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Betting on Egypt democracy is Israel’s only choice

Nobody can be certain that cold peace between Israel and Egypt will survive Mubarak’s fall and the emergence of a new political system

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By Carlo Strenger
Haaretz

For decades Israel’s overall strategy was based on two conflicting assumptions. One is that Israel’s strategic position depends on the survival of authoritarian regimes like those of Mubarak and Ben Ali. Common “wisdom” has been that the alternative to these dictatorships is Islamic fundamentalism, and this means endless, often armed conflict with Israel’s neighbors. The Iranian revolution of 1978 and the Algerian elections in the 1990s seem to indicate that repressive regimes that democratize indeed move towards Islamization.

There has also been another common wisdom – which Netanyahu has been identified with: there will be no peace in the Middle East, and Israel will know no security as long as there is no democracy in Arab countries. This theory is based on the rather strong evidence that developed democracies tend not to go to war with each other, because, once a strong middle class is established, war is contrary to the interests of the people.

The problem in Israel’s position is rather obvious: the support for corrupt regimes and the call for democracy mostly contradict each other, and this has not just been Israel’s problem, but also that of the U.S., which often supported autocratic regimes. It started with the cold war doctrine that assumed that the choice was between communist regimes and dictatorships more congenial to the U.S.

The U.S. meddled in Iranian politics from early on. After the election of Mohammed Mossadeq as prime minister in 1953, the U.S. was involved in toppling him and instating the Shah, who for decades ran a brutal regime based on persecution, torture and surveillance. The Iranian people never forgot the American involvement in instating and supporting the Shah, and it is doubtful that the Islamic republic would ever have come into being without the U.S. intervention in 1953.

What would it mean to bet on democratization rather than supporting autocrats because they seem more friendly to Israel or the West? The process of democratization is, more often than not, messy. But most of all, it cannot be done under the auspices of external powers. The U.S. has just had another painful example of how quixotic it is to try to impose democratic structures from the outside, both in Afghanistan and in Iraq.

Israel has made the same mistake in the past when it tried to meddle in the affairs of Lebanon, trying to support its Christian allies. The result was a quagmire of eighteen years that, among others, created Hezbollah – now one of Israel’s greatest problems. Similarly, Israel crushed all attempts to create viable political structures in the Palestinian territories during the 1970s and the 1980s, in the hope that it could suppress Palestinian quest for independence altogether. In its attempts to counteract the PLO, it was instrumental in the creation of Hamas – again now one of Israel’s greatest problems.

Of course Israel is apprehensive about what will happen to Egypt. Nobody can be certain that the cold peace between Israel and Egypt will survive the fall of Mubarak, and the emergence of a new political system. Nevertheless, experts like Scott Atran strongly doubt that the Muslim Brotherhood is as dominant as often assumed, and panicking is certainly not advised.

The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt should be taken as a historical opportunity to stop wavering between the support of tyrants and the belief that only democracy can bring stability, prosperity and peace to the Middle East in the long run. Anyone who truly believes in democracy and human rights cannot but rejoice for the people of Egypt: a repressive regime that will come to an end. As many commentators have pointed out, this uprising has not been controlled by any one party: It is an uprising of the people, in the interests of the people.

We can only hope that the people of Egypt will realize that it has been a tactic of many Arab regimes to divert attention from their misdoings by focusing on Israel, as if Israel were responsible for the problems of their societies and economies. Solving the many ailments of their society and economy will not be served by making anti-Israeli sentiment the center of the new economic, political and social order that they are striving for. Rather, they will have to embark on the long, painful process of building viable democratic institutions and to erase corruption.

For Israel, it is crucial not to use the events in Egypt to argue, as Moshe Arens has done in recent days, that Israel can only make peace with Arab dictators, because the Arab people always oppose peace with Israel. The Al Jazeera leaks have shown beyond any doubt that there is a Palestinian partner for peace. If Israel will show that it is capable of relating to the Palestinians from a position of mutuality and to truly respect their dignity and desire for self-determination, the Arab peoples around us may realize that the wellbeing of the whole area depends on moving from confrontation to cooperation, from tyranny to democracy.

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Rural poor paid to attack Mubarak opponents – Mubarak’s Hired Thugs

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Pro-Mubarak supporters are detained by anti-government demonstrators at a metro station
after being rounded up during clashes at Tahrir Square on Thursday

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By Volkhard Windfuhr and Daniel Steinvorth
Der Spiegel

CAIRO – In exchange for the equivalent of a few euros, poor seasonal workers have taken part in street fighting in Cairo on the side of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The thugs, who fight with iron bars, knives and clubs, have been recruited by privileged members of the regime, including party officials, security forces and rich business people with lucrative state contracts.

The bloody clashes in Cairo show that not all of Egypt’s 80 million people want to see President Hosni Mubarak overthrown or a new start heralded by fresh elections. Many are fiercely loyal to the ruling system and are ready to fight for it — with brutality. On Thursday afternoon, there were even reports on the Al Jazeera news channel that Mubarak supporters were storming the hotels of Cairo and hunting down journalists.

The confrontation between the opponents and supporters of the Mubarak regime first escalated on Wednesday, as both sides engaged in hours-long battles on Cairo’s central Tahrir Square and the adjoining side streets. Mubarak loyalists stormed the crowd, armed with knives, clubs and stones. Some, riding horses and camels, hit the demonstrators on the head with iron bars.

In Cairo’s working-class district, they organized a big demonstration, including a motorcade of cars and motorbikes. They shouted slogans such as “Mubarak, we kneel before you,” and “Yes to the president of peace.” Taking part were members of trade unions and associations, as well as employees of state-run companies, who were obviously told by their bosses to attend.

In the background, the movement is being controlled by businessmen with lucrative state contracts, public servants, security officers and party officials, who are worried by the uncertainty of recent days. They are all determined to ensure that as little as possible changes, regardless of who follows Mubarak. They are the supporters and representatives of the ruling National Democratic Party, which has 3 million members, who fear that they could lose power in free elections. They are members of the nouveau riche, who have gained huge fortunes and influence, largely through corruption and criminality, and who currently enjoy immunity.

The Poor Are Easy Prey

They have everything to lose — and are now depending on those who have nothing left to lose. The privileged members of the regime don’t want to get their hands dirty. Instead, they recruit their helpers from the rural and semi-rural regions, particularly from two provinces north of Cairo: Bahtim and Qalyub. The poor, who make up the majority of the population here, are easy prey. Many are distrustful of the demonstrators’ motives and fear that the movement is secretly pursuing other aims.

In every province, there are party offices. There, people, especially seasonal workers, are collected and offered a tiny sum of money to take part in the bloody battle to keep Mubarak in power. There is not much work on the land at this time of year. Terribly poor and illiterate, they set off to do their employers’ bidding for a paltry sum equivalent to around €10-€15 ($14-$20). They are cheap, they are desperate and they don’t ask questions. Thousands have taken part, though it is difficult to estimate the exact figure. According to eyewitnesses, around 4,000 people took part in the counter-demonstrations in Cairo and Alexandria on Wednesday.

Mubarak loyalists have resorted to perfidious measures to sabotage the protests by the opponents of the regime and to put on a show for international observers. Thousands of prisons, including detention centers in the desert, were opened in recent days. At total of 14,000 inmates, including murderers and other serious criminals, were suddenly set free. They were released on the understanding that they would cause as much chaos as possible — effectively a license to plunder, murder and commit arson.

Between 4,000 and 5,000 of the inmates are thought to have now reached Cairo, while a few hundred have turned themselves in voluntarily. Many want to flee across Sinai to the Gaza Strip, in the hope that the radical Islamist group Hamas, which is in government there, will take them in. Hamas has so far not taken a position on the events in Egypt. However, it is assumed that they are not exactly sympathetic to Mubarak, because he has supported the Israeli-imposed blockade of the Gaza Strip. Hamas is also considered an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group officially banned in Egypt.

The opposition wants to demonstrate once again against the elderly Egyptian president on Friday. The planned march will converge on Cairo. And the members of the pro-Mubarak camp will also presumably be out in force — with bloody consequences.

Annett Meiritz contributed to this report.

See Related: Egypt Archive

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Crowds pack Tahrir Square as ‘Day of Departure’ begins

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

CAIRO — With signs of fracturing within Egypt’s ruling elite, hundreds of thousands of people packed Cairo’s central Tahrir Square on Friday, chanting slogans, bowing in prayer and waving Egyptian flags to press a largely peaceful campaign for the removal of President Hosni Mubarak.

As the uprising entered its 11th day, there was no sign of the violent Mubarak supporters who the protesters said were organized and dispatched by the Mubarak government over the last two days in an effort to capture the initiative. Lurking fears among the opposition that their movement may have lost momentum were banished by the sheer numbers of the protesters and their passion.

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Egyptians gathered to enter Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday morning
Photo By Peter Macdiarmid

Some carried baskets of bread, food and water for those who camped out in the central square overnight after days of running battles, urging the president to depart and seeking to maintain the momentum of their protests at one of the most decisive moments in Egypt since the 1952 revolution against the monarchy. “Leave, leave, leave,” protesters chanted.

Tens of thousands of jubilant protesters turned out in the port city of Alexandria, the site of bitter and deadly clashes in the last week.

Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League and a former foreign minister serving Mr. Mubarak, appeared among the crowds, seeming to align himself with the protest. Twice he sought to address the crowd, but both times he was drowned out by roars of approval at what seemed a tacit endorsement of their cause.

Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, appeared in the square — the first member of the ruling government elite to do so — but he seemed to be concerned mostly with reviewing the troops and did not seek to speak to the crowd, though he did chat with some protesters.

And Mohamed Rafah Tahtawy, the public spokesman for Al Azhar — the center of Sunni Muslim learning and Egypt’s highest, state-run religious authority — told reporters that he was resigning because “I am participating in the protests and I have issued statements that support the revolutionists as far as they go.”

The government had broadened its crackdown on Thursday, arresting journalists and human rights advocates across an edgy city, while offering more concessions in a bid to win support from a population growing frustrated with a devastated economy and scenes of chaos in the streets.

But, after a night of scattered clashes and bursts of gunfire, an uneasy calm gave way to what seemed jubilation on Friday as antigovernment protesters mustered for what they have called a “Friday of departure.” Television images showed thousands of protesters crowded beneath the palm trees of Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city on the Mediterranean coast, waving Egyptian flags and demanding Mr. Mubarak’s ouster.

Just a week ago, demonstrators poured from Cairo’s many mosques after noon prayers on the Muslim holy day to press their uprising, and there seemed to be a similar surge on Friday. But one big difference was that last week the protesters confronted the police at the start of a day of violence and looting. Since then, though, the uniformed police force has largely disappeared from the streets and the protesters have clashed with their pro-Mubarak adversaries.

On Friday, there were no immediate signs of the pro-Mubarak camp.

On one approach to Tahrir Square on Friday, two orderly lines of protesters stretched back hundreds of yards on the Kasr al-Nil bridge, their progress slowed by elite paratroops who threw razor wire across the bridge and searched demonstrators as they arrived — apparently a new attempt by the military to assert some control.

On Thursday, the authorities said that neither Mr. Mubarak nor his son Gamal, long seen as a contender for power, would run for president. They also offered dialogue with the banned Muslim Brotherhood, a gesture almost unthinkable weeks ago.

For its part, the Brotherhood insisted on Friday that it had no ambitions to field presidential candidates if those talks took place. But, speaking to reporters in Tahrir Square, Mohammed el-Beltagui, a leading member of the outlawed group, said that if Mr. Mubarak left, the Brotherhood — the most organized opposition in the country — would not present a candidate for election.

“It is not a retreat,” Mr. Beltagui said. “It is to take away the scare tactics that Hosni Mubarak uses to deceive the people here and abroad that he should stay in power.” A close ally of the United States, Mr. Mubarak has cast himself for years as a bulwark against Islamic extremism.

The Brotherhood has assumed an increasingly prominent role in the uprising, but its disavowal of long-term political ambitions seemed to contradict an assertion on Friday from Iran that Egypt was in the throes of an Islamic revolution similar to the tumult that ended the rule of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in Tehran in 1979.

“The awakening of the Islamic Egyptian people is an Islamic liberation movement, and I, in the name of the Iranian government, salute the Egyptian people and the Tunisian people,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, said at Friday prayers in Tehran, which were broadcast on television, Reuters reported.

On a larger scale than on previous days, thousands of people in Tahrir Square sank to their knees at noon as loudspeakers amplified the sound of prayers filling the air. But those in the square reflected a cross-section of society, not just members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The minute the prayers were over, the square erupted in slogans of defiance, urging Mr. Mubarak to go.

Many said their determination was blending with a fear that if they lost, the protesters and their organizers would bear the brunt of a withering crackdown.

“If we can’t bring this to an end, we’re going to all be in the slammer by June,” said Murad Mohsen, a doctor treating the wounded at a makeshift clinic near barricades, where thousands fought off droves of government supporters with rocks and firebombs.

On Friday, Mohamed ElBaradei, who has been authorized by the protesters to negotiate with the authorities, said that, despite the authorities’ offers of negotiation, no one from government had contacted him or any other opposition leader.

At a news conference at his home in Giza, close to the pyramids, Mr. ElBaradei said Mr. Mubarak’s adversaries had already begun drawing up a constitution and were seeking the creation of a council of two to five members — including a representative from the powerful military — to oversee reform over a one year period. It was the first public suggestion of a formal proposal for transition.

“The earlier he goes with dignity the better it will be for everybody,” Mr. ElBaradei said, referring to Mr. Mubarak.

He said the young people propelling the uprising were not interested in retribution. “The Egyptian people are not a bloodthirsty people,” he said. The conciliatory tone of his remarks contrasted with the demands of some protesters for Mr. Mubarak’s execution.

“We need to move the current dictatorship and all of its apparatus to a democracy,” he said.

Mr. ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a Nobel laureate, took issue sharply with remarks by Mr. Mubarak in an interview with ABC News on Thursday when he said that he was fed up with ruling but that his precipitate departure would cause chaos.

“We as a people are fed up as well, it is not only him,” Mr. ElBaradei said. “The idea that there would be chaos is symptomatic of a dictatorship. He thinks if he leaves power the whole country will fall apart.”

From festive scenes of just days ago, the revolt on Thursday had become more martial, as exhausted men defended what they described as the perimeter of a free Egypt around Tahrir Square. Their demands have grown more forceful and the uprising more radical. After pitched clashes of two days that left at least seven dead and hundreds wounded, banners in Tahrir Square declared Mr. Mubarak “a war criminal,” and several in the crowd said that the president should be executed. Major television networks were largely unable to broadcast from the square on Thursday.

On Friday, the mood seemed to have swung back to an atmosphere of celebration.

On Thursday, the United States joined a chorus of criticism, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton saying, “We condemn in the strongest terms attacks on peaceful demonstrators, human rights activists, foreigners and diplomats.”

The government’s strategy seems motivated at turning broader opinion in the country against the protests and perhaps wearing down the demonstrators themselves, some of whom seemed exhausted by the clashes. Vice President Omar Suleiman, appointed Saturday to a position that Mr. Mubarak had until then refused to fill, appealed to Egypt’s sense of decency in allowing Mr. Mubarak to serve out his term, and he chronicled the mounting losses that, he said, the uprising had inflicted on a crippled Egyptian economy.

“End your sit-in,” he said. “Your demands have been answered.”

In interviews and statements, the government has increasingly spread an image that foreigners were inciting the uprising, a refrain echoed in the streets. The suggestions are part of a days-long Egyptian media campaign that has portrayed the protesters as troublemakers and ignored the scope of an uprising with diffuse goals and leadership.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said it had 100 reports of attacks on journalists. Al Jazeera, the influential Arabic channel, said government supporters stormed the Hilton Hotel in Cairo, searching for journalists, and two of its reporters were attacked. A Greek journalist was stabbed with a screwdriver and others were beaten and harassed.

Police also raided the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, a headquarters for many of the international human rights organizations working in Egypt. The human rights workers were told to lie on the floor and the chips were removed from the telephones, someone present in the building said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

David D. Kirkpatrick reported from Cairo, and Alan Cowell from Paris. Liam Stack, Kareem Fahim and Mona El-Naggar contributed reporting from Cairo.

See Related: Egypt Archive

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Murphy Brown comeback? – On Scene with Bill Wilson

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Castro Theatre
Photo By Bill Wilson © 2011

BY BILL WILSON
Sentinel Photojournalist
Bill Wilson © 2010

“If Sarah Palin runs for President I’m going to ask CBS to bring back Murphy Brown” declared creator Diane English much to the delight of the crowd at the Castro Theatre. “It will take about six episodes.”

The statement came during an appearance with Candace Bergen as part of the 10th Annual SF Comedy Sketchfest tribute to Murphy Brown. Originally Connie Chung was scheduled to interview the two, but because of the snow there were no flights out of New York. So it was agreed that Diane would question Candace, but of course it turned into reminisces between friends.

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Candace Bergen signing autographs at the Castro Theatre (note photo fan is holding on the right)
Photo By Bill Wilson © 2011

Diane had been asked to bring one episode to show before the interview and the one she picked was the episode where Murphy Brown gives birth. She said she picked it because it was the last episode she was involved in before she left the show. (She would later come back for the last seasons) It was toward the end of the Q and A session that she revealed the larger impact of that episode.

She had mentioned that there was a three week interval between taping the show and its air date which made it particularly difficult for writer dealing with topical humor and events. This particular episode aired on May 18. She said that on May 19 she was planning a relaxing day and was in her car going to visit her horse when she got a call from her assistant saying that she might want to come back to the office because the phones were ringing off the hook.

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Candace looking at the photo (from previous shot) before signing it
Photo By Bill Wilson © 2011

In a speech here in San Francisco at the Commonwealth Club the then Vice Dan Quayle had berated Murphy Brown saying, “We must be unequivocal about this. It doesn’t help matters when prime time TV has Murphy Brown — a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid, professional woman — mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another ‘life style choice’.” (excerpts from remarks prepared for delivery by Vice President Dan Quayle before the Commonwealth Club of California, as transcribed by News Transcripts Inc.)The opening salvo of the “culture wars” had been fired and Murphy Brown was the target.

Candace remarked that she had gone out that morning and seen the New York Post headline “Quayle to Murphy: You Slut!”, but was more amazed to find a large story about it on the front page of the New York Times – above the fold!

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Diane English and Candace Bergen
Photo By Bill Wilson © 2011

Candace explained that in the days before Murphy Brown movie and theatre actors didn’t do TV because it was considered such a step down. When she was originally given the script to read she had just put it aside. When her agent said that she would have to give an answer Candace took the script on a flight to New York to read. She called her agent from the plane and said she wanted to do the part. Diane said that Candace hadn’t even been on their list of people to play Murphy because they were so sure she wouldn’t do it.

See Related: Television Archive

See Related: ON SCENE WITH BILL WILSON ARCHIVE

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BILL WILSON
Sentinel Photojournalist
Bill Wilson is a San Francisco-based veteran photojournalist. Bill embraced photojournalism at the age of eight. In recent years, his photos capture historic record of the San Francisco LGBT community in the Bay Area Reporter (BAR), The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Francisco Examiner, SFist, SFAppeal. Bill has contributed to the Sentinel for the past six years. Email Bill Wilson at wfwilson@sbcglobal.net.

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America’s most miserable cities – Eight California cities make Forbes list

California has never looked less golden

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By Kurt Badenhausen
Forbes

Arnold Schwarzenegger was sworn in as the governor of California at the end of 2003 amid a wave of optimism that his independent thinking and fresh ideas would revive a state stumbling after the recall of Gov. Gray Davis.

The good vibes are a distant memory: The Governator exited office last month with the state facing a crippling checklist of problems including massive budget deficits, high unemployment, plunging home prices, rampant crime and sky-high taxes. Schwarzenegger’s approval ratings hit 22% last year, a record low for any sitting California governor.

California’s troubles helped it land eight of the 20 spots on our annual list of America’s Most Miserable Cities, with Stockton ranking first for the second time in three years.

Located in the state’s Central Valley, Stockton has been ravaged by the housing bust. Median home prices in the city tripled between 1998 and 2005, when they peaked at $431,000. Now they are back to where they started, as the median price is forecast to be $142,000 this year, according to research firm Economy.com, a decline of 67% from 2005. Foreclosure filings affected 6.9% of homes last year in the Stockton area, the seventh-highest rate in the nation, according to online foreclosure marketplace RealtyTrac.

Stockton’s violent crime and unemployment rates also rank among the 10 worst in the country, although violent crime was down 10% in the latest figures from the FBI. Jobless rates are expected to decline or stay flat in most U.S. metro areas in 2011, but in Stockton, unemployment is projected to rise to 18.1% in 2011 after averaging 17.2% in 2010, according to Economy.com.

“Stockton has issues that it needs to address, but an article like this is the equivalent of bayoneting the wounded,” says Bob Deis, Stockton city manager. “I find it unfair, and it does everybody a disservice. The people of Stockton are warm. The sense of community is fantastic. You have to come here and talk to leaders. The data is the data, but there is a richer story here.”

There are many ways to gauge misery. The most famous is the Misery Index developed by economist Arthur Okun, which adds unemployment and inflation rates together. Okun’s index shows the U.S. is still is in the dumps despite the recent gains in the economy: It averaged 11.3 in 2010 (blame a 9.6% unemployment rate and not inflation), the highest annual rate since 1984.

Our list of America’s Most Miserable Cities goes a step further: We consider a total of 10 factors, things that people gripe about around the water cooler every day. Most are serious issues, including unemployment, crime and taxes. A few we factor in are not as critical, but still elevate people’s blood pressure, like the weather, commute times and how the local sports team is doing.

One of the biggest issues causing Americans angst the past four years is the value of their homes. To account for that we tweaked the methodology for this year’s list and considered foreclosure rates and the change in home prices over the past three years. Click here for a more detailed rundown of our methodology.

Florida and California have ample sunshine in common, but also massive housing problems that have millions of residents stuck with underwater mortgages. The two states are home to 16 of the top 20 metros in terms of home foreclosure rates in 2010. The metro area with the most foreclosure filings (171,704) and fifth-highest rate (7.1%) last year is Miami, which ranks No. 2 on our list of Most Miserable Cities.

The good weather and lack of a state income tax are the only things that kept Miami out of the top spot. In addition to housing problems (prices are down 50% over three years), corruption is off the charts, with 404 government officials convicted of crimes this decade in South Florida. Factor in violent crime rates among the worst in the country and long commutes, and it’s easy to understand why Miami has steadily moved up our list, from No. 9 in 2009 to No. 6 last year to the runner-up spot this year.

California cities take the next three spots: Merced (No. 3), Modesto (No. 4) and Sacramento (No. 5). Each has struggled with declining home prices, high unemployment and high crime rates, in addition to the problems all Californians face, like high sales and income taxes and service cuts to help close massive budget shortfalls.

The Golden State has never looked less golden. “If I even mention California, they throw me out of the office,” says Ron Pollina, president of site selection firm Pollina Corporate Real Estate. “Every company hates California.”

Last year’s most miserable city, Cleveland, fell back to No. 10 this year despite the stomach punch delivered by LeBron James when he announced his exit from Cleveland on national television last summer. Cleveland’s unemployment rate rose slightly in 2010 to an average of 9.3%, but the city’s unemployment rank improved relative to other cities, thanks to soaring job losses across the U.S. Cleveland benefited from a housing market that never overheated and therefore hasn’t crashed as much as many other metros. Yet Cleveland was the only city to rank in the bottom half of each of the 10 categories we considered.

Two of the 10 largest metro areas make the list. Chicago ranks seventh on the strength of its long commutes (30.7 minutes on average–eighth-worst in the U.S.) and high sales tax (9.75%—tied for the highest). The Windy City also ranks in the bottom quartile on weather, crime, foreclosures and home price trends.

President Obama’s (relatively) new home also makes the cut at No. 16. Washington, D.C., has one of the healthiest economies, but problems abound. Traffic is a nightmare, with commute times averaging 33.4 minutes–only New York is worse. Income tax rates are among the highest in the country and home prices are down 27% over three years.

And it does not get much more miserable than the sports scene in Washington. Beltway fans should be grateful for the NHL’s Capitals, their only major pro team to finish out of the basement in the last two seasons. The Nationals (MLB), Redskins (NFL) and Wizards (NBA) have all finished in last place in their respective divisions the past two years.

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White House, Egypt discuss proposal for Murbarak to resign immediately – Suleiman would head government – Muslim Brotherhood would be invited into transitional government

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By Helene Cooper and Mark Landler
The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is discussing with Egyptian officials a proposal for President Hosni Mubarak to resign immediately, turning over power to a transitional government headed by Vice President Omar Suleiman with the support of the Egyptian military, administration officials and Arab diplomats said Thursday.

Even though Mr. Mubarak has balked, so far, at leaving now, officials from both governments are continuing talks about a plan in which Mr. Suleiman, backed by Lt. Gen. Sami Enan, chief of the Egyptian armed forces, and Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, the defense minister, would immediately begin a process of constitutional reform.

The proposal also calls for the transitional government to invite members from a broad range of opposition groups, including the banned Muslim Brotherhood, to begin work to open up the country’s electoral system in an effort to bring about free and fair elections in September, the officials said.

Senior administration officials said that the proposal was one of several options under discussion with high-level Egyptian officials around Mr. Mubarak in an effort to persuade the president to step down now.

They cautioned that the outcome depended on several factors, not least Egypt’s own constitutional protocols and the mood of the protesters on the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities.

Some officials said there was not yet any indication that either Mr. Suleiman or the Egyptian military was willing to abandon Mr. Mubarak.

Even as the Obama administration is coalescing around a Mubarak-must-go-now posture in private conversations with Egyptian officials, Mr. Mubarak himself remains determined to stay until the election in September, American and Egyptian officials said. His backers forcibly pushed back on Thursday against what they viewed as American interference in Egypt’s internal affairs.

“What they’re asking cannot be done,” one senior Egyptian official said, citing clauses in the Egyptian Constitution that bar the vice president from assuming power. Under the Constitution, the speaker of Parliament would succeed the president. “That’s my technical answer,” the official added. “My political answer is they should mind their own business.”

Mr. Mubarak’s insistence on staying will again be tested by large street protests on Friday, which the demonstrators are calling his “day of departure,” when they plan to march on the presidential palace. The military’s pledge not to fire on the Egyptian people will be tested as well.

The discussions about finding a way out of the crisis in Cairo take place as new questions are being raised about whether American intelligence agencies, after the collapse of the Tunisian government, adequately warned the White House and top lawmakers about the prospects of an uprising in Egypt.

During a Senate hearing on Thursday, both Democrats and Republicans pressed a senior Central Intelligence Agency official about when the C.I.A. and other agencies notified President Obama of the looming crisis, and whether intelligence officers even monitored social networking sites and Internet forums to gauge popular sentiment in Egypt.

“At some point it had to have been obvious that there was going to be a huge demonstration,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who is chairwoman of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence.

She said that intelligence agencies never sent a notice to her committee about the growing uprising in Egypt, as is customary in the case of significant global events.

Stephanie O’Sullivan, the C.I.A. official, responded that the agency had been tracking instability in Egypt for some time and had concluded that the government in Cairo was in an “untenable” situation. But, Ms. O’Sullivan said, “we didn’t know what the triggering mechanism would be.”

Because of the fervor now unleashed in Egypt, one Obama administration official said, Mr. Mubarak’s close aides expressed concern that they were not convinced that Mr. Mubarak’s resignation would satisfy the protesters.

In an interview with Christiane Amanpour of ABC News, Mr. Mubarak said that he was “fed up” with being president but that he could not step down for fear of sowing chaos in the country.

“The worry on Mubarak’s part is that if he says yes to this, there will be more demands,” said Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. “And since he’s not dealing with a legal entity, but a mob, how does he know there won’t be more demands tomorrow?”

A number of high-level American officials have reached out to the Egyptians in recent days. While administration officials would not offer details of the alternatives that were being discussed, they made it clear that their preferred outcome would be for Mr. Suleiman to take power as a transitional figure.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. spoke by phone to Mr. Suleiman on Thursday, the White House said in a statement, urging that “credible, inclusive negotiations begin immediately in order for Egypt to transition to a democratic government that addresses the aspirations of the Egyptian people.”

Mr. Biden’s phone call came after a mission by Mr. Obama’s private emissary, Frank G. Wisner, was abruptly ended when Mr. Mubarak, angry at Mr. Obama’s toughly worded speech on Tuesday night, declined to meet with the envoy a second time, officials said.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has made three calls since the weekend to Egypt’s powerful defense minister, Field Marshal Tantawi, who served on the coalition’s side in the Persian Gulf war of 1991.

Pentagon officials declined on Thursday to describe the specifics of the calls but indicated that Mr. Gates’s messages were focused on more than urging the Egyptian military to exercise restraint.

Officials familiar with the dialogue between the Obama administration and Cairo say that American officials have told their Egyptian counterparts that if they support another strongman to replace Mr. Mubarak — but without a specific plan and timetable for moving toward democratic elections — Congress might react by freezing military aid to Egypt.

On Thursday, the Senate passed a resolution calling on Mr. Mubarak to begin the transfer of power to an “inclusive, interim caretaker government.”

Anthony H. Cordesman, an expert on the Egyptian military at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that a transition government led by Mr. Suleiman and the military, with pledges to move toward democratic elections, was in his mind “the most probable case.” But he said the administration had to proceed with extreme caution.

“Everybody working this issue knows that this is a military extremely sensitive to outside pressure,” Mr. Cordesman said.

Even as the Obama administration has ratcheted up the pressure on Egypt, it has reaffirmed its support for other Arab allies facing popular unrest.

The White House released a statement saying that Mr. Obama called President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen on Wednesday to welcome Mr. Saleh’s recent “reform measures” — the Yemeni president promised not to run again in 2013.

And on Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called King Abdullah II of Jordan to say that the United States looked forward to working with his new cabinet — recently announced — and to underline the importance of the relationship between Jordan and the United States.

Philip J. Crowley, the State Department spokesman, declined to say whether Mrs. Clinton had enlisted King Abdullah in an effort to ease out Mr. Mubarak. But Mr. Crowley praised the king for responding to the unrest in Jordan.

“He’s doing his best to respond to this growing aspiration,” Mr. Crowley said. “And we appreciate the leadership he’s shown.”

Elisabeth Bumiller, Mark Mazzetti and Thom Shanker contributed reporting.

See Related: Egypt Archive

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Strange’s Last Night’s Top Ten Late-Night TV Jokes February 2 2011

STRANGE’S LAST NIGHT’S TOP TEN LATE-NIGHT TV JOKES FEBRUARY 2 2011

February Strangies: Kimmel 1, Leno 1

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Wednesday, February 2

10. Jimmy Kimmel: Apparently something is going on over in Egypt. Anderson Cooper and his crew got attacked by pro-government forces. He got hit in the head about 10 times, and I think he got kicked in the Mini Cooper too.

9. Jimmy Kimmel: New York has its own groundhog called Staten Island Chuck, but he’s like O-Town, a cheap ripoff. A few years ago Chuck bit New York Mayor Bloomberg, so this year the Mayor came prepared with gloves, and they just handed Chuck to him. [Clip showed the Mayor saying, "That was so much better than having to reach in and let the son of a bitch bite you."]

8. Jay Leno: The NFL may return to L.A. Two companies have invested $700 million to put their names on a stadium that hasn’t been built yet in a location that hasn’t been found yet for a team that doesn’t exist yet. I think that’s what they call Fantasy Football.

7. Conan O’Brien: While in Egypt, CNN’s Anderson Cooper was attacked and beaten, which raises 2 questions. Is it safe to send our media into these places? And how do we get Glenn Beck over there?

6. David Letterman: President Mubarak says he won’t step down until September, but that he won’t seek another rigged election. He plans to retire to his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Is this guy really leaving in September, or is he just pulling a Leno?

5. Jimmy Fallon: Google is accusing Bing of watching what people search for on Google and then using that information to improve searches on Bing. That’s when you know Bing is in trouble. When even Bing isn’t using Bing.

4. Craig Ferguson: The Super Bowl is going to be different this year. Neither the Packers not the Steelers have cheerleaders. I know! No cheerleaders at the Super Bowl. Are you happy now, Al Qaeda?

3. Jay Leno: Sarah Palin says she may run for President. I understand there’s an opening in Egypt. Works for me.

2. David Letterman: This Egyptian thing sneaked up on everybody, because the foreign press was too busy covering Hollywood.

1. Jay Leno: Someone claimed to TMZ that Britney Spears used a stand-in for some of the dance scenes in her new video. People don’t care about that. They just want to know if she did her own lip-syncing.

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 40 – Torso: Most frequently aimed-at part of the body. Navel: Permanent reminder of the good old days.

Urine and feces were the liquid and solid waste products resulting from digestion. Excreting them was the dirty little secret shared by all human beings, with the exception of movie stars, the President of the United States, and one’s own mother.

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

For each day’s
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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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Ostrom Road landfill project

The Department of the Environment’s resolution authorizing San Francisco to enter into a contract with Recology to landfill the city’s non-recycled refuse is scheduled for hearing at the Budget and Finance Committee of the Board of Supervisors, 11:00 a.m., Wednesday, February 9.

Under the proposal, San Francisco’s trash would go to Recology’s Ostrom Road landfill in Yuba County once the city has reached the contracted
capacity at the Altamont landfill near Livermore, where the city’s trash currently goes, likely around 2015. Recology is a San Francisco-based,
employee owned company.

“This is a good deal for San Francisco and for the environment,” said SF Environment Director Melanie Nutter.

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Melanie Nutter
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“Ostrom Road is a state-of-the-art facility that employs industry best practices, and the price is dramatically lower than the competition. This will help us maintain reasonable refuse collection costs as we move toward zero waste.”

With all costs factored in, the Ostrom Road bid was 24 percent below the competing bid, which could save San Francisco ratepayers over $130 million
over the life of the contract. This includes a $2 million reduction in city government waste disposal costs, which would free needed funding for
other city programs.

The new landfill agreement also has significant environmental advantages over current operations, in which San Francisco’s refuse is hauled by truck
to Altamont. Under the proposal, San Francisco’s refuse will travel to Ostrom Road by rail in custom-designed, sealed containers, which will be
loaded on freight cars in the East Bay.

This will eliminate up to 10 million truck miles on congested Bay Area freeways, reduce fuel consumption by up to 1 million gallons, and reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions by up to 5 million pounds. One train load will carry the equivalent of 162 long-haul transfer trucks.

San Francisco selected Ostrom Road through an extensive, multi-year public process starting in 2006, which included numerous public meetings, requests
for qualifications, proposals, and interviews. Ostrom Road Landfill, located in Yuba County, was the first landfill in California to meet new US
EPA’s regulations for landfill liners and construction standards. Landfill gas is captured on site and turned into electricity.

The landfill disposal contract is for 5 million tons or ten years, whichever comes first. San Francisco currently sends about 1,000 tons to
the landfill each day, but that amount is expected to decrease over the coming years because of San Francisco’s successful waste prevention,
recycling and composting programs.

San Francisco is now recycling 77 percent of its waste stream, the highest diversion rate of any city in the nation. Statistics for 2008 show that
San Francisco diverted just over 1.6 million tons of material—double the weight of the Golden Gate Bridge—through recycling, composting and re-use.
In 2010, only 378,000 tons went to the Altamont landfill, the lowest disposal on record.

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

See Related: On Scene with Bill Wilson Archive

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BILL WILSON
Sentinel Photojournalist
Bill Wilson is a San Francisco-based veteran photojournalist. Bill embraced photojournalism at the age of eight. In recent years, his photos capture historic record of the San Francisco LGBT community in the Bay Area Reporter (BAR), The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Francisco Examiner, SFist, SFAppeal. Bill has contributed to the Sentinel for the past six years. Email Bill Wilson at wfwilson@sbcglobal.net.

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Rumsfeld remains unapologetic for Iraq war in new book

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By JoAnne Allen
Reuters

Former U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld concludes in his new autobiography that the war in Iraq has been worth the cost and remains largely unapologetic about his handling of the conflict, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

Had the government of Saddam Hussein remained in power the Middle East would be “far more perilous than it is today,” Rumsfeld wrote in his 800-page memoir, scheduled for release on Tuesday.

Rumsfeld and other U.S. officials cited the threat posed by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction as justification for the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. No such weapons were found.

The former defence chief was a leading architect of the Iraq war. He was fired by President George W. Bush in 2006 with U.S. troops bogged down after 3-1/2 years of fighting in Iraq.

Rumsfeld’s book “Known and Unknown,” a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, covers his entire life, but more than half deals with his six years as Bush’s defence chief.

Speaking out for the first time since leaving office, Rumsfeld offers a vigorous explanation of his own thoughts and actions about the war and is making available on his website (www.rumsfeld.com) many previously classified or private documents, the Post reported.

Much of Rumsfeld’s explanation of what went wrong in the crucial first year of the occupation of Iraq stems from a pre-war failure to manage the post-war political transition when the State Department and Pentagon held vastly different views, the newspaper said.

Rumsfeld depicts Bush as presiding over a national security process that was marked by incoherent decision-making and policy drift, a detriment to the war effort, the Post said.

Rumsfeld suggests that Bush was at fault for not doing more to resolve disagreements among senior advisers.

Bush “did not always receive, and may not have insisted on, a timely consideration of his options before he made a decision, nor did he always receive effective implementation of the decisions he made,” Rumsfeld wrote.

Addressing charges that he failed to provide enough troops for the Iraq war, the former defence chief wrote: “In retrospect, there may have been times when more troops could have helped.”

But Rumsfeld insists that if senior military officers had reservations about the size of the invading force, they never informed him, the Post said.

In a lengthy section on the administration’s treatment of wartime detainees, Rumsfeld regrets not leaving office in May 2004, after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal erupted, The Washington Post said.

“Looking back, I see there are things the administration could have done differently and better with respect to wartime detention,” Rumsfeld acknowledges.

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Obama administration looking to help states cut Medicaid costs

As federal assistance to state Medicaid programs expires, states are scrambling. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius suggests a range of cuts that states can make to Medicaid, including dropping some people from the program. Other benefits that could be affected include physical therapy, dental care,
eyeglasses and some prescription drugs.

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By Noam N. Levey
Washington Bureau
The Los Angeles Times

Facing a brewing revolt among states wrestling with massive budget shortfalls and tattering healthcare safety nets, the Obama administration is intensifying a drive to help state leaders find ways to wring savings from their Medicaid programs.

Thursday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sent a letter to the nation’s 50 governors suggesting a range of cuts they can make to Medicaid, including dropping some people from the program.

“I know you are struggling to balance your budget while still providing critical healthcare services to those who need it most,” Sebelius told governors in the letter.

“In light of difficult budget circumstances, we are stepping up our efforts to help you identify cost drivers in the Medicaid program and provide you with new tools and resources to achieve short-term savings and longer term sustainability.”

The nation’s Medicaid programs, which are jointly funded by federal and state governments, now cover about 53 million poor children and adults, after swelling substantially in the recent economic downturn.

The expanded safety net was made possible by more than $100 billion in emergency aid provided by Congress over the last two years. But as that special aid expires, states are scrambling to preserve their programs.

And many governors — including some Democrats — are chafing at a requirement in the new healthcare law that they maintain coverage for many of their poorest residents.

The Obama administration is particularly concerned with maintaining state Medicaid programs because under the new healthcare law, these government insurance plans are expected to provide a foundation for guaranteeing coverage to all Americans beginning in 2014.

In her letter, Sebelius reminded governors, many of whom are in their first months in office, that they actually have numerous options to trim spending from their programs now.

And she offered help from Washington to develop ways to streamline care, cut prescription drug costs and modernize their programs.

“Medicaid really is an extraordinarily flexible program,” Cindy Mann, who heads the Center for Medicaid and State Operations at the Department of Health and Human Services, said in an interview.

In a mark of the dire situation in states, the Obama administration is suggesting that governors could cut optional health benefits that many Medicaid programs offer, such as physical therapy, dental care, eyeglasses and even some prescription drugs.

States could also require beneficiaries to pay more themselves for some of these services.

Although the federal government requires that state Medicaid programs cover a basic set of benefits, states have historically added these additional benefits, leading to great variety in programs nationwide.

These optional benefits currently consume 40% of the benefit spending, according to the administration.

Sebelius also said the new healthcare law allows states to cut some people from their Medicaid rolls if they are facing budget deficits. And she said she is reviewing the administration’s authority to allow states to cut even more people.

“The Affordable Care Act gives a state the flexibility to reduce eligibility for non-disabled, non-pregnant adults with incomes above 133 percent of the Federal Poverty Line,” the secretary wrote. That threshold is currently $14,500 for an individual.

Twenty-five states currently offer benefits to these lower-income adults above the threshold, though Obama officials said they do not know how many people could be affected by such cuts nationwide.

State Medicaid programs are required by law to cover only poor children, poor pregnant woman and disabled adults.

Administration officials want to head off these kinds of cuts, however. And Sebelius and other administration officials are encouraging state officials to look instead for ways to make their Medicaid programs more efficient.

This could include new initiatives to reduce the number of patients on Medicaid who are re-admitted to hospitals because of complications. A single re-admission can cost thousands of dollars.

“We could stop some of those re-admissions,” Mann said, citing efforts in some states to provide more care to recently discharged patients. “If we do that, that is more savings than you get for cutting off a non-disabled parent.”

See Related: Health Care Archive

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House Republicans seek $32 billion in spending cuts

By Richard Cowan
Reuters

Republican leaders in the House of Representatives will seek $32 billion in spending cuts from current levels this year as part of an effort to reduce a forecasted $1.5 trillion deficit.

Aides to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan outlined the savings to reporters on Thursday. These spending cuts would become part of a bill to fund a wide range of federal government programs through the current fiscal year that ends on September 30.

Federal programs currently are running on stop-gap funding that runs out on March 4. The House is aiming to pass the new legislation the week of February 14.

The House Appropriations Committee still must fill in the details of how the spending cuts would be carried out and the Democratic-led Senate will consider its own version of a spending bill.

The spending cuts would fall mainly on domestic programs other than domestic security protections and benefits for war veterans, according to the aides, who asked not to be identified.

Additional small savings also would be found in some defense programs, the aides said.

“House Republicans will continue to build on this down payment, working to restrain the explosive growth of government,” Ryan said in a prepared statement.

His aides said that relative to President Barack Obama’s budget request for fiscal year 2011, the Republican savings would amount to $74 billion.

In their 2010 congressional campaigns, Republicans pledged to cut $100 billion from Obama’s request and to set domestic discretionary spending back to 2008 levels — before massive government bailouts and spending measures were instituted to rescue an economy that was plunging into a deep recession.

Republican leaders have said that with five months of the current fiscal year already gone, it was difficult to achieve the full $100 billion in savings they had promised. They took control of the House in January, following massive election wins last November.

Many House Republicans have been urging more ambitious spending cuts than Ryan produced. Once the legislation hits the House floor, they are expected to offer amendments for deeper cuts in domestic spending.

See Related: Economy Archive

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Israel’s never looked so good

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By David Suissa
OLAM Magazine

They warned us. The geniuses at Peace Now warned us. The brilliant diplomats warned us. The think tanks warned us. Even the Arab dictators warned us. For decades now, they have been warning us that if you want “peace in the Middle East,” just fix the Palestinian problem. A recent variation on this theme has been: Just get the Jews to stop building apartments in East Jerusalem and Efrat. Yes, if all those Jews in the West Bank and East Jerusalem would only “freeze” their construction, then, finally, Palestinian leaders might come to the table and peace might break out.

And what would happen if peace would break out between Jews and Palestinians? Would all those furious Arabs now demonstrating on streets across the Middle East feel any better?

What bloody nonsense.

Has there ever been a greater abuse of the English language in international diplomacy than calling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the “Middle East peace process?” As if there were only two countries in the Middle East.

Even if you absolutely believe in the imperative of creating a Palestinian state, you can’t tell me that the single-minded and global obsession with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the expense of the enormous ills in the rest of the Middle East hasn’t been idiotic, if not criminally negligent.

While tens of millions of Arabs have been suffering for decades from brutal oppression, while gays have been tortured and writers jailed and women humiliated and dissidents killed, the world — yes, the world — has obsessed with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As if Palestinians — the same coddled victims on whom the world has spent billions and who have rejected one peace offer after another — were the only victims in the Middle East.

As if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has anything to do with the 1,000-year-old bloody conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, or the desire of brutal Arab dictators to stay in power, or the desire of Islamist radicals to bring back the Caliphate, or the economic despair of millions, or simply the absence of free speech or basic human rights throughout the Arab world.

While self-righteous Israel bashers have scrutinized every flaw in Israel’s democracy — some waxing hysterical that the Jewish democratic experiment in the world’s nastiest neighborhood had turned into an embarrassment — they kept their big mouths shut about the oppression of millions of Arabs throughout the Middle East.

They cried foul if Israeli Arabs — who have infinitely more rights and freedoms than any Arabs in the Middle East — had their rights compromised in any way. But if a poet were jailed in Jordan or a gay man were tortured in Egypt or a woman were stoned in Syria, all we heard was screaming silence.

Think of the ridiculous amount of media ink and diplomatic attention that has been poured onto the Israel-Palestinian conflict over the years, while much of the Arab world was suffering and smoldering, and tell me this is not criminal negligence. Do you ever recall seeing a UN resolution or an international conference in support of Middle Eastern Arabs not named Palestinians?

Of course, now that the Arab volcano has finally erupted, all those chronic Israel bashers have suddenly discovered a new cause: Freedom for the poor oppressed Arabs of the Middle East!

Imagine if, instead of putting Israel under their critical and hypocritical microscope, the world’s Israel bashers had taken Israel’s imperfect democratic experiment and said to the Arab world: Why don’t you try to emulate the Jews?

Why don’t you give equal rights to your women and gays, just like Israel does?

Why don’t you give your people the same freedom of speech and freedom to vote that Israel does? And offer them the economic opportunities they would get in Israel? Why don’t you treat your Jewish and Christian citizens the same way Israel treats its Arab and Christian citizens?

Why don’t you study how Israel has struggled to balance religion with democracy — a very difficult but not insurmountable task?

Why don’t you teach your people that Jews are not the sons of dogs but a noble, ancient people with a 3,000-year connection to the land of Israel?

Yes, imagine if Israel bashers had spent a fraction of their energy fighting the lies of Arab dictators and defending the rights of millions of oppressed Arabs. Imagine if President Obama had taken one percent of the time he has harped on Jewish settlements to defend the democratic rights of Egyptian Arabs — which he is suddenly doing now that the volcano has erupted.

Maybe it’s just easier to beat up on a free and open society like Israel.

Well, now that the cesspool of human oppression in the Arab world has been opened for all to see, how bad is Israel’s democracy looking? Don’t you wish the Arab world had a modicum of Israel’s civil society? Would you still be worrying about “stability in the Middle East?”

You can preach to me all you want about the great Jewish tradition of self-criticism — which I believe in — but right now, when I see poor Arab souls being murdered for the simple act of protesting on the street, I’ve never felt more proud of being a supporter of the Jewish state.

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Americans urged to leave Egypt

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With a rapidly deteriorating situation on the streets of Cairo, the U.S. State Department is urging Americans who want help getting out of Egypt to “take advantage of U.S. government charter flights while they are available.”

“As you know, we cannot demand that an American leave, however, we certainly push for them to leave,” said a senior State Department official, who spoke on background because he was not authorized to use his name.

According to the official, the State Department is cutting back on the number of flights Thursday because some of those charters have been leaving with empty seats.

On Thursday morning, one flight was fully booked and boarded, and takeoff was imminent, he said. An additional flight was on the ground, the official said, “but isn’t even near halfway full.”

About 3,000 Americans have registered to be evacuated. So far, 2,000 have been flown out on U.S. government charters to European locations. Since Monday, the State Department has been running an average of four flights a day. Depending upon demand, more flights could be added, but the official said if circumstances suddenly got worse, they might have to order charters from other cities in the region and that could take time.

The State Department is urging U.S. citizens who want to leave to come to Cairo International Airport as soon as possible. They should bring travel documents with them, but even citizens who have passports that expired up to 10 years ago can come, and U.S. consular officials will assist them.

Commercial flights from Cairo still are operating, and many Americans, according to the State Department, have already left via commercial airlines, private airlines and other governments’ chartered flights. At last report, the Cairo airport terminal is relatively orderly, according to the department.

It continues to assess whether or not flights will operate Friday and possibly Saturday.

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Crackdown broadened to international journalists and human rights workers

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Antigovernment protesters threw stones during clashes with supporters
of President Hosni Mubarak on Thursday in Tahrir Square in Cairo
Photo By Khalil Hamra

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egypt-feb-1-15

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

CAIRO — The Egyptian government broadened its crackdown on Thursday to the international media and human rights workers, in an apparent effort to remove witnesses to the battle with anti-government protesters.

Armed supporters of President Hosni Mubarak attacked foreign journalists, punching them and smashing their equipment. Men who protesters said were plainclothes police officers shut down news media outlets that had been operating in buildings overlooking Tahrir Square.

An informal center set up by human rights workers in the square was seized, and a group of journalists was stopped in their car near the square by a gang of men with knives and briefly turned over to the military police, ostensibly for their protection. Two reporters working for The New York Times were released on Thursday after being detained overnight in Cairo.

The concerted effort to remove journalists lent a sense of foreboding to events in the square, where battles continued between the protesters and the Mubarak supporters, who human rights workers and protesters say are being paid and organized by the government. People bringing food, water and medicine to the protesters in the square were being stopped by Mubarak supporters, who confiscated what they had and threw some of it into the Nile.

In the afternoon, the fighting spread beyond the square to the October 6th Bridge, which rises above the Egyptian Museum. Shots were heard, and a surgeon assisting the anti-government protesters said three people were killed. “It was the police or the army, we don’t know,” said the surgeon, Mohamed Ezz. “Only they have guns.”

That followed a night of gunfire and a day of mayhem Wednesday that left at least five dead and more than 800 wounded in a battle for the Middle East’s most populous nation. With the violence rising, the United Nations ordered the evacuation of much of its staff on Thursday, while more than 4,000 passengers made their escape through Cairo airport, The Associated Press reported.

Sounding a highly unusual note of public contrition among Egypt’s elite, the newly appointed prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, apologized on Thursday for the violence and vowed to investigate who had instigated it “I offer my apology for everything that happened yesterday because it’s neither logical nor rational,” he said.

A government spokesman, Magdy Rady, denied that the authorities had been involved in the violence. “To accuse the government of mobilizing this is a real fiction. That would defeat our object of restoring the calm,” Mr. Rady told Reuters. “We were surprised with all these actions.”

Officials in Mr. Mubarak’s National Democratic Party were at pains Thursday to absolve the president of any role in the violent crackdown Wednesday on anti-government protesters. Speaking with one voice they blamed the violence on thugs hired by a group of rich businessmen eager to support the government.

But opposition leaders dismissed that explanation as a smoke screen, saying it was highly unlikely that anyone would take such a fateful action without the approval of the president himself.

In another conciliatory gesture by the government, Egypt’s public prosecutor issued a travel ban on former government ministers and an official of the National Democratic Party on suspicion of theft of public money, profiteering and fraud, state television reported. Among the four was the hated former interior minister, Habib al-Adly, who commanded a secret police force that was widely despised for its corruption and routine use of torture.

The outcome of the widening unrest is pivotal in a region where uprising and unrest have spread from Tunisia to many other lands, including Jordan and Yemen, forcing their leaders into precipitate concessions to their suddenly vocal foes and stretching American diplomacy.

In Sana, the Yemeni capital, on Thursday, thousands of protesters assembled, some for and some against President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The demonstrations were peaceful, in marked contrast to the chaos that ruled in Cairo on Wednesday when Mr. Mubarak struck back at his opponents, unleashing waves of supporters armed with clubs, rocks, knives and firebombs in a concerted assault on thousands of antigovernment protesters in Tahrir Square. Calls for new protests in a number of Middle East countries were circulating on Twitter, including: Algeria, Feb. 12; Bahrain, Feb. 14; and Libya, Feb. 17.

In the clashes on Wednesday, the Egyptian military did nothing to intervene. But on Thursday for the first time, a thin line of soldiers backed by tanks and armored personnel carriers appeared to have taken up positions between the combatants and to be urging Mr. Mubarak’s supporters, numbering in the hundreds, to avoid confrontation.

For their part, several thousand antigovernment protesters, far fewer than in previous days, called for peaceful protest. “An Egyptian will not attack another,” some chanted from behind makeshift barricades thrown up to seal access to the square. “No bloodshed.”

When one man shouted an insult at a Mubarak supporter around 100 yards away, another, Mahmoud Haqiqi, told him: “Don’t say that. Stay quiet. Tell them we are here for their sake.”

After hours of bloody clashes starting on Wednesday with rocks, iron bars and petrol bombs into the night, the confrontation seemed to escalate early Thursday morning when the staccato rattle of automatic gunfire rang out over Cairo.

It was unclear whether the shots came from the pro-government demonstrators or from the military forces stationed in the square.

Two people were killed by the gunfire and 45 people were wounded, said a doctor at a nearby emergency clinic set up by the antigovernment demonstrators. After the initial volleys, soldiers fired into the air, temporarily scattering most of the people in the square.

More than 150 people have died in the uprising, human rights groups say.

By midmorning on Thursday, as the protesters’ numbers again began to swell, the antigovernment side held its ground in Tahrir, or Liberation, Square — the focus of the clashes — milling around and chanting slogans on the 10th day of the campaign to oust Mr. Mubarak.

Volunteers arrived carrying water, yogurt, bananas and medical supplies for the makeshift clinics that sprung up to tend the wounded. In the absence of any municipal services or authority, others tried to sweep the square of debris, using brooms, shovels and sheets of cardboard.

The violence on Wednesday and Thursday seemed to have hardened the protesters’ demands, going far beyond the ouster of Mr. Mubarak. “The people want the execution of the president,” some chanted. “Mubarak is a war criminal.”

Some low-level clashes continued, but nothing on the scale of the volleys of rocks and Molotov cocktails of the earlier fighting.

Early Thursday, the square was littered with rocks and makeshift barricades, with smoke drifting overhead. Troops guarded the Egyptian Museum, Cairo’s great storehouse of priceless antiquities dating to the time of the Pharaohs and a huge emblem of national pride.

As the fear of further clashes gripped Cairo, foreigners, including many Americans, continued their exodus.

In a statement, the American Embassy, which has ordered the compulsory evacuation of some diplomats and their families, said that more than 1,900 American citizens had been flown out of Egypt since Monday and more would leave on Thursday.

There was no indication that the antigovernment side was in a mood for retreat. On Thursday, the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood — the biggest organized opposition group — again rejected a government offer to negotiate once the protesters had left Tahrir Square.

Essam el-Erian, a senior leader of the Islamist organization, told Reuters the movement was calling for the removal of “the regime, not the state.”

“This regime’s legitimacy is finished, with its president, with his deputy, its ministers, its party, its Parliament. We said this clearly. We refuse to negotiate with it because it has lost its legitimacy,” he said.

Only two days after the military pledged not to fire on protesters, it was unclear where the army stood. Many protesters contended that Mr. Mubarak was provoking a confrontation in order to prompt a military crackdown.

Mohamed ElBaradei, who was designated to negotiate with the government on behalf of the opposition, demanded on Wednesday that the army move in and protect the protesters. The deployment of plainclothes forces paid by Mr. Mubarak’s ruling party — men known here as baltageya — has been a hallmark of the Mubarak government, and there were many signs that the violence was carefully choreographed.

The preparations for a confrontation began Wednesday morning, a day after Mr. Mubarak pledged to step down in September while insisting that he would die on Egyptian soil. The president’s supporters waved flags as though they were headed to a protest, but armed themselves as though they were itching for a fight. Several wore hard hats; one had a meat cleaver, and two others grabbed the raw materials to make firebombs from their car.

Some of the Mubarak supporters arrived in buses. When they spoke with one another, they referred to the antigovernment protesters as foreigners or traitors, and to Mr. Mubarak as Egypt’s “father.”

The anti-Mubarak demonstrators had organized themselves to try to avoid violence. Men held hands in long chains to keep the two groups apart. Others, with effusive apologies, searched those entering the square for weapons. Some stepped in with whistles to break up arguments that had started to grow heated.

Several people interviewed independently said that ruling party operatives had offered them 50 Egyptian pounds, less than $10, if they agreed to demonstrate in the square on Mr. Mubarak’s behalf. “Fifty pounds for my country!” said Yasmina Salah, 29.

David D. Kirkpatrick reported from Cairo, and Alan Cowell from Paris. Reporting was contributed by Kareem Fahim, Liam Stack, Mona El-Naggar and Anthony Shadid from Cairo, Michael Slackman from Berlin, and J. David Goodman from New York.

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Western powers press Mubarak to start handing over power now

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By Jonathan Wright and Marwa Awad
Reuters

CAIRO – A bitter and, by turns, bloody confrontation gripped central Cairo on Thursday as armed government loyalists fought pro-democracy protesters demanding the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak.

At least six people were dead and 800 wounded after gunmen and stick-wielding Mubarak supporters attacked demonstrators camped out for a tenth day on Tahrir Square to demand the 82-year-old leader immediately end his 30-year rule.

A literal stone’s throw from the Egyptian Museum, home to 7,000 years of civilization in the most populous Arab state, angry men skirmished back and forth with rocks, clubs and makeshift shields, as the U.S.-built tanks of Mubarak’s Western-funded army made sporadic efforts to separate them.

Away from camera lenses of global media focused on Tahrir Square, a fierce political battle was being fought which has wide implications for Western influence over the Middle East and its oil supplies. European leaders joined the United States in calling on their long-time ally to start handing over power.

His government, newly appointed in a reshuffle that failed to appease protesters, stood by the president’s insistence on Tuesday that he will go, but only when his fifth term ends in September. Mubarak continues to portray himself as a bulwark against anarchy or a seizure of power by Islamist radicals.

The opposition won increasingly vocal support from Mubarak’s long-time Western backers for a swifter handover of power.

“This process of transition must start now,” the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain said in a statement.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon added his voice.

They all echoed the message President Barack Obama said he gave Mubarak in a phone call on Tuesday. U.S. officials also condemned what the called a “concerted campaign to intimidate” journalists, after many were attacked by government loyalists.

Opposition leaders including the liberal figurehead Mohamed ElBaradei and the mass Islamist movement the Muslim Brotherhood rejected a call to talks from Mubarak’s new prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq. Only the president’s departure and an end to violence would bring them to negotiations, they told Reuters.

TRIAL OF STRENGTH

As he tended to some of those on the square who bore bloody marks from the fighting, doctor Mohamed al-Samadi voiced anger and defiance: “They let armed thugs come and attack us. We refuse to go. We can’t let Mubarak stay eight months.”

Protesters, who numbered some 10,000 on Tahrir Square on Thursday afternoon, have called major demonstrations for Friday.

It is a trial of strength in which the army has a crucial role as its commanders seek to preserve their institution’s influence and wealth in the face of massive popular rejection of the old order, widely regarded as brutal, corrupt and wasteful.

The government, which rejected assumptions by foreign powers that it had orchestrated the attacks on demonstrators, seemed to be counting on winning over the sympathy of Egyptians feeling the pinch of unprecedented economic dislocation.

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Egypt army restrains Mubarak loyalists as clashes wrack Cairo square – Six dead Wednesday – Gunfire heard this morning

At least six demonstrators killed overnight after supporters of the president charged Tahrir square and opened fire on protesters camped there

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Soldiers take position just outside Cairo’s main square,
Egypt, Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011
Photo By Sebastian Scheiner

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An Egyptian army tank moved against supporters of President Hosni Mubarak as they hurled rocks at anti-Muburak protesters in central Cairo, prompting cheers from demonstrators battered by overnight fighting that killed six.

“Allahu Akbar, the army and the people are hand in hand”, chanted protesters barricaded in Tahrir (Liberation) Square, where several thousand people on Thursday joined the hundreds who had camped overnight.

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The tank turned its turret towards the stone throwers and soldiers moved to engage them. The Mubarak loyalists fled, but regrouped nearby and resumed throwing stones.

Gunfire was heard Thursday near Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square where pro-democracy protesters are massed despite fierce clashes with loyalists of Hosni Mubarak, the country’s embattled president.

Witnesses said that gunshots rang out from a bridge leading to the square, the epicentre of protests against Mubarak for the past 10 days, on Thursday afternoon.

On Monday the army had emboldened protesters by endorsing their demands as legitimate and pledging not to open fire on them. But since Tuesday evening, when Mubarak said he would not stand for re-election in September, the soldiers have largely stood by without intervening.

In the northeast of the country some 4,000 people started a march in Suez calling for Mubarak to step down, while in Ismailia a crowd of 2,000 held a similar demonstration.

In Cairo protesters lined several entrances to the square, holding hands in a human chain, and some were checking people as they entered.

On the road behind the human chain, stones were laid out.

“We are using these stones as a means of defense. Yesterday they attacked us with molotov cocktails (firebombs) and all we have to protect ourselves with is stones,” said Ali Kassem, who was part of the human chain.

Though protesters were fewer than in previous days, the level of public dissent remains unprecedented in the heavily policed state.
A Reuters journalist saw protesters overpower someone they claimed was an undercover member of the security services.
Over a loudspeaker a voice urged:

“Don’t beat him. Hand him to us and the organizing committee and we will hand him over to the army. The international media is watching us and saying we are peaceful people.”

Some protesters say the pro-Mubarak supporters have been paid for by Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP).

Mobile phone operator Vodafone accused the Egyptian authorities of using its network to send pro-government text messages to subscribers, without clear attribution. One message sent on Feb 2 seen by Reuters announced the location and timing for a pro-Mubarak rally. Mohamed al-Samadi, a doctor who had been treating the wounded in a makeshift clinic, said:

“We refuse to go. We can’t let Mubarak stay eight months.”

Egypt’s health minister said six people were killed in the overnight violence and 836 wounded.

“Through the night we were getting dozens of wounded every 15 minutes. We had casualties all over the place. Thugs surrounding us tried to attack more of us but we managed, thankfully, to block their advance,” said Mohamed Abdel Hamid, a doctor.

The Mubarak loyalists opened fire and threw stones and petrol bombs. Protesters barricaded themselves in the square and hurled stones back.

During the day on Wednesday, some Mubarak supporters charged at the anti-government protesters on horseback and on camels.

“What happened yesterday (Wednesday) made us more and more determined to remove President Mubarak,” a spokesman for the protest movement Kefaya, or Enough, told Al Jazeera television.

“There will be no negotiations with any member of Mubarak’s regime after what happened yesterday and what is still happening in Tahrir Square.”

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Five killed as pro-Mubarak forces clash with protesters on Day 10 of Egypt riots

Supporters of Mubarak open fire on protesters camped in Cairo’s Tahrir square overnight,
in what witnesses called an attempted government-backed crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations

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Soldiers take position just outside Cairo’s main square,
Egypt, Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011
Photo By Sebastian Scheiner

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Supporters of President Hosni Mubarak early Thursday opened fire on protesters demanding he step down, killing five and wounding dozens more in what many saw as an attempted government-backed crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations.

“Most of the casualties were the result of stone throwing and attacks with metal rods and stick,” Health Minister Ahmed Samih Farid told state television by telephone, after fresh fighting broke out in Cairo’s Tahrir square. “At dawn today there were gunshots. The real casualties taken to hospital were 836, of which 86 are still in hospital and there are five dead.”

egypt-feb-3-1
Anti-government demonstrators carry an injured man
at a makeshift medical triage station at Tahrir square
in Cairo February 2, 2011

The Egyptian army began arresting people in the wake of the violence, Al Arabiya television reported, without giving numbers.

Anti-government protesters camped out in the square since a peaceful protest on Tuesday have called on the army to intervene. When the violence erupted on Wednesday soldiers had not intervened.

Mubarak promised on Tuesday to surrender power when elections are held in September, in what was seen as an attempt to defuse the unprecedented challenge to his 30-year-rule, but angering protesters who want him to quit immediately and prompted the Western world to demand an immediate transition to democracy.

The Egyptian army told reformists on Wednesday to abandon their street protests. Thousands came out anyway and were met with supporters of the president, who charging on camels and horses, threw petrol bombs and attacked protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Anti-Mubarak demonstrators hurled stones in return and witnesses said that the attackers were police in plainclothes. The Egyptian Interior Ministry denied the accusation, and the Egyptian government rejected international calls for Mubarak to end his rule now.

At least three people were killed in Wednesday’s violence and a doctor at the scene said more than 1,500 were wounded.
The protesters were still holding their ground in Tahrir (Liberation) Square late Wednesday, the hub for protests over oppression and economic hardship.

Skirmishes continued well into the night and there was sporadic gunfire, with blazes caused by firebombs. But by about 3 A.M. on Thursday the square had calmed down somewhat, gunfire rang out across the square about an hour later.

At least 145 people have been killed so far in the 10 days of demonstrations in Cairo, and more in protests across the country. United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay said up to 300 people may have died.

Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman urged the 2,000 demonstrators bedding down in Tahrir Square to leave on Wednesday night, to observe the curfew to restore calm. He said the start of dialogue with the reformists and opposition depended on an end to street protests.

But protesters barricaded the square against pro-Mubarak supporters trying to penetrate the makeshift cordon.

“This place will turn into a slaughterhouse very soon if the army does not intervene,” Ahmed Maher, who saw pro-Mubarak supporters with swords and knives, told Reuters.

Opposition figurehead Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace laureate, called on the army to intervene to stop the violence.
Urging protesters to clear the streets, the armed forces told them their demands had been heard. But some were determined to occupy the square until Mubarak quits.

Khalil, a man in his 60s holding a stick, blamed Mubarak supporters and undercover security men for the clashes. “We will not leave,” he told Reuters. “Everybody stay put,” he added.

“I’m inspired by today’s events, however bloody and violent they are, and I will stay with my brothers and sisters in Tahrir until I either die or Mubarak leaves the country,” said medical student Shaaban Metwalli, 22, as night closed in.

Most reporters fled the square, with only a few remaining who had managed to find relatively safe observation points in some of the homes at the square’s periphery. Groups of Egyptians attempted to enter the embattle square from the northern entrance near the Egyptian National Museum, while anti-Mubarak protesters collided with them, trying to push them back. Photographers attempting to document the events returned injured and battered to the hotel. French and Spanish teams of journalists searched for missing friends.

Wednesday afternoon, roughly an hour after the fighting in the square began, the government ironically restored partial internet access, six days after it was shut down. On the one hand, I was reconnected to the electronic world, but physically I was trapped in the hotel.

One of the hotel technicians accompanied me to my room to fix the connection to my computer, and through the window we could hear pro-Mubarak slogan. The ever-smiling Mahmoud, who had already helped me overcome connection challenges and ensured that my articles reached Haaretz safely looked outside and smiled. “It’s good that people are supporting Mubarak,” he told me. “It is thanks to him that we have a flourishing and stable economy. Why would we want to risk that?”

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NETFLIX CLINCHES DEAL TO STREAM MOVIES ONLINE

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A new deal will give Netflix the right to stream feature films from Paramount Pictures, like “Iron Man 2,” above, Lions Gate and MGM far earlier than it does now
Photo By Francois Duhamel

By Brian Stelter
The New York Times

In a sign that online streaming is coming to the forefront in Hollywood, films from Paramount Pictures, Lions Gate and MGM will appear on Netflix’s streaming service just three months after they appear on pay television.

In a deal announced Tuesday, Netflix will have the streaming rights to feature films like “Iron Man 2″ far earlier than it does now. It is a costly win for Netflix, which has been locking up the rights to films for its “Watch Instantly” service, which allows customers to stream content via the Internet rather than wait for a DVD to arrive in the mail.

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The Los Angeles Times, which first reported the pending deal on Monday, said Netflix was expected to pay “close to $1 billion in licensing fees over the life of the deal.”

The deal is with Epix, a fledgling pay-television service that was founded two years ago as a prospective competitor to HBO and Showtime. These pay TV services are normally important contributors to the bottom lines of studios, since they provide a reliable revenue stream for years after a film is released in theaters.

Epix has the rights to films from Paramount, Lions Gate and MGM. But in a crowded marketplace, the service has gained very little distribution on cable and satellite systems, making it invisible to most consumers. Viacom, one of the owners of Epix, disclosed last week that the joint venture continues to lose money, though it said that the service is moving closer to the break-even point.

The Netflix deal is a way to partly circumvent the cable and satellite carriers — and stem the financial losses.

Mark Greenberg, the president of Epix, said in a statement: “We are pleased to be able to continue our mission of bringing consumers the movies where they want to watch them, while satisfying the differing needs of cable, telco and satellite operators.”

In a compromise of sorts for the cable and satellite carriers that Epix is still trying to win business from, the service will carve out a three-month TV window for films before they are available to Netflix subscribers. Those participating cable and satellite carriers can also provide online access to the films three months before Netflix can.

With its three-year-old “Watch Instantly” service and with Tuesday’s deal with Epix, Netflix is trying to answer a hugely important question in the media industry: How will people watch movies in the future?

Netflix first targeted the likes of Blockbuster with DVDs by mail. Then it set its sights on online streaming, but existing deals with pay TV operators like HBO make it hard to show new releases. Netflix and Epix noted in a news release Tuesday that “historically,” the rights to hit films “are pre-sold to pay TV for as long as nine years after their theatrical release.”

Accordingly, most of the movies on the “Watch Instantly” service are older films and TV series.

Netflix has moved aggressively to secure newer films, betting that a better selection will attract new subscribers. “We are definitely interested in licensing from HBO, from Epix, from Showtime,” the Netflix chief executive, Reed Hastings, said on a conference call with analysts last month.

On Viacom’s conference call with analysts last week, a Morgan Stanley analyst, Benjamin Swinburne, asked Viacom’s chief executive, Philippe Dauman, whether Epix had considered a streaming arrangement with Netflix.

“We are looking at all forms of distribution going forward, and Epix will be announcing new distribution agreements pretty shortly,” Mr. Dauman answered.

The deal will commence Sept. 1. Netflix would not confirm a report in The Los Angeles Times that the deal will last for five years. A news release Tuesday called it a “multiyear deal,” and did not disclose the financial terms.

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FEAR GRIPS EUROPEAN MARKETS FOLLOWING GREECE MELTDOWN – SPAIN’S CREDIT RATING DOWNGRADED

Carl Mortished
World Business Editor
The London Guardian

The crisis affecting the eurozone worsened Wednesday when Spain’s credit rating was downgraded less than 24 hours after Greece was sent into financial meltdown.

Fear of contagion gripped Europe’s financial markets when the debt rating agency Standard & Poor’s cut the rating on Spain’s sovereign bonds. The decision — coming after the agency downgraded Portugal’s rating and cast Greek bonds into the scrapyard, designating them junk — sent the euro plunging against the dollar.

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International Monetary Fund managing director
Dominique Strauss-Kahn attends a news
conference in Berlin on Wednesday.

International Monetary Fund managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn attends a news conference in Berlin on Wednesday.

The risk that weak eurozone economies might be infected by a Greek financial virus added pressure to an emergency meeting in Berlin, where the heads of the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank considered a proposal to triple the size of a bailout for Greece.

After a meeting yesterday with Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the IMF chief, and Jean-Claude Trichet, head of the central bank, German MPs said that Greece would need €120 billion over three years. That would almost triple the size of the bailout fund agreed in principle by the eurozone states and IMF under which the member states would contribute €30 billion and the IMF €15 billion.

Jürgen Trittin, leader of Germany’s Green Party, who attended the meeting, said that two thirds of the enlarged €120 billion package would be provided by eurozone members.

Mr Strauss-Kahn said that more was at risk than the Greek economy. “Because Greece is part of the eurozone, it is the confidence in the zone which is at stake. Every day lost is a day where the situation is getting worse and which can have consequences far away,” he said.

His call for urgent action was echoed by Angel Gurría, head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, who compared the risk facing other eurozone states to a virus. “This is like Ebola. It’s threatening the stability of the financial system.”

In yesterday’s mayhem, the euro lost 1.5 per cent, falling to $1.31, while the interest rate on the Greek ten-year bond climbed from 9.7 per cent to 11.1 per cent, a record for a eurozone bond and a level that in effect shuts Greece out of the lending markets. The single currency has lost more than 13 per cent of its value since November. The risk premium demanded by investors for Portuguese, Spanish and Italian bonds gained ground yesterday.

The Irish Government disowned comments from Micheál Martin, its Foreign Minister, supporting the idea of Greek debt restructuring. Mr Martin said that restructuring was “a legitimate initiative that they may in time have to take”. Brian Lenihan, the Finance Minister, said that the comments were not government policy.

Opposition to the bailout in Germany has hampered efforts by eurozone leaders to speak with one voice. Germans fear that any money lent to Greece will be lost and they resent the idea of funding pension benefits to Greeks that are superior to those enjoyed by Germans. To appease public opinion, Angela Merkel, the Chancellor, has insisted that Greece make bigger cuts in its state budget.

She expressed impatience yesterday with the slowness of the talks between Greece and the IMF. After she telephoned President Obama last night, the US and Germany issued a joint statement urging “resolute action”.

The IMF wants George Papandreou’s Government to make longer-term commitments to cut public spending. In a population of just over 11 million, Greece employs more than a million in the public sector. Greek civil servants enjoy generous pension benefits worth 80 per cent of salary and early retirement. In protest against efforts by the Greek Government to cut spending, a general strike has been called for May 5.

Spain’s credit rating was cut from AA-plus to AA. S&P blamed its high borrowings and the expectation of a “protracted period of sluggish activity”.

Credit Suisse analysts said that British banks had £25 billion of exposure to Greece and Portugal but £75 billion to Spain.

In Tokyo, Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, ended a news conference with the Japanese Prime Minister by reciting a haiku: “The sun is rising/sleeping yet in Europe/still the same sun.” he said. He declined to explain.

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OBAMA TEAM DIVIDED ON TACTICS AGAINST TERRORISM

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In defending Guantánamo, the Bush administration said the president could imprison people without trial as wartime detainees.

By Charlie Savage
The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Senior lawyers in the Obama administration are deeply divided over some of the counterterrorism powers they inherited from former President George W. Bush, according to interviews and a review of legal briefs.

The rift has been most pronounced between top lawyers in the State Department and the Pentagon, though it has also involved conflicts among career Justice Department lawyers and political appointees throughout the national security agencies.

The discussions, which shaped classified court briefs filed this month, have centered on how broadly to define the types of terrorism suspects who may be detained without trials as wartime prisoners. The outcome of the yearlong debate could reverberate through national security policies, ranging from the number of people the United States ultimately detains to decisions about who may be lawfully selected for killing using drones.

“Beyond the technical legal issues, this debate is about the fundamental question of whom we are at war with,” said Noah Feldman, a Harvard law professor who specializes in war-power issues. “The two problems most plaguing Obama in the war on terrorism are trials for terrorists and taking the fight beyond Afghanistan to places like Pakistan and Yemen. This issue of whom we are at war with defines both of them.”

In the years after the 9/11 attacks, Mr. Bush claimed virtually unlimited power as commander in chief to detain those he deemed a threat — a view so boundless that his Justice Department once told a court that it was within the president’s lawful discretion to imprison as an enemy combatant even a “little old lady in Switzerland” who had unwittingly donated to Al Qaeda.

But President Obama and his team, which criticized such claims as an overreach, have sought to demonstrate that the executive branch can wage war while also respecting limits imposed on presidential power by what they see as the rule of law.

In March 2009, the Obama legal team adopted a new position about who was detainable in the war on terrorism — one that showed greater deference to the international laws of war, including the Geneva Conventions, than Mr. Bush had. But what has not been known is that while the administration has stuck to that broad principle, it has been arguing over how to apply the body of law, which was developed for conventional armies, to a war against a terrorist organization.

An examination of that conflict offers rich insight into how the team of former law professors and campaign lawyers, nearly all veterans of the Clinton administration, is shaping important policies under Mr. Obama.

In February 2009, just weeks after the inauguration, John D. Bates, a federal judge overseeing several cases involving detainees in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, asked a provocative question: Did the new administration want to modify Mr. Bush’s position that the president could wield sweeping powers to imprison people without trial as wartime detainees?

Career Justice Department lawyers handling Guantánamo lawsuits feared that rolling back the Bush position might make it harder to win. And the new acting head of the department’s Office of Legal Counsel — David Barron, a Harvard law professor and co-author of a lengthy law review critique of Bush administration claims that the commander in chief can override statutes — worried that Judge Bates had given them too little time to devise the answer.

But the White House counsel, Greg Craig, a campaign adviser to Mr. Obama who had been a foreign policy official in the Clinton administration, saw this as an important opportunity to demonstrate a break with Mr. Bush. And at a White House meeting, Mr. Obama weighed in, declaring that he did not want to invoke unrestrained commander-in-chief powers in detention matters.

With the president’s directions in hand, Mr. Obama’s Justice Department came back on March 13, 2009, with a more modest position than Mr. Bush had advanced. It told Judge Bates that the president could detain without trial only people who were part of Al Qaeda or its affiliates, or their “substantial” supporters. The department rooted that power in the authorization granted by Congress to use military force against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks. And it acknowledged that the scope and limits of that power were defined by the laws of war, as translated to a conflict against terrorists.

But behind closed doors, the debate flared again that summer, when the Obama administration confronted the case of Belkacem Bensayah, an Algerian man who had been arrested in Bosnia — far from the active combat zone — and was being held without trial by the United States at Guantánamo. Mr. Bensayah was accused of facilitating the travel of people who wanted to go to Afghanistan to join Al Qaeda. A judge found that such “direct support” was enough to hold him as a wartime prisoner, and the Justice Department asked an appeals court to uphold that ruling.

The arguments over the case forced onto the table discussion of lingering discontent at the State Department over one aspect of the Obama position on detention. There was broad agreement that the law of armed conflict allowed the United States to detain as wartime prisoners anyone who was actually a part of Al Qaeda, as well as nonmembers who took positions alongside the enemy force and helped it. But some criticized the notion that the United States could also consider mere supporters, arrested far away, to be just as detainable without trial as enemy fighters.

That view was amplified after Harold Koh, a former human-rights official and Yale Law School dean who had been a leading critic of the Bush administration’s detainee policies, became the State Department’s top lawyer in late June. Mr. Koh produced a lengthy, secret memo contending that there was no support in the laws of war for the United States’ position in the Bensayah case.

Mr. Koh found himself in immediate conflict with the Pentagon’s top lawyer, Jeh C. Johnson, a former Air Force general counsel and trial lawyer who had been an adviser to Mr. Obama during the presidential campaign. Mr. Johnson produced his own secret memorandum arguing for a more flexible interpretation of who could be detained under the laws of war — now or in the future.

In September 2009, national-security officials from across the government packed into the Office of Legal Counsel’s conference room on the fifth floor of the Justice Department, lining the walls, to watch Mr. Koh and Mr. Johnson debate around a long table. It was up to Mr. Barron, who sat at the head of the table, to decide who was right.

But he did not. Instead, days later, he circulated a preliminary draft memorandum stating that while the Office of Legal Counsel had found no precedents justifying the detention of mere supporters of Al Qaeda who were picked up far away from enemy forces, it was not prepared to state any definitive conclusion.

So with no consensus, the legal team decided on a tactical approach. For as long as possible they would try to avoid that hard question. They changed the subject by instead asking courts to agree that people like Mr. Bensayah, looked at from another angle, had performed functions that made them effectively part of the terrorist organization — and so were clearly detainable.

The appeals court has not yet ruled on Mr. Bensayah’s case. But the hours and effort that high-level officials expended on wrestling over adjustments to the reasoning in his case — only to reach the same outcome, that he was detainable without trial — dovetailed with a pattern identified by critics as varied as civil libertarians and former Bush lawyers.

“I think the change in tone has been important and has helped internationally,” said John B. Bellinger III, a top Bush era National Security Council and State Department lawyer. “But the change in law has been largely cosmetic. And of course there has been no change in outcome.”

But at a recent American Bar Association event, Mr. Koh argued that the administration’s changes — including requiring strict adherence to anti-torture rules and ensuring that all detainees are being held pursuant to recognizable legal authorities — have been meaningful. The United States, he said, can now defend its national-security policies as fully compliant with domestic and international law under “common and universal standards, not double standards.”

“We are not saying that we don’t have to fight battles,” he said. “We’re just saying that we should fight those battles within the framework of law.”

Last week, in another speech, Mr. Koh also for the first time outlined portions of the administration’s legal rationale for targeted killings using drone strikes, which some scholars have criticized. His remarks, however, focused on issues like whether it was lawful to single out specific enemy figures for killing — not defining the limits of who may be deemed an enemy.

But Mr. Feldman, the Harvard professor, said the detention debate also had “serious consequences” for the targeted killings policy because, “If we’re at war with you, then we can detain you — but we can also try to kill you.”

That said, he cautioned, additional factors complicate the analysis of selecting lawful targets. Among them, it is not clear whether Mr. Obama is more willing in classified settings to assert that, as commander in chief, he can use drone strikes to defend the country against perceived threats that cannot be linked to the Congressionally authorized war against Al Qaeda.

And even in detention matters, Bush-era theories have remained attractive to some. This January, two appeals court judges appointed by Mr. Bush — Janice Rogers Brown and Brett M. Kavanaugh, both of whom had been singled out by Democrats after their nominations as too ideological — reopened the debate by unexpectedly declaring, in another Guantánamo case, that the laws of armed conflict did not limit the president’s war powers.

In the Justice Department, career litigators who defend against Guantánamo lawsuits wanted to embrace that reasoning, arguing it would help them win. Judges have sided with detainees seeking release in some 34 of 46 cases to date — though the decisions largely turned on skepticism about specific evidence, not the general legal theory about who was detainable.

But political appointees — including Mr. Barron, Mr. Koh and even Mr. Johnson — criticized the reasoning of the appeals court ruling as vulnerable to reversal and argued that the administration should not abandon its respect for the laws of war.

In classified briefs filed in several detainee cases this month, officials said, the Justice Department adopted an ambivalent stance. It cited the ruling as a precedent while also reasserting its own contradictory argument that the laws of war matter. The debate would go on.

“We’ll see how the cases develop,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in an interview in February, in the midst of that latest round. But, he added, “I don’t think we are going to deviate from our argument.”

See Related: BARACK OBAMA PRESIDENCY

HAPPY PESACH 2010
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THE BAD SHEPHERD – BY RECONCILING WITH EXTREMIST BISHOPS, BENEDICT XVI EMBRACES THE FAR RIGHT-WING FRINGE

By Christopher Hitchens
Newsweek

First Published Jan 31, 2009

Ever since Pope John XXIII made history by the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, there have been believing Roman Catholics who regarded the whole thing as having been a ghastly mistake. The best known of these outside the church was probably Evelyn Waugh, who went to his death, after Easter service in 1966, convinced that Christendom had been betrayed by the capitulation of the Holy See to the fashionable heresies of modernism. The best known inside the church was the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, a highly traditional French cleric who took his differences with Rome into open schism and was excommunicated, along with the four men he dared to “ordain” as bishops, in the year of our lord 1970. The most notorious (which I choose to distinguish from being merely well-known) of the extremist Catholic dissenters are the Father-Son team—if I may annex such profane imagery—of Hutton Gibson and his son Mel, whose highly lurid version of the sacrifice of Jesus was brought to the multiplex as “The Passion of the Christ.”

For decades, it has seemed that the schismatics would either end their days as lonely, cranky outsiders or else rejoin the fold. Instead, Pope Benedict XVI has now moved the Roman Catholic Church to the right in order to accommodate, and rehabilitate, those who defected.

pope-mar-29-4
How a Bavarian boy, once a German army soldier,
rose to lead the Catholic Church.

Among these is a Lefebvrist “bishop” named Richard Williamson, who doubts his own version of the facts of the Nazi Holocaust and who furthermore suspects the Bush administration of having orchestrated the events of September 11, 2001, in order to afford itself a pretext for war.

The pope’s decision to apply the principle of inclusion to these decidedly eccentric elements, organized as they are under the banner of “the Society of St. Pius X,” has upset many liberal Catholics as well as some quite conservative ones, among them George Weigel. But should we consider it as an internal affair of the Roman Catholic Church? Here is why we should not.

The crucial change brought about in the everyday life of Catholics by Vatican II was the dropping of the Tridentine or “Latin” Mass and its replacement by services in the vernacular. The crucial change brought about in the relationship of Catholics to non-Catholics by Vatican II was the abandonment by the church of the charge of “deicide” against the Jewish people as a whole: in other words, the dropping of the allegation that the Jews bore a historic and collective responsibility for the torture and murder of Jesus. The two changes, perhaps unfortunately, were and are related. The old Latin form of the Mass included a specific Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jews, who were in some versions of the ritual described as “perfidious.”

There may be some in the Society of St. Pius X who are merely nostalgic for the old days when the priest held up the host with his back to the congregation, and pronounced the sacred words in a Latin formula which was reassuringly the same in every church on the face of the earth. (The word “Catholic,” after all, simply means “universal.”) But it is not only Jewish critics who suspect that more may underlie the increasing restoration of the Latin service. To illustrate what underlies the misgiving itself, let me quote from Hutton Gibson’s self-published 2003 book “The Enemy Is Still Here.” Bitterly hostile to all the liturgical and doctrinal changes of the past half-century, Gibson is especially enraged by Rome’s attempts to “reach out” to Jews. Rejecting an attempt by the present pope, when he was Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, to modify the charge that all Jews demanded the crucifixion of Jesus, Gibson writes: “On the contrary, Pontius Pilate refused responsibility for this Deicide, and all the Jews on hand publicly and vociferously assumed the guilt. ‘His blood be upon us, and upon our children.’ This crime certainly outranks Original Sin, and the Tower of Babel; the punishment for both sins of pride was also inflicted upon future generations. In accordance with history’s record of massive disasters suffered by the Jews, the Church has always held this position. And why may not the ‘holocaust’ have been due to the same curse which they called down upon themselves?”

I pause to note the coarse and nasty manner in which Gibson senior tries to have it both ways, first by sneering at the inverted-comma-probably-didn’t-happen “holocaust” and then by saying that the same nonevent was a divine retribution for the killing of Jesus! His next observation is almost as breathtakingly crude: replying to a sermon from Pope John Paul II to the effect that the Jewish religion is not so much “extrinsic” to Christianity as “intrinsic” to it, and that Jews are “our predilect brothers and, in a certain way, one could say our older brothers,” Gibson snorts: “Abel had an older brother.” May I recommend that you read those last four words with care? When Mel Gibson, who has funded a special Latin Mass church in Malibu, Calif., was arrested by a police officer upon whom he then up-ended a great potty of Jew-hating paranoid drivel, he tried to defend himself by saying that it was the drink talking. No, it wasn’t the drink talking: it was his revered father talking and, through him, a strain of reactionary Catholic dogma that we hoped had been left behind.

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Instead, the pope is—without any preconditions that I can discern—deciding that the breach with such people is a wound that requires “healing.” (I freely admit that the Gibson faction and its “Alliance for Catholic Tradition” is even more extreme than the Society of St. Pius X, but the principle remains the same.) How on earth can this be? I am afraid that one probable explanation can give very little comfort to those who like to think that religious differences can be settled by the papering-over of happy ecumenicism.

Ask yourself, first, why it was that the church took until 1965 to repudiate the charge of deicide against the Jews. After all, it is only in one verse of one Gospel (Matthew 27:24–25), and in the climactic scene of Mel Gibson’s movie, that the Jewish Sanhedrin demands to be held responsible for the coming crucifixion for all time and through all generations. Then there is the question, even if the rabbis did make such a demand, of whether they could claim to speak for all Jews then, let alone all those who have been born since. So why did it take until 20 years after the Nuremburg trials for the church to admit the obvious?

Christian doctrine holds that all of us were implicated in the guilt of Calvary and were, in a mystic sense, present for it. Every time we sin or fall away, we increase the pain and misery of the awful scene. Thus the principle of collective responsibility applies to everybody and not just to Jews. Now, there were no Cornishmen or Tamils or Cherokees or Slovaks present at Golgotha. But, if the greatest story ever told has any truth to it at all, and even if it doesn’t, there certainly were quite a good few Jewish people in the vicinity. Thus, if they are to be collectively excused, then it does become a bit harder to persuade others that their own sinful participation is ineffaceable. Hence the unease, ever since Vatican II, among conservative believers. Somehow, the strong heady wine of condemnation and redemption was being watered and diluted.

Jewish orthodoxy makes this difficulty no more soluble. In commenting on the Christian Bible, the greatest of the sages, Maimonides, affirmed that the rabbis of Jerusalem were to be showered with praise for their courageous rectitude in thus disposing of the foul impostor and heretic who dared claim to be the adored and long-looked-for (and still-awaited) Messiah. You can be sure that devout Catholics down the ages were as acutely aware of this awkward fact as most of today’s secular Jewish liberals are blissfully unaware of it. The old-style Easter sermons, the “Passion Plays” at Oberammergau and elsewhere, and bestselling Catholic devotional books such as the visions of the German nun Anne Catherine Emmerich, are replete with revolted depictions of Jewish mobs reveling in the sufferings of the Nazarene.

When excesses are committed by the religious (something which does indeed seem to happen from time to time), you often hear it argued that these are only perversions of the “true” or “real” or authentic teachings. What makes the present case so alarming is that concessions are being made to Holocaust-deniers and anti-Semites, and that this is not a departure from “original intent” Catholicism but rather part of a return to traditional and old-established preachments. For decades, it has seemed to many incurious outsiders that the Roman Catholic Church had at the very least made a good-faith attempt to acknowledge its historic responsibility for defaming the Jewish people. Suddenly, this achievement doesn’t look so solid. The German representative of the Society of St. Pius X recently lectured German Catholic bishops on the doctrinal need to stress the general responsibility of Jews for deicide. Last month he was an outsider. Now, his faction is back in the papal bosom. “Unity” must mean a lot to Benedict if he is willing to pay this sort of price for it.

The Christian consensus is that Jesus went to Jerusalem on that Passover in the full knowledge that he was going to his death. Ought this not to mean that the Jews and Romans did humanity a favor, by obediently fulfilling prophecy and by spilling the blood that ransomed the world? Evidently not. As a nonbeliever, this is not my problem. But the indulgence of prejudice and paranoia under the cloak of faith is my problem as a citizen. As with Cardinal Bernard Law, the enabler of child-molestation, who is now sheltered by Rome and who was able to vote in the election of Ratzinger as pope, so with those who slander the Jews with innuendo and worse, and who spread the vile libels that blame the democratic United States for the theocratic terrorist attacks upon it. One might think a responsible church would be indignantly arraigning and expelling such people rather than piously seeking reconciliation with them. Apparently, one would be wrong.

See Related: THE BAD SHEPHERD – WHY POPE BENEDICT XVI MAY NOT BE ABLE TO HEAL HIS CHURCH

See Related: CATHOLIC CHURCH SEXUAL ABUSE OF CHILDREN ARCHIVE

HAPPY PESACH 2010
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CHILEAN EARTHQUAKE MAY HAVE SHIFTED THE EARTH’S AXIS, says NASA scientist – And shortened the day

By Alex Morales
Business Week

The earthquake that killed more than 700 people in Chile on Feb. 27 probably shifted the Earth’s axis and shortened the day, a National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientist said.

Earthquakes can involve shifting hundreds of kilometers of rock by several meters, changing the distribution of mass on the planet.

terrified-mar-4

This affects the Earth’s rotation, said Richard Gross, a geophysicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who uses a computer model to calculate the effects.

“The length of the day should have gotten shorter by 1.26 microseconds (millionths of a second),” Gross, said today in an e-mailed reply to questions. “The axis about which the Earth’s mass is balanced should have moved by 2.7 milliarcseconds (about 8 centimeters or 3 inches).”

The changes can be modeled, though they’re difficult to physically detect given their small size, Gross said. Some changes may be more obvious, and islands may have shifted, according to Andreas Rietbrock, a professor of Earth Sciences at the U.K.’s Liverpool University who has studied the area impacted, though not since the latest temblor.

Santa Maria Island off the coast near Concepcion, Chile’s second-largest city, may have been raised 2 meters (6 feet) as a result of the latest quake, Rietbrock said today in a telephone interview. He said the rocks there show evidence pointing to past earthquakes shifting the island upward in the past.

‘Ice-Skater Effect’

“It’s what we call the ice-skater effect,” David Kerridge, head of Earth hazards and systems at the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh, said today in a telephone interview. “As the ice skater puts when she’s going around in a circle, and she pulls her arms in, she gets faster and faster. It’s the same idea with the Earth going around if you change the distribution of mass, the rotation rate changes.”

Rietbrock said he hasn’t been able to get in touch with seismologists in Concepcion to discuss the quake, which registered 8.8 on the Richter scale.

“What definitely the earthquake has done is made the Earth ring like a bell,” Rietbrock said.

The magnitude 9.1 Sumatran in 2004 that generated an Indian Ocean tsunami shortened the day by 6.8 microseconds and shifted the axis by about 2.3 milliarcseconds, Gross said.

The changes happen on the day and then carry on “forever,” Benjamin Fong Chao, dean of Earth Sciences of the National Central University in Taiwan, said in an e-mail.

“This small contribution is buried in larger changes due to other causes, such as atmospheric mass moving around on Earth,” Chao said.

See Related: SECRETARY CLINTON ARRIVES As Chile sends troops to hard-hit city

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SALVATION ARMY MOBILIZES PERSONNEL, RELIEF FOR HAITI

The Salvation Army is mobilizing resources and personnel to assist with the international relief effort in Haiti following a severe earthquake Tuesday that damaged much of the country’s infrastructure, housing and commercial buildings.

The Salvation Army has had a presence in Haiti since 1950 and currently operates schools, clinics, a hospital, feeding programs, children’s homes and church-related activities spread across two major facilities in Port au Prince, close to the epicenter of the earthquake and at other locations in the country.

One of the facilities, or compounds as it is referred to, includes a home for more than 50 children; a school with a daily attendance of 1,500 children; a medical clinic caring for 150-200 people daily; and a church that on any typical Sunday welcomes nearly 1,000 people. The facility is less than 10 minutes from the National Palace and is in an area known as St. Martin that’s home to predominantly poor living in the nation’s capital.

According to reports from Salvation Army staff in Port au Prince, no one in the compound was injured during the earthquake, but the children’s home, the clinic and church suffered major damage. Several smaller buildings, including residences, have collapsed completely. People were sleeping in the parking lot overnight, while severe aftershocks continued to affect the country.

The second compound that houses Salvation Army administrative offices is being used as an emergency operations center; damage was slight to this compound, according to Salvation Army reports from Haiti.

The Salvation Army hospital in Fond-des-Negres (75 miles west of Port-au-Prince) reports some minor damage, but no injuries.

The Salvation Army’s World Services Office, based in Alexandria, VA, has committed $50,000 to the relief effort and the organization is prepared to commit more financial resources, as well as food, water and other emergency supplies, to assist in the recovery.

The organization is preparing to send more than 44,000 lbs of pre-packaged emergency rations to the country, along with emergency disaster teams. The Salvation Army is working with other agencies to identify appropriate transportation for the food. As with all such relief efforts, The Salvation Army will be a part of the initial emergency response while assessing longer term needs of the residents.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Haiti at this time and especially our Salvation Army officers and employees throughout the country,” said Lt. Col. Dan Starrett, who directs the Salvation Army World Services Office.

The Salvation Army is accepting monetary donations to assist in the effort via, salvationarmyusa.org, 1-800-SAL-ARMY and postal mail at: The Salvation Army World Service Office, International Disaster Relief Fund, PO Box 630728, Baltimore, MD 21263-0728. Designate donations “Haiti Earthquake.”

See Related: WORLD RALLIES TO AID STRICKEN HAITI AFTER QUAKE

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MAN THREATENING JEWS TAKEN OFF FLIGHT

MIAMI — A Florida airline passenger who witnesses say proclaimed “I want to kill all the Jews” before police forced him off a Detroit-bound plane has been arrested.

Miami-Dade police said in a statement Thursday that 43-year-old Mansor Mohammad Asad of Toledo, Ohio, faces several charges including disorderly conduct.

Police say a taxiing Northwest Airlines flight was turned around at Miami International Airport late Wednesday. Witnesses told authorities Asad was loud, disruptive and claimed to be Palestinian. They believed he was sometimes speaking Arabic.

The Transportation Security Administration says three of his companions were taken off the plane and questioned. The plane departed after a search.

A phone number for Asad rang unanswered. Police didn’t return a message.

See Related: HOLOCAUST

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FREE MUNI RIDES NEW YEAR’S EVE

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The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) today announced it will provide complimentary Municipal Railway (Muni) service on New Year’s Eve from 8 p.m., Thursday, December 31, 2009 to 6 a.m., Friday, January 1, 2010 for the tenth consecutive year.

At midnight, there will be a fireworks show sponsored by the City from a barge off of The Embarcadero, south of the Ferry Building . Motorists should anticipate delays in the area from approximately 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.

As an extra incentive for revelers to travel on transit, there will also be special Muni Metro service extended to approximately 4 a.m. between Embarcadero and West Portal stations and extra service on Muni Owl bus routes (1 a.m. – 5 a.m.). No closures or re-routes are planned. SFPD and SFMTA will monitor for any necessary re-routes.

Complimentary Muni Service:

· 8 p.m., December 31 to 6 a.m., January 1

· Muni Metro service extended to 4 a.m. between Embarcadero and West Portal stations

· Extra Owl service (1 a.m. – 5 a.m.): 5 Fulton, 14 Mission , 22 Fillmore, 24 Divisadero, 38 Geary, 90 and 91 Owl and the L and N Owl bus routes

· Service on the F Market historic streetcar line provided by buses after approximately 4 p.m.

Caltrain will depart its final New Years train from the 4th and King streets Station at 2:15 a.m., Jan. 1. All Caltrain and Samtrans service will be free after 11:00 p.m., Wednesday.

BART will provide additional service and stations will remain open until approximately 3 a.m., Jan. 1. BART service to the East Bay will be separated between Embarcadero and Montgomery stations. Pittsburg/Bay Point and Richmond trains will stop at Montgomery (not Embarcadero) and Dublin/Pleasanton and Fremont trains will stop at Embarcadero (not Montgomery).

See Related: MUNI FARES INCREASE JANUARY 1 2010

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