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Egypt Foreign Minister warns of military intervention

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Doctors, medical workers and students marched through Cairo to join antigovernment protests
in Tahrir Square on Thursday
Photo By John Moore

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By David D. Kirkpatrick, Anthony Shadid and Alan Cowell
The New York Times

CAIRO — As Egypt’s uprising entered its 17th day on Thursday, bolstered by strikes and protests among professional groups in Cairo and workers across the country, a senior official in President Hosni Mubarak’s embattled government was quoted as saying the army would “intervene to control the country” if it fell into chaos.

As tension built ahead of Friday’s planned mass protests, thousands of chanting lawyers in black robes and physicians in white laboratory coats marched into Tahrir Square — the epicenter of the uprising — to join the clamor for Mr. Mubarak’s ouster.

Engineers and journalists also headed for the square on Thursday as the numbers there began to swell once again into the thousands, with demonstrators mingling among the tents and graffiti-sprayed army tanks that have taken on an air of semipermanence.

The warning by Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit seemed to add a further ominous tone to earlier comments by newly appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman, who said the alternatives facing tens of thousands of demonstrators demanding Mr. Mubarak’s ouster were dialogue with the authorities or “a coup.”

Mr. Aboul Gheit told Al Arabiya television, “We have to preserve the Constitution, even if it is amended.”

“If chaos occurs, the armed forces will intervene to control the country, a step which would lead to a very dangerous situation,” he said on the broadcaster’s Web site, a day after he dismissed calls by Egyptian protesters and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to scrap the country’s emergency laws, which allow the authorities to detain people without charge.

Up until now, the military has pledged not to use force against the protesters who have occupied Cairo’s central Tahrir Square and whose tactics have broadened to the establishment of a fresh encampment outside the Egyptian Parliament. But a report released Thursday by Human Rights Watch cast doubt on the military’s impartiality.

“Since Jan. 31, Human Rights Watch has documented the arbitrary arrest by military police of at least 20 protesters who were leaving or heading to Tahrir Square,” the group said in a statement. “Most of these arrests occurred in the vicinity of the square or in other parts of Cairo from where protesters were taking supplies to the square.”

The group said it had also documented at least five cases of the torture of detainees at the hands of the military. A spokesman for the military denied the accusations.

The army has also deployed tanks and reinforcements across the city, setting up a narrow access point to the square that forces would-be protesters into single file after they stand in long lines to enter.

The apparently hardening official line — and the stubborn resistance of the protesters — coincided with a surge of strikes and worker protests affecting post offices, textile factories and even Al Ahram, the government’s flagship newspaper.

While the government turned up pressure on the opposition, there were continued signs of turmoil within its own ranks. State TV reported that the state prosecutor had opened a formal investigation of Ahmed Ezz, a widely hated former senior member of the ruling National Democratic Party and a confidant of the president’s son Gamal Mubarak, and two other former ministers.

Another N.D.P. official, Mamdouh Hosny, director of the Industry and Energy Committee in Parliament, announced he was resigning from the party, the Egyptian daily, Al Masry Al Youm, reported.

The presence of lawyers and other professionals joining the demonstrations seemed to broaden the participation in the uprising, reflecting the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has strong support among Egyptian lawyers and other professions..

Some of the protesters say they have been inspired by Wael Ghonim, a Google executive who has emerged as a prominent voice in a revolt galvanized in part by social networking sites. On Thursday, a Twitter feed in his name in English declared: “I promise every Egyptian that I will go back to my normal life & not be involved in any politics once Egyptians fulfill their dreams.”

But, in an interview on CNN, he was also quoted as saying he was “ready to die” for the opposition’s cause. “And I’m telling this to Omar Suleiman,” he said. “He’s going to watch this. You’re not going to stop us. Kidnap me, kidnap all my colleagues. Put us in jail. Kill us. Do whatever you want to do. We are getting back our country. You guys have been ruining this country for 30 years.”

The protests at Al Ahram by freelance reporters demanding better wages and more independence from the government snarled one of the state’s most powerful propaganda tools and seemed to change its tone: On Wednesday, the front page, which had sought for days to play down the protests, called recent attacks by pro-Mubarak protesters on Tahrir Square an “offense to the whole nation.”

And on Thursday, the newspaper’s online edition in English broke news of hotel closures in Sharm El-Sheikh, the heart of Egypt’s Red Sea tourism industry, which was badly hit when many visitors fled the country as the uprising broke out.

Outside Cairo’s main post office, about 100 people gathered to demand higher wages and more jobs as a series of stoppages percolated through the capital. “Everyone has begun demanding their rights,” said Ahmed Suleiman, 29, a part-time postal worker. “And it’s time for the government to meet them.” He spoke under a banner proclaiming: “Egyptian post office in solidarity with the youth of Tahrir Square.”

As the city braced for bigger protests that organizers are trying to muster for Friday — the Muslim holy day and the beginning of the weekend — the authorities appeared to have strung more razor wire around the state radio and television building towering over the Nile. The move seemed to reflect concern that protesters may try to move to new locations, expanding their presence.

On the diplomatic front, Mr. Aboul Gheit’s retort to Mr. Biden played into the complicated relationship between Mr. Mubarak’s government and the Obama administration, which had urged swift steps toward a political transition, then endorsed Mr. Mubarak’s remaining until the end of his term later this year. Since then, Mr. Biden has suggested that the United States still expects some immediate changes to be made.

On Wednesday, the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, responded to the Egyptian government’s claims that such changes were premature, saying, “What you see happening on the streets of Cairo is not all that surprising when you see the lack of steps that their government has taken to meet their concerns.”

That attempt to put some distance between the United States and Mr. Mubarak, though, was unlikely to impress the protesters, who say that the Obama administration, by continuing to back the president, also ignores their concerns.

By nightfall on Wednesday, more than 1,000 protesters prepared to sleep outside the Parliament building for a second night, a symbolic move that showed the opposition’s growing confidence as the protesters expanded the scope of their activism beyond Tahrir Square.

Reports from around the country of vigorous and sometimes violent protests also suggested a movement regaining steam.

Security officials said that five people died and more than 100 were injured during protests on Tuesday in El Kharga, 375 miles south of Cairo. Protesters responded Wednesday by burning police stations and other government buildings. In Asyut, protesters blocked a railway line. Television images showed crowds gathering again in Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city.

Even protests that were not directly against Mr. Mubarak centered on the types of government neglect that have driven the call for him to leave power.

Protesters in Port Said, a city of 600,000 at the mouth of the Suez Canal, set fire to a government building, saying local officials had ignored their requests for better housing. And in one of the most potentially significant labor actions, thousands of workers for the Suez Canal Authority continued a sit-in on Wednesday, though there were no immediate suggestions of disruptions of shipping in the canal, a vital international waterway.

On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch reported that since Jan. 28, when troops took up positions in Egyptian cities, army officers and the military police had arbitrarily detained at least 119 people. In at least five cases, the group said, detainees said they had been tortured.

There were signs that the police, under the jurisdiction of the hated Interior Ministry, were trying to remake their image. The authorities have announced in recent days that prosecutors are weighing charges against Habib el-Adly, recently removed as interior minister. The charges, including murder, are related to the killing of protesters by security officers during the unrest.

On Wednesday, some cellphone customers in Egypt received the equivalent of marketing messages from the new minister, Mahmoud Wagdy. One read, “From the Ministry of Interior: The police will do nothing but serve and protect the people.” Another said, “Starting today, we will only deal through truthfulness, honesty and rule of law.”

As Mr. Mubarak held on to power, influential groups and people seemed determined to distance themselves from his government’s legacy. Members of a prominent journalists’ association moved toward a no-confidence vote against their leader, Makram Mohamed Ahmed, a former Mubarak speechwriter, the daily Al Masry Al Youm reported on its English-language Web site.

And the recently appointed culture minister, Gaber Asfour, a literary critic, resigned Wednesday after pressure from his colleagues, according to Al Ahram.

Outside groups, meanwhile, continued to try to take advantage of the Egyptian uprising. In an online forum, a group in Iraq affiliated with Al Qaeda called on Egyptians to “wage violent jihad to topple the regime in Egypt,” according to Khaled Hamza, the editor of the Web site of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition movement.

He bristled at the comments, saying the revolt in Egypt was nonviolent and included “all sects, trends and religions.”

“Egyptians are capable of solving their problem without intrusion, meddling and prying from foreign groups such as Al Qaeda and similar groups advocating the use of violence,” he said.

Increasingly, the political clamor for Mr. Mubarak’s ouster seemed to be complemented by strikes nationwide. While many strikes seemed to focus on specific grievances related to working conditions, labor leaders suggested they were energized by protests against Mr. Mubarak.

The protest against the Suez Canal Authority began Tuesday night and was staged by about 6,000 workers. In Helwan, 6,000 workers at the Misr Helwan Spinning and Weaving Company went on strike, Ms. Refaat said.

More than 2,000 workers from the Sigma pharmaceutical company in Quesna began a strike while about 5,000 unemployed youths stormed a government building in Aswan, demanding the dismissal of the governor.

In Cairo, sanitation workers demonstrated outside their headquarters.

David D. Kirkpatrick and Anthony Shadid reported from Cairo, and Alan Cowell from Paris. Kareem Fahim, Liam Stack, Mona El-Naggar and Thanassis Cambanis contributed reporting from Cairo, and Helene Cooper from Washington.

See Related: Egypt Archive

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Digging out the truth about Saudi oil – And the price you pay at the pump

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By Steve LeVine
Foreign Policy Magazine

A senior Saudi Arabian oil official said in 2007 that the kingdom has 388 billion barrels of recoverable crude oil reserves, about 45 percent more than official public estimates. But about the same time, a retired Saudi Aramco executive met with U.S. diplomats in Dhahran and asserted that the country’s figures in general are wildly overblown, and that it is headed for a production peak around 2020, followed by a slow decline according to new WikiLeaks cables.

The issue is pivotal. Put simply, the price of oil — the price you are paying at the pump, indeed the cost of everything in your home — is wholly determined by what oil traders think Saudi reserves and production capability really are. As an example, oil plunged yesterday to its lowest price of the year — $87.87 a barrel — when Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi (pictured above) suggested that the kingdom will put new oil supplies on the market to compensate for any uptick in global demand.

The thing is, the Saudis are highly secretive about these figures — unlike almost every important petrostate on Earth outside the Middle East, the Saudis will not permit their oil fields to be independently audited. One might wonder why that would be the case, and the late Matt Simmons, for example, made much hay suggesting that the reason is that the Saudis simply don’t have as much oil as they claim. I myself got ahold of documents back in 2008 suggesting the same. Sensible voices, however, said such are the thoughts of the conspiratorial-minded and that the Saudis genuinely possess what they claimed — they were denying the right to verify because … well because that’s just what they do.

Here is classic Simmons:

In recent years, the Saudis have brought more productive capacity on line, giving them the capability of producing about 12 million barrels of oil a day. Since the Saudis are currently producing about 8.6 million barrels of oil a day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, that means they alone are providing the world about 3.4 million barrels a day of “spare capacity,” the key metric for oil prices. Basically, traders looking to earn really big money on the tick up or down of daily oil prices focus intently on global supply — for example, tons of money have been earned in recent weeks speculating on the question of what happens if events in Egypt spiral out of control, and force the closure of the Suez Canal, the transit route for about 1.5 million barrels of oil a day. But the existence of a healthy cushion of spare capacity works against such fruitful speculation, because even if the Suez Canal does become totally bottled up, the Saudis can turn up the spigot, and it won’t matter a whit. Which is one big reason why oil prices are down again.

Which brings us to the latest Wikileaks cables, so read on.

In December 2007, a U.S. diplomat named John Kincannon, the U.S. Consul General in Dhahran, reported on Aramco’s first-ever public drilling symposium, at which among the speakers was Abdallah al-Saif, the company’s senior vice president for exploration and production. I first met Kincannon when he was a junior press officer in Peshawar in the late 1980s. In his cable back to Washington, Kincannon wrote that al-Saif was exceptionally bullish about his country’s oil reserve base:

“[Al-Saif] reported that Aramco has 716 billion barrels of total reserves, of which 51 percent are recoverable. He then offered the promising forecast — based on historical trends — that in 20 years, Aramco will have over 900 billion barrels of total reserves, and future technology will allow for 70 percent recovery.”

That compared with the generally accepted Saudi reserve base of about 260 billion barrels of oil.

But just 10 days earlier, Kincannon had heard a starkly different picture from Sadad al-Husseini, who held a similar position in Aramco to al-Saif’s from 1992-2004. Al-Husseini is no crank — in addition to his position as executive vp for exploration and production, he sat on Aramco’s board of directors from 1996 until his retirement 12 years later. Al-Husseini cast doubt on some 40 percent of the 716 billion “total reserves,” Kincannon reported.

In Kincannon’s account of the meeting, al-Husseini:

“… believes that Aramco’s reserves are overstated by as much as 300 billion barrels of ‘speculative resources.’ He instead focuses on original proven reserves, oil that has already been produced or which is available for exploitation based on current technology. All parties estimate this amount to be approximately 360 billion barrels. In al-Husseini’s view, once 50 percent depletion of original proven reserves has been reached and the 180 billion-barrel threshold crossed, a slow but steady output decline will ensue and no amount of effort will be able to stop it.

By al-Husseini’s calculations, approximately 116 billion barrels of oil have been produced by Saudi Arabia, meaning [that] only 64 billion barrels remain before reaching this crucial point of inflection. At 12 million barrels a day of production, this inflection point will arrive in 14 years. Thus, while Aramco will likely be able to surpass 12 million barrels a day in the next decade, soon after reaching that threshold the company will have to expend maximum effort to simply fend off impending output declines. Al-Husseini believes that what will result is a plateau in total output that will last approximately 15 years, followed by decreasing output.”

So who is right, al-Saif or his predecessor, al-Husseini? One answer comes from al-Husseini himself. Two years later, he had been converted to those who think that actually Saudi Arabia is a reliable producer, as is made clear in the video below.

But al-Husseini goes on to say that this fact doesn’t change the overall supply picture — the world is still in trouble, he says, when it comes to its reliance on oil. Simply put, he suggests, those who think that the world is going to produce anywhere near the 100 million barrels a day and more projected by some are seriously misled. The short November 2009 video is interesting generally, and al-Husseini himself appears at 1:10 and again at 5:30:

See Related: Energy Supply Archive

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Jewish Democrats continue their preeminence on House Foreign Affairs Committee

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Representative Howard Berman

Jewish Democrats today continued their pre-eminence on the powerful U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.

Democrats have had to roll back their representation on key committees after losing the House in last November’s elections, but Foreign Affairs remains a redoubt for Jewish members, according to the membership lists released Wednesday.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the committee chairman in the last Congress, returns as the ranking member.

Similarly, a number of Jewish members have moved from chairman to ranking Democrat on the following subcommittees: Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) on the Latin America subcommittee; Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) on the Middle East subcommittee; and Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) on the terrorism subcommittee.

Joining the Foreign Affairs Committee is Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), a freshman and the former mayor of Providence. Returning Jewish lawmakers include Reps. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.).

The Republican chairwoman of the committee is Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the Cuban-born descendant of Jewish immigrants to that country.

Another Jewish Democrat keeping a top foreign policy post is Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who transitions from chairwoman to ranking member on the foreign operations subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee.

See Related: World Politics Archive

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How Egypt uprising will bring the U.S. closer to Israel – A friendship of values, not convenience

By Daniel Gordis
The New York Times

For decades Shimon Peres, now Israel’s president, has spoken of his country’s yearning for a “new Middle East,” one in which Israel is at peace with its neighbors, regional economies cooperate and the conflict with the Palestinians is finally set aside. Now, with Egypt’s government on the edge of collapse, Israel is suddenly faced with a “new Middle East” — and Israelis are terrified.

Many Westerners believe that the events in Egypt are a disaster for the Jewish state. Its most important regional ally faces possible chaos and an Islamist takeover. Add to this King Abdullah II’s recent dismissal of his cabinet in Jordan (the only other Arab country that has signed a peace treaty with Israel), Hezbollah’s quiet coup in Lebanon last month, a resurgent Syria and an increasingly Islamist Turkey, and you can understand why many Israelis feel surrounded, as they did decades ago.

In the short run America faces an uncomfortable choice. It can support Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, who is at least marginally pro-Western and has maintained the cold peace with Israel initiated by his predecessor, Anwar el-Sadat. But Mr. Mubarak is also a ruthless despot. Alternately, Washington can support the democracy movement, but with the knowledge that democracy could bring anti-Western, anti-Israel and possibly Islamist leaders to power.

In short, none of the parties vying for control of Egypt share America’s fundamental values of genuine democracy, a free press, women’s rights and minority protections.

But the threat of chaos, and even Islamist rule, might have a silver lining. It is all the more obvious that there is only one country in the region that has the same values as America: Israel. If America reacts to recent events by increasing its support for those who share its values, it could reassure a suddenly surrounded Israel and perhaps even move the peace process with the Palestinians forward.

Until now the central pillar of President Obama’s strategy for restarting peace talks has been to pressure Israel to cease building settlements. Settlements may or may not be wise, but where has the equivalent pressure on the Palestinians been?

The administration has failed to insist that the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as a Jewish state, even though Israel has recognized the national aspirations of the Palestinian people. And Mr. Obama has allowed the Palestinian flag to fly in Washington, a symbolic signal of support for Palestinian statehood. All without the Palestinians making any concessions.

As a result, the United States has unwittingly created disincentives for the Palestinians to negotiate with Israel. Without pressure from Washington, the political position of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, is growing stronger each month, abetted by the growing number of countries that have recently recognized Palestinian statehood.

But the chaos throughout the Arab world could force Washington to realize that all its coddling of oppressive regimes in Egypt, Jordan and Yemen has done nothing to spread its values in a region that desperately needs them.

In that event America might, at long last, come to understand that its best hope for peace in the region is to throw its weight behind Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, even if he isn’t its Israeli politician of choice.

Daniel Gordis is the senior vice president of the Shalem Center and the author, most recently, of “Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End.”

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See Related: Egypt Archive

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Strange’s Last Night’s Top Ten Late-Night TV Jokes February 8 2011

STRANGE’S LAST NIGHT’S TOP TEN LATE-NIGHT TV JOKES FEBRUARY 8 2011

February Strangies: Fallon 3, Kimmel 1, Leno 1, Letterman 1

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By Strange de Jim
Beep beep! Love from Strange

Monday, February 7

10. Craig Ferguson: These high-speed trains are going to be the most popular rides in California since the Kardashians. The plan is to run trains from San Diego to San Francisco, which is great if you’re a gay illegal immigrant. You could sneak over the border and be in Nob Hill in an hour. You could be in San Francisco in two.

9. Jimmy Kimmel: A tribe on the border of Brazil and Peru had never been contacted, so of course somebody took in long-range cameras to film them. [Showed a film whose narrator said they were at risk for not only violence but germs and viruses from outsiders. A sign said "Bieber Fever."]

8. Jay Leno: Keith Olbermann has a new show on Al Gore’s new network. I’m not saying the audience is small, but he begins his show with, Good evening, Al.”

7. Craig Ferguson: Critics say high-speed rail can’t be done. But in America there’s nothing that can’t be done. Let me remind you, Snooki wrote a book.

6. Jay Leno: People are talking about the Packer coach’s psychological ploy the night before the game. He excused the team from practice to go get fitted for Super Bowl rings. He got them in the mood by measuring them for rings. Same thing Kelsey Grammer does with a girl on the first date.

5. Jimmy Kimmel: The Cleveland Cavaliers broke their own NBA record last night. They’ve now lost 25 games in a row. The whole team has decided to move to Miami.

4. Conan O’Brien: At a luncheon for Oscar nominees James Franco said filming “127 Hours” caused him extreme physical pain. Then the real guy the movie’s based on raised his hook hand and said, “Really?”

3. Jay Leno: Romania has decided to start taxing witches. And Gloria Allred announced she is closing her office in Romania.

2. Conan O’Brien: The Catholic Church has approved a new app that lets you make confessions over your iPhone. It’s also the first app that raises the possibility of butt-dialing God.

1. Jimmy Fallon: Prince William’s nightclub owner friend is said to be planning a wild bachelor party. It must be weird stuffing a bill in a stripper’s g-string when it has a picture of your grandmother on it.

Earth (The Book): A Visitor’s Guide to the Human Race by Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart explains Earth’s history to the aliens who have discovered our ruins.

Page 42 – Reproduction: Like most mammals, humans were made up of two sexes, men and women. This made sexual reproduction possible and eased traffic congestion patterns in public restrooms. Just know that the images of the body parts you are looking at, while natural, are shameful. If we were alive today, we would never allow this type of trash to be sold in any of our finer enormous, low-wage, bulk-sale, discount chain superstores.

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Best Buy $12.95
or Buy New $14.00

See Related: STRANGE’S LAST NIGHT’S TOP TEN LATE-NIGHT TV JOKES ARCHIVE

For each day’s
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Labour unions boost Egypt protests

Thousands of factory workers stay away from work
as pro-democracy protesters continue to rally seeking Mubarak’s ouster

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Al Jazeera

Egyptian labour unions have gone on a nationwide strike, adding momentum to pro-democracy demonstrations in Cairo and other cities.

Al Jazeera correspondents, reporting from Egypt, said around 20,000 factory workers stayed away from work on Wednesday.

Al Jazeera’s Shirine Tadros, reporting from Cairo, said that some workers “didn’t have a political demand”.

“They were saying that they want better salaries, they want an end to the disparity in the pay, and they want the 15 per cent increase in pay that was promised to them by the state.”

However, Tadros also said that some workers were calling for Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, to step down.

The strike action came as public rallies calling for Mubarak to immediately hand over power entered their 16th day.

Determined protesters are continuing to rally in Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square, and other cities across the country. They say they will not end the protests until Mubarak, who has been at the country’s helm since 1981, steps down.

Protesters with blankets gathered outside the parliament building in Cairo on Wednesday, with no plan to move, our correspondent reported. The demonstrators have put up a sign that reads: “Closed until the fall of the regime”.

The government seems to be scrambling under pressure from major powers and pro-democracy supporters, Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker reported from the city.

She said people in Tahrir Square were angered by a visit from Tamer Hosni, a famous Arab pop star, on Wednesday morning.

Hosni previously made statements telling the demonstrators to leave the square, saying that Mubarak had offered them concessions. “His comments really did not go down very well,” our correspondent said. The crowd reacted angrily and the military had to intervene to keep them away from him.

“People feel very strongly here,” Al Jazeera’s Dekker said.

Another Al Jazeera correspondent, reporting from Cairo, said there was also a renewed international element to the demonstrations, with Egyptians from abroad returning to join the pro-democracy camp.

There is even an internet campaign aimed at mobilising thousands of expatriates to return and support the uprising, our correspondent said.

Protesters are “more emboldened by the day and more determined by the day”, Ahmad Salah, an Egyptian activist, told Al Jazeera from Cairo on Wednesday. “This is a growing movement, it’s not shrinking.”

Concessions fall short

Mubarak’s message has thus far been that he will not leave until his term expires in September.

As a gesture of goodwill, however, 34 political prisoners, including members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood opposition group, were reportedly released over the past two days.

Dekker, our correspondent, reported that there are still an unknown number of people missing, including activists thought to be detained during the recent unrest, while Human Rights Watch reported that the death toll has reached 302 since January 28.

Egypt’s health ministry denied the figures, however, saying that official statistics would be released shortly.

Omar Suleiman, the Egyptian vice president, warned on Tuesday that his government “can’t put up with continued protests” for a long time, saying the crisis must be ended as soon as possible.

Suleiman said there will be “no ending of the regime” and no immediate departure for Mubarak, the state news agency MENA reported from a meeting between the vice-president and independent newspapers.

At one point in the roundtable meeting, he warned that the alternative to dialogue “is that a coup happens, which would mean uncalculated and hasty steps, including lots of irrationalities”.

When pressed by news editors to explain the comment, he said he did not mean a military coup but that “a force that is unprepared for rule” could overturn state institutions, said Amr Khafagi, editor-in-chief of the privately owned Shorouk daily, who attended the briefing.

Response to Suleiman’s statements was grim.

“He is threatening to impose martial law, which means everybody in the square will be smashed,” said Abdul-Rahman Samir, a spokesman for a coalition of the five main youth groups behind protests in Tahrir Square.

“But what would he do with the rest of the 70 million Egyptians who will follow us afterward.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Suleiman said a plan was in place for the peaceful transfer of power, which included forming three committees – one to propose constitutional amendments, another to oversee the implementation of the amendments and a third to investigate the violent clashes of February 2.

See Related: Egypt Archive

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Egypt police kill three anti-Murbak protesters in desert clashes

Three killed, several wounded in clashes between police and 3,000 protesters in western province of Egypt,
which marked first sizeable anti-Mubarak gathering in the area

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Reuters

Three people were killed and several suffered gunshot wounds in clashes between security forces and about 3,000 protesters in a western province of Egypt, state TV and security sources said on Wednesday.

The clashes in New Valley, a province that includes an oasis in Egypt’s western desert, erupted on Tuesday and continued into Wednesday, according to security sources. State TV said three people died in the fighting but did not provide further details.

It appeared to be the first serious clash between police and protesters since officers all but disappeared from Egyptian streets after they had beaten, teargassed and fired rubber bullets at protesters on Jan. 28, dubbed the “Day of Wrath”.

President Hosni Mubarak sent the army onto the streets that night, but several days of looting and lawlessness followed the withdrawal of police and many prisoners escaped from prison.

On Monday, a security source said former Egyptian Interior Minister Habib el-Adli had appeared before military prosecutors and may face charges of causing a breakdown in order during protests.

The protest in New Valley, about 500 km south of Cairo, was the first sizeable anti-Mubarak gathering in that area reported by security sources. The countrywide protests to topple the president are now in their third week.

See Related: Egypt Archive

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Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi is victim of paranoid regime

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Director Jafar Panahi is facing six years in prison in his native Iran, where the regime feels threatened
by his films such as 2006′s “Offside.” The organizers of the Berlin International Film Festival, which begins
Thursday, have expressed their support for Panahi by including him in the jury,
even though he will not be able to attend.

By Lars-Olav Beier and Martin Wolf
Der Spiegel

Director Jafar Panahi is facing six years in prison in his native Iran, where the regime feels threatened by his films such as 2006′s “Offside.” The organizers of the Berlin International Film Festival, which begins Thursday, have expressed their support for Panahi by including him in the jury, even though he will not be able to attend.

Perhaps, says Abbas Bakhtiari, he will make a movie one day. Something autobiographical about his escape from Iran in the early 1980s — an escape that became unavoidable after soldiers had shot a friend and his pregnant wife had a miscarriage after being abused with the butts of rifles. Bakhtiari and his wife escaped in a small boat that took them across the Strait of Hormuz to Dubai. He has been living in exile in Paris since 1983.

Bakhtiari, 53, a slim man in a collarless black suit, is a professional actor, musician and composer. Today he runs a French-Iranian cultural center on the Saint-Martin canal in the 10th arrondissement of Paris. A few scenes of the film “Amélie” were shot outside the cultural center.

But at the moment Bakhtiari’s main occupation is being the voice of his friend Jafar Panahi, the prize-winning Iranian director. Panahi cannot speak for himself, because he has been barred from talking to foreigners and journalists. If he did, it would only make his situation worse.

Shortly before Christmas, a court in Tehran sentenced Panahi to six years in prison and barred him from working in his profession for 20 years, for allegedly attempting to commit “crimes against the national security and engaging in propagandist activities against the system of the Iranian Revolution.” In fact, the director had merely tried to make a film.

Panahi has become a symbol for the freedom of artistic expression and how it is being threatened by totalitarian regimes, censorship and violence. “They want to make an example of Jafar,” says Bakhtiari. He is coordinating an international campaign and enlisting the support of celebrities to ensure that the world does not forget his friend, especially now that international attention is focused on Egypt. If Iran is in the global spotlight at all, it is only in connection with the country’s alleged nuclear ambitions.

‘Art Is Stronger than Politics’

Bakhtiari receives visitors in his cultural center, where there are Persian books and CDs on the shelves. A young woman in a long green coat serves tea, and Bakhtiari offers us dates and almonds. He smokes one cigarette after another. His lighter is decorated with a palm frond, the logo of the Cannes Film Festival.

“Art is stronger than politics,” says Bakhtiari. There are petitions supporting Panahi on the Internet, signed by some of his famous fellow directors, like Martin Scorsese and Sean Penn. The 61st Berlin International Film Festival, or Berlinale, which begins on Thursday, is also taking a stand for the persecuted director.

Festival director Dieter Kosslick appointed Panahi to the jury for the festival competition as “a sign of support for his struggle for freedom,” as he wrote in a letter to the Iranian ambassador. Tehran reacted coolly, offering to send a director acceptable to the regime to serve on the jury instead. Kosslick rejected the offer, saying: “We don’t want somebody from the substitutes’ bench.”

In fact, Panahi’s presence will be strongly felt at this year’s Berlinale, where all of his works will be shown during the course of the festival. On Feb. 11, the anniversary of the Iranian revolution, the day the forces supported by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini assumed power in 1979, the festival will screen “Offside,” probably Panahi’s most popular film.

Taking on Taboos

Jafar Panahi, 50, is one of the most renowned contemporary Iranian directors. He won awards at Europe’s major film festivals — Cannes, Locarno, Venice and Berlin — for his films “The White Balloon” (1995), “The Mirror” (1997), “The Circle” (2000), “Crimson Gold” (2003) and “Offside” (2006). By contrast, Iran’s conservative mullahs see the director, who comes from the city of Meyaneh in northwestern Iran and who fought in the 1980-1988 war against Iraq before becoming a filmmaker, as a public enemy. This is not surprising, given that his films depict all the things that are officially taboo in his country: alcohol consumption, prostitution and the oppression of women. Panahi’s films are banned in Iran.

Iran’s religious extremists already consider film to be the work of the devil. In August 1978, with the revolution against the shah already brewing, arsonists set fire to a packed movie theater in the city of Abadan. More than 400 people died. Ayatollah Khomeini, who went on to become Iran’s supreme leader, blamed the shah’s agents for the attack. He also used the opportunity to condemn cinemas as “centers of immorality” that were “directed against the welfare of our country.” It is now considered a proven fact that followers of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s current religious leader, were behind the attack.

Today there are only 90 movie theaters in Tehran, a city of 13 million, out of a total of about 270 in the entire country. Most Iranians prefer to watch films on DVD at home, partly because unmarried men and women are officially barred from going to the movies together.

Even US blockbusters like “Avatar” are legally available on DVD in Iran, though they are often drastically shortened. In addition, foreign films are reworked on computers. To appease the country’s moral police, digital retouching techniques are used to lengthen skirts and eliminate cleavage. Almost any film is available, uncensored, on the black market in Tehran, from Hollywood productions to Iranian films that were not approved to be shown in theaters, including Panahi’s films.

In Trouble with the Authorities

The conflict between the director and the regime escalated when Panahi openly sympathized with Mir Hossein Mousavi, the most promising challenger to incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the 2009 presidential election. On June 15, 2009, Panahi joined hundreds of thousands of other Iranians on a march through Tehran to protest against the allegedly manipulated poll and the self-appointed winner, Ahmadinejad.

The director was arrested for the first time, together with his daughter Solmaz, when the two attended a memorial service for Neda Agha-Soltan on July 30. The student, who was shot during a demonstration, became an icon of the resistance movement after her death. This time Panahi and his daughter were released within a day.

At the end of August 2009, the director traveled to Montreal, a guest of the city’s film festival, to serve as the president of the jury. Panahi wore a green scarf on the red carpet, green being the color of the Iranian protest movement. It was an act of provocation.

At the beginning of 2010, Panahi and a friend, the director and producer Mohammad Rasoulof, began shooting a new film. Without a permit from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, they filmed secretly in Panahi’s apartment, located in an upscale neighborhood in northern Tehran. “But in Iran,” says Bakhtiari, “almost nothing remains secret.”

Hunger Strike

On March 1, with a third of the film already shot, police raided the apartment. They arrested 17 people, including Panahi, his wife and daughter, Rasoulof and other members of the crew. They also confiscated the film material and Panahi’s DVD collection and took along files and computers. Panahi was taken to Tehran’s Evin Prison, a final destination for many political prisoners that is notorious for torture.

In late May, after Panahi had gone on a 10-day hunger strike and many protest campaigns were held worldwide, he was released on bail after putting up the equivalent of more than €160,000 ($218,000). Panahi was forced to mortgage his apartment to raise the bail money. Despite being under police surveillance, he managed to give a few interviews by telephone in the ensuing months. He constantly swapped out the SIM card in his mobile phone.

There are more than 750 pages in the dossier the prosecutors prepared against him. It contains all of the interviews the director has given in the last five years. Although Panahi expressed only muted criticism of the regime, even in interviews with the European media, the prosecution is using the interviews as evidence of alleged “conspiracy and propaganda” against the government.

On Dec. 18, 2010, Branch No. 26 of the Revolutionary Courts in Tehran sentenced Panahi to six years in prison and barred him from working in his profession for 20 years. His friend Rasoulof received the same sentence. Panahi’s lawyer, Farideh Gheirat, filed an appeal against the ruling. It is the harshest sentence imposed on a prominent filmmaker in Iran since 1979. The director is permitted to move about freely in Iran until the ruling is final.

Drastic Warning

In effect, the court’s decision is not just directed against Panahi, but against all independent Iranian artists. It serves as a drastic warning and a demand to exercise self-censorship and refrain from criticizing the regime. Many artists supported Mousavi in 2009. Even the government censorship office was apparently so firmly convinced that the relatively liberal candidate would win the election that it approved a few film projects that would normally be considered politically suspect, like Rafi Pitts’ revenge drama “The Hunter.”

The film portrays a security guard in Tehran (played by Pitts himself), whose wife and daughter have been killed in a demonstration. Although he doesn’t know who was responsible for their deaths, he takes his gun and hunts down police officers.

With the authorities’ permission, Pitts shot a scene, in the middle of the election campaign, in which his protagonist shoots two police officers driving in a patrol car on a highway. “The censor merely demanded that we portray him as a crazy person,” says Pitts. The protagonist was not to be made to look like a cold-blooded killer.

The Risks of Foreign Pressure

Pitts, 44, is sitting in his small Paris apartment in the 14th arrondissement, with a poster for John Cassavetes’ film “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” on the wall. “This is my hiding place,” says Pitts, smiling somewhat uncomfortably. He left Iran in 1979, studied in London, worked as an assistant director in Paris, but always returned to Iran to shoot his own films.

It is cold in the apartment. Pitts has opened the windows to get the smell of cigarette smoke out of the rooms. His Iranian friends in Paris were there on the previous evening, when they spent hours debating how they could help Panahi and Rasoulof. Pitts’ assistant director had also been arrested together with Panahi. It could just as easily have been Pitts himself.

Pitts is organizing a solidarity campaign for Panahi and Rasoulof. He wants people working in the film industry around the world to stop working for two hours on Feb. 11, while Panahi’s “Offside” is being shown at the Berlinale. “It isn’t supposed to appear full of pathos,” he says. “Just a silent protest.” One has to be careful when campaigning from abroad, he adds, because too much foreign pressure could make the regime even more stubborn. Several political prisoners have been executed in Iran in recent days.

The defense strategy for Panahi consists of sharply denying the accusation that he is pursuing a political agenda with his films. The prosecutors had charged that he intended to address the unrest related to the green movement in his new film.

But his new film isn’t even finished yet, Panahi told the court. “Sometimes I have the impression that it’s a crime just to think about making a film,” he said. “In fact, someone who merely dreams about a film appears to be committing a minor offense or a crime punishable with a prison sentence.”

An artist who is being harassed because of an idea — it sounds like a nightmarish scene penned by the likes of Franz Kafka or George Orwell, and it highlights the paranoia of a regime that knows, especially after the protests in summer 2009, how little popular support it has.

‘The Film Is Not Political’

“The film is not political” says Panahi’s friend Bakhtiari in Paris. In a telephone call shortly before the meeting with SPIEGEL, Panahi asked Bakhtiari to stress that he had been filming a purely personal story about “a television moderator who comes home to find her son has been wounded.” Bakhtiari doesn’t say why the boy is injured.

To avoid jeopardizing the prospects for his appeal, Panahi insists that he was merely shooting a small, harmless home movie with family and friends. “There is no law that forbids a filmmaker from making a film in his own home,” Bakhtiari says, quoting Panahi. But Panahi, more than anyone else, knows that what one does at home in Iran is by no means off-limits.

In his film “Crimson Gold,” the director depicts Tehran police officers lurking outside an apartment building where a party is being held. The shadows of people dancing are recognizable through the curtain of an apartment on the third floor. Dancing is forbidden in Iran. In Panahi’s film, the police immediately arrest and take away everyone who leaves the building.

There is almost no music in the five feature films Panahi has directed to date. Police sirens, on the other hand, are constantly heard. The artfully arranged sound landscapes are acoustic portraits of a police state. Again and again in his films, the director has police officers and soldiers appear unexpectedly. They don’t always come across as threatening, but often appear clumsy and out of their depth, as if the uniforms they are wearing were a few sizes too big for them.

Panorama of Society

In “Offside,” the police arrest six young women and girls who, dressed as men, have snuck into the football stadium in Tehran, where the Iranian national team is playing a World Cup qualifying match against Bahrain. The only problem is that woman in Iran are not permitted to watch men playing football. The police officers lock up the women behind barricades on the stadium grounds. They are unable to see the game from there, but they can hear the cheering male crowds. Suddenly the women start imitating a football match. Their role model is the Iranian star player Ali Karimi, who now plays for the German club Schalke 04. The police officers, not knowing what to do, stand on the other side of the fence, watching the women, unsure which of the two games they should pay more attention to. As is often the case in Panahi’s films, the women take action while the men hesitate.

The ability to set up a panorama of society within just a few square meters of space is one of the things the Tehran regime fears about Panahi. This probably explains why those in power sent their henchmen to the director’s apartment to arrest him and his team.

Every film project in Iran must pass through three censorship stages. First the script has to be approved, which can involve months of wrangling over dialogue and camera settings. Every bit of hair poking out of a headscarf can become a political issue in Iran. Once a film is finished, the producer and director must obtain permission to show it at a festival. In the end, the censors also decide whether it can be shown in Iranian movie theaters.

“When you shoot a film in Iran, you waste 80 percent of your energy getting all the permits. You’re constantly asking yourself: Am I allowed to do this, or can I do that?” Panahi said in a 2005 interview.

Outwitting the Censors

He repeatedly managed to outwit the authorities over a period of years. In the case of “Offside,” he presented the censors with a different version of the script than the one he intended to film. He was given the green light and assembled two film crews. One crew, intended to distract the censors, filmed the official version, while the other crew secretly filmed Panahi’s version.

Of course, “Offside” was not given the approval to be shown in Iranian theaters, but the government-run Film Museum of Iran had no trouble adding the Silver Bear Panahi won at the Berlin International Film Festival to its collection. “The room where the museum exhibits my awards is bigger than my prison cell,” Panahi said in court last November.

Panahi is both persecuted and officially celebrated. “In Iran,” says Bakhtiari, “one person never makes a decision.” Panahi’s ally Rasoulof, he adds, was given a six-year prison sentence and, almost simultaneously, received approval from the Culture Ministry to shoot a new film. Panahi and Rasoulof are the tragic heroes of a Kafkaesque system.

When Ahmadinejad’s mentor Esfandiar Rahim Mashai told Iran’s ISNA news agency in mid-January that the sentence against Panahi was too harsh, the Tehran daily newspaper Kayhan, a mouthpiece for the Islamists, asked whether Mashai might want to issue a check or an award to a rabble-rouser like Panahi. Panahi, the agent provocateur who always has a slight smile on his face, has put the regime in a tight spot.

In Exile

Panahi is an idol to his fellow Iranians. At a university event in Tehran two weeks ago, students held up his photo, chanted his name and shouted down a band that was intended to drown out their protests. What the people in power certainly do not need is to turn Panahi into a martyr. They would probably prefer to see him leave the country, like so many other film artists before him. Panahi was summoned to the Iranian Culture Ministry five times in the last few years, and each time he was advised to leave the country. He rejected the suggestion each time.

By contrast, some of the most successful Iranian artists and filmmakers, like Mohsen Makhmalbaf (“Kandahar”), Shirin Neshat (“Women Without Men”) and Marjane Satrapi (“Persepolis”), left Iran many years ago. Although they now live in Paris or New York, their native country is always at the center of their films. “You can drive an Iranian out of his country, but you can’t drive the country out of an Iranian,” says Neshat.

“The Green Wave,” the most forceful documentary to date about the summer 2009 protests, is also the work of an exile, the German-Iranian Ali Samadi Ahadi. The last time he was in Iran was in April 2009, but now it’s become too dangerous for him to go there.

‘I Experienced the Dark Side of My Country’

By now even formerly apolitical stars like the 27-year-old actress Golshifteh Farahani are fleeing abroad. She had already been in about 20 Iranian films when director Ridley Scott offered her a part with Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe in the Hollywood thriller “Body of Lies.”

At the New York premier in October 2008, Farahani appeared on the red carpet without a headscarf, triggering an uproar in her native Iran. “I wasn’t really clear about the consequences,” she says today. “But at the time I just thought it was stupid to wear a headscarf. After all, the other women at the premiere weren’t wearing one either.”

When she returned to Iran, Farahani was interrogated and her passport was taken away. The next Hollywood production, for which she had already signed a contract (titled, ironically, “Prince of Persia”), was filmed without her. “It was the worst time of my life. I experienced the dark side of my country for the first time. At the time, Jafar Panahi was the only person who supported me publicly,” says Farahani.

She wasn’t permitted to leave the country again until February 2009, when she attended the Berlinale. Her film “About Elly,” which is only now playing in German theaters, was shown in the competition in Berlin. Farahani lives in Paris today.

Kafka in Tehran

Panahi, on the other hand, isn’t letting the authorities drive him out, even though many friends have often urged him to leave. He wants to stay in Iran and continue making films, even though the censors have repeatedly rejected his projects since 2006, including the film adaptation of “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” the second novel of bestselling author Khaled Hosseini (“The Kite Runner”). “I can’t stop working. I only live when I make films,” says Panahi.

What will the regime do with its most rebellious director? Will it truly put away Panahi in prison for years, despite the protests at home and abroad? Or can the Tehran judges reverse their ruling?

“Islamic law offers many possibilities,” says his friend Bakhtiari, smiling for a moment. There is a difference, he explains, between “tasiri,” or serving a sentence, and “talighi,” or a suspended sentence. The Tehran judges could decide to convert the sentence from one to the other.

In that case, Panahi would be sentenced and would still be released — a Kafka in Tehran — his head full of ideas that are considered crimes.

offside

See Related: Iran Archive

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British Foreign Secretary warns Israel to tone down belligerent rhetoric on Egypt uprising

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British Foreign Secretary William Hague addresses the media during a news conference in Tunis yesterday

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By James Tapsfield
The London Independent

The Middle East peace process is in danger of falling victim to the revolutionary tide sweeping the Arab world, foreign secretary William Hague has warned.

Speaking on an emergency tour of the region, Mr Hague also urged Israel to tone down its “belligerent” language in the wake of the uprisings which have spread from Tunisia to Egypt and beyond.

The intervention came as the situation in Egypt intensified, with thousands of protesters again on the streets of Cairo demanding President Hosni Mubarak’s immediate departure.

In an interview with The Times en route to Jordan, Mr Hague said: “Amidst the opportunity for countries like Tunisia and Egypt, there is a legitimate fear that the Middle East peace process will lose further momentum and be put to one side, and will be a casualty of uncertainty in the region.”

He added: “Part of the fear is that uncertainty and change will complicate the process still further. That means there is a real urgency for the Israelis and the United States.

“Recent events mean this is an even more urgent priority and that’s a case we are putting to the Israeli Government and in Washington.”

Mr Hague responded to pronouncements by Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been urging his nation to prepare for “any outcome” and vowing to “reinforce the might of the state of Israel”.

“This should not be a time for belligerent language,” the Foreign Secretary said. “It’s a time to inject greater urgency into the Middle East peace process.”

Despite two weeks of steadfast pressure, Egyptian protesters have not achieved their goal of ousting Mr Mubarak.

Yesterday, thousands of civilians – including about 5,000 university professors and teachers – packed Cairo’s Tahrir Square to continue their demonstrations calling for the president’s removal.

In Alexandria, the country’s second largest city, 18,000 people crammed into the main square, while some 3,000 service workers for the Suez Canal also demonstrated in Suez city.

Around 8,000 people also chanted anti Mubarak slogans in the southern city of Assuit.

The beleaguered president has refused to step down, insisting on serving until elections in September.

His regime offered more concessions to the protesters in hopes of appeasing them while keeping as firm a grip on power as it possibly can.

Vice president Omar Suleiman, who is managing the crisis, offered to set up committees to propose long-sought constitutional amendments and monitor the implementation of all proposed reforms.

Mr Mubarak also ordered a probe into last week’s clashes between the protesters and government supporters as well as mass detentions of human rights activists and journalists.

See Related: Egypt Archive

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Northern California teaching Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan leads ‘Beyond Gender’ Feburary 12 in San Francisco – Do character and virtue transcend the body?

Northern California popular teaching Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan, of Lehrhaus Judaica, leads ‘Beyond Gender, Sex, and Race: The Development of Character and Virtue in Rambam’s Eight Chapters’ this Saturday in San Francisco.

Wolf-Prusan will explore the eight chapters of Maimonides on ethics, from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, located at 290 Dolores Street at 16th Street.

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Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan

“Maimonides answers the question of our time: Does character and virtue transcend the body?” detailed Sha’ar Zahav in a written statement.

“What is the mind-body connection in rabbinic Judaism?

“Can we reach each other, overcoming differences in gender and sexual identity, through the teachings of a 12th century wandering Jew?”

Wolf-Prusan teaches classical texts in such Lehrhaus programs as Bible by the Bay, Learning and Leadership (for Federation lay leaders meeting in private homes), and other venues. He works in the areas of museum partnership, émigré education, and parallel learning for day school parents, weekend retreats, and family tours to Israel. In addition, the national Covenant Award winner assists the institution with fundraising and strategic planning.

After volunteering in Israel 1973-1974, Peretz came to the Bay Area to teach art at UAHC Camp Swig and study at the San Francisco Art Institute. He taught Jewish folklore and Hebrew calligraphy when Lehrhaus began 35 years ago!

Following a decade of creating Ketubot, printmaking, working in informal education, he, along with Becki and one-year-old Leora, traveled back to Israel in 1985 to learn at the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion and became a rabbi in 1990 (best of all, along the way, added Avital and Noah to the family). He is the only graduate of HUC-JIR with an undergraduate degree in Experimental Art.

At Emanu-El, he was commissioned to spearhead the revitalization of the Congregation’s education program. He developed a nationally recognized family education program currently serving over 600 students and their families and directed the Tauber Jewish Studies Program, a program of the Madeleine Haas Russell Institute of Jewish Learning.

Peretz has continued his learning at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and with the Consortium for Jewish Family Education.

He and Becki live in San Francisco where she is an Academic Counselor at City College of San Francisco, serving CalWORKs students.

Refreshments will be served at the event which will conclude with Havdallah.

See Related: Social Diary Archive

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San Francisco adopts measure to green existing commercial buildings – Save energy, create jobs

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The Board of Supervisors today passed ground-breaking green building legislation that will improve energy efficiency in existing buildings, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, lower energy costs, and create green jobs. The ordinance will require owners of existing non-residential buildings to determine how much energy each building consumes, and to make that information public on an annual basis. The ordinance will also require commercial buildings over 10,000 square feet to conduct energy efficiency audits every five years in order to help the building owners and managers optimize building efficiency.

“San Francisco needs to increase the energy and resource efficiency of existing buildings if we are going to meet our aggressive greenhouse gas
reduction targets,” said Mayor Edwin Lee.

ed-lee-feb-9-1

“This ordinance not only helps educate building owners about what they need to do to save energy and money, but it will also boost our local green jobs economy.”

Energy is one of the biggest expenses of building ownership, and will be an even greater financial burden for owners in the future as energy prices
escalate. Buildings, which account for about 70 percent of the electricity consumed in the U.S., could be made up to 50 percent more energy efficient
with currently available products and services.

The Ordinance codifies the recommendations of the Existing Commercial Building Task Force, which then-Mayor Gavin Newsom convened to identify
ways the city could work in concert with the private sector to improve the energy and resource efficiency of existing commercial buildings in San
Francisco. The Task Force, similar to the one that developed recommendations for new construction, was comprised of 18 members of San
Francisco’s building ownership, developer, financial, architectural, engineering, and construction communities, who the Mayor selected for their
knowledge of the building industry and commitment to San Francisco’s long-term sustainability.

“Millions of dollars go wasted every year because buildings aren’t as energy-efficient as they could be,” said Steven Ring, Director of Client
Solutions at Cushman and Wakefield, and co-chair of the task force.

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Steven Ring

“By eliminating energy waste, property owners could be enjoying the benefits of that cash and at the same time creating good jobs for energy management professionals and the construction industry.”

Under the Ordinance, building owners would be required to benchmark the energy use of their buildings using a free online tool provided by the US
Environmental Protection Agency, the results of which will be filed annually with the city. The next phase of the Ordinance requires building
owner to conduct energy audits, starting with commercial properties larger than 50,000 square feet starting in October 2011, and then phase in so that
by 2013, the rules would apply to all commercial properties 10,000 square feet or larger.

“San Francisco currently offers energy efficiency audits for businesses through our Energy Watch program, and we have learned that up to 70 percent
of business that have an audit will take action and conduct a retrofit,” said Melanie Nutter, Director of San Francisco’s Environment Department.

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Melanie Nutter

“We expect this Ordinance will deliver similar returns with existing buildings, which could lead to a 50 percent reduction in commercial
building energy use within 20 years.”

See Related: Global Warming Archive

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Is Israel losing ground in the United Nations?

Israel has no official envoy at the United Nations, only an acting ambassador,
who lacks the authority of a permanent representative

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Israel Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman appear at the UN last Saturday

By Shlomo Shamir
Haaretz

NEW YORK – Diplomats at the United Nations were harshly critical yesterday of Israel’s ongoing failure to appoint a permanent ambassador to the UN, saying it has essentially forfeited the arena to the Palestinians.

While Israel is represented by an acting ambassador, Meron Reuben, he lacks the authority of a permanent representative.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman were unable to agree on a permanent candidate for months, and the man they finally settled on, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, rejected the job this week.

Diplomats described this as “gross irresponsibility” on Netanyahu’s part.

“A prime minister who was a UN ambassador ought to know how important the UN is to Israel, especially at the height of an assault on its legitimacy,” said one former senior Western ambassador. Netanyahu was Israel’s ambassador to the UN in 1984-88.

The Palestinians are promoting several UN initiatives opposed by Israel, including a Security Council resolution condemning the settlements and demanding an immediate halt to settlement construction. They are also mobilizing a General Assembly majority to back a unilateral declaration of statehood in September.

And even if Israel succeeds in preventing a vote on the settlement resolution, the prevailing view is that the Security Council will issue a statement condemning Israel’s settlement policy.

The combination of the lack of Israeli-Palestinian talks and Jerusalem’s rocky relationship with the White House have brought Israel’s standing at the UN to an almost unprecedented low, diplomats said – which may be why Erdan didn’t want the job. Nor would his appointment have done much to change this, they admitted.

“But at least Erdan would have been accepted at the UN as someone who represents the prime minister, and his voice would have been heard loud and clear,” one senior UN diplomat said. “Whereas the present ambassador is seen as an appointee of Foreign Minister [Avigdor] Lieberman – whose reputation at the UN is dubious in the extreme – and as a temporary appointee unacceptable to the prime minister. That image severely undermines his status and significantly restricts his ability to have an influence.”

Another diplomat bluntly described Reuben as a “featherweight.” Reuben vehemently rejected these assertions, insisting that his lack of official credentials hasn’t impaired his functioning.

See Related: World Politics Archive

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Israeli Consulate’s Tribute to Black History Month Kicks-Off With Oakland Mayor Jean Quan at Oakland City Hall

Programs throughout the Bay Area in February will celebrate the rich history, culture, and traditions of African diversity, as experienced in Israel

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OAKLAND, CA – This month, in tribute to Black History Month, the Consulate General of Israel to the Pacific Northwest is partnering with local organizations to bring prominent performers, artists, speakers, and exhibitions to Northern California showcasing Ethiopian Jewish contributions to Israeli society. The month-long celebration premiers with the opening of the Ethiopian-Israeli Amulets art exhibition at Oakland City Hall, on display outside the Mayor’s office through February.

“Black History Month is a chance for us all to recognize the fight for justice and equality,” said Oakland Mayor Jean Quan. “This Ethiopian-Israeli exhibition is quite interesting for those, like me, who have first-hand knowledge of the immigrant experience in the Bay Area, and who work to improve immigrant communities in Northern California, while preserving their traditional cultures and values.”

Akiva Tor, Israel’s Consul General to the Pacific Northwest, helped spearhead the efforts to give residents of Northern California the opportunity to experience Black History Month, from an Israeli perspective.

“Israel is fortunate to be home to more than one hundred thousand Israeli Ethiopian Jews who have enriched Israel’s politics, music, theater and art,” said Consul General Tor. “We are thrilled to bring representations of all of these to Oakland and the greater Bay Area as part of our tribute to Black History Month 2011.”

Events for the Israeli Consulate’s tribute to Black History Month, which take place at venues across the greater Bay Area, include screenings of two critically-acclaimed films about Ethiopian immigration and communities in Israel, and theater productions by renowned Ethiopian-Israeli performers – including Teret Teret, a comical play about three Ethiopian immigrants who attempt to adjust to their new surroundings in Israel, connecting through their culture, music, and stories from the past.

“Black History Month is not only a time to celebrate the significant progress our country has made, but to also reflect on lessons learned in the struggle to provide equal opportunity,” said San Jose City Councilmember, Ash Kalra. “I thank the Jewish community of Silicon Valley for hosting the production of Teret Teret by the Hullegeb Ethiopian-Israeli Theater. This is a fantastic way to honor Black History Month and to celebrate African heritage and culture.”

Mr. Shlomo Molla, a prominent member of the Israeli Knesset, will take part in a panel discussion on equality, immigrant rights, and social justice with noted social activist and religious leader, Rev. Amos C. Brown. Mr. Molla will also be appearing at UC Berkeley to lecture about immigration, and tell his story of about leaving Ethiopia as a child, immigrating to Israel, and becoming an elected member of government.

Exhibitions on display feature the Amulets art and crafts exhibit created by women from Ethiopia who immigrated to Israel, and a photo exposition entitled “Scenes from Haiti,” depicting aid efforts in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and the lives impacted by that event.

For a complete schedule of events, please see below, or visit: israeliconsulate.org.

EVENT LISTINGS

AMULETS EXHIBITION – TRADITIONAL ETHIOPIAN ART

February 2 – 28, 2011

Oakland City Hall – 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza, 3rd floor, Oakland, 94612

In tribute to Black History month, the Israeli Consulate, in conjunction with Clay-Artisan Inc and Oakland City Hall, are pleased to present an exhibition of handmade tapestries by women from Ethiopia who immigrated to Israel. The Amulets Exhibition was produced at the Almaz factory in Lod, Israel and is based on traditional Ethiopian styles. Almaz factory had two main goals when first established: to provide livelihood for Ethiopian women who had a difficult time finding employment in the modern Israeli market, and to preserve and nurture the foundations of traditional Ethiopian art.

The exhibition will be opened the public throughout the month of February in Oakland City Hall.

Photo Exhibit: SCENES FROM HAITI

Two Showings:

February 6 – 18
UC Santa Cruz – Stevenson Event Center – 1156 High Street, Santa Cruz, 95064

February 19 – 28

3rd Baptist Church – 1399 McAllister Street, San Francisco, 94115

Within four days of Haiti’s devastating earthquake on January 12, 2009, Israeli Medical personnel were on the ground, coordinating recovery efforts from a fully operational field hospital. In reflection of those events, “Scenes from Haiti” pays tribute to the lives that were affected, portraying remarkable scenes of people and places on the island, in the aftermath of the quake.

Film Screening: LIVE AND BECOME

Thursday, February 10, 6pm

African American Museum and Library – 659 14th Street, Oakland, 94612

An award-winning film about an Ethiopian boy who disguises himself as a Jew in order to escape famine, and then immigrates to Israel.

“Fundamental issues of ethnic and religious identity and the agony of exile are at the heart of “Live and Become,” an intermittently compelling swatch of recent Israeli history filtered through the experience of an African immigrant.” – New York Times

Presented in partnership with the East Bay Jewish Film Festival.

Theater Performance: LEVADA (On Her Own)

Tuesday, February 15, 7pm

Hillel at Stanford University, 565 Mayfield Ave, Stanford, 94305

A monodrama based on the life story of a single mother of Ethiopian origin, who attempts to find true love through the internet. In contemplating the comic-tragic absurdity of her life, she longs for her childhood in Ethiopia, and attempts to re-examine her failed marriage.

Theater Performance: TERET TERET

Two Showings:

Wednesday, February 16, 7pm
Addison-Penzak Jewish Community Center of Silicon Valley – 14855 Oka Rd. Los Gatos, 95032

Thursday, February 17, 7:30pm

Temple Sinai – 2808 Summit Street, Oakland, 94609

Teret Teret showcases humorous Ethiopian stories presented through motion and music. The performance is both exciting and funny, with live vocals accompanied by well-known Ethiopian Israeli musician Abate Berihon. At the center of the play are three immigrants who attempt to adjust to their new surroundings in Israel and connect to each other through their culture, music, and stories from the past.

Panel Discussion: EQUALITY AND PLURALISM IN TWO SOCIETIES with Dr. Amos C. Brown, Senior Pastor, 3rd Baptist Church and Mr. Shlomo Molla, Member of Israeli Knesset

Wednesday, February 23, 6:30pm

3rd Baptist Church – 1399 McAllister Street, San Francisco, 94115

Dr. Brown, a highly respected religious and community leader, has a long and distinguished history of fighting for equality and social justice. MK Molla, the only Ethiopian Member of Israel’s parliament, is a staunch advocate for immigrant rights and pluralism. Together, they will discuss religion, the fight for equality and justice, human rights and values in Israel and the United States. This event coincides with the showing of the photo exhibition “Scenes from Haiti”, on display February 19-28 at 3rd Baptist Church.

About the Consulate General of Israel to the Pacific Northwest

The Consulate General of Israel to the Pacific Northwest is the official representation of the State of Israel in Pacific Northwest United States, serving Northern California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska. The Consulate is responsible for coordinating initiatives and relationships with national and local organizations in the Pacific Northwest region, offices of public officials, businesses and citizens, and providing consular services for Israeli citizens living in the region. More information is available at israeliconsulate.org.

See Related: Social Diary Archive

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Waste Management Backpedals in San Francisco: Unregistered Lobbyist Suddenly Registers in S.F.

Waste Management Inc., a Houston based Landfill giant, unregistered lobbyist files and back dates reports for one year

Yesterday The San Francisco Sentinel posted an article about the waste company which lost the landfill business in San Francisco because it tried to charge the City more than 10 times what it is currently paying for the same service it currently provides.

In following the landfill contract vote coming up tomorrow, The Sentinel was reviewing the attacks (likely launched by Waste) and came across an article by the Snitch on the SF WEEKLY site that identified Young as their lobbyist.

We pulled up the City’s ethics page to peruse the lobbyist database. What we discovered then was that Marcus Young was not in the database and not listed under Waste Management’s filings, which showed a total of more than $85,000 in lobbyist expenses on this contract paid to Solem and Platinum. Both of those lobbying firms are no longer in the picture for Waste.

marcus2
Marcus Young

We heard from Young who told us we had it all wrong. He claimed that he “filed with the city as a lobbyist at the same time he filed as a lobbyist with the state a year ago, you do that all at the same time, file your statement and write a check.” He also told us that “I haven’t done any work for Waste Management until about two weeks ago.”

We went back to the database to check. Low and behold, there was Marcus Young as a registered lobbyist, though without any record of receiving payment and/or making any contacts on any issue of the Board. Interestingly enough, after digging a little further, we discovered that he only filed with the City yesterday—perhaps after our blog post—and that filing reported all of his lobbying activity for 2010 and the first quarter of 2011. City law requires lobbyist file monthly and report all income and contacts made while lobbying. Mr. Young’s filings had no income or contacts reported for all of last year.

Further complicating his story is the fact that a search in the state lobbyist database turns up no registration from Marcus Young at JSA (his former employer who he filed all of his current reports under), Gauger & Associates (who he works for according to a recent press release), or at any other firm.

We contacted Recology to ask them what they thought about Mr. Young’s claims and was told that “It simply doesn’t add up. The City’s Lobbyist Ordinance of 2010 is very clear, and it requires registration and reporting of all lobbyist activity in the City of San Francisco to the Ethics Commission through the lobbyist database.

“There is no question as to what is required by law,” said Adam Alberti, speaking on behalf of Recology. Asked if he knew how long Mr. Young has worked for Waste Management, Alberti responded with a slight chuckle: “For at least several years. He has been at most every hearing during the process of the contract award and has worked on efforts for Waste Management before this bid was even issued.”

We conducted a Google search and found Mr. Young quoted on behalf of Waste as early as 10/28/06 in regards to the Waste Management lock out of their drivers at Altamont landfill.

In the Sentinel’s own files we found, interestingly enough, Marcus Young sent us an email from a JSA email address more than two years ago. In this email he claimed to represent Waste Management and proceeded to raise a number of questions about Recology and their bid award in an effort to entice us a positive piece about Waste Management.

This research and our call with Mr. Young have made us agree with one thing he said. Yesterday’s Sentinel story was partially wrong. Our headline “Waste Management Using Unregistered Lobbyist in San Francisco?” was in error. There should have been no question mark.

See Related: Waste Management Using Unregistered Lobbyists in San Francisco?

See Related: Ostrom Road landfill contract set for February 9 Hearing before Budget Committee – New deal will save ratepayers $130 million and reduce greenhouse gases

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Strange’s Last Night’s Top Ten Late-Night TV Jokes February 7 2011

STRANGE’S LAST NIGHT’S TOP TEN LATE-NIGHT TV JOKES FEBRUARY 7 2011

February Strangies: Fallon 2, Kimmel 1, Leno 1, Letterman 1

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By Strange de Jim
Beep beep! Love from Strange

Monday, February 7

10. David Letterman: They wanted the biggest Super Bowl attendance ever, so they put in 400 extra seats. Then the Fire Marshal nixed it, so 400 people with legitimate tickets showed up and couldn’t get in. They were furious. It’s like you folks.

9. Conan O’Brien: Doctors are saying that sex during pregnancy is almost always safe and enjoyable. Unless you’re the baby. Then it’s terrifying.

8. Jay Leno: Do you know where Osama bin Laden watched the Super Bowl? In his man cave.

7. Craig Ferguson: Two hours before the game the Fire Marshal said 400 seats were unsafe. These people had tickets. They took time off from work. They waited in line for hours. Then they were told they couldn’t get in. Who runs a business like that? Except every airline. Except the ones who advertise on CBS.

6. Jay Leno: Looters damaged a 2,000-year-old mummy in Egypt so badly that it may be impossible to repair. They’re so desperate they’ve flown in Joan Rivers’ plastic surgeon.

5. Jimmy Fallon: The Cleveland Cavaliers set a new NBA record by losing 24 games in a row. In fact, their scoreboard now reads “Home” and “Winners.”

4. Craig Ferguson: I was going to watch the Super Bowl at the Late-Night Hosts Clubhouse. But last year Jay Leno was looking for something to cut the cake, and Conan said, “Why don’t you use the knife you stuck in my back?” Awkward. So I just watched at home this year.

3. Jimmy Fallon: An alligator farm in Florida just installed a zip line visitors can ride above the alligator tanks. It’s like the alligator version of a sushi bar with one of those conveyor belts.

2. Jay Leno: The head of Homeland Security told people at the game, if they saw anything not right give them a call. They got 50 million calls as soon as Christina Aguilera started singing the National Anthem. The good news, you can’t accuse her of lip syncing.

1. Jimmy Fallon: Mattel is releasing Barbie dolls based on the TV show “Dynasty.” So if you like TV shows from the ’80s and you still like Barbie dolls, I’m Chris Hansen from “Dateline NBC.”

French McDonald’s Gay Commercial

Justin Bieber telling Ozzy Osbourne, “I’ll take it from here,” was my favorite Super Bowl commercial

The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1 2010

Page 183 – But in truth, compliments are sometimes actually GIVEN away, and no bill presented. I know it can occur as much as once in a century, for it has happened once to me, and I am not a century old, yet. It was twenty-nine years ago. I was lecturing in London at the time. I received a most lovely letter, sparkling and glowing with cordial and felicitous praises — and there was NO NAME SIGNED, AND NO ADDRESS!

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See Related: STRANGE’S LAST NIGHT’S TOP TEN LATE-NIGHT TV JOKES ARCHIVE

For each day’s
funniest zingers follow me on Twitter
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If an enemy secures West Bank, Jerusalem and Israel become unprotected

Israel’s security requirements are peaking at this time of regional turmoil

west-bank

By Yoram Ettinger
Ynetnews.com

The dramatic developments in Tunisia and Egypt – and the potential regional destabilizing ripple effects that could dwarf the Egyptian upheaval – have a dramatic impact on the state of national and regional security, and therefore have dramatic consequences upon national and regional security requirements.

The lower the stability and life-expectancy of Middle East regimes, the shiftier their ideology, policy and commitments, the higher the volatility of domestic and regional affairs, and the higher the security threshold and requirements.

Moreover, President Obama’s policy of engagement and the announced evacuation of Iraq and Afghanistan are perceived by Arab/Muslim regimes as a policy of retreat, undermining the US posture of deterrence.

In 2002/2003 the White House projected an assertive posture in the Middle East, in the battle against terrorism and in global affairs at-large. In 2011, the White House projects a relatively timid posture. The more uncertain the US global posture, the more eroded the US posture of deterrence, the more adrenalized are rogue regimes, the more acute is the threat of war and terrorism and the higher the security requirements.

Security requirements are peaking as a result of the long-term (and possibly immediate-term) potential of the Egyptian turmoil. It could traumatize northern Africa, the Horn of Africa, the eastern flank of the Mediterranean, the Middle East in general and pro-US Arab regimes (e.g. Jordan) in particular, threatening vital US interests, undermining Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan and emboldening enemies of the Big and the Small “Satan,” the US and the Jewish State.

‘Key threat to Israel – invasion’

Key US military officials expressed their assessments of Israel’s security requirements in general and of the unique role played by the Judea and Samaria mountain ridges. For instance, Lt. General (ret.) Tom Kelly, chief of operations in the 1991 Gulf War: “I cannot defend this land (Israel) without that terrain (West Bank)…The West Bank mountains, and especially their five approaches, are the critical terrain. If an enemy secures those passes, Jerusalem and Israel become uncovered. Without the West Bank, Israel is only eight miles wide at its narrowest point. That makes it indefensible.”

The late Admiral Bud Nance: “I believe if Israel were to move out of the Golan Heights and the West Bank, it would increase instability and the possibility of war, increase the necessity to preempt in war, and the possibility that nuclear weapons would be used to prevent an Israeli loss, and increase the possibility that the US would have to become involved in a war.”

General (ret.) Al Gray, former Commandant, US Marine Corps: “Missiles fly over any terrain feature, but they don’t negate the strategic significance of territorial depth. The key threat to Israel will remain the invasion and occupation by armored forces. Military success requires more than a few hundred missiles. To defeat Israel would require the Arabs to deploy armor, infantry and artillery into Israel and destroy the IDF on the ground. That was true in 1948, 1967 and 1973, and it remains true in the era of modern missiles.”

Most effective tank obstacle

The Judea and Samaria mountain ridges constitute the most effective tank obstacle (a 3,000ft steep slope over-towering the Jordan Valley, 40 miles away from Tel Aviv and pre-1967 Israel) and a dream platform of invasion to 9-15 miles wide pre-1967 Israel (a 2,000ft moderate slope) in the most conflict-ridden, unpredictable and treacherous neighborhood in the world.

Israel’s control of the Judea and Samaria mountain ridges provides it with the time, which is required to mobilize its active reservists (75% of the military force!) in face of a surprise offensive mounted by a few Arab countries.

The pre-1967 width of the Jewish State is equal to the distance between JFK and La Guardia airports, to the distance between RFK Stadium and the Kennedy Center, the length of Dallas-Fort Worth airport, to the width of Washington, DC, San Francisco and Miami and to the distance between Wall Street and Columbia University.

The pre-1967 sliver along the Mediterranean is less than the distance between downtown London and Heathrow Airport, equal to a roundtrip distance between Albert hall and the Tower of London and to the distance between Bois du Boulogne and La Place de la Bastille.

The Judea and Samaria mountain ridges constitute the “Golan Heights” of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ben Gurion Airport and the entire pre-1967 coastal plain of the Jewish State, the core of its population and infrastructures.

See Related: Israel Archive

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The Castro Fires: Supervisor Scott Wiener to introduce Good Samaritan Rental Law to Aid Tenants Displaced by Natural and Criminal Disasters

Law will allow building owners to rent temporary units to displaced tenants at a discounted rate for up to one year,
while the tenants’ apartments are being fixed

In the wake of the Castro arson fires, Supervisor Scott Wiener has been working to find temporary housing for the tenants displaced by these criminal acts. In an ideal scenario, tenants facing a natural or human-created disaster would temporarily move into vacant units during the repair of their damaged units, and continue paying the same rent they paid for their damaged units. However, under current San Francisco law, a landlord cannot offer below-market rent for a temporary period without locking in that rent as the permanent rent-control base rent.

As a result of this risk and despite their desire to help, some landlords are hesitant to assist with short-term below-market rentals after a fire, earthquake, or similar event.

In response to this situation and given the near-certainty of a major earthquake in coming years – which could displace thousands of tenants – Supervisor Wiener will introduce legislation at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting to allow tenants access to temporary below-market rentals while their apartments are being repaired.

scott-wiener
Supervisor Scott Wiener

Supervisor Wiener is working with tenant advocacy organizations, including the San Francisco Tenants Union and Tenderloin Housing Clinic, as well as property owner groups, including the San Francisco Apartment Association and Small Property Owners of San Francisco, to formulate the legislation.

Landlords offering these temporary rentals will be required to rent to the tenant at or near the rent the tenant was paying for the damaged unit. The temporary rental can last for up to a year, or two years if the parties agree. This law will give landlords a greater incentive to rent to displaced tenants at reduced rents, by guaranteeing that the rental will be short-term, and will also provide tenants with greater access to housing after they are displaced.

“This law will allow us to focus on quickly getting victims of natural disasters, or crimes like terrorism and arson, into stable and affordable housing, which should be a top priority,” said Wiener.

Renovations after these disasters can take months or longer. For example, the estimates for the renovations of the units burned on 16th Street are currently estimated at 6-12 months.

“These victims have so many stresses in their lives and finding affordable temporary housing should not be one of those stresses. There are many property owners who want to help displaced tenants, and we need to give them every tool to be able to do so,” said Wiener. “This law will increase the supply of short-term affordable rental housing for victims of fires, earthquakes, and other disasters.”

For more information, please contact Supervisor Wiener at 554-6968 or Email: scott.wiener@sfgov.org. You can also contact his staff, Gillian Gillett at Email: gillian.gillett@sfgov.org and Adam Taylor at Email: adam.taylor@sfgov.org.

See Related: Fire Department urges residents to be alert for Castro arsonist – Supervisor Wiener reaches out

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Can Al Jazeera topple governments?

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The wave of protests in the Arab world has highlighted the power of Al-Jazeera, which has unparalleled influence in the Middle East.
This photo shows the English-language newsroom.

By Matthias Gebauer and Yassin Musharbash
Der Spiegel

The wave of protests in the Arab world has highlighted the power of Al-Jazeera, which has unparalleled influence in the Middle East. It has been banned from reporting on the unrest in Egypt, where its reporters have been targeted by Mubarak supporters. Governments in the region fear the station could be their undoing.

It is 10:22 a.m. and 7 seconds in Doha in the Emirate of Qatar, according to the red digital numbers on the studio clock. It’s an hour earlier in Cairo. The anchorwoman, sitting in a sky-blue studio, is just switching over to the Egyptian capital, where several people were killed and wounded the night before in brutal attacks by regime loyalists against opponents of President Hosni Mubarak. Al-Jazeera is showing the images of the street fighting once again.

A professor is on the phone from Cairo. He is so distraught that the anchorwoman in Doha can hardly interject her questions as he continues to speak. Both the anchorwoman and the professor are speaking very loudly. On top of that, there are the images of violence and the news updates running across the bottom of the screen in red lettering, like warnings from another world — a world descending into chaos. The Arab world is in crisis. Anyone watching Al-Jazeera at this moment understands that fact immediately. And a lot of people watch Al-Jazeera.

No other Arab TV network, no daily newspaper and no radio station reaches as many of the Arab world’s 360 million people. Al-Jazeera’s Arabic-language station is broadcast into about 50 million households.

The network is powerful in the Arab world, where it has more influence than CNN or the BBC. It determines which images are important for the people in the region — and which emotions these images trigger in Tunisia, Egypt or Saudi Arabia or elsewhere.

Political Factor

Al-Jazeera isn’t just a news network, but is also a political factor — and one with a sense of mission. Its editors are particularly zealous in scrutinizing secular regimes like Mubarak’s. Al-Jazeera is generally pan-Arab, but there is also a pro-Islamist spectrum within the network.

About two weeks ago, when Al-Jazeera revealed that the PLO delegation was allegedly prepared to make extensive concessions in its negotiations with Israel, the main beneficiary of the report was the radical Islamist group Hamas, which favors confrontation instead of cooperation with Israel.

In airing the story, Al-Jazeera set the stage for days of accusations. The PLO already accuses the network of waging a campaign against it and supporting Hamas with propaganda. And as nonpartisan as the network purports to be, it is certainly not entirely without bias.

Al-Jazeera seems to have been getting even more powerful of late — so powerful, in fact, that governments are now asking themselves whether the network has the power to incite popular uprisings in the Arab world.

The Egyptian regime was hunting down journalists last week in an apparent effort to prevent the world from witnessing its thugs attacking the protesters. German journalists were also affected. An employee of the ZDF television network spent 20 hours in jail. And during the ZDF news show “Heute Journal,” a laser pointer was aimed at a correspondent who was reporting live from Cairo.

‘Why Are You Breaking the Law?’

The Qatar-based network was also affected. The Al-Jazeera office in Cairo was vandalized last Friday, an act the network blames on Mubarak supporters. But the reprisals had already begun at about 1:00 p.m. on the previous Monday, when four soldiers burst into a room on the 24th floor of the Ramses Hilton Hotel, from which all major TV networks are running their live reporting operations.

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The network has been banned from reporting on the unrest in Egypt, where its reporters have been targeted by Mubarak supporters.
Al-Jazeera transmissions were also cut by the Egyptian satellite operator Nilesat (Jan. 30 screen grab).

The hotel is very close to Tahrir Square and offers a view of the center of the uprising. The soldiers, wielding Kalashnikov rifles, immediately pushed their way to the balcony, knocked over Al-Jazeera’s cameras and began searching the room and collecting passports and mobile phones.

One of the uniformed men shouted at the journalists, saying: “Why are you breaking the law? You know perfectly well that we have closed your office here, and that you no longer have a license.” Six employees were taken downstairs in a service elevator. The soldiers, their weapons at the ready, urged the reporters to hurry.

An army colonel, speaking politely but loudly, explained his quandary to the six journalists. “I know you’re just doing your job,” he snapped at the reporters, “but by doing your job you make my work more than difficult.”

The journalists were released, but not before the colonel had confiscated their equipment.

Rough Treatment

But it is questionable just what benefits the regime will obtain through its rough treatment of journalists. In Tunisia, the government tossed out Al-Jazeera’s journalists shortly before it was overthrown, but to no avail. A Tunisian anchorman for the network made arrangements for Lotfi Hajji, an old friend, to report from a secret location in Tunisia. In addition to being a journalist, Hajji also describes himself as a human rights activist, according to the New York Times.

When the uprising began, Tunisians sent him homemade videos documenting incidents of police brutality. Al-Jazeera broadcast the videos. More and more videos turned up, and they, too, were broadcast. Did the overthrow of Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali originate in Doha? Could the same fate be in store for Egyptian President Mubarak?

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Al-Jazeera’s Arab-language program is broadcast into about 50 million households. This image grab from November 2007
shows a picture of Osama bin Laden that was used to accompany an audio message from the Al-Qaida leader
.

‘We Don’t Wish to Take Any Sides’

The Al-Jazeera newsroom, the nerve center of the network, where all editorial decisions are made, could not offer a greater contrast to the feverish nature of the news broadcasts. The journalists greet each quietly when they arrive at work, and they walk slowly across the pale green carpet. No one here runs or shouts.

It is 10:35 a.m. and 45 seconds when Mustafa Souag walks into his office. The tall man is wearing a light green suit, and he carefully hangs his jacket onto a coat hanger. Souag is the director of news at Al-Jazeera’s mother ship, its Arabic-language station. This is also the center of power, where decisions are made on what is important in the Arab world. In contrast, Al-Jazeera’s English-language station is more relaxed and aloof, more like CNN or the BBC.

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Mustafa Souag is the director of news at Al-Jazeera’s Arabic-language station.
“We don’t wish to take any sides,” he says.
“Instead, our goal is diligent reporting — and I believe that’s enough.”

Souag uses a pen with the network’s logo on it, and the logo is also printed on a package of tissues on his desk. Al-Jazeera is Souag’s life. He seems modest at first, when asked whether his TV news machine has political power and whether it can topple regimes.

The question amuses him. “Lotfi Hajji is not some kind of Superman who can cover all of Tunisia for us by himself!” But how much influence did the station have on the revolt in Tunisia? Souag dodges the question to a certain degree. “Academics should look into that. We are not politicians. And we don’t wish to take any sides. Instead, our goal is diligent reporting — and I believe that’s enough.”

Multiple Perspectives

Souag is a native Algerian and an intellectual. He once taught literature at university, and later worked for NBC and the BBC. He is intimately familiar with the standards Western critics apply to evaluate his network, and he believes that Al-Jazeera meets those standards. “We believe in the right of citizens to information, and we show our audience what freedom of opinion means every day,” he says. “Sometimes we are accused of not being balanced. But when we ask for evidence (of the alleged bias), we don’t get much in response. After all, we are constantly showing various perspectives and standpoints.”

Al-Jazeera has been accused of everything since it was founded in 1996. And for every claim that is targeted at the station, there is invariably someone else who accuses it of the exact opposite. Some people say it is too tolerant of Islamists, while others claim it treats them unfairly. Some say it allows itself to be influenced by Arab autocrats, while others accuse it of not respecting them. Some say it only portrays the side of Arab victims, while others disagree completely, saying that it talks with Israelis far too much. Al-Jazeera seems to be the network that no one likes but everyone watches.

Does Al-Jazeera really take its motto (“the one opinion — and the other”) seriously? It is unquestionably true that, unlike the state-controlled media in the Arab world, where censorship is standard, Al-Jazeera does not ignore other opinions. But it’s also clear that the network has obvious biases.

For example, the network’s sympathy for the protesters was clear in its reporting on the revolution in Tunisia and the current uprising in Egypt. When regime supporters attacked regime opponents in Cairo on Thursday of last week, a message periodically appeared at the bottom of the Al-Jazeera screen stating that the demonstrators had asked the army for “protection against a massacre.”

But those who criticize Al-Jazeera for being too emotional and biased often forget that Western media are not immune from such things either: At about the same time Souag was talking, CNN correspondent Ben Wedeman sent out a Twitter message that a “government-sanctioned mass lynch” was “underway” in Tahrir Square.

‘Special Responsibility’

People from more than 60 countries work at Al-Jazeera in Doha. “We have men and women, people on the right and the left, Islamists, pan-Arabists and nationalists,” says Souag. He is proud of this diversity. Perhaps it is also a means of protection against too much partisanship at the network.

At Al-Jazeera the management decrees how the network is to refer to specific crises, as an “uprising,” “intifada,” “revolt” or “revolution.” The current policy for the events in Egypt is to call them “popular protests”. Of course this is discussed, says the news chief, “but then everyone drinks coffee together.” He calls this the “spirit of Al-Jazeera.”

watch-live

Whether the network will have an impact on the Egyptian revolts similar to that in Tunisia is hard to say. It is clear, however, that as long as it assigns top priority to the protests, the Arab world as a whole will remain caught up in the excitement. Al-Jazeera shows Arabs what other Arabs are saying, without translation, without filters, unabbreviated and raw.

People throw themselves at the Al-Jazeera cameras and weep uncontrollably, curse, scream and beg their Arab brothers and sisters for help. “The fact that we have influence isn’t a problem,” Souag says, nonchalantly. “It just means that we have a special responsibility.”

See Related: Egypt Archive

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New U.S. military doctrine: Military must focus beyond Iraq and Afghanistan

By Thom Shanker
The New York Times

WASHINGTON – As the military approaches the 10th anniversary of combat since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 — the longest era of non-stop warfare in the nation’s history — the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff believes the United States has reached “a strategic inflection point.”

What that means, according to the chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, is that the military now must revise how it goes about defending America and its interests. Admiral Mullen will make that official on Tuesday with the release of a new national military strategy.

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The 21-page document is the first top-to-bottom rewrite of national military strategy in seven years – reflecting an official assessment that the Pentagon must officially adjust its focus beyond Afghanistan and Iraq to prepare for a broad range of future risks.

Troops may be out of Iraq by the end of this year. The “surge” to Afghanistan has peaked, with a transition of security duties to Afghans set for 2014.

But the American military will not be given any pause, the strategy says. So it will have to recover from 10 years of war and rebuild itself – but in stride, and in an era of tight budgets – as it seeks to defend against another terrorist strike and readies for potential threats in Asia and elsewhere in the Middle East, according to the strategy document.

The risks of new instability caused by demographic trends and natural resource shortages are looming, as well, in a world that the strategy describes as “multi-nodal” – a term used to define an era of shifting alliances and emerging powers instead of rigid opposing blocs that defined the cold war.

Competition in outer space and cyberspace will accelerate, according to the document.

In response, the new military strategy sets four national military objectives: countering violent extremism, deterring and defeating aggression, strengthening international and regional security arrangements, and preparing the future military.

Although the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff must, by law, review the national military strategy every two years, the document has not been revised since 2004. The new document makes clear that so much has changed that a new strategy was required.

Although strategy documents exist in an intellectual world far from the chaos of the battlefield, they nonetheless serve an important purpose within the Defense Department by defining goals, focusing the attention of the military bureaucracy and defining how financial resources should be spent.

While not ignoring threats in regions that currently are the focus of the military, “the nation’s strategic priorities and interests will increasingly emanate from the Asia-Pacific region,” the new strategy document states.

Tight budgets preclude any dramatic increase in American forces for deployment in Asia and across the Pacific, so the military will have to develop new ways to make its current force do more – perhaps by increasing its partnerships in the region, by conducting more training exercises with countries there or by rotating forces through nations where today there is no American military presence.

“While the strength of our military will continue to underpin national security, we must continuously adapt our approaches to how we exercise power,” the strategy document states.

The strategy calls for the American military to “serve in an enabling capacity to help other nations achieve security goals that can advance common interests.” And it says for the first time that the military also must act as “a convener.”

In defining that new term, the strategy states, “Our relationships, values and military capabilities provide us, often uniquely, with the ability to bring others together to help deepen security ties between them and cooperatively address common security challenges.”

And while the United States military is prepared to guarantee security with partners and allies, it also must be ready to do it “alone if necessary – to deter and defeat acts of aggression.”

The strategy acknowledges that the American military has focused on counterinsurgency and low-intensity conflict over the past decade, allowing an important range of skills for high-end combat to atrophy.

Therefore, it calls for the armed services to “provide the full range of capabilities necessary to fulfill this strategy.”
Even with downward pressures on the Pentagon budget, the strategy stresses the importance of taking care of those in uniform and their families. It calls “to safeguard service members’ pay and benefits, provide family support and care for our wounded warriors.”

And it reminds the military to remain “an apolitical institution.”

See Related: World Politics Archive

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Arizona legislators consider birthright citizenship bill ‘to correct monumental misapplicatiion of the 14th Amendment’

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CNN

The Arizona Senate Judiciary Committee began holding hearings Monday afternoon on proposals to end birthright citizenship under the 14th Amendment for U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants.

Lawmakers in a total of 40 states are considering similar proposals “to correct the monumental misapplication of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” according to the legislators’ new group, State Legislators for Legal Immigration.

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was ratified in the wake of the Civil War, provides in part that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” The provision has the effect of granting “birthright” citizenship to anyone born in the United States, even if both of the child’s parents are in the country illegally.

The Arizona proposals, introduced by Republicans two weeks ago and quickly opposed by Democrats, are the latest measures following new Arizona laws that seek to crack down on illegal immigration but have landed up in court.

Sponsors of this latest legislation have said they hope the bills, if one becomes law, also will provoke a lawsuit so that the U.S. Supreme Court can re-examine the meaning of the 14th Amendment’s citizenship clause.

Mike Philipsen, spokesman for the state senate’s Republican majority, which holds 21 of the chamber’s 30 seats, said the judiciary committee is scheduled to hear two hours of testimony from supporters and opponents of two bills seeking to end birthright citizenship for babies born on U.S. soil to illegal immigrants.

Under the proposals, Arizona would create a special class of birth certificates for children who are born to parents who can’t prove their citizenship.

The committee is chaired by the bills’ Senate sponsor, Ron Gould, said Philipsen.

“These folks are essentially gaming the system to put themselves ahead of the line,” Gould told CNN, referring to illegal immigrants giving birth to children in the United States as a way for their children to have citizenship.

A similar measure is sponsored in the House by Rep. John Kavanagh, whose chamber has yet to schedule a hearing, Philipsen said.

“Obviously with this issue, there’s going to be a lot of debate on it, there’s going to be a lot of people speaking on it,” Philipsen said of Monday’s scheduled two-hour hearing.

If approved, the legislation would apply only to children born after the law went into effect or after a ruling from the expected court action, Kavanagh said.

Advocates of the Arizona proposals and others like them being planned in several states argue how during an 1866 Congressional debate, U.S. Rep. John Bingham of Ohio, considered one of the fathers of the 14th Amendment, said “…every human being born within the jurisdiction of the United States of parents not owing allegiance to any foreign sovereignty is, in the language of your Constitution itself, a natural born citizen….”

Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, a Republican who’s the founder of the State Legislators for Legal Immigration, said that Bingham’s comment is the basis for his group’s efforts in several states to form a compact defining the 14th Amendment. They argue that the reference to “parents not owing allegiance to any foreign sovereignty” means the 14th Amendment was not intended to apply to children born of citizens from other countries.

“It’s very important for those who are in elected office to uphold and defend the Constitution and to ensure the Constitution is applied correctly and the laws of our nation are the result of the correct application,” Metcalfe told CNN. “That is the only way we’re going to protect American lives, liberties, and property from the illegal alien invasion that’s occurring on our soil.”

By noon Monday, several dozen members of Border Action Network and other community organizations gathered outside the Arizona Senate in Phoenix to participate in what was supposed to be a “one-thousand baby chain” protesting the Senate hearing, which began at 2 p.m. (4 p.m. ET).

The hearing ended later Monday afternoon without the committee taking any action on the legislation.

“Our legislators need to stop these incredibly expensive, ‘quick-fix’ approaches to a broken immigration system,” Jennifer Allen, executive director of Border Action Network, said in a statement. “We need legislators with political spine to say that we need to protect all children, protect our Constitution and fix our immigration system.”

Arizona Senate Minority Leader David Schapira, a Democrat, called the proposal legislation “a waste of time” and unconstitutional. He told CNN the proposed legislation would also seek to create an interstate compact between Arizona and other willing states that would recognize the proposed new class of birth certificates for non-citizens.

“Arizona’s fiscal situation is among the worst, if not the worst, in this country. I can’t believe we’re wasting our time on this,” Schapira said.

Given how sponsors ultimately seek a lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court, Schapira said: “It’s really misplaced priorities.”

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said the U.S. Supreme Court is unlikely to take up such a case.

“This is not something that the Supreme Court is going to revisit,” Toobin said. “It’s not like it’s been controversial for 150 years.

“This is really a frivolous endeavor,” he said. “The law is so clear on this issue. The language of the 14th Amendment says all persons born in the United States are citizens. It doesn’t matter who your parents are or if they’re in this country legally or illegally.

“This group is better off trying to amend the Constitution than to pursue this law, which in my opinion is unconstitutional,” Toobin said.

CNN’s Casey Wian contributed to this report.

See Related: Arizona Immigration Law Archive

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Muslims to be U.S. Congressional Hearings’ main focus

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Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York,
chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee

By Laurie Goodstein
The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The new chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee said Monday that he planned to call mostly Muslim and Arab witnesses to testify in hearings next month on the threat of homegrown Islamic terrorism.

Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York, said he would rely on Muslims to make his case that American Muslim leaders have failed to cooperate with law enforcement officials in the effort to disrupt terrorist plots — a claim that was rebutted in recent reports by counterterrorism experts and in a forum on Capitol Hill on Monday.

“I believe it will have more of an impact on the American people if they see people who are of the Muslim faith and Arab descent testifying,” Mr. King said.

The hearings, which Mr. King said would start the week of March 7, have provoked an uproar from both the left and the right. The left has accused Mr. King of embarking on a witch hunt. The right has accused him of capitulation for calling Muslims like Representative Keith Ellison, Democrat of Minnesota, to testify while denying a platform to popular critics of Islamic extremism like Steven Emerson, Frank Gaffney, Daniel Pipes and Robert Spencer.

As the hearings approach, the reaction from Muslim groups — initially outraged — has evolved into efforts to get Mr. King to enlarge the scope of the hearings beyond Muslims. They want to use the forum to reinforce the notion that the potential for terrorist violence among American Muslims is very marginal and very isolated.

“Our heads aren’t in the sand,” Alejandro J. Beutel, the government and policy analyst for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a national advocacy group, said at a forum his group sponsored on Monday on Capitol Hill. “The threat clearly exists, but I also want to put it in perspective. The threat exists, but it is not a pandemic.”

Fifty-one Muslim, civil rights and interfaith groups sent a letter last week to Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, and the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, protesting Mr. King’s hearings as modern-day McCarthyism. They said that if Congress was going to investigate violent extremism, it should investigate extremists of all kinds and not just Muslims.

“Singling out a group of Americans for government scrutiny based on their faith is divisive and wrong,” said the letter, which was led by Muslim Advocates, a legal and policy organization in San Francisco, and was signed by non-Muslim groups including Amnesty International USA, the Interfaith Alliance and the Japanese American Citizens League.

Mr. Ellison said that while he would participate, “I’m going to make it clear that I challenge the premise of the hearings.

“If you put every single Muslim in the U.S. in jail, it wouldn’t have stopped Jared Loughner,” Mr. Ellison said, referring to the man accused of opening fire on an Arizona congresswoman and her constituents. “It wouldn’t have stopped the young man who killed his classmates at Virginia Tech. It wouldn’t have stopped the bombing in Oklahoma City or the man who killed a guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington.”

But Mr. King dismissed this line of criticism, saying: “I totally reject that. That, to me, is political correctness at its worst. If we included these other violent events in the hearings, we’d be sending the false signal that we think there’s a security threat equivalency between Al Qaeda and the neo-Nazi movement, or Al Qaeda and gun groups. There is none.”

Mr. King added, “I’m not going to dilute the hearings by including other extremists.”

In fact, he said he planned to hold three or four more hearings this year on topics like the radicalization of Muslims in prisons and Saudi financing for American mosques.

He said the only witness he had settled on for certain of the three he would call in the first hearing was Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, a doctor from Arizona and an American military veteran who has little following among Muslims but has become a favorite of conservatives for his portrayal of American Muslim leaders as radical Islamists.

Mr. King said he had changed his mind about summoning as a witness Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born feminist critic of Islam who became a member of Parliament in the Netherlands and then fled because of threats on her life.

The hearings, Mr. King said, would be organized into panels of witnesses, one of them to include members of Congress. He said Mr. Ellison would serve as a witness on that panel. He said he did not expect to call any of the local law enforcement or counterintelligence experts who he said had told him repeatedly that noncooperation by American Muslims is a “significant issue.” He says they will say these things privately, but not in public.

Some law enforcement experts have challenged Mr. King’s portrayal of widespread noncooperation. At the forum Monday, Sheriff Leroy Baca of Los Angeles County said he had cultivated extensive relationships with Muslim leaders throughout his county. He said that as a member of the Major City Chiefs Association, the Major County Sheriffs Association and the National Sheriffs Association, he had not heard complaints about noncooperation from Muslims.

Two other experts at the forum, Peter Bergen, director of the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation, and Roger Cressey, former director for transnational threats at the National Security Council, said the really sophisticated terrorists stop traveling and stop communicating in order to avoid detection. When that happens, they said, law enforcement must rely almost entirely on tips from the Muslim community to catch them.

A report issued last week by an independent research group on national security found that 48 of the 120 Muslims suspected of plotting domestic terrorist attacks since Sept. 11, 2001, were turned in by fellow Muslims, including parents, mosque members and even a Facebook friend. The report was issued by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, which is affiliated with Duke and the University of North Carolina.

The report said, “In some communities, Muslim-Americans have been so concerned about extremists in their midst that they have turned in people who turned out to be undercover informants.”

See Related: World Politics Archive

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Did Google manager Wael Ghonim spark the Egypt revolt with a Facebook page?

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Haaretz

The young Google Inc. executive released after he was detained for protesting against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak says he was behind the Facebook page that helped spark what he called the revolution of the youth of the Internet two weeks ago.

Wael Ghonim, a marketing manager for the Internet company, has become a hero of anti-government protesters since he went missing on Jan. 27, two days after the demonstrations began.

“This is the revolution of the youth of the Internet and now the revolution of all Egyptians,” Ghonim said in a television interview where he wept as he described how he spent 12 days in detention blindfolded the entire time while his worried parents had no idea what had happened to him.

At least 297 people have been killed in the anti-government uprising which began two weeks ago, according to U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.

“The count is based on visits to seven hospitals in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez that included interviews with doctors and morgue inspections,” said the group’s Cairo researcher, Heba Morayef.

Egypt’s Health Ministry has not given a comprehensive death toll, though a ministry official said they are trying to compile one.

The revolt against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that erupted Jan. 25 brought days of fierce clashes. Protesters have clashed with police who fired live rounds, tear gas and rubber bullets and fought pitched street battles for two days with gangs of pro-Mubarak supporters who attacked their main demonstration site in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square.

The violence has spread to other parts of Egypt and the toll includes 65 deaths outside the capital Cairo.

Morayef said the count is preliminary and is expected to rise. She said a majority of deaths were caused by live fire and in most cases, doctors were reluctant to release names. She said she did not have a breakdown of how many of the dead were protesters.

See Related: Egypt Archive

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Waste Management Using Unregistered Lobbyists in San Francisco?

Waste Management Inc., (WMI) a Houston based Landfill giant, appears to be using unregistered lobbyists to influence the selection of San Francisco’s landfill contractor.

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Marcus Young of the real estate marketing firm Gauger & Associates

In reading the blogs The Sentinel came across the following article. The stink was generated by a San Francisco Budget Analyst report, that seems to be more a policy paper than a fiscal analysis. The Budget Analyst’s recommendations all relate to the process by which the City collects its waste, rather than providing more relevant and germane information regarding the fiscal strength of the winning bidder, which City Officials place at $130 million.

Being curious, The Sentinel did what all cynical, but interested journals should do and pulled up the City’s ethics page to peruse the lobbyist database. It appears the lobbyist who went to Matt Smith with the Budget Analyst report does not have an active registration with the City and County of SF.

Waste Management disclosures on the City’s ethic site show two firms registered to lobby on behalf of the company. According to my sources, both of those companies, Solem Associates, who reported approximately $25,000 in income from Waste Management Inc., and Platinum Advisors, who collected $60,000 in payments, no longer represent the company. Instead, based on the Weekly quote, Marcus Young, of the real estate marketing firm Gauger & Associates now claims the title.

Young, best known for his failed decade-long pursuit of a the Mirant power plant in the City’s Southeast sector neighborhood of Potrero Hill, has been reportedly seen exiting Supervisors’ offices in City Hall in the final days before the City’s Budget and Finance Committee meeting on Wednesday.

A call to Recology spokesperson, Adam Alberti, revealed that they were not aware of what role Marcus Young is playing in the effort, but that “it is clear that Waste Management has hired multiple consultants to deliberately mislead the public and the Board with regards to the merit of the contract before them.” He went on to state that “it is unfortunate, but an expected tactic employed by the waste behemoth across the globe.”

There seems to be some truth to Alberti’s claims as he pointed me to a recent $25 million award, for Waste’s defamatory practices against another smaller company in Texas, TDI. TDI’s CEO, Bob Gregory, had this to say about the award, “We hope that Waste Management’s board of directors will receive the jury’s apparent message concerning the acceptable limits of fair competitive practices.

One could wonder if their board agrees considering the recent activity in San Francisco and the fact that they, not surprisingly appealed the decision.

See Related: Waste Management Backpedals in San Francisco: Unregistered Lobbyist Suddenly Registers in S.F.

See Related: Ostrom Road landfill contract set for February 9 Hearing before Budget Committee – New deal will save ratepayers $130 million and reduce greenhouse gases

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Obama even with Huckabee and Romney – Rasmussen Poll

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By Elad Benari
IsraelNationalNews.com

A new poll whose results were published on Sunday shows that if the U.S. presidential elections were held today, it would be a very close race between the Democrats and the Republicans.

According to the poll by Rasmussen Reports, the two strongest candidates against President Barack Obama right now would be Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, but both of them would be essentially tied with Obama. Romney would receive 44 percent to Obama’s 42 percent, while Huckabee and the president would each receive 43 percent of the vote.

The poll looked at three other well-known potential candidates: Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. All three trail Obama, with Palin at 38 percent compared to Obama’s 49 percent, Gingrich at 39 percent compared to 47 percent, and Paul by at 35 percent compared to 44 percent for the president.

The poll looked at seven additional, lesser-known candidates, all of whom trailed by anywhere from 10 to 17 percentage points. The poll’s most significant finding is that regardless of the Republican candidate who will face off against Obama, the president earns between 42 and 49 percent of the votes.

Rasmussen Reports pointed out that should Obama’s job approval ratings improve from this point forward, his support will likely increase against all Republican candidates. If his job approval ratings fall, on the other hand, his numbers are likely to weaken against all potential candidates.

The report notes that “a great deal of caution must be taken in terms of interpreting individual results,” as at this point it is unclear who will seek the Republican nomination and who will ultimately be nominated.

The poll’s results suggest that the campaign is starting off in a fairly competitive environment. However, Rasmussen Reports cautions that much can change in the next year-and-a-half.

Potential Republican candidates visit Israel

Huckabee, whom the poll predicted would come in very close to Obama, visited Israel last week, and warned in the Knesset that Islamic fundamentalism could threaten not only Israel, but also the entire world.

“A threat upon Israel is a threat upon all those in the world who love peace and freedom… Radical Islamic jihadism is an anti-freedom threat,“ Huckabee said during his visit, and added that “Good Israeli-U.S. relations are not just an option. They are rather a necessity for both sides, and an obligation upon all of us in the American government.”

Huckabee also spoke against freezing Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria. “I don’t see why bedrooms for their children built by Jews on a hilltop in Samaria pose a threat to world peace,” he said. “It’s the lack of construction that is irrational, not the opposite… Those who aim their rifles at Jewish babies are irrational; the danger is not the weapons, but the hatred behind the weapons.”

Huckabee also toured Judea and Samaria during his visit. He told Israel National News TV that while he supports establishing a Palestinian state, he does not support doing so on the Land of Israel.

Romney also visited Israel last month and met with Prime Minister Netanyahu. The two discussed issues such as the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority as well as the dangers and challenges of the Iranian nuclear program.

This week, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who has also mulled running for the Republican nomination, is visiting Israel. Barbour is holding meetings with senior leaders in Israel, including Netanyahu, and will be making a major address at the Herzliya Conference on Wednesday.

See Related: Barack Obama Presidency Archive

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