizia Paoli. Some members, such as anti-doping expert Werner Franke, have left the commission in frustration. Paoli, too, complains of feeling "deceived" by the university's directors and says important documents have been withheld. The commission's work has been so divisive that little new information is expected to emerge from it.
In most cases, the doping scandals that have nearly spelled the end of professional cycling in Germany actually began abroad. For Jan Ullrich and the T-Mobile team, downfall came in the form of the doping scandal surrounding Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, who is currently on trial in Spain, and the memoirs of a Belgian massage therapist who had worked for the team. Gerolsteiner cyclists Stefan Schumacher and Bernhard Kohl succumbed to their own fall after testing positive for controlled substances during the Tour de France. And a retroactive analysis in France recently revealed that Erik Zabel, too, had lied about doping.
Spain, France and Austria have all passed anti-doping laws, as has Italy, a country not usually known for its speedy legislation. Prosecutors and police in these countries work to catch both the athletes who engage in doping and those who aid and abet them, setting up raids to secure evidence. That's how it works in countries where cheating in sports is a criminal offense.
In Germany, the sports lobby has so far prevented politicians from passing anything stricter than a pharmaceuticals law. When German athletes are defeated by foreign competition, this is often taken as proof of the above-board practices of the German competitive sports world. The National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) receives frequent praise, but in practice receives too little funding from sports associations and the government to do more than catch a few small fish. Last year, its 8,567 out-of-competition drug tests caught just eight athletes, a miniscule success rate.
Pushing for an Anti-Doping Law
Chancellor Angela Merkel seems to feel no urgency to change Germany's legal position on this issue. The word from sources close to the chancellor last week was that no anti-doping law is up for debate and that existing laws are considered enough of a deterrent. That's a line of argument very much in line with Bach's tastes. The DOSB head prefers to keep public prosecutors out of doping investigations, in order to retain autonomy.
The results of the current study, though, have brought about louder calls for an anti-doping law in Germany. The sports world seems incapable of handling its largest problem internally. Drug tests alone aren't enough to solve the problem, as German sports associations would have the public believe. At most, such tests catch those athletes who are careless in their doping practices. And they rarely reveal those pulling the strings.
Proponents of an anti-doping law see their position confirmed by the study, which has breathed new life into the push for legislative reform. Rainer Stickelberger, justice minister in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg and a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), says he is "very optimistic" this will reduce resistance to an anti-doping law. Until now, the only other high-level politician who supported this position was his Bavarian counterpart Beate Merk of the Christian Social Union (CSU).
A few months ago, with the support of his state's governor, Winfried Kretschmann of the Green Party, Stickelberger introduced an initiative to the Bundesrat, the legislative body that represents Germany's federal states. His way was paved by a change of opinion among state-level justice ministers. At a recent session in Perl, a town in the state of Saarland, in mid-June, a two-thirds majority of these ministers expressed support for the introduction of an anti-doping law.
Germany's upcoming federal elections on Sept. 22 could also drive further cracks into the previously unshakable alliance between the sports world, the chancellery and the Interior Ministry. If election results give the SPD the chance at a role in the country's next government, coalition talks could include negotiations over an anti-doping law, Stickelberger says. In fact, he adds, he could "very well imagine it, if doping remains as much of a hot topic as it is right now."
Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein