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Hillary Clinton signals U.S. backing for Omar Suleiman

US secretary of state stresses need for orderly transition headed by vice-president

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Hillary Clinton said the transition process in Egypt
should be transparent and inclusive

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By Julian Borger
The London Guardian

The US secretary of state Hillary Clinton today signalled how far the US has swung its support behind vice-president Omar Suleiman and the transition process he is leading in Egypt.

Clinton was speaking at a security conference in Munich today, where the watchword on Egypt was the need for orderly transition.

In her most striking remarks, the US secretary of state said: “There are forces at work in any society, particularly one that is facing these kind of challenges, that will try to derail or overtake the process to pursue their own agenda, which is why I think it’s important to follow the transition process announced by the Egyptian government, actually headed by vice-president Omar Suleiman.”

She was presumably referring ito Suleiman’s leadership of the transition rather than the government, but US officials have told their European colleagues that they view Suleiman as increasingly in control.

Clinton went on to say the transition should be transparent and inclusive, while setting out “concrete steps”, moving towards orderly elections in September. She listed with approval the steps the Egyptian government had taken so far.

“President Mubarak has announced he will not stand for re-election nor will his son … He has given a clear message to his government to lead and support this process of transition,” Clinton said.

“That is what the government has said it is trying to do, that is what we are supporting, and hope to see it move as orderly but as expeditiously as possible under the circumstances.”

David Cameron and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, speaking at the same conference, echoed the call for an orderly transition and cautioned against early elections.

But Cameron denied there was a trade-off between the speed of reform and stability.

“There is no stability in Egypt. We need change, reform and transition to get stability,” the prime minister said. “The longer that is put off, the more likely we are to get an Egypt that we wouldn’t welcome.”

British officials said they were encouraged by the developments of the past 24 hours, pointing to the role of the army in preventing attacks on the demonstrators and the opening of a dialogue between Suleiman and opposition groups.

“It does have to be led by the Egyptian government but we do need a road map,” one official said.

See Related: Egypt Archive

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U.S. expects Egypt to keep peace with Israel regardless of who is in power

The Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel were signed by former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and have remained in place under Mubarak,
who is widely viewed as a source of stability in the region

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Haaretz

The United States expects the Egyptian government to honor previous peace agreements with Israel regardless of who is in power, the White House said on Friday.

“Our expectation would be that whatever the next government of Egypt is, that they would adhere to a treaty signed by the government of Egypt,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

Gibbs was referring to the 1978 Camp David Accords, which were brokered by the U.S. and set the stage for the 1979 peace agreement between Egypt and Israel, which is in force to this day.

The political turmoil in Egypt and the possible ouster President Hosny Mubarak has led to widespread concern– particularly in Israel – that a new government in Cairo will not be as friendly towards Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced fears last week that Egypt may follow in the extremist footsteps of Iran.

“Our real fear is of a situation that could develop … and which has already developed in several countries including Iran itself — repressive regimes of radical Islam,” said Netanyahu.

Netanyahu continued, adding that although the protests may not be motivated by religious extremism, “in a situation of chaos, an organized Islamist body can seize control of a country. It happened in Iran. It happened in other instances”.

The Camp David Accords were signed by former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and have remained in place under Mubarak, who is widely viewed as a source of stability in the region.

“The treaty is not with a particular president,” Gibbs said. “It is with the government, the country and the people of Egypt.”

Israel has been particularly concerned about a potential rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in a post-Mubarak era. The Islamist group, officially banned under Mubarak, has traditionally opposed any peace agreements with Israel but more recently has alluded to a more lenient position vis-à-vis the Camp David Accords.

President Barack Obama said Friday that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak must presently prepare for his transition from power with input from all political parties, in accordance with the desires of the Egyptian people.

Obama did not insist that Mubarak step down immediately, but he talked about a transition period that should begin right away. “The future of Egypt will be determined by its people. The transition process must begin now,” Obama said after meeting at the White House with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The last eleven days have seen millions of Egyptians take to the streets in massive anti-government protests. Demonstrators are calling for the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, who has served as the president of Egypt for over 29 years.

The protestors were first met with violence by Egyptian police, and then by pro-Mubarak supporters, while the army has largely stood by, unwilling to enforce the government-imposed curfew, but refusing to intervene to prevent attacks on protesters.

See Related: Egypt’s upheavel is rattling Israel

See Related: Israel Archive

See Related: Egypt Archive

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California law to curb greenhouse gases faces legal hurdle

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By Felicity Barringer
The New York Times

California’s landmark law on curbing greenhouse gases, which is well on its way to taking effect, has hit a legal snag in the form of a tentative judicial ruling that state environmental regulators failed to follow legally required procedures.

Judge Ernest H. Goldsmith of San Francisco Superior Court issued a tentative opinion — a rarely used procedure that gives the prospective loser in the case a chance to make new arguments or take new actions before a final decision — saying that the rules creating a cap-and-trade system were adopted without proper analysis of alternatives.

It is unclear whether the decision, if made final, represents a major obstacle or just a speed bump as the regulations carrying out the 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act go into effect. Judge Goldsmith’s ruling was made on Jan. 24, but not publicized until Thursday.

The opinion focused on what he said were regulators’ procedural lapses. Referring to the California Air Resources Board, which last year approved the regulations to cut greenhouse gases, he wrote, “ARB seeks to create a fait accompli by premature establishment of a cap-and-trade program before alternative can be exposed to public comment and properly evaluated by the ARB itself.”

Poor communities, particularly in Southern California, have been leery of market-based systems of pollution control, believing that industries nearby would be able to pay for extra pollution allowances and continue to send dangerous chemicals into their neighborhoods.

While no one maintains that carbon dioxide is a hazardous pollutant dangerous to local communities, Alegría De La Cruz, a lawyer for the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, said that carbon dioxide rules often have “co-benefits” in terms of controlling other, more immediately toxic air pollutants. Creating different incentives or mandates for regulating carbon dioxide might thus be more beneficial for those communities, Ms. De La Cruz said.

Requiring an analysis of these questions before carrying out the cap-and-trade rules, she said, “doesn’t slow down or stop California from doing something that is good and transformative for the country. It just must be done right.”

Stanley Young, a spokesman for the Air Resources Board, said, “We are reviewing the tentative decision, and we’ll respond in the allotted time.”

The board’s response to Judge Goldsmith’s ruling is due Tuesday.

See Related: Global Warming Archive

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Strange’s Last Night’s Top Ten Late-Night TV Jokes February 3 2011

STRANGE’S LAST NIGHT’S TOP TEN LATE-NIGHT TV JOKES FEBRUARY 3 2011

February Strangies: Kimmel 1, Leno 1, Fallon 1

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By Strange de Jim
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Thursday, February 3

10. Jay Leno: Do you know where Chinese people go to celebrate the Year of the Rabbit? IHOP.

9. Jimmy Kimmel: This is day 3 of the storm that has snowbliterated the United States. Finally America’s extra layer of fat comes in handy. Take that, Michelle Obama.

8. Jay Leno: Police are investigating whether Lindsay Lohan may have stolen a valuable necklace from a jewelry store. She wanted something nice to go with her court-ordered ankle bracelet.

7. David Letterman: There was so much snow today that Kim Kardashian’s ass caved in. Thirty-six miners were trapped.

6. Conan O’Brien: After the big snowstorm in Chicago, Mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel has been pitching in digging stranded cars out of the snow. Of course he didn’t help his campaign by telling people, “Thank God I don’t live here.”

5. David Letterman: The trouble is, when it’s this cold in New York City it takes even longer to warm up to me.

4. Conan O’Brien: Tomorrow is Facebook’s 7th birthday. Just think, 7 years ago you were only in touch with people from high school you liked.

3. Conan O’Brien: Happy Chinese New Year. The Chinese say the year is 4709. We say it’s 2011. You know, folks, I’m just going to guess they got the math right.

2. Conan O’Brien: Hosni’s son Gamal Mubarak says he does not want to become President, which is just as well. If you’ve seen one Mubarak you’ve seen Gamal.

1. Jimmy Fallon: Egyptian President Mubarak’s son Gamal will not run for President. Why would he? An unpopular President is removed from office and his inexperienced son is voted in? That could never happen.

The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1 2010

Page 121 – [In Vienna] The other maid, Wuthering Heights (which is not her name), is about forty and looks considerably younger. She is quick, smart, active, energetic, breezy, good-natured, has a high-keyed voice and a loud one, talks thirteen to the dozen, talks all the time, talks in her sleep, will talk when she is dead; is here, there and everywhere all at the same time, and is consumingly interested in every devilish thing that is going on. Particularly if it is not her affair. And she is not merely passively interested, but takes a hand; and not only takes a hand but the principal one; in fact will play the whole game, fight the whole battle herself, if you don’t find some way to turn her flank. But as she does it in the family’s interest, not her own, I find myself diffident about finding fault. Not so the family. It gravels the family. I like that. Not maliciously, but because it spices the monotony to see the family graveled. Sometimes they are driven to a point where they are sure they cannot endure her any longer, and they rise in revolt, but I stand between her and harm, for I adore Wuthering Heights. She is not a trouble to me, she freshens up my life, she keeps me interested all the time. She is not monotonous, she does not stale, she is fruitful of surprises, she is always breaking out in a new place. The family are always training her, always caulking her, but it does not make me uneasy any more, now, for I know that as fast as they stop one leak she will spring another. Her talk is my circus, my menagerie, my fireworks, my spiritual refreshment. When she is at it I would rather be there than at a fire. She talks but little to me, for I understand only about half that she says, and I have had the sagacity not to betray that I understand that half. But I open my door when she is talking to the Executive at the other end of the house, and then I hear everything, and the enjoyment is without alloy, for it is like being at a show on a free ticket. She makes the Executive’s head ache. I am sorry for that, of course; still it is a thing which cannot be helped. We must take things as we find them in this world.

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February Strangies
Tuesday, February 1 Strangie to Jimmy Kimmel: Egyptian President Murabak says he’ll leave in 5 years and then hand the job off to Conan.

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

For each day’s
funniest zingers follow me on Twitter
@strangedejim

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

Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White would like San Francisco residents, particularly those living in the Castro District, to know that Arson Investigators are working diligently to prove that a recent string of fires that have occurred in the early morning hours have been intentionally set and that they, along with the San Francisco Police Department, are doing everything in their power to find the person responsible for setting them.

“Our sympathy goes out to those affected and displaced by these fires,” said Mayor Edwin M. Lee. “The City family is doing everything possible to assist those impacted and to aggressively investigate these incidents.”

“The most important message that we want everyone to hear is that it is generally the eyewitness reports that we receive that ultimately lead us to the responsible party,” said the Chief.

“We’re concerned for the public’s safety and we’re asking that everyone be on “heightened alert” status.
Report anything or anyone that triggers that innate sense of suspicion. Trust your instincts.”

While the Arson Task Force investigates what appears to be a developing pattern of intentionally set fires, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage and District 8 residents to be displaced, Supervisor Scott Wiener is reaching out to his constituents being assisted by the Red Cross.

“Members of our community are suffering from these despicable acts,” said Supervisor Wiener. “I am working hard to assist the people affected by these fires, including helping them find temporary housing. If they need assistance or advocacy, they should contact my office. We will assist them. We will advocate for them.”

To date, thirteen people are being assisted with housing and other needs through the Red Cross. Property damages have exceeded $1 million and residents are feeling the strain of wondering if and when another fire may break out.

To report information related to the recent fires in the Castro that may be of interest to Arson Investigators, call (415) 920-2944.

To report an immediate occurrence or suspicious activity, call 911.

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

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Hamas switches direction of Gaza tunnels use – Now sending food supplies to Egyptian soldiers rather than vice versa

Hamas transfers food supplies to stranded Egyptian soldiers on border through Gaza smuggling tunnels built to illegally transport goods into Strip

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Ynetnews.com

Egyptian soldiers isolated on the Gaza border by 10 days of internal upheaval are getting bread, canned goods and other food supplies from the enclave, which is usually on the receiving end of food aid.

A source in the border town of Rafah said security forces of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which rules Gaza, had been providing the troops with supplies for the past three days.

The sources said Palestinian merchants in Gaza have also been smuggling vegetables, eggs and other staples into Egypt, where store owners have run out of stock because normal supplies are cut off by the unrest – reversing the usual flow of goods.

With mass protests demanding Mubarak should quit, sources in Rafah said north Sinai was tense. Angry Bedouins were in control of many roads following armed clashes with Egyptian police.

Hamas security forces had beefed up their presence along the border and in the area of Gaza’s honeycomb of smuggling tunnels to prevent any breach of the border line. No photography or television images were allowed.

See Related: Egypt Archive

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San Francisco weekend traffic and transit impacts February 5-6

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The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) advises San Francisco residents and visitors of the following event-related traffic and service impacts this weekend, Saturday, Feb. 5 – Sunday, Feb. 6.

Event participants and fun seekers should check with sfmta.com or call 311 to find out which of the 80 Muni lines will get them where they want to go.

San Francisco Half Marathon

The Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon will begin at 8 a.m., Sunday. The race begins and ends in Golden Gate Park and is accompanied by a 5K Run which stays completely in the Park.

The following street closures outside of Golden Gate Park will be required from 7:30 to 10 a.m. Each street will be reopened as the last runner goes through.

· Oak Street from Stanyan Street to Baker Street

· Fell Street from Stanyan Street to Baker Street

· Baker Street from Oak Street to Fell Street

· Masonic Street from Oak Street to Fell Street

· Stanyan from Oak Street to Fell Street

· Kezar Drive from Waller Street to JFK Drive

Northbound Great Highway from Fulton Street to Skyline Boulevard will be closed from 8 a.m. to noon.

The following Muni routes will be affected:

· 18 46th Avenue
· 23 Monterey

· 33 Stanyan

· 43 Masonic

· 44 O’Shaughnessy

See Related: Travel Archive

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Egyptian government figures join protesters

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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 were few signs 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 the level of their passion.

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 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 in Tahrir Square, 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, the defense minister and deputy prime minister, 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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Thugs trash Al Jazeera Cairo office

Cairo office of Arabic language news channel ransacked as intimidation of journalists continues

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By Mark Sweeney
The London Guardian

The Cairo office of al-Jazeera was ransacked by pro-government “thugs” today, as the Arabic language news channel also said its news website had come under attack by hackers.

Al-Jazeera said its office had been stormed by a “gang of thugs” who burned equipment, on a day of reports of escalating violence against journalists covering the Egyptian uprising.

The Qatar-based broadcaster added that the attacks appeared to be an attempt by “the Egyptian regime or its supporters” to hinder its widely watched coverage of the uprising in Egypt.

It said its website had been hacked earlier today with a banner advertisement replaced with a slogan “Together for the collapse of Egypt”, which linked through to a web page with content critical of the network. The banner remained in place for two hours.

“Our website has been under relentless attack since the onset of the uprisings in Egypt [and] we are currently investigating what happened today,” said a spokesman for al-Jazeera. “While the deliberate attacks this morning were an attempt to discredit us we will continue our impartial and comprehensive coverage of these unprecedented events.”

Last week al-Jazeera’s Cairo office was closed by the Egyptian authorities. The broadcaster’s reporters have also had their press credentials revoked and nine were detained for periods of time.

In other recent incidents, Swedish TV reporter Bert Sundstrom was in a serious condition in Cairo hospital after being stabbed in the back, according to Associated Press. Dan Nolan, al-Jazeera’s UAE correspondent, tweeted today that unfortunately the decision had been taken that it was now too dangerous to remain in Cairo.

“Sadly I’m catching [a] plane out of Cairo today,” he said. “Threats to us been about too much. Need to spend some time with family and hope to return soon.”

CNN’s star reporter Anderson Cooper, who on Wednesday was “roughed up” by thugs on a Cairo street, tweeted today that CNN was now broadcasting from an “undisclosed location” in the city to “stay live as long as we can”.

Guardian journalists Peter Beaumont and Jack Shenker were prevented from entering Cairo’s Tahrir Square earlier today by both the Egyptian army and armed vigilantes.

Beaumont said the pair were picked up by the army at a checkpoint and made to kneel facing a wall and interrogated. They then had to deal with machete-wielding vigilantes, he added.

However, according to Reuters the Egyptian army has been instructed to assist foreign media and help protect them from groups who have attacked and beaten journalists. Britain and the US have criticised what the US called a “concerted campaign” to intimidate foreign reporters.

See Related: Egypt Archive

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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SENTINEL FOUNDER PAT MURPHY
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