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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1072962 times)
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« Reply #8310 on: Aug 24, 2013, 06:43 AM »

Pregnant girls banned from class in South Africa turn to one school that won’t turn them away

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, August 23, 2013 10:53 EDT

Outcasts elsewhere, the schoolgirls chatter, compare homework and shuffle to class just like other teens but with one big difference — all are expectant mums in South Africa’s only school for pregnant girls.

This is Pretoria Hospital School where students, some as young as 13, are given the chance to carry on learning in a country where expectant schoolgirls — and their numbers are alarming — are often expelled.

“We offer them an environment where they can learn without being prejudiced, but that does not mean that we condone early pregnancy,” said principal Rina van Niekerk.

The small establishment does not promote its service and remains low-key, amid debate over how to remedy South Africa’s scholastic exclusion of pregnant teens.

“The aim of the school is to ensure that they do not miss out on education just because they are pregnant,” said Van Niekerk.

She has been at the facility for 25 years, amid a lack of clear policy on pregnant learners in other state schools where treatment varies and many just shut the girls out.

Change may be afoot, however, as in July the Constitutional Court forced two state schools to end their practice of banning pregnant students from class.

Teenage pregnancy rates remain high in South Africa, despite years of campaigns against unprotected sex in a country where more than 10 percent of the population live with the HIV virus that causes AIDS.

An official study in 2002 said one in every three teenage girls in South Africa had been pregnant by the age of 19, with little apparent improvement since. The education ministry estimates that some 94,000 teenagers fell pregnant in 2011.

Poverty and other factors, like rape, have not helped .

With nearly 65,000 attacks a year, South Africa has one of the highest incidences of reported rape in the world, and the unemployment rate continues to exceed 25 percent .

The Pretoria school, in the heart of the capital, opened in the 1950s as a school for sick children in city hospitals. The first expectant girls were enrolled in the 1980s, when pregnancy out of wedlock was taboo.

It has 108 students, aged 13 to 18, following a peak in 2011 with 134 girls. After giving birth, the teens return to finish the academic year as new mothers.

Van Niekerk is protective of her students, who playfully pat each others tummies under the blue uniforms. She is adamant that pregnant learners pose special challenges.

“Some girls have trouble concentrating and they sometimes suffer from pregnancy related sickness,” she said. “We have to be really patient sometimes.”

Not all agree, like Andile Dube, the director of LoveLife, South Africa’s largest youth-targeted HIV/AIDS campaign.

She is opposed to the idea of exclusive schooling for pregnant girls, saying it does not provide a solution to the country’s vast problem.

“I think it only deals with pregnancy management rather than prevention,” she told AFP.

“I’m of the view that if you start to create those schools around the country, you are almost saying pregnancy is a condition that is actually very exclusive, it’s something that has to be treated differently,” she said.

The learners at Pretoria themselves are positive.

Naledi Vuma, an 18-year-old who gave birth last year, said she was grateful to continue classes while expecting and then return to complete her studies. Being among other pregnant girls helped her “feel comfortable”, she said.

According to 2012 figures by the World Health Organisation, there are 16 million adolescent pregnancies around the world and 95 percent of these occur in developing countries.

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« Reply #8311 on: Aug 24, 2013, 06:44 AM »

Nigerian Islamists accused of cutting throats of 44 villagers

Official says attackers gouged out eyes of some survivors of raid on Dumba village

Associated Press, Saturday 24 August 2013 10.56 BST   

Islamist extremists have been accused of cutting the throats of 44 villagers in continuing attacks in an Islamic uprising in north-east Nigeria.

An official from the National Emergency Management Agency said on Saturday the attackers hit Dumba village in Borno state before dawn on Tuesday. He said the method of killing was to avoid gunfire which could attract security forces.

He said the attackers gouged out the eyes of some of the survivors.

Dumba is near the fishing village of Baga, where security forces gunned down 187 civilians in March in retaliation for an attack by extremists.

It is difficult to get information from the area, which is under a state of emergency with mobile phone and internet services cut.

Borno is one of three north-eastern states under a state of emergency declared on 14 May to crack down on the Boko Haram terrorist network.

Since 2010 more than 1,700 people have been killed in attacks by Islamist insurgents, according to an Associated Press count.
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« Reply #8312 on: Aug 24, 2013, 06:46 AM »

August 23, 2013

A Blunt Chief Justice Unafraid to Upset Brazil’s Status Quo


BRASÍLIA — Brazil’s highest court has long viewed itself as a bastion of manners and formality. Justices call one another “Your Excellency,” dress in billowing robes and wrap each utterance in grandiloquence, as if little had changed from the era when marquises and dukes held sway from their vast plantations.

But when the chief justice, Joaquim Barbosa, strides into the court, the other 10 excellencies brace themselves for whatever may come next.

In one televised feud, Mr. Barbosa questioned another justice about whether he would even be on the court had he not been appointed by his cousin, a former president impeached in 1992. With another justice, Mr. Barbosa rebuked him over what the chief justice considered his condescending tone, telling him he was not his “capanga,” a term describing a hired thug.

In one of his most scathing comments, Mr. Barbosa, the high court’s first and only black justice, took on the entire legal system of Brazil — where it is still remarkably rare for politicians to ever spend time in prison, even after being convicted of crimes — contending that the mentality of judges was “conservative, pro-status-quo and pro-impunity.”

“I have a temperament that doesn’t adapt well to politics,” Mr. Barbosa, 58, said in a recent interview in his quarters here in the Supreme Federal Tribunal, a modernist landmark designed by the architect Oscar Niemeyer. “It’s because I speak my mind so much.”

His acknowledged lack of tact notwithstanding, he is the driving force behind a series of socially liberal and establishment-shaking rulings, turning Brazil’s highest court — and him in particular — into a newfound political power and the subject of popular fascination.

The court’s recent rulings include a unanimous decision upholding the University of Brasília’s admissions policies aimed at increasing the number of black and indigenous students, opening the way for one of the Western Hemisphere’s most sweeping affirmative action laws for higher education.

In another move, Mr. Barbosa used his sway as chief justice and president of the panel overseeing Brazil’s judiciary to effectively legalize same-sex marriage across the country. And in an anticorruption crusade, he is overseeing the precedent-setting trial of senior political figures in the governing Workers Party for their roles in a vast vote-buying scheme.

ASCENDING to Brazil’s high court, much less pushing the institution to assert its independence, long seemed out of reach for Mr. Barbosa, the eldest of eight children raised in Paracatu, an impoverished city in Minas Gerais State, where his father worked as a bricklayer.

But his prominence — not just on the court, but in the streets as well — is so well established that masks with his face were sold for Carnival, amateur musicians have composed songs about his handling of the corruption trial and posted them on YouTube, and demonstrators during the huge street protests that shook the nation this year told pollsters that Mr. Barbosa was one of their top choices for president in next year’s elections.

While the protests have subsided since their height in June, the political tumult they set off persists. The race for president, once considered a shoo-in for the incumbent, Dilma Rousseff, is now up in the air, with Mr. Barbosa — who is now so much in the public eye that gossip columnists are following his romance with a woman in her 20s — repeatedly saying he will not run.

“I’m not a candidate for anything,” he says.

But the same public glare that has turned him into a celebrity has singed him as well. While he has won widespread admiration for his guidance of the high court, Mr. Barbosa, like almost every other prominent political figure in Brazil, has recently come under scrutiny. And for someone accustomed to criticizing the so-called super-salaries awarded to some members of Brazil’s legal system, the revelations have put Mr. Barbosa on the defensive.

One report in the Brazilian news media described how he received about $180,000 in payments for untaken leaves of absence during his 19 years as a public prosecutor. (Such payments are common in some areas of Brazil’s large public bureaucracy.) Another noted that he bought an apartment in Miami through a limited liability company, suggesting an effort to pay less taxes on the property.

In statements, Mr. Barbosa contends that he has done nothing wrong.

In a country where a majority of people now define themselves as black or of mixed race — but where blacks remain remarkably rare in the highest echelons of political institutions and corporations — Mr. Barbosa’s trajectory and abrupt manner have elicited both widespread admiration and a fair amount of resistance.

As a teenager, Mr. Barbosa moved to the capital, Brasília, finding work as a janitor in a courtroom. Against the odds, he got into the University of Brasília, the only black student in its law program at the time. Wanting to see the world, he later won admission into Brazil’s diplomatic service, which promptly sent him to Helsinki, the Finnish capital on the shore of the Baltic Sea.

Sensing that he would not advance much in the diplomatic service, which he has called “one of the most discriminatory institutions of Brazil,” Mr. Barbosa opted for a career as a prosecutor. He alternated between legal investigations in Brazil and studies abroad, gaining fluency in English, French and German, and earning a doctorate in law at Pantheon-Assas University in Paris.

Fascinated by the legal systems of other countries, Mr. Barbosa wrote a book on affirmative action in the United States. He still voices his admiration for figures like Thurgood Marshall, the first black Supreme Court justice in the United States, and William J. Brennan Jr., who for years embodied the court’s liberal vision, clearly drawing inspiration from them as he pushed Brazil’s high court toward socially liberal rulings.

Still, no decision has thrust Mr. Barbosa into Brazil’s public imagination as much as his handling of the trial of political operatives, legislators and bankers found guilty in a labyrinthine corruption scandal called the mensalão, or big monthly allowance, after the regular payments made to lawmakers in exchange for their votes.

LAST November, at Mr. Barbosa’s urging, the high court sentenced some of the most powerful figures in the governing Workers Party to years in prison for their crimes in the scheme, including bribery and unlawful conspiracy, jolting a political system in which impunity for politicians has been the norm.

Now the mensalão trial is entering what could be its final phases, and Mr. Barbosa has at times been visibly exasperated that defendants who have already been found guilty and sentenced have managed to avoid hard jail time. He has clashed with other justices over their consideration of a rare legal procedure in which appeals over close votes at the high court are examined.

Losing his patience with one prominent justice, Ricardo Lewandowski, who tried to absolve some defendants of certain crimes, Mr. Barbosa publicly accused him this month of “chicanery” by using legalese to prop up certain positions. An outcry ensued among some who could not stomach Mr. Barbosa’s talking to a fellow justice like that.

“Who does Justice Joaquim Barbosa think he is?” asked Ricardo Noblat, a columnist for the newspaper O Globo, questioning whether Mr. Barbosa was qualified to preside over the court. “What powers does he think he has just because he’s sitting in the chair of the chief justice of the Supreme Federal Tribunal?”

Mr. Barbosa did not apologize. In the interview, he said some tension was necessary for the court to function properly.

“It was always like this,” he said, contending that arguments are now just easier to see because the court’s proceedings are televised.

Linking the court’s work to the recent wave of protests, he explained that he strongly disagreed with the violence of some demonstrators, but he also said he believed that the street movements were “a sign of democracy’s exuberance.”

“People don’t want to passively stand by and observe these arrangements of the elite, which were always the Brazilian tradition,” he said.

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« Reply #8313 on: Aug 25, 2013, 06:36 AM »

Syria: Cameron and Obama move west closer to intervention

British prime minister and US president agree that alleged chemical attack 'requires a response'

Martin Chulov in Beirut and Toby Helm   
The Observer, Sunday 25 August 2013   

David Cameron and Barack Obama moved the west closer to military intervention in Syria on Saturday as they agreed that last week's alleged chemical weapon attacks by the Assad regime had taken the crisis into a new phase that merited a "serious response".

In a phone call that lasted 40 minutes, the two leaders are understood to have concluded that the regime of Bashar al-Assad was almost certainly responsible for the assault that is believed to have killed as many as 1,400 people in Damascus in the middle of last week. Cameron was speaking from his holiday in Cornwall.

The prime minister and US president said time was running out for Assad to allow UN weapons inspectors into the areas where the attack took place. Government sources said the two leaders agreed that all options should be kept open, both to end the suffering of the Syrian people and to make clear that the west could not stand by as chemical weapons were used on innocent civilians.

A spokesman for No 10 said: "The prime minister and President Obama are both gravely concerned by the attack that took place in Damascus on Wednesday and the increasing signs that this was a significant chemical weapons attack carried out by the Syrian regime against its own people. The UN security council has called for immediate access for UN investigators on the ground in Damascus. The fact that President Assad has failed to co-operate with the UN suggests that the regime has something to hide.

"They reiterated that significant use of chemical weapons would merit a serious response from the international community and both have tasked officials to examine all the options. They agreed that it is vital that the world upholds the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons and deters further outrages. They agreed to keep in close contact on the issue."

The dramatic upping of the stakes came after the international medical charity Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) reported that three hospitals in Damascus had received approximately 3,600 patients displaying neurotoxic symptoms in less than three hours on the morning of Wednesday, 21 August. Of those patients, 355 are reported to have died.

Dr Bart Janssens, MSF's director of operations, said: "Medical staff working in these facilities provided detailed information to MSF doctors regarding large numbers of patients arriving with symptoms including convulsions, excess saliva, pinpoint pupils, blurred vision and respiratory distress."

He said the reported symptoms strongly indicated "mass exposure to a neurotoxic agent. This would constitute a violation of international humanitarian law, which absolutely prohibits the use of chemical and biological weapons."

France's foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said on Saturday that "all the information at our disposal converges to indicate that there was a chemical massacre near Damascus and that the [regime of Bashar al-Assad] is responsible".

The foreign secretary, William Hague, said last week that "this is a chemical attack by the Assad regime" and "not something that a humane or civilised world can ignore".

Obama has been reluctant to commit American forces to what has become a bitter and protracted civil war. However, he said last year that use of chemical weapons would cross a "red line" triggering a more robust US response. It was confirmed yesterday that the US navy is deploying an extra missile warship to the eastern Mediterranean ahead of a summit to debate the massacre.

The summit will be held in Jordan's capital, Amman, in the first half of the week as a consensus hardens that the nerve agent sarin was used in the attack in rebel-held east Damascus early on Thursday. Biological samples taken from victims of the attack have been passed to western officials in Jordan after having been smuggled out of Syria over the past 72 hours. Questionnaires have been distributed to officials in the three most affected communities, asking for scientific and environmental details, as well as for organ tissue and clothing worn by victims.

Officials, who have not identified themselves but claim to be part of an international response, have also made phone contact with rebel officials, seeking photographs of the rockets that are thought to have carried the gas.

France, Britain and Turkey have blamed the Syrian regime for the attack, which came as its military forces were advancing into the area.

Syria has continued to deny responsibility as the UN's disarmament chief, Angela Kane, arrived in Damascus to try to negotiate access to the site of the attack for an inspection team that was sent to investigate three earlier alleged attacks. The team has been in the capital for the past six days and has been pressing for permission to make the journey – only a short distance from its hotel.

Rebel groups in the area say that they will guarantee safe passage. However, the Syrian government has not agreed and the UN fears that the journey is unsafe without a negotiated agreement.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, spoke to Syria's foreign minister, Walid al-Moualem, on Thursday, the State Department revealed on Saturday. Kerry told him the Damascus government should have let UN inspectors have access to the site of the alleged gas attack, the department said.

Kerry called "to make clear that if, as they claimed, the Syrian regime has nothing to hide, it should have allowed immediate and unimpeded access to the site rather than continuing to attack the affected area to block access and destroy evidence," a State Department official said.

The chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, General Martin Dempsey, will travel to Jordan along with the head of the US central command, General Lloyd Austin, and chiefs of staff from Turkey, Britain, France, Qatar, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Italy and Canada.

The addition of a US destroyer takes to four the US Mediterranean flotilla, one more than normal. US defence secretary Chuck Hagel said no decision has been made to use the warships in operations against Syria. Speaking on Friday, officials in Washington said no response to Syria would involve sending troops into the country.

Two of Syria's three main allies, Russia and Iran, have supported calls for a transparent and credible inquiry into the attack. Both accuse rebel groups of having carried out the atrocity. Syrian state television said on Saturday that its forces had found tunnels in rebel areas in which chemicals were stored.

The Lebanese militia, Hezbollah, has remained silent since Thursday. Hezbollah leaders roundly condemned car-bombings of two mosques in Lebanon's second city, Tripoli, one day later, which killed 42 and wounded hundreds. The mosques had been focal points of anti-Assad rhetoric in the largely Sunni north.

Lebanon, an unstable multi-confessional state, has been perennially on edge since the start of the Syrian uprising with occasional flare-ups in violence that threaten to drag it into the chaos consuming its powerful neighbour. The remains of 20 such rockets have been found in the affected areas, activists and local residents say. Many remain mostly intact, suggesting that they did not detonate on impact and potentially dispersed gas before hitting the ground.


Syria has given the green light to UN inspectors, Iran says

Iranian foreign minister says Syria will offer 'fullest co-operation' with UN to investigate alleged chemical attacks

Reuters in Dubai, Sunday 25 August 2013 08.05 BST   

The Syrian government has told Iran it will allow UN inspectors to visit areas reportedly affected by chemical weapons, according to the Iranian foreign minister, quoted on Iran's Press TV on Sunday.

"We are in close contact with the Syrian government and they have reassured us that they had never used such inhumane weapons and would have the fullest co-operation with the UN experts to visit the areas affected," Mohammad Javad Zarif told Italy's foreign minister, Emma Bonino, in a telephone conversation on Saturday, Press TV reported.

The Syrian opposition has accused government forces of killing well over 1,000 civilians with poison gas in Damascus suburbs on Wednesday – an accusation dismissed by the government.

World powers have urged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to allow UN chemical weapons inspectors already in Damascus to examine the sites.

Iran is Syria's closest ally and is supporting Assad against opposition forces seeking to overthrow him. The Syrian government has accused rebels of launching the chemical attacks to provoke an international reaction, an account backed by Iran and Russia, another ally.

"The international community must show a serious reaction to the use of chemical weapons by the terrorists in Syria and condemn this move," Zarif said, according to the English-language Press TV report.


Did Assad's ruthless brother mastermind alleged Syria gas attack?

Shadowy figure of Maher al-Assad could have been involved in alleged atrocity that hit rebel-held district of Damascus

Martin Chulov   
The Observer, Saturday 24 August 2013 21.43 BST   

He hasn't been seen for over a year, remaining in the shadows while Bashar al-Assad has been the public face of Syria.

But Maher al-Assad has in many ways played a more decisive role in the country's civil war than his elder brother, commanding its most formidable military division as it claws back losses and leading the defence of Damascus against an opposition that remains entrenched on the capital's outskirts. The question many Syrians are asking, after last week's revelations of an apparent chemical attack on civilians in rebel-held areas, is what role the president's brother may have played in the atrocity.

Maher has remained a senior member of the Ba'ath party's central committee and a central pillar of a police state that, despite the ravages of war and insurrection, remains one of the most effective in the world.

As the trajectory of Syria's war has wobbled throughout the past year, opposition gains in parts being offset by regime advances elsewhere, the 4th Armoured Division Maher commands has been a chief protagonist on behalf of the regime.He has acted as division commander since at least 2000, and at the same time leads Syria's other premier fighting force, the Republican Guards. Both units have been at the vanguard of the war since its earliest days, and were active again last week as loyalist forces launched their biggest operation yet to root out rebel groups from the capital.

It was while this operation was under way that thousands of residents of east Ghouta were exposed to what scientists increasingly believe was a nerve agent, possibly sarin. Attempts to pin down who was responsible for the attack are now the subject of a global intelligence effort that has already started to zero in on loyalist military units as the likely suspects.

In the days since, Syria has persistently denied having used its stocks of sarin to shell the area.

The 4th division has remained relatively unaffected by desertions and defections that plagued other divisions in the first 18 months of the war. Until about then — 18 July last year — Maher was visibly in charge. Frontline troops saw him often, especially in the hotspots of what was then more an insurrection than the full-blown civil and proxy regional war it is now.

In Deraa he personally led a siege by 4th division troops in March 2011, in response to a spark of defiance by a group of schoolboys, who wrote on a mosque wall calling for Bashar to leave. The division left an unambiguous calling card.

"He came to see us one weekend down there," said a former 4th division conscript who fled to Istanbul soon afterwards. "He told us not to shoot at the men with guns, because they were with us. He told us only to shoot at people without guns, that they were the terrorists.

"It took me a while to protest at that. He made us shoot at their hearts and heads. And anyone that was shooting high and wide [deliberately] would be beaten, or killed."

In Jordan's Zaatari refugee camp, only nine kilometres south of Deraa, which is now home to a sizeable chunk of the city's residents, Maher's name is spoken of with visceral anger.

"His brother is a puppet for Maher and the Iranians," said Khaled Othman, a plumber from the city, standing in the flap of a UN supply tent. "Maher is the devil. He personally tried to annihilate us just because we defied him. He took pleasure in it, along with his closest officers. Did you see the video of him in the prison?"

The refrain is commonly asked in communities that support the Syrian opposition. It refers to a prison revolt in 2008 that Maher was asked to put down; a task he carried out with brutal efficiency, killing many who had taken guards and soldiers hostage, then filming the bodies with his camera phone.

The phone video is often showed by supporters of the Assad regime as purported evidence of the strength of the brothers. But between the statesman and the general, it has been Maher who has inspired more fear — and speculation.

His last appearance in public was several weeks before an explosion in a meeting room in central Damascus killed security chief, and the Assads' brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, who had married their sister, Bushra. Also killed that day was the defence minister and several other members of the inner sanctum.

Rumours have circulated since that Maher was also in the room at the time and was wounded. Last year Abdullah Omar, a former press officer in the presidential palace who defected in September, said he had seen Maher visit the palace and he had appeared to have lost part of a hand and leg.

The suggestion has not since been confirmed. Turkish officials believe that the younger Assad was wounded that day — one of the few times that the opposition has got so close to the seat of power. "But he is alive and functioning," said one senior Turkish diplomat. "And the 4th division is still one of their better units."

In Lebanon, where in more settled times leaders from all sides of politics beat a regular path to Damascus, there has been nothing from Maher for more than a year.

"We know his wife is in Dubai along with Bushra," said the leader of one political bloc. "And we know that Bashar will have a hard time keeping him in his box. If they think they are winning, they will behave without any restraint. And if they did the chemical attack, he won't be far away from it."


Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres) says 355 died of ‘neurotoxic’ symptoms in Syria

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, August 25, 2013 3:24 EDT

MSF said around 3,600 patients displaying “neurotoxic symptoms” had flooded into three Syrian hospitals on the day of the alleged attacks, and 355 of them died.

“Medical staff working in these facilities provided detailed information to MSF doctors regarding large numbers of patients arriving with symptoms including convulsions, excess saliva, pinpoint pupils, blurred vision and respiratory distress,” MSF director of operations Bart Janssens said.

But MSF stressed it had no scientific proof of the cause of the symptoms nor could it confirm who carried out the attack.

A senior UN envoy was meanwhile in Damascus to press for an investigation into the alleged chemical attack on Wednesday, as US President Barack Obama met his top national security advisers to weigh a possible response. He also discussed the crisis with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Obama and Cameron expressed their grave concern Saturday about the “increasing signs” of a major chemical weapons attack.

A White House statement said the two leaders vowed during a telephone call to “continue to consult closely” regarding the alleged attack, as well as potential international responses.

But Cameron’s Downing Street office went further, noting that the two leaders “are both gravely concerned by… the increasing signs that this was a significant chemical weapons attack carried out by the Syrian regime against its own people”.

“The fact that President (Bashar) Assad has failed to cooperate with the UN suggests that the regime has something to hide,” the British statement said, stressing that “significant use of chemical weapons would merit a serious response from the international community”.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Sunday the indications “point strongly” to the use of chemical weapons and that it was up to Assad’s regime to prove it had no hand in the attacks.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, during a visit to the West Bank on Saturday, blamed Syria for a “chemical massacre” and said “the Bashar regime is responsible”.

But Damascus ally Iran blamed the rebels and warned the West against any military intervention.

“There is proof terrorist groups carried out this action,” foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Araqchi said, without giving any details.

Warning against any Western military intervention in the conflict, Araqchi said “there is no international authorisation for” such action.

Obama is under mounting pressure to act following the reported attack near Damascus that opposition groups say was carried out by Assad’s forces and had killed more than 1,000 people.

In Washington, a White House official said: “The president has directed the intelligence community to gather facts and evidence so that we can determine what occurred in Syria.

“Once we ascertain the facts, the president will make an informed decision about how to respond.”

“The president also received a detailed review of a range of potential options he had requested be prepared for the United States and the international community to respond to the use of chemical weapons,” a statement said.

The Syrian government has strongly denied the allegations but has yet to accede to demands that UN inspectors already in the country be allowed to visit the sites of the alleged attacks.

However, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem was quoted by his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, as saying Damascus would facilitate such a visit.

“The Syrian government will cooperate with the United Nations mission now in Syria to create the conditions for a visit to zones where terrorist groups have carried out attacks with chemical weapons,” he was quoted as saying.

US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke Thursday with Muallem about the alleged attack.

Kerry discussed the attack “to make clear that if, as they claimed, the Syrian regime has nothing to hide, it should have allowed immediate and unimpeded access to the site rather than continuing to attack the affected area to block access and destroy evidence,” a US official said.

Russia urged Damascus to cooperate with the UN but dismissed calls for use of force against its ally.

With the two sides trading accusations, UN Under Secretary General Angela Kane is in Damascus, tasked by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with establishing the terms of an inquiry.

UN experts have been on the ground in Syria since last Sunday to probe three other sites.

Meanwhile, Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi said the regime had never used chemical weapons, “in any form whatsoever, be it liquid or gas”.

For its part, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 300 people had died from the effects of gas, including 82 women and 54 children.

The violence continued Saturday, with a watchdog accusing the regime of striking by air several rebel positions, including in Jobar, and reporting that insurgents seized a strategic town in the northwest.

State television said an army unit surrounded a “sector of Jobar where terrorists used chemical weapons”, adding that soldiers who tried to enter the neighbourhood had “suffocated”.

Rebels have “resorted to chemical weapons after the successes of the Syrian army in recent days”, the television charged.

The opposition National Coalition denied that rebels had used chemical arms, saying the government was only trying to divert attention from its own use of them.

The “international community knows full well that the Assad regime is the only party in Syria which possesses the means to produce, use and stock chemical weapons”, it said.

The United Nations says more than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria since an uprising against Assad’s rule flared in March 2011, while millions more have fled the country or been internally displaced.


US photojournalist recounts horror of captivity after escaping al-Qaeda in Syria

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, August 23, 2013 22:00 EDT

AFP – A US photojournalist who escaped from Syrian rebels after seven months in captivity revealed details of his ordeal Friday and spoke of his anguish at leaving a fellow hostage behind.

Matthew Schrier, 35, fled the clutches of a rebel group aligned to Al-Qaeda in July after being kidnapped while leaving the Syrian city of Aleppo on December 31 last year.

He finally escaped on July 29 after managing to sneak through a tiny opening in a window.

But a fellow American prisoner being held with Schrier was unable to escape through the gap because he was too big.

“It was one of the hardest things I had to do,” Schrier told CNN.

“It’s tough to move on because he’s still there. It hasn’t ended yet 100 percent. I’m not going to have closure until he’s home.”

According to the New York Times, Schrier is one of 15 Westerners who have been kidnapped or who have disappeared this year.

The experience of Schrier illustrates the increasing dangers for foreigners and moderate Syrians in the country, which has been ravaged by a vicious civil war for more than two years, with mounting numbers of heavily armed extremist groups on the ground.

Schrier, who was kidnapped after being betrayed by his taxi driver, said his captors had initially treated him politely. But his situation rapidly deteriorated as he was regularly tortured and ordered to admit he was a CIA spy.

He was stripped and beaten with a metal cable. Schrier’s captors also ran up debts with his credit card and extracted password information for his email accounts.

The captors posed as Schrier in emails sent to his relatives assuring them he was safe.

At the end of January, Schrier was transferred to another prison where he was kept with another American “who looked like he had been there for 100 years.”

He was interrogated by three young masked men who spoke perfect English. Schrier said he believed the three men were Canadians.

The two prisoners were tortured after they had been discovered trying to gouge a hole in a wooden door. Schrier had a car tire placed over his legs, was turned around face down and given 115 lashes on the soles of his feet with a metal cable.

He was repeatedly ordered to admit he was a CIA agent.

“I sat there and I was like, they’re just going to torture me until I say it,” he told CNN. “You’re going to say what they want you to say. I chose sooner than later.”

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« Reply #8314 on: Aug 25, 2013, 06:46 AM »

Egypt: Hosni Mubarak and Muslim Brotherhood leaders appear in court

Ex-president and senior Brotherhood members face charges over deaths of protesters during 2011 and 2013 uprisings

Associated Press in Cairo, Sunday 25 August 2013 11.54 BST   

Egyptian courts have heard cases against the ousted president Hosni Mubarak and leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in parallel trial sessions.

The cases relate to killings during the 2011 and 2013 protest campaigns that led to their respective downfalls.

In eastern Cairo, Mubarak looked relaxed in dark sunglasses and a white jumpsuit in his first court appearance since he was released from prison last week and transferred to a military hospital.

The 85-year-old ex-president, who has been on the verge of death according to his lawyer, sat in a wheelchair next to his two sons, who are being tried in a separate corruption-related case.

Mubarak has been in detention since April 2011, two months after he was deposed in an uprising against his rule. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison last year for failing to stop the deaths of about 900 protesters during the 18-day uprising, but his sentence was overturned on appeal. In April, his retrial opened along with those of his security chief and six police commanders.

The court trying the Brotherhood's leader, Mohammed Badie, and five other members of the Islamist group postponed hearings until 29 October. The defendants, two of whom are still in hiding and being tried in absentia, are accused in relation to clashes outside the Brotherhood's Cairo headquarters on 30 June that left nine dead.

The four men in detention were not present in the Cairo courtroom for security reasons. They were arrested over the last month as part of a massive crackdown on the Brotherhood after the ousting of the president, Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the group, and related violence.

The six Brotherhood members, including Badie and his deputies, Khairat el-Shater and Rashad Bayoumi, are charged with instigating the killings of nine protesters on 30 June, when millions took to the streets demanding the removal of Morsi.

The killings took place near the Brotherhood's east Cairo headquarters, which was attacked by an allegedly anti-Morsi crowd. Dozens of Brotherhood members were trapped inside the building for hours and it was eventually set on fire.

The group said the police had encouraged "thugs" to attack the building while security officials at the time said that the group had placed snipers on top of the building.

The military toppled Morsi three days later, then launched a massive crackdown on the Islamist movement, arresting leaders including Shater and Bayoumi, rounding up field organisers and shutting down Islamic TV networks.

On 14 August, riot police backed by armoured vehicles and bulldozers moved to clear two sprawling encampments of Morsi's supporters, sparking violence that left more than 1,000 people dead across the country. The interim presidency declared a month-long state of emergency. Badie and hundreds others were arrested in the aftermath.

Meanwhile, the military-backed interim government is pursuing a fast-track transition plan that it says will return Egypt to democracy.

On Sunday, a 10-member panel of experts is due to hand a first draft of constitutional amendments to the interim presidency, a first step toward amending the charter drafted last year under Morsi, now suspended. A second panel of 50 members will work on the amendments before finalising them and putting them up for public vote.

Once the constitution is adopted, the plan envisions presidential and parliamentary elections to be held by early next year.


Egypt after the revolution: curfew nights and blood-stained days

Protesters suffocated in police vans, young men executed in the desert and constant fear are the realities of Egypt today

Ahdaf Soueif   
The Guardian, Friday 23 August 2013 20.00 BST          

For several nights after the curfew was declared on 14 August, the streets of Cairo were quieter and darker than I'd ever seen them. As quiet as the morgue, the saying goes, except that our morgue, in Zeinhom, was the busiest place in the city: the dead arriving in scores; giant, refrigerated meat trucks parked in the narrow road to hold the corpses the morgue could not accommodate; relatives and friends, distraught, trying to access bodies; residents burning incense on the street to try to mitigate the smell … The morgue is the point to which our reality keeps returning.

On the streets where the living live, the streets of the City That Never Sleeps, it has been as though we're waiting for an air raid: the lights are switched off, and there are no lights either in windows or balconies. Darkness and silence.

Across the country, though, in tens of locations, there has been light, vivid blazing light, leaping out of windows and licking at walls, catching at the nearby trees. Forty-two churches have been torched, and so have many other buildings: the beautiful 19th-century villa that housed the Giza governorate office on the Pyramids road, the Franciscan girls' school in Beni Sweif south of Cairo, the library of veteran journalist Mohamed Heikal on the Qanater road, and more.

This conflagration was the response to the police breakup of the Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins in Cairo, a violent attack that left hundreds dead. Brotherhood spokesmen denied responsibility for the fires, but the local people everywhere say that it was groups of Brothers who attacked the buildings and set them alight. We had all watched the non-stop incitement against Christians, the threats on television. In the runup to 30 June, and after president Mohamed Morsi's deposal, the Brotherhood leadership had one by one taken to the air: "Mohamed Morsi is a red line: if you spray Morsi with water, we'll spray you with blood," they said. "We will blow Egypt apart." I though these were metaphors. But then came more prosaic, detailed descriptions: "There will be blood, there will be booby-trapped cars, there will be remote-control explosions." "This (violence) that's happening in Sinai will stop the second Abdel Fattah el-Sisi declares the reversal of the coup."

General Sisi, commander of the armed forces, did not declare any reversals. In fact, he went out and asked the people for a mandate to "deal with terror", and, on 26 July, the people loudly and joyously mandated him. That night, I came home at two in the morning and found myself having to park in the middle of a street party: music from massive speakers on the back of a pickup and around 400 people laughing, dancing and waving small Egyptian flags and posters of General Sisi. One man – a shopkeeper – knew me, broke from the crowd and walked with me to my entrance: "The army will rid us of the Brotherhood and leave," he said, "won't they?"

It's impossible to say. One theory is that the army have learned the lesson of 2012 – the year they ruled Egypt and turned the people against them – that they will protect their interests and their privileged position and return as soon as possible to the director's chair – in the shadows. Another is yes they've learned their lesson, so now they're making sure they come back by popular will. Since 30 June, the media have been full-throatedly hymning the military. On Tuesday the first images of General Sisi in civilian clothes started circulating.

Right now, though, the only thing that matters is that the killing should stop. In the last year, the killing has slipped its chain. You used to be pretty certain, when a killing happened, that it was the work of the state, or thugs in the pay of the state. Until 28 January 2011, the interior ministry was the killer. When the police were defeated on the streets of the revolution, the military took over their work. But the military were no good at packaging the killing; making it useful. So the interior ministry slipped back in to help them. In June 2012 we got our first elected president, and, in his first year in office, the state's monopoly on violence was broken. Bands of trained Muslim Brotherhood militias and supporters took on protestors and killed them. In the Ettehadeyya protests in December 2012, the Brotherhood set up an instant torture centre inside the wall of the presidential palace. The interior ministry carried on kidnapping and torturing and killing – and the targets of the Brotherhood and the police were predominantly revolutionary activists and protestors: Mohamed Gaber ("Jika"), Mohamed el‑Guindi, Mohamed el-Shafei, Al-Husseini Abu Deif – and others. But also non-political, sectarian and vigilante killings started to happen: where the efforts of Mubarak, the interior ministry and Scaf to turn people against each other had failed, the Muslim Brotherhood's rule and discourse were succeeding.

How will we stop the killing? On 3 July this year, the military, in a very popular move, deposed Morsi. And so kicked off the ugly stage we're in. But instead of deposing the president, they should have forced through a referendum on early presidential elections; that would still have protected the country from the unraveling, and it would have preserved the idea of democracy. Nobody I speak to knows why that was not the course taken. I hear dark hints about what Morsi "was about to do", or surmises about the wild support for the army on the street tempting the general to the shorter path. It seems clear that the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters would have lost the referendum; and they would have had to engage in a profound examination of what it was about their vision and their practice that was so unsuited to Egypt. That would have been good for all of us, for the country. Instead we finally have our own "war on terror".


I decided I'd had enough of curfewed nights alone, so I went for a sleepover at my brother's. As I opened my laptop on the dining-room table, the first tweet came in: 38 men killed in an attempt to escape from Abu Za'bal jail. Through the evening, we kept an eye on the news coming in through Twitter, the other on General Sisi delivering a long, calm, reasonable address to a hall full of military and police.

The General insisted that Egypt is not under military rule. He reassured us that the police and the army will "remain the trustees of the people's will" in choosing their rulers. Careful words

We wonder if the audience sat at will, or were told to mingle; the mixing together of the white and khaki uniforms is noteworthy; a visual acting out of what has been pushed on the country since the start of Morsi's presidency: the Army, the Police, One Hand.

Here, with my brother, his wife and their daughters, I can imagine that things aren't that bad, that we'll get through this.

But then the cut‑and-paste stories, put out by the interior ministry about the prison deaths, fell apart, and a version of a truth came out: 38 men, arrested over the last couple of days in the vicinity of the Muslim Brotherhood sit-in at Rab'a al-Adawiya Square, and held on remand, were being transferred to jail. They had arrived in Abu Za'bal, but the warden said the jail was full and they'd been left in the police transport vehicle in the courtyard. I've never been locked up in one of these vehicles, but my nephew and various friends have, and I've seen them up close: a big, dark metal box with tiny, high-up barred windows that give such poor ventilation that prisoners have to ask for air to be pumped in and out. They should not hold more than 20 people. Here, today, 38 men were kept in the vehicle for hours, in the August sun in a prison courtyard. By midday they must have been burning. They banged on the walls and a police officer came to speak to them. They grabbed him. Other officers freed him and relocked the transport. The men banged on the walls, shouted that they couldn't breathe, they were dying of heat. An officer suggested tear gas would quieten them down and a gas canister was lobbed into the transport.

In what's left of the night, we imagine the men's last moments – the knocking into each other and into the hot metal walls, the blistering skins and the bursting lungs, the incredulous refrain: this is how I'm dying. And as we imagine the young men we individuate them: Sherif Siyam, a resident of the neighbourhood; Mansour Abbas, secretary general of the liberal Ghad el-Thawra party; Mohamed el-Deeb, theatre director and one of the founders of Artists for the Revolution. But as we remind ourselves of their individuality, we catch ourselves thinking that these men were not Brotherhood; they were passers-by, or sympathisers drawn to the sit-in because of the cruel violence it had suffered. Does this thought mean that we might be closer to accepting their deaths if they were members of the Muslim Brotherhood? It's as well to be aware of the beckoning avenues of justification that are drawing in so many of our erstwhile comrades.

The blistering skins and the bursting lungs, the bloody bruises, the blue faces of the corpses photographed by friends and lawyers – will these be enough to reawaken people to the state of our murderous police?


We wake up to more terrible news: 26 young central security conscripts, returning to their posts in Sinai to collect their demob papers have been taken out of their microbuses by masked men, made to lie down on the ground, and shot.

The country goes into a paroxysm of rage. Twenty-six young men from the most disadvantaged sector of society, they've done their duty by their country, they're about to start to make a life when they're robbed of life. We have to fight terror. Fight terror. Fight terror. All the TV channels show permanent banners: "Egypt Under Attack", "The War on Terror", "Egypt Confronts Terror". It's a sight to gladden Donald Rumsfeld's heart. The relatives of the murdered boys are brought before the cameras; a bereaved father says General Sisi and minister of interior general Mohamed Ibrahim should kill the perpetrators as soon as they catch them. "Don't bother to try them. Cut off the head of the snake," he says. His clip is played again and again. An uncle says he places responsibility on General Sisi: the army should have given his nephew due care and protection. His interview vanishes from the air.

Our nights are curfewed, our days blood-stained. The place we're in is dark. Very, very dark. So dark that it's possible for some to wonder quietly about the timing of the murder of the 26 young men in Sinai, about how it's deflected the country from the 38 men murdered in Abu Za'bal.


These last two catastrophic crimes have totally exposed the media's cynicism. Channel upon channel has used the soldiers; their young faces topped by their military caps, commentators and guests shaking their heads and inviting the viewer to reflect on the vileness of their murderers. (On Wednesday, the army will announce that 15 suspects have been apprehended and four have been killed). We see nothing about the men gassed to death in a police transport.

The level of orchestration that is being achieved is Orwellian. Flicking through channels is like the two minutes of hate. Everyone is using the same hysterical tone. Everyone is outdoing each other in virulence. It's us and them, us and them. Some channels have started speaking in English. There's a huge effort to justify what's going on to the world. It's ill-advised, and it's missing the mark.


State television is showing clips of police kettling, roughing up and shooting protesters all over the world:  Wall Street, London, Melbourne, South Africa.

The state information service is threatening to withhold credentials for foreign journalists. Journalists John Greyson, Tarek Loubani and Abdullah al-Shami have been detained. Tamer Abd el-Raouf, a journalist for the state newspaper, al-Ahram, in Beheira, has been shot and killed at an army checkpoint. The colleague who was with him, Hamed el-Barbari, has testified he was shot as he followed orders to turn back. Barbari has now been arrested and charged with possessing weapons.

I was asked to write a personal piece, a personal account of what these days are like. But what is the personal now? The personal is that I'm away at a conference and my flat is broken into but nothing is taken. We put in extra locks and double-lock them every time we go out. I have iron put into the windows and tell myself they're prettier – quite Valencian, really – with the white wrought-iron and the white venetian blinds. The personal is the flash images of harm being done to me or mine; my reflexes have become so brilliant that I hardly see the image before I've swatted it away, flattened it. The personal is swallowing my principles and being grateful for a contact in the military rehabilitation centre who will fix the little and ring fingers of my cleaner's 15-year-old son, shot off when he and his mate were messing – at home – with a gun. The personal is living in a horror movie where people I've respected for decades speak bullyingly of "them" and "us", of with us or against us, of how everyone has to fall in behind "our police" and "our army" and toe the line. The personal is the woman who owns the corner shop raising her voice into the phone as I pass, making sure I hear her as she calls curses down on our heads, the heads of "those who brought us to this; who toppled Mubarak and turned the Brotherhood loose on us".


Everywhere the binary that the revolution so roundly rejects is being restated: the police state or the Islamists. We continue to reject it. I've always written that the police state is the enemy. Now I know that the Brotherhood, too, is the enemy. Their ideology, their world vision – as it stands – cancels out my existence. They will have it so; they will not make room for anyone else, they will exclude me in every way possible – even if it means killing me. They have already excluded me from the kingdom of heaven. You will probably think I'm exaggerating. That's what I used to think when I heard words like these. Till I tried to work with them. Meeting after meeting during 2011 to try to hammer out agreements about the basic shape of the Egyptian constitution – meetings that always mysteriously collapsed. I once asked Dr Mohamed el-Beltagy (interviewed in this paper on Wednesday) why people were so wary of the Muslim Brotherhood: "What is it you're planning to do to us when you come to power?" He shrugged, spread out his hands: "As you see, what can we possibly do?" Well, they started by surrounding parliament with militias to beat protesters with belts and sticks. Their year in power was a push to take over and develop Mubarak's hated economic and security policies. They abandoned the revolution and the people and courted their enemy: an unreformed and unrepentant interior ministry. And now they've fallen out with each other. They're killing each other, while the liberals, who have always hated the Muslim Brotherhood, are rehabilitating the police state, are egging it on and providing it with a justifying discourse.

The revolution – the revolution of 25 January 2011 that we all fell in love with – needs to not get caught in the war between its two enemies. The police state and the Brotherhood are both hierarchical, patriarchal, militarised, centralist, dogmatic, conformist, exclusionary organisations. Both are built on obedience. Both hate critical thinking and debate. Their wars are not ours.

And yet the revolution is not, and cannot, be silent in the face of the killings. Our regard for life and dignity cannot be compartmentalised. The personal is also my unending respect for our activist lawyers, our medics, our journalists and writers who continue to act and speak with humanity and professionalism, in the spirit of the revolution, through these terrible times. My respect and solidarity to Ziad Bahaa el-Din, my friend who agreed to his cost to serve as deputy prime minister and is fighting hard to dam the blood-lust; my love, and an arm round the shoulders of the young activists who are lying low, getting on with their day jobs, staring despair in the face and refusing to surrender to it, waiting and working for that moment when the street will come back, when we will give the ideals of freedom and social justice another push forward.

Mubarak's release is a set-back, but it's one more act in the circus of the ex-president. The Saudis have always requested it and the Saudis are now giving us money, but Mubarak has more court cases hanging over him. This will run.

Also not ours is the confrontation between the official Egyptian media and the old, frayed governments of the west; the Britain that arrests Green party MP Caroline Lucas for taking part in an environmental protest, the US that persecutes the journalist Barrett Brown and convicts Bradley Manning have nothing of value for us. The common struggle of young people everywhere is against the elites enforcing a corrupt system that's sending the world to hell. It's just that in some countries, like the UK, there's more of a margin for life, a margin for doing things without getting shot.

Here, we're getting shot and asphyxiated and slaughtered for free. Someone was saying yesterday that perhaps the most useful thing we can do right now – while we wait out the monoliths' battle – is collect money to expand the morgue at Zeinhom. We're back to the black humour we were so used to in the Mubarak days. But we know it won't last. Our spiralling cycles happen so quickly now. At this moment, the revolution is reduced to banging pots into the dark curfew at 9pm. But, once again, each day our noise grows louder; it's a noise that signals our determination to work for an Egypt – for a world – that is kinder and fairer to more of its people.

• Ahdaf Soueif is the author of Cairo: My City, Our Revolution (Bloomsbury).


Hosni Mubarak leaves prison to a mixed reception from Egyptian public

Former president's transfer to hospital greeted by jubilation, indifference and fear that it is another sign of resurgent old order

Marwa Awad and Ian Black in Cairo, Thursday 22 August 2013 20.09 BST   

After more than two years in jail, Egypt's ousted former president Hosni Mubarak is under house arrest in a Cairo military hospital, having been flown by helicopter from prison. His lawyer said this hospital would be the last step on the 85-year-old's road to being freed.

Emerging on to the roof of the prison building carried on a trolley stretcher, casually dressed in white trousers, a shirt and loafers, the former dictator flashed a smile in the direction of assembled supporters.

Mubarak, who ruled for 30 years, still faces retrial on charges of complicity in the killing of protesters during the 25 January revolution. But the dramatic events of the past week – during which he has been transformed from a villain of the state to a man about to win his freedom – has raised doubts over whether the new martial leadership has the will to pursue the case against him.

The final say on where Mubarak will go rests with Hazem el-Beblawi, the prime minister in the military-backed interim government.

Critics fear his release is a sign that the military is reinventing an old order which has regained prominence since elected president and former Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Morsi was removed from power on in a military coup backed by popular will seven weeks ago. In a matter of weeks, Egypt has seen the return of the old order's state security and police forces to streets.

Jubilant supporters waited to greet Mubarak outside Torah prison on the southern outskirts of Cairo on Thursday, cheering and chanting "Oh Mubarak raise your head high". A woman in her thirties handed out sweets to onlookers and assembled journalists. "Today is a cause for celebration. Our president is free," she said, her voice occasionally drowned by drivers honking their horns in support.

The small crowd waved posters depicting the octogenarian strongman. A vast Egyptian flag flapped in the wind as the medical helicopter hovered over the prison. It took off again at 3:55pm local time and flew west toward the Maadi military hospital where Mubarak had been held for intermittent bouts of ill-health during his detention.

On the streets of Cairo, the overall mood appears to be indifference, with many people saying the former president is irrelevant to Egypt's current situation.

Hamid, a clerical worker, said: "Mubarak belongs to the past. But it is important to respect the law … [armed forces chief General Abdel Fatah] al-Sisi is smart to put him under house arrest. It shows that he is a wise leader."

Mubarak has been detained for two years and four months awaiting trial on charges of corruption in several small cases and the more notable charge of failing to stop the shooting of protesters during the uprising against his rule in 2011. He was sentenced to life in June 2012 for his role in those events – a ruling which he appealed against, winning a retrial. The next hearing is scheduled for Sunday.

Having served the maximum pre-trial detention period of two years, Mubarak was released on Thursday pending the outcome of his retrial. Activists maintain that the demands of the 2011 uprising, such as an end to police brutality, are a long way away from being achieved. The release of the man they fought so hard to overthrow is perceived as a huge setback to the uprising.

"The release of Mubarak is a bad omen for what is to come; a sign of how much the 25 January revolution is in danger," Mohammed Adel, spokesman for the April 6th youth movement, told the Guardian by telephone. "So far there have not been many achievements for this popular revolution. The police state is back in full force, the army has toppled an elected president and now the dictator has been released."

Others lamented Mubarak's turn of fortunes. "What next? Mubarak returns to his rightful throne?" asked Mohie Salah, a 36-year-old engineer.

Even if Mubarak has no political future, his release is expected to intensify raw tension between the military-backed interim government and the revolutionary youth. Neither will it help to soothe the impasse between the Muslim Brotherhood and the state that resulted in the deaths of almost 900 people, including policemen and soldiers, as security forces launched a violent crackdown on Brotherhood sit-ins in Cairo on 14 August.

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« Reply #8315 on: Aug 25, 2013, 06:51 AM »

August 24, 2013

Egypt Widens Crackdown and Meaning of ‘Islamist’


CAIRO — Having crushed the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian authorities have begun cracking down on other dissenters, sometimes labeling even liberal activists or labor organizers as dangerous Islamists.

Ten days ago, the police arrested two left-leaning Canadians — one of them a filmmaker specializing in highly un-Islamic movies about sexual politics — and implausibly announced that they were members of the Brotherhood, the conservative Islamist group backing the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi. In Suez this month, police and military forces breaking up a steelworkers strike charged that its organizers were part of a Brotherhood plot to destabilize Egypt.

On Saturday, the chief prosecutor ordered an investigation into charges of spying against two prominent activists associated with the progressive April 6 group.

When a journalist with a state newspaper spoke publicly about watching a colleague’s wrongful killing by a soldier, prosecutors appeared to fabricate a crime to punish the journalist. And the police arrested five employees of the religious Web site Islam Today for the crime of describing the military takeover as a coup, security officials said.

Police abuses and politicized prosecutions are hardly new in Egypt, and they did not stop under Mr. Morsi. But since the military takeover last month, some rights activists say, the authorities are acting with a sense of impunity exceeding even the period before the 2011 revolt against Hosni Mubarak.

The government installed by Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi has renewed the Mubarak-era state of emergency removing all rights to due process or protections against police abuse. And police officials have pronounced themselves “vindicated.” They say the new government’s claim that it is battling Islamist violence corroborates what they have been saying all along: that it was Islamists, not the police, who killed protesters before Mr. Mubarak’s ouster.

“What is different is that the police feel for the first time in two and a half years, for the first time since January 2011, that they have the upper hand, and they do not need to fear public accountability or questioning,” said Heba Morayef, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.

In the more than seven weeks since Mr. Morsi’s ouster, security forces have carried out at least three mass shootings at pro-Morsi street protests, killed more than a thousand Morsi supporters and arrested at least as many, actions Ms. Morayef characterized as “massive police abuse on an unprecedented scale.” But even beyond the Islamists, she said, “anyone who questions the police right now is a traitor, and that is a protection that they did not have even in 2010,” when public criticism was tolerated and at least a few complaints were investigated.

Prosecutors had already begun investigating Mohamed ElBaradei, the liberal former United Nations diplomat, for “betraying the public trust.”

President Obama has said the new government is on a “dangerous path” marked by “arbitrary arrests, a broad crackdown on Mr. Morsi’s associations and supporters” and “violence that’s taken the lives of hundreds of people and wounded thousands more.”

Warning that “our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back,” the president canceled a planned joint military exercise. He pledged a review of the $1.3 billion a year in military aid to Egypt, and the State Department took steps to hold back some of the roughly $200 million in nonmilitary aid. But mindful of Egypt’s importance in the region, he stopped short of declaring the takeover an illegal “coup” or cutting off the aid, instead urging an early return to democracy.

Officials of the new government insist they are committed to establishing the rule of law, as soon as they overcome what they describe as the mortal threat to Egypt of violence by the Brotherhood and other Islamist supporters of Mr. Morsi.

The police appear to be rounding up Brotherhood members on the basis of their affiliation, without other publicly known evidence of crimes. Mr. Morsi is being held incommunicado at an undisclosed location. But government spokesmen insist that every individual, including Mr. Morsi, will be tried by a court and released if acquitted.

“It is up to the courts,” Nabil Fahmy, the interim foreign minister, said in a recent interview. All will be handled “in accordance with the rule of law,” he said.

But some of the recent charges, like those against the two Canadians, strain credibility. Tarek Loubani, a Canadian physician with Palestinian roots and a history as a liberal and pro-Palestinian activist, was in Egypt on his way to the Gaza Strip to provide training to Palestinian doctors. John Greyson, a liberal Toronto filmmaker whose work often focuses on cosmopolitan sexual themes, was with him, documenting the trip for a possible movie. A lawyer for the two said they were stopped at a checkpoint near a street battle, trying to walk back to their hotel after the 7 p.m. curfew.

“They were just in the wrong place at very much the wrong time,” the lawyer, Khaled El-Shalakany, said Saturday.

The exact circumstances of their arrest were unclear. In a public statement, Egyptian prosecutors accused them of “participating with members of the Muslim Brotherhood” in an armed assault on a police station and “taking part in bloody crimes of violence.” Prosecutors told reporters at the time that the police had detained 240 Brotherhood “members,” including two Canadians. (Mr. Shalakany said they remained in jail as “overwhelmed” prosecutors tried to deal with a backlog of hundreds of arrests in the crackdown.)

At the Suez steel plant, workers started a sit-in several weeks ago over compensation, health care and the firing of about a dozen employees. On Aug. 12, state news media reported that the Egyptian military had tried to force an end to the strike, arresting two of its leaders. “They picked the ones with beards!” a bystander shouts in a video of the arrests.

An army statement at the time used unmistakable coded language to blame the Islamists, charging that “infiltrating elements” who were “exploiters of religion” were trying to poison the workers’ meetings “in the name of religion.”

A state-run newspaper quoted the interim labor minister, Kamal Abu Eita, saying that security forces had found Brotherhood members from another factory involved in the strike. A privately owned newspaper supporting the military takeover, Youm El Saba, quoted Mr. Eita blaming the Brotherhood for inciting strikes in several cities.

Among some supporters of the new government, “Islamist” has become a popular indictment. After Mr. Obama criticized Egypt’s crackdown on the Islamists, Tahani el-Gebali, a former judge close to the military, publicly accused him of having ties to the Brotherhood, claiming his Kenyan half brother directed investments for the group.

The activists with the April 6 group being investigated for spying, Asmaa Mahfouz and Esraa Abdel Fattah, were associated with the group when it was working in opposition to Mr. Mubarak. State news media reports on Saturday indicated the charges were a revival of old allegations that the group had worked on behalf of Western powers to stir unrest in Egypt. The notion was first floated by Mubarak intelligence agencies and the generals who succeeded him, no evidence has emerged to support the claims, and the group has denied the charges.

The journalist who spoke out about his colleague’s killing had been driving with the colleague, Tamer Abdel Raouf, the head of the local office of the official newspaper, Al Ahram, in the delta province of Beheira. When their car was at a checkpoint, soldiers enforcing the 7 p.m. curfew shot and killed Mr. Abdel Raouf.

The authorities have granted journalists a curfew exemption, and Mr. Abdel Raouf was driving a car bearing an official press badge from a meeting with the governor. A military spokesman offered no apology, only condolences, and warned others not to try to speed through checkpoints.

The next day, the journalist who had been in the passenger seat, Hamed al-Barbari, began giving television interviews contradicting the spokesman. Rather than speeding, Mr. Barbari said, his colleague was shot in the head while slowly turning his car in response to a soldier’s instructions. “A foolish act” by one soldier, said Mr. Barbari, who was injured when the car crashed.

About two hours after he spoke, a prosecutor arrested Mr. Barbari in the hospital and placed him in custody for four days, for allegedly possessing an illegal shotgun in the car at the time of the episode.

Prosecutors set a court date to begin investigating a citizen complaint against Mr. ElBaradei after he quit as vice president to protest the police violence against the Islamists. (A conviction could carry only a fine, and he had already left the country.)

Last week, a prosecutor even opened an investigation into some of the young organizers behind the protests calling for the military to remove Mr. Morsi. The prosecutor was weighing a complaint of “disturbing the public order” because they criticized the release from prison of Mr. Mubarak.

Such a case would be an attack on the new government’s first supporters. Prosecutors have not yet begun a full investigation of the complaint and could still set it aside.

“It is ridiculous,” said Mai Wahba, a leader of the group.

Mayy El Sheikh contributed reporting.


August 24, 2013

Other Nations Offer a Lesson to Egypt’s Military Leaders


LONDON — Is the era of the military big man back? In Egypt, where Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi led a populist putsch against the elected president, prison doors are swinging.

Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader and freshly ousted president, languishes in one jail cell, while Hosni Mubarak, the despised autocrat who led Egypt for 30 years, has just been released from another.

The turmoil highlights the central role of the military in some postcolonial Muslim countries, where at least in the fitful early stages of democracy, it forcefully imposes itself as the self-appointed arbiter of power and the guardian of national identity.

But a look at other Muslim countries that have struggled with democratic transitions, including two other polestars of the Muslim world, Pakistan and Turkey, should provide a kind of warning to General Sisi. There it is the generals who are now facing charges.

Last week, a Pakistani court indicted the former military leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf in the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto — the first time in Pakistan’s coup-strewn history that a leading general has faced criminal prosecution. In Turkey, a court recently imprisoned dozens of senior military officers on charges of plotting to overthrow the government, a punitive reminder to a military once accustomed to reasserting its authority through coups.

Though General Sisi is riding a wave of popularity among some Egyptians and neighboring countries, notably Saudi Arabia and Israel, for cracking down on Islamists, the events in Turkey and Pakistan have shown the limits of military power. And in Egypt, that may ultimately mean allowing the Islamists a genuine role in public life.

“General Sisi needs an exit plan, now,” said Vali Nasr, the dean of the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and a former senior State Department adviser. “Without one, he could end up like Musharraf. And his country, too, could be left worse off at the end of his military rule.”

Military and civilian leaders have been competing for power in Turkey, Pakistan and Egypt for decades. The military has exercised muscular influence in all three countries, openly or behind the scenes, because of weak civilian rule that can be traced to the foundation of the states — in some cases, in a bid to circumscribe Islamist influence.

Egypt’s generals ousted the monarchy and established a republic in 1952. Turkey’s first president, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a military revolutionary, led a fierce secularization drive in the 1920s. Pakistan’s military helped unify the country after its traumatic partition from India in 1947, and quickly established itself as the strongest arm of a weak state.

Pakistani, Turkish and Egyptian generals profess to love democracy, but they practice it with varying degrees of reluctance. After seizing power in Pakistan in 1999, General Musharraf promised early elections but stayed for nine years. During a stint at the United States Army War College in 2005, General Sisi wrote a paper titled “Democracy in the Middle East” that was critical of American intervention in the region. Turkey’s army has claimed a popular mandate for inherently undemocratic acts.

Instead, the military has deeply embedded itself in each state’s DNA, winning privileges and lucrative jobs for its officers, all the while controlling politics in blunt fashion. Pakistan’s generals have mounted four coups over the past 55 years; Turkey has had three. In both Pakistan and Egypt, analysts describe the military as the core of the “deep state.”

“The military has been very influential since the 1952 revolution,” said Hala Mustafa, editor of the Journal of Democracy in Cairo. “Even under Morsi, it had the same privileges and status as it had over the past six decades.”

How the militaries exercised that influence has varied. While Turkish and Egyptian generals ruthlessly marginalized political Islamists, Pakistan’s men in uniform co-opted them. During the 1980s, Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan used them to both fight and to Islamize Pakistan’s national identity, a source of tension with Egypt at the time.

In all three countries, Islam is often seen as the boogeyman of democracy, Dr. Nasr said. “But that is wrong. The real struggle in the Middle East is between civilian rule and the military.”

That struggle is further complicated by the debate over how to integrate Islam into politics. For years, Turkey was the model of progress for many Muslim countries. But the military’s retreat has been driven, in part, by the country’s desire to join the European Union. And the gloss of civilian rule vanished in June when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan violently suppressed a protest movement in central Istanbul, suggesting that one authoritarianism was being replaced with another. This month’s treason trial brought out sharp divisions between secularists and Islamists, underscoring how Turkey’s nation-building model remains a work in progress.

Yet the Turkish model may still offer the best hope: the protests in Istanbul appeared aimed more at Mr. Erdogan’s hard-nosed policies than at the system of civilian rule itself.

For some Egyptians pondering their future, the dreaded outcome is to become like Pakistan. Yet there are lessons to be learned. For decades, Pakistani generals could intervene in politics at will, a fact that the current prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, appreciates better than most: his last stint in power ended in 1999 with an army coup.

But since General Musharraf was ousted as president in 2008, Pakistan’s notoriously fractious politicians joined hands to give the military little room for maneuver, culminating in the recent, relatively clean election, which Mr. Sharif won with a handsome mandate. The courts have also grown bolder, highlighting military-driven vote rigging and human rights abuses (even if nobody has yet faced charges) and daring to indict General Musharraf, who also faces possible treason charges.

Pakistanis now view themselves as exemplars of transition politics. After Mr. Morsi’s ouster, which many Egyptian liberals supported, their Pakistani counterparts were quick to offer advice on the perils of military intervention. “Been there, done that — and it was definitely the wrong choice,” said the journalist Omar R. Quraishi on Twitter.

Still, Pakistan’s generals remain strong behind the scenes, and Pakistan’s transition is far from complete. General Musharraf’s trial, analysts say, could offer a weather vane of how much prestige they are willing to cede.

Leaders in Pakistan, Turkey and Egypt are acutely aware of the parallels among them. General Musharraf, who speaks Turkish, used to wax lyrical about the secular vision of Turkey’s founder, Mr. Ataturk. More recently Turkish leaders have expressed fear that events in Egypt could stir trouble in their own country. “At moments of peril, it is more important than ever to stick closely to the democratic path,” President Abdullah Gul wrote recently in The Financial Times.

Yet as all three countries climb the ladder toward functioning democracies, the effort is complicated by outside pressure, which often favors the military. American support for Pakistan and Egypt has long been predicated on those countries’ geostrategic value: Egypt’s proximity to Israel and Pakistan’s to Afghanistan. Turkey is a major player in NATO.

And in Egypt, General Sisi and his commanders have drawn vocal support for his harsh crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood from the governments of Israel and Saudi Arabia. Even Mr. Mubarak, at the height of his 30-year rule, dared not operate so boldly. But therein lies the danger, perhaps, for General Sisi.

His support from Egyptian civic society could evaporate as revulsion grows at the bloodshed against Islamists and the military’s crackdown on other dissenters. If he alienates Western support, financing from the Middle East cannot sustain his country for very long. And, as events in Turkey and Pakistan have shown, the military’s eminence can endure only by strategically ceding space to civilian players — or the use of violent repression.

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« Reply #8316 on: Aug 25, 2013, 07:03 AM »

Mumbai gang-rape: Indian police arrest fifth man

Police say charges will be filed soon as last of five men wanted in connection with assault on photojournalist is picked up in Delhi

Associated Press in Delhi, Sunday 25 August 2013 10.33 BST   

Police have arrested the last of five men wanted in connection with the gang-rape of a photojournalist in Mumbai.

They said charges would be filed soon in a case that has caused public outrage and renewed the debate over whether women can be safe in India.

The victim, a 22-year-old Indian woman, said she was anxious to return to work after Thursday night's assault, in which five men repeatedly raped her while her male colleague was beaten and tied up in an abandoned textile mill in the country's financial capital.

A statement from Jaslok hospital, where the woman has been since the attack, said her condition was being monitored but that she was "much better" and is being visited by her family. Indian law forbids identifying rape victims by name.

Police arrested the fifth suspect on Sunday in Delhi, the capital, after rounding up the other four in Mumbai.

"We will file a comprehensive charge sheet soon," said Mumbai's police commissioner, Satyapal Singh. He said police had the evidence to prosecute the suspects, including the victim's testimony and medical samples taken at the hospital where she was treated after the assault.

It is rare for rape victims to visit police or hospital immediately after an attack in India, where an entrenched culture of tolerance for sexual violence has led to many cases going unreported. Women often face social or police pressure to stay quiet about sexual assault, experts say, and those who do report cases are often subjected to public ridicule or social stigma.

People across India were shocked in December by the brutal gang-rape in Delhi of a 23-year-old student who died two weeks later from her injuries. Pledging to crack down, the federal government created fast-track courts for rape cases, doubled prison sentences for rape, and criminalised voyeurism, stalking, acid attacks and the trafficking of women.

Under intense pressure, police have acted quickly to hunt down the five suspects in the Mumbai case. The Maharashtra state home minister, RR Patil, visited investigators at a Mumbai police station on Saturday night, and the government has urged the harshest punishment for those found guilty.

The five suspects – including two picked up overnight and two arrested earlier – are likely to face prosecution under a strict new law that sets the maximum prison sentence for rape at 20 years.

Police said the suspects targeted the photojournalist as she and her male colleague were taking pictures on a magazine assignment in a south Mumbai neighbourhood where luxury malls and condominiums sit alongside sprawling slums and abandoned mills.

The suspects pretended to help get her permission to shoot then tied up the male journalist and dragged the woman into shrubbery where they assaulted her while threatening her with a broken beer bottle, police said.

A court on Saturday ordered two suspects to be held until 30 August, and police said one would undergo medical tests to determine his age after his family said he was a juvenile of 16. Police maintain he is 19, which makes him eligible for trial as an adult.

The eldest suspect is 25.


India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
August 25, 2013, 5:42 am

Grim World of Mumbai Rape Accused


MUMBAI – Three days have passed since a 22-year-old photojournalist said she was gang raped while on assignment in Mumbai, a city lined with luxury apartment buildings, glass office towers and marble megaliths of malls.

As the police hunted down the suspects one by one – officials announced the fourth and fifth arrests on Sunday – a stream of journalists made their way along a green tongue of sewage winding through a slum covered in blue tarpaulins, where thousands have packed themselves in, or on top of, roughly 300 tenements.

They were hoping to find out more about the men who have been accused of the crime, which, in its described brutality, has punctured Mumbai’s image as the rare Indian city where women could move in relative safety.

Past a man transporting a television set on a rusted wheelbarrow, under the flag of the Islamic crescent moon and star, was the house of Chand Hussain Sheikh, a one-room structure with chipping walls. Sharnabai Sheikh, his grandmother, squatted at the dusty doorstep. She said that on the day of the attack, her grandson had received a call on his cell phone at 5:30 p.m. – soon before the rape is alleged to have taken place — and took off abruptly, leaving his cup of tea half-full.

When he came back three hours later, she said, he was shivering and feverish, so she gave him medicine and put him to bed after dinner. But later he emerged, and told her he was scared.

“He said his friends had done something to a girl and she had been lying unconscious in Shakti Mills,” she said. “He never lies to me — his friends have committed the crime and blamed him.” Inside her sari she had tucked a precious piece of paper – her grandson’s birth certificate, testifying that he is 16 and a minor, which could help him get a lighter sentence if he is convicted. She had raised Chand and his two siblings after their parents died, supporting them by selling limes from a cane basket.

“He didn’t do it,” she said, in a weak-lunged voice. “He couldn’t do something like this.”

Shameen Sheikh, a neighbor, said Chand would occasionally bring home some money from sorting garbage, but more often he spent the days hanging out with his friends in the abandoned mill where the rape is said to have taken place, sometimes coming home drunk.

Women in nearby houses stepped out of their homes to debate how a child from here could be accused of such a crime.

“Two of the accused are from Madanpura,” another slum located nearby, said Sameera Shaikh, who was holding a howling baby. “Only one is from here.”

A ribbon of almost 130 textile mills once operated here, but many closed as the industry struggled in the early 1980s. Many of the mills have been leveled to make way for malls and high-end apartment complexes.

From the glassy height of those buildings, one can look down at Madanpura, the slum that was home to another suspect, Mohammed Kasim Sheikh. His house is outside a mountain of trash collected from the slum. His mother, Chandbibi Sheikh, was storing water in red plastic buckets when a mustachioed neighbor, passing by her house, taunted her about her son. She dropped the bucket with a thud and stepped out to shower vibrant abuse on him and his family.

She said he had returned home at about 9 p.m. on Thursday night, and was eating dinner when he got a call summoning him to the police station.

“He got scared and ran,” she said. “His mobile has been switched off ever since.”

Mohammed Mumtaz, who lives in the adjacent house, said few in the slum believed Kasim to be innocent. “He drank, he smoked, he lusted after girls,” he said. “If he even tried to look at a girl in our neighborhood with those intentions, we would not have spared him.”

Ms. Sheikh, who earns a living washing plates at weddings, raised Kasim and his three siblings alone after their father died of liver failure. She said Kasim, 18, had dropped out of school twice, and could do nothing to earn money but sort garbage. “He didn’t have any bad habits except chewing tobacco,” she said. “There were young girls living right next to us, he didn’t misbehave with them. But he is human, who knows what he did.”

Mansi Choksi is a journalist based in Mumbai.

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« Reply #8317 on: Aug 25, 2013, 07:06 AM »

August 24, 2013

Battling Superstition, Indian Paid With His Life


PUNE, India — For nearly three decades, an earnest man named Narendra Dabholkar traveled from village to village in India, waging a personal war against the spirit world.

If a holy man had electrified the public with his miracles, Dr. Dabholkar, a former physician, would duplicate the miracles and explain, step by step, how they were performed. If a sorcerer had amassed a fortune treating infertility, he would arrange a sting operation to unmask the man as a fraud. His goal was to drive a scientist’s skepticism into the heart of India, a country still teeming with gurus, babas, astrologers, godmen and other mystical entrepreneurs.

That mission ended Tuesday, when two men ran up behind Dr. Dabholkar, 67, as he crossed a bridge, shot him at point-blank range, then jumped onto a motorbike and disappeared into the traffic coursing through this city.

Dr. Dabholkar’s killing is the latest episode in a millenniums-old wrestling match between traditionalists and reformers in India. When detectives began putting together a list of Dr. Dabholkar’s enemies, they found that it was long. He had received threats from Hindu far-right groups, been beaten by followers of angry gurus and challenged by councils upholding archaic caste laws. His home state, Maharashtra, was considering legislation he had promoted for 14 years, banning a list of practices like animal sacrifice, the magical treatment of snake bites and the sale of magic stones.

In the rush of emotion that followed Dr. Dabholkar’s death, the state’s governor on Saturday signed the so-called anti-black magic bill into force as an ordinance. But Dr. Dabholkar never put stock in sudden breakthroughs, said his son, Hamid Dabholkar, as mourners filtered through the family’s home. “He knew this kind of battle is fought across the ages,” he said. “The journey we have chosen is one that started with Copernicus. We have a very small life, of 70 to 80 years, and the kind of change we will see during that time will be small.”

At Police Headquarters in Pune, the crime branch’s reception area was decorated with a painting of the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesh, bedecked with garlands of fresh flowers and a revolving, multicolored flashing light. There was a slight smell of incense. The lead investigator in the Dabholkar case had been working until 4 a.m., the inspector on duty said, so he would not be in until noon. “Round-the-clock,” he repeated, reassuringly, when asked about the inquiry’s intensity.

The killers left behind a few pieces of evidence. Surveillance cameras show two men lurking around a bridge for nearly an hour before intercepting Dr. Dabholkar on his post-yoga morning walk. Friends and family described threats Dr. Dabholkar had received over the years from hard-line Hindu organizations.

The founder of one such group, Sanatan Sanstha, noting that he did not condone the killing, did not bother to feign sorrow over Dr. Dabholkar’s death.

“Instead of dying of old age, or by surgery, which causes a lot of suffering, the death Mr. Dabholkar got today was a blessing from God,” the leader, a former hypnotherapist now known as His Holiness Dr. Jayant Athavale, wrote in an editorial in the organization’s publication, Sanatan Prabhat.

With his unfashionable glasses and mild smile, Dr. Dabholkar fell into his region’s tradition of progressive social movements. An atheist, he quit practicing medicine at 40 to devote his life to activism. The room where he worked was bare but for a framed quote from Mahatma Gandhi. His wife, Shaila, recalled that her family had offered her an array of young men they considered marriageable, and she had chosen him for his idealism.

“We thought only about society, and that was what we spoke about,” she said. “Even though we were married, there was nothing like romance, or anything like that. Both of us were patriots of idealism. We wanted a good society.”

He was active on many fronts, from women’s rights to environmentalism, but the guru-busting received the most attention. A German scholar who wrote a book about Dr. Dabholkar’s group, the Committee for the Eradication of Blind Faith, described a traveling road show in which activists lay on beds of nails, set coconuts on fire and told crowds, “Just remember, miracles can never happen.”

“The rationalists do not shy away from challenging and provoking the gods, deities and spirits, ridiculing the people capable of controlling black magic and deliberately doing the most inauspicious things,” the scholar, Johannes Quack, wrote in his study “Disenchanting India.” “Some villagers told me that the rationalists would live to regret such behavior.”

Recently, Dr. Dabholkar had focused much of his energy on the anti-black magic bill, and he was frustrated that politicians were slow to embrace it. Shruti Tambe, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Pune, said it had run into various roadblocks — a rise in conservative thought among middle-class Hindus; the vested interests of castes that specialized in certain rituals. Then there was the difficulty of providing a legal definition of superstition. The list of banned activities grew shorter and shorter over the years, and now includes 16 items, among them “to perform magical rites in the name of supernatural power” and “to perform so-called black magic and spread fear in society.”

“What today stands as the draft legislation is a much mellowed-down position,” she said. “It is a slippery area that we are talking about — what is faith, and what is blind faith. There is a very thin line dividing it.”

Far-right Hindu groups were vehemently opposed. Shambhu S. Gaware, a spokesman for Sanatan Sanstha, who offered an interview after repeated phone calls, said early versions of the bill banned practices that cause bodily injury — which, he said, could be interpreted to include traditional fasting. Though many provisions have since been removed, the act is still vaguely worded and could be applied to legitimate religious practices, he said.

“This is just an attack on Hindu dharma,” said Mr. Gaware, a mechanical engineer.

The days since the killing have been tense for Sanatan Sanstha. There have been calls to ban the group, which has no official membership, since 2008, when people linked to it were convicted of bombing theaters. Mr. Gaware said investigators questioned eight of Sanatan Sanstha’s local members immediately after the killing, and have a list of 70 members they plan to interrogate. He said the members had cooperated fully.

“Dr. Dabholkar was not a believer in God, and we are strong believers in God, so there is always a clash between our thoughts,” he said. “But we do not believe in violence. Whatever our differences with Dr. Dabholkar, we always choose legal means to oppose him.”

The police have begun questioning the leaders of criminal gangs in Pune, in hopes of identifying the crime’s mastermind, and are tracing more than 1,000 motorcycles with plate numbers similar to the assailants’, The Times of India reported Saturday.

In Pune, meanwhile, the secular and the spiritual strain against each other. Boys and men stopped at the spot on the bridge where Dr. Dabholkar was shot, fixing their gaze at the grayish stain on the cement. Rohit Shindey, 21, said that as a child, he had believed in “all the things in our religion that they would do that was rubbish, like babas and predictions.”

Then, he said, Dr. Dabholkar gave a speech at his school. “He told us: ‘I am not saying there is no God. Believe in God. But do not keep any superstitions in your heart. Only God is in your heart,’ ” Mr. Shindey said.

Not 50 feet away, Kumar Shankar was offering palm readings in the same spot where he has worked since 1987. He sat cross-legged and barefoot, in a vest of rough homespun fabric, and was not especially bothered by the challenges of secularists. A reading was 60 rupees, about $1.

“The Constitution of India has given us freedom of expression,” he said. “Many people say God is not there, but many more believe in God. Many people do not believe in spirits. Many people believe in spirits.” To charges that he was exploiting that belief, he said, “If you go to a doctor, will he treat you for free?”

Mr. Shankar had heard about Dr. Dabholkar’s death, and about the sudden progress of the new legislation. He shrugged off the idea that it would have any effect on him. “No, mine is a science,” he said. “This is palmistry! Numerology, palmistry, astrology, these are sciences! The law cannot ban them.”

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« Reply #8318 on: Aug 25, 2013, 07:08 AM »

Bo Xilai says police chief 'full of lies'

Disgraced Communist party boss turns on former deputy Wang Lijun in court and denies he punched him in fit of rage

Jonathan Kaiman in Jinan, Sunday 25 August 2013 10.01 BST   

Fallen Communist party boss Bo Xilai has launched a scathing verbal attack on his former second-in-command Wang Lijun as his trial's fourth day came to a close, dismissing Wang's testimony as "full of lies".

On Saturday, Wang, 53, police captain of the south-western municipality of Chongqing while Bo was its party chief, recounted the events following the murder of a British businessman in November 2011 that led to Bo's downfall.

Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, had poisoned Neil Heywood after a property deal went sour, and Wang, fearing persecution by Bo for his investigation into the case, fled to the US consulate in a neighbouring city seeking political asylum.

Bo stands accused of using his position to cover up the murder.

Bo, 64, who is on trial in eastern China accused of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power, has admitted some responsibility for Wang's defection, but denied he engaged in criminal behaviour.

"Wang Lijun's testimony is full of lies, it is completely not reliable or credible," Bo said, according to court transcripts posted online. The trial was adjourned on Sunday morning and was set to resume on Monday.

Last year, Wang was sentenced to 15 years in prison for charges including abuse of power, defection and taking bribes. Gu is serving a suspended death sentence for intentional homicide.

Bo has testified that he initially believed Wang had framed his wife for the murder. On Sunday, he refuted details of Wang's testimony, denying he had punched Wang in a fit of rage after learning about the case. The blow, he said, was more of a slap. "I am not a boxer," Bo said. "I do not have that kind of power."

On Saturday, Wang testified that Bo, in a last-ditch effort to protect his wife, had hushed Wang's subordinate officers and asked him to hand over hard drives containing details of the investigation. Wang said his situation "was very dangerous", forcing him to flee the city.

Yet Bo, who stands accused of unlawfully stripping Wang of his post in late January 2012, argued that he fired Wang for reasons unrelated to the murder. The police chief was mentally unsound, he said, and had already requested a new position. "This person is extremely bad – he slandered me in court," Bo said. "Second, he tried to create confusion. This kind of person's testimony does not have legal credibility."

While Bo has put up a feisty defence over the past four days, denying many of the prosecution's central charges, many analysts say that he will almost certainly be found guilty and sentenced to at least a decade in jail. In China, the ruling Communist party controls the courts, and verdicts for politically sensitive cases are usually decided well in advance.

Five-day trials are rare in China – Bo's hearing was originally expected to last only two days. Most of the country's criminal trials last a few hours.

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« Reply #8319 on: Aug 25, 2013, 07:10 AM »

Julia Gillard will not attend Labor launch, says Rudd

Kevin Rudd says prime minister he ousted will not attend party's election campaign launch and he 'respects her decision'

Staff and agencies, Sunday 25 August 2013 06.57 BST    

Julia Gillard will not be attending Labor’s campaign launch in Brisbane next Sunday because she "does not want to distract" from Kevin Rudd's message, she has said.

"I have respectfully decided not to be present at next Sunday's campaign launch because I simply do not want to distract in any way from Kevin Rudd's powerful message to the Australian people," the former prime minister said on Sunday.

"I stand with all those throughout our party, and with our great candidates, in voicing my fervent hope for a decisive Labor victory on September 7."

Rudd said Gillard's decision was "entirely appropriate". "I respect her decision entirely," he told ABC television. "It's entirely appropriate that she make her own call on it," he told ABC television on Sunday.

Rudd ousted Gillard in June. She had deposed him in the run-up to the 2010 election.

In that election campaign Rudd did attend Labor’s launch. "The difference is in 2010 I was of course recontesting [my seat]," the prime minister said.

Gillard is not standing for re-election and has been absent from Labor's election campaign this year.

Rudd said he "honoured" Gillard's record and would not engage in character assassination of her.

Asked if he was thankful Gillard supporters had not sabotaged his campaign in the same way his backers had in 2010, Rudd said: "I'm not going to go into internal debates within the Labor party."

He distanced himself from comments he made on Friday referring to the fact that Gillard had been on track to lead Labor to a catastrophic defeat.

"I said that bluntly at the time [of the leadership contest]," he said.

The prime minister said Australia was a better place as a result of "the extraordinary work which Julia has done", citing her education reforms and the introduction of the disability insurance scheme.

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« Reply #8320 on: Aug 25, 2013, 07:12 AM »

Striking teachers block access to Mexico City airport

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, August 24, 2013 9:01 EDT

Thousands of teachers severely disrupted access to Mexico City’s international airport, forcing some travelers to abandon cars and roll suitcases on foot during a protest against education reform.

The striking educators descended on the capital this week from across the country, staging sit-ins at the chamber of deputies and senate that forced lawmakers to move their debates in a convention center.

Airport director general Alfonso Sarabia said many travelers were late for planes Friday when they were forced to take the metro to reach the two terminals after the teachers blocked road access. Some passengers walked down the boulevard leading to the airport.

But the national security council said the airport operated normally without flight delays despite the protest.

Some airlines offered to change tickets for free to people who arrived late because of the protest.

The teachers were still blocking the main access road late Friday after police took control of secondary roads, where they set up checkpoints allowing bus and people with plane tickets to go through in taxis, an airport official told AFP.

The official, who requested anonymity, said the airport may consider diverting flights to other airports “if this situation continues for several days.”

Jesus Rodriguez Almeida, the city’s public security secretary, said 1,700 police officers were deployed to guard the terminals, warning that operations there would only be interrupted “over my dead body.”

Federal police said it had transported 2,500 people from a metro station to Terminal 1 and would continue the service until the blockade is lifted.

Opposition lawmakers have criticized Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera’s handling of the protests, but he countered Thursday that his government respects the right to protest and that his priority was to prevent clashes “at all cost.”

President Enrique Pena Nieto pushed through Congress changes to the constitution in December in order to put education, which was in the hands of powerful unions, back under government control and require teachers to undergo mandatory performance appraisals.

Lawmakers are now debating legislation that would implement the new laws, which have prompted protests and strikes in the southern states of Michoacan, Guerrero and Oaxaca in recent months.

The teachers say the tests should only be used to help them improve, not to fire them or decide promotions. The union that called the protests urged lawmakers to suspend the debate and enter into negotiations with teachers.

More than 70,000 teachers went on strike in southern Mexico, leaving more than one million children without classes at the start of the school year this week.

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« Reply #8321 on: Aug 25, 2013, 07:14 AM »

August 24, 2013

A Proud Nation Ponders How to Halt Its Slow Decline


PARIS — For decades, Europeans have agonized over the power and role of Germany — the so-called German question — given its importance to European stability and prosperity.

Today, however, Europe is talking about “the French question”: can the Socialist government of President François Hollande pull France out of its slow decline and prevent it from slipping permanently into Europe’s second tier?

At stake is whether a social democratic system that for decades prided itself on being the model for providing a stable and high standard of living for its citizens can survive the combination of globalization, an aging population and the acute fiscal shocks of recent years.

Those close to Mr. Hollande say that he is largely aware of what must be done to cut government spending and reduce regulations weighing down the economy, and is carefully gauging the political winds. But what appears to be missing is the will; France’s friends, Germany in particular, fear that Mr. Hollande may simply lack the political courage to confront his allies and make the necessary decisions.

Changing any country is difficult. But the challenge in France seems especially hard, in part because of the nation’s amour-propre and self-image as a European leader and global power, and in part because French life is so comfortable for many and the day of reckoning still seems far enough away, especially to the country’s small but powerful unions.

The turning of the business cycle could actually be a further impediment in that sense, because as the European economy slowly mends, the French temptation will be to hope that modest economic growth will again mask, like a tranquilizer, the underlying problems.

The French are justifiably proud of their social model. Health care and pensions are good, many French retire at 60 or younger, five or six weeks of vacation every summer is the norm, and workers with full-time jobs have a 35-hour week and significant protections against layoffs and firings.

But in a more competitive world economy, the question is not whether the French social model is a good one, but whether the French can continue to afford it. Based on current trends, the answer is clearly no, not without significant structural changes — in pensions, in taxes, in social benefits, in work rules and in expectations.

But Mr. Hollande’s Socialist Party and the harder French left have not seemed to grasp the famous insight of the prince in Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s renowned novel of social upheaval, “The Leopard,” that “everything needs to change, so everything can stay the same.” Sometimes, talking to French politicians and workers, one has the feeling that they all consider themselves communards and revolutionaries, fighters on the left — but at the same time, like the far right, they wish to lock into place the comfort of the known.

In May 1968, students at the University of Paris in Nanterre began what they thought was a revolution. French students in neckties and bobby socks threw cobblestones at the police and demanded that the sclerotic postwar system must change.

Today, at Nanterre, students worried about finding jobs and losing state benefits are demanding that nothing change at all. For Raphaël Glucksmann, who led his own first strike in high school in 1995, members of his generation have nostalgia for their rebellious fathers but no stomach for a fight in hard economic times.

“The young people march now to reject all reforms,” he said. “We see no alternatives. We’re a generation without bearings.”

The Socialists have become a conservative party, desperately trying to preserve the victories of the last century. Many in the party, like the anti-globalization campaigner Arnaud Montebourg, now the minister in charge of industrial renewal — let alone those further to the left — seem to believe that France would be fine if only the rest of the world would just disappear, or at least work a little less hard.

There is nonetheless an underlying understanding that there will be little lasting gain without structural changes to the state-heavy French economy. The warning signs are everywhere: French unemployment and youth unemployment are at record levels; growth is slow compared with Germany, Britain, the United States or Asia; government spending represents nearly 57 percent of gross domestic product, the highest in the euro zone, and is 11 percentage points higher than Germany. The government employs 90 civil servants per 1,000 residents, compared with 50 in Germany.

Hourly wage costs are high and social spending represents 32 percent of G.D.P., highest among the industrialized countries; real wage increases outpace productivity growth; national debt is more than 90 percent of G.D.P.

About 82 percent of the new jobs created last year were temporary contracts, up from 70 percent only five years ago, not the kind of full-time work that opens the door to the French middle class. That keeps nearly an entire generation living precariously, no matter how hard people study or work.

Last year, France was ranked 28th out of the 60 most competitive economies in the world, according to the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland. The United States was first. Even China, at 21, and Japan, at 24, outranked France. In the World Bank’s ranking of “ease of doing business,” France ranks 34th, compared with 7th for Britain and 20th for Germany.

In Amiens, in the north of France, Goodyear owns two tire factories. The work force at one has grudgingly accepted a change in work schedules, preserving its factory. The workers at the other have refused, and Goodyear is trying (not so easy in France) to shut it down, throwing more people out of work. Claude Dimoff, a former union leader at the more flexible plant, said: “I’m part of a generation that experienced the common program of the left. We had visions for the future, and different values, but all this is forgotten. The left has completely deviated from its promises.”

The country retains plenty of strengths. France is the world’s fifth-largest economy, with strong traditions in management, science and innovation. The gap between rich and poor is narrower in France than in most Western countries, although it is growing.

When the French work, they work hard; labor productivity, perhaps the single most important indicator of an economy’s potential, is still relatively high, if dropping. But with long holidays and the 35-hour week, the French work fewer hours than most competitors, putting an extra strain on corporations and the economy.

Large French companies compete globally; there are more French companies in the Fortune 500 than any other European country. But the bulk of their employees are abroad, and there are few of the midsize companies that are the backbone of Germany. Ninety percent of French companies have 10 or fewer employees and fear expansion because of extra tax burdens and strict labor regulations.

Even in France’s justly famous agricultural sector, the shrinking number of farmers has not been matched by a similar reduction in bureaucrats. Jacques Galaup, a farmer near Gaillac in the southwest, spoke with disdain of the number of hours he had to spend on paperwork — and estimated that there was probably one functionary now for every farmer.

Mr. Galaup showed off his records on the fewer than 30 cows that he raises. The files are thick and all done by hand; computers have barely made it to most levels of government.

In poll after poll, the French insist that they want renovation and modernization, so long as it does not touch them. That is always the political challenge, and Mr. Hollande’s conservative predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, is considered to have failed in his promise to make serious structural changes.

While complaining constantly, for example, about the horrors of the 35-hour workweek, Mr. Sarkozy never dumped it, but simply played with the tax consequences of overtime, a change that Mr. Hollande immediately revoked. One of Mr. Sarkozy’s advisers, Alain Minc, who tried to get him interested in Germany’s social market revisions, once admitted that Mr. Sarkozy was simply afraid to confront the unions and the social uproar that real change would provoke.

There is a broad consensus that real social and structural renovation can be carried out only by the left. But that can happen only if Mr. Hollande, who has a legislative majority, is willing to confront his own party in the name of the future, as the former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder did a decade ago with a series of legal modifications that now get much of the credit for Germany’s revival.

Mr. Hollande says he believes in “dialogue with social partners,” which has so far produced relative peace but little substantive change. With centrist union agreement, he has slightly loosened the labor market, making flex time easier and taxing short-term contracts more steeply. And in 2014 he is moving about $27 billion of social costs from corporations to the regressive value-added tax.

But what can seem bold in local terms tends to yield minor results, and these modest efforts have taken place at the height of Mr. Hollande’s power, which is inevitably declining.

In his book “The Resistance: The French Fight Against the Nazis,” Matthew Cobb quotes a man named Boris Vildé, executed by the Nazis. His last words were: “I love France. I love this beautiful country. Yes, I know it can be small-minded, selfish, politically rotten and a victim of its old glory, but with all these faults it remains enormously human and will not sacrifice its stature.”

But by refusing to grapple with its underlying faults, many here say, that is exactly what it is doing.

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« Reply #8322 on: Aug 25, 2013, 07:25 AM »


Kremlin’s RT network boots journalist for on-air protest of anti-gay laws

By David Edwards
Wednesday, August 21, 2013 14:12 EDT

A gay journalist was kicked off the Kremlin-backed RT network on Wednesday after he hijacked a segment about Bradley Manning to talk about Russia’s laws banning the promotion of homosexuality.

The Washington Free Beacon first posted the clip that begins with columnist James Kirchick quoting openly gay playwright and actor Harvey Fierstein.

“He said that being silent in the face of evil is something we can’t do,” Kirchick said as he pulled rainbow suspenders over his shoulders. “Being here on a Kremlin-funded propaganda network, I’m gonna wear my gay pride suspenders, and I’m gonna speak out against the horrific anti-gay legislation that Pig Putin has signed into law, that was passed by the Russian Duma, that criminalizes homosexual propaganda [and] that effectively makes it illegal to talk about homosexuality in public.”

When the RT host tried to steer the conversation back to Bradley Manning’s 35-year sentence, Kirchick said he was more interested in the “horrific environment of homophobia in Russia right now.”

“And I don’t know how you can go to sleep at night, seeing what happens to journalists in Russia who are routinely harassed, tortured and sometimes killed,” he told the host.

“James, you have to come over here and see for yourself,” the host replied.

“Everyone who works for this network should be ashamed of yourself,” Kirchick insisted.

According to the Free Beacon, Kirchick was removed from the discussion soon after his comments.

But the journalist immediately took to Twitter to talk about his experience.

    True fact: @RT_com just called taxi company that took me to studio to drop me off on the side of the highway on way to Stockholm airport

    — Jamie Kirchick (@jkirchick) August 21, 2013

Kirchick later added: “Don’t worry, Swedish taxi company — whose name I will find– brought me to airport gratis.”

RT denied trying to inconvenience Kirchick by canceling his taxi service mid-trip.

“Mr. Kirkick was invited to appear on RT’s panel as author of article ‘Bradley Manning gets off easy,’ in order to contribute to RT’s discussion of the Bradley Manning verdict – obviously the major international news event. Mr. Kirkick decided to instead use this time to express his opinion on LGBT rights, a matter which, while important, was entirely unrelated to the subject of the panel. Regretfully, RT had no other recourse but to continue the discussion without him,” a spokesperson for the network told Raw Story.

“Regarding Mr. Kirchick’s transportation: In no way did RT try to inconvenience Mr. Kirchick or ‘drop [him] off on the side of the road.’ Logistics management by RT is often part of the agreement when required for a person’s appearance in an RT broadcast. After Mr. Kirchick tried to sabotage RT’s broadcast, it’s rather surprising that he expected us to pay for his taxi ride.”

Watch this video from RT, broadcast Aug. 21, 2013.


Greenpeace ship defies Russia, enters Arctic route to protest against oil drilling

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, August 24, 2013 8:33 EDT

Greenpeace has deployed its icebreaker through an Arctic shipping route to protest against oil drilling in the fragile ecosystem, defying Russian authorities, the group said Saturday.

The Russian transportation ministry immediately accused the Dutch-flagged vessel of “crudely” violating Russian and international law.

Earlier this week Greenpeace said Russia had refused the permission to enter the Northern Sea Route on several occasions citing concerns about the icebreaker’s ability to withstand thick ice.

The global environmental group has called the move “a thinly veiled attempt to stifle peaceful protest.”

In defiance of the Russian authorities, the Greenpeace said its ship Arctic Sunrise entered the Northern Sea Route early Saturday to protest plans by the country’s top oil firm Rosneft and its US partner ExxonMobil to drill near the Russian Arctic National Park.

“We refuse to let illegal attempts by the Russian government stop us from exposing dangerous oil drilling in the Arctic.

“The Russian Arctic National Park is a special place full of rare and threatened Arctic wildlife, and faces an infinitely greater threat from reckless oil companies than a fully equipped Greenpeace icebreaker,” Christy Ferguson, a Greenpeace Arctic campaigner aboard the ship, was quoted as saying in the group’s statement.

“If Rosneft and ExxonMobil bring in offshore drilling platforms they will risk catastrophic blowouts and spills that could devastate the region,” said Ferguson, adding that the two oil giants “rely on secrecy and evasion.”

The Arctic Sunrise was heading to the Kara Sea where several vessels contracted by Rosneft and ExxonMobil are conducting seismic testing to prepare for offshore drilling.

Vladimir Chuprov, head of the Russian energy unit at Greenpeace, said the icebreaker was so far moving forward unhindered.

“According to reports from the vessel, there are no military ships or border guard vessels in the field of view,” he said on Echo of Moscow radio.

“Nor are there any radio signals which would hinder the ship’s movement.”

Russian officials have said the ship owner was violating Russian law and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“The transportation ministry sent a letter to the foreign ministry with a request to get in touch with the Netherlands’ maritime authorities with the aim of influencing the owner of the vessel on behalf of the flag state,” a spokeswoman told AFP.

“By being in the Northern Sea Route waters the vessel presents a serious threat to the environment.”

The Russian foreign ministry did not immediately react.

Greenpeace said the plans to drill in the protected ecosystem were in contravention of Russia’s own environmental laws.

Established in 2009, the natural park is home to endangered species such as the bowhead whale and a major breeding ground for polar bears.

Rosneft, headed by one of President Vladimir Putin’s closest confidants, Igor Sechin, said its offshore exploration and drilling were “absolutely safe.”

“High-technology solutions which will be used to implement the Arctic projects are capable of ensuring maximum environmental safety of the works,” the company said in a statement sent to AFP.

Rosneft added it was open to monitoring by independent observers.

Both Russia and the United States hope that the global warming gradually melting the Arctic sea ice will help them tap the vast oil and natural gas resources believed to be buried in the region.

Pig Putin has pledged to turn the Northern Sea Route into a key shipping artery, part of the Kremlin’s bid to mark out its stake over the energy-rich Arctic.

The 60-year-old Russian strongman has made much of his concern for the wildlife and projects to protect endangered species and was in the past pictured kissing animals and fish.

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« Last Edit: Aug 25, 2013, 07:56 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #8323 on: Aug 25, 2013, 07:40 AM »

David Miranda's detention is a threat to press freedom, say European editors

Newspapers urge prime minister to restore Britain's reputation for free press after holding of Guardian journalist's partner

Jamie Doward   
The Observer, Saturday 24 August 2013 20.11 BST   

The detention and subsequent criminal investigation into the partner of a Guardian journalist threatens to undermine the position of the free press around the world, the editors of several northern European newspapers have warned.

In an open letter to David Cameron published in today's Observer, the editors of Denmark's Politiken, Sweden's Dagens Nyheter, Norway's Aftenposten and Finland's Helsingin Sanomat describe the detention of David Miranda, the partner of the Guardian's Glenn Greenwald, as harassment.

They say that the "events in Great Britain over the past week give rise to deep concern" and call on the British prime minister to "reinstall your government among the leading defenders of the free press".

Miranda was detained by the Metropolitan police for nine hours last Sunday as he was passing through Heathrow on his way to Brazil.

Greenwald has broken a series of stories about the US intelligence agencies based on material leaked by the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The editors describe a free press as crucial to holding governments and their intelligence agencies to account. They write: "We are surprised by the recent acts by officials of your government against our colleagues at the Guardian and deeply concerned that a stout defender of democracy and free debate like the United Kingdom uses anti-terror legislation in order to legalise what amounts to harassment of both the paper and individuals associated with it."

They add: "It is deeply disturbing that the police have now announced a criminal investigation" and they warn that "the implication of these acts may have ramifications far beyond the borders of the UK, undermining the position of the free press throughout the world".

The letter's publication comes as it emerged that Scotland Yard will face legal action over its use of anti-terrorism powers to question people at airports unless it hands over the results of investigations into alleged misuse by its officers.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has said it has given the force a seven-day ultimatum to reveal its findings into outstanding complaints about the use of the tactic following its "continued refusal" to investigate.

The watchdog said it was supervising 18 investigations into the use by the Met of Schedule 7 powers, which allow officers to detain passengers for up to nine hours without needing reasonable suspicion of involvement in terrorism.

The IPCC said it ordered the Met in February to "investigate the rationale for stopping and questioning people under Schedule 7". The force agreed to investigate two months later, following the threat of legal action, but then refused to hand over the resulting investigation documents to the watchdog, an IPCC spokesman said.

Scotland Yard said it was "working hard" to agree a procedure for dealing with investigations with the IPCC and and that legal action had so far been "unnecessary".

A Met spokesman said: "The Metropolitan Police Service recognises the IPCC's role in scrutinising complaints related to Schedule 7 stops and has been working hard to agree a procedure for dealing with such investigations that is acceptable to all stakeholders. As a result of these efforts, legal action has been unnecessary. We hope to be in a position to finalise a way forward with the IPCC in the future."

Meanwhile it has emerged that the US government's efforts to determine which highly classified materials Snowden took from the NSA have been frustrated by the former contractor's sophisticated efforts to cover his digital trail.

The Associated Press reported that the US government investigation is examining whether Snowden was able to defeat safeguards established to deter people looking at information without proper permission by deleting or bypassing electronic logs.

In July, nearly two months after Snowden's earliest disclosures, the NSA director, Keith Alexander, declined to say whether he had established what Snowden had downloaded or how many NSA files he had taken with him.

The latest disclosure undermines the Obama administration's assurances to Congress and the public that the NSA surveillance programs cannot be abused because its spying systems are so aggressively monitored and audited.

Fears about government snooping are now a major concern for internet companies, which are examining measures to restrict external surveillance of people's online activity.

The Internet Engineering Task Force, a body that develops internet standards, has proposed a system in which communication between websites and browers would be shielded by encryption. The proposals, which are at an early stage, would make it harder for governments, companies and criminals to eavesdrop on people as they browse the web.


‘Data is the new oil’: Tech giants may be huge, but nothing matches big data

By Charles Arthur, The Guardian
Saturday, August 24, 2013 10:03 EDT

When Nasdaq stopped trading this week, it again showed how global firms are at the mercy of a power that created them

“Data is the new oil,” declared Clive Humby, a Sheffield mathematician who with his wife, Edwina Dunn, made £90m helping Tesco with its Clubcard system. Though he said it in 2006, the realisation that there is a lot of money to be made – and lost – through the careful or careless marshalling of “big data” has only begun to dawn on many business people.

The crash that knocked out the Nasdaq trading system was only one example; in the past week, Amazon, Google and Apple have all suffered breaks in service that have affected their customers, lost sales or caused inconvenience. When Amazon’s main shopping site went offline for nearly an hour, estimates suggested millions of dollars of sales were lost. When Google went offline for just four minutes this month, the missed chance to show adverts to searchers could have cost it $500,000.

Michael Palmer, of the Association of National Advertisers, expanded on Humby’s quote: “Data is just like crude. It’s valuable, but if unrefined it cannot really be used. It has to be changed into gas, plastic, chemicals, etc to create a valuable entity that drives profitable activity; so must data be broken down, analysed for it to have value.”

For Amazon and Google especially, being able to process and store huge amounts of data is essential to their success. But when it goes wrong – as it inevitably does – the effects can be dramatic. And the biggest problem can be data which is “dirty”, containing erroneous or garbled entries which can corrupt files and throw systems into a tailspin. That can cause the sort of “software glitch” that brought down the Nasdaq – or lead to servers locking up and a domino effect of overloading.

“Whenever I meet people I ask them about the quality of their data,” says Duncan Ross, director of data sciences at Teradata, which provides data warehousing systems for clients including Walmart, Tesco and Apple. “When they tell me that the quality is really good, I assume that they haven’t actually looked at it.”

That’s because the systems businesses use increasingly rely on external data, whether from governments or private companies, which cannot be assumed to be reliable. Ross says: “It’s always dirty.”

And that puts businesses at the mercy of the occasional high-pressure data spill. Inject the wrong piece of data and trouble follows. In April, when automatic systems read a tweet from the Associated Press Twitter feed which said the White House had been bombed and Barack Obama injured, they sold stock faster than the blink of an eye, sending the US Dow index down 143 points within seconds. But the data was dirty: AP’s Twitter feed had been hacked.

The statistics are stunning: about 90% of all the data in the world has been generated in the past two years (a statistic that is holding roughly true even as time passes). There are about 2.7 zettabytes of data in the digital universe, where 1ZB of data is a billion terabytes (a typical computer hard drive these days can hold about 0.5TB, or 500 gigabytes). IBM predicts that will hit 8ZB by 2015. Facebook alone stores and analyses more than 50 petabytes (50,000 TB) of data.

Data is also moving faster than ever before: by last year, between 50% and 70% of all trades on US stock exchanges was being done by machines which could execute a transaction in less than a microsecond (millionth of a second). Internet connectivity is run through fibre optic connections where financial companies will seek to shave five milliseconds from a connection so those nanosecond-scale transactions can be done even more quickly.

We’re also storing and processing more and more of it. But that doesn’t mean we’re just hoarding data, says Ross: “The pace of change of markets generally is so rapid that it doesn’t make sense to retain information for more than a few years.

“If you think about something like handsets or phone calls, go back three or four years and the latest thing was the iPhone 3GS and BlackBerrys were really popular. It’s useless for analysis. The only area where you store data for any length of time is regulatory work.”

Yet the amount of short-term data being processed is rocketing. Twitter recently rewrote its entire back-end database system because it would not otherwise be able to cope with the 500m tweets, each as long as a text message, arriving each day. (By comparison, the four UK mobile networks together handle about 250m text messages a day, a figure is falling as people shift to services such as Twitter.)

Raffi Krikorian, Twitter’s vice-president for “platform engineering” – that is, in charge of keeping the ship running, and the whale away – admits that the 2010 World Cup was a dramatic lesson, when goals, penalties and free kicks being watched by a global audience made the system creak and quail.

A wholesale rewrite of its back-end systems over the past three years means it can now “withstand” events such as the showing in Japan of a new film called Castle in the Sky, which set a record by generating 143,199 tweets a second on 2 August at 3.21pm BST. “The number of machines involved in serving the site has been decreased anywhere from five to 12 times,” he notes proudly. Even better, Twitter has been available for about 99.9999% of the past six months, even with that Japanese peak.

Yet even while Twitter moved quickly, the concern is that other parts of the information structure will not be resilient enough to deal with inevitable collapses – and that could have unpredictable effects.

“We’ve had mains power for more than a century, but can have an outage caused by somebody not resetting a switch,” says Ross. “The only security companies can have is if they build plenty of redundancy into the systems that affect our lives.”


Banish the trolls, but web debate still needs anonymity

By John Naughton, The Observer
Sunday, August 25, 2013 3:18 EDT
Huffington Post risks stifling lively exchanges with its insistence on real names, writes John Naughton

So the proprietor of the Huffington Post has decided to ban anonymous commenting from the site, starting in mid-September. Speaking to reporters after a conference in Boston, Arianna Huffington said: “Trolls are just getting more and more aggressive and uglier and I just came from London where there are rape and death threats. I feel that freedom of expression is given to people who stand up for what they say and [are] not hiding behind anonymity. We need to evolve a platform to meet the needs of the grown-up internet.”

Quite so. I can see heads nodding in agreement. After all, much anonymous online commenting seems to be stupid, nasty, vicious and ignorant. And that’s just the stuff that isn’t tangential to the topic of the article being commented on. If people have to take responsibility for what they say in public, then they will surely behave better.

That seems like common sense. Whether it is supported by evidence is, however, uncertain because at the moment there isn’t much research, and what there is seems to be mostly anecdotal. The most striking study I’ve come across is the experiment conducted by the (South) Korea Communications Commission from July 2007. From that month onwards, anyone wanting to comment on any of the 146 Korean websites with more than 100,000 members was required by law to submit resident registration or credit card details.

The hypothesis behind the requirement was that people would behave better online if they were easily identifiable. But it didn’t turn out that way. At any rate, the commission announced recently that it was withdrawing the registration requirement because it had been ineffective in preventing people from posting abusive messages or spreading false rumours. When the regulation was introduced in 2007, malicious comments accounted for 13.9% of all messages posted on internet threads. But a year later, bad behaviour had reduced by less than 1%.

Without knowing the details of the Korean experiment, the metrics used to measure bad behaviour, etc, it’s difficult to know how seriously to take this result. Personally, I’m sceptical, if only because much of the pathological behaviour that we’ve observed online – from violent threats, grotesque abuse, “lynch” mobs and bullying to gossip, slander and character assassination – corresponds pretty closely to what psychologists and historians have learned over the centuries about human behaviour offline. Put simply: if people believe that they will not be held accountable for their behaviour, then they tend to behave badly.

This is no consolation to those who, like Huffington, want to run websites that seek to encourage user engagement without having to spend large sums of money paying moderators to keep order and enforce civility. But obliging commenters to use their real names will have costs as well as benefits. Chief among the former will be a significant reduction in the volume of commenting, at least in the short term, which in turn will adversely affect the site’s advertising revenues. The hit might be worth taking, however, if in the longer term the quality of the discussion on the site visibly improves.

For site owners who fear that real-name commenting represents a risk too far, there is a halfway house: pseudonymity‚ ie a system in which commenters are allowed to choose their own user names, but have to associate them with a valid email address (which in the last analysis could be used as an identifier). Last year, Disqus, a company that provides an online discussion and commenting service for websites, published some useful research on the behaviour of different types of site user.

The purpose of the research was to address the criticism that there is no substantive difference between pseudonymous and anonymous commenters. Disqus begged to differ, arguing that whereas real names are for authentication (establishing who you are), pseudonyms are for expression: they imply “a choice of identity” and therefore have a communicative function. The company looked through its database of 60 million users and 500m comments to see how commenting practice differed between users who were completely anonymous, those who used pseudonyms and those who had registered via Facebook (and therefore were obliged to use their real names).

The metrics used in the Disqus study are crude but the results are nevertheless intriguing. Pseudonymous users produced significantly more “quality” comments (assessed by numbers of times a comment was “liked” and replied to) than either anonymous or real-name users. And they were much more prolific commenters: 61% of the 500m comments came from pseudonymous users, compared with 35% from anonymous users and a mere 4% from the Facebook-registered crowd.

And the moral of the story? Think twice, Arianna Huffington, before insisting on real names. © Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Last Edit: Aug 25, 2013, 07:48 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #8324 on: Aug 25, 2013, 08:30 AM »

In the USA...

Some Republicans are nuts, but the party leaders are not

By Harry Enten, The Guardian
Sunday, August 25, 2013 4:53 EDT

There are extreme Republicans, but the leadership is not about to allow the party to go the way of the Whigs

News watchers these days have to strain their head not to hear a story about Republicans going off the deep end. Whether it be the asinine attempts to derail Obamacare in Congress, impeachment talks, or harsh voter identification laws passed in North Carolina, some of the more extreme members of the Republican party are front and center.

The question is whether or not these very conservative members are taking control of the Republican party and perhaps throwing it the way of the Whigs. I don’t just mean as talking-heads on Fox News. I mean leaders of the party.

I can think of two ways we can figure this out. First, we can look at who is leading the party in Congress, since they are elected by their fellow congressmen. Second, we can look at who the party is most likely to nominate in 2016.

On the first point, it’s important to remember that most congressmen have little power, even if they scream from the high tops. Loud members of this group include former Congressmen Dennis Kucinich and Anthony Weiner. They may have appeared a lot on television, but didn’t hold much sway when it came to legislating. The key is to look at who chairs committees. These are the people who usher legislation through the US government. Those who hold the purse strings. The people who set the agenda. The people who hold sway.

It used to be that seniority was the main determinant of committee chairmanship, but that’s changed over the past 20 years. Other factors such party unity and the ability to fundraise are more important in determining chairmanships, which make it a good measure of where the center of power is. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is actually slightly more toward the middle than the median Republican. Per DW-nominate scores, which is based on roll call voting, even the more conservative Minority Whip John Cornyn is within a standard deviation of his party’s center.

The chairmen of the important committees also tend to be more moderate. Senators Grassley of Iowa, Hatch of Utah, and Shelby of Alabama are all more moderate than the caucus as a whole. In fact, Grassley is the 7th least conservative Republican in the Senate. Only the conservative Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, who is still more moderate than Marco Rubio, is to the right part of the caucus.

This extends to the House as well. There is no score for Speaker Boehner, but Majority Leader Eric Cantor is more moderate than the potential 2016 presidential nominees per Nate Silver. Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy is right in the middle of the Republican caucus per DW-nominate scores. The chairmen of the Appropriations, Energy and Commerce, Transportation, and Ways and Means are all more moderate than the caucus as a whole. This includes Fred Upton of Energy and Commerce, who is more moderate than 80% of his caucus. Only Pete Sessions of the Rules Committee is more conservative than the caucus of a whole.

Probably more important is who the party’s presidential nominee is. This person projects the image of a party, and if (s)he wins, chooses the national party’s leadership. President Obama is a non-extreme liberal whose multiracial background echoes a party welcoming to moderates and a growing diverse population. The latter is part of the reason there have been calls for a Marco Rubio nomination.

Since the party reforms of the 1970s, a candidate backed by the establishment hasn’t lost the nomination. Even after the anti-establishment Tea Party surge of 2010, a relatively weak Mitt Romney was able to corral the nomination thanks to establishment support.

So who is the Republican establishment apparently supporting now? New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. For the time being, the “selection” of Christie suggests a Republican leadership that isn’t about to go off the deep end. It tells the story of a party leadership that wants to win the White House and will do what it thinks is necessary to win.

Christie is not currently loved by the grassroots, though as Nate Cohn points out he can likely overcome the generally inaccurate early primary polling data. On the key issues that are important to the Republican base such as abortion and gay marriage, he’s not “moderate”. Christie is certainly no liberal on taxation issues. That’s likely why the Republican leadership is backing him, when they wouldn’t do the same for former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. He’s presentable to the different parts of the Republican base when it comes down to it, even if the numbers don’t say it right now.

Still, Christie is not that conservative on the whole. Yes, Christie is pro-life, anti-gay marriage, and just vetoed gun control legislation. Abortion, however, is something most Americans are split on. Christie also signed a law banning gay conversion therapy, and he signed 10 different gun control laws recently. In other words, Christie is a kind of ideological hodgepodge. This can best be seen by looking at ideological ranking systems. This takes the subjectivity out of trying to parse out where exactly a candidate stands.

As Nate Silver did originally, you can average scores across different systems to get a good idea of where a candidate stands. In the case of Christie, he’d be the most moderate Republican candidate in the past 50 years.

Christie’s scoring on the two rankings we have available place him more toward the center than any other candidate to win a Republican nomination since 1964. Some of you might say that Christie is more conservative than these scores indicate. But it seems to me that for every issue where Christie takes a conservative stand, he takes a moderate stance. So that while he’s conservative on taxes, he’s for campaign finance reform and green energy.

The point is he’s more toward the center than previous nominees. He no doubt will move somewhat towards the right, once he wins a second term in November. Still, even a hard turn right would still leave him as relatively moderate. A Republican leadership that was looking to move more towards the right would not be interested in nominating this man or nominating the committee chairmen they are in congress. This is a party that wants to win. It’s a party leadership that at least right now is following the historical pattern of wanting to nominate a more moderate candidate, after losing the the presidential election in two consecutive cycles.

All of this point to a party that, on an electoral level, is still functioning. These are signs of a party that isn’t going away anytime soon and may win back all elected federal branches by 2016. © Guardian News and Media 2013


August 24, 2013

Following King’s Path, and Trying to Galvanize a New Generation


WASHINGTON — Half a century after the emotional apex of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, tens of thousands of people retraced his footsteps on Saturday, and his successors in the movement spoke of the still-unmet promise of America, as he did, at the Lincoln Memorial.

The anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington was less a commemoration, speakers proclaimed, than an effort to inject fresh energy into issues of economics and justice that, despite undeniable progress in overcoming racial bias, still leave stubborn gaps between white and black Americans.

The speeches that carried over the Reflecting Pool, which 50 years ago jolted Congress to pass landmark laws, took hard aim at current racial profiling by law enforcement, economic inequality and efforts to restrict voting access.

Addressing generations too young to remember, the Rev. Al Sharpton, an organizer of Saturday’s event, warned young people against the hubris of believing one’s middle class success was achieved alone. “You got there because some unlettered grandmas who never saw the inside of a college campus put their bodies on the line in Alabama and Mississippi and sponsored you up here,” he said.

A lineup of civil rights heroes, current movement leaders, labor leaders and Democratic officials addressed a vast crowd that stretched east from the Lincoln Memorial to the knoll of the Washington Monument — well out of range of loudspeakers. Organizers expected 100,000, fewer than half the number who came in 1963 when efforts to dismantle segregation had seized the national attention, often because of racist violence in the South.

Speakers included Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who on Thursday sued Texas over a strict voter ID law; Representative John Lewis of Georgia, an organizer of the original 1963 march; and Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager who was shot and killed last year.

“I gave blood on the bridge in Selma, Alabama, for the right to vote,” Mr. Lewis said in a deep and sonorous rumble. “I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us.”

He and many others called the Voting Rights Act of 1965 a jewel of the civil rights movement that was under attack after the high court struck down the heart of it in June, opening the way for states including Texas and North Carolina to enforce new restrictions on voting access.

Mr. Holder, receiving a roar of welcome from the crowd, said that King’s struggle must continue “until every eligible American has the chance to exercise his or her right to vote unencumbered by discrimination or unneeded procedurals, rules or practices.”

The Martin case, which led to the acquittal of a neighborhood watch volunteer in the killing last month, was also a major touchstone of the day. There were T-shirts with him in a hoodie and the acrid phrase “American Justice,” and signs urging “Support Trayvon’s Law” to repeal stand-your-ground gun measures

“We march because Trayvon Martin has joined Emmett Till in the pantheon of young black martyrs,” said Julian Bond, the social activist who attended the 1963 march.

Mazi Oyo, a 27-year-old marcher from Brooklyn, said the verdict prompted him for the first time to consider how he is perceived as a black man. Even in his diverse and upper-middle-class Park Slope neighborhood, he said, “When I go to the store late at night, I have to dress a certain way.”

Etiah Brookins, 36, a marcher from Queens, said she hoped young people drawn to the march because of Mr. Martin’s death would discover a new connection to the history of the civil rights movement.

Benjamin T. Jealous, president of the N.A.A.C.P., linked the passage in New York City on Thursday of limits to stop-and-frisk police tactics — over the strong objections of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg — to the Martin case.

The program was far more inclusive than five decades ago, with many women speakers, Latinos and openly gay men and lesbians.

“When women succeed, America succeeds,” said Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, who attended the 1963 march. She called for Congress to “make the minimum wage a living wage.”

Every persuasion of liberal politics was represented in the colorfully attired crowd, with many groups in matching T-shirts. Near the entrance to the Mall, people in Robin Hood caps held signs reading “End Racism, Heal America, Tax Wall Street.” A wiry woman energetically sang “This Little Light of Mine” next to people who called sex trafficking modern-day slavery. Others wanted to “ban the bing” — end solitary confinement.

Mr. Sharpton, who as chief organizer and president of the National Action Network gave himself the role of keynote speaker, seized the opportunity to turn up the rhetorical heat. In past decades when blacks voted for Presidents John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon, George W. Bush and others, he said, the IDs they showed at polls sufficed. “Why when we get to Obama do we need some special ID?” he said to a roar of approval.

“When we leave here, we’re going to go to those states” that have passed strict photo ID laws and other restrictions like Texas and North Carolina, he said. “And when they ask us for our voter ID, take out a photo of Medgar Evers” and others “who gave their lives so we could vote,” he said. “ ‘Look at this photo. It gives you the ID of who we are.’ ”

President Obama, who is scheduled to observe the anniversary in a quieter ceremony on Wednesday at the Lincoln Memorial, and who was mentioned by many speakers as the fulfillment of King’s dream, was perhaps conspicuous by his absence. Through much of his presidency, Mr. Obama has been reluctant to frame issues in specifically racial terms, sometimes to the frustration of civil rights leaders.

Lately he has taken to reminding people that the 1963 demonstration, officially the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” was as much about fighting for economic equality. He struck the theme on Friday at a town hall-style meeting when he said minorities had made “enormous strides,” but even if all discrimination were ended, “you’d still have a situation in which there are a lot of folks who are poor, and whose families have become dysfunctional, because of a long legacy of poverty.”

His address, at the Lincoln Memorial, will fall on the exact anniversary of the original march, Aug. 28, and he will be joined by Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

The White House denied he was seeking to avoid sharing a public stage with Mr. Sharpton, a controversial figure, or other civil rights leaders, who on Saturday often portrayed the United States as a country a long way from living up to the promises of its founding fathers.

After the speeches, a procession filed past the Lincoln Memorial to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, then east to the Washington Monument. The route reverses the 1963 procession — when, of course, there was no King Memorial between those of the two monumental presidents.

It was Edwina Love’s second March on Washington. “I was so proud just to be here” 50 years ago, she said. “Overt racism is still prevalent,” said Ms. Love, 77, though she acknowledged great changes. A student in Greensboro, N.C., during the lunch counter sit-ins, she now eats wherever she chooses “without being disturbed,” she said. Ms. Love, who lives outside Washington, hopes the march will galvanize younger generations. “I’m going to talk to my granddaughter,” she said.

Sarah Wheaton, Jada Smith and Ashley Southall contributed reporting.


Rep. John Lewis at the March on Washington: ‘I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama for the right to vote’

By George Chidi
Saturday, August 24, 2013 16:58 EDT

Invoking the legacy of the bloody assault he endured in Selma, Ala., Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) used the 50th anniversary celebration of the March on Washington to call upon Congress to fix the provisions of the Voting Rights Act invalidated earlier this year by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama for the right to vote,” he said, referring to the 1965 assault by Alabama state troopers on peaceful marchers, leaving Lewis with a cracked skull and scars visible to this day. “I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us.”

The U.S. Supreme Court invalidated portions of the Voting Rights Act earlier this year, ruling that measures used by the law to determine districts requiring federal scrutiny must be updated by Congress to be constitutionally valid.

Lewis also called on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. “It doesn’t make sense that millions of our people are living in the shadows,” he said. “Bring them out into the light and set them on a path to citizenship.”

Lewis was 23 and leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee when he spoke to the gathered throngs 50 years ago. Of the many speakers that day, Lewis is the only one left alive.

“I’ve come back here again to say that those days, for the most part, are gone,” he said Saturday. “But we have another fight. We must stand up and fight the good fight as we march today. For there are forces, there are people who want to take us back. We can’t go back. We’ve come too far. We want to go forward.”

Watch his speech below.


August 24, 2013

Court Is ‘One of Most Activist,’ Ginsburg Says, Vowing to Stay


WASHINGTON — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 80, vowed in an interview to stay on the Supreme Court as long as her health and intellect remained strong, saying she was fully engaged in her work as the leader of the liberal opposition on what she called “one of the most activist courts in history.”

In wide-ranging remarks in her chambers on Friday that touched on affirmative action, abortion and same-sex marriage, Justice Ginsburg said she had made a mistake in joining a 2009 opinion that laid the groundwork for the court’s decision in June effectively striking down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The recent decision, she said, was “stunning in terms of activism.”

Unless they have a book to sell, Supreme Court justices rarely give interviews. Justice Ginsburg has given several this summer, perhaps in reaction to calls from some liberals that she step down in time for President Obama to name her successor.

On Friday, she said repeatedly that the identity of the president who would appoint her replacement did not figure in her retirement planning.

“There will be a president after this one, and I’m hopeful that that president will be a fine president,” she said.

Were Mr. Obama to name Justice Ginsburg’s successor, it would presumably be a one-for-one liberal swap that would not alter the court’s ideological balance. But if a Republican president is elected in 2016 and gets to name her successor, the court would be fundamentally reshaped.

Justice Ginsburg has survived two bouts with cancer, but her health is now good, she said, and her work ethic exceptional. There is no question, on the bench or in chambers, that she has full command of the complex legal issues that reach the court.

Her age has required only minor adjustments.

“I don’t water-ski anymore,” Justice Ginsburg said. “I haven’t gone horseback riding in four years. I haven’t ruled that out entirely. But water-skiing, those days are over.”

Justice Ginsburg, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, said she intended to stay on the court “as long as I can do the job full steam, and that, at my age, is not predictable.”

“I love my job,” she added. “I thought last year I did as well as in past terms.”

With the departure of Justice John Paul Stevens in 2010, Justice Ginsburg became the leader of the court’s four-member liberal wing, a role she seems to enjoy. “I am now the most senior justice when we divide 5-4 with the usual suspects,” she said.

The last two terms, which brought major decisions on Mr. Obama’s health care law, race and same-sex marriage, were, she said, “heady, exhausting, challenging.”

She was especially critical of the voting rights decision, as well as the part of the ruling upholding the health care law that nonetheless said it could not be justified under Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce.

In general, Justice Ginsburg said, “if it’s measured in terms of readiness to overturn legislation, this is one of the most activist courts in history.”

The next term, which begins on Oct. 7, is also likely to produce major decisions, she said, pointing at piles of briefs in cases concerning campaign contribution limits and affirmative action.

There is a framed copy of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 on a wall in her chambers. It is not a judicial decision, of course, but Justice Ginsburg counts it as one of her proudest achievements.

The law was a reaction to her dissent in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, the 2007 ruling that said Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 imposed strict time limits for bringing workplace discrimination suits. She called on Congress to overturn the decision, and it did.

“I’d like to think that that will happen in the two Title VII cases from this term, but this Congress doesn’t seem to be able to move on anything,” she said.

“In so many instances, the court and Congress have been having conversations with each other, particularly recently in the civil rights area,” she said. “So it isn’t good when you have a Congress that can’t react.”

The recent voting rights decision, Shelby County v. Holder, also invited Congress to enact new legislation. But Justice Ginsburg, who dissented, did not sound optimistic.

“The Voting Rights Act passed by overwhelming majorities,” she said of its reauthorization in 2006, “but this Congress I don’t think is equipped to do anything about it.”

Asked if she was disappointed by the almost immediate tightening of voting laws in Texas and North Carolina after the decision, she chose a different word: “Disillusioned.”

The flaw in the court’s decision, she said, was to conclude from the nation’s progress in protecting minority voters that the law was no longer needed. She repeated a line from her dissent: “It is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote the majority opinion, and he quoted extensively from a 2009 decision that had, temporarily as it turned out, let the heart of the Voting Rights Act survive. Eight members of the court, including Justice Ginsburg, had signed the earlier decision.

On Friday, she said she did not regret her earlier vote, as the result in the 2009 case was correct. But she said she should have distanced herself from the majority opinion’s language. “If you think it’s going to do real damage, you don’t sign on to it,” she said. “I was mistaken in that case.”

Some commentators have said that the two voting rights decisions are an example of the long game Chief Justice Roberts seems to be playing in several areas of the law, including campaign finance and affirmative action. Justice Ginsburg’s lone dissent in June’s affirmative action case, leaving in place the University of Texas’ admissions plan but requiring lower courts to judge it against a more demanding standard, may suggest that she is alert to the chief justice’s apparent strategy.

Justice Ginsburg is by her own description “this little tiny little woman,” and she speaks in a murmur inflected with a Brooklyn accent. But she is a formidable force on the bench, often asking the first question at oral arguments in a way that frames the discussion that follows.

She has always been “a night person,” she said, but she has worked even later into the small hours since her husband, Martin D. Ginsburg, a tax lawyer, chef and wit, died in 2010. Since then, she said, there is no one to call her to bed and turn out the lights.

She works out twice a week with a trainer and said her doctors at the National Institutes of Health say she is in fine health.

“Ever since my colorectal cancer in 1999, I have been followed by the N.I.H.,” she said. “That was very lucky for me because they detected my pancreatic cancer at a very early stage” in 2009.

Less than three weeks after surgery for that second form of cancer, Justice Ginsburg was back on the bench.

“After the pancreatic cancer, at first I went to N.I.H. every three months, then every four months, then every six months,” she said. “The last time I was there they said come back in a year.”

Justice Ginsburg said her retirement calculations would center on her health and not on who would appoint her successor, even if that new justice could tilt the balance of the court and overturn some of the landmark women’s rights decisions that are a large part of her legacy.

“I don’t see that my majority opinions are going to be undone,” she said. “I do hope that some of my dissents will one day be the law.”

She said that as a general matter the court would be wise to move incrementally and methodically. It had moved too fast, she said, in Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion. The court could have struck down only the extremely restrictive Texas law before it.

“I think it’s inescapable that the court gave the anti-abortion forces a single target to aim at,” she said. “The unelected judges decided this question for the country, and never mind that the issue was in flux in the state legislatures.”

The question of same-sex marriage is also in flux around the nation. In June, the court declined to say whether there was a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, allowing the issue to percolate further. But Justice Ginsburg rejected the analogy to the lesson she had taken from the aftermath of the Roe decision.

“I wouldn’t make a connection,” she said.

The fireworks at the end of the last term included three dissents announced from the bench by Justice Ginsburg. Such oral dissents are rare and are reserved for major disagreements.

One was a sharp attack on Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.’s majority opinion in a job discrimination case, and he made his displeasure known, rolling his eyes and making a face.

Justice Ginsburg said she took it in stride. “It was kind of a replay of the State of the Union, when he didn’t agree with what the president was saying” in 2010 about the Citizens United decision. “It was his natural reaction, but probably if he could do it again, he would have squelched it.”


Eric Holder Terrifies Republicans By Vowing to Fight For the Vote at March on Washington

By: Jason Easley
Aug. 24th, 2013

Attorney General Eric Holder sent a wave of terror through vote suppressing Republicans by vowing to fight for the right of all Americans to vote.

Eric Holder’s remarks were heavy on remembering the history of the day, and honoring those brave Americans who stood up and fought against an unjust system for their right, but he also connected yesterday for today and committed himself to protecting the vote from those who seek to take it away.

Holder said their march is our march and it must go on. Attorney General Holder said that the march must go on for gays, Latinos, African-Americans, the disabled and others. He said that we must remember all of those who stood up to racist governments and governors. The Attorney General said that without all of the people who stood up for civil rights he would not be Attorney General and Barack Obama would not be the president of the United States.

Holder said, “Today we look at the work that remains unfinished…We want this nation to be all that it was designed to be and all that it can become.”

The Attorney General said that until every eligible American has the right to vote unencumbered the struggle must go on. Holder also talked about the confrontation of special interest forces that are opposed to the common good.

As much as Attorney General Holder gets criticized by some on the left, it is clear that he and President Obama are personally committed to stopping the Republican efforts across the country to suppress the vote. Republicans are determined to take “their country back” to Jim Crow era voter suppression.

It is easy to see why Republicans both hate and fear Eric Holder. The Attorney General is committed to opposing their efforts to create a group of non-voting second class citizens. Today’s rally confirms that the election of Barack Obama wasn’t the end of the struggle for equality, but the beginning. The election of Obama unleashed a wave of racism on the right.

The message of the thousands who have come to Washington, D.C. is that they are ready to fight, and Republicans now are seeing why their efforts to suppress the vote and deny equality are destined to fail.


August 24, 2013

Ignoring Qualms, Some Republicans Nurture Dreams of Impeaching Obama


WASHINGTON — Representative Kerry Bentivolio, a freshman Republican from Michigan, has a legislative dream. It is not to balance the federal budget, or find a way to help his ailing state or even take away money from the federal health care program, a goal that has so animated many other Republicans this summer.

Rather, Mr. Bentivolio told constituents, it is to put in motion the impeachment of President Obama. “If I could write that bill and submit it, it would be a dream come true,” he said this month.

Mr. Bentivolio may be lacking in his understanding of the technical details of the impeachment process — he has retained experts and historians to help him with that, he said — but he is hardly the only one with this desire.

While many members of Congress have used their August break to engage in conversations about immigration policy, the federal budget and the impending implementation of the Affordable Care Act, some Republicans have taken the opportunity to raise the specter of — if not quite the grounds for — presidential impeachment.

At least two other House Republicans told voters this month that the impeachment process could happen. And last week, Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican who has called himself a friend of the president, told constituents that the nation was “perilously close” to an impeachment situation.

Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, lamented to one voter who asked about the prospect of impeachment that the Senate, controlled by Democrats, would probably not yield the needed votes for conviction. (This logic has not impeded Mr. Cruz from seeking to stop a short-term spending bill unless money is drained from the health care program.)

There is also a grass-roots movement in which citizens across the nation have been hanging signs on overpasses that call for impeachment.

The lawmakers have not laid out any specific charges of high crimes and misdemeanors against Mr. Obama, though the health care law and I.R.S. scrutiny of applications by conservative groups for nonprofit status seem to be among the motivating factors.

Some were also sketchy on the details of how exactly to proceed with a course that Republicans also pursued against the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton. But the movement, somewhat like the one questioning Mr. Obama’s birth certificate, appears to be a lighted match. (There is a new instruction manual, “Impeachable Offenses: The Case for Removing Barack Obama from Office” by the WABC radio host Aaron Klein and the blogger Brenda J. Elliott, that the authors plan to distribute to lawmakers.)

Mr. Obama’s supporters seem something short of terrified. “I think there are a lot of challenges ahead,” said David Axelrod, a longtime adviser to Mr. Obama. “But impeachment is not one of them.” He added: “The bottom line is that it would be enormously self-destructive for the Republicans to waste time on what is a plainly empty expression of primal, partisan rage.”

Nor does such an undertaking interest the long-suffering speaker of the House, John A. Boehner, who aides said would countenance no such effort. “Republicans are going to keep our focus on creating jobs, cutting wasteful spending and repealing Obamacare,” said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner, potentially dashing the dreams of Mr. Bentivolio and others who yearn to present the House impeachment case to the Senate.

Mr. Coburn’s remarks were particularly notable because the senator, while an outspoken iconoclast on fiscal issues who has pushed back against his own party on myriad issues, including taxes, has generally remained circumspect about Mr. Obama.

According to news reports, Mr. Coburn said at a town-hall-style meeting: “What you have to do is you have to establish the criteria that would qualify for proceedings against the president. And that’s called impeachment.”

Representatives for Mr. Coburn did not respond to e-mails on Friday. Neither did a spokesman for Mr. Bentivolio, nor the spokeswoman for Representative Blake Farenthold of Texas, who told constituents this month that the House “had the votes” to impeach the president.

Republicans would most likely tread carefully into territory that burned them politically in the past. “I do think that sufficient questions have been raised about the legalities of several things this administration has engaged in,” said former Representative Bob Barr of Georgia, who was a House manager during Mr. Clinton’s impeachment process and is running for Congress again.

Mr. Barr cited the postponement of the employer mandate in the health care law, “improper use of the Patriot Act” and actions on immigration as some of these potential illegalities. “I am not saying these are impeachable acts,” he said, “but they raise sufficient questions.”

Mr. Cruz suggested in an e-mail that impeachment might not be the best course of action for Republicans. “The media’s focus on impeachment is interesting,” he said. “But our best approach is to use those tools provided by the Constitution to rein in the executive, starting with the national effort to defund Obamacare.”

When President George W. Bush was in office, many liberal groups and some Democrats clamored for impeachment proceedings, largely over the Iraq war. But the House speaker at the time, Nancy Pelosi, never entertained the idea, calling it “off the table” more than once.

The issue, though, can be just the sort of red meat that constituents throw on the town hall grill when meeting with members, especially in the most conservative Congressional districts. Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, a conservative former prosecutor, acknowledges that voters raise the issue with him, which he said he deflects with, “Have you met Joe Biden?” The exchange usually ends with laughter.


In North Carolina ‘Eligible Voter’ is Newspeak for Rich White Male Republicans

By: Adalia Woodbury
Aug. 23rd, 2013

North Carolina is an example of how quickly fascists masquerading as libertarians can turn a once progressive state into a right wing backwater.  While the State’s lawmakers are enjoying a break, their minions at the local level continue the work of disenfranchising people Republicans don’t consider eligible voters.

It’s time to cut to the chase.  In Republican newspeak, eligible voter is code for voters who are rich, white, male and Republican.  When Republicans speak of “widespread” voter fraud, what they are really saying is votes by African Americans, Hispanics, women and the poor are “fraudulent.”  That’s what happens when you let the crazy tail wag the once moderate dog.

When Colin Powell served as Secretary of State in the Bush Administration, he was well respected across party lines. In those days, bi-partisanship was possible, things got done and ideas were discussed. Negotiation meant each side gave a little to reach a compromise in the name of doing what’s best for the country.

Republicans never “forgave” Americans for electing a black man to lead the country n 2008.  Since then the Republican Party became more extreme. Preaching ignorance, sexism and racism while claiming to be “good Christians” became the new normal.

Colin Powell is one of the few Republicans that you can let out in pubic and he is also one of the few Republicans worth listening to.

Powell was the keynote speaker at the CEO Forum in Raleigh North Carolina on Thursday.  After the state’s governor made his opening remarks, Colin Powell smashed GOP talking points about North Carolina’s vote suppression law. According to the Raleigh News Observer, McCrory left before Colin Powell commented on the state’s vote suppression law.

Considering that Pat McCrory didn’t know what was in the law when he signed it, it’s too bad he didn’t stick around.  He might have learned something about reality.  He might have learned that you need to broaden your appeal beyond ignorant racists to win elections.  Powell’s comments would have explained the law that McCrory signed but knew nothing about.

    I want to see policies that encourage every American to vote, not make it more difficult to vote… It immediately turns off a voting block the Republican Party needs …. These kinds of actions do not build on the base. It just turns people away… You can say what you like, but there is no voter fraud … How can it be widespread and undetected… What it really says to the minority voters is … We really are sort-of punishing you.

The punishment continues as Republicans at county boards of election establish additional obstacles directly aimed at young voters, especially if they are black, attend a public college or both.

The Pasquotank County Board of Elections, like all county boards in North Carolina, is controlled by Republicans. It decided Montravias King, an Elisabeth City State University student, isn’t qualified to run for city council because he lives in a dorm.

Gerry Cohen, Special Counsel to the N.C. General Assembly says the board’s decision violates settled law in North Carolina.

Montravias King filed an appeal with the state board of elections.  This may be a canary in the coal mine case.  If the State Board of Elections strikes down the county board’s decision,  voting will still be hard for eligible voters in college, but at least they won’t be disenfranchised for living in a dorm.

If the State Board of Elections upholds the county board’s decision, the head of the county’s Republican Party will undoubtedly follow through with his announced intention to use the County Board’s decision to challenge votes by ECSU students. Moreover, other counties will likely follow Pasquotank County’s lead.

As Rachel Maddow reported on her Thursday show, students at ECSU faced challenges to their voting rights even before Republicans in North Carolina passed the most restrictive vote suppression law in the country.  In 2007, a local Republican unsuccessfully challenged 18 students’ votes claiming the students didn’t really live at the college. In April 2013, hearings lasted for several hours to accommodate all the challenges to ECSU student voters.

Elisabeth City is also home to another college.  Mid-Atlantic Christian College is a private school with a predominantly white student body. It’s the kind of school and students Republicans love.  The college holds registration drives so that students can register to vote from school and they even shuttle students to their polling places.  Rachel Maddow talked with the school’s vice president.  During his seven years with the school, he doesn’t know of a single time a MAC College student’s right to vote was challenged.

In other words, Republicans in this county found it necessary to challenge votes by students at a predominantly black public college, but not the students at a predominantly white private college.  It’s impossible to overlook the racial double standard.  Republicans proved once again that they want voting eligibility to be determined by the amount of pigment in one’s skin, their social status and, of course, their political orientation.

Watauga County got innovative in a creepy way.  Rather than risk the bad publicity that comes with making decisions that obviously violate state law, they preferred the bad publicity that comes with establishing physical obstacles to the vote. The manner by which they made this decision is even creepier because the Republican controlled board decided to make a few revisions to the minutes.

The board decided to eliminate the early voting site and Election Day voting site at another of the state’s public colleges, Appalachian State University.  In fact, they decided to consolidate 3 voting precincts into one.  It means that the new location, the Agriculture center, will have to accommodate 9,500 voters.  Just to give you some perspective on the significance of this number, a federal directive recommended that precincts serve 1500 voters.  A super precinct is defined as a precinct serving more than 2,000 voters.

This might not sound like a big deal if the chosen location at least has the resources needed to service this many voters.  The Agriculture Center has 35 parking places – several of which will be used by poll workers. That may leave maybe 20 parking places to accommodate 10,000 voters.  If you think voters can walk or use public transit – think again.

Agriculture Center

Public transit to what will be the third largest voting precinct in the state is non-existent.  There isn’t a sidewalk.   As Ashley Blevins, a student at Appalachian  State University, told the Winston-Salem Journal there isn’t even space to walk next to the road.

    “I don’t like this road because, as you can see, there are cars that are just, like, flying by us and there’s no space to walk next to the road,”

You would never know it if you listened to the chairman of the Watauga Elections board.

    Our decision to relocate this polling place was not made lightly. In evaluating our alternatives, I considered the ease of access to the polls, the logistics involved with the various possible locations, the demands on elections staff and university staff, the handicapped accessibility of the sites, and other logistical concerns. I am confident that this location will provide an appropriate voting location, and will be an equitable and accessible polling place for all eligible voters.

Fortunately, a reporter from the Winston-Salem-Journal was at the meeting and wrote an article on lengthy and contentious discussion relating to this decision.  In the final revised version of the minutes, the only thing on record about this discussion is “There was discussion by the board.”  Combine that with the Chairman’s statement and you might think the Agriculture Center has more than 35 parking places, public transit can take non-drivers to their precinct, there’s a sidewalk for pedestrians to go to vote or maybe even all of the above.

Suppressing minutes of a public meeting in the name of suppressing the vote is the new reality in North Carolina. Numerous challenges to votes by students who reside in dorms at a predominantly black pubic college contrasted with no challenges of votes by students who reside in dorms at a predominantly white private college makes it abundantly clear that race is very much a part of the Republican vote suppression calculus.  ”Eligible voter” is Republican newspeak for restricting the vote to rich white male Republicans. Republicans are so determined to suppress the vote one former pre-clearance county in North Carolina, they consolidated nearly 10,000 voters to vote at an out of the way, inaccessible location with 35 parking places.

It’s more than obvious that Republicans in North Carolina need the same sort of attention the DOJ is giving to Republicans in Texas.


Not O-KKK: How The Events in Decatur and Duncan Showcased Fox News’ Overt Racism

By: Trevor LaFauci
Aug. 24th, 2013

Oh, what a glorious week for our friends at Fox News.

With the events of the past week, Americans need to finally realize that Fox News has officially jumped the shark in its everlasting quest to be “fair and balanced” and has moved into a realm of opinions and talking points that officially echo those of David Duke and modern-day KKK members.  As the nation moves toward a majority minority population in roughly forty years, Fox News continues to present its news in a manner that clearly showcases its inherent disdain for any person that doesn’t need sunscreen in the summer to acquire a healthy tan.  This past week has been especially gruesome for Fox News and has showcased the network’s true colors.  Or, color, we should say.

The network made an across-the-board decision to portray the Christopher Lane murder in Duncan, Oklahoma as racially motivated despite the fact that one of the murders happened to be White.  Everyone’s favorite racist, Pat Buchanan, who maintains a high-profile job at the network despite his known bigotry, chimed in on the story and remarked that the cause of the violence was clearly the rap, hip-hop, and violent movies that are prevalent in the Black community.  The Fox and Friends morning team wondered why Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton hadn’t responded to the murder as if they only came out and defended African American victims and not White (albeit foreign) ones.  Fox News even had White House correspondent Ed Henry ask about the Lane’s murder “apparently by three African-American young men”.

Apparently, Ed doesn’t need “facts” to convey the Fox News narrative.

Roughly nine-hundred and thirty miles east, another event unfolded last week that gave fodder to the Fox News team.  Michael Brandon Hill, a twenty-year-old male came into the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur with a loaded AK-47, causing the entire school to be evacuated.  Hill shot into the floor and exchanged gunfire with officers who had surrounded the school before he eventually turned himself in.  Photographs released from the scene showed students from the diverse student body all outside and scared for their lives.  It was a scene that definitely left chills for anyone who was there to experience it.

And yet, Fox News had slightly different coverage for this event.

Pat Buchanan did not come on to talk about any issues or statistics of White on Black violence.  The Fox and Friends morning team did not clamor for any well-known White civil rights protectors to come down to Decatur and defend Hill.  Ed Henry did not raise the issue to the White House press secretary team.  Fox News was suspiciously silent on the issue of gun access and mental health for some odd reason.  And yet, they still had an out.  There was brave Antoinette Tuff, the bookkeeper who ended up intervening and kept Hill calm while on the phone with a 911 operator.  Here she was, a woman of faith, in the deeply red state of Georgia.  Of course Fox News would portray her and share her heroic story to the world.  And yet, they didn’t.

Because Antoinette Tuff is Black.

You see, the Duncan and Decatur stories don’t fit the Fox News narrative that all Black people are scary and evil while all White people are harmless and good.  This is the narrative that controls their programming.  It’s the narrative that appeals to the Fox News viewer who averages sixty-five years of age.  The viewer who explicitly believes it truly is an us versus them world out there and that they (read:   White people) and their way of life are constantly under attack.  It’s the same narrative the NRA uses when it sells guns.  Does Wayne LaPierre realize what stopped a bad man with a gun in Georgia?  It was a good person with a kind heart telling this troubled young man that she cared about him.  It wasn’t a person with an AK-47 behind her library desk.

The problem is that each and every story like this showcases Fox News for what they truly are:  racist and bigoted.  You can only craft a narrative for so long before you start to believe it.  Whether it’s Oprah’s “made up” story of being racially profiled in Switzerland or Trayvon Martin’s “thuggish” appearance, Fox News has intentionally portrayed those people of color as being inherently inferior to the White race.  They might not be burning crosses on lawns, but what Fox News is doing is essentially much worse.  It’s denigrating an entire segment of the population in order to score cheap political points.

Fox News will only get worse with its racist, bigoted coverage of race-related events.  It will continue to coverage news in this way to continue to feed into the fears of its old, White, and mostly male audience who still believe that some of the “darkies” can be scary and shouldn’t be integrating with us White folk.  This pattern will continue unless Americans begin to call out Fox News and finally call a spade a spade.

Fox News is a White supremacy network.


Ted Cruz Channels Sarah Palin and Offers Republicans A Sure Path to Defeat

By: Sarah Jones
Aug. 24th, 2013

In New Hampshire Friday evening, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) raised alarm bells with a smirk that looks uncomfortably reminiscent of fellow East coast elite pretend Texan and former President George W Bush’s and an agenda that mirrors Sarah Palin’s 2010 agenda.

Watch here and try not to spit your afternoon bevvie out when you read “Road to the White House” as the C-Span tag:

Cruz went Palin, urging the base not to “blink” as they forge ahead on sure failure by defunding ObamaCare. “Listen, the plan to defund ObamaCare has been called deceptive, deceitful, nuts, crazy, stupid and wacko. And that’s just by Republicans. You want to know how we win? Don’t blink.”

This wasn’t unintentional, as the freshman Senator later joked, “I’m pretty sure that you can actually see Canada from here.” We’ll see if Cruz can dumb himself down enough to replace Palin as the Tea Party standard bearer. I’m not convinced yet, although I did catch some W on his face– Cruz has almost the exact same smirk.

Cruz got a long standing ovation when he demanded we abolish the IRS, saying the federal government has too much power (of course he prefaced this with an ode to Obama being corrupt). No word on how the deficit would fare under that plan, or how we would pay for the military or homeland security once Cruz got his way with the IRS, but this is the Republican Party, so of course, no one asked him about reality. He fearmongered about the debt, and never told the audience that the deficit is decreasing rapidly under Obama.

The Texas Republican continued, “You know, there are a lot of people in the media that say, ‘Anyone who was elected with support of the Tea Party – those guys are radical – they are extreme. I have to admit, I have to chuckle a bit. It is only in Washington D.C. that it’s considered radical to want to live within your means. It is only in the United States Capitol that it is considered extreme not to want to bankrupt our kids and grandkids.”

Then, one of the most divisive Senators in D.C. fed the ultimate Kool-Aid to his audience, suggesting that Obama was going to give them another Reagan. (Any guesses on who is going to play Reagan in this scenario? Hint: Sarah Palin thought she was going to be Reagan II.) He said, “You know, it took Jimmy Carter to give us Ronald Reagan. And I am convinced that the most longest lasting legacy of President Obama is going to be all of us standing up together, arm-in-arm, to restore that shining city on a hill that is the United States of America.”

Cruz confirmed his deliberate misunderstanding of the Constitution by telling saying that he thinks the GOP is poised to take back the Senate in 2014. “I think 2014 presents very favorable terrain for Republicans. I believe 2014 is teed up for Republicans to take control of the Senate and retire Harry Reid as the majority leader.”

Cruz has been lying to the base, telling them that they can only impeach Obama if they get control of the Senate, which of course is not true. Impeachment happens from the House, which Republicans have control over.

While the NBC version of Cruz’s Presidential Pandering was steeped in admiration, conveniently quoting Tea Party admirers fawning over Cruz’s conservative self (apparently we need to redefine conservative to mean radical and nihilistic), not everyone was so impressed by the hubristic freshman Senator.

Fergus Cullen, a former chairman of the New Hampshire GOP, told the Dallas News, “I’ve been profoundly disappointed. I expected so much more from him. Somebody like him could be leading the Republican Party toward a future, and instead … he’s been pandering. He’s been pandering to the basest impulses of the base.”

Not to worry, we are told by conservatives that even though Cruz is not really American since he’s a dual citizen, Canada isn’t really foreign like, say, Africa is. They can’t quite put their finger on why…

Pandering to the basest impulses of the base, did you say? Oh, gosh, no. Smirk. Cruz is not only a Real American, but just like W, a real Texan.

He’s only been a Senator for eight months, and during that tenure his own party hasn’t been very impressed with his lack of curiosity about his actual job, but Cruz thinks he already knows enough to be President. Cruz has now toured the first three presidential primary states with his map to GOP failure, proving that birth certificates, citizenship, and freshman status as a Senator only matter if you are black.

The Ted Cruz plan for winning is to go even more extreme, and pander to the lowest common denominator. This ends today’s episode of the Incredibly Shrinking GOP Tent.


August 24, 2013 03:30 PM

KY Gov Praise of Obamacare Leaves McConnell, Rand Dumbfounded

By Nicole Belle

Lord love Democratic Governor of Kentucky Steve Beshear. Speaking to a crowd of Kentucky voters at a fundraising breakfast, Beshear took the opportunity to praise the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) to the overwhelming support of the audience and take subtle jabs at those who were opposing Obamacare, which include Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul who were also attending.

    Republican Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, also attending, weren’t expecting the onslaught. Jill Lawrence reported, “It was not what anyone expected—least of all Republican Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, who sat stone-faced onstage with Beshear as he unloaded on them without using names.”

    Beshear finished with a stab to the heart of GOP’s NoCare, no alternative. “It’s amazing to me how people who are pouring time and money and energy into trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act sure haven’t put that kind of energy into trying to improve the health of Kentuckians,” according to the National Journal.

Ouch. That had to hurt Mitch McConnell especially, who is in a serious fight to retain his seat against challenger Alison Grimes. The National Journal reports that Beshear got very pointed with his criticism:

    The governor compared health insurance to "the safety net of crop insurance" and said farmers need both. He said 640,000 Kentuckians—15 percent of the state—don't have health insurance and "trust me, you know many of those 640,000 people. You're friends with them. You're probably related to them. Some may be your sons and daughters. You go to church with them. Shop with them. Help them harvest their fields. Sit in the stands with them as you watch your kids play football or basketball or ride a horse in competition. Heck, you may even be one of them."

    Beshear went on to say that "it's no fun" hoping and praying you don't get sick, or choosing whether to pay for food or medicine. He also said Kentucky is at or near the top of the charts on bad-health indicators, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer deaths, and preventable hospitalizations. He said all that affects everything from productivity and school attendance to health costs and the state's image.

    "We've ranked that bad for a long, long time," he said. "The Affordable Care Act is our historic opportunity to address this weakness and to change the course of the future of the commonwealth. We're going to make insurance available for the very first time in our history to every single citizen of the commonwealth of Kentucky."

THIS is what I want to see Democrats doing as we near the 2014 mid-terms. Be unapologetic. Put the Democratic agenda in human terms everyone can understand. Push Republicans back on their heels and force them to defend their record.

Take note, Democrats. This is how you do it.

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